Full review: The Olympus OM-D E-M5

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My stealthed-up OM-D. Note lack of strap D rings; these are the clip points from the Crumpler strap.

I did a double take after seeing the teaser images for the OM-D, way back at the start of the year. Olympus managed to make a 2012 camera look like a 1970 one; not only that, why on earth would you need a prism hump for a camera that doesn’t even have a prism? My first impressions of the spec sheet were ho-hum, yet another over-cramped sensor with too many pixels, inside a tiny body. And it wouldn’t fit my workflow, because there was no ACR support of any kind. And what’s with having two cryptic names? Then, after a long wait, and at a camera shop in Singapore looking for some lighting gear, I made the mistake of playing with one. Not only did it not feel plasticky and toy-like as its appearance would suggest, but the camera was also very responsive – in a connected-to-your-synapses-good way that I’ve only felt with the pro Nikons up to this point. I was intrigued.

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Reach out and touch me. Tilt and capacitative-touch LCD; there’s actually another accessory port under the flash hotshoe for things like GPS, macro LED lights (that look like tentacles), or for a completely bizarre twist, another EVF.

A little more research on reaching home in Kuala Lumpur revealed that the OM-D was not only surprisingly expensive for what it was – D7000 money – but perhaps enough camera that you could use one on assignment and be taken seriously. And whilst a nice idea, the two-part vertical grip both managed to look dinky and defeat the point of having a compact system in the first place.

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Ladies at lunch. OM-D, 45/1.8 – this has rapidly become my favorite lens for the camera. It’s a little long to use at arms’ length on the Pen Mini, but excellently stealthy on the OM-D.

I admit, following reading a number of excellent reviews on the web, temptation peaked. ACR support was the final straw – one day, it followed me home. (My dealer has a joke about my car washes being very expensive, because while waiting for the car to be ready, I usually drop by; most of the time, I buy something. This was another one of those expensive car washes.) After all, I reasoned that I already had the Pen Mini and excellent 12/2, 20/1.7 and 45/1.8 lenses for Micro Four Thirds, plus there was all of this Leica M glass sitting around and an adaptor. The Pen Mini was surprisingly excellent. How bad could it be?

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The Kicker. OM-D, 45/1.8

Actually, a lot better than expected. Turns out there’s a very good reason for that prism hump, just not one you’d expect. Aside from the 1.44 million dot EVF, there’s also a five-axis gyroscope – supposedly a world first – inside the camera that controls the matching five-axis moving-sensor stabilization system. I’m not a fan of sensor based systems, because they don’t generally have as much correction power (from an angle of view basis) as lens-based systems for longer lenses, and they tend to do odd things like ‘snap’ back into position once the limits of travel are reached. The OM-D’s system displays a little bit of the latter, but very, very little. And it’s surprisingly effective, too – it activates with a decisiveness I haven’t seen before on a sensor-IS system – but then again I don’t have any lenses over 90mm EFOV, and if I did, I’d probably buy the Panasonic 100-300 which already has lens-based IS built in, giving me the choice of both systems (but not together, as apparently both manufacturers claim they don’t play nice). You still need to give the stabilizer a moment to lock down though, otherwise you might get that unexpected jump.

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A repost of one of my favorite portraits. OM-D, 45/1.8

And that brings me to the next popular point of contention with the OM-D: the fan noise. Turns out it’s the a combination of the gyroscope and the electromagnets that move the sensor, or keep it in place (if the IS system is off). In fact, you can hear a similar noise in Nikon’s VR lenses when VR is engaged if you listen carefully. I don’t think it’s a big deal, personally. You can only hear it in near-silent environments.

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A shave and two bits. OM-D, 45/1.8

The OM-D is a tricky body to get a feel for – it’s smaller in person than you’d expect from pictures; it’s a little taller than the E-P3 due to the finder hump, but nowhere near as bulky and unwieldy as the E-P3 with the VF2 viewfinder attached. Ergonomically, this is good and bad news; the camera sits in the hand well, and both exposure adjustment dials fall easily to thumb and forefinger. The arrow keys on the back are still OK, but a little bit of a cramp to reach; the delete button and power switch are both far too low. Moving the power switch to that little empty bit of deck underneath the shutter button would be fantastic – a split second fumble to power the camera on can often cost your the shot. More on this later.

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Damn you, Magritte. OM-D, Leica 35/1.4 ASPH FLE via adaptor

For the most part, ergonomics are solid. There are plenty of programmable buttons; the two on the top deck (Fn and record), one next to play (Fn) and the arrow pad. The play and Fn buttons are a bit small – perhaps making them pointier and longer might help – I’d be concerned about being able to hit them reliably with gloves, but then again they seem to be fine for bare-handed use. The arrow pad is set to pick focus point by default, and this is the behavior I prefer. You can assign shortcuts like ISO and WB to it, but why bother when there’s the excellent SCP which shows all settings at a glance? Hit the OK key and use your finger to select the setting, then use the front dial to change it.

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Night Tree. OM-D and 45/1.8. ISO 2000, would you believe?

Oh, I forgot to mention the OM-D has also inherited the touch screen from the E-P3; Olympus has done a good job of making its operation unintrusive so you’re not accidentally shooting with your nose (you can do a touch-to-focus-and-shoot operation when in live view). It’s handy to select focus points quickly, as well as scroll and zoom images – though this behavior is just a little counterintuitive, because I don’t do it on any of my other cameras.

