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Olympus OM-D E-M5 Review: Conclusion

After shooting with the EM-5 for over a month now, I can sum up my whole experience this simply: I don’t miss my Canon gear. I don’t miss anything about it. Not even a little. I’m thrilled that I made the switch, as the m4:3 system has meet all my expectations, and several times has gone beyond what I expected and surprised me.

Still, writing this review series was difficult – I learned photography on the Canon EOS system, it’s where all my experience was based. The whole time I was working to learn the E-M5, it was hard not to compare it back to the Canons I was familiar with. But that’s not really a fair evaluation – it’s apples to oranges. The E-M5 is a new camera from the ground up and was never designed to be an “improvement” or an “upgrade” to the Canon line – or any other. Rather, it is its own line, with its own strengths and weaknesses, and it’s own set of ideal applications.

For convenience, here’s a full list of the shoot-specific reviews I wrote about the E-M5 since I started working with it. And clicking this link will show all the posts tagged with “om-d” as well, as I know that there are a few that didn’t make the list below; they weren’t actual reviews, but they still have had some useful info, for anyone who missed them the first time around.

Introduction

General Overview

General Shooting

Studio Work

Wildlife

Astrophotography

Portraiture

So as I try to pull this whole project together into a final summation, I find myself with three lists: the pros, the cons, and the things I still want. These are the big items, the ones that make a difference – at least to me.

Pros

  • small and lightweight; the E-M5 and its lenses are tiny compared to the Canons I was used to. And it doesn’t matter if I’m on a portrait shoot with a full range of gear, or hiking in the woods with just the camera and a single lens, the smaller size is a huge benefit to me. It’s easier to bring the camera with me, it’s easier to handle the gear in the field, and it’s more comfortable at the end of the day.
  • ISO performance: I don’t know what any of the stats are for ISO performance and frankly I don’t care. What I do know is that within the ISO range that I generally use on any camera (100-1600), the E-M5’s images look great. I don’t have any complaints and I’m not afraid to push the ISO up when necessary.
  • AF: I can’t usually tell the difference between the E-M5’s contrast-detect AF system and the phase-detect systems that I was used to. The E-M5 is fast and accurate. And as an added bonus, I don’t find that any of my lenses to a lot of focus hunting (I don’t miss that at all); instead, on the occasion that the camera can’t lock focus, it seems to default to focusing on the background.
  • EVF: the electronic viewfinder is a thing of beauty. I’ll never go back to using an optical viewfinder – they’re like dark tunnels in comparison, where as the EVF is like the heads-up display in a fighter jet. It’s bright, clear, and optimized for functionality.
  • dynamic range: again, I don’t have any figures to present. But I can speak from my experience, and what I’ve seen is that I don’t get nearly the same amount of “blinkies” with the E-M5 that I got with the 7D. I have ACR setup to show blown highlights as big, ugly red splotches. These days I don’t get many of them. In fact, I almost have to work at it to actually blow out the highlights. I’m really impressed with how wide the range is on this camera.

Cons

  • battery life: it’s shorter than I’d like. Between the IBIS and EVF, it’s to be expected. But I still go through batteries twice as fast as I used to. Which wouldn’t be so much of a problem if Olympus had made spare batteries available when they released the E-M5, but they didn’t. I ordered spare batteries at two different retails over almost two months ago and I still haven’t gotten one. (Although I did finally get a set of 3rd-party batteries from China, which have worked really well for me.)
  • lens selection: the range of lenses for the whole m4:3 system leaves a lot to be desired, especially when it comes to zooms. Until the recent release of the Lumix 12-35mm f/2.8, there weren’t any fast zooms at all. Panasonic seems to be addressing this issue, whereas Olympus is definitely lagging behind. We need some pro-grade zooms from one of them – and preferably both, since it’s nice to have a choice.
  • availability: I don’t know what Olympus expected when they launched the OM-D series, but the level of interest must be way beyond what they had planned for, because it’s still next to impossible to get your hands on a E-M5. I’m shooting a wedding in July and need a second body by then, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to buy one before then. They’re trickling in, but slowly.

What I want

  • a 70-200mm f/4 equivilant: actually, rumor has it that Lumix will have a 35-100mm f/2.8 lens by autumn, which will fit this hole perfectly. But in the meantime I actually got a old Canon FD 35-105mm lens, just to fill the slot. The Canon 70-200L f/4 was my favorite lens of all time, and I miss it. Hopefully the Lumix shows up early!
  • a 580EX equivalent: I scored a Olympus FL-50 off eBay, since it’s more powerful than the new speedlight flash they released with the E-M5. But the FL-50 itself is still running well behind the Canon flagships (and even farther behind the Nikons). I want a flash with some real power, 200mm equivalent zoom, and modern controls. (The FL-50 has two control dials and looks like something out of the Apollo program.)
  • accessories: a range of accessories designed for m4:3 would be great. Right now, it’s a matter of trying to adapt SLR gear down. Bags, filters, tripods, the whole nine yards. We’re working around it, generally buying the smallest SLR accessories and making do. For some things that works okay, but for others it’s still a stop-gap measure.

