For the past few weeks I have been receiving many questions from you beautiful readers, mostly asking about the rumored Olympus OM-D camera, which has been announced worldwide yesterday. To answer your questions, Olympus Malaysia has invited me for a short “preview” session with them, yes I have seen the camera, which was a pre-production unit and had a very brief encounter with it. Thus I shall share my first impressions with the new Olympus OM-D E-M5 here. No, I have not had the opportunity to do any review or tested the camera yet, because the camera was simply not ready for testing.
All images in this entry are provided by and used with permission from Olympus Malaysia.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Silver Version. What a sexy small beast !!
Firstly, lets talk about the actual size of the camera. The E-M5 is actually 121mm in length, 89.6mm in height and 41.9mm in width (in comparison to Olympus PEN E-P3: 122mm in length, 69.1mm in height and 34.3mm in width). Therefore, E-M5 is only slightly larger than E-P3, but obviously taller due to the built-In EVF. With a magnesium alloy body and full weather sealing, I do think that the size of the camera is relatively small and very reasonable. Any smaller would have made the camera rather uncomfortable or too small to hold, especially handling larger lenses. For some unexplained reasons, the leaked images of E-M5 made it looked a lot bigger than it actually is, probably due to the added on battery grip, which did look clunky and DSLR-like. Take the extra add-on battery grip away and you have really small camera body, far smaller than all DSLR out there, which is the main advantage of using micro 4/3 system: smaller footprint and lighter weight.
OM-D stands for OM Digital, which is an entirely new line of Olympus camera category, and sits on its own separate from the PEN line. However, the Olympus OM-D remains inside the micro 4/3 system family. The camera specification looks really promising. However, do keep in mind that this first OM-D camera is NOT a professional camera model, and should not be treated as such. It is targeted at advanced users and to bridge the gap between the current PEN E-P3 and the flagship DSLR E-5. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 provides the best of both worlds: better image quality, all the advantages of micro 4/3 with super fast autofocus, and the weather-sealing and ruggedness of the Olympus pro-body E-5. You may find the full specification on Olympus’ official website here (click). I shall highlight some of the specifications which I think are important as follows:
1) New 16MP Live MOS sensor:
2) Full Weather-Sealing
3) Built in Electronic Viewfinder
4) New Innovative 5-Axis, and improved 5-Step Built-In Body Image Stabilization
5) Improved Autofocus system (continuous focusing) with 3D tracking
Olympus OM-D EM-5 Rear View
NEW 16MP Live MOS Sensor
The first question which I asked Olympus Malaysia was about the sensor of the E-M5, but no information was officially released regarding the "new" sensor. Surrounding rumors have indicated that there is a possibility of the E-M5's sensor to be identical to the Panasonic GX1 or G3's 16MP sensor, which is still purely a speculation at this stage. If you scrutinize the specifications closely, the Olympus E-M5 has effective pixels of 16.1 MP and sensor photo detectors of 16.9MP, in comparison to Panasonic GX1 that has effective pixels of 16.0 and sensor photo detectors of 16.6MP. Based on this small specification comparison, I am fairly sure that this is a different sensor. Perhaps, more information would be made available in the future, and I believe sooner or later someone will find out who made the sensor.
Over the years, Olympus has made incremental, but significant improvements for their micro 4/3 iterations (especially the much enhanced faster AutoFocus system) but one particular factor which held them down from beating the competition was the sensor. Many may argue that the limitation was due to the sensor size itself (being much smaller than APS-C or full frame), but recent developments in technology have been breaking barriers. Take a look at Pentax K-5, it has a APS-C sized 16MP sensor, but the high ISO shooting and dynamic range actually are on par with full frame cameras, such as the much revered Canon 5Dmk2 (source: DXOmark website). Additionally, many photographers have found out that the notoriously small sized 2.7x cropped sensor for Nikon 1 system can produce very clean and usable high ISO images, not surpassing, but very comparable to micro 4/3 system. This certainly shows how much more potential the sensor used in Olympus camera bodies could have been better.
In this newly launched Olympus OM-D E-M5, Olympus has indeed emphasized strongly on the new 16MP sensor. It is interesting to see that Olympus has broken their limit of 12MP maximum pixel count for their micro 4/3 system, and moving forwards to cater for wider audience demand. More importantly, Olympus claims that the new 16MP sensor is optimized for high dynamic range, and obviously better capabilities when it comes to high ISO shooting. It has ISO range from 200 to 25,600. Olympus also claims that the E-M5 has one full stop of better high ISO handling in comparison to E-P3, and subsequently 1/3 step improvement when it comes to dynamic range. Many people would have scoffed at high ISO numbers on Olympus, but please do not jump into conclusions just yet. I have not personally tested the image output from the E-M5, and have not seen any sample images on computer screen, but lets just wait for more released samples and online reviews. I just cannot wait until I get my hands on the test E-M5 units and do some real world shooting to REALLY see what the camera can do. Exciting times ahead !!
