Olympus Imaging India Private Limited launched their flagship mirror-less interchangeable system camera – the OM-D E-M5 – on the 17th of May.
The camera boasts of the world’s fastest Single AF speed even compared to pro-D-SLRs, and being 20-percent faster than their own E-P3. It further claims to have a 5-axis image stabilisation system that provides up to 5-stop advantage in shutter speed. It is available in two variants – all-black, and silver & black. The test piece that we received was all-black. Let’s see how the OM-D stacks up on our test bench.
Design and Build Quality
By design, the Olympus OM-D (full-name, OM-D E-M5) is a Micro Four Thirds mirror-less ILCC (Interchangeable Lens Compact Camera). Its top and bottom plates do not have rounded edges, which makes it appear ‘boxy’, but other than that the OM-D looks pro-grade. The outer shell is made with metal and engineering plastic and appears to be strong. Our review piece also had a sleek (optional) two-piece detachable battery-grip, which, whilst very useful, also made the camera appear larger. The tripod socket is off-centered but is made from metal. Olympus has tried to invoke the retro design of the legendary OM-series D-SLRs, but according to me, haven’t succeeded very well.
The OM-D is a 16.1 megapixel ILCC featuring a Micro Four Thirds Live MOS imaging sensor (17.3 x 13mm) equipped with a Supersonic Wave Filter for dust control. The OM-D incorporates the world’s first 5-axis image-sensor-shift-type stabilisation system that can compensate for horizontal, vertical, and rotational camera shake that conventional 2-axis systems cannot handle. Since the image stabilising system is built into the camera body, any lens attached to it becomes image-stabilised. This further helps to reduce the lens’ cost. According to Olympus, the stabilisation system is particularly effective in macro, long telephoto shots and long exposures. When using the stabiliser, pressing the shutter release button halfway, provides a crisp, clear view of the viewfinder image.
The OM-D is designed to work in all kinds of environments, and hence is provided with ring-shaped seals that protect the camera from dust, sand, rain, and water spray. Incidentally, this protection is also offered to the kit lens (M. Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 EZ), the bundled detachable flash unit, and the optional grip and power battery holder. The 12-50mm lens provides an equivalent focal length of 24-100mm in the 35mm format.
The OM-D offers an advanced electronic viewfinder (EVF) with a 100% field of view coverage. Its high-resolution 1.44 million dot LCD offers a maximum magnification of 1.15x that facilitates focussing. It can display, besides other things, the effects of White Balance, Exposure Compensation, Aspect Ratio, and Highlight/Shadow Control. To ensure superb colour fidelity, the OM-D uses an advanced TruePic VI image processor, which, in combination with the 16.1 megapixel Live Mos image sensor and a host of M. Zuiko Digital lenses, offers unlimited creativity control for the advanced user.
As mentioned earlier, the OM-D claims to have the world’s fastest autofocussing system, even faster than their very own E-M5 (as of 8th Feb.2012, using the Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 EZ lens, based on Olympus in-house measurement conditions). Olympus further claim that the new high-sensitivity image sensor used in the OM-D ensures superior performance even in dim light. But with all these improvements, how fast can the OM-D shoot? Very fast. With autofocussing between each frame, up to 4 frames per second, but it can go up to 9 frames per second with focus locking on the first frame. That’s pretty impressive for an ILCC! The OM-D offers a 3-inch tilting (the first Olympus camera to do so) Organic LED touchscreen with a resolution of approximately 610,000 dots. The OLED can be tilted upwards 80 degrees and downwards to 50 degrees. Focussing on an individual element in the frame is as easy as touching that element on the instantly responding capacitive touch panel. Besides autofocussing, you can change shooting parameters, zoom in on an image that you have already taken, or play back images frame by frame when using the touch panel.
