Three years after making its first entrance into the compact system camera arena with the PEN E-P1, Olympus has gone back to its roots again to produce the OM-D, with its retro styling owed to its analogue predecessor.
Inside the camera are an all new 16 million pixel Live MOS Four Thirds sensor and TruePic VI image processor, which Olympus says is designed to give better low light performance and higher dynamic range than previous Micro Four Thirds cameras in its line-up (for more on Micro Four Thirds, see CSC vs DSLR: their differences defined).
As a step-up from the PEN range, this camera is designed to appeal to advanced enthusiasts, however, Olympus is keen to point out that the camera isn’t necessarily intended for use by pros, which it still believes will be drawn in by the company’s range of DSLRs.
That said, there are a large number of impressive specs crammed into the OM-D’s diminutive body. A new image stabilisation system uses a 5 axis system which combats bodyshake for vertical, horizontal, pitch, rolling and yaw.
Along with its Micro Four Thirds cohort, Panasonic, Olympus is keen to emphasis the benefits of using the smaller sensor, including edge to edge sharpness.
That retro body has been designed with serious photographers in mind, with the magnesium alloy being dust and splash proof, featuring the same all weather proofing as its top of the range DSLR, the E-5.
This dust and splash proofing has also been carried over to a number of accessories compatible with the OM-D, including the detachable flash which is bundled with the camera, as well as the new 12-50mm zoom lenses and the new battery grip.
As the camera is pitched at higher end users, a new higher price tag has also been attached. At £1000 for the body only, the camera certainly isn’t cheap, but it’s likely to be pitched against other high-end cameras such as the Fujifilm X Pro-1 and Sony NEX-7, which fall into similar, if not more expensive, price brackets.
The Olympus OMD EM5 Verdict
Our testing team put the Olympus OMD through its paces, which you can read about in the full Olympus OMD review over on our sister site, TechRadar. If you want some of the key points from the full test and the final verdict on the OMD, here is what our team had to say:
On Build & Handling
“Despite its small size, it still feels like a solidly built camera, with extra confidence coming from the weatherproofing. The angular body of the OM-D also makes it easy to hold and quickly access the various buttons, which have been fairly sensibly laid out in the most part.
“As this camera is intended for a more advanced audience, there are a greater number of control dials and direct access buttons, many of which are customisable depending on how you prefer to use the camera. It’s a shame that there isn’t a direct ISO button, however one of the Function buttons can be customised to control this.
“We found the touchscreen to be very responsive and quick to use, certainly a step up from some of the compact cameras currently available.
“Electronic viewfinders tend to suffer from a bad reputation, but the device found on the OM-D is certainly one of the best we’ve used, if not quite matching up to the clarity of that found on the Sony NEX-7.” (Find out How to use a viewfinder, which is part of our ongoing free photography cheat sheet series)
“Image quality from the Olympus OM-D is very good, producing a noticeable improvement over the 12 million pixel sensors found on its PEN series and making a fantastic argument for compact system cameras (CSCs) in general.
“The level of detail captured is particularly impressive, especially when shooting in natural light and using low sensitivity settings, while JPEGs straight from the camera are very sharp indeed.
“In most situations, the OM-D’s automatic white balance setting does a good job of producing accurate colours, although it does struggle a little indoors under artificial or mixed light – tending to favour warm tones.
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 promises 330 shots from its battery, which we found to be about accurate, and it’s worth remembering that this can be boosted by the addition of the battery grip.”
On Noise and Dynamic Range
“Our analysis shows that the Olympus OM-D’s raw files (after conversion to TIFF) produce impressive results that beat all the comparison cameras and compare well against models with larger APS-C and full frame sensors. When it comes to dynamic range, the raw file (after conversion to TIFF) results show it produces the highest result so far gained by any compact system camera.”
Olympus OMD Final Verdict
Our initial impressions of this camera were very promising, and after having spent a lot more time with it now, we’re happy to report that its charms still manage to hold our attention for the most part, especially now we have had a chance to fully examine image quality.
While its retro looks may not appeal to everyone, for original OM users, it will certainly be a treat. Weatherproofing and ruggedness of the camera mean it feels as if it is built to last after taking some serious abuse, so we can also see street photographers falling in love with this camera (check our 21 street photography tips from the professionals).
Introducing an in-built EVF to this camera elevates it status above the PEN, taking it (despite Olympus’s own protestations) almost into semi-pro territory.
The wide range of compatible Micro Four Thirds lenses now available on the market – not forgetting those made by Panasonic and third party manufacturers such as Sigma, make purchasing a Micro Four Thirds camera a very interesting proposition. It’s when using different optics that the versatility of the OM-D is truly revealed.
It is of course an expensive proposition at £1, 149 for the single lens kit or £999 body-only, but when you consider all of the improvements that have been made, we think the extra expense when compared with an E-P3 is just about worth it.
It’s also worth pointing out that one of its biggest rivals, the Fuji X Pro1, is currently retailing for around £1,500 body only, making the E-M suddenly seem more attractive.
However, having said all of that, we can’t help but feel that the E-M5 is a little bit ‘unfinished’. As this is the first camera in the new OM-D line-up, it seems as if there is some work to do to make this camera live up to its full potential. For example, the plastic buttons feel like an afterthought.
Olympus has been guilty of this before, with the original PEN (E-P1) being superseded by the E-P2 only a few months after, packed with better features. So, for that reason, we’ll be very excited to see how Olympus develops this line going forward, and will be watching with anticipation.
Overall, Olympus has delivered a fantastic camera, which, along with its premium CSC cohorts, has the potential to be a game-changer, stealing focus from certain areas of the DSLR market. There’s a lot to love about the OM-D, especially the great image quality and its retro appeal – it will be interesting to see how sales perform.
The excellent viewfinder shows a marked improvements on those we’ve used before, while new art filters and variations on existing ones show how creative you can be with this camera. Image quality, in certain situations, is excellent and comparable to DSLR quality, while being confined within a much more portable device.
There are still a few little bugbears that could do with being ironed out. For such an expensive camera, the buttons could have been metal to add a better finish, while some of them were also a little slow and unresponsive.
Overall Score: 4/5