Image Quality – Dynamic Range and Color
Olympus has claimed improved dynamic range for the E-M5. This is a claim we’ve seen before, but on the E-M5, Olympus has delivered. You can take a look at a comparison test I did with the Panasonic GH2 here. The expanded dynamic range is also quite evident in day to day shooting. With previous Micro 4/3 cameras, you really had to be careful about the highlights. They would clip easily, and there was very little RAW headroom. With the E-M5 I am finding it very difficult to clip highlights. The highlight headroom in a RAW file is close to two full stops. Luckily, this highlight headroom is not at the expense of shadow detail, as that too is better than in previous Micro 4/3 cameras. While I don’t do scientific measuring of the dynamic range, I can tell you that in practice, it seems the E-M5 has about two extra stops of dynamic range compared to the previous best Micro 4/3 cameras, which puts in on par with most APS-C DSLRs.
The color response on the E-M5 is typical Olympus. That is, it’s outstanding. Colors are rich, vibrant and accurate. Combined with the deeper dynamic range, the E-M5 has a richer file with better tonality than I’ve experienced on other Micro 4/3 cameras. It’s the first Micro 4/3 camera I’ve used that truly feels like a modern DSLR when looking at the images. They have that depth to them that was basically the only thing missing in the previous best cameras in the line.
The E-M5 does a very good job with Auto White Balance. It’s not always perfect, but it’s better than most cameras I’ve owned. Even under fluorescent, it is often more correct than not, and only minor tweaking in RAW development is generally needed, if at all.
Image Quality – Noise
The E-M5 has an expanded ISO range of 200-25,600. It’s the first Micro 4/3 camera to have an ISO this high. It leads you to believe that the E-M5 has improved noise control over previous Micro 4/3 cameras, and indeed, I have found it to be best in class, besting the Panasonic GX1 at the highest ISOs.
At low ISO, the noise profile is very similar to Panasonic’s 16MP cameras. There is a fine grain noise at base ISO, though it won’t show in any size print. The E-M5 noise at base ISO appears to be a little finer grained than the GX1 or GH2, but it’s not a lot different. The differences first start to be visible at about ISO 800, where the E-M5 shows less and finer grained noise. The E-M5 takes a bigger lead at every higher ISO until ISO 12,800 where the improvement is about a full stop.
Shots up to ISO 800 are very low in noise, while 1600 and even 3200 are quite usable most print sizes. In my opinion, ISO 6400 is easily fine for prints up to 8×10 while ISO 12,800 is OK for small prints and web use. In fact, I’ve noticed that a properly exposed ISO 12,800 shot with a little noise reduction makes a very clean 4×6 print, and might even be able to be used at 8×10 with not a whole lot of grain showing. While ISO 25,600 is a little noisy for most things, it’s still good enough for smaller prints and web use, especially if converted to black and white. The E-M5 maintains color accuracy all the way to ISO 16,000. Above that, a magenta color shift becomes visible.
All in all, the E-M5 isn’t going to match the best full frame cameras in noise control, but it is competitive with most APS-C offerings and, when combined with the E-M5’s outstanding in body IS, will allow you to capture usable images in the dimmest of light.
Overall, the E-M5 sets a new benchmark in image quality for the Micro 4/3 format, and delivers images with the clarity, color, dynamic range and noise control typical of the larger APS-C format.
JPEG Quality and Art Filters
I am a RAW shooter. I have been since shortly after I started shooting with my first DSLR. You get better noise performance, wider dynamic range, better color depth and more flexibility in processing. I shoot 99.9% of my photos in RAW, usually switching to JPEG only if I’m shooting a lot of fast action. However, since the E-M5 doesn’t lag in RAW mode when shooting a bunch of shots simultaneously, I likely won’t ever find myself shooting JPEG unless I want to take advantage of one of the camera’s built in art filters.
I shot a few test JPEG images in my time with the camera thus far, and in typical Olympus fashion they are quite good. As I mentioned, Olympus’ Auto White Balance is quite good so that makes shooting JPEG less risky. There are multiple tone curves that can be used, and I recommend shooting with the “Auto” curve, which provides the widest dynamic range and will give the most flexibility in post processing. Colors are vibrant and contrast is punchy, providing a high quality JPEG output. At high ISO, noise is well controlled, but like most JPEG engines it can look a little too ‘digital’ for my tastes.
