Olympus O-MD E-M5 Review: Performance

by Jim Keenan Reads (2,078)
Editor's Rating
8.60

TG Ratings Breakdown

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 8
    • Features
    • 9
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 9
    • Performance
    • 8
    • Expandability
    • 9
    • Total Score:
    • 8.60
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

Performance

It’s got the same size sensor as an Olympus DSLR, more settings than you can shake a stick at if you’re using the manual exposure modes and a DSLR-sized price tag, but is performance DSLR-like as well?

Shooting Performance
Whatever else the E-M5 is, it’s no greyhound getting out of the starting gate at power up – a 2 second wait for the shooting screen after start up translates into a first shot in about 2.5 seconds, about average for this class of camera. Once you’re up and running single shot-to-shot times ran about 1 second with 95 MB/sec UHS-1 SDHC memory media. The camera can fire in high-speed continuous mode at up to 9 fps for about 1 second before buffer capacity slows the frame rate if you continue past the first nine frames. Write time for these nine frames was pretty good – about 4.25 seconds.

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Sony NEX-7 0.13
Olympus E-M5 0.13
Panasonic Lumix GX1 0.15
Nikon 1 J1/V1 0.21

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Sony NEX-7 20 10.0 fps
Olympus E-M5 12 9.0 fps
Nikon 1 J1/V1 28 5.1 fps
Panasonic Lumix GX1 32 4.1 fps

*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera’s fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). “Frames” notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

One caveat with the 9 fps continuous shooting rate: focus and exposure are established with the first shot of the sequence and then applied to all subsequent shots. The continuous shooting rate drops to a 4.2 fps with continuous autofocus and stabilization disabled and slows even further to 3.5 fps if you turn stabilization back on. There is an initial split second blackout of both the viewfinder and monitor after the initial shot of a high-speed sequence, and then the E-M5 lags about one shot behind in the ongoing display, so tracking fast moving objects can be a little problematic.

Auto focus acquisition time is quick in good conditions – probably as good or better than any interchangeable lens mirrorless digital camera I’ve reviewed. Shutter lag seems quick as well, and both these figures were substantiated by our studio measurements of 0.13 seconds for AF acquisition and 0.01 seconds on shutter lag.

Olympus claims the E-M5 stabilization system is the world’s first featuring in-body stabilization along five axes – pitch, yaw, roll, up/down and side-to-side. Pitch and yaw are the typical camera shake problems, with camera shake causing the lens to move vertically above or below the desired aim point (pitch) or right or left of the desired aim point (yaw). Roll is rotation of the camera about the long axis of the lens and onto the sensor, while up/down and side-to-side are described as “camera shifts that are often caused during macro shooting.” The system is also said to be effective in compensating for camera shake made during video capture while walking. Olympus says the system is capable of up to five steps of compensation. The E-M5 has three settings for image stabilization: IS1 is the full system enable, IS2 applies only to vertical camera shake, IS3 applies only to horizontal camera shake. Olympus recommends that image stabilization be disabled when the camera is used on a tripod.

The FL-LM2 flash head bundled with the E-M5 draws its power from the camera battery and has a guide number of 10 meters at 200 ISO. This indicates a maximum flash range of about 9.34 feet at wide-angle and about 5.18 feet at telephoto. Flash recycle times with the camera in the i-Auto shooting mode ran about 3.5 seconds; flash shots in aperture priority designed to produce a full strength discharge of the flash resulted in a bit over 6 second recycle times. Olympus makes a number of other, more powerful flash units that are compatible with the E-M5, including some wireless models.

Battery life of the E-M5 is apparently one of the world’s better kept secrets: the user’s manual that came with our review unit said battery life was “to be determined” and the Olympus website is of no help either.

Lens Performance
The M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm zoom lens bundled as part of this E-M5 kit is a newly introduced model and features a motorized zoom capability said to provide “smooth, quiet zooming” during movie capture. The lens itself is relatively slow, with maximum apertures of f/3.5 and f/6.3 at the wide and telephoto ends of the zoom, respectively. But after getting past the maximum aperture issue it’s pretty much all uphill with this lens’s performance. It seems Olympus may have traded off some lens speed in exchange for quite good optical performance otherwise. Chromic aberration (colored fringing) is minimal at both ends of the zoom – virtually nonexistent that I could see at wide-angle, with a few areas at the telephoto end that require 300 to 400% enlargements and careful scrutiny to locate. Suffice it to say CA should not be an issue with even large prints produced from E-M5 files.

The wide-angle end of the zoom is sharp in the center, with a bit of softness in the edges and corners, but overall a fairly consistent performance. There was some light drop-off (vignetting) in the corners at wide-angle, but this was more noticeable on the textured, light-colored wall I use as a test subject then in real world photos. The telephoto end is a bit better, with a bit less softness in the edges than at wide-angle.

