Olympus’s rugged flagship DSLR serves up beautiful images.
In the Field:
Like all the DSLRs in this price range, the E-5 is on the larger side of bodies without an integrated vertical grip. (If you plan to shoot a lot of verticals, Olympus offers the HLD-4 battery grip, which holds either six AA or two Li-ion batteries.)
Though the comfort of camera grips might not seem like a big deal, ergonomics are a key factor in performance. A good grip makes the camera feel secure without forcing you to clamp down too tightly, which can be essential for accessing buttons, switches, and dials when shooting. The E-5’s grip has a nice shape, arcing inward toward the top of the camera, with a nook for your middle finger below the shutter button that makes it easier to angle the camera up and down.
With two command wheels and plenty of dedicated control buttons, changing settings on the E-5 is quick and easy once you familiarize yourself with the body. Exposure compensation, white balance, and ISO all get their own buttons near the shutter. The less-commonly changed settings, such as shooting and AF modes, drive mode, metering, and flash settings, all get buttons to the left of the pop-up flash.
Our biggest complaint on the controls? The three buttons to the left of the flash, which each serve multiple purposes, have labels on the left of the flash/finder hump. These proved hard to see when shooting without tilting and angling the camera. Over time, you’ll likely remember which ones do what, but until then it can cause some minor confusion.
Olympus has more than tripled the pixel resolution on the fully articulated LCD that graces the back of the E-5, bringing it to 920,000 dots. One of the more rugged-feeling articulated screens out there, its monitor makes it very easy to shoot with the camera held high above your head, down low to the ground, or even stealthily around corners.
While current fixed LCDs have wider viewing angles that make off-angle shooting easier than it used to be, those that tilt and rotate make precise framing simpler. More important, you can change menu items without moving the camera from its position, making tripod-mounted shooting more convenient.
The increased screen resolution comes in handy for live view and video shooting. The E-5 captures HD footage at up to 1280x720p at 30 frames per second, storing video as AVI files using Motion JPEG encoding, and in our test evinced quality on par with consumer HD camcorders. The AVI file type limits files to 2GB, for about 7 minutes of footage—if you dial the camera back to standard definition, you’ll capture 640x480 at 30 fps for up to 14 minutes.
The E-5 can record CD-quality stereo audio, but you’ll have to add a stereo mic through the minijack input if you want the binaural experience. Otherwise, its built-in mic will give you mono recording with your video.
You can store both video and still capture with CompactFlash or SD (including SDHC or SDXC) cards, thanks to the camera’s dual card slots. It would be nice to write information to both cards simultaneously, or let the camera automatically switch to the second card once the first one is full, but so far that’s not the case. (We wouldn’t be surprised to see this updated through firmware.)
If the E-5 trails the competition in any big way, it’s in burst speed. The E-5 retains the 5-fps burst of the E-3, compared with the 7-fps native rate of the Nikon D300s and the 8-fps of the Canon 7D.
The E-5’s buffer maxes out at 16 12-bit RAW frames, while the D300s can swallow 18 12-bit RAW files in a burst, and the 7D can manage 15 (although these are larger 14-bit RAW files).
But shooting highest-quality JPEGs, the E-5 will let you shoot until your memory card is full, where the Nikon caps out at 44 frames and the Canon at 126 frames when using a UDMA card. We’d consider 5 fps the lower limit for serious sports shooting, so if this is fast enough for you, you won’t mind it on the E-5.
The Olympus Art Filters, which apply effects as you shoot, might seem silly, but they can also be fun and even useful. When you’re shooting RAW and JPEG images simultaneously, you can experiment with different looks on the spot, and you always have the RAW file as an untouched backup.
There are 10 Art Filters to choose from, such as Pop Art for high-contrast coupled with high-saturation, the self-explanatory Gentle Sepia, and the new Dramatic Tone, which increases contrast locally in portions of the image for an unrealistic-yet-intense look. And you can even use any of these while shooting video, though some will slow the video frame rate.