By Ken Tanaka
Mike is planning a more comprehensive article on the Olympus E-M5 in the future. But meanwhile I thought some TOP readers might appreciate notes comparing the E-M5 to the NEX-7 and E-P3. Mind you, these are just notes—not a comprehensive review or an analysis. Just a list of my own early comparative observations that I've not found elsewhere and that you might find interesting. So here goes.
Feeling and size
Honestly, right out of the box the E-P3 reminded me a bit of the little Olympus E-420 which I owned briefly. It's about the same size, although of different proportions.
The E-M5 has a very solidly-built feeling very similar to the E-P3. The NEX-7's in-hand feeling is not really comparable due to its rather minimalist, low-mass design. Although the E-M5 not heavy, it has a nice in-hand heft.
As you can see, the three cameras are quite close in size. The E-P3 and E-M5 are closest in profile, although the latter is just a bit thicker. With its integrated electronic viewfinder (EVF), the E-M5 is shorter and sleeker than the E-P3 plus VF-2 electronic viewfinder configuration. The NEX-7 is certainly the sleekest completely integrated design among the three cameras.
I'm not a shutter sound fetishist. But the E-M5 shutter's lovely, soft, quiet thunk is really worth noting. (Kirk Tuck suggested that it may be similar to the sound/feel of a Bentley's door closing. Yup, that's close!) Much softer and quieter than the E-P3's clack. Also softer than the NEX-7's (different) clack. Very gentle but reassuring vibration in-hand. Very discreet sound. Love it.
Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) and LCD
Olympus's VF-2 viewfinder, offered as an accessory on the E-P2/P3, has been my favorite EVF to date. It's bright and presents a tonally rich image. Sony's NEX viewfinder is bright and detailed but is very harsh and contrasty. So I was delighted to find that the E-M5's EVF has the same characteristics as the VF-2. It's excellent.
It's also worth noting that the E-M5's viewfinder is much easier to use when wearing eyeglasses. The NEX-7's viewfinder disengages unless you keep your eye nearly pressed to the cup. The E-M5's viewfinder sensor is much more lenient and a joy to use with glasses. Well done Oly!
The LCD panels of the NEX-7 and E-M5 are basically identical in operational performance and function. Both are about the same size, both tilt up 90 degrees and down approximately 45 degrees, with similar hinge designs. The NEX-7's LCD is thinner and easier to manipulate quickly with just a finger. The E-M5's LCD is much stiffer and wants you to first flip the top edge out before lifting the bottom edge. Some might prefer the E-M5's LCD for being a design less prone to accidental pop-outs.
But one area in which the two LCDs differ is touch-sensitive operation. The E-M5 shares the E-P3's iPhone-like touch-sensitive screen. When enabled, it lets you select focus point, swipe through image previews, and even focus and shoot with just a tap. With the E-M5's tilting screen you can basically keep the camera at waist level and merely glance/tap to shoot. It's an addictive and effective 21st-century design feature.
Although the NEX-5n featured a similar touch-sensitive LCD, the NEX-7 does not. I was disappointed by this omission, even though it was never as widely functional as Olympus's design.
Power switch: The E-M5's power switch is a mechanical lever similar to the design found on Canon's 1D series, rather than the E-P3's electronic button. Frankly I've found it to be an awkward design choice.
The rubber thumb bumper (say that three times fast) is an excellent design detail for secure grip, not found on the other cameras.
The E-M5's "Super Control Panel" (SCP) consolidates the most often needed settings into a single lcd screen matrix enabling you to quickly find basic settings.
Spongy buttons: The E-M5's control buttons are small and spongy, lacking tactile feedback. This is rather disappointing design choice. While no cameras have large buttons today, they do generally offer tactile feedback when pressed.
The E-M5 features a new battery, the BLN-1. Really? Why couldn't it have used the same battery as the E-P3? Of course, as I write this, extra BLN-1 batteries are nowhere to be found.
While I'm talking about power, why in the world does Olympus continue to offer a corded-only battery charger?
I'll leave this to real reviewers. But I have been extremely impressed with the first images coming out of this camera. A bit more detailed and refined than the E-P3 but perhaps not in quite the same league with the larger sensor of the NEX-7. Neutral JPEGs have somewhat the same warm, magenta appearance as those from the E-P3 (and E-P2) but perhaps a bit less so to my eye.
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Ken White: "The more I use the E-M5, the more impressed I am with how competent it is as a complete package. This weekend being Mothers Day, I had several relatives over who turned out to be perfect victims for some Strobist-style portraits.
"I shot the EM-5 45mm side-by-side with my Canon 60D 85mm ƒ/1.8. Both did very well in terms of image output, with the 60D being slightly better. The big difference for me came down to handling and focusing. Here the EM-5 clearly won the day. It is light and responsive. A real joy to use.
"By comparison the 60D was heavy and hard to handle. It was not bad, but definitely not as easy to use or responsive as the little Olympus. Sometimes a piece of equipment just feels right in your hand. For me the EM-5 is right."
Featured Comment by GH: "Thanks for the insights, Ken. For what it's worth, a little tip with the NEX-7's EVF is to set your Creative Style to Neutral or Portrait and set contrast to –3, and it'll open up the EVF's contrast quite a bit. Of course, this will affect your JPEG output, but, assuming you're a Raw shooter, this won't matter."
[The following two comments came in right next to each other. Click the image for a somewhat larger (more readable) version. The screenshot is from the comment moderation pane. I just thought it was kinda funny that they both opened with the exact same expression but had opposite opinions. —MJ]
Featured Comment by Doug Reilly: "Finally, after all these years, the potential of 4/3 and Micro 4/3 has been realized. That's the way I feel when I pick up the E-M5 with the Panasonic 14mm and 20mm lenses."
Featured Comment by almostinfamous: "Image stabilization is among the best I have used, and it positively shines while shooting videos. Panning, especially, is smooth as silk. Oh, but the buttons—more like foam than sponge methinks—really cheesed me off and made it feel more like a toy than the otherwise solid camera it is."
Featured Comment by Liv: "I got one for my birthday last week. I was really excited to learn to use it in manual. (I had an entry level Nikon DSLR—I think it was a D3000 but I can't really remember—which was stolen when I was overseas before I got to learning much about it. I've been hanging out for something like this to be invented because I always felt that the Nikon was too big).
"My problem is this—when you change the settings, it shows up straight away on the screen and in the viewfinder. So while my photos are coming out great I don't think I'm learning anything, just twisting dials until it looks how I want it to.
"So probably not an issue for most people here but as a 20-year-old just starting out, this has been my only disappointment.
"I still love it though!"
Featured Comment by Dan: "Wondering if the button tactility was compromised by the weatherproofing—rubber gaskets, after all...."
Featured [partial] Comment by Gaspar Heurtley: "Some want bigger sensors, some want more DR, some want B&W only—all I want is a camera with technology from the future and handling from the past."