Here at 2 Guys Photo, cameras come and go. Most of them do the trick, are as advertised, get the job done. The reviews I write typically reflect that sentiment. Occasionally, the cameras I use are especially good. Sometimes they are especially bad. The Olympus PEN cameras have been on the positive side of that continuum as has been the Fujifilm X100. The Fujifilm X-Pro1… eh, not so good.
And then there are the ones that really stand out. That you love shooting. That give you images which minimize the fuss and effort which block the way between vision and final product. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is one of those cameras.
If you’re looking for a visual walk-through of the camera or a list of specifications, Google and Youtube searches will handsomely reward. My goal here is less ambitious – it’s merely to give you my sense of what it’s been like shooting with one all summer. I’m going to give you the bottom line right here at the top: this one doesn’t go back.
2 Guys Photo readers already know (from parts 1, 2 and 3 of a series) that I’m a fan of smaller and lighter cameras. More often than not, every time I’ve declared that, I’ve also had to offer some small token of trade-off barter. For example: “I’m very impressed with the handling of camera X and its image quality is nearly a good as my regular DSLR.” You caught the operative word there: nearly.
With the return by Olympus to the basic form factor of it’s film era OM series, the company that helped pioneer the micro four thirds standard (along with Panasonic) has upped, way upped, the ante. Reportedly there’s a Sony sensor inside and that seems to have made all the difference. Sony designed and produced the 16 mp APS-C sensors inside the Nikon D5100, Nikon D7000, and Pentax K5 DSLRs which are all camera’s I’ve recommended here.
But before we get to image quality, let’s talk about the shooting experience. In two words: almost perfect. I’ll get to the almost part in a few minutes (see the list of cons below), but about the perfection.
Olympus has fitted E-M5 with a tilting high resolution back LCD that is touch sensitive. Touch to find focus, or touch to release the shutter, or touch to do nothing – you decide. There’s an embedded super high resolution electronic viewfinder that is exceptional. As good as an optical one? Well, that depends. If your definition of “as good” is as clear, without flicker or delay, and without complete and instantaneous feedback… then it’s not. However, as far a providing full field coverage, a plethora of shooting information, and immediate feedback on exposure, white balance, in camera art filter effects, and more… then it’s a revelation. Frankly, I’m probably never going back to an optical-only viewfinder… it has changed my shooting for the better that much.
The body has lots of external controls and a super nice top sided double-dial interface. In Aperture Priority mode, where I mostly live, the back dial modifies aperture and the forward dial changes exposure compensation. Easy, nice. There are a few function buttons, one of which allows me to immediately shoot five bracketed shots at a set ISO (for HDR purposes). I use one of the presets to contain those parameters and then force the back function button to immediately move me to that preset. When I take my finger off the button, I’m back to the pre-preset status. Now that’s super easy.
The camera body is comfortable, if perhaps a bit small. Those of you with baseball mitt sized paws will want to grapple with one before committing. The SD card slot is on the side, not next to the battery and accessible via the bottom facing battery door. When mounted on a tripod, this makes all the difference in the world.
Finally, Olympus provided weather sealing on the body AND on the kit 12-50 lens. More on the lens in a moment. The seals allow you to take the camera out into all sorts of weather without worry. I’ve already had mine out in downpours and haven’t worried a bit about it. Now you may be thinking – who in their right mind would want to go out shooting in the rain? Typically, that’s not me. But to be out and about and not to have to worry about a sudden turn in the weather is quite liberating. When on a beach recently, it started to rain and I just kept shooting away.
You’ll notice in the above photo the use of an art filter (dramatic tone). Generally speaking, I’m not one to spend a great deal of time with in camera effects, preferring to dabble on a computer. But the dramatic tone filter, in particular, is just plain fun.
Here are a few more taken by my son, Joseph, who is no stranger to Photoshop and who is an award winning photographer in his own right. But he likes to have fun too…
As far as image quality, I’m finding the E-M5 to be highly capable. Dynamic range is good and approaching APS-C DSLRs. For the first time with micro four thirds cameras, I’m comfortable shooting above ISO800, getting into 1600 and even 3200 territory. And the in camera image stabilization is a definite step up from the PENS that came before.
Here’s an image I took in a country story, handheld, at a half second shutter speed (!). Impressive performance.
Usually the mere mention of kit lens makes respectable photogs shutter, but the clever 12-50/f3.5-6.3 kit lens is a winner. It allows for instantaneous macro shooting and you can toggle between standard spin style zoom or a power shift style zoom. A quick flick one way zooms in, the other way out. It’s silent for noise free video shooting. By the way, the E-M5 (like the PENS) is an exceptional video shooter. I’ve been putting together a few videos for projects and this camera excels in this regard. Back to the lens: it’s a joy to use. Will it replace your fixed Olympus 45 or PanLeica 25? No. It’s surely not as fast or as sharp, but in terms of versatility, it is the best kit lens I’ve used in any format. Period.
Would I recommend the typical 14-42 lens you can also get bundled with this camera? Nope. I’ve used it and it’s ok, nothing special. I love that the 12-50 goes out to 12mm wide. That in and of itself is worth the upgrade.
In terms of macro, here are a few close focus examples:
What’s not to like? For me, a few things:
- Olympus menus are poor. Probably the worst around. With the E-M5, I heard they had been given a facelift, so I expected a total rewrite. Not so. Just fresh paint. It’s confusing to remember where to go to do what. The abundance of external controls and ability to use the super cool Super Control Panel for critical adjustments thankfully means you don’t need to tread into the menus often. Thankfully.
- The two buttons on the back, under the shutter button, contain the playback button and a customizable function button. It’s the one I configured to the preset as described above. They are mushy and too small. Not a deal breaker, just kind of chintzy and annoying on such a nice body.
- What, no lens hoods, Olympus? C’mon.
- I’m a sucker for in camera machine gun style pano shooting. Fujifilm and Sony perfected it. Everybody’s jumping on. Olympus – it’s your turn.
- Would prefer gaining the ability to shoot three (instead of five) shots to run the gamut from +2 to -2 EV. Helps with handheld HDR-directed bracketing.
- The clip on flash is clunky. It may pose an engineering challenge of epic proportions, but a built in pop-up one would be better for fill flash purposes.
None of these cons are deal breakers. Far from it. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is a winner. And I’m keeping it.
If you’re pondering getting one, please consider using one of the links below. It will help us out and won’t cost you extra. Thank you!
E-M5 silver body – here
E-M5 silver with kit lens – here
E-M5 black body – here
E-M5 black with kit lens – here
Please note that these cameras are extremely popular and Olympus can’t keep up with demand (as of the time of this writing). Best to stick with a reputable store (like B&H) and either get on the waiting list or just order and wait until they ship.