Olympus OM-D EM-5 review
One of the best compact system cameras to date, but there are some weaker areas that we'd struggle to accept at this price
Review Date: 18 Aug 2012
Price when reviewed: £1,149
Reviewed By: Ben Pitt
Olympus and Panasonic jointly developed the Micro Four Thirds system that kick-started the compact system camera (CSC) movement, but Olympus's early PEN cameras were overshadowed by the sprightlier performance of Panasonic's G series and, later, the higher image quality of Sony's NEX range. The third generation of PEN cameras put Olympus back in the race with improved autofocus and much lower noise. The E-M5 raises the bar yet again.
Olympus has dropped the PEN brand with this model in favour of OM-D – an explicit reference to Olympus's OM film cameras. They're clearly the inspiration for the E-M5's retro appearance, but there's little else that's retro about this camera with its 16-megapixel CMOS sensor, 1.44 million dot electronic viewfinder (EVF) and articulated OLED touchscreen. It's the first CSC to be fully weather sealed – you can't take it swimming but its magnesium alloy body can cope with splashes and dust, as can the new 20-50mm lens. This lens also benefits from a dual zooming mechanism, with motorised movement for smooth zooms while shooting video plus a direct mechanical control to jump quickly to the desired focal length when taking photos.
The upmarket features continue with an optional battery grip (Olympus HLD-6, £230 inc VAT), which comes in two parts. The first simply provides a more substantial handgrip, while the second (which screws into the first) holds a second battery and provides additional controls for more comfortable portrait-orientation shooting. As with the PEN cameras, optical stabilisation is built into the sensor, but this one is considerably more sophisticated, compensating for movement in five axes. It fared well in our tests but wasn't in a different league to more conventional designs.
Not all of the E-M5's features are so positive. Battery life without the grip is short at 330 shots, and may not be enough for a day's shooting. There's a detachable flash unit included in the box, but it sits quite far back on the accessory shoe and gets in the way of the viewfinder a little. There's a sensor to switch automatically from the screen to the viewfinder when the camera is raised to the eye but it takes half a second to react and even longer when switching the other way. The video mode produced some beautiful footage and the lens focused and zoomed smoothly, but it's not possible to move the autofocus point while recording. Priority and manual exposure modes are available for videos but exposure controls can't be adjusted while recording either.
Our biggest grievances are regarding the controls. The buttons have a vague, spongy feel and there are no single-function buttons for direct access to photographic controls, unless you count the shutter release. There's a pair of assignable Function buttons and it's possible to reassign the navigation pad away from focus point duties to gain another two configurable controls plus exposure compensation. No functions are labelled, though, and there aren't quite enough buttons to go around. Having assigned ISO speed, white balance and drive mode, we had to choose between AE lock, depth-of-field preview, manual focus and a digital magnify function (to help with focus) for the remaining button.
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