Using this mirror-less ILCC is easier than some other Olympus models we have reviewed in the past (though this could have been made even easier!). There’s the ‘Easy Shooting Modes’ for beginners, ‘Advanced Shooting Modes’ for, well, advanced workers, and a ‘Movie Mode’. The Easy Shooting Modes are: iAuto (intelligent Auto, which turns the camera into a point-and-shoot), Art filter (for easy creative effects), and Scene (depending on the type of subject before you, you select the appropriate mode, and the camera will do the rest). The Art filters available are Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale & Light Colour, Light Tone, Grainy Film, Pin Hole, Diorama, Cross process, Gentle Sepia, Dramatic Tone, Key Line, and Art Bracketing. The available Scene Modes are: Portrait, e-Portrait, Landscape, Landscape+Portrait, Sport, Night Scene, Night+Portrait, Children, High key, Low key, DIS Mode, Macro, Nature Macro, Candle, Sunset, Documents, Panorama, Fireworks, Beach & Snow, Fisheye Effect, Wide-angle, Macro, 3D Photo (Fisheye Effect, Wide-angle, and Macro are for use with optional converter lenses). Advanced Shooting Modes are P, A, S, and M.
Shutter speeds on the OM-D range from 60 seconds to 1/4000sec, plus ‘Bulb’ and ‘Time’ (Time is a variation of ‘Bulb’. When using ‘Time’ you press the shutter release button all the way down to start the exposure. After the required period, you once again press the shutter release button all the way down to end the exposure). Long exposure noise reduction feature is available.
Autofocus is achieved using contrast detection system through the imaging sensor. 35 focussing points are available and the selection of a AF point can be Auto or Manual. By using the arrow pad on the rear of the camera, AF targets can be selected. They are ‘All Targets’, ‘Single Target’ and ‘Group Target’. With All Targets, the camera automatically selects the focus point. In Single Target, you can select the focus point manually. When Group Target is selected, the camera automatically selects the focus point from a selected group of focus points. The OM-D offers 5 AF modes: S-AF (single AF), C-AF (continuous AF), MF (manual focus), S-AF+MF (simultaneous use of S-AF mode and MF mode), and C-AF+TR (3D AF tracking). When enabled (through the Menu), the 3D AF Tracking system tracks a subject not only moving in line with the lens’ axis, but also when moving across the frame.
Exposure control on the OM-D is TTL (through-the-lens) using Digital ESP metering, Center-weighted averaging, Spot metering, Spot metering +Highlight control, and Spot metering + Shadow control. In Digital ESP metering, the OM-D meters 324 areas of the frame and optimises the exposure depending on the scene. In Spot metering + Highlight control, the camera ensures that a bright subject stays bright (spot metering would normally tone down a bright subject). Similarly, when using Spot metering + Shadow control, the camera automatically ensures that dark subjects stay dark (normally, spot metering would brighten a dark subject).
The OM-D supports full High Definition movies (1920×1080 pixels). Thanks to its in-built 5-axis image stabilisation system, the OM-D permits jitter-free movies even when the user is slowly/gently walking with the camera. The Art Filters can be used even during movie shooting for some creative effects. Using the built-in high-performance stereo microphone, high-quality stereo audio can be recorded in linear PCM format.
ISO sensitivity on the OM-D ranges from 200-25,600 in 1/3 or 1 EV step. Exposure compensation up to +/- 3 EV is possible. White Balance setting available are Auto, 7 presets, Custom and One-touch WB. Pictures can be shot in RAW or JPEG and can be stored on SD/SDHC/SDXC/Eye-Fi card. Movies are recorded in MPEG-4 AVC/H.264/Motion JPEG.
The OM-D offers many more features, such as Live Guide, One-shot Echo / Multi-Echo (for movies), i-Enhance Movies, Art Filter Bracketing, Level Gauge, Autofocus with Eye-detection, Digital Tele-converter, Multi-exposure, and 3D-photography to name some.
A small but cute accessory flashgun is bundled with the OM-D and has a Guide Number of 10m at ISO 200. Flash is controlled using TTL pre-flash mode or manual and is designed to cover a 14mm lens (28mm in 35mm format). X-sync speed is up to 1/250 sec. The camera is powered by a rechargeable Li-ion battery and weighs approx. 425g including battery and memory card.
