; Olympus E-5 short review.



NOTE: I have previously reviewed the E-3 and ZD12-60mm lens. If you require information on either please see HERE .


The E-5 finally hit the market place in October last year (2010) after a 3+ year wait from the E-3 launch in 2007. This was almost as long as the wait between the E-1 and E-3 of 4 years. Many consider these intervals too long for the flagship camera from Olympus; but we are not party to the machinations within the Olympus Camera Division. Of course the probable explanation is the introduction of MicroFourThirds cameras by the company that has led to the cessation of the whole range of traditional 4/3rds cameras EXCEPT the E-5. Many, including myself, see this as a retrograde step, though I can see the underlying logic.

The E-5 replaces the E-3 which, all things considered, is a great camera that sufferes the usual small limitations imposed by the 4/3rds sensor size, intrusive noise at quite low ISO, unexceptional high ISO performance and slightly reduced dynamic range. But to be fair to Olympus the company provides probably the best JPEG processing engine, in body image stabilization and an exceptional range of lenses as compensation. The trouble is that many forget these important features and measure the camera by ISO and DR performance alone, rather than reaching a more rounded conclusion.


Prior to the lauch of the E-5 there were rumours that the E-5 would be the last traditional DSLR from Olympus; indeed specualtion reached such levels that I was granted leave to interview Toshi Terada, head of DSLR development at Olympus last September (2010) and you can read the question and answer session HERE. To me, the most important part of that interview comes in Terada-San's answer to Q28 " Where do you see both 4/3rds and m4/3rds in 5 years time? Where would you like to see them?" With his respose " We are convinced both systems will be existing as one beautiful system."

There have also been reassurances from Olympus that there will always be a camera body, be it tradional DSLR or otherwise, capable of taking the 4/3rds range of lenses.

The fact that all other traditional Olympus DSLR's have now been deleted from production leaves anyone considering 'investing' in the E-System somewhat hamstrung for choice - there is none! If you want a traditional DSLR the E-5 is your only Olympus choice.

For those who prefer the smaller previous offereings of the E-4XX, and E-6XX Olympus points you to The new Pen range. These Pens are very good producing arguable better jpg's than their DSLR siblings, however they have some way to go to match phase-detect AF and general handing with large 4/3rds lenses. That said, I for one am depending on the company's promise to provide an enlarged Pen body on which to use my 4/3rds lenses.

Finally on this subject I recently came across this Olympus presentation and Q&A session with the team from MEGAPIXEL in early March 2011. The first part of the article is very revealing and Olympus state they are finished with 'traditional' DSLR's and their future lies with the PEN type camera range. More illuminating is their statement that the E-5 fills the pro gap until the 'Pen Pro' becomes available in about two years time. You can read the artcile HERE. The E-5 is the last DSLR from Olympus and 4/3rds development is abandoned. If you read between the lines in the Terada interview the signals were there; however, I hoped against hope that 4/3rds had an independent future as an accompaniment to micro4/3rds, but apparently not.


Here we really see history repeating itself. Pen F (half-frame SLR) was launched in February 1963 and ceased in April 1971, a period of 8 years. Pen F was judged to be a commercial failure due to lack of acceptance by film processing manufacturers. FourThirds (quarter-frame DSLR) was released in October 2003 with the E-1 and remains in production with the E-5 today but I suspect the last batch of E-5's will be made sometime in 2011 - another period of eight years! FourThirds has also been a commercial failure due, basically, to a lack of acceptance by the DSLR buying masses. Whereas Pen F was a derivative of the popular viewfinder Pen series, MicroFourThirds is a derivative of 4/3rds. The original viewfinder Pen cameras remained in production until the mid 80's with an overall production life of 25 years; let's hope the m4/3rds machines achieve half of that!


I must apologise to readers for the lateness of this review. I have been waiting for my sample since October 2010. Olympus UK were given very few and, unfortunately, I was at the bottom of the list. To add insult to injury, my PC motherboard failed mid February and I received the E-5 sample the very next day. It has taken me a good three weeks to have my PC repaired and back to a working state and I have only just recently managed to concentrate on the E-5.

Let's look at the E-5's list of features, some of which are new and some are enhanced from the E-3 body. Here I'm concentrating on the physical features and differences the camera shows and we can see, touch and examine, rather than the more esoteric improvements such as lighter anti-aliasing filter, the TruePic 5+ processing engine, improved ISO performance etc., these will be discussed later.


