Olympus resurrects the vintage OM-1: hands-on with the OM-D EM-5

Modern cameras are often designed to be sleek, sexy, and futuristic, but Olympus is going back to its roots with a new camera inspired by the OM-1, one of the company’s most recognised manual 35mm film SLRs.

Brought back to life today, the remade OM-1 is now digital, sporting a sensor in place of film and compatibility for the Micro Four-Thirds lens mount.

While the technology has certainly changed from the 1970s camera, Olympus has designed the new camera to resemble an older one, taking the look of the original OM-1 and adding the new technology while making it thinner.

The digital OM-D E-M5 sits on the left while the 1970s camera it was inspired by – the OM-1 – sits on the right.

Launched today, the E-M5 is the first of this new Olympus system, called the OM Digital Compact System Camera, or OM-D for short.

The first body of what we expect will be a new range, the E-M5 sports a 16 megapixel sensor, 3 inch tilting OLED touchscreen, electronic viewfinder with 1.44 megapixel resolution, Full HD video, and a weather-proofed magnesium-alloy chassis. Some of the specs of this new camera include low-light sensitivity up to ISO 25,600, while the sequential shooting rate can reportedly reach 9 frames per second.

There are also a couple of world firsts in the new body, with Olympus not only declaring the world’s fastest autofocus speed in the E-M5, but also a world first five-axis image stabilisation system built into the body, able to keep stills stable no matter how you hold your camera.

That stability also extends to shooting video with Olympus, a mode that aims to cut down on the rolling shutter effects normally seen when shooting video on other interchangeable lens cameras. Here, Olympus is reducing that problem by adopting new video processing algorithms and a maximum 240fps frame rate.

The Olympus EM-5 will be available in both silver and black.

At the launch today, Olympus gave us some quick hands-on time with the unit ahead of its launch in April, and we have to say that we’re mightily impressed.

In the hands, the OM-D feels excellent, providing a comfortable grip with a strong and solid body. It’s very reminiscent of an older camera, making it feel like a real camera, as opposed to some of the digital cameras that can come off feeling like more of a toy.

Even at a pre-production level, aspects of the camera feel very well designed, with top dials intelligently placed making it easy to change aperture and shutter speed without moving your hand. Function keys normally used for white balance and image aspect ratio can now be changed on the fly without touching the menu, making it possible to change lots of settings while you’re taking photographs.

Some of the settings are also a little unexpected, with shadows and highlights now able to be changed with curves inside the camera (above). It’s a little more professional than we were expecting, but a welcome addition nonetheless.

All up, our initial impressions are good, and we’re keen to see more. Olympus has told us that the E-M5 will head to stores in April and pricing has yet to be determined. Overseas, Americans have a price date of around $1000, so we’re hoping the Australian price isn’t too far off.