Video Quality
Video quality with the E-M5 is pretty good overall, with the autofocus hunting just a bit with moving subjects on occasion. The microphone can be sensitive to wind noise and manual zooming noises, but there is a wind cut feature available and the motorized zoom mentioned above is the way to go for video capture. I shot a post-sunset video at the beach with illumination provided by the Oceanside pier and some residual twilight from the sky and was quite pleased with the results. A daytime video of the dredging operation at one of our local lagoons was also quite good, although exposure of the scene seemed to flicker a bit and the autofocus hunted a few times. I’m not sure why the exposure seems to vary on the daytime clips, but whatever the cause it was slight, although just noticeable enough to be annoying. Based on the nighttime video I’d say the daytime clips were just an aberration due to something in that particular scene.

Because the E-M5 uses a CMOS sensor rolling shutter effect is a consideration, and the effect is slight and well controlled at wide-angle, requiring exaggeratedly fast pans to produce a noticeable defect. The effect is a bit more pronounced at telephoto although still well controlled, and again, an exaggeratedly fast pan is required. Rolling shutter shouldn’t be an issue with most E-M5 videos.

Image Quality
Default still images out of the E-M5 were quite good as to image quality, sharpness and color fidelity. Noting that the E-M5 has two additional steps of in-camera sharpening available over the default setting, I did some specific test shots with the default sharp setting as well as maxed out. At 100% pixel-peeping there were some sharpness gains to be noticed in portions of the frame, however prints at both 8.5 x 11 and 13 x 19 inch sizes didn’t really look different with either setting.
The E-M5 provides a basic color palette including i-Enhance, vivid, natural, muted, portrait and monotone shooting options for the manual controls. Here’s a look:

Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
I-Enhance
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
Vivid
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
Natural
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
Muted
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
Portrait
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
Monotone

If you don’t see a lot of difference between the colored versions, you’re not alone. I ended up reviewing luminance and RGB histograms and they confirmed that the shots are largely alike. There’s some shifting of the histogram for both luminance and RGB (both horizontal and vertical axes) for each individual shot and no two histograms are exactly alike, but there’s less variety than I would have expected.

But if the basic color palette is too tame for your taste, there’s always the art filter shooting mode which offers 11 effects. You can choose to make the original capture in any of these effects or the art filter palette is also available with in-camera post processing. Can’t decide which of the effects to use? No problem. Select “art bracketing” for image capture and the E-M5 takes the original shot and then applies all 11 effects in camera to individual shots and saves each of them. Here’s a look at the original shot:

Olympus E-M5 Sample Image

And here are the dramatic tone, grainy film, pop art, pinhole, soft focus and key line effects as applied by the camera in the original capture process:

Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
Dramatic Tone
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
Grainy Film
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
Pop Art
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
Pinhole
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
Soft Focus
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
Key Line

I have to wonder bit about the key line effect, and you might too after you look at a couple different captures that were also made as part of the art bracketing process.

Olympus E-M5 Sample Image Olympus E-M5 Sample Image

Did Olympus mean to call the effect “key lime” and a letter got transposed in the process?

I mentioned in the menu and modes portion of the review that the E-M5 has a very solid exposure bracketing feature available and here it is: 2, 3 or 5 frames in 0.3/0.7/1.0 EV steps, or 7 frames in 0.3/0.7 EV steps. That’s the good news. The better news is that Olympus also offers a cable release for the E-M5 that helps minimize camera shake during the bracketing process.

Using specialized software to post process and merge a number of images with different exposures into a single image with a high dynamic range is popular right now, and I took the E-M5 to the Mission San Luis Rey for such a shoot. I didn’t have the advantage of the cable release but got the tripod locked down tight, set the E-M5 for high-speed capture, bracketing for 7 shots at 0.7 EV steps and held the shutter down (carefully) while the camera made the captures. I processed the seven shots using Nik Software HDR Efex Pro and got these results of what is, in reality, a fairly dark, 200 year old church interior.

Olympus E-M5 Sample Image Olympus E-M5 Sample Image

I also shot a bracketed sequence on one of the walkways of the church exterior. The process allowed me to bring up detail in the wood roofing while at the same time not blowing out the highlights on the portion of the cloudy bright sky visible through one of the archways.

Olympus E-M5 Sample Image

During my brief time with the E-M5 the weather and phase of the moon combined to present favorable shooting conditions for night sky photography in the Anza-Borrego desert, so it made the 200 mile round-trip along with our Nikons. The focus of this shoot involves framing a terrestrial object or terrain along with a portion of starlit sky and the moon in a partial phase. We use a 20 second exposure with a 24 mm (or wider) lens at maximum aperture and ISO in the 800 to 1600 range. The moon provides illumination for the terrestrial portion of the frame and the stars do the rest. We then post process images as needed for noise reduction. All noise reduction features are disabled in the camera at the time of image capture.

Our first look at the E-M5 night sky images produced a bit of a shock. 100% enlargement pixel peeping showed what appeared to be hot pixels scattered all over the frame. I ran the shot through Nik noise reduction software and while it cleaned up some image noise the hot pixels remained. Here’s a look at the original shot and again after post processing for noise reduction.

Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
Original
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
After Nik Noise Reduction

I then printed both the original image and the noise reduction version in 8.5 x 11 and 13 x 19 inch sizes – while they don’t look so good pixel peeping on the computer I couldn’t see the hot pixels on either print. Much like the Sony HX200V I had just finished reviewing, the perceived defects in the image on the computer did not translate onto the prints.

