Man buys obsolete camera after saying he "probably will" buy the camera nearly two years ago. The same, exact camera, not just the same model...

I used to have too many cameras and then I got rid
of a whole bunch of them and I felt a little naked
even though I had the three cameras I needed so I bought 
one more that does something a little different from 
the other three. Sue me. 

My friend, Frank, bought this camera (above= Olympus em-5) in May of 2012---about a week after the camera officially launched into stores. He didn't fool around either. He bought the battery grip right up front. We met for coffee so I could fondle the camera and see just how cool it was and then I went home and wrote a column about how this camera might eventually cost me $1500. I was postulating that I would probably be inspired in short order to rush out and buy one with the grip. That's about what they cost new back then. 

Frank has pretty much stayed the course with Olympus and Panasonic and has not made the fun but financially disastrous missteps that I have by also buying into the Sony Alpha system and, simultaneously, the Nex system as well. At one point recently I had overlapping systems (not just cameras) that covered Pentax, Samsung, Sony, Sony and Panasonic. It was insane. I never knew what camera to take out the door. And if I could decide on a brand some times it was a whole separate thing to decide on a format...

Now my sole point and shoot camera is a Sony RX10 and, until yesterday afternoon, my other (work) cameras were all Panasonic GH series cameras. I won't apologize for a giant mix of lenses as long as they all fit, with adapters, on the m4:3 cameras.

So I bought the mildly used camera (above) yesterday afternoon and I've spent some time with it. The rationale for stepping outside the Panasonic universe? It's for the times that I want to use the 17mm 1.8, and the 45mm 1.8, and the older PenF lenses with the benefit of image stabilization. That, and a need to understand why people were so emotionally loyal to the EM-5 camera.

I cleared off the dining room table last night and got out my steam powered slide rule (with genuine leather case), a pdf of the owner's manual blown up into hundreds of poster sized pages and laid out on the living room walls, and gathered five different large screen TVs, each with a YouTube video queued up from some OMD  web expert or another's attempt to demystify the menus. The entire team of Visual Science Lab experts dragged over the portable bar from headquarters and we spent the better part of 11 hours straight mixing martinis and daiquiris and trying to decipher and make sense of the labyrinthian Olympus menus. 

Our best bet was the black market guidebook that translated the Romanian version of the manual back into English. Somehow it was the least obtuse. We went on to spreadsheet all the various matrixes, all the possible combinations of settings and quickly realized that this could become more complex than encryption to the 12th place. 

Then Ben leaned in and turned on something called "SCP." and everything became much simpler. You could see all the important stuff in one place and take needed actions. Now, if only we could figure out what "SCP" means...

An interesting factoid that we discovered as we were slamming down benzedrine and trying to stay awake at sunrise while we continued learning to operate the menu in it's entirety,  is that if you go though all the menus in reverse, move each letter up or down in the alphabet by two steps ("m's" become "o's" or "k's") and go through that process eight times and then repeat interspersing letters represented by pi numerals in sequence while skipping every third menu line you will eventually write a perfect copy of James Joyce's novel, Ulysses.  Not complicated at all.  (Where the hell is the green zone...?).

After a 30 minute nap and five cups of coffee I decided to go out and at least try to shoot with the camera. I was pleasantly surprised. As long as you don't have to change anything in the menus it is an elegant and fun picture taker. I might be able to manage ISO and white balance settings on my own but I did bring along three technicians with laptops poised to get straight through to the geniuses on the forums at DPreview but....surprisingly I did pretty well on my own. Tomorrow we'll get that diopter thingy just right....

Need some action and adventure in your Summer? Try the photo novel of the Summer: 

We'll both be happy you did!


  1. LOL. Super Control Panel. It started even earlier than my dead E-330 which is my earliest Olympus interchangeable lens camera. I almost bought a NEX and their version has similar to display but you can't select a item and change the setting. Hope you got my edited spreadsheet of the BIOFOS one.

    The next thing you need to do is to store some profiles in My Settings

  2. When I bought the E-M5 I also bought the GH2. I remember writing back then that it took me 2 hours to understand the UI with the GH2 and 2 days with the E-M5. And that's after owning the E-520 and E-620 before it!! Thankfully, you, too have prior Olympus experience so I am sure there's a lot of tongue in cheek in your post! I think I even remember you commenting before on prior Oly's that absurdity of having to activate the Super Control Panel deep in the menus... I don't think anyone can figure out why it is not on by default. As for the grip, I found the first knuckle of my pinky finger kept pressing the grip shutter button when I had heavy lenses attached. It took be a while to figure out why I was locking focus without trying to.

    Peter F.

