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Tallying Up the Rumors of the Olympus E-M5

E-P2 vs. OM-4T
Pen E-P2 with M.Zuiko 45mm on the left, and the OM-4T with OM 50mm on the right

Rumors about a new Olympus µ4/3rds camera, the so-called E-M5 (if that's its real name), to be announced next week, 8 February, have been trickling into the rumor site 43rumors with suspicious regularity. And not just rumors, but little images of portions of this so-called new camera.

If we're to believe the rumors, the next new Olympus camera will take its design cues from the old OM film camera series, specifically the OM-4/4T. In some ways that makes a lot of sense. The OM film series came after the Pen film series, and if you place a modern digital Pen (such as the E-P2) next to an OM-4T, you can see just how close they are in size to one another. At least from the outside.

Internally there's an awfully big difference. The sensor in the Pen is 1/4 the surface area of the 35mm film frame of the OM-4T next to it. There's all the electronics and a battery to power it all stuffed into a Pen body in place of simple mechanical controls and space for a roll of 35mm film and its take-up spool in the OM body. And of course, over 20 years of design and engineering separate the OM-4 from the digital Pen.

I'll not go through and comment on every rumor. At this point in time it doesn't really matter one way or the other. The only rumors that truly catches my attention are the ones swirling around the sensor; the sensor for the E-M5 is allegedly based on the same sensor used in the Panasonic G3 and GX1.

If true then the E-M5 might be in pretty good shape from an IQ perspective. That sensor, according to DPreview, is the best 4/3rds sensor yet produced:
Images from the G3 represent a clear step forward in comparison to output from the G2. Fine detail is preserved throughout a wide range of ISOs. Noise-related artifacts simply are not an issue at ISO 800 and below. In low-light scenarios that demand a high ISO the G3 delivers the most impressive output we have yet seen from a Micro Four Thirds camera aside from Panasonic's own GH2. The G3's rendering of finely detailed subjects stands up surprisingly well against entry-level DSLRs. Along with the more expensive GH2, the G3 represents a benchmark for Micro Four Thirds image quality at this point in time.

At low ISO values, the G3's image quality compares very well with even the best APS-C based DSLRs in its price range. Once the ISO sensitivity gets above 800, the benefits of the larger APS-C chips do become apparent though, and the G3 cannot touch the likes of the Nikon D5100 when the going gets really tough, at ISO 6400 and above. Let's not understate this achievement, however. The G3 comes as close to entry-level DSLR image quality as we have seen in a comparably priced camera.
Of all the capabilities I want in a new camera, the most significant to me are enhanced/advanced sensor capabilities. If it's true that the E-M5 will have the same 16MP sensor currently used in Panasonic's G3 and GX1, then this may be the most significant sensor upgrade in the Olympus line, especially if they work to enhance the sensor through circuitry enhancements and firmware in the Truepic processor.

As an aside, what bothers me about the DPreview review is the consistent phrase "entry-level DSLR" image quality. When I think of cameras I think of a class of camera along the likes of the Nikon D7000 to D300s or the Canon 60D to 7D. Of course, it goes without saying that the sensors in those class of cameras are in several models below them (Nikon 3100/5100, Canon T3i). Part of the rumor about the new sensor is that Olympus has "tweaked" it to give the best performance possible. So who knows, maybe, just maybe, the new E-M5 sensor will match the performance of, say, the Nikon D7000.

And at a rumored price of $1,200 body only, that pits it squarely against the Nikon D7000 in my book.

I'm not going to make any wild judgements, pro or con, about this rumored new-to-be-announced Olympus camera. I'm taking a zen-like calm approach and patiently waiting for what will happen to happen. I'll then make a decision when I've got real facts. I've gotten worked up twice already over the E-5 and then the E-P3 before they were released, and that's two times too many. If the rumors are true we'll all know soon enough come a week from today. And then I'll make a decision.

Update 4 February

Part 2:
The Final Reveal:


  1. A good and sensible approach, Bill, and also a very nice photo of the two cameras old and new. You almost see the quality, as if you could feel those metal bodies.

    Yes, going up against a D7k will be hard I think, with that Panny against Sony sensor - so from the camera side, I guess the Nikon would possibly win. But lenses? I was thinking of that nice PanaLeica 1.4 25mm lately, the 45mm will be my wife's birthday present in a few days from now, and both the 14mm Panny and 12mm Oly are surely superb lenses as well. Nikon? Hmmm... yes, their lenses are good as well, but you have to stop them down a lot if you look at the blur graphs over at SLRGear. Plus I'd lose in-body stabilization, so no stabilization at all with most (or all?) of their primes.

    Oh, and I also cringe at those "entry level" comments at DPReview. And I think the D3100 has another sensor with a slightly lower resolution, tho also pretty good.


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