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Olympus OM-D E-M5 Review: A Classic Revived
by Jim Keenan -  5/7/2012

Back in the mid-1970s, I became intrigued with photography and my roommate at the time had a 35mm Minolta SLR he was gracious enough to lend me to explore this newfound interest. Once I was hooked, I started examining the market for a camera of my own, and two other friends were kind enough to let me play with their cameras - a Nikon F and Olympus OM-1, respectively. The size difference could not have been more profound between the big Nikon and diminutive Olympus. Canon got into the mix as well, but when the dust settled, I went with Nikon and never looked back. Approaching 40 years later, we're all shooting digital; my Nikon D3S is still big and Olympus is still making diminutive cameras.

Olympus E-M5


Overview

The OM-D E-M5 is the latest addition to the Olympus fleet, a micro four thirds system standard interchangeable lens mirrorless digital that Olympus has chosen to differentiate from its PEN system cameras by the designation OM-D system. This differentiation is more than just a marketing exercise as the E-M5 features a built-in electronic viewfinder and overall body shape much more reminiscent of the OM-1 than its PEN brethren - Olympus views the OM-D system as a fusion of PEN and DSLR technology and features. Beyond that, the E-M5 features a new live MOS sensor with 16 megapixel resolution along with a newly-developed TruePic VI processor, dust and splash proof weather sealing, and five-axis image stabilization. Olympus claims the camera has the world's fastest AF system among cameras with interchangeable lenses (albeit when using the kit lens only), and the camera offers an up to 9 frame per second (fps) continuous shooting rate.

There are automatic, scene and art filter still shooting modes, along with manual controls and, in a nod to the compact Olympus E-M5digital market, face and eye detection autofocus technology. The monitor may be enabled as a touchscreen in playback or shooting modes to provide the following features: shutter release, image enlargement, live guide, AF area selection, AF area enlargement, frame advance/backward, enlargement playback and the touch Super Control Panel offering access to a variety of shooting settings.

The 3.0-inch monitor articulates and the camera can shoot in five different aspect ratios. Full 1080 HD video is onboard with one touch video capture and the option to have manual control over exposure. The camera accepts SD/SDHC/SDXC and Eye-Fi memory media and features a native ISO sensitivity range from 200 to 25600 in 1/3 EV increments. RAW and JPEG formats are available. There is no built-in flash, but Olympus includes a small flash head that attaches to the accessory port atop the body. The camera will be offered as a body only version for $1000, or in kit form along with the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 zoom lens for $1300. A second kit offering includes the Olympus 14-42mm zoom instead for $1100. Our review model is the 12-50mm kit and here's a look at both ends of that focal range.

Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
Wide Angle

Olympus E-M5 Sample Image
Telephoto

Olympus includes a lithium-ion battery and charger, camera strap, USB and A/V cables, printed basic user's manual, the aforementioned flash head and CD-ROM software with each camera. Originally scheduled to reach the market in late March, the E-M5 began trickling out in some markets in April but is still hard to find here in the U.S. -  the camera is currently in pre-order status on both the Olympus website and the big Internet vendors Adorama and B&H photo as this review is being written in early May.

The OM-D E-M5 is a mouthful to pronounce, but this latest mirrorless offering from Olympus has a nice feature set built into that compact body. Let's get into the field and put it through its paces.


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.

Olympus E-M5

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.

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

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.

Olympus E-M5

"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.

Olympus E-M5

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".

Olympus E-M5 Olympus E-M5

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.

Olympus E-M5 Sample Image

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.

Olympus E-M5 Sample Image

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:

Display/Viewfinder
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 Olympus E-M5through 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.

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


Conclusions

If I were in the market for a mirrorless, interchangeable lens compact digital and was not wedded to any particular manufacturer or system, the E-M5 would probably be it. Of all the other cameras in this class that I've already reviewed, I like this one the best. First and foremost, I love the viewfinder - now that reading glasses are a way of life, capturing images with a camera monitor is a pain the E-M5 lets me do without. The optional HLD-6 battery holder/grip pretty much negates the compact size advantage enjoyed by mirrorless interchangeables over the DSLR, but makes the E-M5 a much nicer handling camera.


Shutter response is quick and autofocus acquisition time is as well. One touch HD video capture, a wide variety of camera features and settings to please the most finicky shooter along with full auto settings for everybody else gives this camera the potential to attract a wide user audience. The 2x crop factor produced by the sensor size is a boon for folks who tend to shoot telephoto lenses while at the same time a hindrance for those who see in wide-angle. The camera is DSLR-like in its ability to allow the user to shift shooting settings in short order as circumstances warrant. High ISO noise performance is competitive with the best APS-C sensor cameras at present.

The price of admission is steep - a body-only will run you $1000 (assuming you can find one, which is a good trick at present). Drop $1300 for a kit like our review unit and add another $300 for the nifty grip and there's any number of DSLRs that could be had as well. The E-M5 doesn't start as quickly as a DSLR and doesn't offer continuous autofocus at its high-speed continuous shooting rate, so while you probably won't see anybody from Sports Illustrated shooting one on the sidelines, just about anybody else will probably find there is not much this newest little Olympus can't do.

Pros:

Cons: