So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera
An interchangeable lens camera that provides serious manual control as well as fun art filters
- Very good image quality
- Stacks of functions and filters
- Good video mode
- Built-in EVF
- Lots of menus, can be daunting to use
- Some buttons are too small and uncomfortable
- Hinged screen not useful for self portraits
The Olympus OM-D is a striking camera with a with a ton of features that cater to both enthusiast (or pro) users and casual photographers. We looked at the weatherproof kit, which comes with a splashproof macro lens and we definitely had a lot of fun using it. We just wish its menu system was a little clearer and that some of the controls were more comfortable. Overall though, a great camera that can capture clear and vibrant images.
Price$ 1,499.00 (AUD)
The Olympus OM-D series of compact system cameras is distinct from the company's PEN series of cameras. Both series are based on the Micro Four Thirds interchangeable lens standard, but the new OM-D series is designed to appeal more towards serious photographers, while the PEN is geared more towards consumers and enthusiasts. As such, the OM-D comes with a few extra features, including a built-in electronic viewfinder (rather than an add-on-style EVF) and it has a tougher, weather-resistant exterior, the type of exterior you would expect on a worthy digital SLR. Importantly though, the OM-D capable of capturing images with very high clarity, and it doesn't forego many of the features that have made the PEN series so fun to use over the years. In fact, the OM-D is just as fun to use as the PEN cameras.
What's present in the Olympus OM-D E-M5 is a 16-megapixel Live MOS sensor, which sits behind a mount that can accept any Micro Four Thirds lenses — and there are lots out here, not just from Olympus, but also Panasonic. It's quite a compact camera for what it is — which is essentially a digital SLR-style camera without a space-consuming mirror box — and the design is very angular and, dare we say it, bold. It's reminiscent of an old-style film camera, and that's the point: it's bears the same OM series name as Olympus' film cameras from the 1980s, and you could say that it borrows some design cues from the likes of the OM-3 and OM-4 cameras with their all-black exteriors. You can see these old cameras on the Olympus Web site's History of Cameras.
In terms of layout, the camera can feel a little cramped at times. This is mostly due to the size and layout of the buttons, such as the playback and function buttons near the top-rear of the camera's body, and the arrow keys, which feel too angular and are not very comfortable to press. The electronic viewfinder can be a little uncomfortable to use, too, if the flash is positioned in the hot-shoe — it sometimes feels like you can't get your eye close enough to the finder. Once again, it's something you get used to after a few days of shooting with this camera.
A 3in OLED screen on the rear of the camera can be used to frame images as well, and it does a commendable job of displaying a scene crisply, even in very bright conditions. However, you'll still want to use the EVF when shooting out in the sunlight. Both views show the same information on the screen (you can change settings while you look through the EVF) and the quality of the EVF overall is very good for framing shots and looking at fine details when manually focusing. The OLED screen folds out from the bottom of the camera and can be angled up or down to allow you to take photos from close to the ground or high above your head. It can't flip all the way up, which means self-portraits aren't that easy to accomplish.
We did notice something annoying though: because the EVF has a sensor that blanks the screen when it detects that your eye is close to it, the screen sometimes switches off if you're angling it in such a way that the sensor thinks you are using. It was sometimes difficult to shoot from the hip unless we held the camera away from our body so that the sensor didn't think that it was being covered. It was also sometimes triggered when we used the touchscreen shutter; hovering our hands over the screen would trigger the sensor.
Indeed, there is a touch component to the OLED screen that allows you to enable the tap-to-shoot shutter and you can also touch any part of the screen that you want to focus on, too. The touchscreen can't be used efficiently for making changes to the settings though. For that, you'll still want to use the arrow keys on the back of the camera. These arrow keys can also be used to change the focus point on the screen very easily. An on-screen menu with all settings can be brought up by pressing the Info button and the arrow and OK keys can be used to make changes quite easily from this menu — it's similar to the Q Menu on Canon digital SLRs. There is also a quick side menu from which you can change things such as ISO and white balance. These are all in addition to the main menu of the camera.
