Conclusion - Pros
- Very good image quality, even at high ISO
- Bright, punchy JPEGs make the most of camera's capability
- Very fast autofocus with most Micro Four Thirds lenses
- Weather-sealed body
- Built-in image stabilization helps increase number of sharp shots
- Good level of direct control despite small body
- Tilting OLED screen very good
- Large amount of control over image parameters
- Art Filters can help produce interesting results from dull subjects
- Almost every aspect of the camera is customizable
- Included Raw converter (Viewer 2) gives same high image quality output as camera
- Optional two-piece HLD-6 grip allows body size to be tailored to individual preference
- Very good selection of Micro Four Thirds lens is available
Conclusion - Cons
- Focus tracking distinctly unreliable
- Small controls sometimes awkward (especially with cold/gloved hands)
- No in-camera correction of CA (which can be problematic with 12-50mm kit zoom)
- Default JPEG settings a bit keen to blur detail away
- Several useful features hidden in obscure and confusingly-named menu options
- Otherwise useful HLD-6 grip makes some controls more awkward to reach
- No warning given that focus is locked during high-speed shooting
The Olympus E-M5 is Olympus' eighth Micro Four Thirds camera and by far its most competitive. It combines the company's pleasing JPEG engine with a more modern sensor to create a photographic tool that lives up to the capabilities implied by its evocation of the fondly-remembered 'OM' name.
Its retro design means it has a pleasantly traditional control layout which will be immediately familiar to most SLR and DSLR shooters. The E-M5 is also an extremely configurable camera, which means it can be tailored to your own preferred shooting style.
The consequence of this customization is that its custom menus can get a little daunting. For the most part they're well arranged, meaning you can usually find the setting you're after. Sadly, some of the most useful features (such as the ability to stabilize a magnified preview for manual focusing lenses) are hidden behind combinations of settings that are sometimes obscurely-named. Like most interchangeable lens cameras from Olympus, the EM-5 is worth studying if you want to get the most out of it.
The E-M5 sets a new benchmark for Micro Four Thirds images, thanks to a modern sensor and Olympus' excellent JPEG engine. It continues to produce good results in lower light than was previously practical and produces attractive output in all but the most challenging of situations. The combination of its small body and the small lenses available for it (specifically the Panasonic 20mm F1.7 and Olympus 45mm F1.8) mean it's a camera we found ourselves taking everywhere, without any concerns that we were having to make undue compromises on image quality.
The E-M5 can't completely overcome the light capture disadvantage brought by its smaller sensor, compared to APS-C, but it reduces it to the point that it's irrelevant for almost all practical purposes. At which point we think its size advantage, in terms of both body and lenses, will outweigh that difference for most uses. If you're absolutely unwilling to compromise on image quality then spending twice the money and moving up to the bulk of full-frame is the only way of gaining a significant step up from the E-M5.
This capability, combined with an increasingly useful range of comparatively affordable fast lenses (the largest of any mirrorless system), makes it easy to get good results from a variety of shooting situations, even when the light gets challenging. The camera's default noise reduction and sharpening settings aren't entirely to our taste but they're not overly destructive and are easily changed for the better. That minor gripe aside, we've been impressed with the E-M5's output, whether in Raw or JPEG.
Despite being small, the E-M5 handles nicely - a well thought-out twin-dial control system with a handful of customizable buttons means you have most of the settings you're likely to want close to hand. The minimal use of the touch-screen can speed up operation if you want to use it, but you can switch it off with no loss of function if you prefer not to.
It's not completely without niggles, though - the camera's small size means the controls are all small and set very closely together, causing some inconvenience, particularly for those people with larger hands. For this reason we also found it very hard to confidently use the EM-5 in poor weather, when wearing gloves - ironic considering how well the camera is sealed against the elements. Some of the resulting awkwardness can be addressed by reconfiguring the controls to put your most-used functions on the buttons you find most accessible. Overall though, it's a fast and flexible interface that just lets you get on with the shooting.
The Final Word
The E-M5 is, without question, the most accomplished Micro Four Thirds camera we've yet seen and, given how well established the system has become, it vies for the title of most capable mirrorless option yet. It's not entirely without flaws and, predictably, most of those relate to continuous autofocus. But, for the most part, the E-M5 is simply an awful lot of camera in a compact and attractive body. It's a nice camera to use and the images it takes are just as enjoyable. Without any reservations whatsoever, it deserves our Gold Award.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
A wide variety of photography, particularly if you spend the time configuring it to your needs.
Not so good for
Photography of moving subjects - the only area where it falls significantly behind a good DSLR.
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is certainly the most capable Micro Four Thirds camera we've reviewed and arguably the most likeable mirrorless model yet. It falls down a little bit on its continuous focusing but we have no absolutely no complaints about the image quality. It's small, attractive and a pleasure to use, and its pictures are equally enjoyable.
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