Hands-on with the Olympus OM-D E-M5: the most retro digi cam ever

If there is one trend sweeping the camera world, it's going mirrorless and designing hardware that looks and feels like the film cameras your parents owned. We didn't think Olympus could top its PEN E-P3 Micro Four Thirds camera, but they just did.

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 takes its styling after the company's OM film cameras from the 1970s. Light, strong and — most important — fast, the E-M5 feels like a digital camera you'll want to keep until you're old or pass on to your kid, and that's a weird feeling to get from digital.

The E-M5 is the first in what Olympus hopes is a family of OM-D series of digital cameras based on its enduring optical heritage. The reality is that the E-M5 is more akin to the E-5 DSLR tossed under a shrink ray.

The Muscles Behind The Body

From my brief handling, the E-M5 felt very comfortable thanks to its strong-but-light magnesium alloy body and grippy faux-leather adornment. Being dust and splash-proof doesn't hurt when protecting against the weather and elements, either.

The real magic is the power the E-M5 packs. It has 16.1-megapixels on a Live MOS sensor, shoots 1080i HD video and has enough buttons and dials to satisfy old-timers.

On the back is a bright three-inch OLED touchscreen that seems to be ripped right off the E-P3, but now it tilts out like on the E-PL3 (80-degree tilt).

While I didn't get to test it, Olympus states the E-M5 can shoot at ISO 25,600 (extremely low light) without much noise. I'll reserve final judgment for when I can really play with the E-M5, but if it really can output artifact-free pictures at even 6,400 without losing any quality, I'll already be impressed.

SNAP SNAP SNAP SNAP SNAP

The E-M5 is a continuous shooting monster. It can shoot at nine frames per second, which makes all the difference when you want to capture fasting moving action. It would be perfect for taking pictures of sports or snapshots of your fidgety kids and pets. You have to hear this thing on burst-mode — it sounds like a machine gun.

Coupled with a fast 35-points of autofocus and five-axis image stabilization, the E-M5 also eliminates the rolling shutter (jello effect) that's been problematic on small digital cameras. While I'm sad to leave behind the cool effect it produced, I'm glad it's fixed. Now I won't have to stabilize my video clips during the post-production process.

What You See Is Exactly What You Get

On most digital cameras, if you don't go high-end, you won't get a "What You See Is What You Get" (WYSIWYG) viewfinder. Low-end DSLRs only provide a 95 to 97 percent viewfinder coverage, which means your actual photo will have more than what you framed in the optical viewfinder.

To get a 100 percent viewfinder on a mirrorless camera, an electrical viewfinder (EVF) is needed. Essentially, the EVF is a tiny little screen that mirrors your larger screen. It seems negligible or pointless to a point-and-shooter type photographer, but it's invaluable for a real camera buff, as it can help block out the sun and provide better photo composition. Because the EVF is mirroring the screen display, you get a 100 percent viewfinder, which is fantastic.

The EVF on the E-M5 is built-in and centered with the screen, making the camera feel perfectly balanced with one and two hand use (unlike on other mirrorless cameras where the EVF is often squeezed onto the far left). A nice touch is that it also has a proximity sensor inside, so when you bring the EVF up to your eye, it flicks on, and when you bring it down, it turns off. It's little details like that that make you smile when you handle the E-M5.

Premium Gear With Premium Pricing

Here's the part where you cry. The E-M5 comes in black and silver bodies and starts at $1,000 (body-only), $1,100 with a M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm kit and $1,300 with a M.Zuiko Digital 12-50mm. Optional camera grips (with extra shutter button) and battery packs are available too, if you want to get real serious with the E-M5. Of course, lest you forget, the E-M5 is also compatible with all existing Micro Four Thirds lenses. You won't have a hard time finding lenses to fit your shoots.

Those looking for a built-in flash won't find one on the E-M5 (sold separately as an attachable). I know, it feels like step back from the PEN E-P3's built-in pop-up flash, but for what the camera is — a rugged pro-grade camera without the weight — you'd probably be better off buying an external flash that's more powerful anyway.

At over $1,000, the E-M5 deservedly slots in between the Nikon V1/PEN E-P3 and Sony NEX-7.

I only had a chance to toy with it for a few minutes, but I can already tell the E-M5 will be one of the slickest mirrorless cameras to come out this year. Look for this guy to hit stores in April.

Via Olympus

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