Olympus OM-D E-M5 Review
Performance - How well does it take pictures?
Performance starts with image quality, which is the criteria used as the foundation of our digital camera ratings. Ergonomic issues may get in the way, but in the end, image quality counts the most. For an ILC, image quality greatly depends on the lens used. While color, noise, exposure and dynamic-range are properties of a camera, distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberrations are properties of the lens. Sharpness and contrast depend on the weakest link. That is, a camera cannot capture more details than a lens lets through. Conversely, it is quite possible for a lens to transmit more details than a sensor can capture.
Image Noise & Details
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 delivers excellent image quality and is currently the highest-ranked Micro Four-Thirds digital camera at DxOMark, only a few APS-C mirrorless and DSLRs exceed its performance. This finally closes the gap between Micro Four-Thirds and other mirrorless systems to the point of being unnoticeable for common print sizes.
Image noise is extremely low until ISO 800 and barely there at 1600 where it remains usable for relatively large prints. ISO 3200 shows visible noise with has a slight effect on the finest details. At ISO 6400, fine details get eaten by noise and maximum print size is affected. On 12" x 9" prints, ISO 6400 remains extremely usable with fine noise only visible upon close inspection.
ISO 12800 shows significant noise with fine details gone. This makes noisy mid-size prints, yet completely usable 4" x 6" ones. ISO 25600 is surprisingly usable for small prints and even makes mid-size prints with recognizable contents.
There are three levels of noise-reduction available. NR can also be turned off entirely which avoids increased softness at high sensitivities. Best results are obtained with the NR Off and Sharpness at +1. Anything higher shows clear sharpening artifacts on this camera.
Color & White Balance
The OM-D E-M5 struggles with color accuracy. There are lots of Picture Modes but none produce realistic colors across the spectrum. The best image colors are obtained in Natural style with Saturation dials down to -1. The red channel remains too high regardless of settings. This is obviously avoidable for those who shoot RAW.
Automatic While-Balance is excellent. It deals well with a variety of conditions including typical indoor lighting. There are tons of options for the rare cases when AWB has difficulty or to get consistent colors between shots. Custom WB is easy to use on this camera and renders whites perfectly neutral.
This digital camera has an excellent multi-segment metering system. It is overexposes only when rather small and bright highlights are present in the scene. Generally, exposures come out perfectly usable without needing any exposure-compensation. Low contrast scenes are exposed towards the mid-tone which makes them look natural.
It is important to know that the LCD clips extreme highlights which may still be correctly captured. This happens when adjusting the highlight tone-curve too. Differences are barely noticeable on the LCD but images are in fact captured differently. Changes to the shadow tone-curve are much easier to see. When in doubt, the Playback histogram must be checked. The Live-Histogram is only truly accurate in M mode.
The OM-D E-M5 has a fast Contrast-Detect autofocus system. When mirrorless digital cameras were launched, this is where they lagged the most behind DSLRs and it is great to see that Olympus has truly improved in that area.
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 can focus quickly and accurately under typical conditions. Autofocus speed compares to a mid-range DSLR in good light and is just a little slower in low-light. Focus accuracy is extremely high and this digital camera rarely confirms focus incorrectly. Contrast-Detect AF never suffers from front or back focus issues, which is why no calibration is needed.
With most Micro Four-Thirds lenses, focus is done via a fly-by-wire ring around the lens-barrel. The E-M5 keeps up well with no perceptible lag. In DMF mode, a slight turn of the focus-ring shift into manual focus. Because the ring is fly-by-wire, the E-M5 can reverse the direction for focusing except for those few lenses with a mechanical focus-ring.
The E-M5 is a rather responsive digital camera. Olympus built upon the speed of the E-P3
Olympus PEN E-P3 and added a much faster 9 FPS continuous drive. Very few DSLRs can shoot that fast because they need tougher shutter curtains and mirror mechanisms.
In use, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 rarely holds back the photographer. Buttons, dials and the eye-start sensor all respond instantly. The following measurements characterize its performance:
- Power-On: 1 second. Average for an ILC.
- Power-On to First-Shot: 2 seconds. Average too.
- Autofocus: ¼s on good to moderate light. Rarely more than ½s, even in low light. Excellent.
- Shutter-lag: Nearly instant with around ¼s blackout. Very good.
- Shot-to-shot: Under ¾s. Much faster then the average mirrorless.
- Playback: ½s to enter, instant to exit. Excellent.
- Power-Off: Nearly instant second. Very good.
- Video: Instant to start, 2s to stop. Excellent start. Slow to stop but forgivable.
With numbers like this, the Olympus E-M5 is an excellent performer. It does particularly well with the important numbers, including shutter-lag, autofocus and shot-to-shot speed. For video, it starts recording instantly which is perfect.
The 9 FPS continuous drive with focus locked on the first show works incredibly well. The camera keeps shooting at a consistent pace and manages to keep the view of the EVF or LCD close to the action. This makes the Olympus OM-D E-M5 the first mirrorless reviewed here which is suitable for action photography.
