There are numerous independent reviews that give the Olympus OM-D E-M5 the thumbs up. I was equally impressed when I attended the launch event. Recently, Olympus passed me the E-M5 for a more  personal review.

Without a doubt, the E-M5 is one classy camera that delivers the necessary photographic functions that a proper camera should. Besides the list of new features I mentioned in the OM-D launch article, here’s a few more:

Extensive shoot settings and customisation capability. Like the PEN series, the E-M5 contains lots of customisable settings. For instance, you can choose whether the camera auto-focuses on the left or right eye or the closer eye. You can choose to map your preferred functions to the various hardware buttons to meet your shooting style.

Weather proof. The E-M5 plus the kit lens 12-50mm can withstand water pouring on them. That means the camera will survive wet environments like swimming pool or fountains.

Multi-purpose kit lens. The kit lens supports 2 ways to zoom: electronic and mechanical. Electronic is useful when doing video to allow smoother zoom. Mechanical lets you zoom faster for faster framing. The kit lens also boasts a Macro mode, a feature not available in most mirrorless cameras’ kit lenses.

Touch screen. It makes accessing some shooting functions easier. For instance, selecting AF area.

Attractive retro design. The E-M5 is the most unoriginal design, and people love it.

Well-tuned image quality. The E-M5 offers improved noise control, white balance and colour tones out of the box. You can also fine-tune the white balance or exposure using custom curves during shoots.

Very fast AF performance. The AF speed of mirrorless cameras has improved leaps and bounds. When you use the E-M5, you have to be impressed at how fast the camera focuses, but only with good lighting and when coupled with latest lenses, like the 12-50mm kit lens.

Built-in high-resolution Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). If you are shooting outdoors and you find it hard to use the LCD monitor, the EVF comes in handy. The great thing about E-M5 is that you can switch between the 2 screens anytime when using the camera – be it shooting stills or videos or during playback.

Attractive street price.  At about S$1400 (body only), the E-M5 is without a doubt an extremely value-for-money camera, offering advanced camera controls and wide lens range for hobbyists and professional like.

While the E-M5 is a beautiful camera with comprehensive photographic functions, I find the usage experience slightly under the weather. I shall list a few observations:

Buttons layout.  I find it difficult to turn on the camera with one hand when the on-off switch is located at the bottom right of the camera. I find it difficult to press the small buttons that are placed close to one another. When I use the EVF, I can’t operate any buttons or dials like I could on a DSLR.

No built-in flash. To retain the retro look, pop-up flash is omitted. But I’m sure most of the E-M5 owners wouldn’t mind.

Steep learning curve due to customisable buttons. It’s a good thing that many buttons on the E-M5 can be customised – only if you remember. Perhaps I don’t have a good memory, but I find myself not able to remember all the settings and buttons I customised. And it comes to a point that it would be faster to look for the function under the menu.

Comparing with the Samsung NX20
I always liked the Samsung NX series because I find their buttons and interface are easier to interact with from a conventional photographer’s perspective. A few things stand out during my brief comparison:

  • NX20 weighs lighter
  • NX20 has built-in flash
  • NX20 is easier to adjust shoot settings
  • NX20’s AMOLED screen has more articulations
  • NX20 captures more image details under good lighting
  • E-M5 has more buttons that can be customised
  • E-M5 has faster AF
  • E-M5 EVF works more effectively than NX20, whose EVF and LCD doesn’t switch as instinctively
  • E-M5 has touchscreen capability to speed up shooting, like selecting AF points
  • E-M5 has better shadow noise control at high ISO

I brought the E-M5 out for a “swim” at Port of Lost World, Sentosa. It was a positive experience: the camera’s weather-proof design helps me to be more daring within the wet playground. I like how I can quickly adjust EV compensation with the front wheel, and when I find the sun too glaring, I use the EVF to compose my shots.

The resulting images are vibrant, and even though I had a few images where I accidentally overexposed the shots, the camera manages to retain the details.

Final Thoughts
I have nothing too critical to pick about the E-M5, other than its physical appearance (not a fan of retro look cameras) and small button layout. That aside, the E-M5 is a mirrorless camera that many enthusiasts and even reputable review websites praise for its phenomenal image quality. For consumers who do not like the OM-D design, they could consider the PEN series to achieve similar shooting capabilities.

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