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Olympus E-5 - Design and Features

By Gavin Stoker



Our Score:


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.


January 25, 2011, 11:39 am

Most reviewers of this camera gave this camera their thumbs up hence it is highly recommended. I am afraid this camera is too expensive and bulky for me.

Sean Groarke

January 25, 2011, 1:19 pm

While it seems a decent bit of kit, given the competition from Canon and Nikon it's massively too expensive. And given the suggestion that it's the last Pentax SLR, I can't see even a Pentaxer upgrading - if I had the previous model I'd sell it double quick before the market disappears. Value 7/10. Hmmmmmmm. Generous.


January 25, 2011, 2:39 pm

BTW, Olympus also pioneered image stabilisation and live view in DSLRs.

I have a 4-year old Olympus E-510 and that amazing 12-60 lens; I'm very happy with the combo. But then I was using a 30+ year-old OM-2 up until seven years ago, so even if Oly do kill off their DSLRs, I'm well used to antique cameras :) I take pictures for the enjoyment, not to make a living, so obviously that would be different. Maybe I'll buy a third-hand E5 in a few years!


January 25, 2011, 2:51 pm

@ Sean Groarke

Where does Pentax come in. Ok Pentax DSLR cameras are smaller than Canon or Nikon this article is all about OLYMPUS.


January 25, 2011, 3:15 pm

I think Sean got a bit mixed up :). Pentax are going from strength to strength, no sign of them stopping DSLR production any time soon!

I see the last TR review of a Pentax DSLR was in 2009.... how about the new Kr or K5 chaps?


January 25, 2011, 3:18 pm

I welcome the improvements to the iso test shots. Can I suggest further improvements? Could you include a object which has fine detail so that we can the effect of noise reduction on it.

@Sean Groarke - Not to be pedantic but it's an Olympus camera, not Pentax.


January 25, 2011, 5:23 pm

I agree with Joose. The ISO test shots are improved slightly - by way of including more colourful subjects - but detail loss is just as important a consideration as noise levels when evaluating ISO performance. The toy cars are very smooth in texture, so it's hard to see what detail is lost when bumping ISO.

Moreover, for some reason you've cropped to an out of focus area of the frame, making it even more difficult to evaluate detail loss.

Sean Groarke

January 25, 2011, 6:31 pm

Heh. Substitute Olympus for Pentax and the comment stands as is. :-) (Had just had a chat with someone about Pentax - brain didn't switch back!)


January 26, 2011, 3:58 am

£1500? Ye cats, that's optimistic. Heck, you can get the Nikon D700 (that's full frame, folks) for £1400-£1500 and the D300S for about £1100. Sure, those are slightly older models, but they're still top of the line for Nikon, and I can't imagine this camera's controls and IQ are that much better.

Add my voice to the general clamour for a Pentax K-5 review.


January 26, 2011, 8:38 am

Thanks for the review.

The fact that Olympus have produced a DSLR at all is disappointing to me. Especially since I was under the impression that here is a company, along with Panasonic and Samsung, that has its understanding of digital photography straight. I believe that the CSC (or ILC) genre are the future of digital cameras and I see no reason to go back to the archaic old days of the DSLR. If the E-5 is indeed the last DSLR produced by Olympus then good on them and I will be relieved that the silliness is ending.

Prima facie the E-5 may be a sound decision from the business perspective in order to keep those E-3 body owners going. But I would argue that by playing Canikon et al's game of continuing to produce DSLRs they validate, not only the outdated DSLR, but also this truly unoriginal and perverse competition (I have been very bored!).

Olympus should be focusing their energy on improving the E-series to cater to the professional market. Why this has not happened I do not know. Look at Panasonic and the G-3, rumored to follow the NX10 in it's mini DSLR design. This is a company that has nothing to lose (no DSLR legacy) and everything to gain. It may be that Panasonic gets home before anyone else does - a full blooded professional level ILC (or CSC) camera. I wait in restless anticipation.


January 26, 2011, 3:54 pm

@Rizwan: Well that was hilarious. Don't think you're quite aware of the size and reason for existence of the SLR market somehow.


January 26, 2011, 6:56 pm

@Ed: Not trying to be funny here.

I know that the SLR market is huge. I am not disputing this. My argument is that Olympus should produce an ILC camera of professional capability rather than a DSLR. ILC's have come a long way now. A pro level model offering compatibility with legacy lenses through adapters is surely the way forward.


January 26, 2011, 9:43 pm

@Rizwan: It's certainly something I'd be interested in seeing though for certain applications an SLR will always be preferable, at least until electronic viewfinder technology improves.


January 26, 2011, 11:20 pm

I really don't see any one would want to buy the E-5 camera!

It is overly price, and it does not offer any significant features that can even rival to Nikon, Canon, and Pentax.

Olympus is not even trying anymore!

