Alex Mustard reviews Olympus OM-D E-M5

Field Review. Olympus OM-D E-M5.
By Alex Mustard.


Most of my camera reviews for Wetpixel come from the upper echelons of the Nikon SLR range, so you are probably wondering why I am reviewing Olympus’s new OM-D E-M5? Simply because if it can realize its potential underwater it could be one of the most important underwater cameras released for several years. And not just for existing Micro Four Thirds aficionados. This is camera that we should all know about, whether we currently shoot Micro Four Thirds, a compact or an SLR.

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 in the Olympus housing in Xlendi, Gozo, Malta.

The E-M5 (I’ll use its short name from now on) is a Micro Four Thirds camera (which I’ll also shorten to M43), a mirror-less, lens and sensor format developed jointly by Olympus and Panasonic. Since its launch, M43 has promised quality in a smaller package. The cameras are good, the lens choice wide, but while delivering impressive images, for me the cameras have plugged the gap between compacts and SLRs, without really troubling the latter. This hasn’t stopped them selling, in fact their small size and light weight has made them particularly attractive and popular for underwater photography. But I am interested to know if the E-M5 finally makes M43 a no compromise alternative to a SLR.

The Micro Four Third (M43) system offers high quality lenses from fisheye to macro to cover pretty much all options for underwater photography. This cuttlefish was shot with 8mm fisheye. Even more lenses can be added with adaptors.

On paper the E-M5 brings plenty of new tech to M43, including format leading dynamic range, ISO performance, autofocus, image stabilisation and an electronic viewfinder. But is this enough to be a “no buts” alternative to an SLR for serious underwater photography. I’ve travelled to the Mediterranean diving mecca of Malta, Gozo and Comino to find out.

The E-M5 should excel at low light shooting for three reasons. First it has excellent ISO performance, second M43 lenses need to be stopped down less than equivalent angle of coverage lenses from other formats to give good depth of field and third in-body image stabilization works with all lenses. Taken at ISO 800, f/5.0 @ 1/15th.

From its specs the E-M5 is a very impressive looking camera for underwater photography. It should clear be an upgrade for compact and existing M43 users, but I also want to evaluate it from the perspective of a SLR shooter.

As always with my reviews on Wetpixel I strongly encourage comments and opinions. Please share your thoughts below as they benefit all readers.


This review event was organized by Pete Bullen of Oceanfoto.co.uk. Pete offers photographer specific coaching and guiding in Gozo. The good news is that he will be keeping these cameras on for anyone to do this review for themselves, while diving with him in Gozo. It is a perfect try before you buy opportunity, although Pete doesn’t sell the cameras himself.

Thank you to Olympus (UK, Europe and Japan) for making this event possible and to Malta Tourism for their support.

We stayed at the Ulysses Hotel in the heart of the diving hotspot of Xlendi in Gozo, and dived with the great gang at Moby Dives and made boat dives with Pete Allday of Ocean Dreams. Thank you also to Kristina Hartwig for modeling for me, especially for the repetitive flashes for the ISO test shots. Finally thanks to Nige, Rob and Mario for making it such an enjoyable trip.

  1. Introduction.
  2. Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera and specs.
  3. The Olympus housing and underwater handling.
  4. Image quality: ISO, resolution, dynamic range.
  5. Lens performance, autofocus & stabiliser.
  6. Conclusion.