A 1970s look packed with 2012 imaging tech
The new Olympus OM-D E-M5 fitted with its power-zoom 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 macro standard lens and the new FL-600 flash
A built-in viewfinder at last
It's been two and a half years since Olympus joined fellow Micro Four Thirds member, Panasonic Lumix, and introduced the first Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera, the Pen E-P1. Olympus has since produced 7 Pen models but none has featured an integrated viewfinder. Now at last Olympus has introduced a Micro Four Thirds camera with a viewfinder and following the example set by the Pen, Olympus has revived and modernised an old and cherished brand for the new camera, which is likely to be the first of a new family of Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras to complement the Pen range. Witness the arrival of OM-D, with the first example being the E-M5, a high specification flagship camera that does more than pay simple homage to the original Olympus OM film SLR system launched in the mid-1970s.
The E-M5 is a thoroughly up to date 16MP mirror-less system camera touting a dust and moisture-sealed magnesium alloy body, a new 5-axis moving sensor image stabilisation system, 9 frames per second shooting, a tilting OLED touch screen with touch-shutter, full-HD video recording with rolling shutter (video wobble) correction, a dual axis digital level, and more. Even the E-M5's kit 12-50mm (24-100 equivalent) zoom lens is cutting edge with fly by wire manual focusing control, selectable manual or power zoom, programmable function mode button and macro mode. What's striking is that all this is packaged in a body that bears more than a passing resemblance to an Olympus OM film SLR. You can even opt for a battery grip, the HLD-6, that apes the original OM SLR winder motor drives. But the E-M5 is no SLR. There is no reflex mirror or pentaprism in sight and instead it has a 1.44 million dot electronic viewfinder. Importantly for Olympus, which currently only offers the Four Thirds E-5 model as a DSLR in its range, the E-M5 fills a gap in its line up between the compact Pens and the relatively large E-5.
We'll see this new 60mm f/2.8 macro lens later in the year
After the success of the m.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8, here comes a 75mm f/1.8 m.Zuiko
Today Olympus has also revealed two new Micro Four Thirds m.Zuiko lenses which will be released later in the year. They are a 60mm f/2.8 macro (120mm equivalent) and a 75mm f/1.8 (150mm equivalent) telephoto portrait lens. There is also a new FL-600 bounce and swivel flash unit and the two-piece HLD-6 portrait grip and battery module already mentioned. The E-M5 is a sealed body, as is the m.Zuiko 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 standard zoom, and for the many people who Olympus hope will be tempted to use sealed Four Thirds lenses on the E-M5, there is a new sealed Four Thirds lens to Micro Four Thirds adapter.
The missing link - the MMF-3 Four Thirds to Micro Four Thirds dust and moisture sealed adapter
Let's list the significant features of the E-M5
- Construction The E-M5 is a ruggedised design with a dust and moisture sealed magnesium alloy body
- Sensor A new 16.1 megapixel (effective) LiveMOS sensor is used. Officially, Olympus is not saying who makes the sensor, however there is no indication that it's not made by Panasonic and the specification looks similar to the sensor used by Panasonic Lumix in the DMC-G3 and DMC-GX1. It's not an over-size multi-aspect ratio sensor like the one used in the DMC-GH2. Olympus says that despite the increase pixel density from12.3 to 16.1 megapixels, noise and dynamic range characteristics have been improved.
- ISO range Olympus has further extended the high end of the ISO range by one more EV compared to the latest generation of Pens and you can now select ISO 25,600. Unfortunately, the lowest ISO setting available is 200 instead of 100.
- Image Stabilisation The new sensor is suspended on a brand new 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilisation system. This uses extra voice-coil linear motors to supplement the SWD mechanism Olympus has used in its IS systems since the E-510 was launched in 2007. In addition to the sensor being manipulated up and down and left and right in one plane, the extra motors can twist (yaw and roll) and rotate the sensor. The claimed maximum steadiness headroom extension in EVs is 5 steps, the same as the Olympus E-5 DSLR, but the effectiveness of the system should be more apparent under more shooting conditions, like when shooting macro, for example.
