Olympus Comes Out Swinging with the OM-D E-M5

Posted in Equipment, Photography by Nathan Lee Bush on February 8, 2012

*Update: Our friend Mason Resnick has a hands on over at the Adorama Learning Center*

With camera makers hellbent on filling out their product lines in the new Compact System Cameras category (or whatever it’s called at the moment), Olympus just announced another long-rumored camera inspired by its storied history, the OM-D E-M5. This is the new flagship Micro Four Thirds camera from the manufacturer, landing at $1,000 body only, which will most likely operate above the PEN line. Embroiled in its current debacle, it’s nice to see that Olympus can still churn out innovative and exciting cameras at regular intervals, as evidenced by this svelte little contender.

Ho-hum features

The OM-D E-M5 has a nice cadre of by-now expected features baked in, as well as a few new technologies that make the package especially compelling as a unique snowflake in the crowded market. On the pleasant but pedestrian front, the build quality has been upped with magnesium alloy chassis and weather sealing. Size-wise it’s on par with its direct competition, notably the NEX-7. The camera sports a built-in 1.44 million dot viewfinder, as well as 3″ vertically tilting OLED touchscreen. It also promises jaw-dropping ISO range for a Micro Four Thirds camera: up to 25,600. The video is pretty well spec’d, though inexplicably has no 24p recording option. Uhhhh, what? There are certain things that should just come standard, especially in the now-ubiquitous video arena, and this is one of them.

Strangely, Olympus is still investing time developing silly art filters for its serious cameras. Is anyone using these? Scratch that, I met a working photographer at an opening recently using a PEN’s B&W filters, so that’s one. They looked pretty good, to be fair. I guess filters are something you hate until you break down and try them (as evidenced by my downward slide into Instagram addiction).

Standout features

Now, onto the potential game changers. The camera addresses some of the failings of the PEN system, most notably its aging sensor, now replaced with a 16MP sensor similar to the one found in the Panasonic G3. Perhaps the most headslappingly simple but obvious touch that most mirrorless cameras inexplicably lack is a front and rear control dial. This feature, standard on enthusiast-and-up DSLRs, has evaded most mirrorless entrants. Only the Sony NEX-7, which I admit to be courting for Valentine’s Day, seems to get that you can pack an awful lot of direct access control into a small body, perhaps offering the best ergonomic experience of any current camera on the market, and certainly among its mirrorless brethren. The E-M5 has gotten the hint, with the aforementioned control dials but also no less than three well-placed and endlessly programmable function buttons. Another headline feature is an innovative new image stabilization system that reacts to the camera shake on five planes in space (which I think is just about all of them).

One handsome devil

Aesthetics have long been a strong point for Olympus, and this camera is a beaut, with retro stylings that are just dorky enough for the camera dorks, like me, who get sweaty palms for boxy cameras the look like they should be paired with a DeLorean. It sports a stout, angular design which simultaneously feels impish and playful, with lines that lean slightly outward like a circus tent and an unapologetically tall viewfinder bulge that looks like a top hat. This is not just for effect: stacked on top of the EVF is an accessory port, and on that is the hotshoe, leaving plenty of options for peripherals.

The final word…for now

The E-M5 feels inspired and perfectly spec’d for its price point. While not utterly groundbreaking, it’s a pleasant surprise, seemingly getting the big things right. I won’t know until I get my hands on one, but my instincts tell me this will be an exciting and successful addition to the mirrorless market.


Nathan Lee Bush is a fashion and fine art photographer and filmmaker in New York City. His work is on his sitevimeo and blog.

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2 Responses

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  1. […] for super sharp images; Olympus pays homage to its legacy with the Micro Four Thirds flagship, the OM-D E-M5; Sigma lops the price tag many times on its SD1 flagship, putting it on par with more prosumer […]

  2. Randy Hyde said, on June 6, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    Anyone know when the EM 5 will be available?

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