The E-M5 features a variety of art filters, and they are actually quite good. They provide some dramatic changes to the output processing, but it’s done in a way that it can really enhance the photo in the right circumstances. The Soft Focus effect is intended to give that dreamy look, which originally was popular with portrait work, though it’s out of style nowadays. Still, the way the effect is done, it’s quite nice when used sparingly. The shot on the left is right out of camera, handheld at night with the Soft Focus art filter. The Dramatic Tone filter and the grainy black and white give some neat effect as well, though they are both rather drastic tonal adjustments, and I’d prefer to keep them from permanently affecting the image. You can shoot a shot with the art filters on while in RAW mode, though the effect will only transfer to the RAW file when developed in Olympus’ RAW software. When using something like Lightroom 4, it ignores the metadata for the art filter and treats it like a normal image.
This section will be a little less detailed than the others as I am primarily a stills photographer. I have shot the occasional movie here and there, though almost all of it is for simple recording of life events. Therefore, I’m not the best authority on dissecting every little detail in the movie mode.
The E-M5 does offer a fair degree of control over the video mode, offering P, A, S and M modes, shooting in 1080i/60 at 30 fps off the sensor. It uses a 20Mbps bit rate for the high quality movie recording. You can also shoot in 720p or lower resolutions.
Video quality is quite good with the typical Olympus color and JPEG engine on display. While good, it’s not quite up to the level of the video quality that comes out of the Panasonic GH2. It also lacks the GH2’s 24p mode. Still, it’s a capable video machine that puts out sharp detailed video, though occasionally there will be visible compression artifacts in out of focus areas of solid color. As I mentioned in the IS section, the camera’s in-body stabilization system is excellent for video work and keeps the video looking smooth and steady.
Next: Conclusion and Final Thoughts
48 thoughts on “Review: Olympus OM-D E-M5”
one of the best reviews ive read and accurate , i own the em5 too
Thanks for doing this. A very comprehensive and thoughtful review. Now, if my E-M5 would only arrive, I’d be a happy guy.
Nice review. I’ve been wanting to order one of these since I first saw them, but was unsure how it compared to the Panasonic G3, which I currently own. Have you used a G3 and if so, would you think an E-M5 would be a good upgrade or would waiting until Panasonic releases their next salvo?
Really nice review – thorough and based on a shooter’s perspective. Thank you very much.
I’ve ordered the OM-D E-M5 to complement my Pentax K-5. I was really hopeful that Pentax would provide a small-sized shooter that would fit my wide array of great Pentax glass. However the K-01 is an absolutely grotesque device and lacks any type of viewfinder. So, with a Pentax-to-4/3rds adapter also on-order, I am really looking forward to working the Olympus through its paces with the Pentax glass.
Thanks again for a real shooter’s review!
As a Pentax K-5 shooter, I too, am strongly considering the OM-D EM-5 as a “travel” system. The one thing I am concerned about is if the OM-D (with a good Olympus primes and possibly the new Panasonic 12-35 f/3.8 zoom) can replicate the fine image quality (particularly sharpness) that I am getting with the Pentax system.
A very well thought out review, and although not a “Technical Review”, which we have plenty of. This review takes a look at the user valued observations. And gives us a good idea of the advancement of m4/3 Technology.
Very nice review.
It would be interesting to know if it is or isnt a new sensor over the lumix G3.
According to dpreview versus this sensor there is about a 2/3 EV advantage at the top and just over a1/3 at the lower end versus the G3. I estimate an overall DR of around 11.7. the human eye sees around 22 EV most APS-C DSLRs are around 12. Like you I am not getting much clipping from the OMD but the great metering system and live histogram helps as well. Additionally ISO is kept down by the image stbilisation – better DR is found at lower ISO
Looking forward to seeing DXOmarks review!
It would be interesting to know if it is or isnt a new sensor over the lumix G3.