Not having the time for another round-trip to the desert I shot the E-M5 with a color check chart in our closed garage, both with and without noise reduction enabled. A 20 second exposure at ISO 1600 was used, although framing dictated that lens maximum aperture was f/4.7. The brighter colored squares help mask the hot pixel effect on the image with no noise reduction, but you can see the effect is present in the darker colored squares and dark framework of the card. Enabling noise reduction in the camera virtually eliminated the problem and was a dramatic improvement. Whether it was noise or hot pixels I saw, the E-M5 firmware has apparently been optimized to deal with the problem.

Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
No Noise Reduction
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
Noise Reduction Enabled

The moral of the story? Enabling noise reduction in the camera appears to be the way to go with the E-M5 for long-duration and/or high ISO shooting.

I used the default settings of auto white balance for all the images in this review and the E-M5 did a good job with daylight, cloudy overcast and flash. Image color in incandescent light also appeared to be reproduced fairly accurately. In addition to the automatic setting there are daylight, open shade, cloudy, incandescent, fluorescent, underwater and flash presets; one touch white balance and custom white balance settings are also available.

Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light

Digital ESP metering is the default setting for the E-M5 and does a good job with average lit scenes. With the system the camera meters 324 areas of the frame and optimizes exposure for the scene. This setting did have a tendency to lose highlights with scenes involving high contrast, perhaps to a slightly greater degree than other cameras in this class that I’ve reviewed.

With their four thirds system standard sensors providing a 2x crop factor in Olympus DSLRs and mirrorless interchangeable digitals, Olympus products have generally entered the ISO ring with a bit of a disadvantage compared with their APS-C sensor competitors, whose crop factors tend to hover in the 1.5x or 1.6x range.

When I reviewed the latest generation Nikon and Canon APS-C DSLRs (the D7000 and 60D, respectively), both had shown nice gains in high ISO performance over their predecessors. I’ll cut right to the chase – the E-M5 doesn’t look to be giving away anything to either of these competitors as ISO sensitivities ramp up. The Olympus may well be later generation technologies than the other two, which have both been in the marketplace for about 18 months now, but until those companies come out with their newest generation equipment, the E-M5 looks to be able to stand toe-to-toe with them in the high sensitivity arena.

ISO 200 and 400 in our studio test set below are a wash. I can’t tell the difference between them, even pixel peeking at 100% over the entire frame. ISO 800 was immediately discernibly different from 400, due primarily to the background, which had just a bit of texture not present in the lower ISOs. Pixel peeping about the frame, some areas of fine detail had degraded a tiny bit, but for large print work 800 will be hard to distinguish from the lower sensitivities. ISO 1600 showed approximately the same differential from 800 as 800 did from 400 ? slightly increased texture in the background and additional slight degradation in fine details. 1600 is still quite clean, though, certainly suitable for small prints and possibly even large ones as well.

ISO 3200 looks to have declined in image quality due to noise a bit more dramatically than the jump from 800 to 1600. The background is a bit more textured and fine details are continuing to slowly deteriorate. Color fidelity remains good, and in fact the progression of noise performance in the E-M5 to this point reminds me of the D7000 and 60D: a slow, gradual increase of texture or graininess accompanied by a slight loss of fine detail.

Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
ISO 200
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
ISO 400
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
ISO 800
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
ISO 1600
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
ISO 3200
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
ISO 3200, 100% crop
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
ISO 6400
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
ISO 6400, 100% crop
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
ISO 12800
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
ISO 12800, 100% crop
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
ISO 16000
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
ISO 16000, 100% crop
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
ISO 20000
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
ISO 20000, 100% crop
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
ISO 25600
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
ISO 25600, 100% crop

Moving up to 6400 presents a noticeably more textured background than 3200, and may in fact represent the tipping point for this sensor/processor combination. Fine details appeared to take the biggest jump in deterioration so far, and the blue on the deck of cards is starting to move towards black. If 6400 wasn’t the tipping point then 12800 surely is a pretty healthy increase in texture in the background along with darker colors beginning to shift and fine details beginning to smudge. ISO 25600 is dramatically worse than 12800, with increased texture/graininess, colors shifting and fine details reduced to blurs and smudges – certainly an ISO setting of last resort. We’ve also included photos of the 1/3 EV sensitivity stops between 12800 and 25600 (16000 and 20000) which pretty much speak for themselves without any additional comment from me.

Overall, I was impressed with high ISO performance in the E-M5 – the camera performed better in this regard than I expected it to after looking at the night sky shots from the desert. It would appear the sensor doesn’t like long-duration exposures but does just fine at the higher ISO numbers with more “normal” shutter speeds.

Additional Sample Images

Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
Olympus E-M5 Sample Image

 


Pages: 1 2 3 4

LEAVE A COMMENT

0 Comments

|
All content posted on TechnologyGuide is granted to TechnologyGuide with electronic publishing rights in perpetuity, as all content posted on this site becomes a part of the community.