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Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera preview (video)

Olympus has embraced the camera designs of yesteryear for several generations, from its first Micro Four Thirds models to last year's E-P3. But now the Japanese camera maker is stepping up its retro game, announcing a brand new line of Micro Four Thirds cams. Meet the OM-D. A dramatic departure from the more modern-looking PEN cameras, this new line of mirrorless models, specifically the E-M5, in many ways duplicates the design elements of the 1970s-era OM System. The first consumer camera in that SLR lineup, the OM-10, served as clear inspiration for the slightly boxy, black or silver and black magnesium alloy digital model we have today. We were able to spend some time with the Olympus E-M5 before tonight's announcement, and were very impressed with what we saw. Jump past the break for our impressions and an Olympus-guided video walkthrough, and thumb through the gallery below for a detailed look at the company's answer to the Fujifilm X-Pro1.

The 16 megapixel Live MOS Micro Four Thirds sensor is the crown jewel of the E-M5, and comes complete with five-axis image stabilization, allowing the sensor to shift up, down, forwards, backwards and diagonal to compensate for camera movement, enabling what Olympus reps describe as "a built-in Steadycam." Perhaps even more impressive, however, is the camera's autofocus system. Olympus claims that the E-M5 features the "world's fastest autofocus," of any camera -- yes, that even includes top-of-the-line DSLRs. We went on a quick indoor shoot with the cam and were incredibly pleased with the focusing system's performance -- subjects came into focus instantaneously, even in low-light. We can't confirm that Olympus claim, but this thing is definitely very, very fast.

While the E-M5 clearly outperforms the E-P3, it's designed to sit alongside that camera and other PEN-series models, with a higher price point. In addition to autofocus speed, it bests the E-P3 in low-light performance, offering an image sensitivity range of ISO 100-25,600. Unless you prefer the more modern design of the PEN series or don't want to spend for the E-M5, there's really no reason not to opt for this newer, faster model. We were not permitted to take home images captured with the pre-release model we used during our demo, though we did snap a few frames at both ISO 25,600 and ISO 12,800. Noise was indistinguishable on the articulating 3-inch touchscreen during an initial preview at ISO 12,800, though we could make it out in the ISO 25,600 shot. Noise became much more apparent when we zoomed into the image, of course, but according to Olympus reps, ISO 12,800 is "totally usable," and it's important to note that our sample was an early version of what the company will eventually ship.

The camera is quite intuitive, with a simple multi-tab menu system and a variety of dedicated controls. There are two dials up top, just as you'll find on the Sony NEX-7 -- in manual mode, one adjusts aperture while the second changes shutter speed. Touchscreen control is available as well, with tap-to-focus and touch-shoot functionality, but you'll need to use the buttons to the right for more complex adjustments. As you'd expect for any interchangeable lens camera, there's a full manual mode, along with the usual aperture- and shutter-priority, program and automatic shooting modes. There's a nine-frames-per-second burst shooting mode when in single-shot autofocus mode, which is among the fastest we've seen in a mirrorless model -- that consecutive capture option drops to 4.2 fps when snapping with continuous autofocus, however.

Overall, the E-M5 sounds like a win, but how much does it cost and when can you make it yours? Olympus has priced the mirrorless cam a hair shy of a grand, at $999.99. You can also purchase the black or silver E-M5 as part of a 12-50mm or 14-42mm kit, with pricing set at $1,300 and $1,100, respectively. Consider us sold. The camera supports all existing Micro Four Thirds lenses and accessories, but two new higher-end primes are expected to hit stores later this year, including a 75mm f/1.8 portrait lens and a splash- and dust-proof 60mm f/2.8 macro. There's also a new splashproof Four Thirds adapter on the way, along with an excellent optional camera grip with detachable battery. And while you may have noticed that there's no built-in flash, the new FL-600R should have you covered, with a guide number of 50, a built in LED light for video capture and a quick-charge battery. For now, that's all she wrote, but we'll certainly be hearing plenty more about the OM-D series in the months and years to come.