Other than existing Olympus DSLR owners who feel the need to upgrade because they have alreay invested vast amount of money in Olympus equipment, I really don't see anyone would want to spend $1700 USD on a piece of camera equipment that offer inferior ISO performance, mediocre improvement on photo quality, and outrageously over-priced camera.

I used to be very proud to be an Olympus DSLR owner, but I honestly say:


It appears that Olympus is milking their loyal customers for all they are worth!

Next time, when you spoted a person using an Olympus E-5 camera, you got to wonder;

if this person is really dedicated to a brand, or if this person just being really stupid.

My comment may sound a little harsh, but then, how do you explain Panasonic's success with their borrow 4/3 technology from Olympus.

Furthermore, Olympus had lost so much ground on the DSLR market in the last few years, the existance of future Olympus DSLR Cameras became questionable.

Why would anyone want to invest in a camera system that is expensive and has no further upgrade possibility.


January 27, 2011, 1:43 am

The Olympus E-PL2 should be your next review, the it is much cheaper and gives excellent images, refer to this site here:


I have the E-PL1 but I won't be upgrading to the PL2 because it is not a major upgrade and also it too expensive at the moment, will consider upgrade in 6-12 months time when the price will drop by then by at least 50-100 pds.


January 27, 2011, 4:54 pm

@Rizwan: Sony certainly seems to be taking that path - if its executives' interviews are to be believed, it's abandoning DSLRs for other forms of interchangeable lens cameras, i.e. their new DSLTs and the NEX series. By all accounts, they'll be releasing a semi-pro version of both later this year. We'll see how successful they are. I'm not personally convinced that electronic viewfinders will ever be able to replace a good optical viewfinder, but then I also said that about aperture rings back in the day when they started to disappear.


January 27, 2011, 5:50 pm

Can you imagine putting one of these:


on a "CSC"?

What about all the dedicated buttons and wheels? The back (and front, and sides) of a pro DSLR has more buttons and wheels on it then you can fit on two CSCs. Dedicated buttons are essential for inputting the right settings quickly. What about sensor size? And yes, the electronic viewfinder? Robustness?

I've no doubt that a "Pro" CSC will be marketed at some point, but it simply won't be the same as a Pro DSLR. They will remain as two seperate niches - one camp who want a CSC with a few more bells and whistles, and the other who shoot photographs for a living.


January 28, 2011, 7:30 am

@lensman: I have not been convinced by Sony's work so far. The NEX outfit has so far been shoddy compared with the solutions offered by competitors, especially with regards to lens quality and options. Anyway the future might bring improvements.

Regarding electronic viewfinders. The last year of models have fantastic EVFs with very high refresh rates that are more than sufficient for enthusiast use. EVFs also have advantages over OVFs. For example they allow you to see what the final image will look like before you actually take it, exposure taken into account. They also show much more information. It is just a matter of time before professionals start to prefer the EVF.

@piesforyou: Most pros I know don't need all of those buttons. Two wheels, a button to manage ISO, and manual control is more than enough for most demanding photographers. Samsung's NX series come with a lot of wheels and buttons - definitely more than what I need. This coupled with the new iFn lenses (where the parameters can be changed using the aperture ring) makes the Samsung's CSC already very feature rich. As for sensor size. Do you not know that CSC's use DSLR (APS-C or 4/3rd) sensors inside them?


January 28, 2011, 4:50 pm

@Rizwan: I agree that Sony need to get their game up in terms of releasing more E-mount lenses, although in fairness they did say at Photokina that they have seven more in the pipeline, and it is possible to use their newer A-mount lenses - including some of the Zeiss ones - in AF mode with an adapter. Still, with my big and clunky hands I'm unlikely to ever go down that route.

I have mixed feelings on EVFs. I love some of the features they overlay, and they blow OVFs out of the water in low light, but I simply can't spend hours with my eye glued to one. Colour bleed, tearing, eyestrain... Hopefully the technology will get better: Epson's screens look promising, for instance. I fully expect that my next camera body will be a Sony SLT (thanks to my collection of Minolta lenses from the 80s and 90s, switching from A-mount isn't really an option).

@piesforyou: There are plenty of people "who shoot photographs for a living" who like the new "mirrorless" cameras and see a place for them in their setup. Michael Reichmann (of Luminous Landscapes) has written plenty of thoughtful stuff on this point. Remember that the big pros have several bodies which they use for different things. I agree about the dedicated buttons and wheels though. They may save only a couple of seconds, but when you're out and about those seconds can make the difference between getting a shot and missing it.


January 30, 2011, 12:04 am

HI, Sony has always been on expensive side unlike Olympus they are still better prices than Sony and you get a great deal too. I would like to go with Olympus anytime. I was reading the other day on Testfreaks that Sony really need to notch it up in orde to stay(ahead) in the game. Sony its coming.

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