Olympus EM1 vs EM5 Review

Em1 & EM5 side by side

Since my last little gear review on the OMD went down rather well with you all Alex Mustard and Alex Tattersall encouraged me to do another. This time both cameras are from the Olympus OMD family, EM1 vs EM5. I’ve done a couple of trips now on the EM5 (Red Sea & twice in Raja Ampat) so it was interesting to see if the EM1 was that much better. Again, this is just my personal opinion of the pros & cons of the two systems after having used them.

When I first got my EM5 I had to go through the little exercise of setting it up how I like it in the menus, these little cameras are so amazingly configurable that if its left set up in a funny way it can seem really hard to use. Here are some things I noticed as I took my first look at the EM1 and went through its menus…

First look – Pros & Cons:

Look & feel:
• The EM1 is bigger than the EM5 with a different feel to the grip (see above in the first picture in this post). A definite con for me as I like my gear as small as it can be but you really need to hold both to see for yourself on this. Topside I have mine on a wrist strip and can hold mine quite happily for hours by its side and thumbgrip without my hand getting tired.

The buttons are not the same or in the same places as the EM5, this is initially a con if you’ve had the EM5 but it’s easy enough to get used to them, I was up and running and able to do a night dive with it after only 3 day dives. There are more configurable buttons overall so that has to be a pro really for more flexibility.

• There is a dedicated HDR, self-timer, burst-mode (up to 10fps) button which I expect would come in handy for landscape photography but I didn’t use.
• The On/Off button it on the top now
• You now can program Fn1, Fn2, record, AEL/AFL, two front buttons, two dials and 2 levers which is a lot more buttons than before, I keep it simple for my own sanity and set it up in a pretty similar way to the EM5. However I expect if I owned one of these I’d eventually get all fancy and set these up to streamline lots of things out from the menus. One useful thing I did use was the little 1 & 2 lever to toggle the dials from normal exposure (fstop & shutter) dials to WB and ISO dials. This would be even more useful when using filters as you only have access to these in the quick menu on the EM5 so changing them both at once isn’t as quick and easy as this.

EM1 extra focus points

Other menus & settings:
• There are a lot more AF points, which is a pro if you’re like me and set your focus but moving it around the grid, this gives you finer control of where to place that focus of tiny critters eye.
• There are timelapse settings in the menu, I expect this would be fun to play with but I didn’t. On the EM5 I use my trusty triggertrap mobile & iphone for the timelapses but it would be useful not to have to tie up my phone for this.
• Internal wifi, this sounds really gimmicky but I can see useful practical applications for this. I downloaded the accompanying app to my iphone and although it took a while to work out how to get it working, once it was it was pretty cool. Essentially the camera creates its own wifi hotspot, you connect to that with your phone and then you can use your phone to wirelessly control your camera (similar to the GoPro3 app and those who have that know how useful this feature is). This would be useful in situations like shooting star-trails where you want to change settings without touching the camera and accidently knocking its position. I have no idea why they decided to put this feature in the playback menu though! (Actually, if any triggertrap people are reading this please can you make some sort of contraption which would mimic this without using personal hotspots on the phone, thanks).
• Focus peaking, I didn’t use it and don’t really know what this is but I heard some guys on the boat raving about it as an awesome feature on a Sony camera and noticed it in the menus.
• In camera HDR – I’m not that much of a fan but I did try this out and it didn’t look too horrible.
• Another con potentially for some people, being a newer camera the RAW files don’t work with Adobe Lightroom 4 so I had to upgrade to LR5 to be able to see them.

My thoughts after diving with it in the associated Nauitcam housing:

• As with the EM5 I had problems with the flash sync settings on the first dive, I got it working during the dive with 2nd curtain sync and the preflash knob turned up on my Inons as a stop gap until I found the setting in the menus again once I got it back on land. Like this though there is a terrible lag while the internal flash recycles. For future reference the menu to switch the internal flash to 1/64th power is go to the full power flash menu then press info to reduce it to 1/64. This is my bad for not properly setting it up before diving.
• I noticed that the max sync speed is 320 (vs only 250 on the EM5) so this is a definite pro.
• The auto focus is noticeably quicker for macro (I didn’t notice on wide angle) which is a massive plus point when photographing moving or extra tiny critters.
• The images seem sharper too.
• Unfortunately it seems more battery hungry than the EM5 so I had to change them every two dives or it would (annoyingly) run out on the third.

