The Olympus OM-D E-M5: A good reason to buy a mirror-less camera
Text and photos by Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated May 27, 2012
MANILA, Philippines - There’s something new in the market to get really excited about if you are an enthusiast or even a serious photographer. It first came on the horizon in 2008 without much fanfare. At last, the excitement over the Four Thirds-format camera is now rising to fever pitch. Sony, Panasonic, Fuji, etc. have their own version of the Four Thirds, which is also known as a compact mirror-less camera. Rumors say that Canon and Nikon are entering the fray with their own versions. But it is important to note that Olympus has made the most strides in developing their Mirrorless line of cameras. While others are coming out with first-generation products, Olympus is well into its third generation, meaning they have done more research and development than the others.
I must admit I haven’t looked at each one. But I was able to bring the Olympus during my last Sydney travel. I have been shooting with the Olympus OM-D EM-5 for more than a month now, and I still can’t get over my first impressions about it. Being mirror-less, its viewfinder is necessarily electronic since there are no mirrors inside the camera body. I remember being quite dismissive about this feature before I tried it but, yes, I am happy to be proven wrong.
The electronic viewfinder carries 1.44m-dots providing a strong, clear image. The camera’s ISO range starts at 200 all the way up to 25,600. I wish though that they had started with 100 ISO like my Canon DSLR. And it packs a very decent 16 megapixels, which lords it over its current Four Thirds rivals.
Before even taking my first shot, I was immediately attracted to its small compact size and lightweight. The feel of the controls and the camera itself is solid. It comes in the winning classic light gray and black like the old days when film was still used, and an all-black one. Carrying it the whole day with the strap around your neck is hardly a chore even with a zoom lens, unlike the regular DSLRs which can get heavy and tiring after awhile.
If you have been using a DSLR for years, adjusting to the OM-D EM-5 is not just a breeze, it is also almost seamless. And I can promise that it will also be a surprise and delight. For one thing, aside from the DSLR features we all know, they threw in a lot more goodies to give photographers added capabilities and keep them busy, creative and happy while shooting.
The OM-D IS system is the first in the world to compensate for camera shake in five directions: horizontal angle rotation, vertical angle rotation, horizontal shift, vertical shift and rolling camera shift. These result in very stable pictures despite movement. It can also capture an amazing nine frames per second if you are shooting action shots. And as of the moment, it claims to have the fastest AF speed in the world. Because of this feature and its weight, I have not felt the need to bring a tripod to any of my shoots so far.
If regular DSLRs have about six creative functions that you can easily use for different types of situations, the OM-D has 23. Adding to that is another slew of filters that will give your pictures some “art” effects such as soft blur, pin hold, dramatic, grainy, light tone, diorama and many more.
A special hardware feature, which I love is the movable back- screen monitor. You can pull it away about half an inch from the body and press the top or bottom to find the angle you want. This is helpful when you need to raise your camera high above your head, or way below to shoot your subject without losing your ability to look at the monitor and correctly frame and focus. Another winner is, when reviewing your pics, you can just simply swipe the screen to scroll and see them.
The camera also allows you to finely calibrate almost everything from shutter speed, viewfinder, F stops, ISO, white balance, color, monitor settings, tolerance, notification volume, the presentation of the menu page itself, and even the art and scenic effects to get as close to how you want your picture.
A real winning factor with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 is its sturdiness. Normally, I fear shooting when it is raining, and I certainly have my hesitations when I stay too long near the beach for fear of sand, salt and sea spray coming in. Not with this camera. As long as you are using their all-black lenses, you can shoot under the pouring rain, a sand storm, and even get some seawater splashed on it. In the event of any of these happening, you can just simply put the camera under an open faucet and wash all that off after the shoot. Yes, you read that right!
There are a lot of things going for this camera. I will admit it will take me a few more weeks to really learn everything I can about it and use it optimally. And I have not even fully explored its HD video recorder with stereo microphones. But as of the moment, this will probably be my camera of choice. I feel no limitations using it compared to my trusty DSLR. In fact, I feel it is more versatile in handling low-light, and action photography. And I am totally blown away by its grainy art effects, which I have been trying to master all these years with a DSLR.
Olympus seems to be staging a comeback with its Four Thirds line of camera, and even if I am not ready to sell my DSLR gear just yet, I believe the Four Thirds is a great, versatile format which will enter the arena and frontally challenge the DSLR someday soon. There was much enthusiasm that greeted the Olympus OM-D E-M5 in Japan where it has just been released. Even in the Philippines, it was already getting a sizeable pre-order the moment it was announced. I feel no fear leaving my older gear and just taking this Olympus on shoots. I just have to use it more and get completely comfortable with all its nuanced controls. But from what I’ve noticed so far, I don’t think it will be a problem since it is quite easy to learn it. And I hardly read manuals.