OMG…It’s an OM-D – *Warning. Geeky camera review follows….

1/4000 sec @ F5.0 iso 200. 45mm Olympus.

1/4000 sec @ f1.8 iso 200. 45mm Olympus

Actually, it’s an Olympus OM-D E-M5….sexy name no ?

I’ve taken to calling it the OMG….

Now, I’m not one to do a review about a camera, even less so of a stills camera, but I feel like I need to shout about this one.  It’s really changed the way that I take photos on set.  And that to me is really interesting.  it’s not that it’s a *better* camera as such…It’s just enable me to photograph in a different way.

1/500 sec @ f1.8 iso 200. 45mm Olympus

1/1250 sec @ f2.8 iso 200. 45mm Olympus

1/500 sec @ f2.5 iso 1250. 45mm Olympus

First, the backstory…

Olympus….why ???

I’ve been using this most uncool camera brand since they first started making digital SLR cameras.  In my line of work as a cinematographer, Canon dominates. And if you’re an outsider, maybe you use Nikon.   And it’s easy to see why.  Canon, with their 5Dmk2 made it easily and affordable to get large sensor video. So it’s an easy choice for a cinematographer.

1/200 sec @ f 2.8 iso 1600. 45mm Olympus.

I think I’m the only DOP in Sydney that DOESN”T have a 5 or 7D canon.

But I use my camera to take photos, not to also shoot video.  And that’s a really important distinction to make.

I bought my very first digital stills camera wayyyy back in 2004.  It was an Olympus E1.  Until then I was a Contax film man.    Back then it was the first digital camera I’d used that actually behaved like a *real* camera.  There wasn’t a long delay between taking a picture and the picture being taken and it had a fantastic Kodak sensor.

In a time when people didn’t even think to ask where the sensor came from, the Olympus produced magnificent colours and seemed to punch above it’s weight for a 5mp camera.

1/60 @ f5. iso 200. 45mm Olympus

1/100 sec @ f1.8 iso 200. 45mm Olympus

1/320 @ f3.2 iso 1600 45mm Olympus

1/1250 @ f1.8 iso 400. Olympus 45mm

1/160 @ f2.2. iso 1600. 45mm Olympus

And it was a tank.  I have seriously abused that camera and it never stopped working.  I managed to break few bits off it, but I still use the camera today and it still takes some great shots.

In late 2010, I bought another Olympus, the E5.  Like the E1, it was a serious tank of a camera.  You could easily use it to pound in tent pegs.

I also went mad and bought a lot of expensive Olympus SHG lenses.  These lenses are simply optically extraordinary.  They are also, like the E series Olympus cameras, pretty much waterproof.   At the time it seemed like a good idea.  I’d also bought two Panasonic AF100 video cameras for use on the second series of the TV series Offspring.  On the first season we’d used the 5Dmk2 and I wasn’t happy with the results we were getting, and so I switched to AF100 cameras.

To go with the AF100, I also bought two m4.3 lenses, the Panasonic Lumix 30mm F1.7 and the Panasonic Lumix 14mm F2.5, both of which work on the OM-D.

1/60 sec @ f2.5 iso 640. 14mm Lumix

1/320 sec @ f5.6 iso 200. 14mm Lumix

1/800 sec @ f2.8 iso 200. 45mm Olympus

The AF100 was a m4/3 camera and I could use my new SHG 4/3 lenses on it, and get a little rental on it so it seemed like a great idea.

So on set I’ve been dragging my huge but magnificent 4/3 camera around.  The E5 is a great camera but it started to suddenly be a pain because, the thing is actually not much smaller than a 5D.  With an SHG lens and a battery grip, I was suddenly carrying something that was as large as the camera of the on set stills photographer !

Not only that but it was becoming intimidating.  I could sense people’s discomfort as I lifted the big 35-100 F2 Olympus zoom to grab a shot.  There’s nothing discrete about this rig.

Mainly I try to steal a shot just before we go for a take and I’ll just throw the camera at my assistant as we roll up.  But it’s hard to fly under the radar with an E5 and SHG lenses.  Despite the original promise of 4/3, they just haven’t ended up that small.

1/60 sec @ f 1.8 ISO 1000. 20mm Lumix

In pre production for a new series with director Glendyn Ivin, I began to realize that I really wanted to have a camera that would be as discrete as his beautiful Leica M9/M8 kit.

1/100 sec @ F1.8, ISO 200. 45mm Olympus

Glendyn takes some magnificent photographs and whilst I’m sure the Leica helps, he has a great eye and the M series form factor certainly helps his shooting style. For a crazy moment I thought about just buying an M series.  But they are astronomically expensive.  I’m not quite ready to spend that kind of outlay, and I also saw some of the limitations of the camera.  It certainly isn’t very good in low light or even, dim light.

