OM-D E-M5 – First Impressions

Olympus OM-D E-M5

Say hello to the new member of the family.  The Olympus OM-D E-M5.

Olympus OM-D E-M5

Why have I got one of these?  Most of my camera equipment is is of a professional standard which by association means that it is relatively heavy, my main camera body, preffered lens and grip weigh in at approx. 1.5kg, not a weight that can be carried for long before it being felt.

As my main equipment is quite heavy I do not take it everywhere with me as I find it difficult to carry for extended periods, even in a camera bag.  Those that know me, know that I suffer from osteoarthritis in my lower back and can sometimes be in pain just from picking up a cup of coffee, my main vice.

The OM-D on the other hand weighs approximately 654g with its kit lens and flash attached, paltry by comparison.  Being a micro four thirds camera means the lenses are a lot smaller too, due to the size of the sensor which gives a magnification factor of 2x the kit lens, which is a 12-50 mm lens has the equivalent focal length of 24-100mm, which is similar in range to the Canon 24-105mm standard zoom.

Recently I have been ruing photography a little and not enjoying it as much as I used to, mainly because I no longer take a camera everywhere with me. As you can see the OM-D will now allow me to have a proper camera, not a phone camera, with me all the time.  So instead of just shooting commercial work and portraits for clients, I will now be able to enjoy shooting all sorts of other types of photography, such as Landscapes, Macro, Aviation, Textures etc. without worry of being in as much pain as I would with my current equipment.

Now onto my first impressions of the camera?

Aesthetics and ergonomics

On first sight the OM-D is clearly from the Olympus stable with it’s styling taking cues from its film based predecessors such as the OM-4, this appeals to me and probably lots of other photographers too.  Compared to my working cameras the OM-D and it’s lenses are tiny, but compared to my other film cameras it does not look out of place size wise.  It feels comfortable in my hands even though it is small, it still feels secure in the hand.

There is a large hump in the middle of the top plate on the OM-D, similar to regular DSLR’s which is normally where the prism and mirror reside, but in the OM-D E-M5’s case it is for the EVF (Electronic View Finder) and accessory port below the flash (which is included in the box) hot-shoe. The EVF has a sensor which detects, and turns on when you place your eye nearby.  Again I found this over sensitive as when previewing images a finger can change your view from the screen to the view finder.  This can be turned off in the menus if required.

I am still getting used to the button layout, but despite my benig wary of changing to a different brand, I am finding it relatively easy to addapt to the different layout of buttons compared to my Canon workhorses.  The buttons are quite small and can be quite difficult to find especially if you have large hands, but I put this down to teething troubles associated with getting used to the new layout.

The top plate of the OM-D has three dials, the mode dial lives on the left hand side, and on the right are the wheels for aperture and shutter speed one of which includes the shutter button.  Also on the top plate there is the movie record start button, and the fn. 2 button.  On the right hand side of the EVF is a small button which switches between different views and on the left the usual diopter adjustment wheel.

Moving to the back of the OM-D, which is mainly taken up by the two way tilting, touch sensitive OLED screen, to the right of this the four way controller, with an ok button in the centre.  Above these are the menu and info buttons, and below the four way controller next to the screen is a delete button,in the bottom right is the power switch.  The image preview and fn. 1 button reside near the top plate of the camera to the right of the view finder.  More on the dials and buttons in the menu and customisation section.

Round to the front, and you have the lens release button, which acts as the DOF preview button too, and not technically on the camera but the lens you have a L Fn. button and the button for enabling the macro mode of the kit lens.  On the right hand side of the body (from behind) you find the SD Card slot hidden beneath a solid, sealed door, and on the left a rubber cover for the USB and HDMI ports.  The underside features a slightly off centre tripod mount, a rubber cover for the grip connections and a locking door for the battery compartment.

Both the body and kit lens are reasonably well weather sealed, so no worries about shooting in the rain out of the box.

Menus and customisation

To say I was baffled upon first viewing the menus available on the OM-D, would be an understatement.  I am so used to the way Canon does things it looked strange, but after some reading of the manual, the PDF version on the disc, or available to download from Olympus, I was soon up to speed setting things up the way I wanted.

One of the first things I did was enable the Super control panel (SCP) in all shooting modes as this allows easy access to change important settings, and makes life so much easier.  The level of customisation is incredible for such a small camera, which in itself can be quite confusing, but once set you can forget about the menu system except for when you need to format your cards or change copyright info etc.

