Olympus OM-D E-M5 Hands-on Preview

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Olympus has today introduced their new m4/3 camera line, OM-D, and its first body, the E-M5, and a bunch of accessories including two new lenses. 

Some time ago I had the first chance to try this new camera. At that time there were only two E-M5 cameras in Europe and everything was very hush hush. I was not allowed to take the camera out of that conference room. Also it was a pre-production sample, which are useless for real testing. Anyhow it still was possible to try handling the new camera and get an impression of its new features. This blog tells what I see as interesting in this new camera. If you read me using expressions like better or markedly better, they are based on experience with E-P3 + VF-2. Right now I have no hard test or comparison data of anything. I will have a production sample in about two weeks to really shoot with E-M5.

Size

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As you can see in these two pictures, E-M5 is small. It´s a lot smaller than at least I would think when looking at Olympus product shots. At 121 x 89 x 42mm it is smaller than E-P3 + VF-2 combination in EVERY dimension. Below is a comparison of E-M5 with Olympus OM-4, E-620 and E-5.

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Construction

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E-M5 is built around a magnesium alloy body. The body is dust- and splash-proof to the same standard as Olympus E-5. Red lines in the image above show the layout of sealing parts in body as well as in the optional landscape and portrait grips. Right now E-M5 is the smallest dust- and splash-proof body among all interchangeable lens type digital cameras. The pre-production body I tried felt solid and well made, but these samples are not always up to production standard. This body had a couple of buttons that were said to be not as final.

EVF

E-M5 viewfinder has the same 1.44M dot (800x600 RGB pixels) resolution as Olympus VF-2. Olympus doesn´t tell who is the manufacturer but my guess is that E-M5 has the latest version of the panel type used in VF-2. 

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A new feature is the possibility to have all info collected below the image. Info field can have a blue background like here or everything can be against black. This image shows only a small fraction of possible information. Because of info field, the image will then be smaller. Here black shows the whole viewfinder area and image proportions has been chosen to be 3:2. Now image magnification is 1.0X (50mm lens). With native 4:3 setting image magnification is 0.92X. You can also fill the whole viewfinder area with 4:3 image and then image magnification is 1.15X. All the info is now superimposed on image with the same general layout as with E-P3 + VF-2. Of course you can also turn all info off. Field of view is of course 100%.

Viewfinder optics is new. It was easy for me to see the whole area sharply even with my glasses. New optics allows also a wider diopter adjustment range between -4 to +2 diopter. Eye point is 18mm at -1.

Frame rate has been doubled, it is now 120 fps. You can also choose the old 60 fps. According to Olympus, the absolute color quality of viewfinder image is better at 60 fps. There and then I couldn´t really see any difference. The real difference is 120fps giving you a lot smoother experience with moving subjects and while panning. 

Another improvement with moving subjects is a markedly shorter refresh time of EVF. E-M5´s new TruePic VI image processor has separate processors for saving images and LiveView. Now EVF seems to be on almost all the time. According to Olympus, the lag is shortened to 29ms.

Stabilized EVF is another real breakthrough. Viewfinder image is always stabilized when in body stabilization (IBIS) is on. Always means here also video and with every lens. This means a marked benefit when using long focal lengths, shooting macro and using magnifications with manual focusing. Viewfinder stabilization actuates when you press shutter button halfway down.

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EVF has now an eye sensor. When you move the camera to your eye, the image is displayed on the EVF. When you move the camera off your eye, the Super Control panel is displayed on the backside monitor. You can have the backside monitor to display the image by pushing monitor button on the right side of EVF structure. 

EVF is not tiltable. You can use Olympus (4/3) angle finder with E-M5. You can also take off accessory port cover and add a VF-2 on E-M5 and have a tilltable EVF. The combination may be funny looking but totally functional. 

16MP Live MOS sensor

E-M5 has a new (for Olympus at least) 16MP sensor instead of the 12MP sensor used in E-P3. It might be the same sensor as in Panasonic GX-1 or not. Olympus doesn´t tell. Comparing some specs from these two cameras makes me think the basic sensor could be the same. But there is lot more to a sensor. Olympus is now using a version of their ”Fine Detail Processing” technology which was introduced in E-5. That is an implication of E-M5 having a thin low pass (AA) filter which is good for sharpness. Olympus is using their ”Real Color” technology which is related to used RGB array. E-M5 is reading the sensor at up to double speed compared to previous cameras and that has benefits in fps rate, continuous autofocus and video quality. 

