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The Complete Olympus E-5 Field Review

by Chris Gampat on 02/06/2011

Speculation has been abound on the interwebs about the death of the Four Thirds format of cameras and the embrace of the extremely popular Micro Four Thirds cameras. The Olympus E-5 is Olympus’s latest DSLR at the time of writing this posting, and it is perhaps one of the best DSLRs I’ve tested. This complete review of the Olympus E-5 is not only a compilation of the entire review that I’ve here on The Phoblographer, but will also include my experiences with it at the workplace. Finally, it is a desperate plea to Olympus to not kill the format, but instead find a different way to market it.

Complete Postings

Hands on at Photo Plus

Day 1- The E-5 impressed me quite a bit early on and I was hoping that it wouldn’t let me down.

Day 2- I took the camera out during a snowstorm in NYC and found that the image quality was very, very good: especially the blues, reds, and greens.

Day 3- Buried under snow for a period of time, the Olympus E-5 survived Hell’s Kitchen. This proved just how tough the camera is.

Day 4- Played with the Art Filters, which proved the camera to be a fun companion if it is indeed your only body.

Day 5- Using the Olympus E-5 with the FL-50r flash to photograph products in a small whitebox. I also tested the high ISOs: which were perhaps the only flaw of this camera with the lack of dynamic range.

Experiences at Work


During the day, I’m the blog slave Lead Writer for BHInsights.com, the official blog of B&H Photo Video Pro Audio. As part of the social marketing dept., I’m sometimes asked to go shoot certain things. The camera and I survived multiple snowstorms together. The above photo was shot while doing such a thing and was done using the Continuous AF system. This mode is fast, smart and accurate. I had no complaints at all except that the lenses were noisy when focusing.

Day after day I’d go into the cold, come back in, and my coworkers would sit there speculating whether or not other cameras would be able to survive the same torment that the Olympus did. Indeed, I often came back in covered in snow. But the E-5 stood up like a spartan when coupled with the 12-60mm F/2.8-4 SWD lens.

Ergonomics

Unfortunately, I was never able to totally rewire my brain to shoot with the camera without having my eye leave the viewfinder. With that said, you may want to consider that there may be a bit of a learning curve if you’re a total manual control freak the way I am when I shoot.

As it is, I haven’t felt a better DSLR grip, ever. Plus, I knew that the camera would be able to shake off any bump that it took. When I held the camera by the lens, it felt almost like a hammer.

Autofocus

Olympus has come a long way with their autofocus system: not only is it smart and fast, but also very accurate. In fact, I found it to be a tad bit faster than my Canon 7D.

In theory, that’s great. In practice, the Four Thirds system still needs better and faster prime lenses. Since the sensor is so small, they need to be ultra fast.

Why mention this now? Consider concert photography: there are fast moving subjects in dreadfully low light. You often need to crank up your ISO settings unless you have faster prime lenses. Faster primes, coupled with the stellar AF system already in the bodies will be able to help the system stay alive.

Image Quality

In good lighting, the image quality was excellent. At the High ISO settings, I’ve seen much better performance from other cameras.

My suggestion to Olympus is that it is time to lower the megapixels unless they can deliver amazing high ISO output in the next camera. Besides, I ended up resizing my photos down all the time for the web anyway.

In theory, 5MP is actually enough for most situations—especially with such a damned good autofocusing system. If you’re sitting here saying to yourself, “Then why do you use a Canon 5D MK II, Chris?” then here’s your answer: the 5D Mk II was designed for a different type of photographer. Most people who use it just use the center focusing point and then recompose, and this is why most of the other focusing points aren’t as strong as the center’s. Other methods are shooting the subject in the center at all times and then liberally cropping in post-production from the 21MP. The 7D, on the other hand, has strong and smart focusing points all around.

The E-5 also has top-notch autofocusing. Because you’re using the other focusing points to great effect in composition you can theoretically lower your megapixels.

Extra Features

Art filters- overall, I didn’t care for them. They’re fun, but I have more fun creating the look myself in Lightroom 3.

LCD screen- very, very good.

Wireless flash control- the simplest way ever to control wireless strobes in a studio. Other systems should learn from Olympus for this.

Seriously, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Olympus doesn’t market this feature enough.

Metering

This was another quirk with the system. I never got used to the metering at all and it was always so much of a guessing game. If you once again do not mind the learning curve, then you’ll be good to go. But otherwise, just pay attention to the meter and the results that come out at different exposure settings.

Questions? Let us know in the comments below and maybe we can help.

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