Olympus OMD EM-5 Review: Retro Photo A-Go-Go

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.

What's Good?

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.

What's Bad

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.

If you want to see more photos we took in this review, check out our Facebook page.


    such a beautiful camera. I played with one of these @ PMA & instantly fell in love with it's retro charm (& serious tech inside it!).

      Just don't mention u can pick up a k-5 for that much, which is actually usable

    The weird audible noise is apparently standard as its the fiveaxis image stabilisation from what other reviews I've read.

    There is an OMD ad right next to this review.... Also at the OMD price i could get an entire 18mp Canon 60D twin lens package from Tdimension or single lense with a few hundred to spare.

      Agree Wan, way to expensive for a micro camera, I bought a D60 last year with the two lens kit, plus a 50mm fixed lens, extras (gear bar, cleaners, filters and other goodies, essentially a complete camera outfit for less then $1200 so this seems exceptionally expensive.

      And as a side point the damn OM-D ads on TV make me shabby... FAIL

        sorry bill, but i think olympus may be marketing more towards mac users; who tend to pay a premium for 'style'.

          Sorry to burst that bubble mate, but I am a MAC owner ;-) and I wouldn't touch this "stylish" camera with a ten foot iPhone ;-P

      Strange, I'm selling my Canon EOS 60D in order to buy one of these... Mostly to do with the aforementioned backache.

        Maybe take a look at this instead - Fuji X-Pro1. impressive .

        BGates - also a mac user and the OMD hipster ads are just cringe worthy, way too pretentious.

          Xpro1 has very poor autofocus and unusable manual focus. The system doesn't have many lenses and the roadmap isn't that exciting either. Also, it's much more expensive than the om-d.

          It also isn't very good in terms of the controls it has available. Having had a bit of hands in with the OM-D it has the twin dials for shutter speed and aperture (or whatever you choose to assign to them) on top. Much better control than the X-pro1.

      I must admit, this review is very much contrary to what I am finding with my OM-D. Compared to my D7000, my OM-D is producing noise that is most definitely on par with what I am getting - however, with the added benefit that the results that my OM-D is producing is clearly sharper in both jpeg as well as raw. Perhaps Luke you weren't keeping your eye on the sensitivities and were comparing different ISOs between cameras? For myself, the big thing that got me over the line was how much smaller and lighter the OM-D was compared to my D7000. Plus to be honest, I don't really want to be lugging my D7000 when I travel. The OM-D is so discreet! Yes the buttons are small, but I'm quite prepared to take that hit if it means that I don't have a sore nek at the end of the day. I have held the 60D and that is a massive camera compared - without any improvement in image quality. Plus, the 60D is not weather sealed. And it shoots slower than at 5fps against my crazy quick 9 on the OM-D. I tried some video out with the OM-D as well. The stabilization I must admit is amazingly effective - much better than my D7000 in video as well as stills.

    Looks good, if only I was good enough to win it in the shooting challenge.

      Don't despair, Nick. We're giving away another one starting this afternoon!

        Nice, despair has been lifted :)

    This is very exy for a camera with a 4/3 size sensor (the main difference between 4/3 and dslr). For not that much more you can get yourself a Fuji X-Pro1, retro style and revolutionary APS-C size sensor and some of the crispest lenses available

      mate you are onto it, just read the review very impressed this will be my next camera.

    Great to see all the professional photographers here providing their sage advice.

      And the trolls are out in force to eh, bemused

        Care to elaborate?

          Sorry bemused, I owe you an apology, I read your comment as troll bait, but in hind sight I realised it was ME! sorry about that.

            Cool! And I hope you were referrring to a Canon 60D and not a D60.

    I shoot Canon pro gear for a living and bought this little camera as a take anywhere kit that offers excellent handling and IQ. All I can say is that it delivers superbly and so far I'm loving it. M43 lens offerings are really impressive and as a format is very promising. Nuff said.

      I'm in Dean's camp on this (only I shoot Nikon DSLRs). Sometimes I just can't pack the full load, so I use this guy - and I really enjoy it.

    Wow, pretty shallow review. I think you've identified the wrong target market for this camera and, hence, compared in incorrectly. This really isn't a casual upgrade for a casual photographer. This thing is being used by all sorts of pros for far more reasons that you've even begun to address here. This is a serious photographers camera. Also, things like the fan noise you describe give only the slightest clue to some really remarkable and ground-breaking technology packed into this little thing. A super-quick search of the Internet would have delivered you all the details that you could have used to bring more accuracy to this review.

    Sorry, but that's just how I see it.

      I agree with your comments. This review seemed very shallow and had me questioning whether the reviewer knew much about the camera and the intended audience. I am researching my next camera and most of the reviews out there have been nothing but positive, and I have read tons of freaking reviews.

      In a nutshell, from what what I have read, this is a great camera and probably the best mirrorless out there. The price is a big knock though as you can buy other mirrorless cameras for half the price but they are not quite as capable.

    Strange review - I've got one and I found the noise levels excellent for this style of camera. In fact, full testing on review sites shows better performance that a 7D (which has a slightly larger sensor). Image quality is also generally better than the Canon APS-C cameras. Used with the optional (expensive) hand grip it is very comfortable to hold. Great camera really - just not a toy for point-and-shoot automatic style though. Buttons are fiddly and menus a little strange are the downsides.

    Shallow isn't the word for it. This is the future and Olympus makes the best built cameras I have ever owned. They do not break, they take consistent photos, and have the most dynamic menu system I have ever seen. The IQ and image quality blows Nikon and Canon away- they either over saturate (nikon) or or the colors too soft (canon). This is the future- Nikon and Canon users are pissed because they have all their profit tied up in old lens mounts which will be outdated very soon and do not want to make the investment in a new format. Panasonic and Oly are on to the next generation of camera systems and the quality (so far Lumix is behind OMD) is equal to the best aps-c sensors (which is made by Sony). I love this machine and they are putting out lenses which you have to pay thousands for...In addition, it takes about three to four weeks of handling before you really can see what this thing can do. IS is so far superior to anything on the market- I can shoot half second shots at 200 MM and no blur. While other companies put gyros in their lens that last 1-2 years, Olympus has a proven system to cut out over weight lens that break...Do a long term test before you open your mouth next time.

    oops posted my aolopgy in the wrong spot! Threw my back out and so the challenge post didn't get up until now. These cupcakes were great. So sorry for the delay. hope I can still play along!

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