Monday, September 10, 2012

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Review–Part II

OM-D E-M5, f/9@ 45 mm, 1/250, ISO 12800, No Flash, AWB, In-Camera JPEG

When I wrote the first part of my review for the Olympus OM-D E-M5, apparently I was supposed to only show shots like the one above and giving it a glowing review. Apparently there’s a subset of readers who want me to be like their favorite print magazines and larger sites and tell them what they want to hear so they can feel validated in their decision to purchase a camera based on emotion and brand loyalty only.

For those who feel that way you can take the shot above as a representation of the perfection of the OM-D E-M5. I was an idiot for saying anything negative, and you’re right – the viewfinder is so hot that some might need to see a doctor for being aroused for greater than four hours after looking at it!

You can stop reading here, and rush out and buy one at B&H, Adorama, or Amazon!

For those who prefer the truth…

I like to think that one of the reasons why this blog has grown so rapidly and is followed by so many is because I’ve made a name for myself by doing something that all of the other sites seem afraid to do – I call things like I see and I may not always say nice things.

I’m not saying the OM-D E-M5 is a bad camera – clearly it’s not, but it’s not without warts (which is true of most products – yes, even Canon and Nikon). I don’t point out the issues to be a jerk or make people feel bad. I do it so that you don’t get surprised when you put your hard earned money down for one of these products. These things aren’t cheap, so you deserve to know what things I felt could use improvement and what advice I’d give a friend if they asked me “should I get this camera”.

A great example of the truth is the same photo above shown in all of its RAW glory in Olympus Viewer 2 (Version 1.4 was the latest at the time of this article):


and for the conspiracy theorists who think Adobe is better, here’s Lightroom 4.1:


and Adobe Camera Raw 7.1:


Three raw processors products – all with the same result. Now to be fair, 12,800 shown like this from most cameras is noisy so the point here isn’t to bash the OM-D E-M5. The real point is to show that I can show you a picture that is all pretty roses, or I can show you how the rose stinks. I did neither in my original article, but I did try to share the reality as I saw it which is why you come to blogs like mine. You want to hear what real people think of cameras when used in the real world taking shots like normal people take, and I do that.

Overall I was thrilled with the macro shots that I got, and I felt the focus system was a huge improvement over the Fujifilm X-Pro1, so I consider this a very good camera. I just think the Sony NEX-7 is where I’d put my money if I were buying one of these for a close friend or family member. Your requirements may be different and you may disagree, so I encourage you to buy the product that best suits your needs and simply use my data points when deciding which tradeoffs make the most sense for you.

Bookshelf Tests

OM-D E-M5 ISO 200 Bookshelf - Click for original
E-M5,f/5.6 @ 15 mm, 3.2s, ISO 200, No Flash, AWB
Click for full In-Camera JPEG

Okay, with that bitching aside let’s get to another thing that people have told me they like to see – my bookshelf testing which is a simple image that helps to show dynamic color range, shadow detail, sharpness, texture, and more. More images be found at, but I’ve included a few that I think are the most helpful.

These tests were done with camera default settings in manual mode with the 14-42mm lens at 14mm (but the EXIF reports 15mm). f/5.6 is the maximum aperture before diffraction kicks in, and is the sharpest according to’s blur index. These were taken on a tripod with a timer to avoid camera shake.

ISO 200 is the minimum ISO for this camera, and it’s results were excellent. The warm color was very pleasing to my eye, the detail and sharpness were great and the dynamic range was impressive. Even the back wall hidden in the shadows shows detail and wood grain right out of the camera, so there’s lots that can be done with the RAW if that is needed.

I found Olympus Viewer 2.1.4 to  do a better job at processing the RAW files than the default camera settings in-camera, so like most cameras I’d say that if you wanted the maximum detail then start with the RAW. However, for many this image is a great starting point for post processing and would easily print nicely up to 24” wide by 36” tall without any problem (using Perfect Resize or in-printer resizing with the Canon iPF6300).