It can be quite a daunting camera to use because of all the features it harbours and we think it will take a good week or two before you can be completely comfortable in knowing where all the settings reside and how to access them. However, while you can change all the exposure and colour settings you want — there is even a function button that's programmed to let you play with the curve for shadows and highlights — the auto mode, scene modes and art modes that have made PEN cameras so fun to use are also present in the OM-D E-M5. You can simply choose to shoot in any of those modes and let the camera decide on the exposure and take the creative control from you. One feature we particularly like is the art mode bracketing, which sees the camera apply all of its art and colour filters to a single shot. It can be great for those scenes when you know you want to use a couple of filters — the camera simply applies all 18 of them instead and saves you the trouble of having to re-take your shot to apply the next filter.
By default, the OM-D that we tested was set to the i-Enhance picture mode for JPEGs. Images taken in this mode looked well saturated and full of life. It's a mode that might not be to everyone's liking though, and there are other modes that you can choose from, including a neutral mode so that colours don't stand out so much. The overall picture quality that you get from the OM-D is very high though. Its level of detail is superb and you can crop images relatively close without losing much detail. For our tests, we used the 12-50mm macro lens, which has a 35mm equivalent length of 24-100mm. It has a maximum aperture of f/3.5 and closes to f/6.3 when zoomed all the way in.
This lens is splashproof and it allows the OM-D to be used in all-weather conditions with confidence — you can take it out in the rain, or just after the rain, and as long as it doesn't get completely soaked, it should just shrug off any water droplets. A three-position switch allows the lens to work in a fixed length as a macro lens, as a zoom lens that is controlled electronically, or as a zoom lens that is controlled manually. When used electronically, you simply need to move the control ring a little to either side in order to zoom; in manual mode, you have to move the ring all the way yourself.
We found it to be more than a decent lens for everyday shots, albeit with some distortion at the edges when using the wide angle, but it really shined when it came to macros. There is advanced image stabilisation built in to this camera's body, which works along five axes to keep images still — it's especially useful when taking close-ups or when using the full zoom. It's a mechanical as well as electronic stabilisation system and you can actually hear it working when the camera is on — it makes a slight whirring sound as it keeps the sensor in position. Incidentally, the OM-D's ability to capture Full HD video is also above-average for a still camera. Videos didn't stutter too badly when there was motion, focus was automatic and changing lighting conditions were handled well. You can also use art modes on videos, but in some modes the frame rate is very slow.
In low-light situations, the ISO speed can be bumped up to around 800, and the results will still look good when you scrutinise them at the pixel level. Edges start to look a little too jagged at ISO 1600, so you won't want to crop images taken with that setting too closely. We would have liked a dedicated button for changing the ISO speed though, as the extra step of going into the menu was a little cumbersome. Luckily there is a function button (Fn2) that can be assigned to this task, or any other exposure features that you want to access quickly — by default, our camera's Fn2 was used to adjust the curve.
Overall, there is a lot to like about the OM-D: its large array of features, its style, its built-in EVF, its picture quality, its customisation options for the shortcut buttons and controls and its good video mode. The learning curve for this camera is a little on the high side though. There are so many settings to tinker with and so many different menus to keep in mind, and this can make it a daunting camera to take manual control of. The auto, semi-auto, scene modes and art modes are present so that you don't have to take complete control if you don't want to, and these modes (especially the art modes) will allow you to have a lot of fun with this camera straight away.
• If you want more manual features and even better image quality in a compact camera, check out the Sony RX100.
• Another compact camera that supplies great image quality, manual controls and even a range finder: Canon's G1X.
• If you're looking for a new digital SLR, the Canon EOS 650D is an entry-level model that's also very fast.
• If you want a funky-looking interchangeable lens camera, it doesn't get much funkier than the Pentax K-01.
• Panasonic's Lumix DMC-TZ25 and DMC-TZ30 are both good choices if you're after a small camera with a big lens and great image quality.
• Bring Wi-Fi to your non-Wi-Fi camera with Eye-Fi.
• Samsung's NX20 has built-in Wi-Fi.
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