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The Olympus E-M5 Unites an Intuitive Built-In Electronic Viewfinder with the World's First*1 5-Axis Image Stabilization and World's Fastest*2 Autofocusing System inside a Powerfully Portable and Rugged Dustproof and Splashproof Body

CENTER VALLEY, Pa., February 7, 2012, 9:00pm – Today Olympus builds upon the 40-year legacy of the OM SLR film camera series and marks the beginning of the new digital imaging era with the launch of the Olympus E-M5, the first of the new Olympus OM-D (OM Digital) Series of Micro Four Thirds™ products. Designed to meet the needs of advanced photographers, the Olympus E-M5 is packed with a built-in electronic viewfinder, superior image technology, blazing fast speed and total creative control in a classic, rugged body ready for sand, sun, sleet or snow.

Evoking the classic design of the original OM Series introduced 40 years ago, and transforming it for the modern age, the Olympus OM-D Series is a new and entirely unique Micro Four Thirds camera system. It combines outstanding features found in the Olympus E-System DSLR line with those of the compact Olympus PEN® Series to meet the requirements of discerning photographers who demand more performance and portability from their interchangeable-lens cameras. The compact and ready-for-action Olympus E-M5 boasts breakthrough innovations inside, including:

A built-in 120-fps (frames-per-second) refresh rate, high-resolution electronic viewfinder (EVF) with outstanding image quality, eye detect and intuitive functionality that enables real-time viewing of shooting conditions

A 16.1-megapixel Live MOS Sensor and TruePic™ VI image-processing engine for superior image quality and high sensitivity

The world's first*1 5-axis image stabilizer to compensate for multi-directional camera shake during both still photography and HD moviemaking

The world's fastest*2 autofocusing system (FAST AF) plus new 3D AF tracking for improved performance following moving subjects at up to 9 frames-per-second sequential shooting
A lightweight magnesium alloy body that is enhanced with the same dustproof and splashproof durability of the Olympus E-5 DSLR

A tilting 3.0-inch touch screen OLED and new Movie Effects: One Shot Echo, for a semi-transparent frame at your whim and Multi Echo, for a multi-motion trail effect.

Intuitively Designed Electronic Viewfinder

The OLYMPUS E-M5 is the first Olympus interchangeable-lens camera to incorporate a 120-fps refresh rate, High-Definition electronic viewfinder with an eye sensor to seamlessly switch the display between the tilting, 3.0-inch touch screen OLED and the electronic viewfinder for ease-of-use, features a 100-percent field of view, maximum 1.15x magnification and an eye point of 18mm for fatigue-free viewing. Camera setting information, such as shutter speed, is displayed at the bottom of the viewfinder so photographers can concentrate on framing shots and take full advantage of an EVF's ability to display the effects of various exposure adjustments and Art Filter effects – all without having to take the eye away from the viewfinder.

Superior Image Quality

The Olympus E-M5 uses a new 16.1 megapixel High-Speed Live MOS Sensor offering improved performance and exceptional clarity and speed in all aspects of image capture. Olympus' TruePic VI image-processing engine dramatically improves image quality in low-light environments. The camera's sensor allows for a maximum ISO of 25,600, and the dynamic range has been expanded for more faithful color reproduction.

Unprecedented 5-axis image stabilization

The Olympus E-M5 is distinguished by the world's first 5-axis image-stabilization mechanism capable of reducing the effects of camera motion and image blur from five directions on stills and video, even including motion blur caused by the photographer walking or running. Previous IS mechanisms compensated for camera shake by addressing only two kinds of movement along the vertical and horizontal axis. However, camera shake can actually be caused by five different kinds of movement: horizontal shift, vertical shift, rotary motion, as well as the yaw and pitch. While some technology has attempted to correct for camera blur by building the Image Stabilization mechanism into the lens, the Olympus E-M5 IS mechanism is incorporated into the camera body itself so that all lenses mounted on the body can take advantage of this sophisticated technology, whether shooting stills or HD video.