1/1250 sec @F1.8 ISO200. 20mm Lumix

I’d thought about going for a m4/3 camera like the Panasonic GH2.  It would be able to use my 4/3 lenses with an adaptor but the camera hadn’t impressed me much for it’s feel and usability.

I then started hearing rumors about a new Olympus. And while I had looked at a PEN, they had always seemed a little *toy* for me.  But a new m4/3 camera was on it’s way.

The OM-D E-M5.

Supposedly the first of a range of new m4/3 cameras discreet from the PEN series Olympus cameras, the OM D is a total joy.  It’s almost too small for me to use and I was worried about the size with my big chunky man hands, but as it turns out it’s perfect.

This is also the first camera that I’ve had with an electronic viewfinder.  I’ve always been a bit suspicious, which is kind of dumb.  As a DOP, I’ve been looking at electronic viewfinders for almost all of my career.

The viewfinder is great and I had a nice “ah ha” moment when I realised I could very easily customise what was actually displayed in the viewfinder.  You can have info displayed across the bottom or overlaid over the image itself.  I chose the former as I preferred a less cluttered image for composing.

1/320 sec @ f2 iso 200. 45mm Olympus

1/200 sec @ f1.8 iso 800. 20mm Lumix

1/200 sec @ f1.8 iso 800. 20mm Lumix

1/160 @ f1.8 iso 1600. 45mm Olympus

The screen on the back is nice but I’ve been preferring to use the viewfinder.  I still like composing in this way.  It’s nice to have the live view option, but in truth I rarely use it.

And the other upside to using an EVF is that you get exposure information without having to take a shot.  I’m so used to taking a shot, looking at the shot back with a histogram and then adjusting exposure.  The exposure info in the viewfinder means I can check BEFORE i take the first shot.  A great time saver for me.

The AF is crazy fast.  I’ve been mainly using the 45mm 1.8 Olympus I bought with the camera.  I’ve also been using the Panasonic 20mm 1.7 and the Panasonic 14mm 2.5 as well, and they aren’t quite as snappy, but they are certainly fast enough.

1/4000 @ f3.2 iso 200. 100mm 35-100 F2 SHG.

I have also been using my SHG lenses with the adaptor.  Whilst it’s nice to be able to put some of these fine lenses on the body, it’s borderline unusable for AF to me and they don’t seem to focus as accurately.  I certainly seem to have more mis-focused shots with the SHG lenses on.  I mainly shoot people and the AF is just not reactive enough.  For more static subjects it can work OK if you don’t mind the delay and that’s not as important.

1.2500 @ f 4 iso 200. 93mm 35-100 F2 SHG

After my fist outings with the 4/3 lenses on I realised how high the AF success rate was for the camera when using the m4/3 lenses.  Mostly it nails the AF each time and it also seems to pick what I want.

1/500 sec @ f2.2 iso 800. 20mm Lumix

I have been using the face recognition system and was even more perplexed to see you can even specify eyes, and even WHICH eye…right eye or left eye !!

I turned it on, not expecting it to work, but I have to say, I’ve never had a such a high proportion of in focus and with exactly the right bits in focus shots out of any camera.

1/320 @ f2.2 iso 800. 45mm Olympus

So now I leave it with face recognition on and eyes selected.  What I still haven’t really worked out is how that interacts with the AF pattern as I move it around.  So I can move the AF selection area around, but then it still picks up faces as well.  I thought for a while it would preference the face if it was close or within the AF target I’d chosen, but now I’m not so sure.  Let me know if you know the answer to this.

1/80 @ f1.8 iso 3200. 45mm Olympus

I actually pre-ordered the HLD-6 grip as well, assuming I’d want it for use with the 4/3 lenses and to bulk the camera up.  It took a couple of weeks to show up and I was forced to use the camera without it.

I have to say the grip is now staying off the camera mostly. The thing is so small, I can easily carry it around.  I’m taking a lot more shots because I actually have the camera with me.  I’m shooting though entire takes with it on my shoulder.  It’s no issue at all to have it on my person all the time.

And that’s what’s really exciting about this camera.

it’s a very capable camera image wise, that’s built robustly enough for me to not care too much about it getting a few knocks and it’s fast enough for me to shoot with very quickly and it’s really discrete. I’ve noticed my subjects don’t tend to have the same uneasy reaction as when I pull out the big bertha.

I haven’t turned on my E5 for a few weeks now.  I almost started thinking about selling it.  I won’t for the moment though because it works so well with the SHG lenses and this is one of the OM D’s few shortcomings.

