First Look: Olympus's Retro OMD-EM5

New compact system echoes groundbreaking film SLR series


NOTE: The Olympus  OMD-EM5 can be pre-ordered now, for $999.99 body only, $1,299.99 with black M.ZUIKO Digital ED 12-50 mm f3.5-6.3 EZ lens, or $1,099.99 with M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 14-42 mm f3.5-5.6 II R lens. Orders will be shipped on a first-come, first-served basis. Credit cards will not be charged until orders shipped.



For photographers with memories that stretch back to the film era, the new Olympus OMD-EM5 bears a striking resemblance to the classic film OM series, a long-lived line of SLRs that broke new ground in compact and light camera design. And that was deliberate. Speculation that a digital OM might be coming has set the Internet abuzz. Desipite its remarkable resemblance to classic Olympus SLRs such as the OM-1, the OMD-EM5 is not an SLR. It is a mirrorless camera with a high-resolution (1.44 million dot) electronic viewfinder and a plethora of new technology and features.

I had an opportunity last week to handle a pre-production version of the OMD-EM5. Here's what I learned.

Key features:

  • Built-in 1.44 million dot EVF finder with 100% field of view.
  • 16MP Four Thirds sensor with top ISO of 25,600
  • Micro Four Thirds lensmount; compatible with existing MFT lenses
  • 5-Axis image stabilization (new technology)
  • 3D AF tracking, claimed to be world's fastest
  • Dust and splashproof body and matching dust- and splashproof kit lens


A striking family resemblance: Side-by-side, the OMD-EM5, left, looks very similar to the classic OM-10 at right.

In the hands, the camera feels remarkably like an old film camera, and is physically noticeably smaller than the E620, which was Olympus's smallest DSLR. It is physically solid, thanks to its magnesium-alloy build. Two control wheels, one thumb-operated and the other operated by the forefinger, control aperture and shutter release in manual mode, while a more digital-era-type five-way toggle switch on back lets you navigate the menu. But if we take a look inside, we'll find a cutting-edge picture- (and movie) making tool.

Sensor: The new 16MP sensor has a new higher top ISO of 25,600, and the company claims that the camera will deliver good quality at as high as 12,800.

Stabilization: The OMD-EM5 uses a unique floating sensor that uses magnet polarity to stabilize not just for up/down camera movement, but also for tilt, yaw and front-back camera movement. Olympus calls it Five-Axis stabilization.

AF Tracking: Last year, when Olympus introduced the EP3, they rightfully claimed the title as world's fastest-focusing camera—for a few weeks. Well, they're doing it again with the OMD-EM5. The claim is a 3D AF tracking system that tracks up/down and sideways movement as well as subjects moving towards or away from the camera.

Ruggedness: The OMD-EM5 is the first MILC to to be splash and dustproof, a feature that Olympus reports was widely requested. The TK lens, which was introduced at CES and will be available in a kit with the OMD-EM5, is the first splash-and dust-proof designed for Micro Four Thirds.

Other key features include: 9 frames per second burst rate, a 3-inch, flip-out touch screen, and a handful of new “art” filters including the new Key Line filter, which gives scenes a cartoon-like look.

I'm looking forward to putting a production version of the OMD-EM5 through its paces, and I'm sure those who remember the OM-1 and its successors are looking forward to finding out if its digital progeny can rise to the high bar set by the original.

The System

The OMD-EM5 is compatible with any Micro Four Thirds lens, and with any Four Thirds lens via a new (splash and dust-proof) adapter.

Olympus also announced two new lenses—a 75mm f/1.8 portrait lens and a 60mm f/2.8 Macro with a good old-fashioned built-in lens hood—although neither one has a firm availability date.

A new FL600R flash, which can be operated wirelessly and has a guide number of 50 feet  at ISO 200 and which has a built-in continuous LED light for video illumination, is being introduced, as is a modular grip and battery holder, which provides additional camera controls and shutter release to be used when holding vertically.

The camera will be available in a kit with the recently announced 12-50mm rugged zoom lens. A neat feature with this lens that passed many people by the first time around? Pull the zoom ring out two notches and it becomes a full macro lens!

The Olympus  OMD-EM5 will be available in April, for $999.99 body only, $1,299.99 with black M.ZUIKO Digital ED 12-50 mm f3.5-6.3 EZ lens, or $1,099.99 with M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 14-42 mm f3.5-5.6 II R lens.


Also read:
Olympus Comes Out Swinging with the OM-D E-M5



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