Testing a production camera will tell the truth about sensor related to image quality. Right now I can only say that IQ will be better than with E-P3. Olympus speaks about highest sensitivity, lowest noise and widest dynamic range in their E-series. ISO range is now 200 - 25600.

Five Axis In Body Image Stabilization, IBIS

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The newly developed 5 axis IBIS unit is a huge element compared to E-M5´s volume. I have outlined it here with red. It contains also Olympus SSWF sensor cleaning unit. I have not seen the units or pictures of them side by side but I think this structure is some three times as big as the one in E-P3. IBIS unit forces EVF electronics situated above EVF, which together with accessory port dictates the height of EVF box.

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This is the first and only 5 axis image stabilization in interchangeable lens cameras. Those five stabilized movements are shown above. So far Olympus IBIS has been able to compensate for pitch and yaw. Canon has in some lenses also a stabilizer capable of compensating for horizontal and  vertical moves. Roll compensation is not possible at all in an optical stabilizer. According to Olympus, this new IBIS system is effective for up to 5 full EV steps. They had the same claim for E-5 IBIS but it was effective for a lesser amount of camera movements.

IBIS works with all lenses and this new MSC type IS is as good for video as stills. Olympus says that the new IBIS removes rolling shutter effect ”dramatically” from movies. Also it stabilizes the video if you walk during shooting. 

FAST Autofocus

FAST AF is Olympus´ name for their AF system, F.A.S.T. being an acronym for Frequency Acceleration Sensor Technology. Olympus claims E-M5 AF being the fastest AF system in intechangeable lens cameras.

For single shot AF, S-AF, the focusing speed should be roughly the same as in E-P3. It is based on the same 120 fps readout from the sensor as in E-P3. Maybe new algorithms and new processor make it even faster and boot response time is shorter. Couldn´t tell because Olympus MSC lenses focus so fast also with E-P3.

For continuous AF (C-AF) and AF tracking (Tr) everything is changed. Firstly the system reads video signal from sensor at double speed, 240 fps. Turning camera around and from far to near and back with C-AF on, showed that the camera keeps staying focused significantly faster than E-P3. TruePic VI has a new and separate object tracking unit just for calculating subject movements. It should give a ”vastly improved” predictive AF, as Olympus puts it. The system is based on face, color and pattern recognition. It can calculate movements, not only in changes in horizontal and vertical movements, but also in the rate of change in object size. That means 3D Tracking AF. Continuous, 3D tracking AF works up to frame rate of 4.2 fps. This will be one of the most interesting features to test later!

I know many 4/3 system users are disappointed to hear that C-AF and Tr do not work with 4/3 lenses. Only S-AF is available. I did not try S-AF speed with any of 4/3 lenses.

Manual focusing is a lot easier with stabilized EVF. Enlarged view options are 5X, 7X, 10x and 14X.

Sequential shooting

There are two mode settings for sequantial shooting, L and H.

L: 3,5 fps; or with IS OFF 4.2 fps. Buffer capacity is 17 RAW images. In JPG shooting there is no buffer limit.

H: 9 fps (IS and C-AF OFF). Buffer capacity is 11 RAW or 17 JPG images at best quality.  

Video

Video recording has now MOV, MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, as a new recording format. It is Full HD with 1920x1080, 60i. Sensor output is 30 fps, recording 20 Mbps. Maximum recording time is 29 minutes. Video is stabilized by IBIS as told above. There´s no more need for software stabilization. The true effect of Fine Detail Processing, Real Color, reduced rolling shutter and removal of aslant jaggies in movies will be seen later.

Built in microphones are on the sides of EVF box, as can be seen in the image below. They have wind noise reduction.

Configurability and handling

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In this example I have Aperture priority chosen on the left, like I normally do. In basic use I would set aperture with main dial and exposure correction with sub dial. Shutter button is in the middle of sub dial. Autofocus is mapped into Fn1. This makes handling very easy and I can keep the camera on my eye all the time. Most of the time there is no need to interrup shooting because of camera. 

With E-M5 at factory settings, pressing Fn2 and rotating main/sub dial would call and make active in EVF any of functions: highlight/shadow control, white balance control, magnification control and aspect control. You can do all these adjustments on the fly while keeping on shooting. But the again, Fn2 and many other buttons are configurable. So, what will be my final configuration for E-M5 button functions and dials is still open.

