Olympus OM-D (E-M5) pictures and hands-on

After weeks of rumours Olympus has confirmed the launch of a new Micro Four Thirds camera: the Olympus OM-D.

And as you've come to expect, Pocket-lint has already had a play with the new model, letting us bring you some of the details first hand.

The new camera will sit above the current range of Pen models offering a retro-looking, but professional camera for those who want something a little more than your average compact system camera.

It will be available from April 2012 as a kit with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm 1:3.5-6.3 for £1149.99, the body only price is still to be confirmed.

Taking a leaf out of the Fujifilm X100 book, the new OM-D model has taken a decidedly retro, or as Olympus call it "classic" look, and harks back to the heady days of the Olympus OM SLR models. It comes complete with a leather finish and angular design made from magnesium alloy, that is both dust and splashproof.

The result is a beautiful looking camera that is bigger than the original film OM-1 but smaller than the company's Four Thirds model, the Olympus E-620. If either of those are alien to you, the new camera will sit on the palm of your hand, but is unlikely to fit in even a small bag. 

The OM-D (E-M5) comes in a silver or black body adding to that retro feel - we like the black better. Also adding to the retro feel is the sheer number of buttons and dials on the model - it seems the only thing missing is the original film advance lever. However, that hasn't stopped Olympus adding a 3-inch OLED capacitive touchscreen rear-panel monitor that can be tilted to assist when shooting from high and low angles.

As you can imagine, using OLED here makes a big difference over previous LCD screens found on the Pen range, and like OLED screens on phones, the inclusion on the OM-D offers a major improvement in quality and perceived quality of the image when viewing it in playback mode.

Sadly, we weren't allowed out of the blacked-out armoured truck in which we were shown the new camera to see how the screen fared in bright sunlight, but shooting and then viewing images back on the screen in the environment we were in looked pretty sharp.

Not that you need to care about that OLED screen. The biggest difference, aside from the new design, is that the camera will be the first Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera to have an electronic viewfinder (EVF) giving you a more traditional camera feel that sets it apart from the Pen models. That EVF is incredibly sharp (1440k-dot) allowing you to check manual adjustments to brightness and colour tones live and again, in our quick play, worked very well.

Looks are one thing, what about performance?

Olympus is pushing several core features here and sadly while we were able to get a feel for it in the hand, we weren't able really to test the camera's shooting capabilities. What we can talk about is some of the specs ahead of a more in-depth play we have planned for the next couple of weeks.

The new high-speed Live MOS Sensor on the OM-D comes with 16.1 megapixels, and allied to the TruePic VI image processing engine it offers noise-reduction capability and still-image shooting sensitivity as high as ISO 25600.

Olympus is also boasting the fastest auto-focus of any interchangeable lens camera (including all DSLRs) with a further refinement of the world-beating FAST AF (Frequency Acceleration Sensor Technology) also found on the popular Pen series models.

Again, that's hard to test in the back of a truck, but even in the poor lighting it seemed to be quick.

According to Olympus the OM-D will include Fine Detail Processing technology, first seen on the E-5, which eliminates Moiré and pseudo-colours, while Real-Colour Technology is used to reproduce previously hard-to- render colours such as emerald green. The OM-D also offers a new “Key Line” filter to enhance edge lines, op make the photo look more like an illustration; two variations provide different-strength effects. Art Filter Bracketing allows you to generate multiple pictures with different filters from a single shot.

Where Olympus is really hoping to impress though is a new five-axis image stabilisation that now not only deals with yaw and pitch, but also horizontal and vertical shift as well as rotary motion.

That should come in handy when you are without a tripod, but also when shooting movies. The OM-D can record Full HD (1920 x 1080) in MOV format up to 29 minutes.

On the accessories front, the OM-D is compatible with all MFT Olympus lenses, which will be supplemented by two new lens options later in the year: the M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm 1:1.8 and the M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm 1:2.8 macro. There is also the battery grip, flash and adapte rings, to make a complete package.

First impressions of the Olympus OM-D are good. Although our time with the camera was brief, we can't help marvelling at its classic lines, whilst feeling rather reassured by it's modern innards.

We will be bringing you a full review in the near future, so stay tuned.