Kit lens

The camera I purchased came as a kit with the Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 12-50 mm f/3.5-6.3 EZ lens in black.  As mentioned earlier with the size of the sensor effectively doubling the focal length of the lenses attached to the camera.  This turns into a standard zoom with a 35mm equivalent range of 24-100mm.  I mentioned the buttons on the side of the lens when discussing the body controls, you have a L. fn. button which is set to stop autofocus when pressed, and a macro button which when pressed whilst sliding the zoom ring forward enables the macro mode of the lens.

The EZ part of the lens name stands for Electric Zoom, this is engaged by sliding the zoom ring forward.  This mode is mainly for use when making videos, it is very smooth and goes at different speed depending on how quickly you rotate the zoom ring.

Although I would prefer a fixed aperture throughout the focal range, from the limited tests I have done so far it performs reasonably well with sharpness being  good, the only downside is you do not get a lens hood with it.

Real world use

With the OM-D being from s different brand the button layout took a while to get used to, I still fumble a little but that is to be expected as I have only had the camera a few days, and have not really had much time to test it out and shoot with it.

From the little time I have managed to get with the OM-D, I have been impressed by it’s performance.  The autofocus is fast, locking on quickly and the images I have got so far are impressive for such a diminutive camera.

The first test I did was to test the macro mode, below are a couple of images from this test, and the ISO 6400 image impressed me the most by giving images that were not as noisy as I would have expected, in fact I think they are slightly less noisy than my 7D.

OM-D E-M5 ISO 6400 sample

ISO 6400 – Above produces perfectly usable images

OM-D E-M5 ISO 200 sample

ISO 200 – Nice crisp image and DOF in macro mode

I also managed to grab a few minutes between editing and picking the kids up from school to shoot down by the local castle, the images below are from those few minutes.

Barracks – curves, tint and levels adjustments applied in photoshop.
Broughty Ferry Castle

Broughty Ferry Castle – shot in 16:9 aspect ratio – Curves and levels applied in photoshop.

Whilst waiting the last few minutes before collecting the kids from school I decided to have a look at the art filters that are available on the OM-D.  Art filters allow you to shoot JPG images with the selected filter effects applied in camera.  The effects are live and what you see in the viewfinder or on the screen is what you get in the final image, if shooting in RAW the OM-D will automatically save a large fine JPG with the effect applied alongside the RAW file.

After scrolling through the options and settling on the dramatic art filter, which I quite liked the look of, I took the shot below.  Some of the art filters look ok and could possibly put to use and others that probably will never be used. One that does not appeal to me is the keyline filter, it just looks wrong.

I don’t really know how I feel about the art filters just yet but I will say I prefer to add my own styling to images in post processing rather than letting the camera decide for me.

Drama at the Bowling Club

Drama at the bowling club – Shot using the Art filter dramatic


Remember when reading this that apart from the images of the camera, all the images here were shot on the OM-D with it’s kit lens, which whilst not a stellar performer is more than adequate for use as a walk around lens.

From my limited use of the camera so far I have been impressed with the images I get straight out of the camera, the minimum ISO may not be as low as I am used to to but the high ISO performance is better than I expected.  For such a small camera with a small sensor the results that can be achieved by the OM-D so far look to be impressive.  I am looking forward to using the 45mm f/1.8 prime once it arrives.  If it performs as I expect it to I may even incorporate the OM-D into my portraiture once I have couple more faster lenses for it and that is something i did not think I would be saying about a compact system camera.

or as my Mentor says OMGOMD

As always thank you for reading and comments or thoughts are more than welcome.

Gareth Williams

Matt CainFebruary 22, 2013 - 3:33 pm

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this little bundle of wonder, mine should be here soon and I’m really looking forward to using it!

GarethFebruary 22, 2013 - 3:54 pm

Thanks Matt, take the time to read the pdf manual it will ease the confusion lol, and enjoy!

Neil SandageJuly 29, 2014 - 12:26 am

It’s a beautiful camera. I look forward to learning of your film camera. Do you know a place where I can have Color Positive(Reversal) Film processed near Dundee?

I’ve lost many digital photo and want a positive film I can read without a computer. I’ll offer you digital gratitude, as thanks for a local understanding of where to go or where to send Positive Film for Development and where Fuji Provia or something similar can be found?? The is less light in the area so your recommendations are welcome also (Velvia or even negative films and speeds).

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