The Mirrorless Quest continues.  Last weekend two weekends ago (I’m late because of things like the Indy500) I had an opportunity to try out Olympus’s new camera, the Olympus OM-D E-M5.  What a name, seriously? Why not just the OM-5, or the OM-D, or the OM-5D? (UPDATE: According to Derek from Roberts the whole name stands for OM Digital Evolt Series Model M5).  Anyway, if you don’t recall; recently I test shot the Fuji XPr0-1 which in itself was a pretty solid camera except for the battery life.  Again the allure with cameras such as these or the Nikon V1 or J1 cameras is the LARGE size of the sensor, and the relatively small size of the camera.  Olympus started this craze a few years ago with the release of the Olympus EP-1, which was a really cool camera at the time (and still is).  Small form factor, big Sensor; it created a whole new market for camera folk.  Some call it the mirrorless craze, and others call it just another camera.  For professionals it means a smaller less obtrusive camera that can take a higher quality image.  For hipsters, it’s a reason to take photos using something other than Instagram while drinking a PBR.

(Photo Courtesy of Olympus)

Ok so now that I’ve made my hipster joke I suppose I’ll get on with the Wowza that is the Olympus OM-D E-M5.  We’ll just call it the OM5 from here on out to keep things simple, but if you need lots more pictures and diagrams for your minds eye to chew on, check Robert’s RAW Blog for some more release information and the nitty gritty tech specs.  The camera however is not simple at all, in fact it’s everything a pro would hope for in a package that you can carry around freely without being stopped for having a camera that’s too big in places that aren’t particularly camera friendly.  (places like professional sporting arenas or museums tend to crack down on larger SLR’s).  As I mentioned in my Fuji XPro-1 review, I’ve toyed with the idea of a mirrorless camera quite a bit because I love the idea of all the quality at a much smaller size.  This is the next installment of that quest, as this was the next camera that Robert’s camera here in Indy could find me to try out.  It was hard to come by too considering it is the personal camera of Robert’s Camera’s Floor manager Phil Gibson.  That being said, if you’re looking to buy one after this review; go to Roberts or call and ask for Phil.  He’ knows even more about this camera than I do (since he owns this exact one I’m writing about).  I first put it through it’s paces at a friends wedding rehearsal without knowing what it could do.  Good idea?  Not always.  In this case, it was brilliant.

(Olympus OM-D E-M5, 3200ISO, 40-150mm F4-5.6@150mm.  1/200th@F5.6)

To start out let me tell you, this thing is fast.  It starts up in an instant, and locks focus just as quickly as it does accurately; which is faster than I could have hoped for.  Even in low light it snapped onto what I wanted to shoot, it did it quickly, and not only that it blasted a few frames in true happy snap style allowing me to take a few of any instance to get the best image possible of the moment.  Not that I shot at 9fps regularly, but generally I tend to shoot one or two in a sequence as I find it avoids people blinking, or funny looks that way. Either way, even in relatively low light, the camera tracked and auto-focused exactly the way I would hope something of this caliber of camera would do; even when I wasn’t expecting things to be moving quickly.  In this shot below, Joe grabbed his wife to be and started running down the aisle to leave the church at the end of the rehearsal.  Not what was planned, but the Olympus OM handled it perfectly.

(Olympus OM-D E-M5, 3200ISO, Olympus 40-150F4-5.6@45mm.  1/160th@F4.1)

In my review of the Fuji X Pro 1 I said I would feel comfortable if someone asked me to shoot an assignment with it, but with the OM5 I didn’t wait for someone to ask; especially  not after the wedding reception.  I went out and shot an assignment with it the following week on my own accord. On assignment it proved itself admirably too, especially with the gamut of lenses that Phil had to loan me with the camera.  With the body he loaned me the Olympus 17mm pancake, the 14-42mm, the 40-150mm, and a Canon FD Adapter with a Canon FD 55mm F1.2.  Sweet kit batman!  Definitely enough for a camera with a 2x crop factor to be able to shoot an assignment in so many different ways!

(Olympus OM-D E-M5, Olympus M17F2.8, 1/500th@F9.  Shot taken using the articulating screen pointed down, while I balanced standing on the hand rail of an electric golf cart to get up high enough to have more down looking perspective).

