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!
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.
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 http://ronmart.zenfolio.com/olympus/omdem5, 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 SLRGear.com’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:
When you zoom in here you start to see the weakness of the in-camera noise reduction as it destroys detail:
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:
Here’s an example of noise reduction using Noiseware 5 (Landscape preset) where noise is removed but detail is preserved:
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:
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
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
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
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:
Doing the same exact thing with the smaller sensor Olympus I get this 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
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):
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 http://ronmart.zenfolio.com/olympus/omdem5.
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).
Other reviews you might enjoy
- Canon G1X vs G12 vs Fujifilm X10
- Canon Powershot s100
- Canon Rebel T4i
- Fujifilm FinePix X100
- Fujifilm X10 (2011 P&S of the Year)
- Fujifilm XPro-1
- Sony NEX-7
- Nikon 1 V1 (includes 3 lenses)
- Nikon D7000 & 24-120mm Lens
If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. I was also provided with a camera to use for this review but it was returned when all testing was completed.