In addition to being hugely customizable, there are several neat touches with the operation of the camera – in playback, the FN1 button next to play zooms into the focus point to the last magnification with two presses: first to enable (after which you can also use your finger to drag the enlarged area box) and another to magnify. Amongst all cameras, only the pro Nikons do this. Better yet, you can skip between zoomed-in images to compare areas of the image using the front command dial. On top of all this, you can even select clipping levels for the shadow/ highlight warning display. Nice.

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Memorial for a leaf. OM-D, 45/1.8

The OM-D has other functions which I don’t really use, but which might be nice for JPEG shooters like special effects and a form of live curve control using the dials; it isn’t very precise, but it is better than nothing.

Remember I was talking about losing shots to a powered-off camera earlier? There’s a good reason for this: if you leave the battery, it’ll probably be dead after about 300 or so frames because the EVF and LCD appear to be always on, even if the camera is in standby; the LCD might be black but mine at least has a telltale glow. My friends who don’t power off between shots are reporting battery life in this range. I’ve got no problem getting 500 shots out and barely making a dent in the battery (one little segment missing), however. I think I’ve only charged it a handful of times since getting the camera, and never has the battery been fully depleted.

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Untitled. OM-D, 45/1.8

I think the EVF saves power over the LCD, but then again I’m not entirely sure; there’s a lot of dots on that little monitor. It’s definitely one of the better ones I’ve seen, with a very high refresh rate, low lag, good usability in low light (though oddly the live preview tonality etc doesn’t accurately match the captured image sometimes) and a fine dot pitch. Do I miss my real viewfinder? Yes, but to be honest, I seem to have adapted to this one. And being able to see a quick review of the image you just shot in the finder is great – you don’t have to take your eye away from it to check your composition. Similarly, if you want to shoot discretely at waist level – the tilting LCD is great. I prefer these to the swivel kind that frankly always feel like they’re going to snap off at the hinge point.

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In praise of tilt screens. OM-D, 45/1.8

In use, the OM-D shows that it was designed by photographers – or at least has had heavy photographer input in most of the engineering decisions. Menus are logical, and settings are mostly easy to find – though it could really use a way of saving settings to an SD card to transfer between multiple cameras (this is a ‘pro’ feature for users of multiple bodies), or reload if somebody plays with yours. It’s solid, and surprisingly hefty for its size – the body is made of magnesium alloy a mix of magnesium alloy, plastic, and some stamped metal (brass?) parts; it’s weather sealed to the same level as the E-5. If you look closely, there are gaskets on every compartment. Although I’ve seen videos of people washing their E-5s, note that the only weather sealed M4/3 lens at the moment is the 12-50 kit lens. All in all, I’m pretty confident that the camera could take a decent beating and survive.

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Remember this shot from Wesak Day? The camera was already soaked by similar blessings at this point. OM-D, 12/2

The critical thing that makes a good camera, in my mind, is responsiveness. And the OM-D has it in spades. I think it’s the fastest-focusing contrast detect camera out there; it’s noticeably faster than the Pen Mini, which I already thought was pretty speedy. It even shoots at 9fps, in RAW, with no buffer indigestion. Frankly, in good light, with a contrasty subject, it gives my D800E a run for its money. The catch is that you must use the Olympus lenses for this. Despite the supposed openness of the Micro Four Thirds standard, there are definite speed advantages to be had for using a manufacturer’s own lenses on its own bodies.

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Bulding blocks. OM-D, 45/1.8

There is a catch with autofocus, however. As good as single AF is – I would say easily class leading, and giving most DSLRs a run for their money (with none of the AF alignment problems, because the imaging sensor does the focusing) – continuous AF is a completely different story. Even though Olympus claims that continuous and tracking AF is greatly improved with the OM-D, frankly, it’s unusable. Continuous autofocus can’t seem to anticipate subject motion; it drops after the first frame, and usually comes close but fails to re-acquire the subject. Tracking AF is a similar story; you can see the camera manages to find the subject in the frame and displays this in the finder, but somehow it just fails to move the lens by the right amount to keep up with it. I would personally avoid these two modes, and instead rely on its extremely fast S-AF, low shutter lag, and the higher DOF of Micro 4/3 (for a given FOV and aperture) to save you. In fact, I don’t think I’d use this camera for moving subjects at all; that’s why I still keep the D700 and battery grip around.

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Holy man. OM-D, 45/1.8. Even at the slow, predictable speed of the moving float, getting this shot was a lucky break.

I haven’t seen any AF errors for single AF, except when there are objects at multiple distances inside the focusing box (whose size can’t be changed) and something other than the intended subject is the most contrasty. It’s also worth noting that because the imaging sensor is used, the AF grid covers almost the entire frame. These are two huge advantages of mirrorless systems that frankly I miss with full frame cameras, whose AF grid usually covers the central third of the frame at best.

All of this usability would be utterly, well, useless, if the image quality didn’t match. The OM-D reportedly uses the same sensor as the Panasonic GX1 I’ve been told by a number of sources that it’s a different sensor; 16MP and 3.63 micron pixel pitch. That’s tiny; the 10MP 1/1.7″ compacts run at about 2.3 microns or so. By comparison, the D7000 and D800E have a 4.88 micron pitch, and the D700/D3, an enormous 8.5 microns. (Every time you double the pitch, you quadruple the photo site area.) Even factoring in advances in technology, I’d expect pixel-level performance to be on par with the Pen Mini; going from 12 to 16MP while maintaining the same pixel quality is pretty much what Nikon did with the D3s to D4 move, and in about the same gestation period.