According to dpreview versus this sensor there is about a 2/3 EV advantage at the top and just over a1/3 at the lower end versus the G3. I estimate an overall DR of around 11.7. the human eye sees around 22 EV most APS-C DSLRs are around 12. Like you I am not getting much clipping from the OMD but the great metering system and live histogram helps as well. Additionally ISO is kept down by the image stbilisation – better DR is found at lower ISO.
Looking forward to seeing DXOmarks review!
Thank’s Jordan for an excellent review!
I just found your site and I have bookmarked it to come back for more reading.
Love your photos too, and it is a joy to read a test from a photographer’s point of view instead of just the technical side!
“Jordan” said it perfectly:
“Thanks for doing this. A very comprehensive and thoughtful review. Now, if my E-M5 would only arrive, I’d be a happy guy.”
Thanks for the great review but I have one question, you wrote about the optional grip, “You also can then add the portrait grip to the horizontal grip, giving you the option to add an additional two batteries of capacity … ”
I was under the impression the added grip only allowed for one additional battery. Are you saying the grip will hold two batteries plus the battery in the camera for a total of three?
Regarding the grip are you saying you can add two batteries to it along with the one already in the body for a total of 3 batteries? That seems to conflict with all of the specifications I’ve seen on the Olympus and other web sites. It would be great news if that were the case.
Oops seems Bill beat me to the punch regarding the battery grip.
It appears you are correct. I mistakenly thought the HLD-6 could hold two batteries..it appears it only holds one, plus the one in the camera for a total of two. My HLD-6 will be here sometime this week, I hope, so I will add more information when its received. As for now, the review has been updated.
Thanks for this very thorough review and sample pics worth looking at. Having used the camera for a month now, i almost fully aggree.
What puzzles me is your problem with the underexposed images when using the strobe, because i don’t have this problem and i have used my E-M5 with (and without) different strobes for a month now. Might be related to camera settings or maybe something is wrong with your strobe or hot shoe. Check your settings in the strobe menu to make sure you did not accidentaly change something in there. If using the small strobe on your E-P1, are all images correctly exposed?
For using C-AF, try to change the JPG settings to have maximum contrast, a good start is Vivid with Contrast +2. You also need to change the shutter priority to On for C-AF (by default this is Off, i.e. the camera uses focus priority and hunts forever), smallest possible AF field size, IS Off and use Burst L with 4FPS. Due to the JPG settings you need to shoot RAW+JPG.
Once you get focus confirmation, keep on shooting and try to remember where your focus field was, because unfortunately it disappears after the first shot. Results do vary with different lenses and focal length (my 45/1.8 is OK, the Panasonic 100-300 is usable up to 150mm, everything above is just pure luck).
I tried this with river surfers, race horses, cars … and while i would never suggest to buy an E-M5 for sports and action shooting, using these settings will help you to capture the occational action shot well enough … although you have to develop the RAW or create another JPG with your default settings afterwards.
Do NOT use C-AF+T (3-D tracking) unless for macro shots. The tracking cannot follow a black horse slowly moving on a green meadow ;-/ With the kit lens in macro mode, the tracking plus IBIS works amazingly well.
Regarding face detection and (any kind of) eye priority: You need to wait until a small green rectangle appears around the eye, otherwise the camera will try to simply focus on the face.
Thanks for the tips on the C-AF…I’ll have to give them a try. As to the flash underexposure, it’s an issue when bouncing flash. I’ve confirmed the behavior with a professional portrait photographer who uses the E-M5 in her work…same behavior with different a different flashgun.
I’ve taken side by side shots with the same flash on my E-M5 and on my GX1, and I always shoot manual for flash. The GX1 needed +2/3 stop of FEC for a good exposure on that scene, while the E-M5 needed +2 on the FEC dial to bring exposure up to where it was.
It doesn’t seem to present itself for direct flash as much.
As to the small rectangle on face detect. I’m aware of that, though the thing is, it takes so long to appear on a 3/4 turned subject that it might as well be useless. I find it curious that it defaults deeper into the photo instead of taking the closest contrast in the focus point as well. Ultimately, it’s not a major issue, but it is something I noticed.
Regarding the flash underexposure: Why manual exposure only? Did you ever try TTL with an external strobe? Same behaviour?