The E-5 is a Pro-grade camera. Professionals and advanced amateurs use their cameras in all and any weather conditions. The E-5 body is dust and drip proof and as someone described it 'just short of waterproof'. There are gaskets and rings throughout. The pop-up flash and articulated LCD panel are fully weatherproof too. When it comes to the lenses all Pro-Grade and Top-Pro Grade lenses are weather proof too, making the E-5 capable of shooting in the most inhospitable of climates and conditions.

Is this a big deal for non-Pro's? YES. How many times have you been caught in the rain or hide your camera under your kagoul in case the rain fries the circuits? It just makes sense to have weatherproofing. Water and dust are two of the DSLR's biggest enemies and the E-5 is dust and drip proof.


REAR PLATE: The E-5 is based on the same basic chassis, top and front plate as the E-3. The back ans sides (ends) are changed as is the card door access. The biggest change is the rear plate that has been redesigned to accommodate a much larger swivelling screen and new button layout.

Three quarter view of rear of E-5 showing the new button arrangement.

SIDE PLATES: Here too there are changes. On the right hand side is the new card door, a slide out/slide in and click locked device ala E-620. Some have commented that it does not appear to be weatherproof; fear not, it is. There is a 5mm wide rubber gasket that runs round the card slots (lighter gray in the image below) and the door has a raised edge to the oblong part that seals into the rubber when closing creating a weatherproof barrier. The bit that bothers me is the zoom lens vent (you can see a series of 3 slots on the top outer edge of the door) which lines up with the internal vents inside the camera (this is to provide venting for the air contents of the zoom tubes on zoom lenses). I suppose it is possible for water to penetrate here though it would have to bridge a gap of about 3/8ths of an inch. If the camera was submerged this would happen - but weatherproofing does not imply waterproofing! I note here that I believe in Japan the E-5 is specifically warrantied weatherproof; not so for the rest of the world.

On the left you can see the new I/O bay with its hinged-down rubber door and on the right the new 'slide and click' card door opened to show the twin slots for CF and SD cards.

On the left side of the above image is the new I/O bay underneath a down-hinged rubber door. There are 5 connectors for Microphone, HDMI, USB, A/V Out and DC In (9v). Again weatherproofing comes from a shaped 'bung' that sits in the connector recess and the seal between the rubber door and the raised edge of the 5 connectors (see above). My concern is that when using the microphone attachment that connects to the top plug, the lower connectors could be exposed to damp/wet atmosphere. I doubt these connectors will have an internal seal within.

BASE PLATE: The bottom plate is identical to the E-3 and allows the addition of the HLD4 battery grip holding two BLM1/5 batteries for a days shooting. When this is fitted the battery door is removed and stored in the connector tower of the HLD4.


Of course the E-5 retains the famous and not equalled dust buster. Olympus users have been at a great advantage since the release of the E-1 every DSLR they have made has the most effective dust remover' in the business. Dust particles on the sensor are the bane of detachable lens digital cameras. Each time the lens is removed the sensitive sensor is prone to attracting dust to its surface. These 'dust bunnies' as they are called ruin every frame you take with their presence and it can takes hours to remove them with the cloning tool in PS afterwards. Olympus recognised this from the outset and provided the best possible (and patented) solution - SSWF. It is a filter that sits in front of the sensor which picks up the dust. The SSWF is automatically activated every time the camera is turned on, generating ultrasonic vibrations at more than 35,000 times per second or more, that shake off dust on its surface. The removed dust is then captured on an adhesive absorber at the bottom of the filter. No other device comes close to its effectiveness. Others have tried but SSWF is the leader.

PIXEL MAPPING: One further feature provided with all Olympus cameras is pixel mapping. When run this feature maps out any bad or stuck pixels from the sensor. To enable this function go MENU/COGS/UTILITY/PIXEL MAPPING. It takes about 10 seconds to clear any dodgy pixels from the sensor. With certain other brands you have to return the camera to the service centre to get this done.

BLM-5 BATTERY and CHARGER: The E-5 comes with a new battery (BLM-5) and charger. These are easily distinguished from the older models by the fact they are both off-white in colour.

Above: The new battery BLM-5 which is rated at 1620mA/8.5V and the charger BCM-5.

