The market space in-between point and shoot digicams and DSLRs in an interesting clash of different philosophies on what a camera in this price range should do. With their OMD EM-5, Olympus takes the stance that a $1000 camera should stand toe-to-toe with more expensive models, feeling more like a little brother than an entirely different experience.
Some of the first features one will notice about the camera is the way it was meant to be held. You have the choice of either holding around a rubberized grip on the body of the camera, or attaching an add-on vertical grip. Both feel comfortable in hand but the vertical grip allows a higher level of control, while bringing some other perks to the table. It has a shutter button and dial on it, along with a cavity to add a second battery. Customization was considered on the buttons as well, as many of them can be mapped to other functions. Many is a key word, as a few buttons cannot be re-mapped, seemingly arbitrarily. The electronic viewfinder is of passable quality and is a nice inclusion, but the LCD, being maneuverable, will be of much more use. The LCD is touchscreen and possesses a few clever features such as selecting the center of focus by tapping the screen, but in other regards feels superfluous. Worth mentioning, also, is the variety of lenses available on the micro four-thirds platform, making the E-M5 a versatile choice.
At its heart, the E-M5 is a fast and fluid shooting experience, which is evidenced more in its continuous shooting ability. In normal operation, it can produces a frame rate of 3.5 per second, but processing power can be harnessed from the live view and autofocus to bring this figure up to a swift nine. Image stabilization is impressive but will have times where it fails to keep track of a subject moving in the frame. Disappointingly, the AF and stabilization systems both work well on their own, but fall short of producing synergy at the very moment where it matters most: fast, continuous shooting. This effectively squanders the promises made by 9fps, as users will find an element of luck that discourages reliance on this mode for grabbing a shot. Outside of this realm is where the E-M5 impresses, yielding low distortion across the board and producing spectacular images even at high ISO setting. Overall, the photos taken with this camera are some of the clearest possible short of moving on to a full frame DSLR.
Though the camera has a few distinctive weak points, which includes the continuous shooting, the lack of autofocus and temperamental image stabilization while in use, and a few annoyances during customization, both of these are isolated and do not ruin the experience on the camera. Forgive these flaws and give it patience, and the E-M5 rewards you; photo production quality is just about the best you will find without adding another few hundred dollars to your budget.
Bill Green is an engineering student and freelancer for Photo.net where you’ll find hundreds of reviews of cameras and lenses by professional photographers: http://photo.net/reviews/