ISO 5000 is the maximum ISO in the normal range, so here’s what the closest full stop (ISO 3200) looks like:

OM-D E-M5 ISO 3200 Bookshelf - Click for original
E-M5,f/5.6 @ 15 mm, 1/5, ISO 3200, No Flash, AWB
Click for full In-Camera JPEG

When you zoom in here you start to see the weakness of the in-camera noise reduction as it destroys detail:

OM-D E-M5 ISO 3200 In-Camera

If I go to Olympus Viewer 2.1.4 and look at the unprocessed RAW, you can see there’s quite a bit of heavy noise reduction in-camera so I’d suggest users of this camera probably set the noise reduction to OFF and do noise reduction using something like Noiseware instead:

OM-D E-M5 ISO 3200 RAW Olympus Viewer 2.1.4

Here’s an example of noise reduction using Noiseware 5 (Landscape preset) where noise is removed but detail is preserved:

OM-D E-M5 ISO 3200 RAW Olympus Viewer 2.1.4 After Noiseware 5.0
100% Crop at ISO 6400 from Olympus Viewer 2.1.4 RAW processed in Noiseware 5

By ISO 6400 the details start to get destroyed even in the RAW:

OM-D E-M5 ISO 6400
100% Crop at ISO 6400 from RAW in Olympus Viewer 2.1.4

OM-D E-M5 ISO 6400 - Click for original
E-M5,f/5.6 @ 15 mm, 1/10, ISO 6400, No Flash, AWB
Click for full In-Camera JPEG

So I feel like ISO 3200 (or at least no higher than ISO 5000) is the max usable ISO on this camera for anything but small prints (meaning 5x7 or less) and small web images.

Comparison to Sony NEX-7 at ISO 3200

SONY NEX-7, ISO 3200, Click for full size Original In-Camera JPEG
Sony NEX-7, f/5.6 @ 50 mm, 1/5, ISO 3200, No Flash
Click for full In-Camera JPEG

The Sony NEX-7 had a nasty auto-white balance in tungsten light so I had to go to tungsten white balance which gave a more neutral image, but its in-camera noise reduction was much more tolerable. The brighter exposure is due to a better in-camera light meter (in my opinion) on the Sony.

The Olympus was very good, but I just prefer the Sony overall (with the nice warmth of the Olympus).

Comparison to the Fujifilm X-Pro1

Fujifilm X-Pro1 ISO 3200 - Click for original
Fujifilm X-Pro1, f/5.6 @35mm, 10/19sec, ISO 3200, No Flash, AWB
Click for full In-Camera JPEG

The Fujifilm was a bit on the too bright size with its in-camera exposures and its default auto white balance was too cold, but there was good dynamic range and lots of detail compared to the Olympus. Again, the Olympus wins on color and it blows away the focus system of the X-Pro1. 

Comparison to the Canon Rebel T4i 

Canon Rebel T4i/650D at ISO 3200 - Click for original
T4i, f/8 @100 mm, 0.5s, ISO 3200, No Flash, AWB
Click for full In-Camera JPEG

In my T4i review I state that ISO 1600 is about as high as I’d go in real world use, but I’m primarily speaking from a DSLR perspective. Compared to the cameras discussed here the T4i stacks very similar to the Olympus at ISO 3200. It has nice color, decent dynamic range and pretty good detail both at raw and with the in-camera JPEG. Here’s a 100% crop from Lightroom 4.1 with no sharpening or noise reduction:

T4i/650D at ISO 3200 (Lightroom 4.1 Raw – 100% Crop)

Doing the same exact thing with the smaller sensor Olympus I get this 100% crop:

Olympus OM-D E-M5 at ISO 3200 (Lightroom 4.1 Raw – 100% Crop)

They are pretty darn close with probably a slight advantage going to the Olympus, so if you don’t let the in-camera noise reduction destroy the image the Olympus is pretty comparable to a full-size entry level DSLR.