Splash and Dust proof: Weather Sealing on Olympus E-M5
Full Weather Sealing
The one feature that sets this E-M5 apart from other available mirror-less camera system in the market up to date, is weather-proofing. Olympus has been well-known for their capable weather sealing especially on their flagship DSLR E-3 and E-5. Therefore, it was not a surprise that such weather sealing is now available for the micro 4/3 system, enabling the E-M5 to be used even in some harshest shooting conditions like under the rain, or dusty conditions. It is protected against dust and splash, which opens up a lot more shooting possibilities. The body of E-M5 is made of magnesium alloy, and certainly added to the robustness of the camera. As I held the E-M5 in my hands, the overall feel of the body was rather solid and very assuring. I will not as far as to say that the built is similar as the tank-like old film OM metal bodies, but in comparison to any Olympus’ own previous micro 4/3 PEN bodies (such as E-P3), this E-M5 surpasses them all in terms of body built quality.
Electronic Viewfinder, Built-In
After listening to countless complains from everyone, everywhere, about not having a built in viewfinder in their PEN cameras, finally, they squeezed in an electronic viewfinder in the E-M5, with the expense of slight bulk due to the hump on the camera, obviously to house the electronic viewfinder. There is nothing new about the viewfinder, in fact specifications wise it is similar to the 1.44 million dots VF-2, with some improvements and tweaks of course.
Those who have used the VF-2 before would have known how practical the viewfinder was, and how greatly it has improved their overall shooting experience. The viewfinder has 1.15x magnification which was important to increase the viewing size, and at the same time it provides 100% full coverage view for better assuring composition. In comparison to the original separate electronic viewfinder VF-2 which offers only 60Hz refresh rate, this newly tweaked built in viewfinder in the E-M5 goes all the way up to 120Hz, which should produce smoother transitions and more natural movements while shooting through it. Furthermore, the eye point of the viewfinder is 18mm, which is respectable and optimized for comfort of shooting through the viewfinder. (Eyepoint, usually specified in millimeters, is how close you need to get to see the whole viewfinder frame. "High eyepoint," a term coined and popularized by Nikon, means you can hold your eye fairly far away from the eyepiece and still see the viewfinder. It's useful for people who wear eyeglasses, since eyeglasses create a physical barrier between your eye and the eyepiece that keeps them a certain distance apart. Source: www.luminouslandscape.com).
I for one, treasure a fully functional viewfinder. I have always stressed the flexibility and advantages of using an optical viewfinder, especially for my macro shooting needs. Having tried the electronic viewfinder in the E-M5, I must say that it added a lot of possibilities to the camera, than just having to use the monitor screen to compose all the time. On the other hand, the most important advantage that I can think of having a built in viewfinder, is to have the hot-shoe mount on the camera FREE. That means, you can use both the Electronic Viewfinder, as well as the external flash together, something which cannot be done in previous PEN camera bodies, since each VF-2 and external flash units would require the use of the hot-shoe mount on the camera.
If you have tried shooting with high frames per second burst continuous modes on higher level DSLR models such as Canon 7D (8FPS), you will know the limitation on the optical viewfinder, because the mirror flips up and down so fast that it blocks the view through the optical viewfinder, and you cannot see what you are shooting while you are bursting the 8 frames per second all the way. However, the E-M5 does NOT have a mirror, hence you can fully see what’s happening while you are shooting at high speed, even at the 9 frames per second continuous drive mode. Surely, this will be advantageous in many situations where you need to be fully aware of what you are shooting and not doing guess works based on the composition of the first frame. Yes, I have tried the full 9 frames per second shooting on the pre-production E-M5 unit, and I can fully see what I am shooting at all times, while the shutter was machine-gunning away. Now, Olympus, let us have some really great micro 4/3 tele-zoom lenses so we can do sports photography too!!
