Olympus OM-D E-M5

Last week, Olympus made the announcement of a new series of Micro Four-Thirds (m43) cameras. Dubbed the “OM-D” series, these models are based on the design of the classic OM SLRs so well-known back in the 70s and 80s. The first camera of the series, the E-M5 is targeted at a market consist of photographers who want a light camera system, yet a camera that has more capabilities than the PEN series, namely the  famed E-P3. Having own a FM2n myself, I can’t help but salivate at the image of the silver model (Pictured above) and got really excited by the announcement.

Yesterday, Olympus Malaysia organized a small launch event and unable to wait for the actual launch date 2 months later, I signed up for the gathering.

Arriving at Fullhouse Restaurant, Sunway Giza, I felt so foreign with my large camera bag. Most of the people gathered were existing micro four-thirds users and armed with their PEN cameras. My humble Nikon D90 looked like an obese man in a group of supermodels. Soon, the event started with the Olympus’ sales/marketing team highlighting the new features of E-M5. Well, I believe most of us there were quite familiar with them already but we all sat through the demos attentively. Amongst other features, I thought the in-body 5-axis image stabilization and live bulb mode was the most impressive.

After the demonstration and presentation, it was time for lunch (Yay!) and hands-on preview (Double yay!). Coming from a dSLR background who has never operated a micro four-thirds camera, here are some of my first impressions of the E-M5:

Firstly, the physical aspect of the camera. Despite the online press photos suggesting otherwise, the E-M5 is really small. Side by side with the E-P3, the E-M5 looks even more compact – although taller due to the viewfinder hump, the E-M5 is slightly thinner and shorter length-wise.

The first impression I get from holding the E-M5 is that the camera is well-built. Gone are the plastic-y feel of the PEN series and with the magnesium alloy construction looks like it could  take a fair amount of abuse. It is also touted as the first weather-sealed m43 camera and this is good news for outdoor and travel photographers. The ergonomics of the camera also lends well to my fingers (Bear in mind that I have puny hands and fingers though! 😉 ) and the command/sub-command dials were well within reach. It still feels small but users who want a better grip could purchase the separate battery grip for better comfort (Though far cry from what Nikon/Canon dSLRs offer).

Olympus claims that the auto-focus of the E-M5 is faster than the E-P3 (Which was supposedly the fastest AF in any camera system) and whilst I can’t offer a proof, I could testify that the AF is blazing fast. Tap on the touch-screen and the image will be captured in millisecond terms. The touch-screen is responsive and a nice addition here is the ability to tilt the screen upwards/downwards to tackle tricky scenarios.

The 12-50mm kit lens also felt good and I like the fact that you are able to switch from the usual manual zoom to power-zoom. A feature handy for videographers. The lens also comes with a macro-mode and whilst it’s not true-macro, it allows one to get very close to the subject. Very handy. Moreover, like the body, it’s weather sealed too. So while the lens isn’t considered a fast glass, it packs features that will excite most users.

Next, here are some of the aspects that I find less likable. Firstly, I found that the placement of the command dial was too closed to the viewfinder. When using the LCD, the placement works great but by pressing your face to the camera, one might get in the way of the thumb while adjusting the settings. It would have been nice if it was the sub-command dial that was placed closer to the viewfinder.

Next, the Electrocnic Viewfinder (EVF) was disappointing when compared to the Optical Viewfinders (OVF) that I’m so used to. Sure, it’s functional and useful but I thought it will be a long way to go before EVFs could stand up against OVFs. Olympus will need to up the ante a lot more if they want to compete with the APS-C market.

Fujifilm recently released their X-Pro1 and Sony released the NEX-7. This E-M5 will go head to head against these juggernauts. It’s indeed an exciting time for mirrorless camera and it’s amazing considering Olympus released their first mirrorless camera less than 3 years ago.

As for me, I’ve put up my Nikon for sale. To be honest, after yesterday, I still wasn’t sure if the E-M5 will be the camera I’ll come to endear. I’ve come to the realization that I’m more of a travel photographer and I relish the ability to cut the bulk and weight from the camera without sacrificing a huge amount of image quality. Nevertheless, I still can see why a lot of photographers still swear by their dSLRs and true enough, the mirrorless segment isn’t quite there yet. In a few years time though, know knows? Indeed, it’s an exciting time to be in.

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