Apr 24

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Hands-On Preview

Olympus OM-D E-M5

Today I got a chance for a brief time to handle Olympus’ new flagship Micro 4/3 camera, the E-M5, which is positioned in the brand new OM-D line, a callback to the OM system of the 1970s and 1980s.  The new camera is styled in a very similar vein to those cameras, but is also distinctly modern.  While I didn’t have a chance to get a peek at image quality, I did get to test out the viewfinder, the autofocus, general handling, the rear LCD and the 9fps burst mode.  I’ll just give you my quick impressions from a handling and operational standpoint.


The new E-M5, in my opinion, handles very well.  Using the same grip I use for my Panasonic GX1, my hand naturally falls on all the relevant controls.  The protruding thumb grip is very well contoured and fits the back of the hand beautifully.  The front grip is a little slippery, but with the rear corner seated in my palm, the front curves just enough to enable a firm hold on the camera.  Some people have had issues with the location of the right strap lug, but I found it didn’t interfere with how I held the camera.  The front dial is very easily accessed, and the rear dial is a little more difficult to reach, but I was still able to slide my thumb over and reach it without too much trouble.  The weathersealed buttons definitely have a softer, springy feeling action which is quite different from the buttons on early Olympus bodies or their sister Panasonic Micro 4/3 bodies.  Overall, I felt the camera naturally worked well.  Since I didn’t get to shoot for an extended time, I can’t say whether there would be some quirks that may pop up after extended use.


The E-M5’s viewfinder is very clear and detailed, though slightly smaller than that of the Pansasonic Micro 4/3 bodies.  I thought this would be an issue with me, but the nice high contrast in the viewfinder and the better eyepoint for eyeglass wearers made this viewfinder easy to look at, and more importantly for me, easier to see all the information.  I was pleasantly surprised.

Olympus E-M5 back, with optional battery grip.


My last Olympus body was the original Pen, the E-P1, and while I liked that camera quite a bit, I really struggled with the controls.  It was clunky to use and had some pretty annoying faults.  Luckily, it appears over the past few years that Olympus has refined the interface considerably.  As mentioned, the camera has dual dials on top for the most common actions, and they work well.  There are two programmable function buttons, but oddly no dedicated ISO button.  The super menu for changing functions work pretty well, though I would prefer to have a few more external controls for things like ISO and drive mode, though the function buttons can help alleviate this.  Like most new Micro 4/3 cameras, the Olympus E-M5 has a large touch screen, and Olympus’ touch screen is capacitive and very responsive.  Touch to focus works just how you’d expect, though the touch controls aren’t quite as well laid out as they are on the Panasonic bodies like the GH2 and GX1.  The rear LCD is also very crisp and sharp with excellent contrast.  It’s a much better panel than in my Panasonic bodies.

In burst mode, the camera fires off at 9 frames per second, and it sounds every bit as impressive at you’d think.  It’s really quite something to hear a tiny camera rattle off at framerates that were, until the last few years, reserved only for the top end professional DSLRs.  Autofocus is fast and accurate and overall I found the camera quite pleasant to work with.

Anything Else?

So, one more thing I feel needs mentioning from my brief time with the camera.  The shutter is QUIET.  Very quiet. It is far quieter than any other Micro 4/3 body, and quieter than any SLR I’ve ever used.  It is almost approaching leaf shutter quiet.  Needless to say, if you shoot in quiet environments and need to maintain stealth, this camera deserves a hard look from you.   A few places have noted that the new 5-axis in body image stabilizer emits a constant hum.  It may be so, but in the ambient noise of the camera store, I couldn’t hear a thing, and I was listening for it.  The store wasn’t very loud today either.  I have to say, I think it’s a non-issue.

Overall, I’m quite impressed.  I have been very much on the fence about whether to get this camera, and I still am.  I am likely to wait until I either get a chance to shoot with one for an extended period of time, or for more reviews to come out before making a decision, but I have to say…if the rumored outstanding low ISO dynamic range turns out to be quite true (and all sources so far are pointing to that being the case), then my GH2 may need to find a new home while I pick up an OM-D.  Currently the camera is in limited stock, but if you look around, you should be able to find at least the black kit with the 14-42mm lens.  The 12-50mm lens kits and the body only package are harder to come by, and the silver version is in very short supply at the moment.  I have a possible chance to use one extensively for a few days, and if I get that opportunity, I will do a full review of the camera at that time.  Right now, though, it looks like Olympus has a winner on their hands.

