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OK, the declaration first. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Olympus OM tragic. Have been since my high school days and was the proud owner of a Praktica until the OM-1 was launched. Suddenly my East German-built 35mm SLR looked very agricultural next to the jewel-like Olympus, but mind-you, so did pretty much every other reflex camera of the day. Fortunately, my art teacher quickly purchased an OM-1 and, as I was the only student doing photography in my year, he occasionally loaned it to me. I was instantly hooked and, like many OM devotees, have kept the candle burning despite Olympus dallying with our affections on a number of occasions… pathetic attempts at AF 35mm SLRs, then no SLRs at all for nearly a decade, then some very strange early attempts at D-SLRs (remember the E-330 anyone?) and, finally, unceremoniously dumping the E-400 series just when it was getting close to being the ‘digital OM’.

So, the first of the OM-D series cameras really has a lot of making up to do. And pro Olympus OM leanings don’t actually mean it’s going to get an easier run on these pages. In fact, if it doesn’t deliver, the disappointment is going to be far more profound and the criticism harsher.

Heritage aside, the OM-D system is critical to Olympus’s future success. The company is the first to admit it isn’t in the same league as Canon, Nikon or Sony, and it’s got one or two financial hurdles to jump which, it has to be said, are no fault of its engineers, stylists and product planners. OM-D has to work and it has to create the same sort of aura and fierce loyalty that the ‘single digit’ 35mm cameras did. Consequently, there’s a lot resting on the E-M5’s slim shoulders, but already the signs are there that Olympus knows exactly what it’s doing with OM-D and it’s going to create a culture around the system that will be irresistible to many.

The E-M5 would have been well down the development track when Fujifilm launched the X100, but Olympus must have been hugely encouraged by the market’s response to this camera given the design philosophies are very similar. The E-M5, we’re assured is just the start, but what a start! Apart from the camera body itself, there are accessories like the two-part HLD-6 battery grip – styled to look a lot like an OM system motordrive – and a growing system of superb fast prime lenses to which has just been added a glorious 75mm f1.8 short telephoto. The fast Zuiko primes in the original OM system where legendary and, indeed, many have been lovingly kept and stored just waiting for the day when there would again be something worthy to put them on.

CLASSICAL ELEGANCE
Of course, the E-M5 isn’t a D-SLR and, when all is said and done, it’s pretty much an E-P3 with a built-in electronic viewfinder and a new sensor. However, as with so many things, it’s not what you’ve got, but how you use it and the E-M5 uses what it’s got brilliantly. Let’s not forget too, that the original E-P1 and its successors are also a digital-era re-interpretation of a classic Olympus design, although the Pen F half-frame cameras were never as successful as the OM series.  
 
Obviously the E-M5 is styled to be reminiscent of an OM SLR, and although it’s actually a little more compact overall, both the depth and height of the body are very similar. The EVF’s housing is shaped like that of the pentaprism housing on the later OM-3 and OM-4 models, and the use of dials (three of them!) on the top panel also helps keep up appearances. It’s worth noting, of course, that the single-digit 35mm OM bodies never had a conventional shutter speed dial and instead used a control ring located around the lens mount.

To avoid bulking up the body, the E-M5 gets just a hint of a handgrip, but there’s a fairly substantial thumbrest at the rear. Remarkably, the 7.62 cm monitor screen – which takes up a lot of the rear panel’s real estate – is mounted so it can be tilted up or down; at 80 degrees and 50 degrees respectively. It, too, adds virtually nothing to the overall depth. It’s an OLED-type display with touch controls which would have been well beyond our imaginations back in 1972 when the OM-1 was making headlines. It’s well known that it was to have been called the M-1, but Leica objected so the ‘O’ was added. The E-M5 model designation is a cheeky little reminder of this and also signals that this camera is considered the spiritual successor to the OM-4.

The EVF is essentially the Digital Pen system’s VF-2 fully integrated into the camera body and with proximity sensors on the eyepiece to enable automatic switching between it and the external monitor. It’s an LCD panel with a resolution of 1.44 million dots, 100 percent scene coverage and a magnification of 1.15x.

