This is not an Olympus OM-D E-M5® review. Instead, this is a set of answers to questions I had prior to purchasing this camera as a hard-core SLR shooter.
For years I have been looking for a small camera for family trips and evening walks. I have tried and tested many “advanced” point and shoot cameras but always ended up abandoning them after few hours.
I was skeptic about the OM-D at the start. The reviews were good. Then again, the reviews about the cameras I have tested in the past were good too!!
I finally decided to bite the bullet and purchased an Olympus OM-D E-M5 kit with 12-50mm lens. (Thanks Saul & Camera Electronic for price matching the big auction site!) Over the last few weeks I had time to test the OM-D, and decided to write this to help out those who might have the same questions I had prior to purchasing the camera.
Look and Feel:
Olympus OM-D looks and feels like a small mechanical film SLR from 80’s and early 90’s, and handles like one as well. Nikon shooters who use D700/D800/D3/D4 might find themselves home with this camera due to somewhat similar layout of command dials and controls.
File formats and speed:
This thing shoots uncompressed RAW in Adobe RGB colour space at 9 frames per second; and I didn’t know that before buying!
Auto Focusing is admirably fast! Single and Continues servo auto focus modes with continuous AF tracking is available and works with the maximum frame rate of the camera which is 9 frames per second!
Selectable Focus Points/Areas:
Major part of the Viewfinder is divided in to a 35 square (7 x 5) grid. Each of the small squares works as a selectable focus “point” (area). While these areas are not as small as the focus points of high end Nikons, the mere fact of having 35 of them covering the most part of the viewfinder makes the OM-D much better than some of the low end SLRs.
Focus point selector buttons on the body, corresponding to the size of the camera, are quite small, but similar to those of SLRs. Small size of the selector buttons made selecting the focus points a bit of a fiddly affair at the start, but after 30 minutes of shooting I got quite used to it.
Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO controls:
Shutter Speed and Aperture are controlled by the two command dials in Manual mode in 1/3 increments. In Shutter and Aperture priority modes, Main (rear) Command dial controls the changeable variable (Aperture or Shutter Speed) while the sub/front command dial controls the exposure compensation. Reversal of dial functions and the rotating directions are configurable just like on high end SLRs.
Once the Super control panel is enabled, ISO control is a single button press away. After playing with the camera for a while I configured the second function button (Fn2), which is placed next to the shutter release button, to control the ISO. Once that was done I was able to change the ISO with my shutter finger and thumb the same way shutter speed and aperture are controlled.
Controlling Shutter speed, Aperture and ISO this way is actually slightly more convenient than doing it on my D700/D800!!!!
Compared to other advanced compacts I have used in the past, OM-D does not have a shutter lag. Compared to my Nikons it is negligible and tolerable. OM-D is very much usable for fast action and I will be testing this out in the next couple of weeks.
Super Control Panel:
(This image is a screen capture from the online OM-D user manual)
This is simply a set of touch controls (yes OM-D LCD is a touch screen) displayed on the LCD by press of a button. Contrary to what I though before buying, this is one of the coolest features I have seen in a camera and I want this on my Nikons!
(If you have already bought the camera please read this DP review article about getting the most out of your OM-D, it is absolutely worth it)
In A & S modes sub/front command dial works as the exposure compensation dial in 1/3 increments. This allows on the fly exposure compensation with real time viewfinder feedback with a single dial rotation – beats my Nikons!
Metering Modes are quickly selectable via the super control panel. Evaluative, Centre Weighted and a very accurate 2% Spot Metering modes are provided.
Mode selector is a dial like on high end SLRs.
Command Dials and Buttons:
Again similar to a high end SLR, most of the buttons are configurable.
A small but very usable detachable flash unit ships with the OM-D E-M5. According to the user manual this flash unit is able to function as a commander unit to trigger remote Olympus flash units via radio frequencies!! I still didn’t have time to check this out
A quickly selectable Rear/2nd Curtain Sync mode is available via the super control panel.
Maximum sync speed is 1/250s
This might sound lame, but the way this level functions is quite awesome and works in both portrait and landscape orientations.
About the Digital Viewfinder, being Mirrorless and “Pre-Capture Chimping”!
I was a hardcore optical viewfinder fan – and probably still am, but if Nikon announces a mirroless D900/D5 with a digital viewfinder that is at least as good as OM-D E-M5 viewfinder, I will pre order it.
I had to cook up the term “Pre-Capture Chimping” to describe what these mirroless cameras allow us to do with their naked (I meant mirrorless) sensors, because I couldn’t find a better phrase to describe it.
Absence of a mirror allows light to fall directly on to the image capturing sensor, which, in turn generates the image ‘preview’ on the viewfinder/LCD. Reading “preview” information directly off the sensor allows histograms to be created on the fly and to be displayed on the Digital Viewfinder/LCD without having to record that information. There is no parallax error. There is no need to press the shutter to evaluate the histogram or the image (post-capture chimping). All the information we used to gather in the past by “post-capture chimping” can now be gathered prior to capturing.
What blew my mind away was the way changing the exposure and exposure compensation get displayed on the viewfinder as they are changed.
The viewfinder is equipped with a proximity sensor that switches it off as the eye is taken away from the camera.
Is surprisingly long considering the viewfinder itself is digital.
High ISO performance is reasonably good. I haven’t done any direct comparisons, but high ISO performance of OM-D is at least comparable to high ISO performance of D300. Both images above have been shot at ISO 800. Above ISO 800 IQ begins to fall apart!
My final impression:
This one is a keeper! I take more pictures of my wife and kids thanks to this camera. I will probably buy another body and mount a recently announced 75-300mm lens on it for ultimate convenience!