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad


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  1. Dean Forbes

    I handled an OM-D at my local camera store last week and came away with mixed feelings. Admittedly, I have never used such a small camera and it’s been years (since the Panasonic FZ-20) since I used an EVF. The Olympus is small. Adding the first half of the optional grip helped hand feel for me. The buttons are small. From a form factor standpoint, I wish the camera were a little larger. And I wonder why Olympus didn’t up the spec on the EVF to something closer to the Sony NEX 7 or the rumored Panasonic GH3. I will go back and handle it again at some point but as of now I’m not convinced that this camera is the way to go for me if I buy into the micro 4/3 system.

  2. Spkeasy

    Thanks for the review and some very important info. I shoot for a local symphony. During performances I need very quiet shutter so I can shoot from my seat. I know a moving shade or even leaf shutter cannot be 100% silent but the sound level should be quiet enough that during quiet passages, people close to me must not hear the camera. I also need black body, no lights flashing and a black-out display, with a good VF so there is nothing to distract those around me. No reviewers seem to care about the noise factor. There is not a “spec” regarding shutter noise. Smaller electronic cameras (I use a Nikon Coolpix) are quiet and you can enable a “sound” if you wish, to let people know the shutter has fired (good for some situations like working with a model). I have put the NEX-7 on the top of my short list since I heard it was pretty quiet and it meets my other requirements (as long as I stick to the black lenses).
    Curiously, a rep from Olympus told me “…while the OM-D E-M5 has no mirror it does have a true Focal Plane shutter which has mechanical shutter curtain so it is not silent, in fact I would not even call it quiet. Yes the display can be disabled so that only the viewfinder is used. The camera has a memory card access light that will flash after every image is shot and the image is transferred to the memory card.”
    1. Do you know how the EM5 compares to the NEX7 for quiet?
    2. Lets start a movement to add a “noise” spec to digital camera specifications. Even better, a “stealth” spec where 100% means the camera is (optionally) silent, black and emits no lights while in use.

    1. Edgar_M


      a lite gaffer tape on the memory card access light and you will forger the is one.

      can’t say anything a about the noise of shutter because I’m still waiting for mine to arrive (pre ordered one same time ago )

      1. Spkeasy

        Tape is what I, too, was thinking for the light. That one is easy although a s/w patch would be welcome to shut that off, optionally.
        Please reply when you get yours regarding shutter. Since there is no objective measure, imagine you are sitting nx to someone using EM5 and there is a fairly quiet passage (not a single violin, harp or oboe, that would be asking too much, but just fairly quiet), would the shutter be a distraction? Someone should come up with a dB test scale and a few points like this highlighted along the scale.

    2. Jordan Steele

      I do not know how the E-M5 compares the NEX-7. I do know it’s by far the quietest M4/3 body out there. It’s not silent, but it’s only emits a very soft “bhzzhh-click”. Objectively, it sounds about half as loud as my GX1, which isn’t exactly super noisy. Is it quiet enough for silent parts of an orchestral performance? Maybe not…probably depends on where you are shooting from…but I doubt you could hear it from very far away during most parts of a performance.

      1. Spkeasy

        Thanks for the help. Maybe I’ll have to stick with my pocket Coolpix for when I’m in my seat. Problem is, that camera has a display that everyone behind me can see. May be the lesser of 2 evils.

    3. spkeasy

      OK. I got lucky and was in my local camera store last week when they received 3 OM-D 12-50 kits. I spent a lot of time working with it and compared it to the GX1 and other cameras for sound levels. The shutter does make a sound but it is muffled and clearly the least of all I tested. I think I can use it in my seat during a performance and not irritate anyone. The lights, viewing screen and focus lamp can all be turned off and so with the black body and lens the camera use will be almost unnoticeable. I did a demo for the symphony director and the comment was “can’t hear it” (demo in my bsmt with symphony music playing at level similar to live performance)so I have a useable camera for shooting from my seat during symphony performances. Obviously no flash but with this camera high ISO makes up for that. That said, the shutter sound still requires you to use discretion and not shoot during very quiet passages. I’ll try it out in October. I guess I’ll have to wait for the totally quiet shutter in a decent camera. (The Canon G1X has a 1.5″ sensor and is totally silent but I can’t deal with the poor VF and slow focus problems). Since all the small P&S cameras and some larger sensor cameras (like the G1X) are using electronic (global) shutters I’m sure it won’t be long before we see something MFT and larger using a totally quiet shutter in a pro level camera. Too bad Canon and Nikon choose to shoot themselves in the foot and “protect” their DSLR sales by crippling their mid size cameras since I’m now an Olympus MFT owner and I’m not in the position to invest in multiple platforms.

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