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E-M5 is a small camera. Its handling qualities can be changed with optional grip set. Landscape grip (HLD-6G) and portrait grip (HLD-6P) change E-M5 into a different kind of tool. Landscape grip can be used alone with camera. Portrait grip only with landscape grip. Landscape grip has its own shutter button and sub dial. Portrait grip has the same plus main dial. It also has Fn1 and Fn2 buttons which can be configured to be the same as the ones in camera body or something different. Portrait grip has one battery slot. You can choose which battery is used first. Two batteries can give around 650 shots. DC-IN jack is included for operation with AC adapter AC-3.

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Body with HLD-6G landscape grip seen from above shows the difference in right hand grip size. I like a system camera to have more grip than E-M5 does, so I think this is going to be my normal setup with E-M5.

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GS-4 Wrist Strap is another accessory to complement grips.

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E-M5 has a 610k dot, 3” OLED monitor which can be tilted up to 50º downward and up to 80º upward. This OLED monitor is a touch screen. It can be used as a Live Guide or for choosing focusing spot (also with 5, 7, 10 or 14X magnifications) and releasing the shutter. After shooting it can be used for playback with sweep gestures.

Live Bulb and Live Time

With E-M5 Olympus is introducing a new feature to set exposure and expose an image. They call it Live Bulb and Live Time. It is maybe best understood if you think about fireworks. You press release button once and shutter opens. You can see firework going up but now you can see it´s fiery path developing in OLED monitor. You watch the firework explode and grow bigger in monitor, and when you like it best you press shutter button again to close the shutter. Now, you actually have seen and know what kind of image you got! Only OLED monitor can be used here, not EVF.

There are still some technical limitations which mean what you see is not totally live. The monitor can´t be refreshed faster than every half a second. Also the number of refresh counts is limited to 25 (ISO 200). This means that with half a second refresh rate your exposure time is limited to 13 seconds. The maximum exposure time is 30 minutes with slowest refresh rate. All these parameters can be set in a menu.

Flash

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E-M5 comes bundled with a small flash unit, FL-LM2. It has GN 10 at ISO 200. This flash is dust- and splash proof, the above image showing sealing parts. FL-LM2 includes commander function for wireless flash control.

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Olympus is also introducing another new flash unit, FL-600R. GN is 50 at ISO 200. It has a video LED light below flash head. Video light can be used as focusing aid in still photography.

New lenses

Yes, the list goes on and, at least for me, here´s one of the most important news. Olympus introduces two new prime lenses:  M.Zuiko ED 75 mm 1:1.8 and M.Zuiko ED 60 mm 1:2.8 Macro.

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75 mm lens has the same beautiful metal finish as M.Zuiko 12 mm. It is a very interesting combination of reach (corresponds to 150 mm in FullFrame 35) and speed.

60 mm Macro is dust- and splash-proof. As seen in the picture above, it offers life size 1:1 images at its nearest focusing distance of 0.19 m. Focus limiters are on the left side of barrel. E-M5 new IBIS should be quite a combination with this lens, I hope.

Bits, pieces and price

A couple more accessories: 

  • MMF-3, dust- and splash-proof adapter for 4/3 lenses.
  • Interchangeable eyecup EP-11

E-M5 has new battery, BLN-1 at 1200 mAh. 

There´s one new art filter, Key Line, and one new sound effect for video, Echo.

I will not reproduce all the minute details here. All the specs can be read at Olympus web sites.

As pictures have shown, there will be black and silver versions of E-M5. Faux leather surfaces differ, and silver is complemented with a traditional pattern and black with a more techno pattern. Cameras will start appearing in shops in April. Europrices around: 

  • body (including bundled flash), 1100 €
  • body (including bundled flash) with M.Zuiko ED 12-50mm, 1300 €. 
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Conclusion

What more can I say than being really interested in E-M5 as camera which has a promise to go well beyond E-P3 capabilities in so many aspects. Olympus is addressing EVF and AF usability issues in action shooting which I have critized in my previous blogs. I really am not an action shooter but every now and then E-P3 can not keep up with my pace. These new IBIS features are so important for me, I have already done 99,9% of a lifetime´s tripod shooting. I like E-M5´s smallness combined with Olympus system thinking.  Being able to make one small body to adapt into many purposes is tempting. How good it really is for my photography will be seen later when I get a production sample. Two weeks... Hi-yo, Silver!

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