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LOOKING SMART
Of necessity, the rest of the control layout is pretty much pure D-SLR or CSC, but Olympus has gone for quite chunky keys – in terms of their depth – which look like a throwback to the first push-buttons to appear on 35mm SLRs. The on/off control is a lever, as is the catch for the battery compartment which is accessed from the camera’s base.

The memory card slot and the connection bay are at either end of the camera, but their covers are both so discreet you have to look hard to realise that they’re actually there. The end result is that, through OM eyes, the E-M5 looks gorgeous, although even in general terms it’s a very pretty camera with the same ‘hold me, touch me’ allure as the X100 and X-Pro1. The big decision is whether to go for the black or the silver, a choice that for many will no doubt be influenced by which finish they preferred in the 35mm days. It has to be said, however, the E-M5 actually looks very smart in both colours.
The external covers are magnesium alloy and the bodyshell is sealed against dust and moisture (as, indeed, is the optional battery grip). Sticking with tradition, there isn’t a built-in flash, but a neat little compact unit – also weather sealed – comes in the box. The test camera was supplied with the M.Zuiko Digital 12-50mm power zoom which is one of two ‘kit lens’ options and, while it’s not as compact as the alternative 14-42mm, it too is weatherproofed. If you’re feeling a bit ambivalent about power zooms, the Olympus lens has the advantage of retaining a conventional collar-type control rather than a rocker-switch so its operation is more intuitive.

SWEET SIXTEEN
The E-M5’s sensor is a new Live MOS device with a total pixel count of 17.2 million, the highest resolution in an Olympus digital camera to date. It’s mated with Olympus’s TruePic VI image processor which enables, among other things, Full HD video recording, continuous shooting at up to 9.0 fps and enhanced noise reduction so the sensitivity range is equivalent to ISO 200 to 25,600.

The effective pixel count is 16.1 million which delivers a maximum image size of 4608x3456 pixels, but as on the Digital Pen cameras and the E-series D-SLRs, there’s actually a dizzying choice of image settings – four JPEG compression levels, eight sizes and five aspect ratios can all be mixed and matched. The compression settings are called Super Fine, Fine, Normal and Basic and, while the image size settings are for Large, Middle and Small, the latter two can be assigned from a selection of settings (four and three respectively) in the E-M5’s extensive Custom Menu. Likewise, RAW+JPEG capture can be configured to capture any combination of JPEG compression level and image size.

Olympus pioneered active sensor cleaning via ultrasonic vibration of the low-pass filter (LPF), but this hardly seems to rate a mention these days. It’s not referred to in either the brochure or the manual, but be assured ‘Supersonic Wave’ sensor cleaning is still there. Instead, the big deal on the E-M5 is its sensor-shift image stabilisation system which has been upgraded to provide correction for movements in five directions (yaw and pitch plus roll, horizontal shift and vertical shift) and to give up to five stops of additional hand-held stability. Additionally, there’s a ‘Multi-Motion IS’ mode which counters low-frequency camera shake – such as occurs when you’re walking while shooting video – and gives, claims Olympus, “near steadicam quality”. Olympus also points out that the E-M5 image stabilisation also works with “uncoupled vintage lenses mounted via lens adapters”, clearly being well aware that a lot of OM glass is going to end up on the camera.

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FAST FOCUS
Still on lens-related matters, the E-M5 inherits an updated version of the E-P3’s ‘FAST’ AF – the initials stand for Frequency Accelerated Sensor Technology – and it’s claimed to be the world’s fastest (in concert with the 12-50mm zoom). Not just the fastest contrast-detection system, by the way, the fastest AF system full stop. It requires an optimised MSC (Movie & Stills Compatible) lens to achieve its speed along with the high-speed data streaming from the Live MOS sensor... 120 fps in the single-shot mode, 240 fps with continuous AF operation.

There are 35 distance detection zones arranged in a 5x7 grid pattern which covers a large proportion of the image area. The zones can be selected individually or in clusters of nine. In the ‘Continuous AF + Tracking’ mode, the zones are selected automatically as the subject moves using data recognition for elements such as faces, colours and patterns.