  3. I do have cheat sheet in Mandarin if that will help.

  4. Ananda, Oh dear God! You mean there's even more stuff I have to do to make this beast function?

  5. Frank, I tried the Mandarin but I ended up in a coffee shop that only sold vegan soy coffee. Try the Rumanian manual. Once you are able to set various profiles you get a nice pastry.

  6. There is profile buried in there that will deliver Canon full frame raw files or maybe that was just the Russian pastry button.

  7. I don't blame you for the initial reluctance. I thought the EM5 felt really weird and awkward at first but after a week or two, I totally fell for it. I bought it as a vacation camera but it quickly became my "whenever I can get away with it" camera.

    I also love that the in-body IS lets me take hand-held pinhole shots. :-)

  8. I understand completely! I am not kidding when I say that I spent over 20 hours during our vacation in May 2012 by highlighting and writing notes in the margins of the printed PDF manual that I had brought with us.

    Fortunately, my wife can enjoy spending that amount of time solving Sudoku puzzles, so we had a very relaxing vacation at a cabin in the mountains.

    It's not enabled by default, but once you turn on the "Highlights and Shadows" mode in the electronic viewfinder, the magic Karma of the OM-D E-M5 begins to fully reveal itself!

  9. The Menu System just does not Mesh with my Brain. It just left me stumped when I needed to make changes, unless I look up a copy of my owners manual I saved as a PDF on my tablet. I Sold my OMD EM1 and replaced it with the Panasonic GX7. I get enough stabilization for my 17mm Oly 1.8 and my 2 Sigma's 30mm and 60mm lenses. I own Panasonic lenses with built in stabilization. I am at peace with the camera's menus and never am stumped when under pressure. It just seems right! I do not see any difference in the image quality and I like the EVF on the left side better than in the middle.

  10. iAuto with menu and display turned off removes the ability and want to fiddle with it. Otherwise I found the OK button to have easier access & ability to often changed items than the SCP.
    Perhaps the Sony RX100II is on to something (less stuff is more soothing).

  11. The most frustrating feature to figure out how to use is what all the other camera manufacturers call "Custom White Balance".
    That's not what Olympus calls it in the E-M5 manual. It can be done, and it's not all that difficult to do, but the manual was a complete disaster in telling how to do it.
    In one of my most poorly written blog posts ever, I described how to do it, and that post still gets several hits per day by other frustrated users who have given up on the manual trying to figure that one out....

  12. Maybe it's because I am Asian. My Asian logic mind finds the OLY menu meshes perfectly well with my brain.

  13. Kirk: Fabulously funny! Haven't enjoyed a read this much in some time. Tried the EM-1 in store and was stunned by the menu system. (I'm having Nikon F3 fantasies even now as I write this.) Honestly, I think we've gone mad. I sometimes wonder how great it would be if a camera company sold a camera with basic software only, and allowed each of us to download only the features we want. My menu would be very simple, I can assure you. One can only dream...

  14. I will be darned! When I read the title, I thought sure it would be the EP5.


  15. I know the Olympus menus are hardly the most straightforward, but I didn't have too much difficulty doing the initial setup on mine (one of the first in the US, from what I could find, purchased at my local dealer on 4/19/12, about a week AFTER I bought the grip). The DPReview setup guide at http://is.gd/PctXwS cleared up any questions I had after. The big thing is that, once you go through them and get things the way you want them, you rarely have to deal with them afterward. Most of the operational changes can be made quickly via the (mystifyingly-not-on-by-default) SCP.

    In all honesty, though, if I was in your position, I would have purchased a new E-M10 + the $60 add-on grip instead of an E-M5 at this point. The 10 has just about everything the 5 has (other than weather sealing), and adds better button placement (for Fn1 and Play, in particular), the popup flash, HDR mode, WiFi, a small level gauge in the EVF info strip that allows you to have a level plus highlight/shadow mode at the same time, and the ability to assign MySets to positions on the Mode Dial (though, sadly, you still can't name MySets).

    The 3-axis IBIS on the E-M10 is apparently only weaker than the 5-axis on the E-M5 for macro shooting - I certainly haven't noticed any deficiency in use during normal shooting, and always use my E-M1 for macro work.

    Overall, except for a couple tiny caveats (SD card slot in the battery compartment, no weather sealing), the E-M10 just feels like a better-sorted update to the E-M5. The latter is certainly not a bad camera, by any stretch - from an image quality perspective, there's very little to choose between any of the 16MP m43 cameras - but the E-M1 and E-M10 did add/change a few things that make the shooting experience a bit smoother.

  16. But Rick, The EM-5 is sexier. And the grip is beefier.

  17. Congratulations on finally making your purchase. I remember your post from 2 years ago which changed my photographic life as I threw away all ideas of upgrading my Canon and instead completely switched to an OM-D system. Haven't looked back.