Apparently Olympus is forced to comply with home country safety regulations and has therefore introduced this new battery/charger. The battery is slightly enhanced from the older BLM-1 being 1620mA 7.4V instead of 1500mA 7.2V. The internal cell layout has been changed to accommodate an extra 1.2V cell and a new safety circuit (thanks to Joop Nijenhuis). This will give slighly more power and may be needed for the video feature. The new charger only charges BLM-5 batteries and has a green LED that blinks on Error, Constant on charging and Off when charged. It is multi-country being 100-240V. The new BLM-5 battery can be charged in the older BCM 1&2 chargers, but not the other way round. This means yet another charger!

3" 960,000 DOT SCREEN LCD: The new screen is a vast improvement over 320,000 dot screen of the E-3 screen. Apart from being slightly larger it has so much more resolution and is crystal clear with great (adjustable) colours and contrast. The early E-3 screen housing could separate allowing ingress of water as it had only 2 screws holding it together. I note the new screen appears better with 4 screws and a different design. That said I have not had problems with my own E-3. Reviewing your images is an absolute pleaseur and I'm pleased to report that checking focus accuracy on this screen is much improved over other E-System machines.

VIDEO MODE: The E-5 has a video mode and is the the first of any of the E-series DSLR to do so. The basic video specs appear the same as as the PEN-EP1 and XZ-1 1280x720 (720p) at 30 frames per second. The native storage is motion JPEG file format. You have the option of reducing the file size to SD video (640x480) which is the same as virtually all mid-range compact cameras. An internal microphone will capture mono audio but the I/O bay allows use of an external microphone that allows recording of stereo sound - Olympus offer their own external stereo mic the SEMA-1.

Video is only available in Live-View Mode. Like compact cameras you can take still shots during video by simply pressing the shutter button; the shot is recorded and then the video continues until you press the video button to stop. When reviewed there is your movie interupted by a still image - video - still - video. I'm no video fan and I have little expertise, but from what I can gather there are few over-riding controls available when video is operating; no manual control over exposure and aperture and ISO must be pre-set manually before you start recording. All control buttons are non-operational in video mode. Also the camera will AF using contrast detect during recording and of course zoom is available with ZD zoom lenses. But remember ZD lenses are par-focal so re-focus is required after zooming. The cameras internal microphone picks up the noise of AF focusing and zooming. If you use legacy manual fixed or zoom lenses then you can manually focus and zoom without any noise being recorded. I found the old manual OM Zooms to be pretty good for video.

The camera allows use of any of the various color modes (i-enhance, vivid, natural, muted, portrait, or monotone) as well as selecting any of the 10 Art Modes. However, if you select an Art Mode, the frame rate drops to such a degree as to make it virtually unusable. NOTE: Any captured footage can't be edited in-camera and must be done in post-processing. The menu item for video only enables the video mode. To me this is pretty basic and can be beaten by most top end compacts. That said this is primarily a stills camera!

ENHANCED MENU SYSTEM: The menu system is a blend of the E-3 system and the new Pens. The amount of customization available is superb and a MyMode/MySet feature takes over from the 'Custom Reset' procedure of the E-3.

MySet: Whatever MyMode data is saved in slots 1-4 is available from the main MODE button on the camera. When pressed the MODE button will display normally PASMB (program, aperture, shutter, manual, bulb) but if you have saved your custom settings in any of the 4 data slots you will see extra P modes with a small MyMode 1,2,3,4 icon so with a turn on the rear dial you can select whichever one you wish. However, you cannot name your MyMode settings so you have to recall what each of the 4 modes does for your camera setup. The camera does have the ability to write to itself (photographers/copyright information) so I'm sure it wouldn't have been too difficult to allow naming of the MyMode slots, even if it were restricted to 4 letters. Don't forget the E-5 is the first pro-grade Olympus camera to offer Art Filter Modes (there are 10) so some of the more popular MySet configurations might be satisfied by the Art Filters. There are no Scene Modes (a way of remembering ideal camera settings for such challenging situations as Fireworks or Sunsets etc), on the E-5.

