Olympus OM-D E-M5 Review

This is the first camera I’ve ever pre-ordered and I finally got it last month. This camera has been so popular that Olympus had some trouble keeping up with the demand. People who pre-ordered after March from any of the big online companies (B&H, Amazon, Adorama, etc) had better luck getting them from a local camera store.  So why is this camera so popular?  For me, it was the weather sealing and the ISO performance that did it for me.  It was just announced the other day that the sensor was made by Sony which explains why this camera is so good.

You have the choice of an all black model or a black one with silver accents, much like the old OM-1 film cameras. You also have a few choices in kits:  the 12-50mm, 14-42mm or body only. I’ve got a few 14-42mm lenses already from previous PEN cameras so I decided on the 12-50mm kit. It’s the first micro four thirds weather proof lens and it also has a macro mode and a new electromagnetic zoom option that provides a smooth zoom for video. It sells for $499 by itself but if you get it with the camera it’s only an extra $300. It’s not the fastest lens on the block at only F3.5-6.3 but honestly it doesn’t really matter that much because the great ISO performance of the OM-D makes up for it.  Olympus has always put out some great lenses in their kits and this one is no exception, it’s sharp!

OMD vs OM1

The EM-5 is only the first of probably many models of OM-D’s that Olympus will produce. There are already rumors of an OM-D Pro coming soon. I can’t imagine what the Pro version will have that the E-M5 doesn’t have. I have tested it in many shooting situations including street, event, product and landscape photography. There’s nothing this camera can’t do.  I haven’t even picked up my DSLR since its arrival.

Menu Settings:
Even though I’ve used Olympus cameras for years I still sometimes get confused by the menu system when I am customizing it. I can imagine those not coming from other Olympus cameras would be even more confused. Luckily there are some good guides out there to help you figure things out.  The best one I’ve come across is this user guide on dpreview.com.  It gives some great tips on some settings you should change and I did most of them. I won’t repeat them all but I will second that you should activate the Super Control Panel (SCP).  I seem to have trouble figuring out how to do this every time I get a new PEN. The trick is to activate it in all modes (iAUTO, P/A/S/M, ART and SCN).  It should say Live SCP On in each mode.  This will allow you to see a screen full of various settings when you click the ok button, allowing you to change settings more easily and quickly than surfing through the menus.

There is one thing they do not make easy to change and use, the “myset” function.  This lets you customize your camera settings for different shooting situations. You can have up to 4 different settings.  Some people set theirs up for day and night shooting.   I set one up for normal daytime shooting and one for shooting HDR.  When I do HDR I switch to continuous shooting mode and turn on exposure bracketing to 3f 1.0EV.  It’s only two settings but it’s inconvenient to manually changing those settings between HDR and non HDR shots so having an HDR setting saves some time.  There are only two ways to swap between mysets. One is to go into Shooting Menu 1, select reset/myset, scroll to desired setting, push ok then select yes.  Be careful not to use the right arrow button because that will reset your myset.  The other option is to assign a function key to each myset.  This is a great idea however the implementation was not well thought out.  You have to hold the function key down while you shoot.  I hope that in a future firmware update they change this so you only have to press the function key once to change to the function button’s assigned myset.  There is a good Guide to Myset Functions on mu-43.com that has much better instructions on how to set this up than the camera’s instruction manual.

Picture Quality:
We are talking DSLR quality, much better than many of the DSLR’s on the market today.  I’ve seen many sites comparing it to various DSLR’s, even some top of the line ones and it is hard to tell the difference between them.  ISO performance has always been Olympus’ biggest area of weakness with all of their cameras but not anymore.  The ISO performance is what made me pre-order this camera as fast as I could.  I set my max ISO setting on my other Olympus cameras to 1000 but this one has no problem with going 4-5 times that and still get great shots.  I set the max ISO on mine to 3200 but may increase it even more. I have no complaints at all about the picture quality.  I may even sell my E-5 and E-3 and the majority of my four thirds lenses.  Yes I do have an adapter to use four thirds lenses on this camera but the focusing is a little slow on them.  I’ve heard many people have sold their DSLR’s and have moved completely over to this camera system and I think the transition to mirrorless cameras is only going to increase

Kit Lenses:
Kit lenses are one thing Olympus doesn’t skimp on and the 12-50mm hasn’t changed that.  It’s the first splash proof micro four thirds lens, the first Oly lens with electromagnetic zoom and the first to have a macro button and a function button.  This lens introduces lots of firsts that will likely be seen in future micro four thirds lenses.  It took me a while to figure out how the macro mode worked on this lens. Just pushing the button will not do anything.  You have to hold the button down and slide the barrel of the lens out to kick it into macro mode.  It’s not a true 1:1 macro lens but it does x0.36 (x0.72 in 35mm equivalent), which will work just fine for most situations.  You can’t zoom while in macro mode, the focal length is fixed at 43mm and the aperture starts at F6. I’ve gotten some great shots with this lens so far and have no regrets getting this kit.I also have the 14-42mm kit lens from the E-PM1 and E-P1.  I haven’t honestly used those kit lenses that much. Once I got the 20mm pancake it pretty much stayed on my camera and was the only lens I used until the E-M5 arrived.