- Electronic viewfinder A 1.44 million dot LCD-based electronic viewfinder is integrated in to the E-M5 design. This is the same resolution as the existing VF-2 optional accessory port EVF available for Pens, but Olympus has improved the optical design, added an eye-sensor for automatic switching between LCD monitor and EVF, and there are also new display modes for the EVF that enable the user to customise the choice of status data overlaid on the live view frame, or keep that status display separate from the live view area.
- Autofocus Autofocus has been further refined and Olympus again claims to have the fastest single shot AF of any digital camera, including DSLRs, when using selected lenses. Unfortunately, anyone expecting a solution for enabling Four Thirds DSLR lenses to focus faster on the E-M5 will have to continue being patient. Olympus hints that they are working on such a solution, but that's all. The new LiveMOS sensor in the E-M5 can be driven at 120 and 240Hz, enabling better continuous AF performance too.
- Optional battery grip A novel feature of the E-M5 is its optional HLD-6 portrait shooting grip and battery module. Incidentally, Olympus customers in the UK will be able claim a free HLD-6 if they pre-order an E-M5. First if all, the E-M5 does have a modest hand grip by default. But by attaching the HLD-6g grip the camera is endowed with a much more substantial grip, including a secondary shutter release. The HLD-6p battery module is separate to the primary grip, but once attached you not only get an extra two battery slots, but you get access to portrait-mode controls and shutter release. The two parts comprise the HLD-6 and are supplied together. The E-M5 also has a new battery, the BLN-1.
- Flash Although there is no integrated flash in the E-M5 design, the Accessory Port 2 designed for Pens is retained and a bundled compact (and sealed) FL-LM2 flash is provided. This unit can also be used as a wireless controller for RC FL flash units, including the new FL-600. The Accessory Port II can also be used with existing modules like the PP-1 bluetooth unit and SEMA-1 external microphone port.
- Articulating screen Disappointingly, the E-M5 doesn't have a fully articulating LCD screen. In fact the screen isn't an LCD anyway - it's a 610,000 dot capacitive OLED touch-screen like that fitted to the Pen E-P3 and it tilts up and down like the screen on the Pen E-PL3. Although the screen has fewer dots than the 900,000+ dots on the Olympus E-5 DSLR screen, the effective resolution of OLED screens is sometimes measured higher in relation to LCD panels, so Olympus says the E-M5 screen is a close match in user experience to the E-5's screen.
- Shutter Without the complexity of a reflex mirror, Olympus has been able drive the E-M5's focal plane shutter faster than ever and in high-speed mode you can now shoot continuously at 9 frames per second - a very useful boost over the 5 fps of the E-5 DSLR.
- HD Video Like the latest Pens can now record up 29 minutes worth of full-HD (1080 30p or 60i) video per clip. However, there is a change in that Olympus has switched from AVCHD as used on the Pens to H.264 encoding encapsulated in .MOV files. H.264 not as highly compressed as AVCHD and is consequently less demanding on editing software and hardware. Olympus has also implemented a hardware fix that tackles the problem of 'video wobble' characterised by NMOS and CMOS imaging sensors that use rolling shutters.
Olympus has only produced one new DSLR, the E-5, in the last 18 months and the E-M5 does little to persuade Olympus fans that another DSLR is in the wings. Olympus does at least say that Micro Four Thirds mirror-less models replace their smaller DSLR options, like the E-620. I also hear that the larger E-30 model won't be replaced, but Olympus refuse to say that the flagship E-5 model won't be updated with a new DSLR. The E-5 was a profitable model and it would in theory be relatively simple and inexpensive to borrow some of the technology that went into the E-M5 to produce an update version of the E-5. After all, this is how the E-5 was born after the Pens were originally launched. Meanwhile, rumours continue to circulate that Olympus is working on a solution to enable Four Thirds DSLR lenses to focus much faster on Micro Four Thirds bodies like the Pens and OM-D models. Until this materialises it remains likely that another Olympus Four Thirds DSLR will be produced.
But the OM-D range does answer the criticism from some that Pens and other Micro Four Thirds models from Panasonic are too small and fiddly to use especially if you have large hands and you want to use bigger lenses, especially dust and moisture sealed Four Thirds DSLR lenses.
On page 2 of this article is a feature comparison table comparing the E-M5 with the E-5 and Olympus' key competitor cameras.