Review based on a production E-5, firmware version 1.0

Note: because of the many operational similarities between the E-5 and the E-3, this review does not contain the standard 'body' and 'operation and controls' pages which would normally be found in a dpreview in-depth review. For a full picture of how the E-5 handles, we strongly suggest that you read this review alongside our in-depth review of the E-3, published in 2008.

Taking what could most politely be described as a 'considered' approach to product upgrades, late last year Olympus lifted the curtain on the third generation of its professional SLR, in the form of the much anticipated E-5. Olympus introduced the world to the first Four Thirds camera, the E-1, back in June 2003, and finally got round to updating it with the E-3 four years later.

It is perhaps indicative of where Olympus's priorities lie - or the way the market is headed - that whereas the E-3 took the E-1 back to the drawing board and introduced several new features, the E-5 is probably best described as a warm-over of its predecessor. It's also interesting to note that it benefits from a 'trickle up' of technology from the latest developments in the company's Micro Four Thirds cameras - an unusual situation for what is, effectively, the hero product in the E-system range.

The long delay has caused some wild speculation about the E-5, borne not out of dissatisfaction with the existing model (in fact most E-1 and E-3 users are still happily taking pictures with their 'old' cameras), but, I suspect, out of a need to see Olympus competing with the 'big boys' at this level, and the (related) need for a clear sign that it hasn't abandoned Four Thirds in all the excitement surrounding the mirrorless system.

The E-5 sat here between two of its most obvious competitors (in spec terms): the Nikon D300s and Canon EOS 7D.

At first glance the E-5 (and the lack of any other E-system camera announcements) is unlikely to calm those fears; if anything it confirms that precious little R&D resource is going into the reflex system. Dig a little deeper, however, and you realize that the E-5 is a perfectly sensible upgrade that takes an excellent camera and addresses most all the complaints and offers, according to the marketing blurb, the best image quality ever seen in an Olympus DSLR. It also throws in a nice sprinkling of must-have features (such as 720p movie mode).

The E-5 is, without a doubt, a camera aimed at the Olympus faithful, designed (as described to us) to 'finally offer image quality to match that of Zuiko lenses'. Olympus knows that the E-system lenses are the jewel in its crown and isn't going to abandon that - or its users. The future for Zuiko Digital lens owners might not be a reflex camera (we've had strong hints that a common live view only FT / MFT platform lies ahead), but Four Thirds isn't going away.

Compared to E-3 - key differences

Evolutionary rather than revolutionary, the E-5 is, effectively, an E-3 with a bigger screen, an updated sensor and processor and a few new features. Physically the only changes are a spot of button rearranging (necessitated by the larger area of the screen) and the long-overdue replacement of the redundant xD card slot with an infinitely more useful SD version. Inevitably, after three years there's a lot of feature enhancements, though these are (almost) all lifted from the latest Micro Four Thirds models.

The thing Olympus is really pushing with the E-5 is image quality. It's not a new sensor (from what we can tell this is almost certainly the same as the one in the E-PL1 and E-PL2), but it does sport a redesigned (for which read lighter) Low Pass Filter (with moiré removed by the processor) and a new 'professionally tuned' Image Engine (The TruPic V+). The combination of Zuiko Digital lens, the new sensor and the new processor is claimed to offer image quality better than any 12MP APS-C camera, and, according to Olympus, many with even higher pixel counts.

Let's have a look at the main changes:

  • New sensor (12MP vs 10MP Live MOS)
  • New TruPic V+ processor (E-3 was TruPic III)
  • Large 3.0" 921k vari-angle screen
  • Fast Sensor AF (inc Face Detection)
  • 720p movie mode (AVI M-JPEG) + Audio recording
  • HDMI and Stereo Mic connections
  • Art Filters (10, including new Dramatic Tone Filter)
  • ISO 6400 top sensitivity (vs E-3's ISO 3200)
  • More customization options
  • Redesigned color-coded menu system
  • New features including Level Gauge in the viewfinder, Multi-exposure, i-Enhance, 7 frame AEB
  • SD / CF slots (E-3 was xD / CF)
  • New BLM-5 battery (although compatibility is retained with the older PS-BLM1)

Key feature comparison (vs E-3)

Looking at the E-3 and E-5 together it's clear that from a photographic point of view the models share a lot more than they differ, with most of the changes relating to the sensor and to digital features (most of which have already debuted on MFT models). The main physical differences can be seen below - from the front they look almost identical, but round the back the larger, higher resolution screen takes up more space and has meant some buttons have moved (and a couple have gone altogether).

Olympus E-5

Olympus E-3
Sensor • 4/3 type Hi-Speed Live MOS
• 13.1 million total pixels
• 12.3 million effective pixels
• 4/3 type Hi-Speed Live MOS
• 11.8 million total pixels
• 10.1 million effective pixels
Sensitivity • ISO 100-6400
• Customizable Auto ISO
• ISO 100-3200
• Customizable Auto ISO
Movie mode • 720P
• 30fps
• Mono sound
• External stereo mic connector
Processor TruPic V+ TruPic III
Auto Focus • 11-point TTL Phase Difference Detection
• Automatic or manual point selection
• EV -2 to 19 (ISO 100) detection range
• AF assist using pop-up flash
• Sensor AF (CD-AF) in live view
• 11-point TTL Phase Difference Detection
• Automatic or manual point selection
• EV -2 to 19 (ISO 100) detection range
• AF assist using pop-up flash
AE bracketing 2,3,5 or 7 frames 3 or 5 frames
Scene modes Yes No
Art filters 10 No
LCD monitor •3.0" HyperCrystal TFT LCD monitor (wide viewing angle, semi-transmissive)
• Vari-angle (swing and tilt)
• 920,000 pixels
• 100% frame coverage
• 15 step brightness adjustment
• 2.5" HyperCrystal TFT LCD monitor (wide viewing angle, semi-transmissive)
• Vari-angle (swing and tilt)
• 230,000 pixels
• 100% frame coverage
• 15 step brightness adjustment
Storage • SD / SDHC / SDXC)
• CF Type I/II
• xD Picture-card
Connectivity • USB 2.0 (Hi Speed)
• Video Out (NTSC / PAL)
• IR Remote control (optional)
• Remote terminal
• PC Sync flash terminal
• Stereo mic jack
• USB 2.0 (Hi Speed)
• Video Out (NTSC / PAL)
• IR Remote control (optional)
• Remote terminal
• PC Sync flash terminal
Other features • i-Enhance
• 2 axis level gauge
• Face Detection
• Multi exposure mode
• Improved customization
• Shutter now tested to 150k exposures
• Aspect ratio options
• Add copyright info
Dimensions 142 x 116 x 75 mm (5.6 x 4.6 x 2.9 in) 142 x 116 x 75 mm (5.6 x 4.6 x 2.9 in)
Weight 813 g (1.8 lb.) 800 g (1.8 lb.)

If you're new to digital photography you may wish to read the Digital Photography Glossary before diving into this article (it may help you understand some of the terms used).

Conclusion / Recommendation / Ratings are based on the opinion of the reviewer, you should read the ENTIRE review before coming to your own conclusions.

We recommend to make the most of this review you should be able to see the difference (at least) between X, Y, and Z and ideally A, B, and C.

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