The assignment that I chose was a Del Webb Golf outing that I shoot regularly for the Custom Publications department of our Indianapolis Star newspaper.  I figured that if I was going to go all out, I was going to go for a relatively odd assignment.  The golf I wasn’t worried about, as while I don’t shoot tons of golf photographically, I did know how to play at one point.  In fact, to some I was arguably a better golfer than I am a photographer but I suppose that’s all in how good you think I am at one or the other meaning the bar could be set relatively low depending on either perspective. I digress though, as the assignment means shooting Amateur golf action, as well as shooting broad, faceless shots for use in advertising for the Active adult Community.  Sometimes they want actual residents doing things, other times they just like the idea.  Either way, I shot this assignment with the OM.  I did shoot a few with my 5D early on, but quickly ditched it to put the OM through its paces.  Shooting amateur sports is exceptionally tough no matter how well you know the sport because the athletes are unpredictable.  Unlike Tiger Woods, or Phil Mickelson who may swing almost identical every time; amateur golfers are a wildcard when it comes to where the ball is going to go, or the things they do during or after a shot.

(Olympus OM-D E-M5, Olympus to Canon FD Adapter, Canon 55mm F1.2 FD Lens.  200ISO, 1/4000th@F2.)

The files out of the camera were crisp, but not quite as detailed or noise free as I was hoping.  Not just at High ISO, but low iso also. More on that though in a minute.  If you only care about HIGH ISO, then here’s a pointless full size file of the velcro legs of the light stands in the trunk of my car taken at 16k ISO for your scrutiny.  Don’t get me wrong, the fact that it’s this clean at 16,000ISO is pretty amazing, but the lack of quality at 200 in certain instances is what blew my mind.  More on that in a second.  Another thing to notice is that even at 16%ish (or whatever actual percentage the file above is of original), you can see some Chromatic Aberrations on the edges of the whites and hot spots.  Part of that is due to the super wide aperture of the 55F1.2, but it was noticeable throughout the range of lenses while I had the camera when shooting in bright light.  Definitely not the end of the world as most people won’t notice it, but as a pro I look for things like that.  The Fuji has the advantage here in overall Image Quality and Detail as the Fuji’s Sensor is bigger; but the files out of the Olympus are definitely very clean and useable almost all the way through the range.  The only time when I was annoyed at the OM’s image quality was during what looked like could have been the coolest thing to ever be added to a digital camera; but turned out to be mostly useless.  Olympus added the ability to “Live Time” a long exposure in the camera’s Bulb mode.  This was supposed to make light painting much easier, but in the end really only made it about 4% easier.  The problem is that you only get about 12 seconds of live preview before the camera continues to record in regular long exposure mode.  The screen stays active with your first 12 seconds progress, but after that you’re shooting in the dark again (you can decide if the pun was intended or not).  The other really big down side is that you can’t look at the picture while the camera is writing to the card.  For a long exposure, the writing to the card seems to take just as long as the long exposure that you just took.  If the exposure was 40 seconds, then it looks like you’re waiting 40 seconds before you can even see your shot to decide to recompose or if you were finished.  Unlike an Optical viewfinder camera, when the camera is busy; you can’t do anything.  All of this of course not even considering the fact that normally you aren’t standing behind the camera while you lightpaint anyway……


(Olympus OM-D E-M5, 200ISO, Olympus 40-150mmF4-5.6@53mm.  24 seconds @F22.  Light provided by an Inova Bolt LED flashlight from behind and over the top of the Hasta’s in my front yard.)

Don’t believe me? I left the annoying write times in tact in what turned out to be a somewhat boring light-painting of my front yard.  There was a lot of water on the grass, and it didn’t turn out, at any focal length and distance.  This was shot when I thought the “Live Time” feature was still cool, but was starting to see how it was really only 4%, like I stated earlier.  Check out the video:

(Video shot of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 using a Canon 5D Mark II.  Not edited at all)

(Olympus OM-D E-M5, 200ISO, Olympus 14-42mm lens@42mm, 20 Seconds@F22.  The camera was set on a tripod facing down towards the golfball, the camera was set to Live preview the bulb setting of the camera that allowed me to push the shutter to start and stop the exposure without needing a remote release.  The ball was lit by an Inova BOLT LED FLashlight, and the red was created using a mouse shaped laser pointer swirled around the ball after the ball had been painted.)

