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I could not resist! The Olympus E-M5 (UPDATE: SOLD)

A few weeks ago, I could not resist!  I put my hands on an Olympus OM-D (EM-5) and I loved it right away.  It left the store with me.  I have been testing it on real shoots.  We just got back from Train Mountain near Klamath Falls, OR.  This the worlds largest miniature train layout.  It is 7 1/2 gauge with over 32 miles of track on 200 acres.  The camera did a great job.  I shot both stills and movies.

Size Compare

Size of E-M5 vs GH2

When Olympus first announced the camera I was impressed but was not that excited.  I loved my Pansonic DMC-GH2.  The early reviews are raving about the picture quality so I had to go to see one to see what the fuss was all about.  I was very surprised that the camera store I visited had one, let alone three.  All the cameras had the 12-50mm kit lens.  This is review of primary using the EM-5 as a stills camera since it does not beat the GH2 as a video camera.  Olympus is going to sell a lot of them.

Stills Mode

First thing that caught my attention was the shutter sound or lack there of.  This the quietist camera that I have used since my old 35mm Leica M4 rangefinder.  I am one of those who hated the newsphotog's at Ronald Reagan's funeral because of their noisy still cameras.  Show people some respect.  When the micro 4/3rd's cameras we introduced I thought they would be quieter because of the lack of a mirror but this was not the case.  Yes, they are quieter but not by much.  With the GH2 there is a definite “clack”.  With the EM-5 there is a very muted “click, wis”.  The only other DSLR camera that came close to this sound was my old Olympus's E-1.  Canon has a silent mode that uses Live View but is not this quiet.

Train Mountain

IS with 100-300 on Train Mountain

When the first cameras hit users hands, there was a lot flack about the noise the camera makes.  When you turn on the camera makes a very quiet whir.  It does not go away unless you use Movie mode.  This whir is the sound of the 5-Axsis In-body Image Stabilization (IS).  It does not go away if you turn the IS off.  I have to say that the IS is very good and does not like in-lens IS on Panasonic lenses being used at the same time.  With manual lenses the focal length of the lens can be dialed in.  I was able to dial in 500mm for my old manual Tamron SP 500mm mirror lens and once I did this it worked like a charm.  With my other manual lenses all I have to do is dial in the focal length.  Now in stills mode all of my lenses have the benefit of IS whether automatic or non electric manual.  For some reason the IS does not work with non electric manual lenses in Movie mode.

Size of E-M5 vs E-PL1

Size of E-M5 vs E-PL1. This is small.

This camera is small but looks big.  I bought the Silver model because it looks more retro elegance.  Black cameras look more professional and that is not what I need to be stealth.  I like being stealth.  It is very light weight but feels good in the hand.  I do miss the extra hand grip the GH2 has.  The HDL-6 Battery Grip restores the big grip but I did not purchase one.

Most of the controls are right to be where they should be.  I really like the dual control wheels.  The GH2 has only one but I do like that it can be pushed to change things.  The wheels can be programed for must functions very easily from the very robust menu system.  There are three programable Function buttons on the camera.  Two on the top and one on the back.  The third is actually the Movie record button.  I have reprogrammed the buttons.  Button Fn1 is One Shot White Balance.  I have not used it a lot because the Auto White Balance is quite good.

Button Fn2 is Multi-Function.  Holding the button down and turning the rear wheel gives me the choice of 4 items, Highlight & Shadow control, White Balance, Magnify and Image Aspect.  I usually leave it on Magnify for manual focusing with manual lenses.  I also like the Highlight & Shadow control.  Pressing the button then turning the front wheel adjusts Highlights.  The rear wheel adjusts Shadow detail.

Yarding on Train Mountain

Train Mountain was busy with traffic.

I have set the Movie Record button so it switches between Manual Focus and Auto Focus.  Turning the rear wheel while holding the button selects the Auto Focus mode.  Unlike the GH2 more of settings are menu based.  The GH2's 4 way controller gets pushed easily so I had to disable it by setting the buttons to focus area selection.  This how the EM-5 is set by default.  The four way controller selects the focus area.  It can be disabled.  Also these buttons can be set for Direct Function. When they are the Right Arrow and Down Arrow can be set to a function.  Unlike my GH2, I have the Right Arrow set to Drive Mode.  The Down Arrow is set to ISO.  One nice thing Olympus did was make the four way Center Select button bring up a side menu on the screen to select most of the photographic functions.  ISO, image quality, sound, still frame rate, etc.

The Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) is very good.  I can see the whole thing just barely with my glasses and it seems a little smaller the the EVF on the GH2.  The image can be reduced a little in the menus with the data around the image.  The rear LCD is big and gorgeous with great color.  Much higher resolution than the GH2's.  It folds down and than up.  I prefer the GH2's swivel design because it is more flexible and can be turned backwards to protect the screen when not in use.  Also I prefers the GH2's method for playback.  When you push the playback button the GH2 displays in the EVF if it is selected.  The E-M5 always displays on the the LCD.  When you use the EVF you see about a one second view of the image you just shot.  If you want to see it again it's on the LCD.  Tough when outside in the sunlight.  To see the image in the EVF you can push the Viewfinder Select button after it displays on the LCD.  There are times I wish I could turn the LCD off.  To do this on the GH2 all you do is turn the LCD around towards the camera.  Please fix this Olympus.

Light Speed on Train Mountain

Light Speed on Train Mountain. Or going thru tunnel.

The M.Zuiko Digital 12-50mm f3.5-6.3 EZ kit lens was a bit of a surprise.  I did not think that I needed this lens but I do like it.  It is very small and light.  It is also weather sealed like the camera and focuses very quickly.  I like that the wide end is at 12mm.  At f3.5 it is not that slow in aperture.  The implementing of the power zoom is well done.  The images are good but this camera is screaming for a better lens.  The lens did not come with a lens shade so I ordered one from a third party one.  Come on Olympus, where is the shade?  Thank you, Panasonic.

Movie Mode

The Movie Mode is a mixed blessing.  It is 30fps only.  This does not bother me as I almost always shoot 30p.  The camera shoots a QuickTime h264 Movie like Canon instead of the AVCHD wrapper that the GH2 creates.  It is much easier to deal with on the computer for playback.  The built in image stabilizer works with electronic m4/3rds lenses.  There is a built in stereo microphone.  The image is very sharp.  Sharper than the Canon's take on a HDSLR but not quite as good as the GH2.

The biggest negatives about the movies is the 20mbs low bit rate.   On some shots there is a lot of blockiness on movement.  Mainly on up and down movement.  The old ugly friends of allising and moiré show up once and while and not to bad.

Also this camera has a very strange sound set up.  It is like the Olympus Pen series in that you have to buy an adapter just to connect to any external cable connected to a mixer or microphone.  This should not bother those of you who use an external recorder for sound.  For me it will be a B camera for video shoots.

Manual Movie mode does not allow adjustment of shutter or aperture during recording so the only way you can change exposure is with a lens that has an aperture ring.  Then you have no image stabilization.   I have used Shutter Priority so I can set the shutter to a 60th of a second.  If you don't want the exposure to change there is the option of setting one of the programmable buttons to Aperture Lock.

Feed me on Train Mountain

Feed me on Train Mountain. 14-140 @ 140mm

The HDMI only works on playback so there is no external monitoring on this camera.  The HDMI connector is non standard for a HDSLR.  It is smaller and requires a new cable.  It is really too bad Olympus does not take movie recoding seriously.  Please add more video functionality, Olympus.


Olympus has pulled out the stops when they created the E-M5.  The image quality is excellent.  The biggest complaints about the four thirds format have been conquered.  High image noise, focus speed, built quality have all been raised to it's mighty expensive brethren, the “Big Boys”, Nikon and Canon's APC cameras.  With the E-M5 other benefits are a very quiet, no mirror vibration, seeing what we get as we shoot and of course small size and weight.   We can carry a lot smaller camera bag.  We don't have to carry as much.  Combine that with some stellar lenses and we finally have a stills camera built for the 21st Century.

UPDATE:  I sold the camera as the Panasonic GH3 is better for me.  It has better video, size and grip.  I feel the the pictures are as good as the E-M5.