A review of the Olympus OM-D EM5…

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So the first thing you’re probably saying is “this camera’s been out for ages, why are you reviewing it now?” Well the short answer is, I only got one recently and, to be completely honest, I love it. I get asked a lot of questions about the camera over on my TWITTER and FACEBOOK pages and thought I’d try and pull together some of the answers I’ve given into a constructive blog post. Hopefully you’ll find it useful, and if not, I hope at least you enjoy the photos.

(Everything in this post was taken with my OM-D EM5 and edited in Lightroom 4.)

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This is not intended as a review of the technicalities of the camera, so I’m not going to go into specific details about the pixel count, construction materials or anything like that, but simply explain why I enjoy using this camera so much and how it performs in the real world. I’m also not affiliated with Olympus in anyway.

Size…

First off, its small and light. Small compared to a Canon 5D3 and 35L anyway (my go-to camera and lens combo for 90% of my wedding work). I should add that I’ve got 2 lenses for my EM5, the 17mm 1.8 and the 45mm 1.8. The 35mm equivalent of those lenses is 35mm and 90mm (give or take a mm). The photo you see below is the EM5 with the 17mm next to my 5D3 and 35L.

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I’ve read reviews of this camera that say its too small and fiddly to use. It is small, but thats the point of it. If you want something more substantial in your hand then go for a D-SLR. There is an optional battery grip which is intended to make the camera a bit more comfortable in the hand, and make shooting in portrait easier, but for me, I want a small camera that I can use discreetly – the smaller the better – so I chose not to get the grip.

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Build Quality…

The build quality is excellent. It feels solid. Nice clunky clicks when you move the dials and some well placed buttons. I particularly like the 2 customisable function buttons that are within easy reach of your thumb. Due to the size of the camera, the buttons are small. If you’ve got fat fingers or larger hands then this might prove to be a problem, or at least, a bit annoying. There has to be a compromise somewhere with a camera this small, and for me, I’m willing to let the small buttons – which are admittedly a bit fiddly – be mine.

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Weight…

It’s lightweight. I’ve walked round all day with the EM5 in my hand, literally in my hand with just a wrist strap, and not had any problems with achy arm. Its small enough to fit into a large coat pocket so you can get away without having to carry a bag around with you. When I’m out shooting street I have the camera in my hand attached with a wrist strap 90% of the time and a spare battery and lens in my coat pocket.

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Battery life and memory…

The battery life is pretty good. Its good compared to the Fuji x100 I used to own but obviously not as good as my Canon 5D3. If I’m out all day I’ll definitely use one full battery and probably half of another one. Put it this way, I’ve never needed more than 2 in a day and I use the camera in live view mode all the time, rarely turning it off (all the time its in my hand, its on). That said, if I was shooting a wedding with this camera I’d probably take 5 or 6 batteries, just to be safe. One criticism I do have of the camera is that the ‘battery low’ warning comes on just before its about to go. And I mean just before. No substantial warning time at all. I imagine that would be an easy firmware fix and I’ve not yet had the chance to use the new EM1 to see if that issues been taken care of.

It takes one SD memory card. They’re so cheap these days I just shove a 32GB card in a not worry about having to change it.

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Performance…

The AF speed is what really drew me to this camera. It’s fast. And I mean FAST. In good light (and to be honest, even in not great light) its comparable to my 5D3 and 35L. It locks on and nails it. No fuss. The odd time its missed focus for me has been entirely down to user error. I use the camera with centre-point focus enabled, so I focus and recompose. This does mean I have to allow for the odd miss, especially when shooting street from the hip, but thats my preferred method and something I’ve done all through my career. What I also love about this camera is that I can use the screen on the back to take a photo. Simply tap the area of the screen you want in focus and it’ll focus and take the exposure. An excellent advantage to have when shooting street. It means you don’t need to have the camera to your eye to compose a photo. You can avoid the awkward eye contact that sometimes comes with trying to take a street photograph. I thought this feature was a bit of a gimmick at first, but its real world potential is undeniably excellent.

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I don’t use the camera any higher than 3200iso, basically because I think thats the limit I can take it too. It’ll shoot higher but things start to get grainy. 3200iso is more than acceptable and hasn’t caused me any issues in the real world. I add a little grain to my photographs in post production anyway, so I’m not that fussed about producing totally clean files. The fact that the camera is so small and mirror-less allows you to shoot at much slower shutter speeds handheld than you could with a D-SLR.

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I use the OM-D EM5 mainly for street photography – my passion aside from weddings. I’m yet to find a camera more suited to this genre of photography. It’s everything I need it to be; small, lightweight, tough, fast and accurate to focus, reliable and comfortable in the hand. I chose to get the black body and lenses just to make it that little bit more discreet. I don’t really want people to get excited or start asking questions about the camera I’m using when I’m trying to be sneaky and inconspicuous.

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I shoot most of the time in Aperture priority with Auto-Iso enabled, using the exposure compensation dial to control my exposure. I’ve found this method the most reliable when working in the ever changing environment and lighting conditions of street photography.

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The OM-D EM5 also works great with off-camera flash. The above and below photos were taken using Elinchrom Skyport triggers and receivers with Canon Ex 580 MkII flashes.

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Well there you have it, I hope you found that useful :) If you’ve got any questions or comments about the OM-D EM5, or want to share your experiences with the camera, please comment below. If you’re new to my blog and want to find out a bit more information about me and what I do, head over to the INFORMATION page.