Sunday 20 May 2012

Street Photography with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 (20/05/2012)

Dear folks,

I don't usually do camera reviews, but seeing how there is a huge buzz around the new Olympus flagship Micro Four Thirds camera I thought I'd do a brief hands on review.

I've had this camera for the past two weeks now and to be honest, I've only shot with it twice. Not because it's not a great camera, or because it's not fun to use, but because I've been way to engrossed with shooting film.

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 with Panasonic 14mm f/2.5 lens
Size and Handling
The first thing you notice about the E-M5 is that film SLR look and style. That being said, it is extremely small and does not really handle like a film SLR. I'm used to shooting with my Nikon FM3A, a typical film SLR and Panasonic GF3, a Micro Four Thirds camera on the smaller end of the size scale.
The E-M5 handles somewhere in between the two. I found I could alternate between the in your face style I adopt with the FM3A, shooting through the electronic view finder, or the stealthy style I use with the GF3, holding your arm out and shooting via the LCD screen.
There are a few annoyances that I have with the handling of the camera. The strap eyelets feel big and get in the way when holding the camera by the grip. It's definitely going to annoy you, especially if you're using a neck strap. I haven't tried the camera out with a wrist strap yet, and maybe this will help.
My second moan about the handling is with the EVF sensor. It's simply too slow to react to street shooting. I found myself raising the camera to my eye and waiting for the EVF to switch on, and by the time it did my subject had moved, or reacted to having a camera shoved in their face and turned around. This resulted in a few missed shots. You can get around this issue by switching the sensor off and having the EVF always on, but it's not ideal as it probably the battery life negatively.

E-M5 + Panasonic/Leica Summilux 25mm f/1.4, ISO 250, 1/500sec
Performance and Image Quality
The performance is where this camera really shines.
It's image stabilisation is brilliant. I can often shoot at around 1/4sec to 1/6sec at up to a focal length of 50mm (100mm in 35mm eqv.). Although in street photography terms, there's no real advantage as most people don't shoot slower than 1/250sec. Having said that, it's great for street portraits as it gives you enough stabilisation to shoot at around 1/60s with a 25mm lens.
Another clear advantage of this camera over any other Micro Four Thirds camera is the image quality. It produces unbelievable clean and sharp RAW files at base ISO (ISO 200) all the way up to ISO 3200. I would personally use the camera all the way up to ISO 6400, but that's a personal taste as I don't mind a bit of noise in my street shots.
I'd go as far as saying that the E-M5 image quality is almost as good as my Canon 550D which has a much bigger sensor. In fact, I don't think I'd be using the 550D for anything other than fashion portraiture work or paid gigs anymore.
Another highlight is the super fast focus. Although if you shoot with a GF3, Panasonic GX1 or Oly EP3 you won't notice much of an improvement.

EM-5  + Panasonic/Leica Summilux 25mm f/1.4, ISO 500, 1/500sec   
Other Features
Other stand out features of the E-M5 include the touch screen shutter, which can be very useful depending on your shooting style, the tilty screen for shooting from the hip or at awkward angles, and weather proofing for all you Londoners. It also has an extremely fast burst rate of around 9fps.
The Olympus menu system may leave a few people scratching their heads. For the first time, I found myself having to read the instruction manual for accessing simple things, such as switching off the focus beeps.
The only other negative I'd like to mention about the camera is the lack of on-board flash. Sure, you do get a clip on flash, which does work very well, but this is not at all a convenient solution and I can imagine will cause some headaches as you will inevitably lose the hot shoe and accessory port covers eventually.

E-M5 + Panasonic/Leica Summilux 25mm f/1.4, ISO 800, 1/500sec
All in all, I have to say that it's a great camera and amongst my favourite cameras that I've ever used... and this is only after a couple of weeks.
Will it ever replace my beloved Nikon FM3A as my main street photography camera? No, not for a while. I'm determined to shoot film, as I feel it will ultimately make me a better photographer and help me evolve my style of street photography.

E-M5 + Panasonic/Leica Summilux 25mm f/1.4, ISO 1250, 1/500sec

By the time you read this post I will be using this camera daily for my travels through Japan. I should get a better understanding of the camera by then and become more comfortable with using it.

I hope you found this review useful. As always I'm more than happy to answer any questions. Just leave a comment and I'll get back to you when I can. Enjoy the photos.

E-M5 + Panasonic/Leica Summilux 25mm f/1.4, ISO 2500, 1/500sec 
E-M5 + Panasonic/Leica Summilux 25mm f/1.4, ISO 1250, 1/160sec
E-M5 + Panasonic/Leica Summilux 25mm f/1.4, ISO 1600, 1/250sec


  1. Nice Blog! Thanks for sharing nice information with us.

    Scott Robarge

    1. Thanks for the kind words Scott. I`m glad you like the blog.

  2. OMG I can't do that with my GX1 with same lens ! Need this OM-D !!!

    1. Mimstyle, anything you can do with the OM-D, you can do with the GX1, you just need a higher shutter speed.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. I know some shoot from my gx1

      but I can't play with sharpness and other settings like that, for the night betwen 1/8 - 1/2sec maybe more.. OMD is much better with my lensens not stabilized

      finaly better jpeg, yes I have no time for raw files, in 2012 we have a great jpeg.

  3. Excellent Blog and Excellent Images. Keep up the good work..

    1. Thanks Mike.
      I'll be putting up my Japan photos from the E-M5 within the next month or so, so keep checking back for more work :)