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Shooting On the Go With the Olympus OM-D

Gear Talk

Not too long ago, I switched to the Nikon D800E with a series of prime lenses for all of my primary photography. I love the Nikon, and it’s proved to be a fantastic system, capably handling just about everything I’ve thrown at it.

The downside is that it is, truly, a system. A big, heavy system. I quickly found myself looking for a smaller, carry-around camera for some of my more photojournalistic endeavors, and immediately turned to the family of mirrorless cameras out there for an answer.

Of these, there is no shortage. You have the awesome Sony NEX-6, which I’ve raved about in the past. There’s also the Sony RX-1, the Panasonic GF3C, the Fuji X-Pro1, and the subject of this article, the Olympus OM-D E-M5.

Olympus OM-D

Olympus OM-D

I’ve had the Olympus OM-D E-M5 for the past few weeks now, and have been using it as my primary “take everywhere” camera. It’s small size, lens selection, and great image quality combine to provide a system that’s flat-out my favorite in this category. In this article, I’ll present my experience shooting with this little thing, rather than a full-on technical review.

The Build

This thing is solid and extremely well-built. I’ve got chubby little sausages for fingers, but I can still get a pretty decent grip on it, thanks to the tab on the back and the indent in the front that give your thumb and middle fingers a secure place to grasp onto. The buttons, though tiny, are pretty responsive, so it’s not hard to use many of them just by feel

The back of the OM-D

The back of the OM-D

The back of the OM-D, shown above, is pretty sparse – which is a good thing. The large OLED screen dominates the area, and it’s a touch-screen, so additional buttons are unnecessary. It’s a gorgeous screen, and serves an additional purpose that we’ll discuss in a bit.

The top of the OM-D. The red arrows point to the command dials.

The top of the OM-D. The red arrows point to the command dials.

The top of the OM-D has a nice touch that I absolutely love. The red arrows in the image above point to the command dials, which can be used to adjust shutter speed and aperture in full manual mode, or exposure and compensation in aperture-priority or shutter priority mode. That’s super-handy, and is a solid indication that the OM-D was built with pros in mind who want to be able to change those settings without resorting to menus and screens.

The viewfinder in the OM-D is electronic, and is gorgeous. It’s fast, responsive, and the delay in switching from the LCD to the EVF is minimal. Olympus has done a bang-up job with it.

Shooting With the Olympus

The shooting experience in two words: A blast!

This is the most fun I’ve had with a camera since I got my hands on a Leica. Because of its size and weight, I don’t mind lugging it around everywhere. I use it with two lenses, a Panasonic 12-35mm and a 35-100mm, which, in 35mm terms, equate to a 24-70mm and 70-200mm. Both lenses are stabilized on Panazonic Micro-Four-Thirds cameras, which I turn off as the Olympus has in-body image stabilization.

That in-body image stabilization is also pretty effective – I’ve gotten shots as low as 1/5th of a second at the equivalent of 200mm with no motion blur. The added benefit of the in-body stabilization, which occurs on five axes, is that lenses like the Nikon-mount Sigma 35mm f/1.4, which are easily adapted to this platform, also become stablized lenses.

The Nikon-mount Sigma, by the way, produces a lovely image with a buttery bokeh, as seen in the shot below of Jo Deguzman, our Front Desk manager.

Jo Deguzman, shot with the OM-D and Sigma 35mm f/1.4

Jo Deguzman, shot with the OM-D and Sigma 35mm f/1.4

The image quality of the OM-D itself is pretty outstanding. I took it out on a number of occasions and ended up with a couple of portfolio-quality shots with it.

Bixby Bridge, on Highway 1. Processed with Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.

Bixby Bridge, on Highway 1. Processed with Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.

I did notice that the OM-D tends to retain highlight detail better than shadow detail; in my shots, I seemed to recover more information out of my highlights (including some I thought were blown for sure) than from shadows. I’m spoiled by the D800E, which lets you pull amazing detail out of shadows, and I was underexposing my images with the OM-D as a result.

The high-ISO performance of the OM-D was also pleasantly surprising. Check out the shot below, taken at ISO 2000.

In a winery tasting room, at ISO 2000.

In a winery tasting room, at ISO 2000.

Color noise is minimal, luminance noise is well-rendered and easily adjusted in Lightroom, while skin tone and detail are preserved pretty well, especially given the low light in the room. All in all, a very pleasant surprise.

As an aside, the image above was taken without touching the shutter button. That “additional purpose” that the LCD on the back of the OM-D serves that I mentioned earlier? It also acts as an iPhone-esque shutter release. Simply touch the area on the screen that you want the camera to focus on (the OM-D has edge-to-edge focus points) and the camera focuses on it and triggers the image.

The LCD is an articulating one, too. So imagine the benefits for street shooters and journalists – hold the camera any way you want, and as long as you can see and reach the LCD, you can get your shot. I used it to great effect many times, getting unusual angles that I’d be hard-pressed to compose properly with a DSLR. Also, my nephew loved this feature — he’s a 5-year-old kid who delighted in taking images this way.


The OM-D is an absolute pleasure to shoot with. It’s small, light, has a host of useful features, shoots well in low-light and can take, with adapters, lenses from Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Minolta, Leica, and many others. It does shoot video as well, at 60 interlaced frames, 1080p resolution with manual control of exposure. It’s not my first choice for video, but for everyday shooting, the 16MP sensor is more than enough. It’s become my go-to camera for editorial work, and is every bit as capable as many DSLRs I’ve used in the past.

Give the OM-D a go now. It’s available, along with a host of Micro-Four-Thirds lenses and adapters, on the website.


Bixby Bridge, Jo Deguzman, and Winery Tasting Room images Copyright © 2013 Sohail Mamdani. All rights reserved.

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Sohail Mamdani is a writer and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. You can find his portfolio on his website at as well as on 500px and Flickr.

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  • Greg Abbott says:

    I’ve have nearly the same setup — a Nikon D800E and an Olympus E-PL5 as the carry around camera (it has the same great sensor as the OM-D).

  • I love using the one I have, though I prefer to shoot with the battery grip on it, which is still really lightweight.

    I seriously envy you being able to use the 12-35 and 35-100 lenses though, I’ve wanted them for ages.

  • Walter says:

    With the iconic OM label, does it take ‘OM’ lenses?
    They lost me when they came out with the 4/3rds system and no adapters for all the lenses I already owned.

    • HS says:

      Olympus makes the MF-1 OM adapter.

      • Walter says:

        OK, I stand corrected, but it [or the 3rd party ones] were not available when Oly released their first digital body, and that’s when I had to decide whether to stay Olympus or move to Nikon digital. OM’s and PENs are great film cameras, and I was hoping they wouldn’t abandon their loyal followers when they did digital. Nikon, on the other hand, stayed with the same mount. I have a 500mm f8 reflector that works fine on any of the 5 Nikon D bodies I have without adapters. Olympus just missed the boat. Think I’ll pull out my OM4 and run a roll through it for old time’s sake.

  • […] read Thom’s review already, but the ones from Spike (from Pattayadays) or from the Borrowlenses blog were new to me […]

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