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Hot day. OM-D, 45/1.8

Wrong. It seems that either the old sensor was pretty old, or the new sensor has skipped half a generation – pixel level image quality is on par with the D7000, as far as acuity and noise goes; it may even be slightly better on the noise front. Color accuracy is better, too; the OM-D is both accurate and delivers excellent skin tones. The best way to describe its tonal palette is ‘natural’ – very little work is required to get my desired output from the RAW file, which isn’t necessarily the case with other cameras. The only place where it can’t quite keep up (and this is a fact of the laws of physics) is in dynamic range; I don’t know exactly how much it has, but my gut puts it at around 11-12 stops useable at base ISO with careful RAW processing, which is a little less than the D7000, and two stops less than the D800E. The sensor is further limited at higher ISOs, at which point dynamic range falls further. There’s probably no more than 6-7 useable stops at ISO 3200. This is still excellent performance for such a small sensor!

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Migrant workers. OM-D, 45/1.8. ISO 3200

On the noise front, I limited my Pen Mini’s auto ISO to 1600; anything beyond was just too grainy and edge-compromised to use. I’m happy to raise that one stop to 3200 for the OM-D; perhaps 6400 if I have no choice, since there are a few more pixels to play with – but by then dynamic range and color are really suffering quite badly. All in all, though, I’d put the noise performance on par with the Leica X2 I recently tested. One more stop of useable high-ISO, the hugely improved stabilizer, and the ability to use an eye-level finder and brace the camera against your face (increasing stability and reducing the minimum shutter speed required to handhold) means that the OM-D is capable of delivering 2-3 stops of additional usability over the Pen Mini (and by extension, E-P3/ E-PL3 cameras of that generation) – which is a huge step forward. In fact, it gives better color and detail than my D700 at base ISO, and keeps up with it noise-wise to about ISO 800. It’s probably about as flexible as the D800E in that sense. In daylight, picking this camera is a no-brainer.

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The thinking man’s camera. With beer, too. OM-D, 45/1.8. ISO 2000

This doesn’t of course mean that the OM-D is perfect; there are many things that only reveal themselves with extended use, and one of the reasons why this review has taken so long (other than the X2 and M-Monochrom arrivals) is because I didn’t feel like I’ve had enough time to shoot with it to fully understand this camera; there’s a lot of functionality in here I haven’t even tried, like video mode for instance. What I do want to test more extensively – and haven’t had the chance to, because FL-50Rs aren’t exactly cheap or easy to borrow – is the wireless flash system. If it’s as accurate and flexible as Nikon’s CLS, I may well have found a replacement lightweight system for anything that doesn’t require 36MP. I did briefly play with the two-part grip; it’s very solid, and improves handling and balance dramatically – with or without the vertical portion. It takes another battery and is sealed to the same degree as the rest of the camera. The only problem I have with it is the rather stiff price for what is effectively a few bits of plastic and some buttons; it’s fully 1/3rd of the camera – at least where I live.

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Untitled portrait. OM-D, 45/1.8

Things I’d like to see improved:
- Strap lug placement is awful. Using the included D-rings, the strap digs into your palm, or the web between your fingers. It seems like this is an Olympus tradition; every single Olympus I’ve owned has had this problem. I solve it in the usual way: remove the D rings, and either use a thin lanyard hand strap (fortunately, the camera is light) or a Crumpler Urban Disgrace that attaches via a lanyard-style string that threads through the remaining eyelets.
- Continuous AF. It’s not usable now, period.
- The power switch is in a terrible location.
- The buttons could be more tactile, they feel, well, mushy. It’s not always clear if you’ve pressed something.
- Playback and FN1 buttons are too small, and you can quite easily press the wrong one.
- It seems battery life could be improved, perhaps through more intelligent use of sleep modes. The camera could be a bit faster in waking up and powering on, too.
- Some way of saving settings to an SD card and transferring them to another camera – this is meant to be a pro grade camera after all, and pros have more than one camera. With that many custom settings, resetting a second camera is a colossal pain.

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Contemplating the upgrade (note watches). OM-D, 45/1.8

Notice that with the exception of continuous AF performance, there are no real big issues here. In all fairness, continuous AF is something that none of the mirrorless cameras do well (with the exception of the Nikon 1, which has phase detect photo sites on the sensor).

With the arrival of the OM-D, it finally feels like Micro Four Thirds has come of age. The original promise of ‘smaller, same quality’ which was made with Four Thirds I felt was never fulfilled with earlier cameras; they weren’t small enough, or able to deliver the same image quality. Although Micro Four Thirds went a long way to fulfilling the smaller part of the equation, image quality, speed and usability were lagging behind until the last generation; only now has the promise been met. I don’t look at the OM-D’s files and think ‘wow, this isn’t bad for such a small sensor!’; instead, I look at the files and am satisfied enough to not think about the sensor size. It’s hugely liberating to be able to carry a pro grade body and three lens fast-prime kit – 24, 40 and 90 equivalents – whose total weight is around 600g, and without feeling like I’m compromising anything (at least not for what I shoot; if it were sport, it’d probably be a different case). That’s the weight of one lens for the D800, or the M9-P body only. That’s hugely appealing for travel. Even two bodies wouldn’t weigh that much.

In conclusion: it’s an exciting time to be a photographer. For the vast majority of my work, this is more than enough camera; I just need a solid macro option (there’s a 60mm 1:1 on the way) and a good wireless flash system, and I’d be seriously tempted to switch over. MT

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Waiting for more rebar. OM-D, 45/1.8

More of my work with the OM-D can be found here on flickr. This is a set which will be continuously updated as time goes by…

Update: I’ve been made aware of an excellent thread on DPReview by Archer Sully here documenting some of the ‘hidden’ features of the OM-D that the manual doesn’t cover. It’s good reading for any OM-D shooter.

