Olympus E-5 digital SLR

Olympus E-5 review: A fast and feature-rich SLR camera, but it's hard to use and its images could be better

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Olympus  E-5
  • Olympus  E-5
  • Olympus  E-5
  • Olympus  E-5
  • Expert Rating

    3.00 / 5


  • Fast burst mode, fast focusing, useful Live View mode and articulating screen


  • Noisy images, poor high ISO performance, hard to use

Bottom Line

The Olympus E-5 is a digital SLR camera with lots of potential and plenty of speed, but it just isn't as good as competing models from Canon and Nikon. Its images aren't as well defined as we would like and noise affects photos when a high ISO speed is used. The upsides? It has very fast and accurate focusing and a great Live View mode. We wish it was priced better, because given the choice between the E-5 or a Canon or Nikon shooter at a similar price, we wouldn't be swayed toward the Olympus.

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Olympus' E-5 is the flagship camera in the company's range, and it's aimed at enthusiast photographers as well as professionals. It's a bulky camera (as most good digital SLRs are) and it's quite hard to use the first time you pick it up. However, it has a tonne of features and it's very quick.

The Olympus E-5 has a 12.3-megapixel Live MOS sensor sitting behind a Four Thirds mount that can accept lenses in the Olympus ZUIKO range. There are buttons almost everywhere on the body, which is made of magnesium alloy and is splash-proof, and there is a 3in LCD screen on the back. This screen rotates and it can be used in Live View mode so that you can take fancy shots from peculiar angles, or just plain old self-portraits.

Olympus was one of the first vendors to implement a useful Live View mode in digital SLRs, and the Live View mode in the E-5 is definitely up there with the best we've used. If there are times when you don't want to — or indeed can't — use the optical viewfinder, then it's quite easy to use the screen to frame and focus on images. However, don't expect the same sort of focusing performance in Live View mode as you get while using the optical viewfinder. The camera is definitely a little more prone to hunting for a while before focusing in Live View mode — this is obviously noticeable because its regular focusing performance is blazingly fast.

That is perhaps one of the best things about the E-5: It will focus very quickly and most of the time it will give you the exact depth of field you are after. For example, if you're trying to focus on the reflection of an object in a window, the E-5 will find it. If you want to focus at a point behind it, it will find that, too. It just seems to read your mind and focus on what you're thinking about. You can select from up to 11 focus points in the frame easily by just pressing the arrow buttons on the rear of the camera and this is a couple more points than the number available on competing digital SLRs such as the Canon EOS 7D and the same number of points as the Nikon D7000.

In our image quality tests, the E-5's performance wasn't stellar. Images looked a little too muddy for the most part and just didn't have the crispness we expected them to have when we scrutinised them at their native size. As such, heavily cropped images out of the E-5 will look a little too soft and image noise will also be noticeable if you end up having to use a high ISO speed.

Shooting in dim lighting is definitely not one of the E-5's fortes and even a camera such as the Canon EOS 60D and the entry-level Nikon D3100 trump it in this area. Noise starts to creep in and affect photos after ISO 800 and it becomes particularly noticeable in dark colours.

For action photography, the E-5 will be quite quick initially: it returned a rate of 6 frames per second in our tests before slowing down. We shot almost 20 frames before the speed was affected. You can use a fast Compact Flash card in the E-5, in addition to an SD card, which is very convenient.

To use the E-5 effectively, you have to learn to use the on-screen menu in conjunction with the dials and buttons. There is no main mode dial, so if you want to switch from aperture priority mode to manual mode, for example, you have to press the 'mode' button next to the flash, then look at the screen while you rotate the thumb dial. It's not a camera that you can pick up and just start using straight away; although in saying that, it's not a camera that will be considered by users who don't already know how to use a digital SLR in the first place.

The Olympus E-5 is definitely a beast of a camera, but its low-light performance isn't as good as its competitors, and overall its images look a little muddy (although some users may prefer this). It also takes a while to learn how to use it effectively. However, it is fast when it comes to sequential shooting as well as focusing, and it has a useful articulating screen and Live View mode. We think it could stand to be a little cheaper because given the choice between Canon's EOS 7D and even a higher-end model like Nikon's D700 (which can be bought for around $2300), many users might be easily swayed to consider one of those instead.

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