DCRP

Olympus E-5 Preview

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor

Originally Posted: September 13, 2010

Last Updated: September 14, 2010

This is a preview of the Olympus E-5 digital SLR camera. The camera described here is pre-production, and features and camera performance are subject to change. Olympus has requested that photos and performance data from this camera not be posted. When a production model is available, this article may be turned into a full review, complete with the usual tests and sample photos.

The E-5 ($1699, body only) is the long-awaited update to Olympus' top-of-the-line E-3 digital SLR camera. Despite the nearly three year wait, the changes on the E-5 aren't as significant as one would expect (or hoped). Here are the major changes:

  • New 12.3 effective Megapixel Live MOS sensor (versus 10.1 MP on the E-3)
  • TruePic V+ "professionally tuned" image processor
  • 3-inch, rotating LCD display with 920,000 pixels (the E-3's also rotated but was smaller and lower resolution)
  • High speed Imager (contrast detect) autofocus in live view; the E-3 only had phase detection, which remains here as well
  • Supports 720p movie recording using M-JPEG codec
  • Built-in dual-axis electronic level
  • Picture Modes, Multiple Exposure, and Art Filters features; some of the Art Filters are brand new
  • Dual memory card slots support both CompactFlash and SD/SDHC/SDXC (the E-3 was CF/xD)
  • Expanded bracketing options
  • Fine AF adjustment for up to twenty lenses
  • Up to four sets of camera settings can be stored (compared to two on the E-3)
  • HDMI output
  • Uses new BLM-5 lithium-ion battery

Those are some nice improvements, though it's important to also highlight what hasn't changed: the core features that made the E-3 such an impressive beast. Some of its highlights include its rock solid, weather-sealed body, dust reduction system, large optical viewfinder, 5 fps continuous shooting mode, live view feature, and wireless flash support.

Ready to learn more about the new Olympus E-5? Keep reading -- our preview begins now!

Due to their many similarities, portions of the E-3 review will be reused here.

What's in the Box?

Like its predecessor, the E-5 is sold in a body-only configuration. Here's what you'll find inside the box:

  • The 12.3 effective Megapixel Olympus E-5 camera body
  • BLM-5 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery charger
  • Body cap
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Olympus Viewer 2 software
  • Camera manual

Since it comes in a body-only kit, you'll need to supply a lens before you can start using the E-5. There are plenty of Four Thirds lenses to choose from, mostly from Olympus (though Sigma has a decent collection, as well). If you want to use a classic OM lens, you can do that too via the optional MF-1 adapter (though these lenses will be manual focus only). Every lens you attach will have image stabilization, since it's built right into the E-5's body. There's also a 2X focal length conversion ratio to keep in mind, so a 50 mm lens has a field-of-view of 100 mm.

Digital SLRs never come with memory cards, so if you don't have an SD or CompactFlash card already, you'll have to buy one. The E-5 has two slots: one for SD/SDHC/SDXC cards, and the other for CompactFlash media (including fast UDMA models). If you're sticking to still images, a 4GB card is probably fine. Video fanatics will want a larger and faster (Class 6 or above) SDHC card.

The E-5 uses the brand new BLM-5 lithium-ion battery for power. This battery packs quite a bunch, allowing for battery life numbers that look like this:

Camera Battery life, 50% flash use, live view off
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon EOS-60D * 1100 shots LP-E6
Nikon D300s 950 shots EN-EL3e
Olympus E-3 * 610 shots BLM-1
Olympus E-5 * 870 shots BLM-5
Pentax K-7 740 shots D-LI90

* Rotating LCD

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

That's a pretty small list of competitors, mainly because there aren't many solid, professional grade D-SLRs from Panasonic, Samsung, or Sony (who has about a dozen consumer models). As you can see, the E-5's battery life numbers are substantially higher than the E-3 -- nice job, Olympus. Comparing the E-5 to the Canon, Nikon, and Pentax models, its battery life is a bit below average.

Like all of the D-SLRs above, the E-5's proprietary battery has a few issues worth mentioning. For one, they're expensive, with an extra BLM-5 probably priced at around $50. Second, should the BLM-5 run out of juice, you can't use an off-the-shelf battery to get you through the day, as you could with a camera that uses AA batteries. But here's one piece of good news: if you pick up the optional battery grip (shown below), you can use AA's if you wish.

Olympus E-5 with battery grip
The E-5 on its optional battery grip; photo courtesy of Olympus

Here's the E-5 seated on the HLD-4 battery grip ($160), which is the same model that works with the E-3 and E-30. This grip can hold two BLM-1 or BLM-5 batteries, providing (drum roll please) double the battery life. If you want to use six AA batteries instead, you'll need to pick up the AABH1 battery holder, which you can find for just under $9. The grip is weather-sealed and, as you'd expect, has extra controls for shooting in the portrait orientation.


My pre-production E-5 used the old BLM-1 battery and charger; yours will be different

When it's time to charge the battery, just pop it into the new BCM-5 charger. I don't know much about this new charger, since my camera didn't come with it, so we'll have to save charging times for the final review.

Being a digital SLR, you shouldn't be surprised to hear that the E-5 supports a ton of accessories. Here's a quick summary of what's available:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Lenses Varies Varies The E-5 supports all Four Thirds lenses, with a 2X focal length conversion ratio
External flash

FL-36R
FL-50R

From $210
From $370
More flash power and less chance of redeye; both of these flashes can be used wirelessly
OM adapter MF-1 $99 Use classic OM lenses with the E-5 (with lots of restrictions, though)
Battery grip
AA battery holder
HLD-4
AABH-1
$160
From $9
Double the battery life plus extra controls for shooting in the portrait orientation; the AA battery holder lets you use six AAs
Wired remote control RM-CB1 From $50 Take a picture without touching the camera
Wireless remote control RM-1 From $23 A wireless remote is also available
Right Angle Finder VA-1 From $181 Lets you look into the viewfinder from above
Semi-hard case CS-7SH From $53
Holds the camera with a lens attached
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

There are plenty of other accessories available, such as straps, viewfinder accessories, and additional external flash tools.

Since my pre-production E-5 didn't come with any software, I'll reserve the discussion of that part of the package for the final review. Same goes for the manual -- I only saw an early draft.