Olympus E-5

The E-5 presents a good upgrade path for those amateur and professional photographers working with the Olympus Four Thirds system.


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Lexy spent her formative years taking a lot of photos and dreaming in technicolour. Nothing much has changed now she's covering all things photography related for CNET.


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.

Olympus E-5Olympus E-5Olympus E-5Olympus E-5Olympus E-5Olympus E-5Olympus E-5Olympus E-5Olympus E-5Olympus E-5

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.

Dramatic tone

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.

Compared to

E-5
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
5fps 7fps 8fps
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)

Performance

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.

Image quality

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
E-5 RAW

JPEG vs. RAW comparison from the E-5, image taken at ISO 200 with 100 per cent crop inset. (Credit: CBSi)

E-5 RAW

(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.

Image samples

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

(Credit: CBSi)

Conclusion

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.



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DCrockett
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DCrockett posted a review   

The Good:Excellent Image quality, great autofocus, solid build, art filters, ease of use

The Bad:low (1600) ISO usefullness,

I've had Oly cameras for 35 years and always been pleased. Replaced my E-500 with E-5 and am quite pleased. Everyone who sees my photos comment of the clarity and great color. No, this camera does not do everything the best. However it does the one thing it needs to do in an exceptional way...outstanding photos. I expect to use it for many years. I have the 12-60mm, 50-200mm, and 14-54mm lenses. Expect to get the 50mm Macro and the 7-14mm this year.

 

Fran posted a reply   

Take a look at the 9mm-18mm. You cannot put any filters on the 7-14 and the 9-18 is $1000 less.

 

Paolo57 posted a comment   

Your review is very well done and meets effectively what I have experimented using this small an compact jewel. I'm an Olympus addicted sicne I was 10 y.o. and now I'm 54 and Olympus has never deluded me with his technology and honesty. I was tempted to change with a concurrent brand but at the end I had possibility to use for a week the E-5 before to buy and I' had no more doubts about it. Some of my E-5 works are available at my website http://www.paolopizzimenti.com and via Flickr
at http://www.flickr.com/photos/paolo57 where Exif are available. Take care and enjoy life, Paolo




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User Reviews / Comments  Olympus E-5

  • DCrockett

    DCrockett

    Rating8

    "I've had Oly cameras for 35 years and always been pleased. Replaced my E-500 with E-5 and am quite pleased. Everyone who sees my photos comment of the clarity and great color. No, this camera doe..."

  • Paolo57

    Paolo57

    "Your review is very well done and meets effectively what I have experimented using this small an compact jewel. I'm an Olympus addicted sicne I was 10 y.o. and now I'm 54 and Olympus has never delu..."

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