Art Filters: These apply different 'finishings' to your iamge such as Pin Hole or Soft Focus in just the same way as you might post-process your image. As said there are 10 filters to choose from. Now some amongst you may be horrified at this inclusion just the same way as many are displeased with the Scene Modes on all other non-pro E-System cameras. Though I rarely use Scene Modes I've changed my mind as to their presence and now consider these as useful and creative rather than some back-handed insult to the experienced photographer. The E-5 does not include any scene modes although I can't really see why not (it's only software) as the vast majority of owners of this camera will NOT be pro-users but will rank as experienced amateurs or those wishing to step up the equipment ladder. Art Filters are to me a sideways extension of Scene Modes giving the user even more choice of the finished article. After all photography is all about appealing and interpretive imaging as well as simply recording a single moment in time.

INCREASED BRACKETING: The E-5 offers bracketing rates of 2 frames x 0.3, 0.7 and 1EV (max 2 EV); 3 frames x 0.3, 0.7 and 1 EV (max 3 EV); 5 frames x 0.3, 0.7 and 1 EV (max 5 EV); 7 frames x 0.3 and 0.7 only (max 4.9 EV). This means to get 5 EV difference across your bracketed image you need to go with 5 frames x 1 EV although to be fair two sets at 7 will give you 4.9 EV. Whether this will satisfy those who like to construct HDR images remains to be seen, but for normal use this is very generous.

ADDING USER & COPYRIGHT INFORMATION: At last Olympus gives us the facility to add .NFO information into the EXIF; hooray! This is facilitated by MENU/COGS/H - RECORD ERASE/COPYRIGHT SETTINGS. Here you get the choice of copyright info; artist name or copyright name (or all three) and a non-qwerty keyboard with which to input your choice. It's long winded but once done it will not require repeating.

DIGITAL LEVEL: As with the E-30 and the some of the Pen range, this function is added to the E-5. It is exceptionally useful for landscape photography or architectural work. The full pitch and yaw is reproduced on the LV screen but the viewfinder only shows the horizontal range. Here I'd like to raise a small beef - when you have the level guage enabled and when using the VF the guage display comes on too soon after half pressing for AF. You lose the rest of the important viewfinder information; I found this a nuisance and would prefer a five second delay to check camera settings BEFORE the level guage is displayed.

To configure the level guage place your camera on a known level surface and go MENU/COGS/J - UTILITY/LEVEL ADJUST and choose ADJUST and OK.

AF ADJUST: This feature appeared on the E-620 and E-30 and allows the user to micro tune (adjust) any of their ZD, Sigma or Panasonic lenses for front/back focus issues. The camera can recall 20 +/- settings for 20 different lenses. It is quite complex to do and Olympus Imaging have produced a guide that is available HERE .

ENHANCED LIVE VIEW: Olympus have improved the AF LV capabilities over the E-3 - dramatically in my view. I found the E-3's AF in LV clunky and hamfisted in use with the mirror flap annoyingly present and AF an unconfirmed gamble. The E-5 is a different experience altogether behaving more like the compact Pens than the E-3. With a non-CDAF lens (12-60mm) AF is achieved by half-pressing the shutter button or if you want the enhanced 10X view just press the AEL/AFL button, either of which gets you the green rectangle and then 'beep' to confirm AF accompanied by the green doughnut. When the shutter is then fully depressed the mirror flap and shutter release is very quick with the camera returning to LV mode instantaneously. When using a CDAF enabled lens the initial process of AF is slightly quicker and you receive the full green dot confirmation. The second (shutter/mirror) part appears identical. It is however much slower than the Pens because of the mirror.

FACE DETECTION: The E-5 offers face detection, a system that ensures that the subjects face(s) received the best focus and exposure as possible regardless of the other elements in the image. This is obviously only available in LV mode and can capture multiple faces in one frame (I tested it with three faces and it worked fine). But you need to have the AF points set to multiple for it to work effectively as with one point AF this can over-ride the face detection.

TOUCHY FEELY: The E-5 is an E-3 clone with a few modifications. It feels exactly like the E-3; it is quite heavy and bulky but with a nice heft. Most of the buttons are well placed but some may find the position of the +/- compensation & ISO button difficult to reach with the right hand when holding the camera normally, especially if a grip strap is used. The substantial grip that falls to the left hand gives excellent stability though the addition of the HLD4 battery grip enhances stability with large heavy lenses like the ZD50-200 SWD. The general ergonomic of the camera is OK but the buttons are a tad small and some are recessed making life difficult for those with stubby fingers or wearing gloves.

