Olympus E-5 Preview

Look and Feel

The nice thing from both a reviewer's and owner's standpoint is that the E-5 looks and operates almost exactly like the E-3 that came before it. That means that the E-5 has some of the best build quality you'll find on a camera in this price range. The body is made of magnesium alloy, and it really does feel like it was cut from a solid block of metal (this also gives it some heft, though). Everything is splash-proof and dust-proof, so if you want to use it in extreme conditions, go right ahead (though keep in mind that cheaper Olympus lenses may not be sealed). Just like with the E-3, the shutter on the E-5 is rated to 150,000 cycles.

The biggest differences between the E-3 and E-5 back be seen on the back of the cameras

More subtle changes (I/O port-related) here on the side
Images courtesy of Olympus

One thing that remains the same is the fact that the E-5 is a pretty intimidating D-SLR to use. It has a lot of buttons scattered across the body, many of which serve multiple functions. It doesn't have a traditional mode dial, instead relying on the less user-friendly "hold the mode button and turn the control dial" method. There are no scene modes on the E-5 (unless you count the Art Filters), nor are there any help screens. What I'm getting at here is that you might need to read the manual before you're able to fully enjoy the E-5.

Now let's see how the E-5 compares to its small group of competitors in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon EOS-60D 5.7 x 4.2 x 3.1 in. 74.2 cu in. 675 g
Nikon D300s 5.8 x 4.5 x 2.9 in. 75.7 cu in. 840 g
Olympus E-3 5.6 x 4.6 x 2.9 in. 74.7 cu in. 810 g
Olympus E-5 5.6 x 4.6 x 2.9 in. 74.7 cu in. 800 g
Pentax K-7 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.9 in. 56.2 cu in. 670 g

As you can see, the E-5 is the same size as its predecessor. Despite the larger LCD, the new model is actually a bit lighter. It's comparable in size to the Canon and Nikon, with the Pentax K-7 looking tiny by comparison.

Enough jabbering, let's start our tour of the camera, beginning (as always) with the front of the camera.

Front of the Olympus E-5

Here's the front of the E-5, with it's Four Thirds lens mount exposed. As I mentioned, the camera supports all Olympus (and third party) Four Thirds lenses, and it can also use classic OM lenses via an optional adapter. The crop factor here is 2X, so the field-of-view is twice what is says on the lens (50 -> 100 mm). To release a lens, simply press the button located to the right of the mount.

The E-5 has a sensor-shift image stabilization system, like its predecessor. The camera is able to detect the tiny movements of your hands that can end up blurring your photos. The E-5 actually "shifts" the Live MOS sensor to compensate for this motion, which gives you a much higher likelihood of a sharp photo. Image stabilization can't free a moving subject, nor will it permit multi-second handheld exposures, but it's way better than nothing at all. And, since it's built into the camera body, every lens you attach will have shake reduction. In the final review of the E-5 I'll give you some examples of this feature in action.

Olympus was a pioneer in dust reduction with their Supersonic Wave Filter, which was quickly copied by other manufacturers. When the E-5 is powered up, ultrasonic waves are sent through the low-pass filter, literally shaking dust away. If that doesn't work, you can always flip the mirror up and out of the way and use an air blower.

Directly above the lens mount is the E-5's pop-up flash, which appears to be unchanged since the E-3. That means that it has a guide number of 13 meters at ISO 100, which is as strong as you'll find on a D-SLR. If you want a more powerful flash, you can attach one via the hot shoe or external flash sync port (located to the lower-right of the flash). If you want to cut the cord entirely, the built-in flash can also be used as the "master" in a wireless flash system. The E-5 supports up to three groups of wireless flashes, all of which will need to be the FL-36R or FL-50R.

The onboard flash is also used as an AF-assist lamp. Thus, when it's popped up, it will "strobe" quickly in low light situations, allowing for relatively quick focusing. If you don't actually want to take a flash picture, you can lower the flash before fully depressing the shutter release button.

Other things to note on the front of the camera include an external white balance sensor (a rarity on a D-SLR), which is just below the "E-5" logo. To the left of that are the shutter release button and front control dial. Straight below the WB sensor is the depth-of-field preview button. Jumping to the right side of the photo, just above the "IS" logo, you'll find the self-timer/remote control lamp, as well as the receiver for the wireless remote.

And that does it for the front of the E-5!

Back angled view of the Olympus E-5

Like its predecessor, the Olympus E-5 has an LCD that can flip out to the side and rotate. That's where the similarities end, as this screen is larger, sharper, and easier to see than the one on the E-3. This 3-inch display flips out a total of 180 degrees and rotates a total of 270 degrees. Rotating screens allow for composing photos in less than ideal situations, such as when the camera is held high above your head. I have also found them indispensable for taking photos when the camera is on a tripod. And, as you might imagine, self-portraits are a lot easier with a screen like this (though the camera's bulk makes holding it steady a bit challenging). The screen can be put in the more traditional position (shown below), or closed entirely.