The E-M5 retains the ‘+MF’ option originally introduced on Olympus’s D-SLRs and which allows for manual fine-tuning at any time. Additionally, image magnification is possible up to 14x to assist with focusing. The face detection AF mode has an additional component called ‘Pupil Priority’ which can be set to auto – so the subject’s eye closest to the camera will be used – right or left. It’s worth noting here that the E-M5’s 9.0 fps shooting speed is only attainable with the AF, exposure and white balance locked to the first frame. With full adjustment frame-by-frame, the maximum shooting speed is 4.0 fps.  

The E-M5 retains the 324-zone ‘Digital ESP’ metering used in the Digital Pen models with the option of centre-weighted average or spot measurements, the latter adjustable to give a bias towards either highlights or shadows. The main auto exposure control modes are backed by an AE lock, up to +/-3.0 EV of compensation and auto bracketing which can operate over sequences of two, three, five or seven frames with adjustments of +/-0.3, 0.7 or 1.0 EV. Incidentally, all the exposure adjustments can be preset to be applied in one of these three increments. An ‘Exposure Shift’ adjustment is provided to fine-tune the metering over a range of +/-1.0 EV in 1/6-stop increments.

The shutter has a speed range of 60-1/4000 second with flash sync up to 1/200 second. There’s a bulb mode which be preset for a duration of up to 30 minutes with the option of displaying the image in live view at predetermined intervals to help gauge the exposure.

The supplied flash unit attaches to the hotshoe, but also couples to the E-M5’s accessory port to obtain its power. This is the same connection – situated behind the hotshoe – as is found on the Digital Pen models. Commendably, the FL-LM2 flash – which has a metric guide number of ten (at ISO 200) – can also serve as the commander in a wireless TTL flash set-up. It also syncs at shutter speeds up to 1/250 second.

The E-M5’s white balance control options are extensive starting with auto correction which can be set to neutral or to maintain a warmer colour balance. There is a choice of seven presets, provisions for making and story two custom measurements, manual colour temperature control setting, bracketing and fine-tuning. As on the Digital Pen models, the fine-tuning is performed using slider-type controls for the amber-to-blue and green-to-magenta colour ranges. Olympus also bucks convention by continuing to call the manual colour temperature setting – which as a range of 2000 to 14,000 degrees Kelvin – “custom white balance”. Nevertheless, it’s the only brand offering a ‘real world’ range of settings up to 14,000 degrees Kelvin. Bracketing is over a sequence of three frames.

PICTURE PROCESSING
There’s a big choice of subject/scene modes – 23 in all – which includes Olympus staples such as High Key and Low Key plus newcomers such as multi-shot 3D and panorama capture, the latter providing all the guides to ensure the correct overlap between the frames, but stopping short of in-camera stitching. There are six ‘Picture Mode’ presets, five for colour and one B&W. The colour modes are i-Enhance, Vivid, Natural, Muted and Portrait. The i-Enhance – which is short for Intelligent Enhance - is designed to boost the saturation of whatever colour predominates in a scene. It additionally tweaks the dynamic range and operates automatically if the E-M5 is in its ‘i-AUTO’ full auto mode. In the ‘i-AUTO’ mode there is a nifty set of adjustments collectively called ‘Live Guides’ and which are touch-operated sliders for colour saturation, colour balance, brightness, background blur and blurring/freezing for moving subjects. Of course, the more experienced shooter can do all this and more via the adjustable ‘Picture Mode’ parameters for sharpness, contrast, saturation and tonal gradation. The latter has Normal, Auto, High Key and Low Key settings. The auto adjustments are made using Olympus’s ‘Shadow Adjustment Technology’ (SAT) which is designed to balance the amount of detailing reproduced in the highlights and the shadows. The darker areas of the image are selectively brightening by adjusting the tone curve while the highlights are selectively underexposed. The high key and low key settings obviously shift the tonal gradation to suit images that are predominantly brighter or darker respectively. This continues the great Olympus tradition of providing as much control as is possible over exposures which it began by pioneering the idea of multi-segment metering systems (eventually pipped at the post by Nikon’s). The E-M5 even has Curves adjustments for adjusting the brightness of the highlights and/or the shadows... guided, of course, by an image preview.

In the Monochrome ‘Picture Mode’ the adjustments are for contrast, sharpness, gradation, contrast filters (yellow, orange, red and green) and toning effects (sepia, blue, purple and green). There is also a provision for creating one user-defined ‘Picture Mode’.