So what does all this mean in the end? For me, it means a camera that I’m once again in love with. Using it is a pure joy and it’s opened up some new doors for me, presented some new solutions to old problems. It’s making me reconsider some of the technical aspects of my photography. And most of all I feel like I’m able to be more creative because of it.

I hiked Ricketts Glen State Park this past weekend, with the E-M5 and most of my lenses in a backpack. I didn’t feel burdened by it. My back didn’t hurt when I was done. I was able to get the camera down low, used the tilt screen so I didn’t have to lay down in the creek to get the angle, and shot using the touch screen to put the focus exactly where I wanted it. It was all so easy. The gear did exactly what I wanted it to.

What more can you ask for?

The E-M5 isn’t for everyone. There are die-hards, purists, and folks who just like their DSLRs. That’s fine. That’s why we have choices. I truly think this is the first step towards a new era of cameras. But even if it’s not, it’s a step forward for me.

If there’s any thing I didn’t cover, or provide enough detail on, please let me know. Leave a comment or send me a message via the Contact page. I’d love to hear from you.

Now enough of this – back to the fun stuff, the image shooting and sharing!

Brent Pennington

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8 Comments to Olympus OM-D E-M5 Review: Conclusion

  1. June 20, 2012 at 10:24

    I couldn’t agree more. The E-M5 has been a great replacement for my Canon gear. I do think Canon is still better for BIF shots but I’m hoping to get better at it once I get the 75-300 and get to spend some time practicing with it.


  2. Bronica's Gravatar Bronica
    June 20, 2012 at 17:10

    Flash: Try the Metz 58 AF2 – cheap, strong and “made in germany”. I use it with the OM-D and grip HLD-6. In some respects better than Canon (secondary reflector).

    Even bigger: the 76 MZ5.

    Regards!


  3. John's Gravatar John
    June 20, 2012 at 18:21

    Nice Review Brent, This camera is probably the first m43 stills camera that can stand on it’s own merit as a world class camera and not just as a world class m43 camera. I’d really like to have one, but I’m waiting patiently for the GH3 since video makes up most of my work these days.

    Hiked Ricketts Glen eh? I practically grew up there, worked there in the Summer as well. Great place to photograph!


  4. Okke's Gravatar Okke
    August 23, 2012 at 11:28

    It is indeed an amazing camera and I can definitely understand why someone would get rid of their DSLR. I own an OM-D and a D3s. Personally I’m not parting with my nikon gear. I just love the feel of the professional nikon DSLRs, they just fit my hand like a glove. They might be heavy but I don’t mind at all. And combined with zeiss lenses the look is really hard to replicate with something else. Also you don’t really want to use continuous AF with the OM-D and it has some problems with scenes that don’t have a lot of contrast. The D3s is much much better in those areas.

    The OM-D is a LOT smaller but luckily still has some substantial weight. It doesn’t feel like a toy at all. The grip (without the extra battery part) is a must for me though, the handling is way better. On vacation or just walking around I’d hate to lug the nikon gear around. Way too heavy. For portrait shoots I’d definitely pick the nikon if possible but if I didn’t want to draw attention or had to do a lot of walking I wouldn’t hesitate to pick the OM-D instead (especially when I get my hands on the Olympus 75mm f1.8). I don’t have to pick the DSLR anymore because the IQ is so much better which is amazing.

    Everyone will have their own preferences and needs. I enjoy both cameras very much. Each has its strengths. I’m just glad that I don’t have to feel like the sensor size is a major issue anymore. Ofcourse bigger sensors with the same quality will always be better but it’s no longer something I have to worry about.


  5. Dirk Verkooijen's Gravatar Dirk Verkooijen
    October 15, 2012 at 07:34

    The E-M5 truly is an amazing little camera and very different from the earlier Olympus micro 4/3 camera models. Especially with the grip it feels very comfortable and sturdy. The camera has a nice weight to it and the 16mp sensor delivers high quality images with a lot of detail and good dynamic range. Also, the OM-D can be comfortably used up to ISO1600 for good results. The latest firmware 1.15 helped to make the IBIS much more silent. The soft whirring sound is almost gone now, perfect. More and more excellent lenses are available for micro 4/3, so no problem there eighter. So, there’s very little not to like about this camera. This micro 4/3 system rocks. You can carry a full set of two bodies and a selection of high quality lenses with ease.


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