Review Price £1,529.95
Way back in 2002, Olympus' original E-1 camera was the first digital SLR to be constructed as a digital camera from the ground floor up, competing models from Canon, Nikon, Pentax et al having been devised based on existing 35mm film camera bodies.
The result was, said Olympus, that its rivals were bulkier in almost every respect than they needed to be. Olympus' alternative plan was instead to fully embrace this new digital technology, suggesting that its E series range, which made use of what it referred to as a Four Thirds sensor - smaller in dimension to the APS-C sized sensors commonly used in rival DSLRs - was the way forward.
This Four Thirds (also written 4/3rds) system would enable smaller camera bodies and lenses that truly played to digital photography's strengths. Proof of the pudding could be witnessed in the fact that a 14-42mm Four Thirds system lens provided the equivalent of 28-84mm 35mm film lens - so, in other words, double the focal length.
Whilst that initial model and its successors were indeed marginally smaller than the fledgling digital SLRs of the time, nearly a decade later the latest E-5 iteration (updating the competent E-3, having seemingly skipped a generation) is still just as chunky as the likes of Nikon's D7000 and Canon's EOS 60D. At 800g in weight, body only, in fact it's a bit of a doorstop.
As well as considering what rivals have to offer when weighing up whether the E-5 is the DSLR for you, it's also worth noting what's going on with Olympus itself at the moment. The manufacturer appears to be pinning most (if not all) of its hopes - and future development funds - on the even smaller (mirror-less) Micro Four Thirds system cameras, which include the CES announced Olympus Digital Pen E-PL2. Accompanying the E-5's release, there have been heavy suggestions from the company therefore that this could be its last digital SLR proper.
So is the range-topping E-5 a fitting swan song, the last gasp of a series that has apparently had its day, or... is there enough new and of interest here to suggest that an obituary might be a little premature?
Certainly the E-5's 12.3 megapixel headline resolution feels modest when stacked up against rivals in its manufacturer's suggested £1,500 body-only price bracket, which may further put off anyone thinking of buying into this system from scratch. That said, Olympus has included a TruePic V+ image processing engine which, among other things, is claimed to provide enhanced detail over cameras with larger sensors. The DSLR's chief target audience is most likely existing E-3 owners, tempted to upgrade by the E-5's expanded feature set arriving a couple of years down the line.
Trusted Reviews is part of the Time Inc. (UK) Ltd Technology Network