MANUAL: The review copy I received from Olympus did not come with a printed manual in the box; I have no idea if the E-5 ships with a 'proper' manual, but I doubt it. I have uploaded the manual to the website and it is available HERE.

Above: A side by side comparison between E-5 and E-3 to show both the similarities and differences.

The illustration above shows the basic differences on the back plate, the main being the enalarged and wondeful 960,000 dot screen that is so crisp and offers good resolution sufficient for checking correct focus (unlike the E-3's rather poor screen). That said I prefer the E-3 button layout running across the base of the screen and the direct IS button too. But otherwise it is simply a matter of getting used to the E-5's new real estate.


AA FILTER Olympus have underlined their approach to the mega-pixel race by sticking with the tried and tested Panasonic 12MP 4/3rds chip fitted to the E-620, E-30 and all the Pen cameras. The E-5 AA filter is less strong leading to better definition and sharpness at the risk of aggravating moire. When and if moire raises its ugly head the new TruePic 5+ engine removes its effect by a software approach. This processing must be delivered to the RAW file too. I suspect the AA filter is from the E-PL1, a camera that produces remarkably sharp imaging, better than the E-P1 & 2, E-30 & E-620. I have no technical details. I have tried to produce a moire laden shot but so far have failed, so either I have not hit the right subject or the engine is doing its job. That said I have seen on-line examples of moire laden images from the E-5 but I have no idea the circumstances in which these were taken or any subsequent processing so I'm not going to comment on them; if/when you see similar images please don't jump to the wrong conclusion without further information.

TRUEPIC 5+ Olympus insist a better approach to image quality improvements is by more sophisticated processing rather than simply increasing MP counts. Olympus also lead the way with their jpg processing and unique (FujiFilm-like) colour signature. This was especially noticable in their Kodak sensored cameras and early Panasonic sensors but with the E-420, 520, 620 and E-30 I noticed a strange 'veil' or very slight fogging which seemed to overlay some (not all) images and required some post processing to let the colours and contrast shine through. With the E-5 that particular affect has disappeared and out of camera jpgs require little or no PP whatsoever; they are bright and punchy without being overstated, and crisp and sharp and very pleasing to the eye. I tend to use my E-3 in the 'Natural' setting as I find 'Vivid' just a little too strong for my taste; 'Natural' delivers lovely skin tones and generally good colour though some times certain hues can be a tad muted. The E-5 seems to have just tweaked the colour signatures of each of the modes and although I prefer the 'Natural' mode with the E-5, 'Vivid' mode is also very acceptable too. Of course these settings are a matter of personal taste and preference so your personal experimentation is required.

The fact the company have openly stated 12MP is enough for 4/3rds and that the E-5 is likely the last 4/3rds camera produced is a very convenient way of ending this argument. The next round of Panasonic sensors are likely to be more than 12MP BUT these will not now be used in 4/3rds cameras so it's pointless pursuing the argument. When these new sensors are fitted to the next generation of micro4/3rds cameras Olympus no doubt will say the 12MP limit only ever applied to 4/3rds - not m4/3rds!!

ISO PERFORMANCE I have no means of measuring ISO performance other than my own eyes and years of using most E-System cameras. We all know the 4/3rds chip is prone to high(er) ISO noise - it's the very nature of the beast. But there has been a general improvement from the E-1/E-300 which was a tad noisy at ISO 400 to slightly better performance with the E-4XX and E5XX series to the E-620/E-30 which are very acceptable at ISO 800-1200. The E-5 is improveed again, but not as much as Olympus might have you believe. E-5 images at ISO 1600 are acceptable but not noise free. ISO 3200 is usable with noise reduction in PP but 6400 is explicitly for emergencies. However, don't get hung up on noise performance as Olympus compensates for this by offering faster glass and in-body Image Stabilization allowing you to use lower shutter speeds and ISO's where other machines require you to crank up the ISO to avoid camera shake. Personally I never use any of my E-Cameras at higher ISO's (< 800) unless the situation is desperate and then I get what I anticipate - a noisy image. Furthermore, the noise created by the E-5 is quite pleasing to the eye and much like film grain. And, talking of film, how many of us used super high ISO film anyway - other than the professionals? I didn't and quite frankly I don't really understand all the hand-wringing about noise.

