The E-5's build as much as feature set lends it semi professional status. Olympus supplied our test sample with a weighty, stunningly sharp and inevitably expensive piece of glass in the wide angle 12-60mm zoom lens, providing an all-encompassing 24-120mm equivalent reach, enabling us to shoot a (literally) wide variety of subject matter.
The body's solidity is such that it not only feels like it could stop a bullet when gripped, but also comes with a weather-proofed moisture and dust resistant magnesium alloy body, to take on nearly all climates and inclement conditions. We also get two media card slots, as on Nikon's D7000, located beneath a sliding catch tucked just behind the handgrip. Here's it's a choice of SD, SDHC and, additionally, newer high capacity SDXC plus the more traditional CompactFlash, type I and II.
Another new feature of this model is the ability to record 1280x720 (HD Ready) video clips, at 30 frames per second. A dedicated record button is provided marked with the symbol of an old-fashioned movie camera, though filming will only begin with a thumb press once Live View mode - the means by which the eponymous reflex mirror lifts up, disabling the optical viewfinder, and allowing you to view the live image on the rear LCD - has first been selected. The screen then provides a cropped 16:9 ratio image to more closely resemble the footage that's being recorded (otherwise it's a 4:3 ratio aspect image). HDMI and regular AV outputs are provided for piping the footage straight out to a TV while USB2.0 output is there to connect to a computer. Live View likewise handily has its own button top right of the screen, so you don't have to delve into the menu systems to otherwise enable either.
Which brings us to what the E-5 most visibly misses that is a traditional bottle-top style shooting mode dial, an omission that feels slightly odd at first if coming to the camera fresh from a competing brand. Instead there's merely a tiny compact-camera style 'mode' button located on the left hand side of the top plate, the relevant letter (P for Program for example) of whichever mode is in play at the time appearing in the top plate display window when pressed. It's a system that works once you get used to it, but we do prefer the tactile (and less fiddly) option of a chunky dial.
As on Canon's EOS 60D, the E-5 provides the compositional advantage of a tilt and swivel LCD with Live View, something we felt was an omission on the Nikon D7000. For those low or high angle shots where it's not always possible to get an eye level with the optical viewfinder, this proved a definite boon to us, and once you've used a camera with this facility it's hard to go back to a fixed screen. Here the screen can either be flipped outward or turned to face inwards to the body for added protection when in transit. It's also useful in that, with a resolution of a high 920k dots, its clarity is sufficient to allow manual focus to be checked with greater efficiency than when using the smaller optical viewfinder above, even if it does otherwise offer 100% field of view.
The same display window, or top-plate LCD, is flanked by four attendant buttons for, variously, illuminating the display, adjusting white balance, exposure and ISO with a button press and twist of either front or rear plate command dials, whilst a combined press of the latter two buttons will reset the camera's functions. A glance down at the top screen will confirm at any time which mode is currently in play, without the need to otherwise inspect such information on the back plate LCD and divert the lens away from pointing directly at your intended subject.
A feature that we do enjoy, and one which Olympus arguably originated with its E-series DSLRs and had co-opted by its Digital Pens, is that of the integral Art Filter digital effects, applied to an image at the point of capture. This is of great use to those who are wishing for more visual oomph than the rather flat scene before them might provide - but without having to spend ages in Photoshop to achieve similar afterwards. Perhaps a little odd to feature such consumer-level gimmicks on a DSLR that aims for professional status, but they help to further set the range apart from the pack, if only to a limited degree.
Included on the E-5 are a wealth of creative choices, similar to those provided by the Pens by virtue of including our favourites of pop art, pinhole and toy-town-like 'diorama' effect, also found as a miniature mode on the latest Canon PowerShot and IXUS cameras. Selected via the same back-screen menu as the above effects are Picture Mode settings which allow further enhancements, such as making colour more muted or saturated. With the default camera setting being 'natural', there's the chance to let the camera choose optimum settings for a given scene by alternatively selecting 'i-Enhance' mode, as well as manually selecting monotone or a custom setting.
If Live View has already been chosen on the rear LCD, the effects of these filters are shown pre-capture, so the process becomes less experimental. Since they are then applied at the time of capture, writing times slow slightly, but not prohibitively.