Below are a couple of macros taken with the 12-50mm kit lens.

Lens Macro
12-50mm macro – F6 – 1/20 – ISO 1600
Gypsy Dancer Rose
12-50mm macro – F8 – 1/400 – ISO 200

Sharing a Meal
12-50mm macro – F6 – 1/160 – ISO 200

Other Lenses:
There are many other lenses available now for micro four thirds and more being announced on a regular basis. Unfortuantely I don’t have too many of them yet.  The first one I purchased was the Panasonic 20mm Pancake.  After getting the E-M5 I purchased a used 45mm F1.8 from a friend and the 75-300mm is due to arrive today. I borrowed this lens from Olympus last year and was very impressed.  I took it to the beach and to a wildlife preserve and got some great shots with it.

Olympus and Panasonic are the main producers of micro four thirds lenses but many more companies are putting out lenses too: Kenko-Tokina, Tamron, Samyang, Voigtländer (COSINA) and Sigma are a few.  There’s a decent list of lenses available on four-thirds.org. I will definitely be purchasing more lenses in the future but haven’t decided which ones yet.  I’ve been trying to hold out for some more splash proof lens options.  Before I bought the 45mm, I borrowed it and a 12mm from Olympus and both of those produce some wonderfully sharp photos.  They were my primary lenses for the BlogHer Food Conference in Seattle a few weeks ago.

Below are a few of my favs that I’ve taken so far in my first month with the camera taken with the 12mm and 45mm prime lenses.

Moo Cows at Sunset
12mm – F5 – 1/80 – ISO 1600
Bee Takeoff
45mm – F2.8 – 1/800 – ISO 200
45mm – F3.2 – 1/100 – ISO 200
Closing Reception Menu
45mm – F1.8 – 1/100 – ISO 640
Chocolate Covered
45mm – F1.8 – 1/100 – ISO 2000
Shaved American Heritage Chocolate
45mm – F1.8 – 1/50 – ISO 3200
Piroshky Piroshky
12mm – F2 – 1/400 – ISO 200

I would definitely recommend this camera to photographers of all skill levels if you can afford the $1299 for the 12-50mm kit. Some say it’s too expensive but I think it is worth the money. The size and weight makes this the perfect camera for travel, every day carry, and for those who just don’t want to break their back with DSLR equipment. The size has not affected the quality of photos.  With the new Sony sensor, the photo quality far exceeds that of entry level DSLR’s. If you find the camera is a little too small for you, you can always get the optional two piece grip which I have and love. Even though it’s a fairly new system, you can find tons of lenses for it though there is not an abundance of splash proof lenses on the market yet.

ISO performance
looks & feels awesome, especially with the grip
sturdy build
splash proof
built in EVF
5-axis in body image stabilization
many customizable buttons
accessory grip allows better handling and two extra function and shutter buttons.
live bulb mode
9 frames per second
3″ articulated OLED touch screen

complicated menu system
screen tilts up/down but not out to the side

if using function key for mymodes, function button must be inconveniently held down while shooting
the IS makes a fan sounding noise

Author: Paula Thomas

5 thoughts on “Olympus OM-D E-M5 Review

  1. Excellent posting and excellent photography (as usual).But when I look at the first photograph comparing the E-M5 and the OM-1, it saddens me that the design elegance of the OM-1 exceeds that of the E-M5. It won't stop me from buying an E-M5, but the OM-1/2 were and still are the best designed SLR cameras every made. If Olympus is to make a real professional version of the OM-D series they would do well to actually stretch the body to the same length as the OM-1/2 to give some additionally handling surface area, and maybe more room for a larger battery like the BLM-1/5. And maybe hew more closely to the OM-1/2 pentaprism/viewfinder housing.


  2. Paula – great overview. I've been teetering between this camera and the Pentax k-5/ Nikon D7000. I did use an EPL2 for a few months last year. I was underwhelmed by the high ISO performance of that camera. What keeps me away from the small format cameras is the EVF. Even with the optional finder, I was unimpressed by the EPL2 EVF.


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