Back of the Olympus E-5

And here is the LCD in the position most of you are familiar with. The "HyperCrystal" LCD here is 3 inches in size, with a whopping 920,000 pixels. As you'd imagine, everything is very sharp, and motion is fluid. The screen brightness adjusts automatically, courtesy of a sensor located just above it. I found the screen's outdoor visibility to be good.

The E-5 has the latest and greatest implementation of Olympus' D-SLR live view feature. You can compose your photos with real-time exposure and white balance preview, contrast and phase detect AF, frame enlargement (for manual focusing), and face detection. And -- new to the E-5 -- you can also use live view to record HD videos. As I mentioned, outdoor visibility is good, and I found low light viewing to be decent, as well. If it's really dark, you can turn on "live view boost" for even greater enhancement.

While the live view experience has improved on the E-5, it's still not as fast as on some other D-SLRs, and certainly not as responsive as on an interchangeable lens camera (like Olympus' own E-PL1). By default, the camera uses Imager AF for focusing in live view -- the E-3 did not have this feature. With Imager AF, the Live MOS sensor itself performs contrast detect focus. This is very accurate, but quite slow, with focus times potentially in the seconds. If you turn on a custom setting, you can set the AE/AF lock button to activate phase detect AF, which is a lot faster. The catch is that the live view freezes during focusing -- though for fast action photography, you probably won't mind. I should also mention that the AF-assist lamp can only be used with phase detect AF.

Zoomed in while manually focusing

If you want to focus manually with extra precision, then you'll want to use the MF zoom feature. To use this, just press the Function (Fn) button on the back of the camera. You can also turn on MF Assist in the custom settings menu, which turns on the zoom as soon as you touch the focus ring on your lens. Whichever way you access it, the MF zoom lets you enlarge the photo by 5, 7, 10, or 14 times (with the ability to move around the frame), so you'll know that your subject is properly focused.

Live Control menu

A new feature on the E-5 is the Live Control menu, which you may have seen on Olympus' Micro Four Thirds cameras. To activate it, just press the "OK" button on the four-way controller while using live view. You can then adjust common camera settings (metering, flash setting, ISO, Art Filter, and more) with ease.

Both tilt and pitch are off... they'd be centered and green if I was spot-on

Another new feature -- usable when shooting with the viewfinder or LCD -- is an electronic level. This displays both the tilt and pitch of the camera on either the LCD or optical viewfinder, so the days of crooked horizons are (hopefully) behind you.

Info display on LCD when using viewfinder Changing settings on the LCD

When you're shooting using the viewfinder, the LCD displays a myriad of information about current camera settings. It's a bit cluttered, but boy is it complete. A lot of this same information is available on the info display on the top of the camera that you'll see in a bit. If you want to change any of the settings displayed, you can press the OK button (in the four-way controller), navigate to the option you wish to adjust, and change away (see example).

Above the LCD is the E-5's large optical viewfinder, which is unchanged from the one on the E-3. The viewfinder has a magnification of 1.15X and coverage of 100% -- both very nice. The camera's eleven focus points are superimposed over the frame, and below the field-of-view is a line of data showing current exposure settings, shots remaining, ISO sensitivity, the electronic level, and more. A diopter correction knob, located at the top-left of the viewfinder, can bring things into focus for folks with less-than-perfect vision. There's also a switch that closes a little door over the viewfinder, which you may want to do when your eye isn't covering it (like for self-timer shooting).

Now let's talk about buttons. To the lower-left of the optical viewfinder are the Menu and Info buttons, with the latter toggling what information is shown on the LCD. If you continue to the right, past the LCD brightness sensor, you'll spot button for activating live view. Moving up from that we have the rear control dial and AE/AF lock button. Remember that you can redefine this button to activate phase detect AF in live view mode.

At the top-right of the photo is the customizable Function button, plus the movie recording / focus point button. I'll tell you what options the Function button can handle later in this article. The movie / AF target button's function depends on whether you're using live view. If you are, then it'll start recording a movie -- press it again to stop. If you're using the viewfinder, this is how you can switch between the single, dynamic-single, and all target AF modes.

Now, the stuff to the right of the LCD, which should be self-explanatory. You've got your buttons for entering playback mode and deleting a photo. The four-way controller is used for menu navigation, replaying photos, and several other tasks. Lastly, we have the power switch. Those of you with E-3's may be wondering what happened to the fancy locking mechanism for the memory card slot door. It's gone now, replaced with a simpler "slide to open" system.