DYNAMIC RANGE I have no means of measuring DR capability other than my own eyes and years of using most E-System cameras. 4/3'rds cameras in general are slightly lacking when it comes to dynamic range - again it's a sensor issue and if you accept all the advantages Olympus offers you then this slight disadvantage goes with the territory. Personally this has rarely bothered me and to be honest I can't see any difference between the E-3 and E-5 as far as DR goes. But compared to other makers it is down maybe 5-8%. BUT, associated with DR is shadow noise and that does bother me. Olympus have tweaked all their latest offerings to give innate protection to the highlights (addressing an old complaint about highlight clipping) but it is to the detriment of the shadows. If you want to subsequently raise the shadows to reveal a little shadow detail then that part of the image will, more likely as not, be noisy. I can't see what Olympus can do as their current chip is prone to this; they will not/cannot increase the size of the chip to give each photosite more space, they rely on other parties to supply their chip and therefore must rely on third parties to improve this element of sensor performance. Yes, if you want high ISO performance and lots of DR then Olympus is not for you.

SPEED Here I'm referring to camera speed, not shutter speed. The E-5 is markedly quicker than the E-3 in all departments. Its internal processing circuits have been tuned/replaced which makes the camera very nimble when it comes to menu diving and image reviewing. Certainly the read/write times seem slightly faster than the E-3 and definitely quicker than any other E-System camera. The image processing pipeline has been beefed up too as it now has to deal with movies as well as Art Filters and the treatment of any moire issues arising from the thinner AA filter. The replacement of the now redundant xD card slot with one for SD/SDHC/SDXC is a long overdue improvement and means you can carry around in the camera more memory than you could possibly need. However, Olympus seem to have missed the boat completely here; the two slots are almost mutually exclusive. Apart from backing up one card to the other there is no interface between them. Olympus should have offered some way of allowing the user to select what images go where - for example all orf's to go to one card and all jpg's to the other or any other arrangement. But this is an example of a missed opportunity by the company.


I popped down to Easby Abbey, just outside of Richmond to gather some images for this review. The lighting conditions were not ideal as it was very bright and the sun was low leading to deep shadows - a problem when reviewing equipment in the Winter. However I've provided the unprocessed jpg's for every image shown below for you to download and process to your heart's content. If you want the RAW files please email me.

E-5; Image 1: ISO=200. Full EXIF in downloadable image. Click image to see/save full jpg.

E-5; Image 2: ISO=200. Full EXIF in downloadable image. Click image to see/save full jpg.

E-5; Image 3: ISO=200. Full EXIF in downloadable image. Click image to see/save full jpg.

E-5; Image 4: ISO=200. Full EXIF in downloadable image. Click image to see/save full jpg.

E-5; Image 5: ISO=200. Full EXIF in downloadable image. Click image to see/save full jpg.

E-5; Image 6: ISO=200. Full EXIF in downloadable image. Click image to see/save full jpg.

E-5; Image 7: ISO=200. Full EXIF in downloadable image. Click image to see/save full jpg.

E-5; Image 8: ISO=200. Full EXIF in downloadable image. Click image to see/save full jpg.

E-5; Image 9: ISO=200. Full EXIF in downloadable image. Click image to see/save full jpg.

E-5; Image 10: ISO=200. Full EXIF in downloadable image. Click image to see/save full jpg.

E-5; Image 11: ISO=200. Full EXIF in downloadable image. Click image to see/save full jpg.

E-5; Image 12: ISO=200. Full EXIF in downloadable image. Click image to see/save full jpg.

E-5; Image 13: ISO=200. Full EXIF in downloadable image. Click image to see/save full jpg.

E-5; Image 14: ISO=200. Full EXIF in downloadable image. Click image to see/save full jpg.


I think it's easy to see the jpg engine is working superbly well and the lighter AA filter is providing a touch more detail over the E-3 and other E-Cameras. Look carefully at the stonework on the full size images - it is very well rendered (pardon the pun) and really crisp and sharp with only the slightest sharpness fall-off as the corners are approached thanks to the ZD12-60mm lens. Colour is very accurate too - a typical bright winters day with low sun tending to flatten the detail and the contrast. All of these images were taken at ISO 200, the recommended setting. I have no complaints.