After a tentative start in providing in-camera special effects, Olympus has gifted the E-M5 with a set of 11 ‘Art Filters’, most of which are adjustable. All can be combined with a select number – depending on the first effect – of ‘Art Effects’ from a total collection of five called Soft Focus, Pinhole Frame Effect, White Edges and Starlight. There is also an ‘Art Filter’ bracketing function which includes the ‘Picture Modes’ so, if you want, you’ll end up with 18 variations of the original image (including the custom-devised ‘Picture Mode’). Otherwise, it’s necessary to first switch off the effects and modes that aren’t wanted.

The ‘Art Filters’ are also available for recording video as are the main ‘PASM’ exposure modes, enabling the manual control of apertures and/or shutter speeds. There are also two new features called ‘One Shot Echo’ and ‘Multi Echo’ which generate an ‘after image’ by momentarily freezing a frame before fading it back into the moving pictures with the choice of doing this with one frame or multiple frames.

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The E-M5 records Full HD clips using the MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 compression format and with the choice of Fine or Normal quality settings which equate to 20 Mbps and 17 Mbps respectively. This is a departure from the Digital Pen models which use AVCHD compression, but MPEG-4 really is easier to edit as well as being compatible with a wider selection of editing software packages.

The camera has built-in stereo microphones, but can be fitted with an external pick-up via an adaptor module which plugs into the accessory port. There’s also the choice of recording video in the HD resolution using either the MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 or Motion JPEG AVIC compression formats. The E-M5’s support of the SD memory card format extends to SDXC, UHS-1 and Eye-Fi.

IN THE HAND
It would be nice to report that using the E-M5 is straightforward and logical – and often it is – but there are times when it isn’t. The documentation doesn’t help and it’s being kind to state that the instruction manual is poorly organised because it’s basically a shambles with chaotic indexing and only a fair cursory coverage of the camera’s operations.

For example, trying to make sense of the myriad of customisation options will just leave you with a headache. However, there’s stuff you need to know here because hidden in this extensive menu are important things like the settings for colour space, white balance, ISO, noise reduction and more stuff that should in the shooting menus. It’s also here that you’ll struggle to work out how to switch on the ‘Super Control Panel’ which is what you really need to be able to drive the E-M5 with any degree of ease and efficiency. In fact, the SCP has to be switched on for each of the camera’s main operational configurations – iAuto, PASM, Art Filters and Scene Modes – along with the alternative ‘Live Control’ screen which allows for the image to be displayed alongside selected adjustable settings.

A sample setting sequence is Custom Menu>Display>Control Settings>P/A/S/M>Live SCP>On/Off... which you’ll need to execute four times if you want the SCP to always be available! Is there a better way? Dunno, because Olympus is offering such a huge variety of control options which most owners will initially configure to suit their preferences and then not touch again. The SCP on the E-M5 has touch selection – although some of the function tiles are pretty small – but only for highlighting a selection and so it’s necessary to press the ‘OK’ button to bring up the sub-menus. And these have to be navigated conventionally via the command wheels or the left/right navigation keys rather than via touch control. It’s hard to tell whether all this will drive you bonkers or you’ll simply learn to live with it. Presumably with longer term usage, the latter will be the case. At least the SCP – and the Live Control – displays eliminate much of the need to go digging around in the Custom Menu.

The live view (and EVF) image can be configured to show a real-time histogram, dual-axis level displays, highlight and shadow warnings and a superimposed grid (from a choice of five). Similarly, the review screens can be set up to include a thumbnail with a full set of histograms, a brightness histogram superimposed over the image, highlight and shadow warnings and a ‘Light Box’ display for the side-by-side comparison of two images (with zooming). The highlight and shadow warnings have adjustable thresholds and the real-time histogram includes an internal section – displayed in green – which shows the brightness values within the selected focusing point or cluster. Olympus certainly hasn’t left anything out when it comes to keeping you fully informed.

The camera feels wonderful to hold and the close arrangement of the main dial and sub-dial – the latter located around the shutter release – works extremely well. It makes for quick and sure exposure adjustments, including applying compensation. Two function buttons – one on the top panel and one on the rear – can be assigned with a variety of duties.

