It's been a good few years between the top-end digital SLR refresh for Olympus, with the E-3 being well and truly due for an upgrade. This new Four Thirds camera, the E-5, is full of considered and incremental updates from the older camera, with an emphasis on improving image quality rather than racing for more megapixels.
Design and features
The 12.3-megapixel Live MOS sensor has been completely overhauled from the previous version, and is now coupled with the new TruePic V+ image processor, which claims to deliver film-like tonality to images.
The body is sturdy and weather-sealed to resist water and dust, and made of a magnesium alloy. It's comfortable to hold in the hand and the button configurations will be familiar to anyone who has used a high-end Olympus SLR. It's a hefty beast though, weighing 800g as body-only without battery or cards. Menu interfaces are still characterised by their rather unattractive, blocky style though we're sure there are users out there who appreciate them.
Click through for a complete photo gallery. (Credit: Olympus)
At the top, the LED panel presents all the shooting information, from PASM modes to flash control, metering, remaining shots and image stabilisation. If you are used to working off the panel rather than the LCD screen, you can easily do it on the E-5 thanks to the myriad of buttons for most options like white balance, ISO and bracketing. There's also a button that lights up the LED panel for low-light use.
Also new is the 3-inch articulating LCD screen with 920,000 dots, one of the key useful features of the E-5 that betters its main competitors from Canon and Nikon. Olympus has finally excised the xD card format altogether; it's now dual-CompactFlash with UDMA support and SD/SDHC/SDXC. Connectivity options are found around the other side, with a microphone input, mini-HDMI, USB, AV and power ports.
There are now 10 art filters inside the camera, including a new one called "Dramatic Tone", which smooths skin, increases contrast and is designed to achieve a high-key look as used in fashion photography. For professional photographers and those wanting to protect their digital images, the E-5 now allows users to input copyright information into EXIF data.
An example of the dramatic tone filter on the E-5. (Credit: CBSi)
The E-5 lets photographers choose between one of nine aspect ratios, from the more common 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 to more obscure 7:5. Face detection is one new addition, a bit of a curiosity considering it's a feature normally found on compact cameras. There's also multiple exposures available, with up to four frames able to be exposed in one.
This is also the first Olympus digital SLR (not Pen camera, though) with HD video recording. It is only 720p at 30fps recording in motion JPEG.
|Olympus E-5||Nikon D300s||Canon 7D|
|12.3-megapixel Live MOS (Four Thirds type)||12.3-megapixel APS-C CMOS||18-megapixel APS-C CMOS|
|3-inch, 920,000-dot flip-out LCD||3-inch, 920,000-dot LCD||3-inch, 920,000-dot LCD|
|11-point cross-point AF||51-point (15 cross-point) AF||19-point cross-point AF|
|Dual SD and CF card slots||Dual SD and CF card slots||CompactFlash slot|
|HD video (720p, Motion JPEG)||HD video (720p, Motion JPEG)||Full HD video (1080p, H.264)|
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Time to first shot
- RAW shot-to-shot time
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
- Olympus E-51.20.81.00.4
- Nikon D300s0.30.50.60.3
- Canon 7D0.20.40.70.3
Continuous shooting speed (longer bars indicate better performance)
- Olympus E-55
- Nikon D300s7
- Canon 7D8
Olympus rates the battery for the E-5 at 870 shots.
We tested the E-5 with the kit lens option, the 16-30mm f/2.8-4 ED. Olympus has done a lot of work to make sure that its physically smaller Four Thirds sensor can keep up with the APS-C pack and it's reflected in the clean, clear images from this camera. Though we're dubious of any claim that digital can have true film tonality, the E-5 does have an excellent dynamic range.
The AF system is very speedy with the provided 12-60mm lens and feels very responsive. While it doesn't have the high ISO control that the D300s has, it does a reasonable job of JPEG noise control. ISO 3200 and 6400 are, of course, messy but the E-5 does process its JPEGs really well, particularly noticeable when you place RAW and JPEG images side by side (see below). RAW images are produced in the proprietary ORF format, which can be converted with the Olympus Master software provided with the camera.JPEG vs. RAW
JPEG vs. RAW comparison from the E-5, image taken at ISO 200 with 100 per cent crop inset. (Credit: CBSi)
Shooting in Live View is problematic, like on most SLRs, slowing down the autofocus considerably and making the lens vibrate to achieve focus. That said, the refresh rate of the screen is pleasing, though the colour accuracy could be a little better. Reds in particular appear oversaturated on-screen.
Though it's not normally an area that warrants much attention from professional photographers and purists keen on image quality, the art filters in the E-5 are particularly good. The dramatic tone filter specifically produces some amazing effects in the right conditions and takes out a lot of post-processing time if it's the desired effect you're going for.Video quality
Exposure is automatic apart from being able to set the aperture or shutter before recording. Although there is a microphone input (stereo) there are no levels to monitor the mic with and the internal mic is mono and susceptible to wind noise. The E-5 also exhibits all of the usual dSLR video traits, including rolling shutter. Overall, the video mode is fine for casual use but nothing to crow about, particularly compared to the video strengths of the Canon 7D.
Click each image for full-sized samples from the E-5. No post-processing has been done to alter these photos.
Exposure: 1/20, f/3.9, ISO 1600
Exposure: 1/6400, f/2.8, ISO 200
Exposure: 1/640, f/7.1, ISO 200
Exposure: 1/320, f/6.3, ISO 200
The E-5 presents a good upgrade path for those amateur and professional photographers working with the Olympus Four Thirds system. It doesn't provide enough to lure potential buyers from competing brands though.