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Olympus OM-D E-M5: A Mirrorless Camera Built to Compete With DSLRs

Olympus's new Micro Four-Thirds camera is based on a wish list from photographers in Japan

Olympus took the wraps off its latest Micro Four-Thirds camera today--its eighth compact interchangeable-lens camera overall, but the first model not to be part of the company's Pen series. Instead, the 16-megapixel Olympus OM-D E-M5 is the inaugural entry in the company's new OM-D line.

Although the new camera's sensor is the same size as that of previous Pen and Panasonic Lumix G cameras (17.3mm by 13.0mm), it's a revamped version of the Live MOS sensor. Olympus says that, thanks to the redesigned sensor, the OM-D E-M5 offers the fastest autofocus speed of any interchangeable-lens camera on the market, DSLRs included.

Olympus is positioning the OM-D E-M5 as a "wish list" model resulting from user feedback in Japan, where the company says mirrorless models account for nearly 50 percent of interchangeable-lens camera sales. Based on customer requests, the OM-D E-M5 is built to meet high demand for a rain- and dust-resistant body, an interchangeable-lens camera with an integrated eye-level viewfinder, and good low-light performance.

The camera has been completely redesigned from the inside out, with a dust- and splashproof magnesium-alloy body that's slightly bigger than anything Olympus has released in its Pen line. Keep in mind that "splashproof" does not equal "waterproof"; the OM-D E-M5 can handle rain and spray, but it isn't designed to be submerged underwater. Aesthetically, it's modeled after the Olympus OM-4 SLR from the mid-1980s, a 35mm film camera.

The OM-D E-M5 has a 1.4-million-dot eye-level viewfinder with a 120-fps refresh rate above its Micro Four-Thirds lens mount. Olympus claims that the camera offers improved noise correction throughout its ISO range, which caps out at 25,600.

Beyond those core "wish list" specs are a number of equally enticing in-camera features and hardware. In addition to the aforementioned fast autofocus speeds, the camera offers a 4.2-frames-per-second burst-shooting mode with continuous autofocus (or 9 fps with AF set on the first shot), plus 1080i video recording at 60 fps with automatic correction for rolling-shutter effect. It also has body-based image stabilization due to a five-axis sensor-shift system built to correct pitch and yaw rotation, as well as an adjustable 3-inch touchscreen OLED display that complements the camera's physical controls for focusing and shutter release.

One key similarity between the OM-D E-M5 and Olympus's Pen series of interchangeable-lens cameras is the inclusion of several "Art Filter" presets that apply special effects to images and video as you shoot them. On top of holdovers such as the Miniature Mode and Toy Camera effects, new filters include a black-and-white version of Olympus's ominous-looking Dramatic Tone filter (which you can now also use in movie mode for a Darren Aronofsky, Pi-style look), an Echo effect that creates visual trails behind moving objects in video mode, and a Key Line mode that makes photos resemble comic-book drawings.

One thing that's missing is a built-in flash, although a detachable flash is included with the camera. The camera's hot shoe and accessory port also hosts older flashes, microphones, and other accessories from the Pen line.

Also on the "wish list" that Olympus's research provided was a greater variety of Micro Four-Thirds lenses, specifically in the areas of fixed focal length and high-end glass. The company hopes to address that demand with three new lenses also announced today, all of which are compatible with Olympus's Pen series, Panasonic's Lumix G series, and the new OM-D line.

The only zoom lens of the three is the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm F3.5-6.3 EZ, which will be available as a kit lens with the OM-D E-M5. Like other Micro Four-Thirds cameras, the OM-D E-M5 has a focal length multiplier of 2X when a lens is attached, meaning that the new zoom lens will have an effective focal range of 24mm to 100mm in 35mm film equivalent when mounted.

Still in development are two new prime lenses that are slated to be available by the end of the year. The faster of the two is the M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm F1.8, with a wide aperture that the company says is built for fast-action shooting and portrait photography. The M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm F2.8 is a dust- and splashproof macro lens with a minimum focus distance of 7.5 inches. Olympus has not yet announced pricing or availability for these two prime lenses.

Due in April, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 will be available in black or white, and it will cost $1000 for the body only--a price that puts it up against midrange DSLRs rather than most interchangeable-lens compacts. It will also be available in two kit configurations: with a 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 lens for $1100, and with the new 12-50mm F3.5-6.3 lens for $1300.


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