Olympus E5 Review

Olympus E5 ReviewOlympus E5 Review | The E3 Upgrade

The Olympus E5 is a newer, upgraded version of the older, long-lasting E-3, and thus inherits a lot of its operational similarities. Because of these similarities, we won’t go over the standard ‘body’ and ‘operation and controls’ as usual. For that, please refer to our Olympus E3 review article, which you can find here.

The Olympus SLR ‘E Range’ is as close as you will get to a product upgrade range in the photographic industry. Olympus introduced the world to the first Four Thirds camera, the E1, back in 2003, and finally got round to updating it with the E3 in 2007.

This might be a clear indication of Olympus’s priorities, or where the market is headed. It’s also very interesting to see that the Olympus E5 benefits from a ‘trickle up’ of technology from the latest progresses in the manufacturer’s Micro Four Thirds digital cameras, which in itself is an unusual situation for what is the flagship product in the Olympus E-system category.

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The long delay between launches caused some speculation about the new E5, not due to some dissatisfaction with the existing models (most E1 and E3 owners are still taking pictures with their ‘old’ cams), but, essentially because of a need to see the Olympus brand competing with the major players at this level, plus to clearly show that they’re still in the Four Thirds systems game… and haven’t let it go in the pursuit of the hyped, newer mirrorless systems.

Olympus E5 Review | Under The Hood

Olympus E5 ReviewAt first glance the Olympus E5 seems to confirm that most of the R&D resources in the company are not going into this system. However, and looking a little deeper, you come to grasps that the E5 is a perfectly sensible upgrade from the E3. It’s an excellent camera and addresses almost all of the complaints user made of previous models, and offers (according to the company’s sales pitch) the best image quality ever in an Olympus DSLR camera. It also includes a wide variety of must-have specs and features (like 720p movie-mode).

The Olympus E5 is a camera that is primarily aimed at the users that are faithful to the brand and designed to offer an image quality equivalent to that of cameras that use Zuiko lenses. The manufacturer is perfectly aware that its E-system lenses are its crown jewel and they aren’t going to abandon that – or its faithful users. Zuiko Digital lens camera owners might not be looking for a reflex camera as a future option, but what we do know is that the Four Thirds system is not going away.

As we mentioned in the beginning of this review, the Olympus E5 is more of an evolutionary step from the E3 than revolutionary. The E5 is, in effect, an Olympus E3 with a bigger screen, an updated sensor and better processor, and comes packed with a long list of new features. Physically the only changes we can see is a simple button rearrangement due to the increase in the units screen size and the replacement of the older xD card slot with a much more useful SD version. As you would expect, after 3 years, there’s also a long list of feature enhancements, most of them lifted from the more recent Micro Four Thirds models.

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The major point that company is trying to push with the Olympus E5 is image quality. From what we were able to see, the sensor isn’t new. It’s probably the same one used on the latest E-PL1 and E-PL2 PEN range models. However, it does include a completely redesigned Low Pass Filter (where the processor removes the moiré) and an all new ‘professionally tuned’ Image Engine – the TruPic V+. The combination achieved between the Zuiko Digital lens, the new sensor and the new image processor offers a much higher image quality than any 12MP APS-C camera available on the market. According to Olympus, the E5 even beats many other cameras with even higher pixel counts.

Olympus E5 Review | New Key Features

Olympus E5 ReviewNew sensor (12MP)
• New TruPic V+ processor
• Large 3.0″ 921k Vari-angle screen
• Fast Sensor AF (including Face Detection)
• 720p HD movie mode (AVI M-JPEG) + Audio recording
• HDMI and Stereo Mic connections
• 10 Art Filters
• ISO 6400 max sensitivity
• More customization options
• Redesigned color-coded menu system
• New features include viewfinder Level Gauge, Multi-exposure, i-Enhance, 7 frame AEB
• SD / CF card slots
• New BLM-5 battery

Olympus E5 Review | Performance

The E5 offers a very pleasant overall performance and has made some major improvements, when compared to the previous E3. The most important improvements in performance are a significantly better image buffer, and the addition of a contrast-detection autofocus, both in live view and in video modes. The Olympus E5′s maximum frame-rate still remains at 5fps, which is a bit low when compared to its main competition – the Canon EOS 7D and the Nikon D300S (up to 8fps). However, with a top-range SD card, the burst depth at this 5fps speed is now so great that it renders it nearly unlimited in JPEG mode. And the contrast-detection AutoFocus is also a welcomed addition to the E5′s new feature list.

The Olympus E5′s SSWF sensor-cleaning system operates every time the camera is powered up, and so it takes the E5 about 1 second until it’s ready to take the first shot. The shutdown process isn’t instantaneous either. But this is due to the delay caused by the image stabilization system that recalibrates itself on shutdown (with an audible juddering). Although the shutdown delay is somewhat inconsequential, it would be nice to have the option to set the SSWF to operate only on demand, or only at shutdown. One second might not seem like much, but you could lose the perfect shot for it…

Olympus E5 Review | Conclusion

Olympus E5 ReviewSo what is the final verdict on the E5? Ultimately, and as we mentioned in the beginning of this review, the Olympus E5 is a camera more targeted at the Four Thirds faithful users – those photographers that have invested a lot of time and money into the system, or that simply don’t want to change. This ever-smaller number of consumers will be very happy with this camera… and they should be. The Olympus E5 is a very tough, reliable and capable camera, that is a lot of fun to shoot with and is an great companion for the excellent range of Olympus lenses. It’s not the game-changer we expected from this manufacturer or as influential to the market as the introduction of their PEN range models, but it will not let you down in any way.

When comparing the older E3 and the E5, it’s evident that they share more similarities than differences. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, taking into account the fact that all that remained the same from the E3 was actually the strong points in this older model. The majority of the changed occurred in the sensor and in digital-related features. Physically they’re very similar, so any E3 user will very much at home when picking up an Olympus E5.

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