The EVF is good in that there’s no lag whatsoever, but the dynamic range is typical of LCD panels and the colours are a bit muted. On the other hand, the OLED-type external monitor screen is superb in all departments.

SPEED AND PERFORMANCE
The E-M5 delivers on its promise of extremely fast and accurate autofocusing and it has to be the best of the CSCs using contrast detection. The metering, of course, is also sensor-based and proved to be extremely reliable even in very contrasty situations. As already noted, the E-M5 provides quite a few ways of dealing with contrast to maximise the dynamic range and of tweaking the image capture parameters to deliver the desired look. Olympus continues to squeeze more performance out of the Four-Thirds format sensor thanks mainly to improvements in the image data processing algorithms. The E-M5 delivers good definition, detailing and colour saturation at its default Natural ‘Picture Mode’ settings. Noise levels in the JPEGs are extremely low all the way up to ISO 1600 and acceptable at both ISO 3200 and 6400 which is excellent for a Micro Four Thirds camera. The two highest ISO settings exhibit progressively higher levels of noise which compromise the definition and tonal smoothness. In general, though, the noise reduction processing achieves a good balance in terms of maintaining a high level of sharpness, and the noise evident in the RAW files at the higher ISOs shows just how effective it is. The dynamic range is very good without any assistance, especially in the highlights which retain some detailing even in areas of reasonably extreme brightness. Using the Gradation picture parameter’s Auto setting helps increase the tonality evident in the shadow areas.

As far as image quality is concerned then, the E-M5 shoots straight to the top of the Micro Four Thirds CSC class, deposing the Lumix G3. In fact, in some areas, it’s snapping at the heels of the best ‘APS-C’ models such as Sony’s superlative NEX-A7 which is quite an achievement.

Against the clock and in the JPEG/large/superfine capture mode with an 8.0 GB Class 10 speed Sony memory card, the E-M5 rattled of a burst of 15 frames in 1.702 second which equates to a shooting speed of 8.8 fps. This is only slightly under the quoted 9.0 fps and easily accounted for by the file size compared to the ‘standard’ on which the Olympus spec is based.

THE VERDICT
So much works so well on the Olympus E-M5, it’s a pity to dwell on some of the operational issues, but the menu design and some of the setting procedures are more complicated than they need to be. The unwieldy Custom Menu is mostly at fault – numbering well over 80 items – and a lot of what’s in there should be elsewhere. Is it a deal breaker? Unlikely because the E-M5 otherwise scores very highly for its extensive feature set, superb image quality (for both stills and video), the physical handling characteristics, compact dimensions and the all-important ‘feel good’ factor. Plus, of course, it looks simply sensational and certainly challenges the Fujifilm X-Pro1 for the CSC beauty pageant crown.

Factor in the M.Zuiko Digital lens system – plus optics available in the MFT mount from other manufacturers – and the whole ethos that Olympus is building around its OM-D system and the E-M5 is pretty damn near irresistible.

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Type: Fully automatic, interchangeable lens digital camera with Micro Four Thirds System bayonet lens mount.
Focusing: Automatic 35-point wide-area system using contrast-detection via imaging sensor. Focus points may be selected manually or automatically by the camera. Manual switching between one-shot and continuous AF modes. Continuous manual override available with single-shot mode. Focus assist via magnified image (5x/7x/10x/14x).
Metering: 324-point ‘Digital ESP’ (i.e. multi-zone), centre-weighted average, spot (2.0%) with highlight/shadow bias, and TTL flash. Metering range is EV 0 to 20 (ISO 100/f2.8).
Exposure Modes: Continuously-variable program with shift, shutter-priority auto, aperture-priority auto, metered manual, TTL auto flash and TTL flash. Plus 23 subject/scene programs, including 3D capture.
Shutter: Electronic, vertical travel, metal blades, 60-1/4000 second plus B (up to 30 minutes). Flash sync to 1/250 second. Exposure compensation up to +/-3.0 EV in 1/3, ½ or full stop increments.
Viewfinder: EVF with 1.44 MP resolution, 100 percent coverage and 1.15x magnification, or variable-angle 7.62 cm OLED monitor screen (610,000 pixels) with touch screen controls. Both have scale/grid, histogram and info displays plus a zoom function.
Flash: No built-in flash. External flash units connect via hotshoe. Compact FL-LM2 accessory flash unit supplied; GN 10 (ISO 200) and 14mm coverage (i.e. equivalent to 28mm). Auto, fill-in, red-eye reduction, slow-speed sync, second curtain sync and wireless commander modes.
Additional Features: AE/AF lock, auto exposure bracketing, depth-of-field preview, dual-mode self-timer (2 and 12 second delays), audible signals, auto power-off, hard-wired remote triggering.

