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.

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.