Get the Olympus OM-D here from B&H or Amazon.

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Comments

  1. Awesome review Ming, great pics too…

    I like your sharpening balance for the photos… Crisp, but not overboard :)

    Is the 45 your fave lens on the OM-D?

    Dave from http://www.iphotocourse.com

  2. Dimitris Glynos says:

    Ming what a great review! I’m actually planing to buy an OM-D body with a compo of 20/1.7 & 45/1.8 for street & enviromental portrait photography, as a 2nd system. I’m not a huge fun of wide angles so I leave the 12/2 for now. What is your opinion Ming for the Panasonic Leica 25/1.4? Except for the field of view, compare it to the 20/1.7 is it worth the extra money (about +200€ in Greece)?

    • the 20/1.7 is a small, superb lens. I had the 25/1.4 and ran them side by side on the OM-D and sold the PannaLeica—too big for the camera (for me) and the slighter wider FOV combined with the superb IQ of the 20/1.7 (wide open, too) made it a simple decision for me. I know there are many who prize the optical qualities of the 25/1.4, but it was not for me.

    • Thanks Dimitris. I’ve got the 20/1.7, because I think the larger lenses somewhat defeat the point of a compact body. I’m not that happy with the WA options either – more for lack of a decent fast 28 than anything else – if the Schneider lands up being somewhat affordable, I might succumb…

    • Well, I had both the 20 1.7 and the panaleica – and returned the 20 1.7 asap. The 25 1.4 just plays in a completely different league. Colour rendition, bokeh, AF speed. Compactness is nice – but in this case, the difference ist that big that it’s worth every penny and gram.

  3. Ming what an amazing camera the E-M5 is!!! All my shots up to now have being made with the 20/1.7 and the crispiness, the contrast, the colors I get out of the raw files are beautiful! I believe the most pioneering feature of this little gem is the 5-Axis IS system! I manage to take impressively sharp images at 1/5s, f/1.7, ISO 200! OMG!
    Thanks again!

  4. Hi Ming, just an info. New firmware version 1.5 for the E-M5 has just been released!

    Ver.1.5 (Oct. 2, 2012)
    - Operating sounds in the photo ready mode were decreased.
    - Use of the Image stabilizer function by setting the Focal length of an OM lens attached with an adapter was enabled even in Movie mode.
    - All updates up to version 1.2 are included.

    • Thanks for the heads up. Doesn’t look as though it solves the odd lockup problem involving use of the protect and spot zoom keys, so I’ll probably not bother with the update. Annoyingly, these updates tend to cause your camera to reset the numbering sequence quite often…

      • One major benefit of the update,i f it bothered you in the first place that is, is that the humming of the stabilizer is now virtually gone. Only when you set the IS to engage with a half press of the button you hear the noise like before. And I haven’t set that option myself so the camera is just about silent now.

        • Ah. No big deal for me, most of the time the environment I’m shooting in is far more noisy than the camera – it’s no more noisy than the lens-based VR in some of the larger Nikon superteles.

  5. Hello Ming,
    As you said, Sharpness & Contrast settings don’t apply to raw files but only to jpeg. What about the Noise Reduction? You propose to leave Noise Reduct. & Noise Filter in-camera settings to Off and do the reduction to Photoshop?
    Thanks again for your time to response!

    • That one is a much trickier answer – I don’t know for sure, but I think NR off is most probably really NR off. This isn’t the case with some cameras, which do pre-RAW noise reduction at the sensor level circuitry.

      • Thanks Ming! I think I will go with the “Off” settings. I use PictureCode Noise Ninja Photoshop Plug-in which I believe does an excellent job in NR and finally I do your sharpening workflow (from your Photoshop Workflow DVD)!

        • Also give the NR panel in ACR a try – you don’t need more than about 25 points for luminance NR even for high ISOs with the OM-D. It’s easy to find a good balance between detail and low noise with a bit of experimentation.

    • I have some problem with the focus when I took photos in backlight do you have the same problem

      • Yes, if the backlight is very strong; the overexposure/ internal flare fools the contrast detect system into thinking your subject has much lower contrast than it actually does. Believe it or not, the solution is to focus on something at the same distance which doesn’t have the same overexposed edge – even though it might be much lower contrast.

  6. Hello Ming, just an observation…
    I have found the Panasonic Lumix 14/2.5 G for 280€ brand new ( I think it is a very very good price) while the Olympus ZD 12/2 ED cost 745€ (over 2 ½ times the cost here in Greece), and I’m thinking seriously to make the purchase. For a WA lens I prefer (for the kind of shouting that I do) the FOV of the 28 vs 24mm. I have read also quite a lot reviews that they said the overall performance of the 2 lenses (in the OM-D 16MP body) is almost equal with a little advantage of the 12/2 in the extreme corners. The test of the lensrentals.com by Roger Cicala (http://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2012/05/wide-angle-micro-43-imatest-results) indicates that the 2 lenses perform equally in the OM-D (the 14/2.5 if you look only the numbers is actually Better!). Should I make the purchase of the 14/2.5, what is your opinion Ming? The 12/2 is really out of my budget right now…

    • I prefer the 28mm FOV too, but I didn’t find any of the 14/2.5 samples I tried to be satisfactory. You (or he) might get lucky. I don’t particularly like the corners of my 12/2 either though…I suppose I will have no choice but to buy the Schneider!

