E-M5 Test: Digital for the Film Photog

e-m5 review sample image

This year, a lot of folks are buying the E-M1, but I’ve encountered even more people asking about the E-M5.  And even though it’s already over a year old, the camera is still a worthwhile investment for many photographers.  But why?  To be sure, I too was somewhat skeptical when I first picked up the E-M5.  Soon, though, I realized that what so many reviewers had pointed out as shortcomings or deficiencies are in fact selling points for this robust and versatile camera system.

Testing the E-M5

Ergonomics/User interface

The E-M5 is incredibly light.  With no grip, there’s room to spare for those with big hands.  The slim body is more reminiscent of film cameras than any other retro-looking digital bodies, and this really improves the portability.  Even without a pronounced grip, a rubber thumb pad on the back of the camera offers enough control to avoid dropping it.  The EVF is excellent as well, offering 100% coverage and a slight magnification of 1.15x.

e-m5 review sample imageThe user interface works for beginners and pros alike.  A touch screen LCD and intuitive menu lend themselves to novices, while two control dials and three customizable function buttons reel in the pros.  Shooting with the E-M5 was more fun that any of the Pens or even the E-M1.  While having to delve into the menus to change white balance and ISO, there’s no confusing switches that change the function of the dials, like the haphazard “2×2” setup on the E-M1.

e-m5 review sample imageThe only drawback I could find in the design of this camera was the position of the tripod mount, which was just a little off-center, and could prove bothersome to panoramic shooters.  Otherwise, I was generally impressed with the layout and construction of the camera.

e-m5 review sample imageImage Quality

Another high point for this camera is the image quality, no doubt stemming from the pairing of its 16 megapixel sensor  with the TruePic IV processor.  The max resolution one gets from this combo is 4608×3456.  Image quality is further secured with 12 white balance presets, 5-axis  image stabilization, and an ISO range of 200-25600.  I have yet to print anything shot by the E-M5, but even at larger magnification the image quality holds up.  Finally, the ISO range is excellent, only showing true noise around ISO 1600.  I found I could live with it, as I could with most of the images shot at higher ISO settings (the only exception here being 25600, which reminds me of grainy film).

Should you still desire it, you can use one of the art filters to give your photos a certain look, like this black and white shot of pigeons.

e-m5 review sample imageFocus

Here we have perhaps the most pronounced shortcoming for pros and serious amateurs – the lack of focus peaking, which is available in both the E-P5 and the E-M1.  Although I found manual focus easy enough, I can see where some users would have difficulties.  With 37 points of focus, though, relying on the camera’s contrast-detect auto focus isn’t necessarily a bad idea.

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e-m5 review sample imageOptics

The E-M5 kit includes the 12-50mm f/3.5-5.6.  And while I generally poke fun at most kit lenses, I strongly urge the use of the 12-50.  Besides having the focal length equivalency of a 24-100mm lens on a full frame or 35mm camera  (a range that covers wide angle to medium-length telephoto ), the lens is weather resistant, and offers the photographer a third customizable function button.  The lens mode ring is another key factor in why I suggest it – featuring both manual and electric-assisted zoom, the whole setup is richly rewarded by a third, close-focusing macro mode at 43mm.

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e-m5 review sample imageVideo

Video recording is easy and straightforward  – exactly what you’ve come to expect in most top-shelf cameras.  While resolution probably suffers from the Micro Four Thirds Sensor, there’s no difficulty in shooting video with the OM-D E-M5, since it has a dedicated button allowing near-instant video capture, regardless of current camera settings or scene modes.

Verdict

In conclusion, the E-M5 is a well-rounded camera offering a cost-effective alternative to the pricier E-M1.  Additionally, analog photographers desiring to make the move to digital may find the shape and size of the E-M5 to be more comfortable than other models.  Finally, I recommend getting your hands on one of these so you can try it out yourself, considering its merits with your own needs in mind. 

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