Review: OM System OM-5
OM System, formerly Olympus, has always nailed its colours to the mast. The brand offers small, lightweight cameras that have really helped to defined the Micro Four-Thirds format, while at the same time the company has led the way with new and innovative technology such as in-camera image stabilsation.
Well, fast forward to 2022 and OM System (as the company is now called) has released its newest model, the OM-5, which sits below the OM-1 and can be seen as a lightweight, stripped back version of the brand’s current flagship model. But that’s not to say that this tiny camera doesn’t offer much. Let's take a look.
Small sensor, big power
Okay, so let’s get the pixel count out the way first because this is something photographers often obsess over. At the heart of the OM-5 is a 20-megapixel Micro Four-Thirds sensor, the same as on the Olympus E-M5 Mark III, and although this is the same resolution as the OM-1, the point of difference comes from the fact that the flagship OM-1 sensor is a stacked sensor, which allows the flagship to offer benefits such as faster burst rates and a more advanced autofocus system.
Of course, that 20-megapixel count doesn’t tell the whole story though, as the OM-5 also features OM System’s High Res mode which will make up for that low standard resolution - more on that later.
One of the misconceptions about OM System cameras is that because they are small, they may be delicate. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the OM-5 offers an IP53 weather resistance so outdoor photographers looking to work in harsher conditions shouldn’t worry as it will protect against dust and splashes.
Unbelievably, the OM-5 goes further and is freezeproof down to -10°C which will be of great use to outdoor photographers looking to shoot timelapse content in colder climates.
There are even features to protect the sensor, such as the SSWF (Supersonic Wave Filter) technology, which will help prevent dust gathering on the sensor, and this in-turn will help improve image quality.
So how tiny is this camera? Well, the OM-5 tips the scales at just 414g, meaning you will be able to carry it around all day without it being a burden. Fit a thin profile prime lens on the front and you’ll be able to stuff the OM-5 into your jacket pocket - no need for a big camera bag here.
Of course, this reduced size does bring compromises; the main being a smaller battery capacity compared to the OM-1 and the inclusion of only one SD card slot instead of two, which is a shame as this robs the photographer of being able to make an instant backup of their images to the second card.
Inside the OM-5 are plenty of features of real value for photographers. One of the high profile modes that will make a real difference out in the field is that famed High Res mode that helps balance out the relatively low 20-megapixel count of the sensor.
This works by capturing multiple frames and merging them together into one single file. There are two modes; Handheld High Res, which delivers a 50-megapixel single file, or Tripod High Res mode, which increases the resolution to 80-megapixels.
Does it make a difference in reality? Absolutely. Detail is much clearer and having all that extra resolution will allow photographers to crop in on images without compromising image quality.
I found myself quite addicted to the High Res mode and tended to keep the camera on the Handheld mode - although it does take a little longer to save the file to the card and, will of course, fill the card up faster, but I think the extra benefits of the larger files make it worthwhile.
The smart, computational features continue with the Live ND technology, which is best described as a digital ND filter, which enables shutter speeds to be slowed artificially without the hassle of carrying around a dedicated ND filter, filter holder and other paraphernalia.
For really long exposures, you’ll still need a ND filter, such as a 10-stopper, but the Live ND offers up to four-stops, and depending on light conditions, this can be enough to introduce blur into the frame.
Where the OM-5 does struggle compared to its larger and more expensive OM-1 brother is when it comes to autofocus and speed. While the AF points on offer count to 121, which is pretty decent by most standards, the OM-1 blows this out the water with 1053 AF points.
The OM-5 also doesn’t have the same subject detection features (Birds, Animals, Vehicles etc), but it does have Face and Eye Detection, which are useful when shooting portraits.
Speed wise, the OM-5 offers a max burst rate of 30 frames per second via the electronic shutter (10 fps with the mechanical shutter), which should be plenty for everyday action sequences, though this again does lag behind the OM-1, which offers up to 120 frames per second.
While we’re comparing specs, it’s worth pointing out the OM-5’s EVF is a little lower res too (1040k vs. 1620k). That said, the OM-5 does share a huge amount from its more expensive bigger brother, including the advanced IBIS system, which works via 5-axis technology and offers up to 7.5-stops of compensation.
In the field, this IBIS makes a huge difference, allowing sharper images in lower light conditions and meaning you will rarely need to use a tripod.
When it comes to image quality, the OM-5 impresses. Despite the smaller sensor, RAW files contain stacks of tonal data, making details in the highlights or make other exposure corrections easily recoverable.
Detail is impressive, especially if you have used the High Res mode, but I always feel the default OM System colours are a little desaturated straight out of the camera - that said, colours can easily be pepped up in pro-processing software such as Lightroom.
What’s really pleasing to see out in the field is how logical and well laid out the OM-5 Menu system is, plus the buttons and dials make it very easy to access and quickly change exposure variables like ISO, and modes such as drive mode, white balance etc.
Finally, the LCD’s flip out design also enables quick operation and makes it simple to setup awkward low/high compositions.
Although I think this camera will be predominately used for stills photography, the OM-5 does a fair job when it comes to video features. Video specs max out at 4K 30, but there's also 25, and 24fps at a resolution of 3840×2160 (UHD). Slow mo video can be recorded at 120fps at a Full HD resolution, but if video is your primary aim then the more bells and whistles OM-1 would probably be a wiser choice.
The other limitation for video is the single SD card slot, and OM System's strange decision to use the older USB-B charging port instead of the more universal and faster USB-C format. It's an oversight.
Granted, the OM-5 is a stripped back version of the OM-1, but it essentially keeps most of the best bits from its bigger brother and for a fraction of the cost.
It means that for the money, you’re still getting a lot of camera in a tiny body. The Micro Four-Thirds system won’t suit all photographers, but there are many benefits the 2x crop factor brings, and as an all-round package the OM-5 offers incredible value for money.
If you’re after a small camera that you can carry around everyday, and one that can take the knocks while serving up impressive image quality, then the OM-5 really delivers.