Olympus E-5 Express Field Test: It’s the E-3 With Some Spunk

The Olympus E-5 DSLR
The Olympus E-5 DSLR

It took about three years before Olympus finally rolled out their upgrade for their flagship Olympus E-3. Just when everybody thought they would be abandoning their DSLRs to focus on their PEN Micro Four Thirds Line, they produced the Olympus E-5 to somehow show their commitment to the classic Four Thirds Format. But would this be enough to keep the current Four Thirds users from switching or new DSLR buyers to consider this as their purchase? Here are my impressions of the Olympus E-5 DSLR from a couple of weeks use.

Olympus E-5 DSLR
The large 3in 921k tilting LCD screen and rearranged buttons are the noticeable changes from E-3
Olympus E-5 DSLR
Ditching the XD for SD Slot is a good decision

What’s New?
Nothing drastic really. Having used the E-3 for more than a couple of years, the transition was easy since the only major change from the body was the re-arranged buttons to give way to this large to the beautiful new 3” large 921k LCD Screen. Aside from the additional HDMI and Stereo Mic Connection , SD card support (finally) along with the CF card and a new BLM-5 battery, all else are internal like the following:

  • New 12MP Sensor (Same ones used on the PEN)
  • TruPic V+ Processor (Optimized to take advantage of Zuiko High Grade Lenses)
  • Faster Live View with Face Detection
  • A modest 720p HD recording
  • 10 Art Filters (including the HDR-like Dramatic Tone)
  • ISO up to 6400 (And I noticed there are no longer banding from 1600)
  • Level Gauge (useful to keep horizon in line, I found this very handy on the E-30)
  • EXIF Copyright Info (A bit trivial to some but I liked the idea of my signature embedded on each shot)
Olympus E-5 partially Submerged
The Olympus E-5 partially Submerged

Still Built Like a Tank
Since there’s no major change with the dust and splash proof magnesium body, I can certainly say that the E-5 is as tough as the E-3 was. These cameras can withstand the toughest elemental conditions out there may it be heavy rain or below zero temperatures. I was even able to partially submerge the camera underwater. Olympus has a good set of High Grade lenses which are also both dust and waterproof. Pair them up with the E-5 and you can be confident that your camera can withstand the rigors of the outdoors.

Nagsasa  Kid Spear Fisher
Nagsasa Kid (Olympus E-5, Zuiko 12-60mm at 30mm, f3.6, 1/250sec, ISO 400,
Olympus E-5 Nagsasa Kid Detail at 100%
Nagsasa Kid Detail at 100% JPG Viewing

Best Out Of the Camera JPGs but…
This has always been Olympus greatest strength, they have an excellent JPG processing engine that produces images with ‘Punch’ out of camera and that is still true for the E-5. It has natural saturated colors and amazing details especially when used with the High Grade lenses liked the Zuiko 12-60mm which I used most of the time. But this quality is produced when you shoot in good light and lower ISOs like 200-800.

Nagsasa Out of Camera resized and minor crop
Nagsasa Out of Camera re-sized and minor crop JPG

The High ISO performance did improve from the E-3 especially with the absence of banding which was a constant problem with my E-3 when I shoot at 1600. But sensor technology has gone a long way and if we’re comparing High ISO performance from cameras around the E-5’s price tag, it is still behind.

Olympus E-5 Dramatic Tone 2
Dramatic Tone Filter Comparison (left normal, right Art Filter)

Getting Creative with Art Filters
Eyebrows were raised when Olympus highlighted 10 Art Filters as the main feature attraction. But honestly at this age, other cameras have also followed suite with their own in-camera processing options including built-in HDR. These Art Filters are not bad in itself, especially now, in the e-5, you can customize the degree of how these filters are applied. The Dramatic Tone is the most noticeable of the 10 Art Filters available, as it gives an HDR effect for those who like that treatment. All in all, these Art Filters ain’t that bad as long as you use them right.

Olympus E-5 Dramatic Tone Compare
Dramatic Tone Filter Comparison (left normal, right Art Filter)

We Got Video Too!
But a very modest one at that with 720p on the Motion JPG format. It’s the same quality as the PEN models which is above average, but I was expecting a bit more from a flagship model. Still, it wasn’t on my priority for a camera like this, it’s just nice to know I have that option.

Olympus E-5 Out of Camera Nagasasa
Nagsasa Out of Camera re-sized JPG

Come all Ye Faithful
As far as Olympus Four Thirds go, the E-5 is undoubtedly their best camera to date with great built, better image quality, decent video and shooting speed. It’s a well-rounded camera that can produce excellent results on whichever conditions you take it. But there’s still a looming uncertainty whether this would be their last camera in this line especially now that the PEN have addressed their promise of a smaller high quality compact cameras.

Olympus E-5 Out of Camera Nagasasa
Nagsasa Out of Camera re-sized JPG

For it’s price range, which is rather high since it’s on the pro/semi-pro line, there are a lot of competitive options out there so it’s hard to decide on jumping into this system. But for those who have already invested on a good amount of Zuiko lenses, which by themselves are exceptional, the Olympus E-5 can still squeeze out excellent images until it runs out of juice in the coming years.

Olympus E-5 DSLR is now available in the Philippines at the SRP of P85,000 (body only)

What ya think?