I set up my target in my living room and recorded the same image at imcreasing ISO right up to 6400. It was mid to late afternoon and the room was well lit by natural light - a little too well and I had to draw several curtains. First attempts showed a lot of blown highlights (typical on chrome) so I had to apply a -1 exposure compensation to secure a decent output. On the PC I cropped out the middle portion of each image and marked them with the ISO and Noise Reduction and then combined them together for instant comparisons. Here are the results:

E-5; Image 1: ISO=100. To my eyes the one with NR looks slightly sharper.

E-5; Image 2: ISO=200. Little difference

E-5; Image 3: ISO=400. I seea slight blue tinge creeping into the image with NR applied.

E-5; Image 4: ISO=800. You can just see the effects of NR on sharpness here.


E-5; Image 5: ISO=1600. Apart from the blue tinge these are about the same - what you lose to noise you regain through NR.

E-5; Image 6: ISO=3200. Here the NR image appears sharper BUT the some non-important detail is being lost and a plasticky look is appearing.

E-5; Image 7: ISO=6400. Hmmm.......... the NR image is not too bad if you don't mid the rather smoothed and plastic look. I'm quite surprised at the amount of detail still apparent in the non-NR iamge. Whether you could do better with a different NR programme reamins to be seen.


I really wanted to do this test and I used several targets before deciding to show you these results. Although I applied a -1 EV compensation which might result in additional noise especially in the shadows I think these results are pretty darned good. I wanted to start with a pretty gloomy image and surroundings as these is the sort of conditions where you would crank up the ISO. The extra 'strain' of having to cope with an additional -1 compensation is testament to the jpg engine. All told a pretty good result that show the E-5 is capable of delivering cracking results at ISO 1600 with no NR and at a push ISO 3200 with NR. Above this and you are asking for problems.


After having the E-5 for several weeks and using it quite extensively for general home photography I've got to say the camera is a solid performer in all aspects. I've tried it with all my lenses and the only one I have any issues with is the SWD50-200 which tends to back focus on the E-5. My Sigma 30mm works fine with no focus issues. I have not found any problems with low light AF but I have used the E-System for years and know its limitations so that might influence the way I seek AF.

I find the out of camera jpg's very good indeed with little need to post process at all. I'm no lover of RAW although I do shoot jpg & RAW as a matter of course. I do not enjoy having to process my images so having good out of camera results is important to me. OOC jpg's are better than the E-3, so no complaints here.

I criticised the E-3 for being too big and bulky and the same (obviously) goes for the E-5. Why it has to be so big I don't understand. I use the E-3 with the grip for better balance with longer lenses. The E-5 however has been used more or less exclusively with the ZD12-60mm and I've used it without the grip without problems.

For me anyway, the movie function is a waste of resources but maybe one of these days I'll experiment with it.

I like the twin cards slots and the new button layout though I miss a direct IS button as this is a feature I use often. The screen is a revelation. The upgraded LV AF function makes using the camera in LV more appealing - I hardly ever use the E-3 in LV.

The new MyMode system is full of promise though I need to have the camera a while more to really appreciate this function.

All in all I'm impressed by the E-5 but at the same time disappointed that it is only a modest upgrade from the E-3. Of course all the improvements over the E-3 are very welcome but these should have been forthcoming in an E-3n or similar, not a new model designation. I'm totally convinced the E-5 is the result of political machinations within the camera division and has not been driven by a genuine desire to upgrade their flagship camera.

Will I be buying an E-5? Good question! I wince at the current price but if I'm to continue to use my 4/3rds cameras and lenses I suppose I really should add the very best 4/3rds camera to my collection.


Am I disappointed with the E-5 - in short no but there are things that Olympus could have done better - but we must remember this is the 4/3rds swan song so it is not brimming with technology or a great deal of thought either. I just get the feeling that the Olympus did not want to make the E-5, they did so purely as a sop to E-System users on the cessation of the rest of the system. It follows that not a great deal of enterprise or original thought has been levered into the camera and I suspect most of the technology comes from m4/3rds offerings anyway.

