Olympus OM-D E-M5 Digital Camera Review
When you pick up the Olympus E-M5, it's a little surprising how light the camera actually is. With a body made almost entirely out of magnesium alloy, you'd think that it would weigh more than 15 ounces with battery and memory card. While the body has a definitively industrial feel, the grip is quite comfortable, if a little slick. It's more substantial than the grips on any of the PEN-series cameras, with only a slight inward curve to accommodate the hand. The one serious complaint we'd have to register is the hanging strap eyelets, which make a racket and constantly get in the way, unless you have the strap attached and around your neck. It's a minor annoyance, but it's a design flaw that has appeared on several Olympus cameras over the years.
The shutter on both the body and the battery grip are nice, though like the other buttons on the camera they have a relatively long travel before they are considered engaged. This makes the buttons on the back of the camera difficult to press, especially the Function 1, playback, and INFO buttons. With a rather expansive menu system, not having the ability to rapidly navigate around is a bit of a pain. In particular, the "OK" button on the back is difficult to really press, and none of the buttons offer much of an audible click when activated.
With the optional HLD-6 battery grip attached, the Olympus E-M5 also handles quite well. The one odd thing about it, though, is the placement of the lens. When shooting normally, the lens is a little bit to the left of the camera. When you turn it on its side with the attached battery grip and holder, the lens ends up being lower than you'd expect, meaning you have to angle your portraits slightly.
Buttons & Dials
The buttons on the E-M5 are designed to be highly water-resistant, which has clearly resulted in an increased travel length, likely due to the rubber seals where the buttons attach to the body. Pressing any of the buttons requires a little more concerted pressure, and some of the buttons become difficult to engage as a result. The playback and Fn1 buttons on the back, for example, are very difficult to push because of the rear thumb rest. Even when you do get ahold of the buttons, the lack of a haptic or audible response means you're not always sure when you've actually pushed the button in yet or not.
We should note, however, that the three dials on the camera are all well-designed, with just the right amount of resistance. The mode dial doesn't feature a locking mechanism, but it has more resistance than the other two dials on the top plate of the camera, so accidentally switching modes is unlikely. The two top plate dials are (mostly) unlabeled, but they give you enough control that, even if you're a full manual shooter, you'll be able to confidently adjust exposure settings at will.
As we saw with the similar screen on the Olympus E-P3, the responsiveness of the touchscreen is great, while the OLED renders crisp text and makes colors really pop. The screen sits on an articulating arm that extends outward from the body, with a hinge allowing it to be tilted either upward or down. The only way you can't tilt this display is toward your subject, something the side-hinged displays can do. Unlike those displays, however, the actual LCD housing feels nice and sturdy, with the metal hinge keeping everything steady.
One thing that we found odd is the implementation of the touchscreen controls on the camera. Even with something with large, easy-to-touch tiles like the camera's super control panel, touching settings doesn't necessarily activate that setting. With a screen this sensitive, it would be nice to have more sliders and things that take advantage of it. Still, as we've seen with most touchscreen cameras, the functionality is best seen in playback, moving between photos as you would on a smartphone or table. Either way, the camera is set up in such a way that you can entirely ignore the touch functionality and not miss out on anything, which is preferred for a camera of this level.
The electronic viewfinder on the E-M5 features a resolution of approximately 1.44 million dots. It offers around 100% coverage and an approxiamtely 18mm eyepoint. It's pleasing to use—among the better ones that we've seen on a compact system camera—but it still doesn't quite match up to an optical viewfinder. The benefits of it being electronic, though, are the ability to see shots in playback through the finder, as well as see the relative brightness of your shot before you take it.
Compared to the camera's likely direct competition, the E-M5's viewfinder is more pleasing to use than the finder on the Sony NEX-7. It's a different animal to the hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder on the Fuji X100 and X-Pro1, but both are useful in their own right.
The new 5-axis stabilization on the Olympus E-M5 was not that effective at increasing sharpness under our test conditions. When put under a repeated, specific level of horizontal shake (similar to the shake seen when shooting the camera handheld) at 1/30th of a second shutter speeds, the stabilization improved sharpness by only 2.99%. Margin of error aside, that's not a particularly strong result, but it didn't overcorrect or make shots worse.
While you may have better results with the stabilization system anecdotally or in more naturalistic environments, we didn't find that any of the stabilization modes were effective at this test, with all modes (including turning it off entirely) returning an MTF50 of around 320 LW/PH. That's not incredibly sharp, but it's approaching acceptable levels if you just need a quick snap for the web without any fine detail. Again, with a new stabilization system it may be a matter of fine-tuning the performance of some new hardware, and it may work better in the randomness of real life shooting, but our test conditions do not recognize any improvement from the system over simply leaving it off at these particular conditions.