BTW: I just spent the weekend in a studio, shooting manual with Richter strobes. Same exposure settings for the E-M5 as with the D700 and D3 (at ISO 200), resulting in equally well lit pictures. According to your experience and your pro photographer friend, my E-M5 should have required different settings. This is strange.
It’s only for TTL flash exposure on bounced flash from a shoe mounted flash. Manual settings on strobes would of course be unaffected. Try putting an Olympus-compatible TTL shoe mount flash and use bounce flash. Those are the conditions seen with regular underesposure.
I have not seen anything with external strobes, as when I use studio strobes (well, in my case, stand mounted flashguns triggered by PC cord with a sync socket in the hotshoe), I use the strobes in manual mode, which of course would yield the same settings on the E-M5 as on any other camera.
Great review – thank you! I have a GX1 and was wondering whether you think the E-M5 should replace it, be a worthwhile addition or whether I should hold off and see what firmware or hardware improvements are made. Your advice is greatly appreciated. (I primarily shoot jpegs and that is why I am interested in switching.)
That’s such a personal choice. I would say that due to its quirks, I’d try and handle one before buying. Some people have really not taken to the handling, though my hands fell very naturally on it, and it felt great, but it’s definitely personal. The E-M5 has more external control possibilities than the GX1, though the GX1’s touch screen is better laid out. Image quality is better on the E-M5, autofocus is a little more precise on the GX1. If I could only keep one, I’d keep the E-M5, primarily for the outstanding IBIS and the wider dynamic range, but I’m glad I have both, as the GX1 is a stellar camera in its own right.
Thanks for your thoughtful reply Jordan. I just handled an OM-D today and I loved the way it felt. I decided to take your sage advice and order one, while holding onto my GX1 as well. They seem like different cameras with different strengths and in time, I hope to be able to know what works best for any given situation. I’ve been using my GX1 to take pictures of my kid’s lacrosse games with the Olympus 40-150 and I’m amazed at how sharp the images are. The GX1 has almost instantaneous AF. If the OM-D can come close, I’ll be happy.
Thanks again for your help and your review.
Great review, thank you! I strongly support your “bracketing” complaint.
In that same vein, one thing I would really like is to have the 4 “MySets” accessible and selectable from a handy programmable button. At the moment they are a complicated menu dive to change to/from.
Thanks so much for your review! It strikes the perfect balance between an enjoyable read and detailed specs. I’ve read a lot of E-M5 reviews, but I still learned several things by reading yours. Thanks for your insights.
I have one small question. What memory card are you using? I became curious after reading what you experienced when using burst mode: “One of the biggest hurdles I’ve faced with my Panasonic GH2 or GX1 is that when you fill the buffer you can sometimes have to wait for a second or two until you can take another shot. This has never happened to me with the E-M5, even when rattling off shot after shot.”
I’m using Kingston class 10 cards right now. They’re not the fastest thing in the world, but they do the job. I’ve heard reports that the E-M5 improves further the faster card you can get, but so far I haven’t had any issues in speed at all (as I wrote) with my E-M5.
Thanks for writing up this excellent frank review. It has been one of the most useful one I’ve read – You should consider posting a vid on youTube.
It puts the camera in a real world context with some excellent sample images. The asking price on this camera is high. HIGH – you wonder if any residual sensor format reservations would disappear if the price came down 25%? – but this review goes someway to explaining the price of admission. Cheers and thanks.
Thankyou for a very informative review with some interesting insights. I especially enoyed the last sentance. Together with Steve Huff’s review I would rank this the best E-M5 review so far, and I’ve read all I can find in English, Swedish and German…
I’ve tried a couple of E-M5 bodies at an electronics fair back in the early spring and my desire to upgrade has not exactly decreased since. I find myself reaching for my m4/3 camera (presently E-P3, formerly E-PL1/E-PL2) more and more, m4/3 is such a nice and handy format.
I seldom use my full frame Canon 5D II anymore as it is huge, heavy and has no touch screen which I find to be a wonderful way of composing and selectively focusing. I still cannot seem to take the big step and sell off my Canon gear even though it would be good for my personal finances. Sometimes I crave for the ultra thin DOF I can get with my f/1.2 L lenses. I tried several MF lenses on adapters for m4/3 (like FD 50/1.2 L, FD 55/1.2 ASPH) but MF just isn’t for me.