This golf ball image is a light-painting I did unrecorded.  It turned out much better than anything I spent almost 90 minutes outside trying to do.  Despite what seems really cool, this camera is not made for light painting.  If you get past the fact that the Live Time lightpainting thing only lasts about 12 seconds, you then need to get to final image quality in a long exposure.  Below is a 100% crop of the Golfball image, which was at 200ISO:

(Click to biggify slightly to actual 100% size)

Now, with all that said; what’s left?  What do I think about everything else?  Like I said up at the top: Yowza!  This thing is a rocket.  Every time I turned it on and put it up to my eye or touched the touchscreen on back, the thing just did what it was supposed to do which was snap a photo in focus.  When it came to tracking the camera was venerable in that are also.   For what the OM is, it’s absolutely wonderful.  By that I mean it’s not a D3 or D4, no.  But I did shoot a newspaper assignment with it, as well as the rehearsal for a friend’s wedding.  Believe you me, this thing performs.  I told Jody over at Roberts that if the Fuji XPro-1 functioned like the Olympus OM does, then Fuji would sell them no matter what the price is.  I fully Believe that too. The only thing that I think the Olympus seems to be lacking is some really fast glass.  The Fuji has a 35F1.4, which I remember saying I would take welded to the camera without any complaints.  Olympus doesn’t seem to have anything like that in their lineup, and as much as I did really like the Canon FD 55mm F1.2, it just wasn’t the same as a Olympus Lens considering it had to be manually focused (all the time) and wide open it was a hair soft considering it is probably the better side of 20 years old.

(Olympus OM-D E-M5, 200ISO, Olympus to Canon FD Adapter with a Canon 55mm F1.2FD Lens 1/200th@F1.2)

Something also to mention about with this camera is the number of effects modes that it contains.  I already used my hipster joke for this post, but I suppose we now have to go back to it.  The camera has several different pre-programmed picture modes to let you be creative on the fly.  Of those modes it includes things like “Cross Processing”, “Dramatic Tones”,  Soft Focus”, “Grainy Black and White”, and a few more on top of those.  While I found those fun to play with, the real fun of those is shooting RAW+JPEG because the camera will only save the filtered shots as Jpegs, and the RAW files are just straight away photos, as you can see here with this side by side of a photo taken of some Brisket with the camera set to “Cross Process”.  Why is this nice?  Because then you’re not pigeonholed into using whatever funky filter you set the camera too in your craze of hipsterness.  (darn, guess I squeaked a second one in there after all…)

So final thoughts.  Camera is awesome.  It’s exactly what I want in a mirror less camera, but it just doesn’t have the level of lenses that I want as a pro.  That’s easy to get past, and it DOES have a lot of F2.8 glass in the system.  Just not any F1.4 primes which as a pro, I find myself leaning towards for use with a rangefinder like this.  All in all though the camera is more than capable. I did shoot a little bit of video with it, but that’s not what I would primarily want a camera like this for.  Other than feeling that Fuji’s lens lineup was better, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 is by far a better overall performer.  Not to mention that you can get the camera with a lens for $1099, and unlike the Fuji; I never killed the Olympus battery.  I blasted 500 frames at the wedding reception, and about 700 at the golf outing (yea I shot a lot since I didn’t know the camera like I know my 5D2 or D4).  Never once killed the battery out on location.  That’s a set of thumbs way, way up for Olympus.  If the image Quality was as good on the Olympus as it is on the Fuji, then I’d probably have my trembling credit card out to buy this camera as I type this.  Fortunately for my bank account, there are still a few Mirrorless options left to try before any decisions are made.  Until then though, more soon.

As always, if you decide you can’t live without a Fuji, Olympus, Nikon, Canon, or anything else you’ve read about on my blog.  I buy all my stuff from Roberts Camera here in Indy.  Definitely call or visit them, they are good people. 

Curious about any other gear I use?  Check out the new-ish Gear page.