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is powered by a proprietary Lithium-Ion battery which provides 360-shots per charge with 50% flash using the supplied add-on flash which is powered by the camera. This is below average among mirrorless yet should be enough for a day of shooting. Performance can be extended by not using the supplied flash.
Performance - How well does it shoot video?
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is capable of capturing full 1080p HD video at 30 FPS. It can also record 720p HD at the same frame rate. 1080p videos are stored using the H.264 codec in a Quicktime wrapper and 720p ones using the M-JPEG codec in an AVI wrapper or the same Quicktime H.264 format as for 1080p.
Within the Quicktime wrapper, videos are stored as interlaced fields at 60 FPS, even though this is unnecessary. M-JPEG properly stores 30 FPS as 30 FPS! A Quicktime video can be much longer because of its more efficient compression and can be up to 4 GB, compared to a maximum of 2 GB for AVI.
The 5-axis stabilizer is available during video recording rather than digital stabilization used in the E-P3. Sound is optionally recorded using the built-in stereo or an external microphone which connects to the accessory-port. These is no mini-jack on the E-M5 which limits options for external audio sources. The built-in microphone has 3 levels. A Wind-Noise-Reduction filter can optionally be enabled in 3-levels too.
Five autofocus modes are available for video capture: Single-Shot, Continuous, MF, DMF and Continuous DMF. While professional looking videos are always shot using MF, there is no harm using DMF which uses autofocus before the recording starts and leaves the camera in MF mode.
Continuous AF works remarkably well on the E-M5. It moves the lens silently and slowly and locks focus with very little back-and-forth movement which is disturbing to viewers and is typical of Contrast-Detect AF systems. Still, there is a good chance autofocus during video temporarily focuses on the wrong subject which is why MF or DMF is highly recommended.
Video quality of this mirrorless digital camera is very good. Frames are sharp with little compression artifacts and motion is rendered smoothly. Exposure is well maintained with small bright highlights clipped to keep the recording bright. Automatic White-balance is constantly adjusted while filming which can cause colors shifts in videos with mixed lighting.
While video can be recorded in any mode, the video mode lets the E-M5 be ready to record instantly and preview the correct framing. Thankfully, this camera does both perfectly. This makes it one of the best mirrorless digital cameras for video work
Note that the use of Zuiko lenses labelled MSC is important to have quiet autofocus and smooth transition. The unique Zuiko 12-50mm F/3.5-6.3 ED EZ
Zuiko 12-50mm F/3.5-6.3 ED EZ lens is sometimes bundled with the OM-D E-M5 for this purpose. This is a rather dim lens and seems overly large compared to the camera but it has an awesome zoom which can be operated both mechanically and electronically. While mechanical control is preferable for stills, the electronic zoom which is variable-speed allows to change focal-length smoothly for better videos.
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 takes Micro Four-Thirds to the next level by delivering the best image quality for its sensor-size along with a truly fast autofocus system. There are a lot of similarities with the already excellent E-P3 yet the E-M5 adds a sharp 1.4 megapixels EVF with Eye-Start sensor plus 9 FPS continuous shooting in a weather-sealed body of similar size.
Image quality is top-notch with low image noise until ISO 1600 and still makes usable images up to 12800 for mid-size prints and 25600 for small ones. Exposure and white-balance are excellent with only color accuracy being somewhat off. This puts the E-M5 close to mirrorless cameras with larger APS-C sensors.
Speed has been a big issue since the launch of mirrorless cameras. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 closes the gap extremely well by delivering a fast Contrast-Detect autofocus which rivals DSLRs in good light and manages quite well in low-light. This digital camera is also very quick, shooting up to 9 FPS with virtually no shutter-lag and a short black-out time. For the first time for a mirrorless, it also keeps the EVF or LCD closely behind action while shooting continuously.
Video performance is surprisingly without issues. Output quality is high and the video starts recording instantly and previews framing correctly. Even continuous autofocus when combined with an MSC lens keeps up well without much back-and-forth jitter.
The interface has some quirks, covered in the usability section of this review, but the E-M5 rarely gets in the way of the photographer. It shows its status as Olympus flagship and refinements over previous generation of Micro Four-Thirds cameras, making it well worth its price.
Olympus E-M5 Facts
Mirrorless digital camera
|16 Megapixels Mirrorless (SLD)||ISO 200-25600|
|Micro Four-Thirds Mount|
Sensor-Size: 17 x 13mm
Actual size when viewed at 100 DPI
|Built-in Stabilization||Full manual controls, including Manual Focus|
|0.45" Built-in EVF 1.4 Megapixels||Custom white-balance with 2 axis fine-tuning|
|Automatic Eye-Start sensor||Spot-Metering|
|2 Axis Digital Level||Hot-Shoe|
|Built-in Dust Reduction||Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
|9 FPS Drive, 17 Images|
|1920x1080 @ 30 FPS Video Recording|
|3" LCD 610K Pixels|
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