The NEW 5-Axis Image Stabilization system
The main reason why many people opted for Olympus (DSLR, and the PEN micro 4/3 series) would be due to the built-in body Image Stabilization feature. Having in-body IS means, you get image stabilization with whatever lens you mount on your camera body, and is generally more cost-effective, because lenses do not need to have IS, which would have been more costly to produce. The argument of lens based IS versus in-body IS is never-ending, but one clear advantage of lens based IS is that you can see the effect of the stabilizing effect through the viewfinder, while with the usual in-body IS, you cannot. Interestingly, Olympus has found a way to work around this limitation, and now, for the first time in history, the effect of the in body image stabilization can be fully seen through the electronic viewfinder !!
All the previous Olympus PEN micro 4/3 bodies (E-P3, E-PL3, etc) used in body IS that has only 3 steps shutter speed improvements. However, on this E-M5, it is rated an additional 2 steps improvement, making it an effectively bold 5 steps shutter speed improvement, similar to the flagship DSLR E-5.
The most interesting feature of this new in-body IS is the stabilization working in 5-axis. All previous Olympus cameras only applies stabilization for 2 axis, but the E-M5 now counters the movement in five possible directions: 1) Vertical translational motions 2) Horizontal translational motions 3) Yaw 4) Pitch 5) Rolling . To better describe this new 5-Axis IS system, please refer to the diagram below:
Olympus E-M5's new 5-Axis IS system
Image source: DPreview.com
Image source: DPreview.com
Surely, this IS would benefit the photographer in many situations. The first thing that popped in mind would be how much the more effective it can be for my macro shooting needs, especially dealing with 1 to 1 full image magnification factor in real life, going close up to reveal the details of the insect’s eye. Hand-shake is one of the main concern, and I cannot wait to test how this new IS system can help me to steady my hands even better.
Articulated screen: Tilt up 80 degrees and down 50 degrees
Improved AutoFocus with 3D tracking
I think by now we can all establish that Olympus has clearly improved their AutoFocus, as seen in their Olympus PEN E-P3, and many photographers have been impressed by the speed of the new AF system. The user feedback so far has pointed out that the continuous focusing on the E-P3 still needs a lot of work, and there is no fast tracking feature. These two shortcomings have been addressed in the E-M5, and the improvements were specifically tweaked at the continuous shooting with 3D tracking. For Single-AF option, the reason for the super fast focusing was due to the 120 frames per second image feedback to the AF engine to determine the contrast-detect focus, which produced almost instantaneous focusing. In E-M5, if the Continuous-AF is used, the feedback to the AF engine is DOUBLED up to 240 frames per second, which boosted the speed of continuous tracking and focusing of the subject. I have not tried this feature out, because to be honest, I had the camera in a conventional conference room in the evening, with no fast moving objects to attack. On paper, this improvement seems interesting, but we all know better that nothing can truly tell the capabilities of the camera when it comes to focusing speed and accuracy, if you do not being it out shooting in real world conditions.
Do take note that the high speed burst mode of 9 frames per second only applies to shooting with Single-AF. If continuous AF is enabled, the average shooting speed would be cut down to 4.2 frames per second.
E-M5 with battery grip for comfort, better handling and added function-ability.
Besides the 5 main highlights which I have discussed as above, there are also a few other points about this E-M5 that are worth mentioning:
1) The OLED display with 610k dot resolution and touch capability is the same with the E-P3’s, but it has the same articulated screen mechanism that flips and tilts the screen up and down just like the E-PL3’s.
2) At the top panel of the E-M5, it has dual dials, enabling quick controls of important camera parameters. On top of that, many shortcuts can be performed with these two dials and other quick buttons, such as the control for adjusting the “tone” of shadow and highlight independently, with the live preview effect being seen on the electronic viewfinder.
3) The shutter sound is NEW, and not heard of before. It is audibly softer than E-P3, and sounded more “rounded”, more like “thud” rather than “clank” in the E-P3 or other PEN bodies.
4) New battery, BLN-1 designed specifically for E-M5, with higher capacity in comparison to E-P3. The battery is slightly bulkier than the BLS-1/5, and has capacity of 1220 mA, in comparison to 1150 mA on BLS-1. This I read directly from the battery label itself (please take note that it was in pre-production stage)
Initial impressions with this E-M5, though it was very brief, have been very good. The camera looks very promising. It all comes down to a few things at the end of the day: How the camera performs in the field, will it deliver as it has promised on paper especially in terms of the new 5-Axis IS system and improved Continuous focusing system? And the final image output: are the high ISO performance and high dynamic range improvement made significant?
If all things are going well, I might get a unit for testing, but I was told that will not happen very soon (we are talking about almost a month from now, the soonest). Until then, lets keep our hopes high on what this Olympus E-M5 can bring.
Special thanks to Olympus Malaysia for the small preview session.