With the launch of the E-M5, Olympus harks back to one of its most fondly-remembered camera systems - the Olympus OM range of 35mm SLRs. The E-M5 is the first camera in an OM-Digital lineup that will run alongside the PEN series and, according to the company, its Four Thirds models. For reasons of clarity, it should be stated that this isn't a continuation of the old OM line - the OM-D models won't be SLRs and are based around Micro Four Thirds, not OM lens mounts. However, they do embody the spirit of the much-loved camera line - a small, well-built camera designed for enthusiasts. And, particularly in silver and black form, the E-M5 is one of best looking cameras we've encountered in some time.
It would be easy to dismiss the E-M5 as simply an upgraded E-P3 with a built-in viewfinder, but that would rather miss the point. Looked at another way, the E-M5 appears to be a synthesis of the best bits of recent Olympus cameras. It offers greater capability than the company's range-topping E-5 DSLR in a compact body with the classic styling of the OM range. It also echoes of the E-620 - the small, photographer-focused camera that, to us, made most sense of the Four Thirds concept. Its magnesium alloy body also manages to incorporate the same extensive weather sealing that the E-5 offered - complementing the similarly-sealed M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm 1:3.5-6.3 EZ lens the company announced in December 2011.
And it is small - actually slightly smaller than the diminutive OM-4Ti whose looks it apes. But, like that camera, it has plenty of external controls. Twin dials protrude from the front and rear of the narrow top-plate, giving direct access to the major shooting functions in a way that we always hoped the top-of-the-line PENs would. The early push by manufacturers to create beginner-friendly mirrorless cameras means it's still rare to find cameras that offer two good control dials when your hand is in a shooting grip.
The camera is built around a 16MP Four Thirds sensor, which all our testing suggests may well be the same one seen in Panasonic's DMC-G3. This can only be seen as a welcome step forward, as it's a much newer and more capable sensor. The sensor is combined with the company's latest, TruePic VI processor, which appears to bring the usual Olympus magic to the JPEGs. The company claims improved dynamic range and, with an newer sensor and better processing, it's reasonable to expect better performance in terms of noise. And, since dynamic range is the range between highlights and a specified noise level, this would be considered a boost in dynamic range.
The company has also totally reworked its built-in image stabilization system. The new design is described as 5-axis (translational movement vertically and horizontally, and rotational movement around 3 axes - shown below), in contrast to the previous system that only corrected for up/down and left/right rotation. If it works, the ability to correct for rotation around the lens axis caused by pressing the shutter button offers a clear advantage over in-lens stabilization systems. Meanwhile, correction for translational movements promises more effective stabilization for macro photography at high magnifications (like Canon's 'Hybrid IS'). The system continues to work in video. Although none of these systems is inherently original, this is the first camera we've seen to incorporate them all at once, we look at its effect on the performance page of this review.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 specification highlights:
- 16MP MOS Four Thirds format sensor
- Weather-sealed body
- Twin control dials
- New, '5-axis' image stabilization
- Shoot at up to ISO 25,600
- Up to 9fps shooting (4.2 fps with continuous AF)
- 800x600 pixel (1.44M dot) LCD electronic viewfinder
- VGA-equivalent 3" OLED touchscreen display - tilts 80° upwards and 50° downwards
- Latest TruePic VI processor
- Improved C-AF autofocus with 3D tracking
- Flash sync speed up to 1/250th sec
Hands-on Preview video*
*Note that this video was prepared as part of our original preview content of the E-M5