Compared to the E-P3, which I enjoy a lot, Olympus seems to have fixed almost all of my concerns. The important improvements over E-P3, for me, are:
– Less noise at high ISO
– Better dynamic range
– Tiltable screen
– Better video output (there is a lot of jelly effect in many situations using E-P3)
The least important improvement over E-P3, for me, is:
– Built-in viewfinder (I bought, tried and sold the VF-2 which I guess is about the same quality – I simply do not use viewfinders much and enjoy composing using the screen on the back). I would have preferred the camera without the hump and smaller in size. Maybe I will change my mind on this topic when I upgrade to OM-D.
– Only one and not a big one at that. I would prefer to have a built-in flash rather than a clip-on. Something I can have as a backup or use in contra-light situations and most importantly – never forget to bring!
I think you’ve made typo: “AEL/AFL” not “AEL/FEL”. No FEL in Olympus sadly. You got me excited for few secs 🙁
I have a gx1 + 25mm f1.4 dg and I need this awesome camera !
Great camera all around. I have is already for 2 weeks and I`m very happy with my purchase. The video quality is also great. Good job Olympus.
Jordan, thanks for a great review. I’ve now bought the OMD EM5 and wondered what you’d recommend for a lens converter to use my Canon EF 50mm 1.4 and 70-200mm 2.8? Should I spend extra on an adapter with built-in iris (around £80 in the UK) or just go for a Fotodiox £26 one with no iris? Any advice much appreciated.
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Johan, how on earth do you manage to focus and compose in bright sunlight outside WITHOUT using a viewfinder?
I’m curious because i’ve never been able to manage it. The EVF is one of the major reasons I like this camera ( though there are a lot of others) A camera with no built in finder is pretty useless for outdoor work.You simply cannot see the image in bright sunlight. If you can you must be Superman or have some strange Star Trek type shielding device that keeps sunlight from reflecting on your screen or..you are a vampire and you avoid daytime and only take pictures outside at night!
Jordan what a nice review of the E-M5! I’m too a happy owner of this little gem + 3 excellent primes 14/2.5, 20/1.7 & 45/1.8. 90% of shots up to now have being made with the 20/1.7 and the sharpness, the contrast, the colors I get out of the raw files are amazing for a m4/3 system! I believe the most pioneering feature of the OM-D is the 5-Axis IS system! I manage to take impressively sharp images at 20mm, f/1.7, 1/5s, ISO 200!
Helpful information. Fortunate me I discovered your
web site unintentionally, and I’m shocked why this coincidence didn’t happened earlier!
I bookmarked it.
Excellent site you have here but I was curious if you knew of any discussion boards that cover the same topics talked about in this article?
I’d really love to be a part of online community where I can get responses from other experienced people that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Bless you!
Great review & so happy you had some amazing close-up bird shots as samples. Currently I’m still using a Panasonic GH1 & was going to switch to a serious consumer/prosumer DSLR but was v disappointed with the Pentax K30. Now decided to go to the EM5 based on all the great reviews incl yours. My passion is internat’l birding so the 3/4 cameras small size/wt are really appreciated.
Back to those bird shots: I’m a serious birder who will go for bird “grab shots” when I think I have a chance (as opposed to sitting for hours taking 100s of shots). Nonbirders may not realize that being a birder is v different from being a bird photographer. I’ve gotten many lucky bird shots w/the GH1 (& lots of throwaways of course) but v excited that I will likely do much better w/the EM5. I like doing some macro work as well as landscapes, even some artsy/fartsy stuff (I used to do film incl my own B&W developing–ah, the memory of the smell of fixer under red light!) so I ask a lot from a camera.
My specific question in this rambling, if you choose to answer, is I noticed you used a Canon FD 50-300mm f/4.5L lens for your lovely bird portraits. What adapter will I need to use this lens I choose to blow the big bucks for it?? Did you have to use a tripod to get these shots?
Many thx–hope you can answer.
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Hello Jordan, can you tell me if the org em5 can magnify the image in the viewfinder in review image mode, like my panasonic G5,? or can it only magnify on the LCD in review image mode?