The Olympus OMD EM-5 brings a retro design from yesteryear and crams it full of modern gadgets, bells and whistles — but is it any good as a camera?
What Is It?
The OMD EM-5 is a 16.1-megapixel compact, interchangeable-lens micro four thirds camera. It boasts a massive LCD touchscreen on the back and claims to be the world's fastest focusing mirrorless camera.
It's got a design from the original OMD that was released back in 1972 and it's pitched at people who want to get into DSLR photography but don't really know what an F-stop is. Features like Live View will give you a look at what your photo will turn out like as you muck about with the camera's retro twisty-knobs and the shot will actually turn out that way once you release the shutter.
For those playing the home game, a micro four thirds camera differs from a full-framed DSLR in that it doesn't have the style of viewfinder or mirror system that you'd find in bigger, bulkier cameras. They still have large sensors and interchangeable glass like DSLRs, but you'll save yourself the backache, as you'll be able to carry round a much smaller and lighter unit.
The most striking part of the OMD is the design. It begs to be picked up and played with, and rewards you when you do with a reasonably light 373g body and a sexy alloy finish complete with rubber grips.
We tested the $1499 weatherproof kit, which includes the body and the 12-50mm splash-resistant lens. It's a clever collared lens that lets you switch between manual zoom, electric zoom and macro modes with a little tug and because it's splashproof, you can keep using it when the weather turns on you too.
Bootup time is lightning fast — we had our first image taken within two seconds in a lot of different light situations.
Speaking of lighting, the five-axis image stabiliser on the OMD works wonders when you're shooting in low light. Our long exposures of both a train whizzing by and the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge were captured sans-tripod which is awesome. Leave that extra gear at home!
Live View shows you exactly what you're taking as you take it and even goes as far as showing you the image you're exposing during Bulb mode as well. That's seriously nifty.
The flip-out touchscreen on the OMD is also really usable. Rather than fight with the physical controls you have on the unit, it compliments them.
The macro performance is strong, as are the fun little Instagram-style filters you can put on your image.
Image quality is top notch for a beginner looking to take the step up into the world of DSLR photography, too. Colour reproduction is sharp, and the exposure on automatic mode always delivers the goods.
There are a few weird things on the OMD that make it a slightly less appealing proposition, however.
The first drawback is the price. At $1499, it's certainly at the top end of the mirrorless micro four thirds market. You could definitely pick yourself up something cheaper without losing out on a huge amount of functionality and it might scare off some beginners looking to upgrade.
As far as the design is concerned, it's great to look at, but a bit fiddly to use. The buttons are small and often recessed in such a way that if you have big fingers, you might find yourself mashing the thing. It's awkward to hold, too. The grip doesn't feel large enough. I was always worried that I'd drop it.
Low light images produce a fair bit of noise, too. It's completely unrealistic to expect no noise whatsoever, but it felt like there was more noise than there should be.
The camera also makes a strange, audible fan-like noise whenever it's on. It might just be the test unit we played with, but it's definitely there.
Other weirdness includes the fact that the preview image never quite fills the LCD panel or the LCD viewfinder, and whenever you have an accessory like the flash or external microphone attached to the hot shoe, you won't be able to get your eye right onto the eye cup because you bang your eyebrows on whatever's connected at the time.
Should You Buy One?
If you've got $1500 to spend on a camera and you want something that feels like it's worth the money you paid on it, you won't be disappointed with the OMD. Sure it has a few niggling concerns that might have you ache for that money back, but once you start shooting with ease, you'll get that happy feeling back.
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