DIGITAL SECTION
Sensor: 17.2 million (total) pixels Live MOS with 17.3x13.0 mm imaging area and 4:3 aspect ratio. Sensitivity equivalent to ISO 200-25,600.
Focal Length Magnification: 1.97x.
Formats/Resolution: Four JPEG compression settings, RAW output (lossless compression) and RAW+JPEG capture. Eight resolution settings; 4608x3456, 3200x2400, 2560x1920, 1920x1440, 1600x1200, 1280x960, 1024x768 and 640x480 pixels. 24-bit RGB colour for JPEGs, 36-bit RGB colour for RAW files.
Video Recording: Full HD at 1920x1080 pixels, 50 fps and 16:9 aspect ratio, MPEG-4/H.264 AVC compression format. Fine and normal quality modes. HD at 1280x720 pixels, 50 fps and 16:9 aspect ratio, MPEG-4/H.264 AVC compression format. Fine and normal image quality modes.
HD at 1280x720 pixels, 25 fps and 16:9 aspect ratio, AVI Motion JPEG compression format. Built-in stereo microphones with wind filter, and optional adaptor module for connecting an external stereo microphone. Movie clips limited to 2.0 GB file size.
Recording Media: SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards.
Continuous Still Shooting: Up to 15 frames (as tested) at up to 9.0 fps (JPEG/large/super fine) or up to five RAW frames.
White Balance: TTL measurement via image sensor. Auto measurement, auto warm, seven presets and two custom settings. White balance compensation (amber-to-blue and/or green-to-magenta) in all presets plus white balance bracketing over three frames. Manual colour temperature setting from 2000 to 14,000 degrees Kelvin.
Interfaces: Multi-connector (USB 2.0 and NTSC/PAL composite video) and HDMI mini.
Additional Digital Features: Built-in image stabilisation (with vertical and horizontal only modes), built-in sensor cleaning, Adobe RGB and sRGB colour spaces, long exposure noise reduction (Auto, On, Off), high ISO noise filter (Off, Low, Standard, High), six ‘Picture Modes’ (i-Enhance, Vivid, Natural, Muted, Portrait and Monotone), one user-defined ‘Picture Mode’, adjustable ‘Picture Mode’ adjustments (Contrast, Sharpness, Saturation and Gradation – Auto, Normal, Low-Key, High-Key), Monochrome mode has four contrast filters and four toning effects, 11 ‘Art Filter’ effects applied at capture (Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale & Light Colour, Light Tone, Grainy Film, Pin Hole, Diorama, Cross Process, Gentle Sepia, Dramatic Tone and Key Line), five ‘Art Effects’ (Soft Focus, Pin Hole, White Edges, Frames and Starlight), five aspect ratios (4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 1:1 and 4:3), multiple exposure facility (with auto exposure adjustment), multiple bracketing modes (AE, WB, flash and ‘Art Filters’), luminance histogram display, ‘Super Control Panel’ screen, highlight and shadow alerts (adjustable thresholds via histogram), adjustable image display time, auto image rotation, slide show (with a choice of music and transitions), playback zoom (up to 14x), 4/9/25/100 thumbnail displays (also available in slide show mode), ‘lightbox’ side-by-side comparison display, in-camera editing functions (Shadow Adjust, Red-Eye Fix, Aspect, B&W, Sepia, Saturation, e-Portrait, Resize), in-camera RAW-to-JPEG conversion, in-camera RAW image overlay (up to three frames), copyright info, DPOF support, PictBridge support.
Power: One 7.6 volt/1220 mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack (BLN-1 type).
Dimensions (WxHxD): body only = 121.0x89.6x41.9 mm. Weight: body only = 380 grams (without battery pack or memory card).
Price: $1499 with M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm f3.5-6.3 EZ zoom or $1299 with M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 IIR zoom.