Top of the Olympus E-5

Now onto the top of the E-5, which is identical to the E-3. Over on the left are three buttons whose location could be better, and I'm not a fan of their multiple functions, either. To change any of these you hold down the button and turn the appropriate dial. Here's everything that these buttons can do in record mode:

Button Function w/rear dial Function w/front dial
Flash Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on, flash off, slow sync w/redeye reduction, slow sync, 2nd-curtain slow sync, full, 1/4, 1/16, 1/64 power) Flash exposure compensation (-3EV to +3EV, in 1/3EV increments)
Mode Shooting mode (Program, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual, bulb) Drive (Single-shot, sequential high, sequential low, 12 or 2 sec self-timer, 0 or 2 sec remote control)
AF Focus mode (Single AF, continuous AF, manual focus, single AF + MF, continuous AF + MF) Metering mode (ESP, center-weighted, spot, spot w/highlight control, spot w/shadow control)
Mode + AF AE bracketing (Off, 2 frames/0.3EV, 2 frames/0.7EV, 2 frames/1.0EV, 3 frames/0.3EV, 3 frames/0.7EV, 3 frames/1.0EV, 5 frames/0.3EV, 5 frames/0.7EV, 5 frames/1.0EV, 7 frames/0.3EV, 7 frames/0.7EV) - the 2 and 7 shot options are new

The only thing that's really changed here is the AE bracketing feature, which now has two and seven shot options. Like the E-3, the E-5 is not a consumer-level camera, with a grand total of zero scene modes. The Program mode is the closest thing to a full automatic mode, with the camera selecting the aperture and shutter speed automatically. Should you want to adjust those, you can use the command dials to move through various aperture/shutter speed combinations (this is called Program Shift). The aperture priority mode lets you select the aperture yourself, with the camera handling the shutter speed duties. The aperture range will vary depending on what lens you're using (the 12-60 lens that's pictured here has a range of F2.8 - F22). Shutter priority mode is just the opposite: you select the shutter speed (from a range of 60 - 1/8000 sec), and the camera picks the proper aperture. The full manual (M) mode lets you select both the aperture and shutter speed, using the same ranges as before. There's also a bulb mode, which will keep the shutter open for as long as you have the shutter release button held down (remote control strongly recommended!).

There are two continuous shooting modes on the E-5: low speed and high speed. In low speed mode, you can select a frame rate ranging from 1 to 4 frames/second. High speed mode shoots at a snappy 5 frames/second. Olympus says that you should be able to take 16 RAW or an unlimited number of JPEGs using a high speed SDHC card.

What about those focus modes? Single AF is what most of you are used to: press the shutter release halfway, and the camera locks focus. Continuous AF will keep focusing for as long as the shutter release is halfway-pressed, even tracking a moving subject around the frame. Manual focus does just what it sounds like: you'll use the ring around the lens to set the focus distance. The S-AF+MF and C-AF+MF modes let you manually focus after and before autofocus is run (respectively).

Enough buttons for a minute -- let's talk about the E-5's hot shoe. This is one of three ways in which you can use an external flash, with the other two methods being wirelessly, or via the flash sync port. The hot shoe works best with the Olympus FL-20, FL-36(R), and FL-50(R) flashes, which sync with the camera's metering system. Third party flashes will work too, though you may need to manually select the flash settings. The fastest shutter speed you can use is 1/250 sec, unless you're using the FL-36R or FL-50R, in which case you can use the Super FP mode, which lets you use any shutter speed.

Moving to the right now, we find the camera's LCD info display. This displays virtually every camera setting imaginable (I'm not listing them here), and there's a backlight you can turn on so you can see it in the dark.

Above that we have buttons for turning on the backlight for the aforementioned LCD info display, plus more for white balance, exposure compensation (now with an expanded -5EV to +5EV range), and ISO sensitivity.

Side of the Olympus E-5

First up on this side of the E-5 is the flash release button, located at the top of the photo. Moving to the lower right, we find the port for the optional wired remote control, which is protected by a screw-on cap.

Continuing to the southeast, we reach the I/O ports, which are under a sealed rubber cover. Let's take a closer look:

Close-up of Olympus E-5 I/O ports

In addition to the remote control port on the top left, the other I/O ports visible here include:

  • External mic (new to the E-5)
  • HDMI (also new)
  • USB
  • A/V output
  • DC-in (for optional AC adapter)

Side of the Olympus E-5

On the other side of the E-5 is where you'll find its dual memory card slots. As I mentioned a lot earlier, the E-5 has swapped the xD card slot that was on the E-3 for a much more useful SD/SDHC/SDXC slot. The larger slot takes both Type I CompactFlash media, including high speed UDMA cards. The door over this compartment isn't quite as sturdy as it was on the E-3 -- it's closer to what you'll find on the E-30.

Bottom of the Olympus E-5

On the bottom of the E-5 you'll find a metal tripod mount (in line with the lens, of course) and the battery compartment. The door covering the battery compartment is sturdy, sealed, and includes a locking mechanism.

That's the BLM-1 battery over on the right -- the production E-5 will ship with the BLM-5.