Olympus OM-D the good and not so good

Olympus OM-D at Yodobashi Camera - Osaka, Japan

Olympus OM-D at Yodobashi Camera – Osaka, Japan

I’m sure most serious micro 4/3 shooters have looked at or considered the new Olympus OM-D. I certainly have. For those who are unfamiliar, the OM-D E-M5 (a stupid name, in my opinion, why not call it the OM-D5?) is Olympus’ newest and highest end camera. I’ve played with the camera a couple of times in Austin and in Japan all the camera stores have it on display. I saw multiple OM-Ds tethered safely to the table at the big camera stores such as Yodobashi and Bic. You are free to play with the cameras for hours if you desired. I’ve slipped into these camera stores in multiple cities for some relaxation time and for some future equipment dreaming — do I really want to get yet another Olympus micro 4/3 camera? Logically, when thinking of spending $1000+ on yet another camera, you start thinking if it’s worth the expense. What additional capabilities will this camera give me that I don’t already have? Readers of this blog might remember that I already own 3 Olympus cameras as well as a Sony NEX-5 and a Canon 7D. Do I really need another camera? No. But do I want another camera? Maybe.

There are many reviews of OM-D E-M5 out there and the camera has received accolades from all the reviews I’ve read. Some people have said it’s the best micro 4/3 camera out there, and equal to the best mirror-less cameras from any manufacturer. From the research I’ve done, the Olympus now has RAW high ISO image quality that is on par with my Canon 7D. The JPEG quality is even better. Most say the dynamic range is better than the Olympus E-P3 that I currently use and the high ISO quality seems to be at least 1 stop better. So getting decent quality images at ISO 3200 would certainly be exciting to me. In addition, the 5 axis advanced image stabilization will also help for those low light shots as well as for video. There are a host of other features that seem neat. I like the tilting LCD screen. I have one on my Sony NEX-5 and I really like the feature. However, as cool and feature packed as this camera is, I’ve noticed a few things that are less than stellar. With all the positive reviews, here is an alternate perspective. Negative observations that I’ve made that aren’t show stoppers but do take a bit of the shine off the camera, at least for me.

Size and Design

The OM-D5 is a really small camera. My first reaction when I saw it in person is that it looked toy like. Toy like, not in build, but in size. The design mimics a classic SLR but since it’s smaller it just looks unexpectedly strange. The OM-D is about the same size as the E-P3 except for the pentaprism mimicking hump that contains the EVF. For people who have no history with the original Olympus OM SLR, the design reference of the OM-D might be lost. While the sculpted and distinctive look of the OM-D is neat, especially compared to the boring, generic, black and lumpy DLSR designs, ultimately I think the OM-D design is a bit contrived. I prefer the simplicity and the smooth lines of the Olympus PEN line, much more. The button placement on the OM-D is also very cramped. The play and function 1 buttons, in particular, feel like they were added as an afterthought; they are hard to press. Despite being about the same size, I find that the E-P3 buttons are better placed. I also wish the E-M5 retained the same control wheel as the E-P3, that way there is an interface consistency for people who are moving up from the PEN line. Also with a control wheel, instead of arrows, the E-M5 would have 3 controllable dials like the Sony NEX-7 Tri-navi interface. That would be the ultimate in flexibility and quick access.

I find it easier to grip the E-P3 compared to the E-M5, though the hard rubber thumb rest on the E-M5 is well placed. Many reviewers highly recommend the optional $300 2 piece grip that does make the camera a lot easier to hold. However, for me, one of the main reasons for moving to the mirrorless camera design is to have a small camera. I’m loathed to add grips that makes the camera larger and paying an extra $300 for the privilege.

EVF and Flash Placement

While the EVF (Electronic View Finder) placement in the center hump nicely mimics a traditional SLR, I find that the hump adds enough bulk to make it tight in my camera bags. When the separate flash is added, the bulk increases even more. I rarely use flash and usually only in emergencies. Because of this, I’ll probably use the camera with the flash detached but I will inevitably be out of luck for the rare times I need to use it. The Sony NEX-5 also has a separate detachable flash and I find it a pain to keep around. One more thing that can be misplaced or gets in the way. On the E-P3, the small flash folds into the body so it is always available. I wish that the EVF was placed similar to the Sony NEX-7 and the flash was designed to pop up. You can see that the Sony NEX-7, even with a larger APS-C sensor, is smaller than the Olympus OM-D. So if Olympus wasn’t trying to go retro, they probably could have built this thing with a flush top that contained a viewfinder and a flash.

Proximity Sensor and Touch screen

I really like the articulated LCD design. I can also imagine using the touch screen and the tilted out LCD to shoot at waist level. However, I’ve noticed that when I do this, my finger accidentally triggers the proximity sensor of the EVF and the entire LCD turns off. With practice, I may be able to use the tilted touch screen without running a foul of the proximity sensor but this is something I’ve noticed when playing with the camera.