And while we’re at it…the battery sucks.  It doesn’t last me the day at all.  It seems to be good for 300-350 shots.  I guess i’d be OK with this but I can’t even buy a second battery for it at the moment as Olympus Australia seem to be out of stock of them.  I’ve ordered three more !!

One other very very slight issue I’ve noticed as well is that it seems to me there could be a teeny tiny less latency between a button push and a shot being taken.  A few times I’ve gone for the *moment* to find I’m a bit late with the shot.  I’ve adjusted to try and anticipate a little, but it would be nice if the shutter realise was a little more reactive.

I’ve also been stumped a few times when the eye sensor of the VF seems to mistake my hand on the touch screen as I review images.  As I’m scrolling images it suddenly blacks the screen and switches the viewfinder on.  Annoying.

Now, the shots….

I’ve been using Lightroom and they often come in looking so good, i really don’t know what else to do in terms of grading.  I’ve been shooting RAW and going as high as ISO 3200.  They’re pretty useable up to that range and the sensor seems to have a lot more DR than my E5.  I haven’t done any empirical testing but it’s able to cope with high contrast scenes very nicely.

RAW from camera. 1/1600 @ f2.8 iso 1600. 45mm Olympus.

Graded in Lightroom.  note how much highlight detail was recovered.

I haven’t used any of the art or scene modes.  Mostly I actually shoot manual and it’s nice to see those there, but they aren’t my bag.  I like simple.

I’ve been mainly leaving the IS switched ON, even though the purist in me worries about the sensor moving while I’m exposing my shot !  It does seem to do a magnificent job and I haven’t noticed any tradeoffs yet.

1/80 sec @ f1.8 iso 3200. 45mm Olympus

1/15 sec @ f1.7 iso 800. 20mm Lumix

1/6 sec ( handheld ) @ f1.7 iso 3200. 20mm Lumix

Even the video is quite good, but as usual, Olympus have crippled it by only offering 30 FPS.  HELLO OLYMPUS..the rest of the world shoots 25 FPS and 24 FPS !!

1/160 @ f1.8 iso 400. 45mm Olympus

1/250 sec @ f2.8 iso 200. 45mm Olympus

Basically, I’m in love with this camera.  It’s bringing me a lot of joy and what’s more, the fact that i’m carrying it with me everywhere means I’m shooting a lot more as well.  The AF is fast, the little 45mm lens is super sweet and it’s allowing me to shoot in a way that I wasn’t able to before.

No it’s not a Leica M9 and maybe one day I’ll go there, but I really am enjoying this style of shooting.

Go to FLICKR for high res versions of these shots

About johnbrawley

Director Of Photography striving to create compelling images
This entry was posted in Equipment and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to OMG…It’s an OM-D – *Warning. Geeky camera review follows….

  1. Mike N says:

    Wow, I didn’t even read the text just looked at all the great shots and then went straight to google to search for an image of this camera…really want one now…this and a Blackmagic cam 🙂 ! thanks for talking about this.

  2. Sico van der plas says:

    Amazing camera!
    I’m also considering going to Olympus/M43, love their lenses and quality!
    Btw any new Black magic samples soon? it’s been more then 4 weeks!!

  3. Joe says:

    Yes, please some news about the BMD camera. You know, thousands of people are waiting for you 🙂 I check your blog every day for news on BMD

  4. Pingback: Micro Four Thirds Camera Blog – A new review on Olympus OM-D E-M5 - Micro Four Thirds Camera Blog

  5. iwuvwoo says:

    Hey John. Thanks for the review and lovely shots. I too have been finding some latency particularly with the lumix 20mm lens. I’m curious to know if you have found that lens to cause banding noise at higher ISO in low light? I’m wondering if it is a fault of my camera or if this is a problem that can be fixed with a firmware update.

    • johnbrawley says:


      Not really. But i haven’t gone looking for it.

      I goes you’re looking at fixed pattern noise (banding) and any ISO above 3200.

      Are you seeing latency on the shutter release (what i was thinking) or just slower to AF ? Mine does seem slower than the 45mm Olympus.

      • iwuvwoo says:

        Yes, in the shutter release. Also, sometimes it freezes a frame a moment later but the actual shot that was taken is from moment earlier, if that makes sense.

        In certain shadows at 3200 I can definitely see banding noise. Such a shame because I love the 20mm. Looking into a Panny Leica 25mm now as well.

    • johnbrawley says:

      I have the 4/3 version of the panaleica. I’m thinking of also getting the m4/3 version. My 4/3 one is pretty slow to AF.

