Comparative Review of E-5 & E-M1

Started Oct 30, 2013 | Discussions thread
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citizenlouie Contributing Member • Posts: 796
Comparative Review of E-5 & E-M1

Just got my E-M1.  So far it's okay.  Some features are better than expected, some surprises, as well as some other quirks discovered.

I took E-M1 out for a spin today, and owned E-5 for a month now.  I took them to the same County Park but on different days (but similar lighting condition), so it may affect a little bit of the results, but I'll do extensive study later.  This is preliminary report only.

E-5 Advantages:

  • Great for 4/3 lenses, and 4/3 lenses are better than m4/3 ones
  • Better grip, though too big for my hands, but I like it better than E-M1's
  • OVF, and has built-in OVF shutter
  • Better on/off switch position (though the winner of this is actually E-620)
  • Better battery life
  • More accurate AF (11 cross-hair type AF points, E-M1 has 0)
  • Dual CF/SD memory option
  • Better color.  Absolutely brilliant 3D-like photos
  • Contrast level is just right
  • Nosier sensor, but the sensor noise pattern is more pleasing to my eyes (less digital-like noise)

E-M1 Advantages:

  • Portable size
  • Faster AF
  • Lots of customizable controls, plus 2x2 control switch
  • Better Image Processor (TruPic VII, sharpens the photo depends on which lens is hooked to it, to prevent over-sharpening)
  • Super fast sequential shot mode
  • Tons of customizable buttons
  • Tonal curve control
  • Very high dynamic range
  • Accurate exposure metering (E-5 tends to overexpose slightly)
  • Color Creator
  • 5-axis image stabilization
  • High ISO performance is better

Impression of E-M1:

So far so good.  Better EVF than VF-3 which I used on my other m4/3 camera, E-PM2.  Olympus color is back in E-M1 (E-PM2 has absolutely disgusting P&S camera like color profile, which is way too cartoony and contrast is unrealistically high).  Grip is a disappointment for me.  It's firm but could be more comfortable.  Battery life sucks.  One SD memory only is a regression.  Color profile is Olympus color again.  Button placements are generally good but with some quirks.  No back lit buttons....    Tons of customizable buttons and tons of menu options.  Nice touch screen.  Good built quality.  Not a replacement for E-5, but an admirable achievement.  Best m4/3 camera so far.



When I first handled E-M1, I expected it to be an E-620 with E-520 grip, and comes with an EVF and uses m4/3 lenses.  The grip turns out to be a disappointment for me.  E-520's grip is still better for my hand.  E-M1's grip is somewhat angular for some reason, and I prefer E-520's rounder, more contorted grip.  E-M5's add-on grip feels much better.  E-M1's rubberized grip however, is very grippy.  I don't know if it's the material or the texture of the rubber, it feels different.  Rougher and stickier.  E-5/E-620's rubber is smoother and the user is less likely to feel the transition between rubber and body material (which is fibre glass reinforced plastic on E-5/E-620).  Though I think E-M1's rubber probably will adhesive to hand better, but the material used makes me feel very self-conscious about it.

Honestly, if E-7 is made, the prototype looks like it's only slightly larger than E-M1, I would buy E-7, just between the grip size and OVF preference (given all the innards are shared between the two cameras).


After felt disgusted by VF-3 I attached to my E-PM2, I must say I am quite happy with E-M1's EVF.  Size wise, I feel the increase in size is not that noticeable unless you specifically compare them side-by-side (1.48x magnification on E-M1 vs 1.15x on E-5).  Since I am using AF when I look through EVF/OVF, I am not that concerned about size, really.  But it does have an advantage when you do focus peaking mode on E-M1.

Refresh rate has greatly improved.  I don't shoot sports or birds, but the refresh rate is fast enough that doesn't give me feel nauseating when panning.

There are several Thom Hogan suggested "improvements" that I absolutely disagree with, and stabilized EVF is one of them.  When I was trying to frame a scene to perfect still and level, using the built-in level (which I love greatly), the VF stabilization kicks in and wobble a little, so it makes getting the frame to perfect level a longer-than-usual process.  Non-stabilized VF is much more intuitive.

Low-light performance is pretty good.  A lot better than Panasonic G1's, which was the first m4/3 camera I used.  If it begins to become noisy, it's probably too dark to use this camera anyways.  I don't think I'd use E-M1 as a night camera, so I don't mind that much.

