Olympus is known to stay true to its heritage, and the new OM-D EM-5 is a sparkling example. The company debuted its first film OM model 40 years ago in 1972, and I actually shot with an Olympus OM-1N a decade ago in my high school photography class. Much like the revival of the PEN family in 2009, Olympus plans on continuing the OM tradition with the OM-D EM-5 serving as the first model to kickoff the family’s digital lineage. Like the new PEN cameras, the Olympus OM-D EM-5 is of the Micro Four Thirds ilk, though the camera is a radical departure from its simpler cousins in many ways.

In fact, the Olympus OM-D EM-5 is Spackled with so much technology and advanced features, that the camera resides in an entirely different league when compared to a PEN. That would be the major leagues, and I think Olympus smacked this one out of the park. A few teasers for you: articulated touchscreen LCD, dual command dials, 1080i Full HD, ISO 25,600 max and every manual/semi-manual/automatic control you could ask from a Micro Four Thirds camera in this price range. But the most exhilarating thing about the new Olympus OM-D EM-5 is that it’s a modern day replica of the original OM-1, and that is some serious photography street cred. You down with OM-D? Yeah, you know me!

Olympus OM-D EM-5

Pros

  • Great overall image quality
  • Stellar design is rugged, packed with controls and delightfully retro
  • Road Runner fast autofocus
  • Compatible with excellent M43 lenses, especially the EZ video lens
  • Overflowing with shooting features and adjustments
  • Major photography street cred to original OM-1 owners

Cons

  • Physical buttons take a while to grow accustomed to
  • No Mic or Headphone jacks for video recording
  • Focus tracking was not reliable
  • No Panorama Sweep mode
  • Occasional compression artifacts in videos

Ideal for: Intermediate to advanced photographers and students looking for a portable interchangeable lens dynamo. Owners of the original OM-1 family who want to upgrade to 21-st century technology.

Find it at: http://www.olympusamerica.com/cpg_section/product.asp?product=1583.

Suggested Retail Price: $999.99 (body only).

Olympus OM-D EM-5 Design

Olympus-OM-D-EM-5-Product-3Look at those two. Father and son. The nostalgia actually brought a tear to my eye during this photoshoot. The camera on the left was handed down to me by my parents for a photography class I took in high school over a decade ago. It’s an Olympus OM-1N and it was released in 1979, though its design barely strays from the original OM-1, which was released in 1972. On the right is the brand new Olympus OM-D EM-5, the Micro Four Thirds variant of of the OM family, and leader of the digital OM revolution. Both cameras are built with magnesium alloy and feature similar textured grip panels along the front side. The new OM-D EM-5 also ships in black, but why on earth would anyone opt for anything but the classic silver?

However, the genealogical similarities began to evaporate as I analyzed both cameras more thoroughly. Rather than present a buffet of film-related analog dials on top, the OM-D EM-5 presents a set of dual Command dials that are so close in proximity that they slightly overlap each other. To save valuable space, Olympus even embedded the shutter button inside the front Command dial. There’s also an Fn2 (Function 2) button and Video Record button, as well as a Mode dial adjacent to the electronic viewfinder.

Electronic viewfinder? Yes, another clue that we’re in the year 2012. The OM-D EM-5′s viewfinder is a 100% field of view type with a 1,400,000-pixel display that offers a 120fps refresh rate. It’s also intelligent, relying on eye sensor technology that automatically switches the viewfinder display on when an eye is placed in close proximity of the eye cup. If the viewfinder is not cutting it for you (I found it to be invaluable outside and grew to love it instantly), the OM-D EM-5 offers a 3-inch 610,000-pixel tilt/touchscreen LCD. In addition to its impressive resolution, the OM-D EM-5′s LCD screen could be controlled via touch in the following areas: focus, shutter, Super Control Panel item selection, Live Guide in iAuto mode, and swiping and zooming in Playback.

Olympus-OM-D-EM-5-Product-6The Olympus OM-D EM-5 has a 4-way directional pad in back with Menu, Info Live Guide, Playback, Fn1 (Function 1) and Trash buttons scattered within the general vicinity. The buttons were a tad springy and wild, but their sensitivity was superb and I soon grew accustomed to their eccentric squish. The Olympus OM-D EM-5 has a hot shoe and accessory terminal that hosts the included flash, which mounts right up. Connectivity is light on the OM-D EM-5, consisting of Micro HDMI, USB/A/V Out and SD card terminals. Mic and Headphone jacks would have been nice additions, though Olympus does offer an external microphone that connects to the accessory jack. I was highly impressed with the Olympus OM-D EM-5′s larger battery pack, which lasted me throughout the day.