    • amjad says:

      this just announced
      Olympus statement:

      ‘After checking every possible combination of a body and a lens, we found the phenomena only with this combination (OM-D, E-M5 coupled with the Panasonic 20mm pancake lens). We are continuing to study how we can eliminate this and we recommend for our customers using E-M5 with Panasonic 20mm pancake lens to keep a low ISO to avoid this problem for the time being.’

  6. Freddy Panes says:

    i have a olympus E-500 which fell while i was working on my garage and now it still clicks but doesnt take a shot. will send it to olympus for repair. really i think its cool to pound that olympus of your when pitching your tent.

  7. Nic says:

    John, Great to see a hands-on overview from a pro. I also particularly appreciate the example pics with notes as to how they were shot.

    I have had a Silver OM-D for a week. Oly 45, 12, and Pana 20. I had 2 OMs and an OM3 back in the day (I kept away from the OM4 as I thought it had too much electronics, even the OM3, actually – you could through the OM2 in a river and it would be fine). This is my first foray into digital. I’ve refused to use brick of a camera, or one without an EVF, so that’s been the holdup.

    Also surprised to find that I don’t feel the need to attach the grip. And, like you, I have also found the battery performance to be astonishingly poor; all I am doing is trying to my head around the settings and the two I have are going dead on no time.

    Thanks again.

    • johnbrawley says:

      Hi Nic. Thanks for the comments.

      I’m trying to talk myself out of the 12mm, but I fear it won’t be long till I crack. I’ve ended up using the first little part of the grip, rather than the second part which actually holds the battery.

      I should think the OM D is a pretty nice first foray into digital imaging.


  8. Sugel says:

    I bought this instead of the 14-35mm f2 which costs 4 times as much. I was hoping for the best, and I am blown away with this 14-54mm. Its incredibly sharp, a lot faster than the GH1 stock lens, and a generous zoom range. In general, the quality is as good as any of the best lenses I have. The manual focusing is super smooth, and the near focusing is plenty enough for getting decent macro shots throughout the whole zoom range. The focusing may be a little slower in extremely low light, but most lenses are. I will be using this for stills as well as video, but I’d recommend keeping the camera on a tripod since there’s no image stabilization. Also, you won’t be able to use the on-board camera mic when recording video since this lens is fairly noisy when focusing. Rack focusing has a minimal amount of breathing. Lastly, the lens is not parfocal, but its not horrible either. It just means you need to always re-focus when changing focal length. At the price its going for, this lens is a big bargain.

  9. amjad says:

    how about video on this sweet thing

    • johnbrawley says:

      As I mentioned in the review, video is good but fundamentally crippled by the continuing Olympus decision to only do 30 FPS on all the cameras.

      • amjad says:

        Thank you for the reply, I know this is a difficult question, but what are the odds that Olympus issue a firmware to add 24/25 or 50/60 fps. you seem to suggest they have never offered that before and if on current video spec, does it match or beat the current offerings from established dslr video in terms of colour, sharpness and resolution.
        thankyouverymuch and looking forward to more of your thoughts on the blackmagic cinema cam

      • John Brawley says:

        I’d love them to. I’ve told them for the last 2 years and we still haven’t seen it. I doubt it will come as a firmware update.

  10. Daniel García says:

    Please ask Blackmagic to put a m4/3 mount on their camera!

    Haha sorry for littering your blog but you’re in a special position to do this, and their sensor size would really benefit from mating with some of those lenses.

  11. amjad says:

    HI John
    In view of the popularity of this cam, and your relationship with Oly
    do you think they might relent and issue a firmware to address variable frame rates in video?

    • johnbrawley says:

      Ha ! I wish I had a relationship to Olympus !! Only as a fan of their gear.

      I’ve told them so many times. They just aren’t interested.


      • amjad says:

        hey JB
        just thought I would nag you again on this, given the wide anticipation for the GH3, and the company responding so strongly to indi filmakers by giving them a lot of what they asked for in this new camera, can or will Oly hit back with a firmware to at least increase bitrate and make it a world camera frames wise?

      • amjad says:

        Hey JB
        I did it, despite buying the Nikon D600, I just went for broke and got the OMD, lovely camera, and like everyone says “I take it everywhere with me”.
        I shot a little video test with this cam, knowing that it has limited bitrate and fps issue, this is the result and it’s as shot out of the cam, I’ve made it available as a download too on vimeo,
        I’d be grateful to know your thoughts
        many thanks

  12. Lee Harris says:

    The Em-5 is a delight, just got a second body and extra lenses, selling all my old stuff and committing to it, my bag now weighs 50% less and i have 50% more space for extra flash heads, it also serves as my street camera so now instead of having 4 cameras for personal/pro work i have 2.

  13. Pingback: Olympus comes in from the filmmaking wilderness…. | johnbrawley

  14. Ron coker says:

    This is most interesting.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.