Auto switch between EVF and Liveview is much more convenient than E-PM2 with VF-3 add-on.  Though it does become over sensitive when I was merely using touch screen, it switches off to EVF if my hand was in the way of the sensor.  I think it should use retina-scan rather than just motion sensor.

I think there is a diopter in the ocular portion of EVF, and that's why the magnification increase.  I don't know what's the true size.  But the resolution is still great.  You won't see "grains" in the EVF.

EVF and LiveView color still don't match.  Don't know why.  EVF tends to look a lot crispier, which may lead you to think the final photo is more saturated in color than otherwise.  But when you click on the review mode, you'd realize the photo isn't that colorful.  But it's still better than VF-3, which often shows the wrong color and useless to judge exposure.

You can turn ON LiveView Boost (under Gear Menu D, second page), which will turn off exposure compensation effect in LiveView AND EVF (I know..., this is counter-intuitive, on is off...).  This will make your EVF acts more like an OVF.  I find it annoying, however, that it changes both EVF and LiveView behavior.  I prefer my VF don't auto-adjust for exposure compensation but my LiveView does....  This way I can use polarizing filter and not affected by that LiveView Boost to see how polarizing filter will block the light, while knowing how to expose, and at the same time, using LiveView to see what's the end photo would be like.  That's my primary reason why I want BOTH TTL OVF and LiveView.  EVF and LiveView are essentially the same thing, so I don't know why I need redundant tools in one camera.

Under Gear Menu J, go to EVF Adjust, and you can turn off EVF Auto Luminance OFF, which will stop it from going brighter or dimmer due to ambient light.  Which will further enhance the VF experience so it will act more like an OVF.


Olympus heard what users are saying and made the buttons in E-M1 larger, and for the most part, better placed.

There are TONS of customizable buttons.  Customizable buttons include: Fn1, Fn2, movie recording button, AEL/AFL button, two buttons next to lens mount (one circle button, one solid circle button), directional buttons are customizeble, too.  If you have a supported lens, L-Fn button is customizable.  If you have a HLD-7, B-Fn1 button and B-Fn2 button are separately customizable.

Best of all, you don't have to dig into Menu to customize these buttons.  You can do it at Super Control Panel (SCP).  Yes, SCP is turned on by default, directly out of factory!!! 

There are two buttons on top left-hand corner of the camera (where film-rewind dial used to be if you have used a film OM camera before).  One is HDR/burst mode button, the other one is AF/meter button.  These are customizable too (though limited), but you have to turn on 2x2 dial function on first (under Gear Menu B, for Buttons), and turn ON Dial 2 function.  So when your 2x2 dial function is switched to 2 position, HDR button is assigned as Bracketing button, and AF/Meter button becomes Flash Compensation button.  There are no other options you can assign these buttons to.

I absolutely HATE where the power switch is.  Even worse than E-5's placement.  E-620 got it right, so why they changed it to this position, I don't know.  This is the same place where film OM camera's power switch used to be, and I absolutely hate it, though I love my OM-4T.  For film camera, it's less of a concern, since one A76 battery lasts a long time, even if you forgot to turn your camera off.  E-M1's battery doesn't last that long, so you can't keep it on all the time, and this power switch position is kind of difficult to access without taking your eyes off viewfinder.  E-620's power switch position is just brilliant.

Buttons don't light up, unlike E-620's.  This is one of those killer features that you don't notice it immediately when they implemented it.  Once you're used to it and move onto a camera that doesn't have it, and you're shooting it at night, you're going to miss it right away.

The lock button on the PASM mode button is very good idea.  Olympus has done quite a bit of such little things that make big statements, but won't make headlines, and this is one of them (back lit buttons of E-620 is another).

I don't like the shape of two control dials (front and back).  I much prefer E-620's control dial (though it only has one).  E-M1's control dials are tapers on top, which for some odd reason, don't quite create some traction with my fingers.  I'd much prefer they're just straight up, like E-620's, and textured like traditional Olympus dials, which are made of little diamonds, instead of vertical ridges.  The resistance of these dials are just right, so I have to give Olympus credit for that.  They won't be turned accidentally, but still easy enough for speedy control.

The two buttons on top of the fake film-rewind dial (i.e., HDR and AF/Meter buttons) should be flushed, not raised.  I found myself clicked on these buttons accidentally.