Am I disappointed in the cessation of 4/3rds - you bet! Though I can see that 4/3rds never delivered the promise of the system when devised and subsequently never provided the company with enough profit I have to ask - who's fault was this? The early Kodak sensored machines were pilloried for their lack of MP, ISO, DR and AF, so what did Olympus do - instead of finding a better sensor manufacturer they jumped into bed with Panasonic and tied their own hands again. The early Panasonic sensors were not much improved other than their abilty to use Live View - the holy grail for Olympus at the time. Yet the E-330 and the L1 both bombed in terms of sales; was this really due to the publics non-appreciation of LV or the fact that no progress had been made in terms of MP, ISO, DR and AF? - I suspect the latter. The fundamental issue here is the choice of sensor. Olympus had enough technological catching up to do without having to devise a completely new standard based on a chip that was conveniently four times the size and the same proportion as that of the 2/3rds chip in the E-10, E-20 and C-8080. It seems to me Olympus took the easy route based on a great deal of expertise/software/firmware already devised for 2/3rds that could be simply enlarged to encompass 4/3rds rather than have to be completely redevised for the industry standard of APS-C. Instead of embracing what everyone else was using and letting the market drive that sensor in the way of improvements (as more companies would be providing feedback and leverage) Olympus chooses to go it alone with a slightly sub-par sensor that will haunt them until the systems demise. One would think it would be hard enough to design and manuafacture new 4/3rds lenses alone let alone trying to deliver sensor improvements at the same time as catching up with AF technology. Whilst the 4/3rds arguments might have been reasonably sound in theory the company spectacularly failed to sell the idea to the public or convince users that 4/3rds offered any advantage over APS-C. This was mainly left to system devotees and individual web-site owners to promote.

I wryly recall the comparisons between 4/3rds and half-frame when the E-1 was released. Spurious they may have been but there is a sense of irony looking back. The half-frame Pen F System camera was also a commercial disaster mainly due to the film processing companies outside of Japan refusing to adapt their equipment to allow development and printing of any non-standard 35mm 'output'. The Pen F designer, Yoshihisa Maitani could see this coming and turned his attention to full-frame OM and Pen F was abandoned. However, what the great man failed to see was the popularity of AF (or was wary of any law suits by Honeywell) and refused to get involved with SLR AF developments. Without AF the OM system was doomed and eventually abandoned in 2001. Apart from some pretty ordinary power-focus and auto-focus lenses for the OM77 & OM88 (not true OM machines), Olympus were left high and dry in the AF stakes. Again, this would haunt the company for many years.

This brings us full circle to the situation today. Micro4/3rds is Olympus' preferred option for the future and they are gambling everything on its success. I very much doubt there will be an E-6 or E-7. I think Olympus is relieved to have abandoned 4/3rds but have made all the 'politically correct' statements about continuing support for the system and the future manufacture of 4/3rds lenses but already we are seeing a shortage of lenses worldwide that I suspect is a taste of things to come for us 4/3rds lovers. The system is as dead as Pen F and OM.

If you love the output from your E-System camera - and to be honest there's not a lot to dislike - and want to stay with the system for as long as possible then you had better prepare now. I have gathered a small arsenal of bodies and lenses that will keep me going for many years. I have an E-1, E-330, E400, E-420, E-620 and E-3 with a nice selection of budget, high grade and super high grade lenses and a couple of flashes. I'm set to enjoy Olympus for years yet.

Yes, I am disappointed and somewhat annoyed that all the support I have given to the company for years is rewared with a dead system; however, the cameras and lenses I own will provide me with Olympus output for the forseeable future. I do have a couple of m4/3rds machines which are OK for general photography but have some way to come before competing with 4/3rds but I have no doubt that m43/rds will eventually get there providing the camera division of the company does not fold in the mean time.

Personally, I think Olympus have lost their way. How can micro-fourthirds be their future when it too is dependent on a non-standard sensor size which still has innate problems with noise and DR. This is the same set of problems that beset 4/3rds. Perhaps Olympus think that m4/3rds users will not be as critical or demanding. Maybe they are right, I hope so. But as all the other manufacturers introduce their own mirrorless versions Olympus and Panasonic will be back to square one. Either that or mirrorless cameras will prove to be a short lived fad and simply disappear.

I genuinely fear for the camera divisions future. And that's a great pity as in 2019 the company celebrates its centenary.

NOTE: This article seeks nothing other than to inform. Only you can decide what equipment you want/need for your use. I own most of these cameras/lenses, out of my own pocket; I have nothing to gain or lose by publishing this article, photographs, examples or opinion.



Posted April 2011 Copyright © 2011 John Foster