      • Ming it is rumored that the Schneider-Kruzenach 14/2 it will be priced at around €1.500. That is a LOT of money for a lens (for my anyway!)! I think I will try the 14/2.5 and I might get lucky with a really good sample! At 280€ is a bargain!!! Thank you for your thoughts!

  7. Phukhanh Vu says:

    Hi Ming,

    I have 45mm 1.8 and 75mm 1.8 but thinking about getting 12mm 2.0 for wide angle. What do you think about the 12mm lens? Any reviews? Just got mine 60mm 2.8 for macro today as well. Once again, thank you for your input.

  8. Thanks for your review. You do a tremendous job–really. It’s like a breath of fresh air, compared to many (most?) other reviews on mirrorless cameras these days. They all seem to be written by reviewers who work for the company whose product they are reviewing.

    I’m trying to decide between the NEX-6 and the OM-D. Lenses exist in both systems that I like, so that’s not a concern. I far prefer the body of the NEX as I feel it won’t slip out of my hands, but the OM-D’s comparable lenses are slightly more appealing, except for the more limited DOF. What it comes down to is enjoyable to use (NEX) versus easier to get good images out of (OM-D)? That’s what I’m really wondering. Do you find the OM-D takes pictures that are fairly pleasing and easy to work with? It seems that’s the Olympus advantage, and could make shooting more immediately gratifying if the pictures are more beautiful right away, but the limited dynamic range is slightly concerning.

    • Thanks Adam. I actually find the OM-D more enjoyable to use, and prefer the images out of it because of the weaker AA filter and more pleasing color. (I used to own a NEX-5, but sold it after about 1500 shots – 2000 seems to be my make or break point; my OM-D is at about 15,000 now which means I’ll probably keep it til it dies.) There’s not that much difference in available DOF control – even less so since there are so many good fast primes for the M43 system. I don’t find dynamic range that limited either; and of course you can always meter around it.

  9. Ming, I think you have some of the best photos on the net, and the best OM-D photos period. So much so that you have inspired me to buy an OM-D which arrives this week (plus a few primes). Finally I get away from the DSLR.

    I have researched a lot and one thing that comes up is ‘settings’ with comments saying the default settings are quite unpleasing to teh eye.

    I wondered if you would be so kind as to share your personal OM-D E-M5 settings? I am sure other Olympus users would be as interested as I would be.

    • Thank you. I presume you’re referring to the JPEG settings rather than the custom functions – sorry to disappoint you, but I shoot RAW on all of my cameras and run each image through my regular Photoshop workflow.

      • Hello Ming – thanks for the reply. I plan on shooting RAW almost exclusively, though I tend to use lightroom predominantly with perhaps a little finalizing in PS.

        I guess I didn’t look into the settings too well – I see a lot are pertaining to jpeg output which is of no use and you are correct.

        I have since found some suggested settings online in terms of functions so that will give me a good start. http://www.ayton.id.au/wiki/doku.php?id=photo:olympusem5_settings

        Thanks

        • Unless you’re using the Oly software, the RAW settings don’t do anything but affect the preview image, and the AF speed (higher contrast = easier focusing = faster). That’s a good resource btw.

  10. Thanks for such a detailed review! I was wondering if I could get your opinion on something: I’m shopping for my first “real” camera and actually already ordered a Canon 60d. I am seriously tempted to return it and get this Olympus OM-D instead. I’m mostly looking to capture everyday family memories (photo and video), but I also want some room to grow as a photographer. How do you feel about the OM-D as a learning camera, and do you think it will offer as many opportunities for growth as a real dSLR?

    I read all over the place that practice (not necessarily good equipment) is the key to developing a good eye, and I do worry that the Canon will be so cumbersome, it will become a “special-occasion only” camera. On the other hand, I would like to be able to keep this camera for several years without needing to upgrade, and the OM-D seems like it has some big drawbacks — people love it as a second camera, but as the only one? What do you think?

    • No problem. I don’t think there are any issues with the OM-D – I use it when I’m not ‘on duty’, and yes, it’s definitely a real camera. In some ways, it’s actually better featured than the 60D (9fps, weather sealing, touch screen, highly customizable etc) but lags only in continuous AF capability – if you’re going to shoot a lot of action or running kids, the DSLR might well serve you better.

      • After a crazy amount of agonizing and indecision (I even resorted to rolling the dice a couple of times), I decided to keep the Canon 60d and plan on getting a smaller m4/3 at some point in the future for traveling. I guess I wasn’t ready to put down that kind of money on a mirrorless yet — if it had been just a couple hundred dollars cheaper, things might have turned out differently. :) I’m not entirely positive that I made the best decision — the Canon is pretty darn huge — but I think it’ll be a good place to start. Thanks again for your input!

      • Alas, the RX100 is out of my price range (trying to keep it under $500). But I’m glad you mentioned it — I had no idea they made such nice point-and-shoot cameras. I may have to consider one. :)

        I’ve been looking at a Panasonic GX1 — how do you like that one? I didn’t find a review of it on this site. It seems to have its share of ardent admirers, and the price feels right ($470). I’m also reading your review of the E-PM1 ($350) and considering the similar E-PL3 ($500). Any thoughts?

        • I don’t review what I don’t use – I’m a commercial photographer first and a blogger a distant second. I don’t get paid for the reviews, and most of the stuff I have to buy (!) – spending money purely for sake of a review that doesn’t generate income is bad business.

          That said, I’d pick the E-PM1 out of that bunch – it’s the smallest, has the fastest AF along with the E-PL3, and the cheapest as a bonus.

      • Wow, you must have a lot of cameras! :) I hope people start sending you freebies — the reviews are very very helpful! :) I think I’ve decided on the Pen Mini, although I’m going to sleep on it first. Thanks again for your replies!!

