An Ode to an Almost Perfect Camera: The Original Olympus OMD EM5

The Olympus OMD EM5 was one of the most perfect cameras they ever made.

By all means, the Olympus OMD EM5 was the camera everyone wanted when it was introduced. Olympus did it right. They gave it retro ergonomics, a simple-to-use-design, and it was weather sealed. I remember putting that camera through some of the most torrential downpours I’d shot in that year. Paired with a few weather-sealed prime lenses, that camera felt the way so many modern cameras should. It felt like a classic. And I honestly miss it. I never grew fond of its successors, which I felt became all too modernized. Instead, I yearn for the classic ergonomics that Olympus sometimes delivers. Those cameras truly feel, well, like cameras.

Back then, Olympus had arguably the fastest autofocus of any camera system. It was quick, reliable, and when coupled with Olympus’ great Zuiko glass, it yielded beautiful photos. Yet, when I spent time with that camera, I wasn’t too concerned with the autofocus. I was more interested in using it with my Voigtlander 17.5mm f0.95 lens. When I attached that lens to the camera, everything looked magical. The colors were beautiful. In fact, they were a bit closer to what we used to see with the older Kodak sensor. What that sensor rendered looked like a weird combo of both Kodak Portra and Kodak Ektachrome. But every time I shot with it, I remember being in love with every single image I got. Very few cameras have done that for me. The Fujifilm X Pro 1 and the Canon 5D Mk II are the only other ones that probably ever have.

I remember slinging that camera and lens around my torso with a TAP and DYE strap attached. The heavy Voigtlander would give even more of that classic feel to it. Nothing really felt as good as the little thumb rest. Some thumb rests are designed to mimic the feel of a film advance, but this one really did feel like that. Putting the camera to your eye and watching the subject come slowly into focus as you turned the ring on the lens was an experience that truly put me into the moment. One could say the same for a Leica, but it’s not the same. The Olympus also had this interesting micro contrast that worked like focus peaking, but the camera itself didn’t have focus peaking built into it. What it had worked well, though. I could never get this with Sony and Zeiss lenses. Instead, it felt like a true modern classic. And since my eyesight has slowly gotten worse, manually focusing lenses has too. The best system I find to do this with now is the Canon RF system – providing that the lens has exposure contacts built-in.

The Olympus OMD EM5 was, in many ways, a faithful companion camera. It was small, had fantastic image quality, and could do everything you needed. Wanted to shoot a wedding? That sensor could handle it. Wanted to travel? It was small enough to live around your neck. Needed to do some work? Well, the autofocus could handle that. Combine it with the fantastic touch screen interface, and you had one absolutely fantastic camera. The only thing is I wish it had was true focus peaking. That camera was indeed my favorite Olympus camera that I’d ever owned. If the Pen F, later on, had been weather sealed or refreshed with an emphasis on the tactile experience, I would have stuck with the system. Though these days, I yearn for it more and more.

The other really cool thing: it had a 16MP sensor. 16MP was honestly enough for most needs. It didn’t need to go beyond that, and I honestly still feel like that was the sweet spot with Micro Four Thirds. In some ways, I genuinely wish Olympus found a way to incorporate their old Kodak-style sensors back into the cameras. That Slide film look was gorgeous, and today, it would stand out even more from the rest of the pack. I know other folks who would totally buy one just to have that look. While everyone else fights over high ISO output and megapixels, Olympus could find a way to take the cake with an experience. And that experience of early mirrorless is truly missing from today’s photography world.