Olympus OM-D E-M5 first images and impressions

Olympus OM-D E-M5

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is a feature rich, highly customizable camera, and I imagine it will take me several weeks of shooting to properly assess it’s strengths and weaknesses. It will no doubt also take several weeks for me to customize the various menus and buttons in a way that best suits my style of shooting. There’s a lot to learn, but even after a couple hours of shooting, I feel as if I can draw some very brief, basic conclusions…

The E-M5 does a good job of integrating modern controls and features within it’s retro styling, and in my opinion the result is a harmonious, handsome design that pulls off the neat trick of capturing the spirit of those great OM film bodies, while still looking and feeling like a thoroughly modern camera.

The E-M5 feels solid in the hand, with a nice heft to it. The weather-sealed, magnesium alloy body looks and feels like a serious photographer’s tool.

The E-M5 is a bit larger than many of the smallest mirrorless cameras, such as the Sony NEX-5n, yet it remains quite compact. A little too compact, in my opinion. Obviously one of the key features of mirrorless cameras in general is their small size, but as with all good ideas, this can be taken to an unhealthy extreme. It’s my opinion that most mirrorless cameras are just to small to hold comfortably. As with the NEX-5n, the controls on the E-M5 feel a bit cramped, and a person with slightly larger than normal hands will need to contort their digits into some rather uncomfortable positions to reach the various buttons and dials. Not a deal-breaker certainly, but I wouldn’t complain if the camera were 15-20% larger. I will most likely purchase the optional grip, which will hopefully alleviate some of the handling problems.

The menus are not exactly what I’d call intuitive, but I’ve seen worse(hello, Sony). On the plus side, while somewhat confusing, the menus offer a high degree of customization.

The E-M5 has plenty of external controls, including two main control dials. The lack of a dedicated ISO button is the only real misstep. Nonetheless, the customizable fn buttons can be programmed to control ISO, so this is really just a minor annoyance. The E-M5 features a tiltable touchscreen, and while I’ve never been a fan of them, this particular touchscreen seems to work well. Interestingly, one can use the touchscreen to choose a focus point and fire the shutter. I don’t know if I’ll ever make use of this feature, but it’s admittedly pretty neat.

Autofocus is quick and accurate, at least for static subjects. The new in-body stabilization seems to work quite well, and I have yet to notice the slight humming noise caused by this new system. The camera feels very responsive – it just does it’s job, without ever getting in the way. The electronic viewfinder is good, but not great. So far, I prefer the Sony viewfinder. However, this opinion may change over time, as my opinion of the Sony EVF has changed.

In a word, impressive. I was going to add “for a smaller sensor” to the end of that sentence, but I think we’ve finally reached the point where we can stop qualifying our remarks regarding m4/3 image quality. The E-M5 simply produces excellent images, and they’d still be considered excellent if they were coming from a larger APS-C sensor. Noise appears to be very well controlled, and dynamic range is more than adequate. Colors appear extremely accurate and pleasing. The RAW files seem quite malleable. No complaints so far.

There is one thing that I’m adjusting to, and that’s the increased depth of field from the smaller sensor. Simply put, the smaller the sensor, the greater the depth of field at the same aperture. In other words, an image shot at f1.8 with a camera using a m4/3 sensor will show more of the scene in focus than an image shot at f1.8 with a larger APS-C sensor. To achieve the same “blurred background” effect, one must either use faster lenses, or longer focal lengths when using a m4/3 camera.

I’ll keep it brief, since these are just my first impressions – so far, I’m quite pleased. The few little nitpicks I’ve mentioned are just that – nitpicks. Where it counts – areas such as responsiveness, robustness, autofocus performance, image quality – the E-M5 definitely delivers. More to come.

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