EM1 & EM5 Nauticam Housings (front)
EM1 & EM5 Nauticam Housings (back)

The housing:
The biggest negative point for me though was how the size increase & shape change has affected the housing design & ergonomics. The housing is now big enough (and of a different shape) that the handles are not really optional anymore, this has several unpleasant knock-on points for me.
• Firstly, I found it hard to get a comfortable grip I liked whilst pressing the shutter and supporting the housings weight. It didn’t seem comfy with my hand either inside or outside the handle.
• With the handles on, its now very tricky to get the flashes in close enough for nice lighting for Wide-Angle Macro shots which limits how small a critter you can WAM.
• Its now heavier, my wrists were beginning to ache again as they did with my subal (but much less of course). How long does one wait for that blasted pygmy seahorse to turn its little head?! Also, not so easy to lift out of the water for split shots
• The only positive point I can say about the strobe handles were that they were further apart for wide angle so my same tiny strobe arms were wider, I’ll be overcoming this on my own housing with longer arms though 😉

• Another con on the housing design was it seemed to be more fiddly to get the camera in and out. That was one thing that really impressed me on the EM5 housing, just so easy to use. There is now a red locking switch on the camera mount and a funny under-plate on the sliding in mechanism that it locks into inside the housing, this seemed to make it harder to get the thing out. Also, with the on/off switch at the top and the AEL 1&2 lever switch on the door there are more bits you have to adjust and check line up before you close the housing. It seemed much more of a palaver to me each time I needed to get the card or battery out. (addition note, if an ant falls in – don’t ask – you have to wait ages for him to emerge out from that under-plate).
• The one thing I did like was the vacuum seal. It’s a massive pro, although there there is an associated annoyance with it so I’m considering whether to get one put on my own EM5 housing. The vacuum seal essentially hooks into the leak alarm LED and gives you a visual indication that your housing is air-(and thus water)-tight. Very cool! The downside on this is that for some reason you have to reset the dastardly thing every time you open the housing with the on/off switch, so what used to be a quick change of lens & port at the front is now, change of lens & port, then turn it over, open the back, switch off & on, close the back, repressurise. WTF? Come on Nauticam, why couldn’t you just repressurise without resetting from the switch!! Other than that it’s a must have. Obviously the extra use of your leak alarm battery would wear it out quicker but batteries are much cheaper than flooded cameras. I did like how it didn’t take many pumps to get it to full pressure too, probably due to the small size of the housing.

In conclusion, I’d say it’s an amazing little camera, better than the EM5 for functions, autofocus and sharpness. Given my experiences with the housing I’d say only go for it if you have good strong wrists. For me though I’ll be sticking with my little EM5.

Many thanks to Alex Tattersall of Underwater Visions for giving me the opportunity to try it out.

If you want to see more of my EM1 images scroll to the bottom of this Raja Ampat gallery and they are all marked (EM1) in the titles.

Olympus OMD in Nauticam Housing

3 thoughts on “Olympus EM1 vs EM5 Review

  1. Great review, Suzy – I was (probably still am) v interested in the EM1 and almost bought one when it came out, but like to see how others find them and think I need to leave a small tactical gap anyway after recently buying a D4! But I definitely want to get more into micro 4/3rds work and this really helps.

  2. Hi Suzy. I’ve really enjoyed reading your review. As I’ve never used the EM5 underwater I cannot compare to my EM1. Coming from the D300/Seatool combo I find the EM1 a joy to use and I’m sure my underwater photography will improve as I become more use to its capabilities. I miss the C-AF of the D300, however, the focussing of the EM1 is quick. And like you.. BLAHHH to the battery life!!! All said though, I’m finding I have been capturing some of the moving fish I hadn’t been able to with the D300.

    Look forward to your next blog instalment. Cheers from the Cocos (Keeling) Islands – Karen

  3. Just got the EM1 and am enthralled with it. I also have Canons (5D2/5D3) but wanted something smaller ad lighter. Love the configurability, the ergonomics and the focus peaking.

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