Flash Testing Updated

E-M5, f/4@ 45 mm, 1/60, ISO 400, Flash (-2EV Fill Flash Mode)

In my previous article I didn’t have any Olympus FL-LM2 flash shots. While I felt like the flash for this camera wasn’t much better than your typical-on camera flash, at least there’s a hot shoe to do something better. However, with the included flash attached to the hot shoe used in fill flash mode at –2EV I was able to keep the ISO down and get this shot of the flowers. It’s not pretty, but it’s usable. Here’s a similar shot (lower flower focus instead) without the flash and a longer exposure (handheld):

E-M5, f/4@ 45 mm, 1/20, ISO 200, No Flash

In-camera stabilization is pretty decent so I’d leave the flash off. ;-)

More on the Electronic Viewfinder

My viewfinder comments in the original article seemed to piss off the Olympus fan boys, so I’ll clarify that WHEN COMPARED to the wonderful rear OLED display on the E-M5, the viewfinder looks very bad by comparison. I took a closer look to it and the one on the X-Pro1 again and felt that when viewed side by side they were pretty close, but overall I still like the hybrid viewfinder of the Fujifilm more.


See my original article entitled Review: Olympus OM-D E-M5 (Compared with Sony NEX-7, Fujifilm XPro1 and Canon Rebel T4i/650D) for my conclusion and more info. To see more sample photos, visit

NOTE: RAW links to originals not included simply for storage reasons. I don’t have a free or subsidized way of storing these raw files, but if you’d like the RAW’s I can upload them to you upon request (2 max).


The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is IN STOCK at B&H, so if you enjoyed this article please support this blog by ordering using this link. It’s also available at Adorama, or Amazon.

Other reviews you might enjoy


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ReidWolf said...

I've always valued your opinion straight. There's plenty of fanboy blogs out there. I own the E-M5 (love-hate) and 1DX (love). Your I respect your Olympus review because it was honest. Stay the course!

bgood said...

Personal point of view along with reasonable real life testing make a blog useful an interesting. Keep it up. If I don't have to walk too far and potentially carry my three year old grand daughter, I grab my Canon 5D3. But I can carry the OM-D with a tiny lens when I need small and light and get very nice results. Also, I seldom carried my Nikon with birding lens because it was so heavy. I don't mind carrying the OM-D with a 200-600mm equiv. zoom that I can hand hold and get very sharp results. The point here is that good results are possible with any camera and sometimes size/weight and lens choice trump other criteria.

Dimon said...

RE: "My viewfinder comments in the original article seemed to piss off the Olympus fan boys, so I’ll clarify that WHEN COMPARED to the wonderful rear OLED display on the E-M5"

I had NEX5R and NEX6 and have to tell you that Olympus decision to put OLED in back screen and plain LCD in viewfinder was very smart.
It doesn't matter in a bright day when you look through viewfinder as you can see nice and clear, there is no bright light in there to bother you. But when you are using back screen under direct sun you will see a proper difference between Sone LCD and Oly OLED. NEX5 which has no viewfinder is totally unusable in these situations.
Also you should update your EM-5 firmware before your review, ISO starts from 100 now.
I'm not sure is Noiseware any better than build in noise filter. I didn't see much difference on retina display. I prefer Oly filter,it is more steady and more predictable. Noiseware lives some strange and ugly artefacts. said...


Also you should update your EM-5 firmware before your review, ISO starts from 100 now.
That wasn't the case at the time I reviewed this product. I had the latest firmware available and unfortunately do not have the bandwidth to re-review every product for every firmware update.

I'm not sure is Noiseware any better than build in noise filter.
You may not be, but I am. I've done very thorough reviews of the major noise reduction products and done years of extensive research on the subject.

Noiseware lives some strange and ugly artefacts
That hasn't been my experience, but the reality is that noise reduction software is effectively smearing the image in its attempt to remove noise. Depending on the amount of noise in your image and how aggressive your settings are, the results of noise removal could potentially make things worse.

See my noise reduction series at

It started with three products but I've tested numerous other products since. I still have the same opinion that external products do a better job than most camera internal processing and that Noiseware is the best product on the market. Dfine is quite good too, and Noise Ninja (now Photo Ninja) offers the least destructive noise reduction algorithm.

My example of a good viewfinder is the Sony NEX-7/7R. The Fujifilm X-T1 isn't too bad either, but the Sony's I've tested are the best I've used thus far.