Viewfinder and screen

Electronic viewfinder

The E-M5 features one of the better electronic viewfinders on the market - it's an 800 x 600 pixel (1.44M dot) LCD that gives a good level of detail. It can't quite compete with the 2.4M dot OLED displays in Sony's recent NEX-7 and high-end SLTs, but it's still a good resolution with a fast refresh rate and none of the rainbow 'tearing' that can be visible in the field-sequential viewfinders used in Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds cameras.

The EM-5's electronic viewfinder features 1.44 million dot resolution. It is crisp and contrasty in normal use but the shallow padding of the removable eyecup isn't quite adequate to shade it completely in very bright light, where the viewfinder image can become hard to see.

The wheel on the left of this image is diopter adjustment, from -4 to +2.

As with all electronic viewfinders, even at its brightest setting, it can't match the ambient light levels on a bright day (a problem that optical viewfinders don't suffer from), which makes stray light from around the edges of your eye much more distracting. The shallow eye-cup of the E-M5 makes this worse (Olympus has developed a deeper on, called the EP-11, but we've not seen it yet) but glasses wearers are likely to find they have to cup one hand around the finder on bright days.

There's a high-speed viewfinder mode (Custom Menu section J, option 5), that doubles the rate of the viewfinder refresh to 120Hz. The result is lower resolution and faster battery drain than the Normal mode, but with a smoother and more frequent update, for if you're trying to shoot very fast-moving subjects. We rarely found the need for this 'Frame Rate: High' mode but it's useful to have the option if your shooting requires it.

Viewfinder size

One figure hidden away in the spec is the size of the viewfinder (often in a format that makes direct comparison between competing models impossible). This a key factor in usability - the bigger the viewfinder, the easier it is to frame and focus your shots, and the more enjoyable and involving process it is.

Because of the way viewfinders are measured (using a fixed lens, rather than a lens of equivalent magnification), you also need to take the sensor size into account, so the numbers in the diagram below are the manufacturer's specified magnifications divided by the respective 'crop factors' and divided by their coverage.

The move to an electronic viewfinder means the E-M5 can offer a display as large as Olympus' top-level E-5 DSLR, without the financial and light-loss costs of providing such a large magnification viewfinder.

The E-M5's viewfinder isn't as large as the Panasonic G3's but its slightly bigger than the optical finder in the comparably-priced Canon EOS 60D.

Rear display screen

The E-M5 follows the lead of Olympus' E-P3 and XZ-1 by offering a rather good VGA-equivalent OLED display screen, rather than an LCD. The E-M5 then makes the screen more useful by making it tiltable and touch-senstive. The touch-sensitivity uses the iPhone-like capacitive technology, rather than the pressure sensitivity embraced by Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds cameras. The result is a screen that's rather more sensitive but that won't work if you're wearing normal gloves (smartphone-friendly gloves with conductive fingertips should work).

The touch-sensitive rear screen tilts 80° upwards and 50° downwards, giving more flexibility for waist-level or overhead shooting. Like all tilt-only screens, though, it adds nothing when shooting stills in portrait format.