Olympus E-5 digital SLR camera (preview)

Olympus E-5 hands-on review: We get our hands on Olympus' latest digital SLR camera

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

Pros

  • Weaker AA filter should mean more fine image detail, inclusions from consumer-oriented PEN cameras like movie mode and art filters

Cons

  • No revolutionary changes from the E-3

Bottom Line

Olympus' E-5 digital SLR may not seem like a large leap forward from the E-3 of 2008, but some of the changes should help it compete with the current class-leading semi-professional digital SLRs from Canon and Nikon.

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We've had a chance spend some time with the new Olympus E-5 digital SLR camera. While we can't make any definitive judgements just yet — that'll have to wait until we do some in-depth testing — here are our initial thoughts on a few important aspects of Olympus' new camera. We've used the Canon 7D as a point of comparison.

Ergonomics

As you'd expect, the ergonomics of the Olympus E-5 are near-identical to the earlier E-3. All the buttons are in the same place, and the viewfinder is the same size and has the same field of view. The main difference is the new 3in tilting and swivelling screen, which has a resolution of 920k dots — a large jump from the 2.5in, 230k dot display of the E-3. It's clear and convenient, and the information layout is logical and easy to comprehend.

We found the Olympus E-5 to be easy to hold and well proportioned. It's very slightly thinner but slightly taller than the Canon 7D, and weighs almost the same — it's 142.5x116.5x74.5mm and 800g without a battery versus the 7D's 148x111x74mm and 820g.

Sensor and image quality

The Olympus E-5 uses a 2.0x crop factor 17.3x13mm sensor, which is significantly smaller in terms of overall surface area than the Canon 7D's 1.6x, 22x14.9mm unit. It also cedes to the Canon on overall resolution with 12.3 megapixels against the 7D's 18 megapixels, resulting in an outputted image size of 4032x3042 pixels vs. the 7D's 5184x3456. ISO versatility is equal, with both the E-5 and 7D sporting 100-6400 ISO ranges. However, the Canon 7D supports an extra stop of sensitivity (to ISO 12800) through software.

Image quality is an area we'd have to do significant testing in to give a final opinion, but despite the lower pixel count and sensor size we're cautiously optimistic of Olympus's approach. The much weaker anti-aliasing filter (also called a low-pass filter) in the E-5 compared to the E-3 allows more moire and aliasing to get through to the sensor, but it also allows more image detail to be captured. This moire and jaggedness is dealt with by the Olympus E-5's new TruePic V+ processor — in theory allowing more fine image detail to be captured and to survive the subsequent in-camera processing.

Art filters and movie mode

These two features are new since the E-3, and are inclusions that have filtered up Olympus' model line from the consumer-oriented PEN models like the PEN E-P2 and PEN E-PL1. We think they're worthwhile including even if just for the novelty; since the Olympus E-5 isn't an all-out professional model it makes sense to include features that amateurs and seasoned users should enjoy.

Applying art filters to movies is an interesting point of difference with competitors. This does have the definite downside of lowering the capture and playback frame rate of the movie, though — all the extra in-camera processing required for each movie frame takes its toll.

Other inclusions

Dual card slots — for CompactFlash Type 1 and SD, since Olympus has stopped supporting the aging xD standard — are a useful inclusion if you're upgrading from either an older Olympus digital SLR or a PEN/compact camera. We were disappointed to hear that you can't save to both slots simultaneously or sequentially, though. Thankfully SDXC is supported, so you can use a single high-capacity card if you're so inclined.

The E-5 retains the E-3's high quality 11-point autofocus system (which uses 11 pairs of sensors slightly offset from each other, so it's technically superior to a 'standard' 11-point setup) and the E-3's in-body image stabilisation system. Small things like increased options for automatic exposure bracketing (with 2- and 7-frame options), a horizon level gauge, HDMI output and a stereo microphone jack for audio recording should make the Olympus E-5 easier to live with day-to-day.

Conclusion

The increase in picture quality is a key difference between Olympus E-3 and the new E-5, and it may well be enough to convince users of older Olympus cameras to upgrade. We're looking forward to comparing the E-5 directly with Canon and Nikon's semi-professional offerings.

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Read more on these topics: digital SLR cameras, digital cameras, photography, Olympus

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