Photography Creative Ideas

We Review the New OM-5 Mirrorless Camera. Spoiler: It’s Not Another OM-1.

The new OM-5 camera may, at first look, take you by surprise. However, you may have noticed that OM Digital Solutions (OMDS) knows what they are doing. As their first anniversary arrives, they yet again deliver another excellent camera for a specific type of photographer.

Some years ago, I went into a camera store to buy a full-frame DSLR. When I picked it up, I found it cumbersome, and the ergonomics for me were awful. I have large hands and long fingers, but all the buttons seemed to be in the wrong place. On the next shelf was a diminutive Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II. Strangely, it fitted me perfectly. I ran some test shots through it, and the image quality was more than fine. I liked the colors and the creamy-smooth bokeh of the 45mm f/1.8 lens.

As my commercial photographic needs changed, I swapped the E-M5 with a friend. Two camera generations later, the OM System OM-5 hits the shelves. I am tempted by it because part of me misses that great little camera. OMDS is specifically aiming its new camera at a particular need. It's not me, the event or commercial photographer. Neither is it me working as a professional seascape photographer who gets up at five in the morning to capture the blue hour and sunrise.

This camera is aimed at those who walk around observing life and record it with their photographs. It's also designed for the adventurer for whom a small, light, robust camera can be pulled from a pocket to snap the mountains, waterfalls, or eagle perched on a branch. It is designed for street and lifestyle photographers who need something discrete and easy to use. This camera will be perfect for the working person whose business requires quality images of buildings, products, or services and the artisan who wants to display their work online. It will also appeal to parents wanting to preserve memories with better definition than they get with their cell phones. It will also suit bloggers and vloggers who want something stylish and easy to use.

So, what was the first thing I did when I got my hands on this camera? I took it to the beach to capture the sunrise! I had two cameras with me, the other being my OM-1, which sat on a tripod. The OM-5 was small enough to slip in my coat pocket, and I fitted a Black Rapid wrist strap into its new, reinforced female screw thread at the camera's base plate; that was a weak point of the previous Olympus E-M5 Mark III.

I barely took a photo with my favorite camera, the OM-1, because I had so much fun with the OM-5.

Weather-sealed to the same IP53 standard as the OM-1 and the 12-45mm f/4 PRO lens fitted to it, I had no qualms being on a windy, sand-blown beach with the sea spray in the air.

Just like its predecessors, the camera felt comfortable in my hands. The button positions still felt familiar to me, and I could operate them with gloves on, albeit thin gloves. Its fully articulated rear screen enabled me to view the scene from any angle. That is important because I often take low-angled shots and don't want to lie in the wet sand.

I started shooting in low light to push its performance. With the 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilization giving 6.5 steps of compensation, I could handhold the camera and take one-second or longer shots. That feature was also particularly handy as I was shivering on that chilly, autumnal beach.

The OM-5 has many of the other system's unique features built into its armory, not least the Live ND feature that saves you screwing an ND filter to the front of the lens. So, combined with that superb image stabilization, handheld long-exposures are possible. It also has Handheld High-Res capabilities, allowing the capture of super-fine detail in a 50-megapixel image. On top of all that, there is the Live Composite mode, which only adds new light to an image. That's ideal for light trails, lightning photography, and light painting.

The sensor has 121 points of phase detection autofocus. All the focus points are cross-type, which improves the ability of the camera to lock onto subjects no matter how they are oriented in the frame. I found the focus to be fast and accurate. There are six different focus targeting modes. I almost always use a single point, but groups of points become helpful when shooting moving animals and birds.

The OM-5 has face and eye detection; although I didn't have the opportunity to try this out, I've used this camera's predecessors with the same feature at weddings and events and found it effective.

A great feature of the OM System is the Starry Sky autofocus. As I live in an area of dark skies with little light pollution, this feature is a boon for taking shots at night when I cannot see to focus.

The OM-5 can also bracket and combine up to five different exposures and process them into one high-definition raw file. It also has in-camera focus stacking, great for macro-photography – the OM system is a firm favorite of many macro enthusiasts – and landscape photographers shooting handheld in low light and needing a wide aperture.

There are functions on this camera that I won't use, but the folk at OMDS have done their research and know what its customers want. One of these is the art filters feature. They can apply 16 different effects to the image. Then, the color creator enables the photographer to control the hue and saturation of the individual colors in a scene. Similarly, for beginners, 22 scene modes set the camera for the picture you want to shoot. That is a great learning tool as one can discover the recommended camera adjustments for any shot and then copy and adapt those settings in the future.

