The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is the company's latest enthusiast-level Micro Four Thirds interchangeable lens compact system camera. Taking its design cues from the company’s esteemed 35mm ‘OM’ SLR range, the EM-5 is the first and, for now at least, flagship model in a new 'OM-D' interchangeable lens compact system camera range that will sit alongside the company’s simpler PEN range.
While there are undoubtedly some similarities between the two ranges, Olympus is keen to establish the E-M5 and subsequent OM-D models as a distinct range, and to this end it’s not quite correct to think of it as simply an updated EP-3 with an Electronic ViewFinder (EVF), even though it might be tempting to do so. Indeed, the E-M5 probably has as much in common with the now discontinued Olympus E-620 as it does the EP-3, not least in terms of its DSLR styling and handling.
At around £1,000 body only, or £1,150 with an M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 kit lens the E-M5 doesn’t come particularly cheap. In terms of the competition, its closest rivals would have to be the Fujifilm X-Pro1, although at £1300 body-only the Fuji is quite a bit more expensive. At around £1,000 (with 18-50mm kit zoom) the Sony NEX-7 is another similarly priced premium-grade CSC, but one that offers a larger 24MP APS-C sized sensor for the money.
Coming in quite a bit cheaper at £450, Panasonic’s Lumix G3 model also boasts a 16MP Micro Four Thirds sensor, a built-in EVF and an adjustable monitor, although it does lack the retro styling and premium build quality of the E-M5. Samsung also offers a couple of DSLR-styled CSC’s in the shape of the 14.6MP NX11 (£300) and also the newer 120.3MP NX20 (£900), both of which come fitted with APS-C sensors and built-in electronic viewfinders. Plenty of tough competition for the E-M5, then. So what’s it packing?
Well, at its heart the E-M5 employs a new 17.3 x 13.0mm (Micro Four Thirds) Live MOS sensor that produces up to 16.1MP photos. This is complemented by Olympus’ latest TruePic VI image processor. Sensitivity stretches from ISO 100 to 25,600, while other notable headline specifications include a 9fps maximum burst rate, the ability to capture lossless 12-bit Raw image files (in Olympus' proprietary .ORF format), 1080p Full HD movie recording at 30fps, a 324-pixel metering module and, last but not least, what Olympus claims is the “world’s fastest” 35-point contrast-detect AutoFocus (AF) system.
In terms of functions and features the E-M5 is a very well appointed camera indeed. You've got a full compliment of manual exposure modes in the shape Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and full Manual (PASM), alongside an i-Auto mode for hassle-free point-and-shoot photography, 24 individually selectable Scene modes (including a couple of useful Macro options and a 3D image capture option), and last but not least a generous range of 11 Art Filter digital filter effects.
The full range of Art Filters includes: Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale & Light Colour, Light Tone, Grainy Film, Pin Hole, Diorama, Cross Process, Dramatic Tone, Gentle Sepia, and Key Line. New for the E-M5 is an Art Filter bracketing option, which automatically processes each recorded image with all of the Art Filter effects leaving you to select which one you like the most afterwards. Better still, Art Filter effects can be applied while the camera is set to any of the PASM exposure modes, which gives you full creative control over depth-of-field (via Aperture-priority) and shutter speed. This is a big plus point for the E-M5 as just about all other cameras sporting built-in digital filters tend to force the camera into automatic mode when you want to use them.
In addition to taking still images the E-M5 is also equipped to shoot 1080p Full HD video at 30fps, at a choice of either 20Mbps or 17Mbps quality levels. These top settings are complemented by 720/30p capture and standard definition 640 x 480 VGA capture, again at 30fps. Sound is recorded in stereo via two microphones either side of the EVF pyramid but while there is a wind-cut option there’s no external microphone input.
There’s no built-in flash either, although Olympus does supply a clip-on plastic flash that attaches to the E-M5’s accessory shoe that sits on top of the EVF. As with similar PEN models, this accessory port can be used to attach more powerful flashguns and other compatible accessories.
The pyramid on top of the E-M5 isn’t just there for show either. This being a mirrorless camera there’s no optical pentaprism inside; rather it houses a 1.44m-pixel EVF that provides a 100% field of view and a magnification of 1.15x. In use this provides a relatively large, bright and sharp display that’s more than adequate for composing the majority of shots with. The eye-sensor, which automatically switches the EVF on and main screen off, is a tad on the sensitive side though, so if you’d prefer to shoot with the rear monitor you might want to consider switching it off.
Should you prefer to use the rear monitor then the 3inch OLED screen on the back of the E-M5 offers a resolution of 610k-dots and a bright, sharp display. That said we do feel compelled to question the wisdom of going with OLED screen technology rather than a good old TFT LCD monitor. The reason being that you really do need to view OLED screens head-on in order to see true colours; view the screen from an angle and you get a nasty green hue all over your image, which isn’t ideal. On the plus side, the screen’s 3:2 aspect means there is plenty of space down the sides for current shooting information to be displayed without intruding on your composition. It also offers basic Touch AF and Touch Shutter functionality.
The screen attaches to the body via a hinge on the bottom of the camera with a further hinge part way up allowing it to be tilted upwards by about 90 degrees and downwards by about 45-degrees. While a fully articulated side-hinged screen would offer more flexibility the vertical movement of the E-M5’s screen does make light work of overhead and low-level shooting, and for this reason it remains preferable to a completely fixed screen.