Image quality - initial impressions

We can't show full size images from the E-M5 or make any definitive statements on image quality, but we can share some initial images and impressions. Perhaps most importantly, despite the switch to a new sensor, Olympus's signature color rendition appears to have been retained. This means that the camera outputs attractive images with slightly warm and saturated, but crucially pleasant color, shot after shot. This may not matter so much to committed RAW shooters, but we're always pleased to see it, as it means you don't necessarily have to shoot RAW to get really nice results.

First impressions of the camera's high ISO output are pretty favorable too. It looks like the E-M5 should be quite useable at ISOs where the 12MP PENs would really start to struggle. Obviously though we'll look into this in more detail when we get a production camera to review.

The images below were shot using either the M.Zuiko Digital 45mm 1:1.8 for the various portraits, or the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm 1:3.5-6.3 EZ (the E-M5's weathersealed kit zoom). For any of these samples, click on the thumbnail to see a down-sampled 1600x1200 px version.

On a dull grey day, the E-M5's signature 'Olympus color' has livened up a scene that many cameras would render as drab and unattractive. The E-M5 also offers the kind of warm, flattering skin tones that we've become used to from Olympus.
In this ISO 1600 shot, colors retain saturation and noise is well-suppressed. I'm not claiming this is any kind of artistic triumph, but it was shot at ISO 8000 at twilight, yet still maintains decent color.

Art Filters

We've long been fans of Olympus's Art Filters, which have been widely imitated but never really bettered. These image effects make far more sense on mirrorless cameras than SLRs, as their effects can be previewed live in the viewfinder and taken into account during image composition. This actively encourages a bit of creativity, and lets you tailor your composition to the desired processing effect rather than vice versa. The E-M5 allows you to record a normal RAW file alongside your Art Filtered JPEG, and you can reconvert this in-camera to other Art Filter effects too (or simply use normal image processing).

As is the Olympus way, the E-M5 offers a few new filters and variants; there's an entirely new 'Key Line' filter which apparently is inspired by the Japanese Manga style of drawing. It's one of those filters that works quite well for the occasional shot, but you probably won't be setting as default. The existing 'Cross Process' filter gets a strongly magenta-toned variant which, equally, is effective at times but overall of less-than-universal utility.

Keyline gives a rather graphic effect, with somewhat muted, posterized colors. Cross Process II adds a strong magenta tone, particularly to neutral areas of the frame. Like several of the filters it's not especially suited to everyday scenes.
The old favorites are still in place, of course; this is Diorama mode... ... and this is the slightly eye-watering Pop Art, with Pinhole effect added on top.

However, there a couple of more positive changes. Dramatic Tone now has a monochrome variant that gives interesting results, offering a rather different high-contrast monochrome 'look' to the familiar Grainy Film filter.

Dramatic Tone II gives a high contrast black-and-white look that's particularly well-suited to graphic subjects, retaining far more detail then the existing Grainy Film filter.

Art Filter bracketing  - the ability to save a single shot using multiple different effects - can now be accessed much more easily, as the final option in the filter selection menu. It still has to be configured in the main menu, but if you have a few preferred filters you regularly use, then you can set the camera up to process your shots accordingly.

Art Filter Bracketing lets you record multiple versions of the same shot. This is a Grainy Film variant of the Dramatic Tone shot above...  ...and here it is in Pinhole. If you record RAW files then you can apply all also these after the event, either in-camera or using Olympus's supplied software.

Summary

I may only have had my hands on the E-M5 for a relatively limited period of time on a dull day in Amsterdam, but that's still enough to leave a very positive impression. It's the kind of camera that long-term Olympus users will recognize - small, solid, and highly capable - and its high-end spec such as weatherproofing and fast continuous shooting is the icing on the cake.

The only potential banana skins we've identified to consider before placing a pre-order are the tiny buttons and the way that the optional larger grip makes certain controls less-easy to reach - perhaps most notably the movie record button. But in key areas such as speed, access to essential controls, and most importantly image quality, the E-M5 appears very promising. We'll obviously need to wait for a fully-reviewable sample to really get to grips with it, but the omens are looking good.

Oh, and a few more shots...

The highlight of the various events Olympus laid on to showcase the E-M5 was a studio portrait shoot, under the genial direction of photographer Paul Schirnhofer. This gave an opportunity to experiment with different styles and Art Filters, with a professional model and lighting setup. Here are some of the resulting shots.

'Soft Focus' Art Filter 'Natural' Picture Mode
'Sepia' Art Filter with Frame effect 'Grainy Film' Art Filter
'Diorama' Art Filter 'Cross Process II' Art Filter
'Dramatic Tone II' Art Filter 'Natural' Picture Mode

For our previously published in-depth hands-on preview of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 click here