Olympus OMD EM5

The Olympus OM-D E-M5is Olympus' answer to the trend of premium compacts, such as the Fuji X100, Nex 7 and other expensive toys. You can see me coming "hey Ronan only likes medium format stuff, he is snob, he'll trash it". Well this time, I'll recommend it. Keep reading.

I don't like the pricey accessories with maximum margin on those cameras, but I have to admit that a compact alternative to a DX SLR, for travel and street photography, can be seductive. However to be satisfactory, it should be comparable in performance and priced correctly. Indeed, if your compact costs the price of a Nikon or Canon DX SLR, why not getting Nikon or Canon? If you ever get a full frame for more serious work, you'll have 2 ranges of lenses to maintain. No good.

1/ So let's have a look at the camera itself, numbers first:
  • micro four third sensor (a tad smaller than a DX)
  • 16MP
  • 9 FPS
  • according to them the fastest AF in the world
  • soon to come 75 mm f1.8 and 60mm f2.8 macro lenses 
  • ISO range up to 25600
  • Water and dust proof
  • 1299$ with a 18-50mm lens
On the paper, it looks fine. 16MP seems just right for that sensor size, it should allow great ISO performance. Fast AF? Yes please, it's the main weakness of the Fuji X100. The Fuji has a better lens than any of the OMD EM5 lenses, but it's only a 35mm and the camera focuses terribly slow. ISO performance? See for yourself. It is very good.

3200 iso, courtesy of DP review

6400 iso
What else do I like about it?
  • The 4/3 format, much better for composition in my taste than normal 35mm sensors. I'm used to shoot 6/7 format most of the time. 
  • Ergonomics feels  right, handling is good, not those dodgy shapes some compacts have.
  • It's tropicalized ! perfect for travel.
  • It looks alright
  • Much lighter than a SLR (half a D800)
  • It's actually small

2/ The most important part, how about lenses?
This is probably where this camera strikes hard. There is more than a very decent choice of lenses, especially fix focal length high aperture lenses. Those Olympus Zuiko lenses are very good, much better than, for example, the Sony SLR lenses. 

Some of those lenses don't have the nicest bokeh i've seen, but some are actually really good, here is my short list:
  • Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.8 , cheap and very good! The ideal portrait lens for such a camera.
  • Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 , a bit pricier, but your companion for tourist, landscape and architecture
  • Zuiko 17mm f/2.8 pancake: if you travel light, and want one lens only that won't make the camera bigger. It's also the ideal all purpose focal length, and with the ISO performance of the camera f2.8 is good. Maybe not as high level as the previous ones, but very cheap.

Keep in mind that there are 2 more to come that look very interesting (75mm f1.8, 60mm macro f2.8).


Let it be clear: with a fix focal length, this camera will give you the same performance as an entry level DSLR, or even a mid range. No doubt. I definitely recommend the Olympus OM-D E-M5. I know I was skeptical during previews, sensor seemed a bit small, but in the end it's a product that is very coherent around a purpose: travel and documentary photography. I'll post home made shots as soon as possible.

So why getting one:
  • If you are about to travel the world and what something versatile, able to shoot in low light and perform great yet without screaming out loud "steal me I'm a DSLR!", this is a great choice. Take the 12mm and the yet to come 75 f1.8, or any combination of 2 primes that make sense for you
  • It is water and dust proof, and has fast AF and FPS... really it sound great for adventure.
  • If you're an amateur and you know you'll never get anything bigger. It'll be your only camera. Then yes, I recommend it.

Why not getting one:
  • If it is to be one camera in a larger line up of camera you intend to use for different purposes, you might want to be looking at synergies. My example: I have old Nikon film, a D800 (next week), a FE, F5, a D80. I stick to Nikon, 3 lenses for all my cameras. If you own a D3S for example and want something smaller for travel, get a D7000 and keep your lenses.
  • For telezoom work, nothing beats a proper SLR lens.
  • Lenses are pricey. Nearly as much as for a DX SLR. Therefor your overall budget will be comparable to getting a Nikon D7000 with 2 lenses in the end. Sure it's lighter, water sealed, large screen and all, but Nikon lenses will still have the edge, and the D7000 has a larger sensor. Keep that is mind, it's not a bargain against a DSLR.
  • One day, they'll do the same with a full frame sensor...but then again, one days cars will fly, you are still going to get one.

Some example shots:

with 45mm 1.8 courtesy of http://robinwong.blogspot.com/
With the 50mm f2 macro. Still from Robin Wong.

1 comment:

  1. "The most important part, how about lenses?"

    What about all the other micro 4/3 lens from Panasonic, they are all small and well made, Presumably the camera will be able to exploit all the Lumix G lens as well?
    20mm f/1.7
    45-200mm f/4.0-5.6

    They can be used on a smaller premium compact like the GX1 as well as used for more serious work with the OMD.