Now one of the OM-D EM-5′s sparkling gems was its M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm EZ lens. This is available with the OM-D EM-5 as a kit for $1299.99, but it’s definitely worth it. The new EZ lens is equipped with a silent electronic zoom motor for seamless, quiet action while recording videos. I even used it while taking pictures and it performed very well. The lens could also be zoomed manually, and there was a specialty Macro setting that automatically maximized the telephoto length.

After a full inspection, it was apparent that the trusty old OM-1 and dashing young OM-D EM-5 only shared an external resemblance from at least 10 feet away. Little did I know the Olympus OM-D EM-5 would feature one of the best designs I’ve seen on a digital camera to date. And we haven’t even gotten to its features yet.

Olympus OM-D EM-5 Features

Olympus-OM-D-EM-5-Product-14The process in which I tested the Olympus OM-D EM-5 was riddled with exclamations like “No way!” and “It does that too!?” as well as “Holy $&%#!” The Olympus OM-D EM-5 does just about anything the average photographer could ask for. This camera is so packed to the brim with features, that I had a difficult time recalling another camera that rivaled its arsenal. In fact, the only way to really break it down for you is to section up the Mode dial, so let’s get this party started.

P/A/S/M

The Olympus OM-D EM-5 has a newly expanded ISO range of 200-25,600 for enhanced shooting quality in low light, while the shutter speed snaps its quickest at 1/4000-second and can reach all the way down to 60-seconds or Bulb for plenty of long exposure time. The M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm EZ lens had a base aperture of f/3.5, which wasn’t that impressive, but the OM-D EM-5 stopped it all the way down to an f/22 for uniform depth of field when necessary. I still had the glorious f/2.0 12mm M.Zuiko Snap Focus for faster, wider glass. I absolutely loved the Command dials for setting the aperture and shutter speed because they lined up perfectly with my fingers and were highly responsive. Did I mention the horizontal and vertical horizon level meters in LCD and viewfinder views? There’s also a live histogram.

But Olympus took it a step further with the introduction of a new Highlight/Shadow grid adjustment that could be toiled with in Live view or the viewfinder. This was basically a live dynamic range fine-tuning tool that allowed me to set the intensity of shadows or brighten them and do the same thing for highlights. I could also adjust image Gradation, Saturation, Sharpness and Contrast right from within the camera. White Balance could be adjusted via a set of presets, Manual setting, or Kelvin meter and the OM-D EM-5 was stocked with Bracketing modes, including AE, WB, Focal Length, ISO and Art bracketing. Multiple Exposures and various aspect ratios could be employed as well. Anything you’d expect to find in a decent DSLR can be found in the OM-D EM-5, and maybe more.

Olympus-OM-D-EM-5-Product-8iAuto/Auto Stuff

Here, my options were very limited, as the OM-D EM-5 took the reigns for most of the advanced camera adjustments. However, iAuto mode gave me Live Guides, which can be found on the PEN lineup as well. Here, things like contrast, sharpness, vividness and shutter speed and white balance could be adjusted via a set of user-friendly sliders. This was particularly effective with the camera’s highly responsive touchscreen LCD. There were even shooting tips for beginners that outlined how to take pictures of things like kids, pets and flowers, as well as framing techniques.

While we’re in Auto Land, let’s talk about the Olympus OM-D EM-5′s spectacularly fast autofocus performance. I haven’t seen another camera match its speed. In addition to the excellent aufofocus, the camera had Face and Eye detection, with the capability to recognize up to 8 faces. The OM-D EM-5 also features a new 5-axis image stabilization system that did the job admirably, as well as an advanced metering mode with Spot Shadow and Spot Highlight modes. Images could be captured at 9fps at full resolution in Sequential High-speed mode, so action wasn’t a problem.

Olympus-OM-D-EM-5-Product-13Art/Scene/Video Modes

While the Olympus OM-D EM-5 is capable of wonderful things in the advanced controls department, some of my favorite modes were found in the Art section of the Mode dial. Though these artistic filters are nothing new, I blame Olympus for turning me into a Dramatic Tone junkie. I also like the new Key Line filter, and have always been a fan of Cross Process. All of these can be used in Video mode, though the framerates drop dramatically. The best news was that all 11 Art filters could be bracketed so I could pick my favorite one.