        • I cleared out some. Down to seven at the moment – Nikon D600, D700, D800E and F2 Titan; Leica M9-P, Olympus OM-D and Sony RX100. I’m thinking about an old Hasselblad 503CM too.

      • I am surprised that there isn’t an X100 or X-Pro1 in that list. I know they frustrated a lot of guys at first, but the firmware seems to have brought them back to normal functionality. Did you just not like the images or mechanics?

        • Images were great from the X100, but even with the new FW I didn’t feel it was fast enough. The menus were also quite idiotically laid out. I haven’t shot with the X-Pro, so I’m not commenting – it seemed like too much money to spend on an uncertain system.

          • Funny reading your comment regarding the X100 menus. I have the OM-D and X100, initially gave up on the X100 but came back to try it again recently. I’m amazed how easy the menus are to use compared to the OM-D (and the EP-2). Olympus must have he worst menu system I have ever used as now the X100 seems like a breeze. I like both cameras very much.

            • I actually didn’t have any issues with the OM-D menus. There are a lot of options, but it’s pretty similar to my Nikons – perhaps that’s why I don’t mind it. What really bothered me about the RX100 was the illogical grouping of related functions.

      • Well, we ended up with a GX1 after all. I very nearly bought the Pen Mini, but an honest review of our photography habits revealed that we use (abuse? heh) burst mode shooting rather a lot, and the GX1 had a much nicer buffer. Also got a discount on the 20mm pancake lens. :) I hope it treats us well.

      • I didn’t realize you had one! :( I’ll look out for those in the future!

  11. Hi Ming, Been following your blog now for a couple of months. Even followed you on my recent 2 week trip {exclusive using my OMD5} in Paris. I took with me the 45mm 1.8, 12mm 1.2 and the Panasonic 20mm 1.7 The 45mm is hands down my favorite lens, super sharp wide open. The 12mm is great too but the 20mm IMO is lack luster and just doesn’t have enough contrast and sharpness. I may opt to upgrade to the Leica version in the future. I hope this is the right place to ask this…..The one area I miss the most that I do have with my DSLR system is my 70-200mm 2.8 IS L, Canon lens. I saw a recent post that you did on concert photography where you used, i think a Panasonic 100-300? Is there a top quality telephoto zoom lens that you’d recommend for the OMD EM5 system? I value your opinion and like to hear your thoughts on this. Hope all is well in your world and congratulations on your recent teach partnership!

  12. Interesting review Ming, thanks. I’m a satisfied user of the leica x1 planning to add the om-d with the 45/1,8 beside it.
    35mm equivalent is my choice for 70% of times, but I need something longer for the other 30%, portraits or details. My only concerns is due to the different image size ratio (2/3 and 4/3) but it’s possible I can live with it!
    robert

  13. Bruce CG Gallagher says:

    thank you Ming…..I’ve just discovered your site….and I am saving to buy this camera….For me your review has been
    one of the most enjoyable and visually compelling reasons to help confirm my decision to buy the OM-D.

  14. GREAT review!! I have had the camera for 4 months and you are spot on with the review! (BTW the 60 micro is available now!) I own the D3s/D800 and during daylight or at least good lighting, the E-M5 camera output is superb – almost equal to the other two – sometimes color is better! Jpegs seem to have a little more life than the raw images (I usually end up using them as processing time is quicker). Love your review – you seem to have the right words for describing photography clearly, concisely, and meaningfully. Bless you!

  15. Hi Ming, just wanted you to know that I gave you some link love at the bottom of the blog post on the Olympus OMD EM5. Thanks so much for being an early adapter and such a great review!

  16. I just sold my Canon DSLR rig to purchase the OM-D. For some reason, I’m getting skittish now on ordering it. I don’t shoot sports or anything of that nature, just my 3 year old daughter, and other portraits. Am I doing the right thing???

  17. Ming – I notice you tape up the Olympus branding for ‘stealth’.

    Do you feel it makes much difference when shooting people or on the street? Having read many of your reviews I have actually just ordered 2 OM-D’s, one in each color, with a view to returning the one I like least.

    So I’d be interested to hear if you feel there is any benefit to black?

    PS: great blog, really appreciate the reviews and the time you must put into it.

    • No, I tape it – and a lot of other cameras – up to avoid reflections in reflective objects I photograph such as watches. Same goes with black. My M9-P was chrome because I thought it looked better, and my Hasselblad is now electric blue. :)

  18. Dear Ming

    i’m almost sold on this camera as an upgrade to my current EPL1. However i was just wondering how if it would be OK for fast moving action.. i realise an SLR would be better for this but given its so good in other areas do you think i get a few keepers using this camera in rapid fire mode on those rarer occasions i wish to shoot sports?

    Cheers

    • Short answer: not good for action. None of the current breed of mirrorless cameras are, except the Nikon 1s, but you have other issues with limited high ISO and slow lenses. If you shoot occasional sport you can get away with trap focus or other similar techniques, but if you do a lot of it, AF will frustrate you.

