A retro look with a revolutionary result, the EM5 if a delight to use, read the rest of my review to find out why.
A long time ago, a company called Olympus made one of the the most iconic 35mm film cameras that money could buy. The OM series sold in their millions and many photographers (me included) had the pleasure of pulling one of these out of their kit bags to capture the scene.
The OM series of cameras were built to a standard which exuded confidence, they were heavy, robust and reassuring in the hand and these qualities have all ported over to some degree to the digital model. The camera oozes quality regardless as to whether you plump for the all black or part silver model and there’s plenty of extra lenses and accessories to lust after as soon as you’ve realised whats possible with your new purchase (the fisheye lens looks very tempting…).
Olympus certainly have a very good pedigree when it comes to photography and this isn’t the first time they’ve flexed the retro muscle either, previously releasing the popular ‘PEN’ digital cameras, but is harkening back to the past really the way to move forward?
Fast forward to 2012 and the OM series is back with the ‘not so snappily named’ OM-D EM5. Olympus have included a few cosmetic ‘nods’ to the old OM series, but underneath the hood, this is a completely different piece of kit altogether.
Micro Four Thirds
In 2008, Olympus and Panasonic announced a new type of digital camera, it was called the ‘Micro Four Thirds‘ and it brought a few new tricks to the table, especially when it comes to making smaller cameras. The sensor in a M4/3 camera is smaller than high quality 35mm, however it’s much bigger than the sensors that lie at the heart of most ‘compact’ cameras. Bigger sensors mean more detail and dynamic range in the photographs.
M4/3 cameras also have another benefit. The technology allows data to be read from the sensor to the processor at a much higher rate which means that the cameras benefit from much faster ‘auto focus’ systems than compact cameras and the high data throughput also means that they are pretty adept at recording movies as well as stills. The EM5 (as the flagship model of one of the technology developers), delivers all of these benefits as you might expect but there are some others besides which I will move on to later on.
Most of us are familiar with SLR cameras. They allow users to change the lens on the front and the other benefit is that the viewfinder shows what the lens itself if ‘seeing’. The EM5 looks to be no different. But it is… You see all is not what it seams with the EM5. The warm fuzzy feeling for any of the Older OM users soon wears off when they realise that this camera isn’t an SLR at all. It looks like one but it’s completely different.
SLR users usually rave about a few things, one of which is the nice bright viewfinder which is linked to the lens via a single reflexing mirror (hence: Single Lens Reflex). The mirror on the camera bounces light into the viewfinder until the moment the shutter is released when it flips upward to allow the light to fall onto the film (or the digital sensor). The camera gives a reassuring noise as this takes place and, for as long as the shutter is open, the view in the viewfinder goes black. The mirror in the EM5 is different.
Thats because it doesn’t have one. As I mentioned earlier, this may look like an SLR but it isn’t. There’s no prism viewfinder and no mirror, instead the EM5 features an electronic viewfinder which is really good, but isn’t optical. This will undoubtably put off some of the purists. They may feel conned or cheated. They won’t feel that way for long, especially when they see what the camera is capable of.
The EM5 may smack of smoke and mirrors when it comes to design but no-one can deny the quality of the build (weight is just right, along with the ‘density’). The camera features weather sealing on the body and the kit lens which means that you shouldn’t be too worried about using it in humid or rainy environments (although you may want to avoid changing the lens). No the camera excels in every way when it comes to use and output. Fire it up and shoot away, safe in the knowledge that you are using one of the best looking and performing micro four third cameras that money can buy.
The menus on the camera can be a little complex to the newcomer but with a little experimentation and internet research, you’ll find that the options allow the camera to do some wonderful things, even including double exposures, an ability which puts this camera in the digital minority. There are many other features which I’ve linked to here which will keep you messing for months should you so wish but the impressie thing here is that the features are very good indeed.
Other reviewers out there (like Steve Huff) will go into much more detail about some of these features and essential specs but I want to use the rest of my review to talk about what it feels like to shoot with this camera.
Cameras I wish I’d never sold…
Photography is an expensive hobby. The kit and the lenses are not cheap but money doesn’t necessarily guarantee you photographic happiness. My equipment repertoire isn’t small. I started photography as a single man, living at home with parents so lots of money was ploughed into purchases which game me a pretty good idea of how digital camera technology was advancing but I also stumbled across something else.
I stumbled across soul… The unquantifiable, ‘unreviewable’ quality that some cameras possess while others lack. I owned a Canon 500D. Loved it! It worked like a dream and the files that came out of it were (and still are) very pleasing on the eye. The Canon 20D was much the same but although some enhancements had been made, it didn’t feel ‘as good’ when I was using it… On paper it was a better camera yet I’m not sure I got the best out of it, unlike my 500D
Another camera which was one of my favourites was the Leica M7. It was back to film and negative scanning, something which could never last in the long run but now, I really wish I still had it. It was a fantastic camera and much better than My M8 (digital) which replaced it.
My last camera of mention here is the Leica X1. I was disappointed with the lack of weight and ‘heft’, also with a slow auto focus which seemed to have a mind of its own but the quality of the files was outstanding. I learned how to make it work for me and soon regretted selling it to get the Fuji X100 which was (on paper) a much better camera.
It’s funny to mention these things in an equipment review but I am for one very good reason. past experience has taught me what I find important in camera tech and the EM5 has it in spades. Are there better cameras out there? of course, but would I get the best out of them? Would I connect with the Tech like I do with my EM5? would it be worth selling my EM5 to try something new? I can answer that last question, probably not.
My work here is done. I hope I’ve explained a little bit behind what makes this camera ‘work’. The purists may have a twinge of disappointment as they power up the EM5 for the first time but anyone who loves M4/3ds photography will find much more than they bargained for with the EM5. They may, like me, find a camera that becomes a treasured possession rather than just a hobbyists gadget.
Build Quality, especially with the additional Battery Pack and Grip.
Lens Quality, The 12-50mm Kit lens is very good indeed!
In-Camrea 5 axis stabilisation, any lens you put on benefits from the best anti-shake system I have EVER seen on a camera!
Video Mode, 1080 HD coupled with the Kit lens and the 5 axis anti-shake… It’s like steadicam!
Flip out screen, especially handy for video mode.
Art filters, I will do a separate post on these, some are very useful indeed (art filter jpgs were blended with RAW files for all the pics in this review).
Manual/Powered zoom on kit lens, again great for video.
I’m not too sure about…
Memory card placement, Sometimes I forget its not in the camera.
Buttons on back are a little too small
lots of functions to learn, could put some people off
(You can see a full gallery of my shots from the EM5 via my flickr page: here)