Camera Color

Both the retro silver or the black versions of the OM-D look terrific when you only look at the body, however, when you add a lens and the mismatch begins. In general, I think the retro silver body integrates better with the selection of lenses, but, for some strange reason Olympus’ lenses come in different shades of silver. Compare the silver color of the Olympus 45mm f1.8 and it is a different silver color from the Olympus 12mm f2.0. And I think the 17mm f2.8 might yet be another slightly different color. I don’t think it is an issue of plastic vs metal build since I’m sure either material can be made to match each other in color. Look at the metal silver color of the OM-D body, it is a different color from the metal 12mm lens and more similar to the color of plastic 45mm. You play a premium price for a magnesium bodied camera and a nice metal lens and the colors don’t match. I’ve looked at the camera with these lenses and the mismatched shades of silver just don’t look right. It’s the little aesthetic details that are important and Olympus does not have details right. Keep in mind that these devices are sold to photographers, people who are especially in tune with color. Color mismatch is not a good thing.

It may be a bit better with the black version but here there are also design issues, I think. The black OM-D body, unlike the E-P3, is almost entirely black. There are a few shiny accents on the top control wheel but that’s about it. When you add a silver lens to the black body, I think it looks disjointed. There is too much of a contrast between the all silver lens and the all black body. On the my black E-P3, there are a considerable number of silver accents that better integrates with a silver lens. There is a silver or chrome accent that runs around the perimeter of the camera, for example. Am I being too picky here, perhaps. But I cite Apple as an example; a very successful company with a great design sense. If Apple made cameras, do you think they would make lenses with multiple shades of silver or camera bodies that didn’t exactly match camera lenses?


Despite some of my negative observations, there is no question that the OM-D EM-5 is a fantastic camera. None of my picky design “complaints” are show stoppers that would prevent me from getting the camera. It’s just that it makes a terrific camera a bit less perfect in my eyes. Of course nothing is perfect and my “complaints” may be a non-issue for you; just me being over picky. What makes the OM-D purchase question more enticing is that I now have the funds to purchase one, if I desired. With all of its features, I know that if I get the OM-D I would create better quality photographs however, it will not make me a better photographer. Yes, my technical image quality will increase but it would not improve my “vision” for my photography. So is it worth paying the big bucks for yet another camera? Good question. I’ve decided to think about this some more.

There are rumors of a E-P4 coming out in the August to September timeframe. I will see what Olympus does with this new PEN. If they add the same sensor and the 5 axis IS that is in the OM-D, maybe I’ll get another PEN instead. The smaller form factor maybe more to my liking. Time will tell. My next big trip is scheduled for the East Coast at the end of the year. That would be a perfect time to get another camera, if I decide to pull the trigger.

I took this photograph with my Olympus E-P3 with the Panasonic Lumix 14mm f2.5. Please make sure to click on a photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.

See more images taken with the Olympus E-P3 at mostlyfotos, my one photograph per day photo blog.

6 thoughts on “Olympus OM-D the good and not so good

  1. “The JPEG quality is even better. Most say the dynamic range is better than the Olympus E-P3 that I currently use…”

    Wow I might even be tempted to shoot some jpegs here, although I would likely feel naked. I get sort of a queasy feeling when I shoot only jpegs, probably stemming from past retouch horror stories of client supplied jpegs.

    I heard the PEN 4 rumors – cool. I heard they are discontinuing the E-PL , mashing it with the P, and then they’ll have the junior model I guess. This makes a lot of sense to me, as quite awhile back I did a blog post on the confusion of the PEN line with the multiple models. The confusion actually kept me from buying for a long time. When I tried to do research on the models, I found blogs that actually had the incorrect photo of the camera they were writing about. I finally threw my arms up in disgust and let it go.

    Loving the E-PL1 I have, in fact am about to buy another body here. I lent the E-PL1 to my dad and he can deal with it, so going to buy a cheap body and slap on the 14-42 which I never use and let him have it.

  2. Libby, I think combining the 3 PEN models into 2 is a good idea. I always thought three models in that price range was too much and too confusing.

    E-PL1 is still a fantastic camera. I look both of mine and addition to the E-P3 to Japan. At $150 per body, I can’t think of any camera that has a better price to image quality ratio.

  3. My goodness! When you ride a bicycle do you complain about the handlebars not being in the same silver as the logo on the saddle ,or whinge about ..”if only they had designed the grips differently and made them 1″ shorter I could have fitted my bike computer perfectly so in just this position?” and so on. Consumers have become so spoiled that they want their cameras to be dressed like a beauty queen. Why not just get the camera ( or not ) learn how things work, accept that some things will be in places you wouldn’t have put them IF you were designing the camera, ( It wasn’t custom designed just for you by the way ) and get on with the business of taking photos!
    Almost half the content of your post sounds like…this camera doesn’t match my T-shirt!
    I hope OLYMPUS never designs cameras for people like you.
    When you get over your aesthetic paranoia you might find like many photographers ( even Pros ) that the OM-D EM-5 ( they can call it whatever they like) is one of the best cameras out there ever!…even if YOU think it isn’t as pretty as your EP-3.
    By the way why is OMD- EM5 stupid as a name but PEN EP-3 is ok? After all. it’s NOT a pen is it!

    1. Stef, thank for your visit and comment. I appears that the aesthetic design is not as important to you, and that is fine. It is for me.

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