    The funny thing I find about all the complexity of the menus and settings, these days (since I had my sensor replaced) I pretty much shoot with standard settings on a large fine jpeg. The jpegs straight out of the camera are lovely, but the menus allow you to customise the camera to make it easier to shoot. Problem is its so complex it can take some weeks of use to work out what you want to do with them.

  18. I will grant the beefier grip - if you're looking for extra battery capacity or a portrait grip, it's really the only choice short of the E-M1 w/HLD-7 - but I actually find the E-M10 more pleasing to the eye, primarily due to the lower, more rounded hump over the EVF (due to the lack of accessory port).

  19. Good pick. I picked up a hint in a recent post that you might get an E-M5.

    My preference with this body is to attach the grip without the battery compartment. It adds very little weight but places the grip in a very good location. Still a bit smaller/lighter than the E-M1.

  20. I rented the X100s and E-M5 when deciding on my next camera last year. I eventually chose the X100s but saw no real faults with the E-M5 and the Pan/Leica 50 1.4 I used was just lovely.

    Maybe I'm really geeky (which is what my wife says) but I didn't have any problems with the menus on E-M5. Changing aperture, ISO, file quality and shutter speed seemed straight forward. Didn't get into the custom functions which is something I'm not interested in doing for a walkabout.

  21. Olympus menus are the reason (coupled with sensor size, but the menu part is way worse) that I NEVER want to touch an Oly camera. When you see how blissfully and beautifully untuitive and simple Panasonic UI is in comparison, it makes you scratch your head...

  22. I've had my EM5 just over 2 years and still find the Olympus instructions mind numbing.

    I do envy the Panasonic menu system.

    I found this guide pretty useful on dpreview: http://www.dpreview.com/articles/9115179666/user-guide-getting-the-most-out-of-the-olympus-e-m5

    the mysets is really obtuse. am I restoring or wiping!!

    and I still created a cheat sheet to restore to my settings (in English)

  23. Kirk, I'm surprised given your extensive use of Olympus 4/3's cameras (which originally brought me to your site),and your great user's review of the E-PL2 a few years back that you're struggling with their menu structure, unless maybe this was tongue in cheek. SCP has been around a long time (my E-510 had it), and the mystery of its not being the default UI is long standing joke among Olympus users.

    I, too, have an E-M5,which I considered a break-through camera upon its release and a classic in the making today. They got a lot right in it, and a good thing since it was akin to a hail Mary pass as the company was embroiled in scandal at the time.

    Based on design, I'd choose the E-M5 again. But, like others, based on capability I'd recommend an E-M1 for its larger EVF, better tracking, ability to use 4/3's gems like the 50-200mm and fix for shutter shock (still no firmware fix for the E-M5).

    And, yes, the Olympus menu system certainly could use an overhaul to be friendlier to new users. Given your experience with many brands, please do offer your services as a paid consultant :-) .

  24. Hi Kirk - if I may do a bit of self promotion, I wrote a setup guide for the E-M5 (it should work for the E-M10, E-M1, and E-P5, for the most part). You might find it useful:


  25. Shooted for nine months with an E-M5, very satisfied with it - it had 95% of the things I wanted but, hey, I can live with it... Then the owner of my local shop said "Today five E-M1 have arrived, and one is for the customers to try. Come here, I'll give you one to shoot with for half an hour if you want." After that hour, I just asked "How much would you give me for my E-M5 kit?" :P

  26. Kirk, as a user of the E-M5 for about 18 months, several things about the camera seemed to be counter to how I photograph or how I prefer the controls to work. Without question, image quality and lenses were wonderful.

    When the E-M1 arrived, I carefully read the literature and it seems Olympus fixed all those things that annoyed me with the E-M5.

    I bought the E-M1 and it is the camera I had wished all the other cameras I have owned and used over the past 44 years had been. It is that good, in my view anyway.

    Instead of rewriting what I have previously written about the E-M1, here are a couple of my blog posts with my impressions.

    Olympus E-M1—A Photographer’s Three Month Evaluation (February 17th)


    The E-M1 is a Real Enthusiasts Camera!


    E-M1 Comments


    Oregon and Northern California Hybrid Road Trip-Day 9 and Update on the Olympus OM-D E-M5


    Road Trip Photography Summary; Practical Review of the Micro 4/3 System Part I


    Road Trip Photography Summary; Practical Review of the Micro 4/3 System (Olympus E-M5) Part II


    As happy as I was with the E-M5, I'm even happier with the E-M1.

    The Fujifilm has tempted me, and I even purchased the X-T1 and four lenses, but after testing and using them for a week, I sent them back. You also read about that experience on my blog at www.thewanderinglensman.com starting with the March 3rd entry.


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