      • DonParrot says:

        As usual, I have to contradict in this point, Ming. With the right settings, the E-M5 has got what it takes to deliver on a good level, when it comes to shooting fast moving subjects.
        Here the link to the pics I shot just the other week: http://www.flickr.com/photos/63427925@N00/sets/72157632620287310/
        I hsave been shooting running fogs (even sighthounds) for nearly a year, with the E-M5, and it’s anything but frustrating. It’s just important to use the proper settings, such as picture mode vivid, EVF-IS off (since firmware update 1.5) and the likes – and accept that you have to work differently than with a DSLR. If you do so, even the tracking can deliver series of eight or more consecutive well focused shots of a dog running at about 35kph. (Please take a look at the final eight shots of this album: http://www.flickr.com/photos/63427925@N00/sets/72157630591312236/).
        I would never claim that the E-M5 delivers on the same level as the big CaNokon sports cameras but if you are ready to really go for it, the E-M5 can produce 60 to 70 percent of keepers. But – as I said before – you need Zuiko lenses to achieve these results. The Panny lenses have a better video C-AF (on the E-M5, that is) but their C-AF performance for stills is mediocre. (Don’t know if this also applies to the 12-35 and 35-100 as I haven’t tested them)
        But with the Zuikos 12-50, 14-150, 40-150, 45, 75 and 75-300, shoorting action with the E-M5 is a pleasing experience.

      • Ming, i went to the store today to play with the Olympus OMD and the Sony a57 also caught my eye.. Apart from better action shooting is there any other benefit the Sony would give me over the OMD? The a57 is a bit bigger but alot cheaper..i imagine the image quality from both cameras would be more or less on par? i mostly shoot jpeg cheers :) p.s DonParrot you have some great shots on your flickr page

  19. Have you used the Panasonic GH3 yet? If so how does the IQ compare with the Olympus OM-D E-M5. I own a GH2 which I bought because it is a hybrid camera and i make lots of short films. However I have missed the still image quality of my old Nikon D80 I use to have. Thinking the GH3 could be a step closer.

  20. Hi Ming – how do you remove the really tight D rings on the OMD?!

  21. Hi Ming – I’m finally moving up from my old, reliable Nikon D50. I see that you have both a D600 and Oly OMD. I know they are both different cameras, but if you could choose one, which would it be? I already have a handful of Nikon lenses, so I wouldn’t have to buy any (for now). I know the OMD is less expensive by about a 1000 U.S., but I would then invest into a whole new system of lenses (which I’m perfectly willing to do). I’m looking for something for equal parts travel and photographing kids’ stuff (ballet recitals, soccer/basketball games, candid moments, etc.) Thanks for your time.

  22. Noticed a small mistake. Where it says “Even two bodies wouldn’t weight that much”, it should be “weigh” instead.

  23. Dear Ming,

    Thank you for your in depth review.

    How about Oly 17mm f/1.8?

  24. Hi Ming
    I have really enjoyed this review and others from your “blog”. This really does seem to be a very good option especially as a light weight system. I usually use Pentax K5 … whichI must say I love … but living on Dartmoor in the UK I do a lot of long walks (6-8 hours) often in rain … so the K5 weatherproofing has been great as has the ability to use all my old K lenses. None the less I really ache for a good lightweight system. i have an X100 Fw2 … and its a lovely camera but its lack of weatherproofing and slow focusing (still) make it frustrating.
    When i buy can I do so through your links in the UK?
    Tom

    PS I REALLY appreciate that as well as being a massive source of information .. that the replies here i.e. from D Parrot lead to a two way process where as well as teaching us … you are learning too! VERY refreshing!

    Thanks again

  25. Nikolay Karev says:

    I am extremely slow… :) Did you see any difference in shots taken with this OM-D’s “Half way els with IS” option on and off? It looks like it causes motion blur for me when I am using “focus-recompose” technique.

    • Leave it on all the time; the IS system needs some time to ‘settle in’ for maximum effectiveness. Suddenly engaging it only when shooting is almost certainly going to result in blur as the sensor moves.

  26. Hello Ming,
    Thanks for a Great rewiev.
    Do you think it’s ok to change from Nikon d200 to olympus?
    I Wonder if the picture quality is better than d200?

  27. Up to you whether it’s ok or not. Yes, the picture quality is better, I’ve used the D200s extensively a while ago. You will lose out on AF-C performance and DOF control though.

  28. DonParrot says:

    Well, if you tell me which firmware version your E-M5 is on I will try to exactly tell you what settings you need for the best possible C-AF performance.

  29. 1.0 on both lens and body.

  30. DonParrot says:

    That’s a pity as 1.2 (that is no longer available due to download-problems) improved the tracking massively – and 1.5 that eliminated the IS noise unfortunately reduced the performance again.
    So, if you are planning to stay with FW 1.0, forget about the tracking – it doesn’t work at all. On the other hand, you might try to test it with IS on but EVF-IS off – never tried that with FW 1.0.

    First of all, I will try to explain why I did what I did to improve the C-AF performance. When I was still shooting with my E-PL3 I used to use the picture mode ‘natural’. (I’m a 90-percent JPEG shooter). One day, when the sky was overcast and everything was really grey I opted for switching to ‘vivid’ and quickly realised that the S-AF (the PL3′s C-AF is absolutely useless) was even snappier than it is anyway. After having realised this, I asked several people who know a lot about camera technology if I was mistaken or if my findings could be true. They all came to the conclusion that increasing contrast, sharpness and saturation might be helpful for the AF performance of a CDAF camera indeed if the AF doesn’t work directly on the sensor but used the display information or the likes. But in thre end, this wasn’t of major significance as the S-AF of the PL3 was blinding fast anyway.

