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Olympus OM-D EM-5 review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £1149
inc VAT

One of the best compact system cameras to date, but there are some weaker areas that we'd struggle to accept at this price


17.3x13mm 16.0-megapixel sensor, 4.2x zoom (24-100mm equivalent), 636g

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 OM-D EM-5

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.

Olympus OM-D EM-5

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.

Olympus OM-D EM-5

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.

There are masses of options in the menu, ranging from the frame rate of the EVF to the ability to add copyright information to photos’ metadata. However, there are quite a few unexplained phrases and acronyms, such as Level Adjust, Rls Priority C and Live SCP. The latter stands for Super Control Panel, and turned out to be a really useful feature that presents photographic functions in a grid across the screen. This was much easier to navigate than the scrolling column of icons that otherwise appears. We wonder how many users will ever find it.

Olympus OM-D EM-5

The controls aren’t all bad news, though. It’s a treat to have dual command dials on such a slim camera, and they’re substantial metal dials, too. People who favour their left eye may find that their forehead hampers access to the rear dial when using the viewfinder, though. The customisable function button on the barrel of the kit lens is a smart move. Setting it to One Touch WB allowed us to calibrate the white balance simply by holding down this button, pointing the camera at a white object and pressing the shutter button. Technically that’s two touches, but it’s still faster than any other custom white balance function we can think of.

Another thoughtful touch is that the screen and EVF don’t have to show the same thing. You can’t look at both at the same time, of course, but there’s an option to show settings on the screen and a live view on the EVF when the camera is raised to the eye. Meanwhile, Olympus has resolved the issue of whether photos should be shown in the EVF directly after capture or whether the live view should continue – the former happens by default, but holding down the shutter button after capture returns almost immediately to live view.

Olympus OM-D EM-5

It’s a shame that this behaviour doesn’t extend to continuous mode. 9fps shooting is a superb achievement but it’s hard to follow moving subjects when you’ve only got a succession of captured photos to look at. The buffer was full after two seconds and performance fell to 2.6fps for JPEGs, 2fps for raw, but there was still no live view.

A slower continuous mode proved to be more useful, running at 4.3fps and lasting for 30 frames before decelerating. This mode offered a sporadic and strangely low-resolution live view but it was enough to help us frame shots. The camera also updated the autofocus between shots in this mode. Autofocus performance in general was extremely impressive. We’re not in a position to authoritatively test Olympus’s claim that it’s the world’s fastest, but it’s certainly up there with SLRs and the best CSCs.

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Basic Specifications

Rating ****
CCD effective megapixels 16.0 megapixels
CCD size 17.3x13mm
Viewfinder electronic (1,440,000 pixels)
Viewfinder magnification, coverage 1.15x, 100%
LCD screen size 3.0in
LCD screen resolution 610,000 pixels
Articulated screen Yes
Live view Yes
Optical zoom 4.2x
Zoom 35mm equivalent 24-100mm
Image stabilisation optical, sensor shift
Maximum image resolution 4,608×3,456
File formats JPEG, RAW; QuickTime (AVC), AVI (M-JPEG)


Memory slot SDXC
Mermory supplied none
Battery type Li-ion
Battery Life (tested) 330 shots
Connectivity USB, AV, micro HDMI
Body material magnesium alloy
Lens mount Micro Four Thirds
Focal length multiplier 2.0x
Kit lens model name M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-50mm 1:3.5-6.3 EZ
Accessories USB and AV cables
Weight 636g
Size 90x122x131mm

Buying Information

Warranty one year RTB
Price £1,149

Camera Controls

Exposure modes program, shutter priority, aperture priority, manual
Shutter speed 60 to 1/4,000 seconds
Aperture range f/3.5-22 (wide), f/6.3-22 (tele)
ISO range (at full resolution) 200 to 25600
Exposure compensation +/-3 EV
White balance auto, 7 presets with fine tuning, 2 manual, Kelvin
Additional image controls contrast, saturation, sharpness, graduation, noise reduction, colour space, shading compensation
Manual focus Yes
Closest macro focus 20cm
Auto-focus modes multi, flexible spot, face detect
Metering modes multi, centre-weighted, centre, face detect
Flash auto, forced, suppressed, slow synchro, rear curtain, red-eye reduction
Drive modes single, continuous, self-timer, AE bracket, WB bracket, ISO bracket, multiple exposure

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Reviews | DSLRs