Review button (the triangle play button) is not very clicky..., unlike other buttons.  It's flushed to the surface, and very difficult to click.  I think it's because it's placed under direction buttons, so Olympus made it slightly recessed so you won't click on it accidentally.  Which is fine, except this is a very often used button, so I think it should be placed on top of direction buttons instead, and have it be slightly raised and clicky like the rest of the buttons.  Personally, the best Olympus m4/3 camera when it comes to button placement is E-P5.  E-620 is my favorite among 4/3 DSLRs.

Olympus put two buttons next to lens mount.  One is circle button, the other one is solid round button.  The solid round button is by default assigned as depth of field review, and circle button is defaulted as WB button.  They're customizable.  I like them, but their placement is hard to reach, so I would assign useful less frequently used function to them.


The image quality (IQ) is what I expect from a pro level m4/3 to be.  I don't expect it to exceed E-5's with HG or SHG lens, but it meets my already high expectation.  TruPic VII engine does a good job finding a compromising point between sharpness/dynamic range/contrast/color saturation/color fidelity, so the final photos are very eye pleasing and natural looking.

I don't like artificial looking photos, and a pro-level camera shouldn't give superficial looking photos, which is what my E-PM2 tends to do, despite using the same sensor.  E-PM2's sensor was tuned to make every photo looks cartoony and contrasty.  Which probably looks very "crispy and vivid" to P&S upgraders, but to me, such photo is an eye sore.  I very welcome the return of Olympus color in E-M1.  But E-5's color is bar-none.  I used PL 25mm f/1.4 on E-5 and the photos look very 3D.  Can't imagine what it'll be like with SHG hooked to it.  The color just pops with E-5's output.  E-620's color is good too, but a bit more grunge (if you like that style, which I do).

Exposure meter behavior is much better than E-PM2's.  The latter is inconsistent.  For a pro grade camera, exposure accuracy is absolutely critical, and E-M1 doesn't disappoint.  I would even make the bold claim that it exposes better than E-620's.  E-5 tends to "expose to the right" which I don't like.  But E-5's exposure is consistent.  E-M1's exposure is the way I like it.

Anti-aliasing filter (AA)..., this subject makes me sigh.  For those who have read Thom Hogan's relentless argument that AA actually increases image detail, now I can tell you it is half-truth (the guy is not a real photographer).  E-5 uses a very weak AA filter, and I could observe some serious moire issue in specific situations.  E-M1's TruPic VII engine is supposedly a quantum leap in alleviate the moire issue without employing a AA filter, but I still see some moire (though it's better than E-5 in this regard).  Personally, I turn off E-620's Noise Filter in Olympus Viewer and that's enough sharpness for me.  A tad weaker AA would be nice, but it's not bad.  E-5's output is sharper than E-620's, but when the moire issue does occur (I found some false detail in photo with reflection in a lake), it drives me nuts.  So if Olympus does offer two models, one with weak AA and one without AA, I'd choose the one with weak AA filter.

The final photos shot from E-5 looks very different from E-M1's.  E-5's has a refine look to it, and E-M1's has a digital look to it.  E-M1 with its higher resolution sensor has some advantage, but E-5's color just pops better for some unknown reason.  And some photos I took recently with E-5, the subjects look so real, you would think you're looking at the real things.  Though I think a big chunk of that is due to lenses.  4/3 lenses' rendering is just very special.

Focus Peaking:

I must say I don't expect myself using this function, since I don't intend to use manual focus lenses (though I have plenty of OM lenses, but they're not designed for digital, so I often found myself disappointed by them, especially I know they're super sharp on film, just not with digital sensors).  But I found unintended use for it.  I use it as depth of field preview, since it outlines which part of the scene is in focus.  Olympus's implement is much better than Sony RX100's.  The latter's implement is just annoying!  I thought the viewfinder was broken by the way it blinks like highlight clipping warning.  Olympus's implement also allows you to turn the peaking outline either to white or black under gear menu.  So if your subject is bright, you might want to use black outline instead of the default white.

One thing I hope Olympus would fix in firmware is..., when I used m.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8, which has clutch MF function, I really wish E-M1 would auto kicks in focus peaking when it's in MF clutch position.  Right now, focus peaking works when MF ring is in focus-by-wire position, but not in MF position, which doesn't make sense.

