Build & Design
Folks who grew up with Olympus 35mm SLR cameras will be forgiven if, at a quick glance, they mistake the E-M5 for a vintage OM-1, particularly if the former is decked out in the silver and black color scheme that closely mimics the original. The E-M5 is also available with an all-black body like our review unit. Construction is magnesium and aluminum alloy with an overall rectangular shaped body topped with the electronic viewfinder masquerading as a DSLR-like pentaprism.
The right front of the camera body has a slightly enlarged handgrip made of a textured composite material that is almost as slick as the painted portions of the body. The camera is weather sealed with what Olympus describes as "advanced dust and splash protection." The 12-50mm kit lens is also sealed, as is the bundled flash head. Overall, body dimensions are 4.8 x 3.5 x 1.7-inches and the camera weighs approximately 15 ounces with memory card and battery on board, but no lens attached. The camera is made in China and appears well put together.
Ergonomics and Controls
With the 12-50mm kit lens onboard the E-M5 has a nice balance and feel, and the contoured handgrip on the right front of the camera along with a built-up thumb rest on the rear provide a modest amount of grip despite the overall slick feel of the body materials. Despite the camera's fairly small size my index finger falls naturally onto and across the shutter button; a little bit of rearranging is necessary to center the fingertip on the button. Want to improve the grip of the E-M5 dramatically? Make it bigger and heavier, with more protruding surfaces.
While it may sound like a sacrilege to take a camera whose small size is one of its major reasons for being and bulk it up in the name of improved handling, Olympus has done their homework and offers the HLD-6 power battery holder and grip. The HLD-6 comes in two parts - a "landscape unit" consisting of a built-up handgrip and shutter button and a "portrait unit" that includes a molded grip for shooting in the vertical format with a control dial, shutter button, two function buttons and a second lithium-ion battery to supplement the one in the camera body. Here's a look at the landscape and portrait units by themselves.
If you read the Olympus website copy associated with the HLD-6, it suggests that the landscape and portrait units may be mounted onto the E-M5 independently of one another, however I found that in practice this is not the case. While the landscape grip alone may be mounted, the portrait unit's contacts that relay commands from the control buttons to the camera do not line up with those on the camera body if you try to attach it directly onto the E-M5. The contacts on the portrait unit mesh with those on the landscape unit so your options are either the landscape unit alone or the landscape and portrait unit together, but not the portrait unit alone. The landscape and portrait units with the battery on board add about 9.7 ounces to the overall camera weight, but that extra battery is a big plus for all day shooting sessions. Here's a look at the landscape and portrait units together and as installed on the E-M5.
The landscape unit alone adds about 3.6 ounces to the overall weight, but the improvement in grip is well worth those few ounces and half inch or so of additional dimension. Much as I found with the Nikon J1/V1 bodies, the addition of this style of a grip just makes a dramatic change in the overall feel of the camera and makes one-handed shooting feel so much more secure. Personally, if I were buying an E-M5 the very next item in the shopping bag would be an HDL-6 - even with the $300 price tag - and I'd use both units on the camera. The addition of an extra battery and improved handling in both vertical and horizontal formats is worth the price of admission on this one.
The camera features two function buttons, one atop the body and one at the rear - both customizable by the user. The balance of the controls, including the mode dial, main and sub dials lean more toward the DSLR side of the equation than a compact point-and-shoot, generally providing fairly quick access to change shooting settings when available. One nice aspect of the camera's small size and control placement is that when shooting in the manual exposure modes using the viewfinder, the right thumb is ideally placed to rotate the main dial without taking your eye from the viewfinder - and this control changes aperture or shutter speed depending on your particular shooting mode. The shutter button is surrounded by the sub-dial which is easily accessed by the right forefinger - this adjusts exposure compensation - and is likewise easily accessed without removing your eye from the viewfinder.
In combination with the live MOS sensor, any changes you input as far as exposure are immediately displayed on both the monitor and eyepiece, which makes dialing in a custom exposure setting to suit your taste a simple matter. The viewfinder is equipped with a sensor that detects the presence of your eye and activates itself while shutting off the monitor.
Menus and Modes
Menus in the E-M5 are fairly intuitive, but as befits a camera with a DSLR sensor, DSLR price tag and DSLR-like feature set, they are also fairly wide-ranging. Here's a quick overview of some typical menu access. Pushing the ?menu? button produces the following screen, and note that the first item on ?shooting menu 1? is "card set up." Selecting card setup takes you right to the erase and format functions. One of my chief gripes is cameras that bury the format function for memory media deep in a menu or submenu. The EM-5 has it right at the top of the list, where I personally think it should be.
"Shooting menu two" is notable for the third item in the menu ? bracketing ? as the E-M5 has a very solid exposure bracketing feature that can see use in a variety of applications and the menu design offers quick access. We will talk at length further on about bracketing with the E-M5, but here's a look at shooting menu 2.
The menu designated by the gear icon is the custom menu and its many submenus do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to setting up various camera functions. Let's highlight AF/MF and prepare to take a look at the submenus of custom menu "A".
With "AF/MF" highlighted, pushing "OK" gives us the first page of custom menu A and various settings that are now available to us - scrolling down takes us to the second page of the menu and more items.
All the other lettered custom sub-menus offer similarly feature-rich options. Finally, when shooting still images in the manual modes pressing the "info" button followed by "OK" displays shooting functions across the side and bottom of the monitor or viewfinder - you can scroll to and change settings on-the-fly relatively quickly in this fashion.
Shooting modes on the E-M5 are fairly straightforward and classified by Olympus as either "easy shooting modes" (i-Auto, art filter, scene), "advanced shooting modes" (P, A, S, M) or movie mode. Here's a more detailed look at shooting options with the E-M5:
The 3.0-inch OLED monitor on the E-M5 has an approximately 610,000 dot composition,+/- 2 EV brightness adjustment range and can articulate through a range of motion: the monitor swings away from the body on an arm and can rotate upwards through approximately 80 degrees or downward through about 50 degrees. Area of coverage is not specified but appears to be close to 100%. The monitor registered a 321 nit peak brightness level - fairly short of the 500 nit threshold that usually designates monitors with better utility in bright outdoor conditions. In practice, the monitor could be difficult to use in certain bright outdoor lighting conditions, but the ability to articulate is a plus and monitors with higher dot compositions also seem to do a bit better than their low peak brightness levels would suggest.
The electronic viewfinder has an approximately 1,440,000 dot composition, diopter adjustment for varying degrees of eyesight and offers approximately 100% coverage. The viewfinder is reasonably bright and was a pleasure to use under all shooting conditions ? unless a shot required an awkward angle where the monitor was the best way to compose and capture the image (or for bracketed sequences of shots that required a tripod) I used the viewfinder almost exclusively to capture the E-M5 images used in this review.
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