    The, some months later, I purchased the E-M5 – and to my massive amazement, it featured a working C-AF – if shooting with the single AF field. But – just as you said – most of the time it didn’t deliver. But I quickly found out that the problem wans’t the AF speed but the fact, that the AF system didn’t ‘bite’ at all. When it bit, it reliably followed the subject but most of the time, it didn’t bite and so, it couldn’t follow. So, I opted for using the smallest AF field available (14x). An first improvement, but just slightly. At this point in time I remembered what I had found out with the E-PL3 and decided to do the same with my E-M5. I switched it to vivid – and the C-AF reliability turned out to be massively improved right away. Over the months, I increased sharpness from -2 to 0 and contrast from -1 to +1 and these settings improved the reliability once again. Then, I switched the IS on – something that is wrong, wrong wrong on any DSLR if you want to shoot action – but not so on the E-M5. It once again improved thje C-AF reliability. And the EVF-IS upped the ante once again. And for some weird reasons, you even can shoot panning shots with IS 1 on. From my technical understanding, this should be impossible – but it isn’t: http://www.flickr.com/photos/63427925@N00/sets/72157631497667064/
    (Please note: Not all these pics were shot with IS1 and they were shot with Firmware 1.2. Haven’t tested panning again, since then, so I don’t know if it’s still the same with Firmware 1.5).
    Then, Oly introduced Firmware 1.2 and all of a sudden, even the tracking with its far to big AF field worked – if combined with the small 14x AF field. Before, it just refused to stay on your chosen subject but moved to anything that provided better contrast edges – even if the subject didn’t move. Absolutely useless! But with 1.2: http://www.flickr.com/photos/63427925@N00/sets/72157630591312236/
    What a difference! Far from perfect, but amazing, nevertheless. (please note that the blurred pics at the end of some of the series were added deliberately to demonstrate at which distance the tracking stops working.)
    Then, last autumn, all my findings suddenly seemed to not work any longer. Tracking: useless. C-AF forget it. Really frustrating but as my dad fell fatally ill, at this pint in time, I just hadn’t the motivation to take pictures and do the necessary research to find out what had gone wrong.
    Only in mid-January I felr like taking pictures and opted for doing a multi-hour test to find out what the hell was going wrong.
    And in the end (it took me four hours), I realised that the frustrating changes must have been caused by FW 1.5 and that I just had to switch the EVF IS off to get back the pleasing C-AF performance. I still believe that it’s not quite on the same level as it was before but I’m back to a satisfying keeper rate. And when it comes to the tracking… Well, it still tends to move to something else, every now and then, but it’s usable again.

    To cut a long story short: If you stay with firmware 1.0, choose vivid, sharpness 0, contrast +1 and IS1 on. And you should test if the EVF IS is helpful or not. I don’t exactly remember if I tested it for the first time with 1.0 or 1.2. And I forgot: switch the EVF frequency to high. By the way: If I’m not mistaken, you are a 100-percent RAW shooter, aren’t you? In this case, you could even increase sharpness, contrast and saturation for an even better C-AF reliability.
    If you switch to FW 1.5, use the same settings but forget the EVF IS – it must be switched off, with this firmware.
    And – depending on your subject – it can be helpful to not allow the camera the half-second or so for calculating speed and direction as you will be accustomed to from your DSLRs. Instead, try to start shooting just after the first AF confirmation.

    Looking forward to seeing some nice action pics shot by you with the E-M5, in the near future.

    Cheers

    Nicolaus

  31. Thanks for the very, very comprehensive info. Let’s see – I’m on vivid plus high EVF refresh and IS on. Perhaps it is the firmware version. Doesn’t sound like it’s practical to have EVF IS off since most of the times I’d need AF-C I’d also be using a longer lens; I suppose I could use the in-lens IS of the Panasonic lenses to compensate – this would be okay, right?

    Yes, I shoot raw all the time, but the jpeg preview affects my exposure choices because that’s what generates the histogram and highlight warnings – can’t go too extreme here else image quality will suffer because of exposure.

    I’ll give it a try with 1.0, if not, bite the bullet for 1.5 – been a little hesitant to do the upgrades because I believe it completely resets all of your custom settings (of which there are many) as well as your file numbers…correct me if I’m wrong.

    Sorry to hear about your dad.

  32. DonParrot says:

    The problem is, that all the Panny lenses I tested – 45-200, 14-45, 45-175 and 100-300 – don’t C-AF properly for stills. Even the 45-175 – in my eyes the mFT telezoom with the fastest S-AF performance – is useless when it comes to the C-AF.
    And yes, you are right – I also would prefer using the EVF-IS – but currently, it’s a decision between a stabilised EVF and properly focused pictures and it goes without saying that I go for the pics. Although it’s a pain in the A*** when it comes – for instance – to birding. You need the EFV-IS when the bird is sitting on a tree – but as soon as it lifts off, the EVF-IS is counterproductive. I’m going to contact Olympus and ask them if there is a possibility to reset my camera to W 1.2 but before doing so, I’ll do a comparison – thanks to my camera dealer who still has got an E-M5 with FW 1.2.
    But it should work with 1.0. I achieved my findings with 1.0 and now, I really wonder if I have changed anything else as you definitely know what you are doing. It just should work – I don’t understand it. You use the single AF field and the smallest (14x) field, do you?
    And – I’m convinced that you are aware of these things, I just want to double-check: Did you switch ‘Burst mode + IS OFF’ to off? (How can somebody use a double negative in their menues? it’s incredible) Anyway, this point must be switched to off to allow the IS to work in combination with the burst mode. And you must use burst mode ‘L’ as the C-AF doesn’t work in ‘H’.

    Thanks – these are hard days for the entire family. He’s still alive but he’s suffering to the max and his heart just won’t stop beating.

  33. Yes and yes to the AF filed and smallest question.

    Yes again to burst mode + IS OFF (i.e. IS is on with burst mode, using CL).

Trackbacks

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