Late last week I finally received the Olympus OMD EM5 that I’d ordered about a month earlier. It is, to say the least, a nifty little camera. With the emphasis on “little”. Which is why I bought it. Like so many others, I don’t like carrying my relatively heavy Canon 5D MK II around all the time. If we’re in a city, for example, it’s like carrying an anchor around your neck. It can be especially annoying when trying to maneuver in a crowd. A smaller camera would be just so much easier to deal with. While I do have smaller cameras (the Canon G10 and Canon G12), they have serious limitations. The G10 is pretty much stuck at ISO 100 (any higher and the noise is really bad, I think) and the G12 can’t go much higher than ISO 400. Neither is very good at night, in my opinion. And, of course, you’re stuck with a single lens.
The EM5, therefore, seems like a good idea. After reading all of the very positive reviews, I couldn’t wait to give it a try. So after getting the battery fully charged and spending a little time getting the basics down, I headed outside and started taking pictures. When I uploaded them and examined them in LR, however, I was just a little disappointed. They simply weren’t as sharp as I thought they should be. So I decided to run a little test. Perhaps, I reasoned, I was setting the bar a little too high. Maybe my mental image of what a “sharp” image looks like is biased by what I get from the MK II. Those pictures (assuming a good lens) are very, very sharp. Sometimes they damn near look 3-dimensional. They’re not only sharp, they have excellent “depth” as well.
So out I went again – with both cameras. I took multiple images with each, setting each lens at 50 mm (well, 25 mm on the EM5, since that’s equivalent to 50 mm on a 35 mm sensor). The aperture was set at f/8, and my focus point was the same for both cameras. I didn’t use a tripod. I then came home, uploaded everything and went back into LR4. Some of the results are shown below. I should also note that nothing has been done to these images; they appear just as they came out of the camera (except, of course, that they’ve been converted to JPEG’s).
The first one is of the infamous “Welcome to Webster” sign “Where life is worth living”, taken with the EM5. The next one is the same shot taken with the Canon 5D MK II.
Actually, not much difference here. If you go to 100% and look very closely, you might see a little better resolution in the Canon image. In my mind, though, they’re very close.
The same is true for the next two. In this case, I was also trying to get as much contrast as possible with a wide tonal range. Both cameras managed the range very well.
Again, I’d say it was a “draw”. You have to look really close to see that the Canon is just a little bit better. You have to be a serious, serious, pixel-peeper in other words. And I’d bet a lot of money that no one could see the difference on a print.
The next two are more interesting, though. At least I think so. Originally, I took this image just to get as many words in the picture as possible. Plus, I wanted to see how they each handled the reflection in the door. But I wound up finding something else.
Even viewing these 2 images normally, I think that there’s a difference. To me, the Canon image is just sharper and more detailed. I didn’t know why at first, so I blew both images up a little bit and compared them again.
If you look at these last 2 images, you should be able to see more of the little black dots in the cement column on the Canon image than you can see in the EM5 image. And they’re sharper. Not by much, but I think it’s clearly visible. There’s just a little more detail.
Most of the other images (not posted) tend to reflect the same general pattern. The Canon is just a little bit better. Not by a lot, but it’s visible.
The “test”, of course, isn’t quite fair. The lens I used on the EM5 is one of the kit lenses – the 12 – 50 mm lens that arrived with the camera. It’s a reasonably good lens, but probably not in the same league as the Canon 24 – 105 mm lens used with the 5D MK II. So that could explain at least part of the difference that I observed.
It’s also interesting that the Canon system always recorded a lower white balance temperature – usually by about 500 degrees. Each Canon image was noticeably bluer than its Olympus counterpart. I have no explanation for that. If anything, the EM5 images were more “correct”. Each one tended to come close to normal “Daylight” (5500 degrees). Since these were taken midday, I’d say that’s where they should have been.
In any case, the EM5 is definitely a keeper. I ain’t giving the 5D MK II away, though – it’s still the best camera I’ve ever owned. Heck, I don’t even want the newer MK III. I’m happy as hell with this one. But the EM5 will be much easier to deal with on those nighttime walks in Las Vegas later this year. And it won’t break my neck.