Before I explain why I went with the OM-D E-M5, which I will just call OMD EM5 from now on, first let me give a little background story.
I used to be a Nikon DSLR shooter (I still am, but I never use my Nikon gear anymore, so it will go up for sale soon). Then I fell in love with the Fuji X100, especially its design. The Fuji X100 had its quirks but I really liked it because it was fun to use and it got me out there to photograph stuff. I even took up street photography for a while – not an easy task for an introvert like me, especially considering that the X100 had a fixed 23mm lens (35mm full frame equiv.), so you can’t just camp out across the street and shoot people with a 300mm zoom. No, the X100 demanded that you got somewhat up close, luckily the X100 shutter is really quiet so nobody could never hear you take a shot.
After a while, the Fuji X100’s focus issue eventually got to me. I rarely had any misses with it, but the AF was just too slow. On the streets I would use “zone focusing”, which was fun and all, but I eventually I got bothered that it could not have a fast autofocus. And maybe I also got a bit bored by the fixed 23mm focal length, I don’t know.
Anyway, I decided to sell it because I had a feeling Fuji would soon release an upgrade, so I rather sell it while it was still “hot” and get a decent price (soon after Fuji announced X1 Pro, if I remember correctly, although not a direct upgrade to the X100 – the real X100 upgrade came a bit longer there after, the X100S).
I went on to buy a Sony NEX-5N. It had the same APS-C sized sensor as the Fuji X100 (and my Nikon DSLR at the time), so it was quite good. The NEX was smaller than X100 and lacked a viewfinder. For a while it was fun because it was new, but sooner rather than later, I just stopped going out to shoot. It wasn’t fun to shoot with the camera anymore, it was too “pure”, I think. No quirks or lots of buttons and dials to mess with, too much was controlled via the menu system – which bothered me and made too many adjustments too cumbersome because you had to dig down into the menu system to adjust them.
Also, the autofocus on the NEX-5N was not super fast, I was still bothered by the slow AF, although faster than X100, still no where near DSLR standards.
So I decided to do something and I was almost ready to buy the new Sony NEX-6, which had a built-in viewfinder and a faster autofocus thanks to it’s dedicated pixels for “phase detect” to supplement the usual “contrast detect” autofocus found in mirrorless cameras.
And then I found Olympus OMD EM5. I had seen the OMD EM5 in a photo magazine earlier in 2012 when it was announced and I remember thinking “cool, but at that price, no way!”. But now, the camera was over 6 months old, the dust had settled, a few firmware updates had been released. And on the plus side, Olympus claimed “worlds fastest autofocus” back when it was released, and honestly, how much faster does autofocus get in just 6 months? So I was confident that the OMD EM5 would be able to autofocus quick enough for my normal needs (except action shots, mirrorless are just not able to continuos autofocus for that yet, quite as good as DSLR’s). And yes, the OMD EM5 did live up to my autofocus needs – it really is fast.
OMD EM5, design wise, is great. I love the retro design. It’s a different kind of retro than the Fuji X100, and I like both designs. It feels more like a “real” camera. It has multiple dials and is very customizable. With 2 dedicated FN buttons and a record button that can also be customized, plus a FN button on certain lenses also – you can customize a lot with the OMD EM5. Other camera manufacturers could learn a little something there, although it would have been nice to have just one more customizable button on the Olympus.
People say the menu system is complicated. Well, I came from Fuji X100 (people said the same about that menu system), and Sony NEX (again, people said the same there). So I was confident I could handle the OMD EM5 menu system – and I can. It takes a while to learn it, like with most things, but it’s really no big deal. Use it and you’ll learn it.
One downside to OMD EM5 though, is its sensor size. I’m a sucker for a good blurred-out bokeh’licious background. It’s not impossible to achieve that with a micro four thirds (M4/3) sensor, but it’s harder since it’s smaller than the APS-C sized sensor that I’m used to. Performance wise, I think the M4/3 sensor in OMD EM5 lives up to my expectations. Noise wise (ISO performance) it’s almost as good as what I’m used to from Nikon D7000, Sony NEX-5N and Fuji X100. I shoot ISO 3200 on OMD EM5 without hesitating, I will even go to ISO 6400 to get the shot if I have to. Or higher for that matter, I prefer a sharp noisy shot, than a blurred one. You can always convert to black & white and the noise will not matter as much as if it’s in color.
So to sum it all up, why I decided to go with the Olympus OMD EM5 instead of Sony NEX-6:
- I much prefer the OMD EM5’s design, but it’s a matter of taste. For some, design doesn’t even matter.
- It’s weather sealed. I can take it out in the rain/snow and shoot without problems. The NEX-6, not so much. This was a big selling point for me once I learned about the weather sealing – it often rains here, so now that I don’t have to care about that, I can take the camera out even more (also requires the lens to be weather sealed of course, which some of them are).
- Micro four thirds (M4/3) is a big system with lots of cameras and lenses. Just because it’s an Olympus camera doesn’t mean that you can only use Olympus lenses on it. Panasonic M4/3 lenses will also work, plus other brands that are making lenses for that system. There are not nearly as many lenses in the NEX line-up, but the NEX is also able to use legacy lenses (like M4/3 is), with an adapter, and manually focus them.
- OMD EM5 has a better implementation of the two dials. With NEX-6, if you are controlling aperture on one dial, the other dial does nothing. And vice versa. Stupid, Sony! Only in manual mode will you be able to get functions on both dials at the same time, one for aperture and one for shutter. OMD EM5 offers exposure value control on its 2nd dial (you decide which dial is 1st and which is 2nd, that’s nice). It would be better if OMD EM5 would allow you to adjust ISO on the 2nd dial, but alas, it does not – I guess the trees does not grow that far into heaven.
- Great viewfinder!
- Touch to shoot & focus: This is a great feature! Whenever I need somebody else to take a picture with my camera, I just tell them to “touch the screen where you want to focus and it shoots”, people loves it and they always get sharp pictures. With the DSLR or Fuji X100, it was a bit hit & miss. If you never hand out your camera to anybody, this probably doesn’t matter much, but remember that the photographer also needs to be in some of the shoots, otherwise you will sit in 30 years and look back at all the events that “you were not in” because you were not photographed at all.
- Put on the Olympus HLD-6 battery grip and you get twice the battery power, a much better handle, more weight and some vertical controls as well. This does add to the bulk but it’s very useful at times.
I’ve now had the OMD EM5 for six months and I still enjoy it as much as the day I got it. I’m very excited to see what Olympus will bring to the table in terms of a new model to replace OMD EM5 – but I will once again probably wait six months to purchase it, to allow the dust to settle, let the prices drop a little and a couple of firmware updates to come out.
Bonus info: OMD EM5 was also just voted camera of the year 2012 by dpreview users, slightly ahead of the Nikon D800/E.