The Kit Lens
The OM-D comes bundled with a motorised 12-50mm (24-100mm equivalent) M. Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 EZ zoom lens. At the wide-angle end, the aperture range is from f/3.5-22, and at the telephoto end, it ranges from f/6.3-22. The lens measures 83mm (L) x 57mm (D). It accepts 52mm filters and weighs 212g. The lens is constructed from 10 elements in 9 groups (includes 1 x DSA element, 2 x aspherical elements, 1 x element and 1 x ED element). It is dust and splash proof.
Tiltable 3-inch LCD
The OM-D and the 24-100mm equivalent balanced very well. As mentioned earlier, our test sample had the two-piece battery-grip attached, which made the combo very comfortable to hold and use, but it did make the camera feel heavier and larger (which is against the basic philosophy of the Micro Four Thirds System), but considering the advantages against the total weight of 940g (the body, battery-grip, and the 24-100mm equivalent lens), I think it was not too bad. If you have not studied the user manual, you could possibly get lost in the multitude of functions and settings that this model has to offer.
It would be fair to say that this is Olympus’ best ILCC till date, but since the settings can be tailored to suit individual style of shooting, the configurations can be difficult and/or confusing to novices. Images from the OM-D look crisp and with good tonality and colour. As claimed by Olympus, the OM-D does provide better JPEG quality, but at some point or the other, we did feel that noise reduction is somewhat softening the high ISO images. So, would it be fair to say that the image quality from the OM-D is equal to that from a D-SLR? Not really, but for the majority of users, the differences may be marginal. At higher ISOs, the larger sensors of D-SLRs do give them an advantage in terms of digital noise and dynamic range.
In terms of digital noise, the OM-D proved satisfactory, other than some softness produced at higher ISOs, possibly due to an over-active noise reduction system. The OM-D’s native image size at 300ppi is 11.52 x 15.36 inches. Images at ISOs 200 and 400 were very smooth, with traces of digital noise becoming apparent at ISO 800. Up to ISO 6400, noise seemed well controlled as long as picture size stayed close to its native image size. Beyond this point, noise can be seen at all ISOs and I for one would use the ISO 25,600 only for very small prints, and that too, only if absolutely necessary.
White Balance performance was good as far as the Presets were concerned, but Auto White Balance did produce slight colour casts in most situations (which, the majority of users may not notice). Olympus’ exposure metering system provided good exposures in most lighting situations.
Images produced with the 24-100mm equivalent kit lens were quite sharp at all focal lengths, though corner sharpness did show some amount of softness. Flare and chromatic aberration was well controlled; we could see a very slight amount of purple fringing at 200% enlargements in against-the-light shots. In terms of distortion, the 24-100mm equivalent lens showed barrel distortion up to 35mm equivalence; at 50 and 70mm equivalence, it was difficult to notice the distortion, and 80-100mm produced no barrel or pin-cushion distortion.
Contacts for the battery grip Tiltable 3-inch LCD
Value for Money
The OM-D body with the 24-100mm equivalent kit lens and the accessory flash (but without the battery-grip) retails at an MRP of Rs.77,990 (Body only is Rs.66,990). At this price, we feel the camera, though feature-filled and providing very good results, is on the expensive side. The Company would do well in re-considering the selling price if they want to convert at least some D-SLR users to the Olympus stable. Aggressive pricing, similar to that of the other PEN series, will certainly push their sales to a comfortable level.
+ Very good image quality
+ Printed User Manual
+ Excellent features
+ HLD-6 grip (Optional)
+ Very useful EVF
+ User interface sometimes confusing
+ No in-built CA correction
+ LCD monitor has limited tilting arrangement, so swivel
Design and Build Quality 16/20
Key Features 18/20
Noise control 4/5
Auto White Balance 4/5
Extra Features 4/5
Value for Money 7/10
Grand Total 81.5/100
Olympus has put in all its might to attack the (entry-level) D-SLR segment by creating a Micro Four Thirds System camera that comes quite close to its intended adversary. Photographers who are reluctant to carry heavy and large D-SLRs may be tempted to change over to the lighter, smaller, and almost as good mirror-less compact, but the high price may stand between the success and failure of the OM-D.