Blazing Speed

Focus and shoot faster with record-breaking autofocus speed and imaging processing. The Olympus E-M5 employs the FAST (Frequency Acceleration Sensor Technology) AF system, introduced in the PEN E-P3, but with even greater speed. The 16MP Live MOS chip drives image data off the sensor at a blazing 240 frames-per-second, a 2X speed increase in Continuous Autofocus, with reduced image blackout enabling photographers to track fast action, Maximum frame rates in sequential shooting have also increased more than 2X with a max frame rate of 9-fps in Single AF. A new 3D tracking AF system can follow the subject through the X-, Y- and Z-axes to dramatically improve focus on moving subjects. Paired with the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-50-mm f3.5-6.3 electronic zoom lens for optimum focusing speed, fast camera start-up times and operational speeds enable the photographer to keep up with the most challenging shooting situations, while dual control dials and dedicated function buttons help them adjust settings on-the-fly.

Creative Freedom

The Olympus E-M5 features a 3.0-inch tilting OLED touch-screen to enable photographers to get up high or down low for any shot. The touch screen interface offers intuitive focus and release of the shutter and review and enlargement of images in playback with the touch of a finger. The new Live Bulb feature updates the Live View image on the OLED screen at pre-set intervals during long exposures and enables the user to preview continually unfolding action such as fireworks or waterfalls and adjust the exposure time accordingly while capturing the image at the desired moment. An innovative new interface, EVF Creative Control, produces a tone curve overlay on the viewfinder screen to enable separate adjustment of highlight and shadow brightness, white balance, magnification and aspect ratio can also be manipulated via the EVF.

A new "Key Line" Art Filter joins nine other available filters on the Olympus E-M5 and enhances the edge lines of the image to make it look more like an illustration. New "Cross Process II" and "Dramatic Tone II" Art Filters provide variations on the popular existing filters, and the two new Echo effect for movies leaves a momentary residual image of a subject's movements when activated during movie recording. Users who like to perform their movie post-editing on a PC will particularly appreciate the Full HD 1080i movie recording function, which adopts the MOV format (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264).

Powerful Portability and Rugged Durability

The striking, iconic design of the Olympus E-M5 is more than just looks; its magnesium alloy body is rugged enough to stand up to severe environmental conditions like heavy rain and blowing sand. The Olympus E-M5 employs internal seals extensively and, when the new M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-50 mm f3.5-6.3 EZ lens is attached, this combination delivers an integrated dustproof and splashproof camera system. The electronic viewfinder section of the body is also made of magnesium alloy to ensure durability, and the FL-LM2 Electronic Flash that ships with the camera features the same dustproof and splashproof construction.

New Lenses and Accessories for Every Shooting Challenge

The HLD-6 Power Battery Grip, in the same dust- and splashproof construction as the Olympus E-M5 body, is an adaptable, two-part grip that can be used either as a landscape grip for easier handling or as a portrait grip with an additional shutter release. The portrait grip accommodates an extra lithium-ion battery to supplement the one in the E-M5, thus extending battery life. The FL-600R electronic flash (GN 50 at ISO 200 or GN 36 at ISO 100) offers improved recharge time and enhanced flexibility and operability for movie recording, and with a wireless control option. Equipped with a built-in LED, the FL-600R can be used to light movies and as a brighter AF auxiliary light. The MMF-3 Four Thirds mount adapter is designed for mounting a Four Thirds Standard-compliant lens on a Micro Four Thirds Standard-compliant camera body. The MMF-3, which also features dust- and splashproof construction, is ideally suited for use with Olympus' similarly constructed High Grade and Super High Grade lenses.

The Olympus E-M5 is compatible with all Micro Four Thirds-compliant lenses, including two new lenses that Olympus will introduce later this year: the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 75mm f1.8 and the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 60mm f2.8 macro. The 75mm lens is a high-quality metal design with fast aperture settings for portraits and indoor sports shooting, while the dustproof and splashproof 60mm lens features 1:1 macro and a closest shooting distance of just 7.5 inches.

U.S. Pricing and Availability

The Olympus E-M5 will be available in April and ships in the following configurations:
Estimated Street Price:

$999.99 (Body only, available in Black and Silver)
$1,299.99 (Black or Silver body with black M.ZUIKO Digital ED 12-50 mm f3.5-6.3 EZ lens)
$1,099.99 (Black body with black M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 14-42 mm f3.5-5.6 II R lens)