If you produce video, the OM-5 produces 4K 30p movies and can shoot using OM-Log400. (If you don't know what that is, simply put, it give a little more editing latitude). It also allows vertical video shooting, so it's great for producing reels for viewing on mobile devices. You can also link this camera to the fabulous LS-P5 PCM sound recorder.

The OM-5, like the OM-1, will also shoot tethered to a computer and allows for simultaneous image storage on both the computer and the camera, which I recently learned isn't a feature available with some other makes. OM System isn't a brand that usually jumps to mind for studio photography. However, Gavin Hoey specializes in portraiture and uses OM System gear, and I do some product photography in a studio using the OM-1. The OM-5 would work just as well for that. Tethering is also another valuable feature for indoor macro photographers.

One feature I am glad is still available with this camera is its ability to use it as a webcam. I need to transmit a high-quality image to my clients when running online training. Since giving away my old E-M5 Mark II, I've used an old E-M1 for this function. The smaller, lighter OM-5 is far better suited to that, however.

The camera also has USB charging, negating the need to haul multiple chargers around with you for all your different devices. As for battery life, I shot raw plus large JPEGS, half of which were in silent mode, and that produced 2,340 files, so 1,170 individual presses of the shutter button. The temperature was under 43° F (6° C) for most of those, and I used half of the battery's charge.

Being a smaller body, this camera is best suited to the range of slighter M.Zuiko f/4 PRO lenses, though I tried it with my 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens, and it was still nicely balanced.

What I Liked and What Could be Improved

As I said at the start of this article, the folk at OMDS know what they are doing; their business has turned around and is succeeding since escaping from Olympus. This is excellent news. Instead of flooding the enthusiast market with a confusing array of cameras with different functions available on some and, disappointingly, not others, they have chosen to introduce fewer high-quality camera models within each price bracket with a wide range of useful features they know particular groups of photographers want.

I can already hear a few naysayers griping that it doesn't have the stacked sensor of the OM-1, and it only has one memory card slot, or it doesn't shoot as many frames per second, as if 30 fps isn't enough. But if you need that kind of performance, you buy an OM-1. This camera is aimed at a different market.

If there is one thing I think they should have changed, if they could, it was having a USB-C port instead of a micro-USB. I say "if they could" because I suspect that would involve not using common body and chassis parts from the E-M5 Mark III that are shaped to fit micro-USB. Wholly redesigning the body would not be a good move environmentally because there would be more waste. Keeping it the same would also mean less cost for the customer. For me, it's not a deal-breaker.

The camera also uses the older menu system, which some reviewers don't like. I never had a problem with it; I found it far more intuitive than other brands' menus, and I am not alone in thinking that. Furthermore, there are many more features to discover in the OM System menus than in most cameras. That might be daunting for beginners, but this is a camera for photographers at any level of experience.

While the OM-1 suits a professional photographer like me, the OM-5 will meet the needs of those for whom photography is an essential but secondary feature of their other activities. It's an advanced, versatile camera, not as complex and feature-packed as the OM-1. But it doesn't need to be; it targets an entirely different market. For example, I wouldn't recommend the OM-5 for dedicated wildlife photographers as the OM-1 is better suited for capturing birds and animals. However, the OM-5 is the perfect camera to slip into a coat pocket, rucksack, or drybag in a canoe. It's small enough to be equally at home in an office drawer, a handbag, or a briefcase. It's stylish too. They know how to make good-looking cameras.

I am impressed with its performance and am contemplating getting one as a second camera for events and photography, where I want to have a low profile. Coupled with a small, fast lens like the 25mm f/1.8 or the 45mm f/1.8, this will perform perfectly well for low-light shooting at indoor evening events; my old E-M5 Mark II is fabulous for that, and this camera performs even better. It also has wireless and Bluetooth connectivity, so images can be instantly uploaded, negating the need for that second card.

The camera felt solid and durable. Combined with its compactness, weatherproofing, and incredible dust removal system – I've never had to clean the dust off any of my cameras' sensors – this is a superb camera for me to slip in my pocket when I go on holiday or for my early morning bike rides. I'm impressed.

All sample images were straight out of camera JPEGS using different in-camera settings, although some horizon leveling was applied in OM Workspace. The camera was loaned to me to review by OMDS.