Tilt Screen:

Why on earth Olympus goes backward.  Every newer E-System DSLRs have swivel screen, but NONE of the m4/3 cameras has it....  E-M1 has a tilt screen, which is fine, but a swivel screen would be better.  People do shoot in portrait orientation, you know....  And it's hard to do a selfy without a swivel screen.

I do like the touch screen though.  I first used it in E-PM2, and I think it's wonderful.  I just wish it could use more of iPhone style swipe functions.  Right now you could use it to change SCP functions (but you still have to use control dials two change functions instead of entirely on touch screen enabled SCP).  Because of the hyper-sensitive eye detection function, sometimes touch screen function is not as easy as it seems....  It resets itself when your hand is over the eye sensor.  Which brings to another issue....

One-touch White Balance:

I assign one-touch white balance to Fn1 on E-M1, because I use this function a lot for accurate color.  I am happy there are 4 slots for custom WB, just like the way it is in E-5.  I tend to use EVF when I do custom WB, but here is the problem....  I shot my grey card, and obviously I need to select which one of the four slots I need to record it to, but as soon as my eye goes off from EVF, E-M1 switches to LiveView and my custom WB I wanted to record was erased.  I hope there is a firmware that would instead of erasing my custom WB, keep it and transfer the view to LiveView when my eye took off from EVF to use direction buttons, so I could select one of the four slots to record it.  So far this is my biggest quirk for E-M1.  This is unacceptable for people who does custom WB and are EVF user.  As the way it is implmented right now, I can't take my eyes off EVF..., and E-M1's button layout is not designed well enough to be a "blind shooter."  E-620 is the only blind shooter I have used so far.  I could access to every major function without taking my eye off OVF.

Built Quality:

Seems very good.  It feels solid.  The material seems more rigid than E-620, but don't know how scratch resistant E-M1's body material is.  E-620's fibre-glass reinforced plastic is superb in that regard.  I've used it since 2009, and it still has no scratch and looks like new.

On the other hand, the metal lens hood of m.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 and m.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 are already scratched....  I wish Olympus would go back to 4/3 style: use the fibre-glass reinforced plastic to cover up the metal barrel, so the metal won't be scratched.  Not to mention the entire lines of 4/3 body and lenses always match because they always use the same material.....

Small Stuff:

Battery door feels very firm this time.  None of the previous Olympus cameras I used has such good feel to it.  So that's a good thing.

Level gauge inside VF is now two-axis: left and right tilt, and front and back roll.  E-5 only has left and right tilt in OVF screen display (though it does display front and back roll in LiveView).  This is very important because in portrait mode, the second axis is very useful).

Battery life sucks.  E-5's battery life is much better.  I have two batteries for each system.  I feel I don't need the second battery for E-5 a lot of time, and I wish I bought a third battery for E-M1....

Rectangular lens mount release is a neutral for me.  Both E-5 and E-M1 uses rectangular ones, and I found them difficult to use than round one in E-620.  But at least E-M1's release button is now bigger, in conjunction of smaller m4/3 lenses, I don't find it a big issue, but a round one would be better.

In-camera HDR is less than satisfactory.  The output just doesn't look very good.  Fortunately the bracketing function is very good, so I'd use that instead.

Burst mode is SUPER fast.  I don't use it much, but I am impressed.

I don't use movie function, and I don't care for it, so I haven't tested it yet.

I will test the WiFi remote function.  Having a remote shutter is very important to me.  For the same matter, I haven't used live bulb function yet.

Color Creator is interesting, but I haven't used it yet.

Not yet test any shot on the tripod yet, so can't confirm some people's claim of 5-axis IS's conflict with shutter shock when shot on a tripod (though shouldn't one almost always shoot with anti-shock and IS turned off?).

E-5 has that top LED display, which I find it useful (didn't expect it would be, since its info is redundant with SCP's), since neither E-5 nor E-M1 has buttons that lit in the dark, so having that display actually helps a little bit.  It does light up with a click of a button, so I could see something at night and some basic info when I am shooting on a tripod.

 citizenlouie's gear list:citizenlouie's gear list
Olympus E-620 Olympus E-5 Olympus OM-D E-M10 Olympus E-M5 II Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 50mm 1:2.0 Macro +10 more
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