Mirrorless cameras strive for big-camera quality in a little package, and reviews say the Olympus OM-D E-M5 does this better than any other. Like big digital SLR (single-lens reflex) cameras, the Olympus dishes up terrific image quality, a pro-grade metal body and plenty of interchangeable lenses. But since it's a Micro Four Thirds camera, those lenses -- and the Olympus' slim, retro-styled body -- are substantially smaller and easier to carry than a bulky DSLR.
Throwback style with modern conveniences. Retro style sets the Olympus OM-D E-M5 apart. It looks like an old-fashioned film SLR camera (Olympus even wraps the silver version in black faux leather), "bound to get many admiring glances," says Phil Hall at WhatDigitalCamera.com.
No swappable-lens camera is really going to fit into a pocket. Still, with a body about the size of an index card and just 1.7 inches thick, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 saves a lot of bulk over a DSLR. "It's a camera we found ourselves taking everywhere," says Richard Butler at DPReview.com.
It still makes room for plenty of physical buttons and dials, much to the delight of professional testers who demand full controls at their fingertips. The buttons themselves strike some reviewers as too small, but most agree with Hall: "It's small without being fiddly."
Throwback styling conceals two modern conveniences: an electronic viewfinder and a tilting, 3-inch OLED touch screen (you can tap to focus, shoot, etc.). An infrared sensor switches automatically between the two when it detects you raising the camera to your eye, as usual for this class.
One drawback: Even pros find the Olympus time-consuming to set up, partly because you can customize just about every button on it. "The EM-5 is worth studying if you want to get the most out of it," Butler advises.
DSLR-like image quality. If you want significantly better images than the Olympus OM-D E-M5 can crank out, you'll have to shell out twice as much for a full-frame DSLR, say experts at both DPReview.com and PhotographyBlog.com. It's that good.
Vibrant colors and low-light prowess rival DSLRs, experts say. In fact, "color was more accurate than we see from most SLRs," says Shawn Barnett at Imaging-Resource.com. As for low light, Barnett gets a good 5-by-7-inch print even maxed out at ISO 25,600. (There's no ISO 100, which strikes WhatDigitalCamera.com's Hall as odd; base ISO 200 shots look clear and bright, though.)
Full 1080i HD video looks clear and steady in tests, thanks to the Olympus' 16-megapixel image sensor and sophisticated image stabilizer. "Handheld is like on a tripod," one owner at BHPhotoVideo.com says. The stabilizer emits a faint, whispering whir, several reviews note, but almost all say it's not a problem.
Speed mostly impresses experts, too. Olympus claims the world's fastest autofocus with the E-M5's kit lens, "and we have little reason to doubt that," says Butler at DPReview.com. "The focus is near-instant in good light and only drops off in very low light." Generally quick responses mean you won't wind up twiddling your thumbs, says Mark Goldstein at PhotographyBlog.com. Burst shooting races along at 9 full-resolution frames per second (fps) -- but only with autofocus locked and image stabilization off (it falls to 4.2 fps with autofocus and 3.5 fps with stabilization). The only flaw here: Tracking a moving subject with continuous autofocus is "distinctly unreliable" in Butler's test.
Battery life is rated at 360 shots per charge. That's far less than a DSLR, but "pretty standard for a mirrorless camera," Butler says.
Splashproof, dustproof, tough metal body. Experts count the Olympus' sturdy body as a major asset. It's crafted of magnesium alloy (not plastic), and the whole package -- camera, bundled lens and flash -- is "rigorously gasketted to help keep water and dust out," writes Butler at DPReview.com. So are the optional battery grip and lens adapter (so you can use sealed Four Thirds lenses).
In fact, it's just as dustproof and splashproof as Olympus' top-of-the-line DSLR, the E5, Imaging-Resource.com's Shawn Barnett points out. The OM-D E-M5 shrugs off moisture when Barnett takes it snowboarding and snowmobiling in Canada. "Just holding the camera tells you there's something different about the E-M5," Barnett writes. "It's solid with or without the grip, and it has a more professional feel than most cameras in the category."
Biggest selection of lenses in its class. Lack of lenses is the downfall of many compact system cameras -- but not the Olympus OM-D E-M5. It accepts a plethora of lenses from Olympus, Panasonic and Sigma, "easily the largest lens range out of all the compact system cameras on the market," says Hall at WhatDigitalCamera.com.
There's no pop-up flash. Instead, Olympus bundles a small, separate flash that slides onto the hot shoe. It's "surprisingly weak," Imaging-Resource.com says, but it can control multiple other flashes wirelessly.
Like other interchangeable-lens cameras, the Olympus can shoot both JPEG and RAW files, for maximum editing flexibility. It likewise sports plenty of special effects (you can make your photo look like Pop Art, Grainy Film, etc.) along with 3D shooting, sweep panorama and handheld night modes.
There's a built-in microphone, but no microphone jack; you have to buy a $90 adapter to use an external mic.
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Review Credibility: Excellent "Arguably the most likable mirrorless model yet," the Olympus OM-D E-M5 wins DPReview.com's rare Gold Award. It's not as good at capturing fast motion as a DSLR, but that's really its only downfall.
Review: Olympus OM-D E-M5 Review, Richard Butler, April 2012
Review Credibility: Excellent Imaging-Resource.com tests fewer point-and-shoot cameras than other sources, concentrating instead on impeccable reviews of advanced cameras. After testing every aspect of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 in elaborate detail, experts here conclude that it "will remain one of our favorite digital cameras for some time to come."
Review: Olympus OM-D E-M5, Shawn Barnett, Mike Tomkins and Zig Weidelich, June 15, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good In another rare feat, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 captures PhotographyBlog.com's 5-star Essential award. Mark Goldstein's only complaint is that it's expensive. Otherwise, "The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is simply our favourite compact system camera to date."
Review: Olympus OM-D E-M5 Review, Mark Goldstein, May 14, 2012
4. What Digital Camera
Review Credibility: Very Good The Olympus OM-D E-M5 wins yet another Gold Award here. Phil Hall wishes the ISO range started at 100, but otherwise, it "has to be one of the best compact system cameras we've seen."
Review: Olympus OM-D Review, Phil Hall, March 28, 2012
Review Credibility: Fair A 4.6-star average rating (out of 5) in over 80 owner reviews makes the Olympus OM-D E-M5 a top-rated digital camera here. In fact, only a handful give it less than 4 stars, usually because they got a dud. Some of the reviews are extremely detailed.
Review: Olympus OM-D E-M5 16MP Live MOS Interchangeable Lens Camera, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of February 2013
Review Credibility: Fair This retailer posts separate owner reviews for each color and lens configuration of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 -- and all versions earn extremely high marks. The black kit lens version gets the most reviews (over 70), all rating it 4 or a perfect 5 stars. Several reviewers identify themselves as pro or semi-pro photographers, and several post sample photos shot with the camera.
Review: Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera with 12-50mm Lens (Black), Contributors to BHPhotoVideo.com, As of February 2013