Olympus debuted two new effects in Video mode. Multi Echo and One Shot Echo create motion trails while recording videos. It’s a cool effect that will help you create Unsolved Mystery reenactments, but aside from that, I found it to be a bit gimmicky. I did love the fact that I could shoot videos in the P/A/S/M modes with varying degrees of control. The Continuous Autofocus was also a stellar performer, shifting quietly and smoothly through the focal plane. Between its performance and the smooth zooming EZ lens, the Olympus OM-D EM-5 was just as fun to shoot videos with as it was stills.

Finally, what would and Olympus be without Scene modes? As if the camera didn’t offer enough options, right? The typical Night, Landscape and Portrait Scene modes are present, though the OM-D EM-5 lacks a Panorama Sweep option, which I think it needs in the year 2012. Regardless, the Olympus OM-D EM-5 is a killer weapon in the world of portable photography.

Olympus OM-D EM-5 Image Quality

Olympus-OM-D-EM-5-Product-11The camera on the left relies on the type of film spooled into its back in relation to its image quality, while the camera on the right puts its faith in an all-new 16-megapixel Live MOS sensor to do all the talking. This is by far the biggest differentiation between the original Olympus OM lineup and the new OM-D EM-5. In my opinion, the new sensor Olympus used in the OM-D EM-5 is the most advanced and best performing slice of hardware the company has put in one of its Micro Four Thirds cameras to date. The camera is not only faster with a 9fps burst rate, but the ISO cap has been maxed out to 25,600.

The pictures taken with the Olympus OM-D EM-5 were superb for a Micro Four Thirds camera. I could control so many parameters from shadows to highlights to sharpness and saturation, and the images rivaled APS-C DSLRs at times. However, I did find that the highest comfortable ISO level was around 3200, sometimes 6400 depending on the environment. 12,800 and 25,600 were just noise fests, though the images would be fine if they were scaled down significantly in resolution. Overall landscapes, macros, portraits and long exposures were great with the OM-D EM-5, so if you’re a fan of the PEN cameras, the OM-D will seem like a shiny new Christmas present.

Now video was another story. The Olympus OM-D EM-5 is capable of recording 1920 x 1080i videos (29.97fps) in the H.264 .MOV format. Of course there’s 720p, but that’s interlaced and outputted as 29.97fps as well. Like the PEN cameras, the Olympus OM-D EM-5 can record Motion JPEG files as well, though I strongly recommend avoiding that format at all costs due to compatibility issues in non-linear editing programs and inferior image quality. The bottom line here is that there’s no progressive 30p or 24p, so interlaced is the only way to roll.

Because of that, I wasn’t as much of a fan of video mode. Sure, the quality in most scenarios was great, but I did run into an occasional glitch where entire frames would exhibit this unbelievable compression for a few seconds at a time. I’m not sure if it was camera or card related, but I use a SanDisk Pro on every camera I’ve ever tested and have never had one issue in over 10 years with one. Also, the fact that the OM-D EM-5 lacked Mic and Headphone jacks robbed my ability to consider it as a true Everyman camera. The silent autofocus and image stabilization worked wonderfully, and videos exhibited almost no shutter lag, but I think Olympus has some adjustments to make if they want to compete with the wave of DSLRs hitting the market these days with silent Movie AF as well.

Olympus OM-D EM-5 Still Image Samples

Olympus OM-D EM-5 HD Video Samples

Olympus OM-D EM-5 Conclusion

Olympus-OM-D-EM-5-Product-1At the end of my nostalgic journey with the first member of the digital OM family, I walked away finding solace in the fact that the Olympus OM-D EM-5 is my favorite Micro Four Thirds camera released to date. A cavalcade of features, controls, adjustments and magic abounds inside this retro throwback, and the OM-D EM-5 is without a doubt worthy of carrying the OM name for years to come. Between the touchscreen LCD, intelligent electronic viewfinder, shadow/highlight control, Art filters and dozens of other hidden gems, the Olympus OM-D EM-5 is a bonefide winner.

I do think that Olympus needs to work on the video mode, particularly introducing 30p and 24p modes, as well as sticking Mic and Headphone jacks on the next model. Also, how about a Panorama Sweep mode? Other than that, those complaints are drops in the bucket compared to the avalanche of goodness that froths forth from the Olympus OM-D EM-5. Yes, I’m certainly down with OM-D.

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