Olympus E-5 Review

Olympus E-5 Review

Launched with little fanfare and then, according to Olympus, quickly gaining favour with the market, the Olympus E-5 DSLR should attract much attention down the track.

Olympus E-5 1.jpg

Using the Four Thirds system, the E-5 is a little startling in its size and weight. When compared to the recently tested budget Nikon D3100 camera, the E-5 is roughly 1.4x the size and 1.8x the weight. This is no Tiny Tim!

But perhaps a more valid assessment lies in comparing the E-5 with its earlier Four Thirds stablemate, the E3: each is almost identical in size and weight.

It is, after all, the company’s flagship DSLR camera and has a mountain of features that will make semi pro and enthusiast photographers whimper with joy.

Olympus E-5 2.jpg

Built around a dust/splash-proof magnesium alloy chassis, Olympus claims a first with the E-5: world’s only professional DSLR with a dual-axis swiveling, high resolution 920,000 pixel, 7.6cm LCD screen. It also uses a SuperSonic Wave Dust Reduction System.

Olympus E-5 Features

As also used in the PEN cameras, the E-5’s Live MOS sensor captures 12.3 megapixel images with a maximum image size of 4032×3042 pixels, enough to make a 34x26cm print at a 300 dpi setting.

Movies? Not so brimming, with the maximum size being only 1280×720 pixels. The good news is that there is a 3.5mm stereo microphone input; the bad news is that you are likely to pick up the sounds of lens and camera operation in your movie … I can confirm the auto focus makes a hell of a racket!

You can use auto focus in movie mode but you need to activate it to get sharp focus … so the clatter it makes on the audio track is far from acceptable.

Also, if you use the onboard image stabiliser, the recorded image is slightly enlarged, presumably because the overall sensor area is used to steady the image.

Art Filters

Beach Natural.JPG

Beach Cross process.JPG

Beach Grainy film.JPG

Beach Pinhole.JPG

Beach Pop Art 1.JPG

Right from the start, Olympus certainly had a winner with its Art Filters, now seen in many of its DSLR and PEN cameras … I must confess to being a fan of the feature. Now it has extended the scope of these powerful helpers: ten Art Filter digital effects can be applied directly in real-time to both stills and video; they also can be used in manual exposure, as well as with shutter or aperture priority.


This shot of a cyclist is a good example of how quickly the camera and its AF can work in an emergency: I had no more than two seconds to frame and focus on this rapidly passing cyclist. Sharp and correctly exposed.

LCD menu.jpg

More: the auto focus system uses an eleven point full twin cross array; top shutter speed is 1/8000 second; continuous shooting can be made at a rate of 5 fps for as long as the shutter button is pressed; the image stabiliser has four settings — off, on, for panning horizontally, for panning vertically; CF and SD card slots; exposure bracketing can be performed in variations of 0.3, 0.5, 0.7 or 1.0 f stops over two to seven frames; camera levelling can be achieved in horizontal or vertical attitudes; multiple exposure can be used, with up to four images, with or without auto gain adjustment and saved as a single image; you can input copyright info into the EXIF image tags and later viewed in Photoshop.

The external control layout is near-identical to the E-3; there is no mode dial, so features such as Program, shutter or aperture priority, etc are selected by a combo of button pushing and rolling command wheels.

Surf club 1.JPG

A good example of the exposure latitude of the E-5. The foreground figures still have detail instead of the super bright background.

Olympus E-5 ISO Tests

Right up to ISO800 the images were as clear as a bell. At ISO1600 a tiny bit of noise began to creep in. At ISO3200 slightly more noise but not objectionable. AT ISO6400 more noise and definition was down — but still a useable setting.

Olympus E-5 ISO100 f8 1.15 sec.JPG

Olympus E-5 ISO400 f8 1.80 sec.JPG

Olympus E-5 ISO800 f8 1.160 sec.JPG

Olympus E-5 ISO1600 f8 1.320 sec.JPG

Olympus E-5 ISO3200 f8 1.640 sec.jpg

Olympus E-5 ISO6400 f8 1.1250 sec.JPG


Quality: I found the images from this camera to be excellent in terms of resolution and colour quality. With the right subject in good light colour saturation was top level.

I also found the12-60mm review lens to be excellent for general work; the 5x zoom range was a great help.

Why you would buy the E-5: you want to capture RAW images; you want a high level DSLR at a good price.

Why you wouldn’t: size and weight is too much for you; you need Full HD video.

For me, this is an excellent camera for an enthusiast or a semi pro. Fully blown pro photographers will probably turn up their noses at the feature list. But hey! Look at the price.

Olympus E-5 Specifications

Image Sensor: 12.3 million effective pixels.
Metering: Digital ESP, centre-weighted metering and spot.
Effective Sensor Size: 17.3×13.0 Live MOS.
A/D processing: 12-bit.
Lens Mount: Four Thirds system.
35 SLR Lens Factor: 2x approx.
Exposure Modes: Auto, Program AE, shutter and aperture priority, manual.
Shutter Speed: Bulb, 60 to 1/8000 second. Flash sync: 1/250 sec; Super FGP up to 1/8000 sec.
Memory: CF Type 1, SD/SDHC/SDXC cards.
Image Sizes (pixels): 4032×3042 to 1024×768. Movies: 1280×720, 640×480.
Viewfinders: Eye level pentaprism, 7.6cm LCD (920,000 pixels).
File Formats: RAW, JPEG, RAW+JPEG.
Colour Space: Adobe RGB, sRGB.
ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 100 to 6400.
Interface: USB 2.0, AV, HDMI mini, DC input, 3.5mm mic input.
Power: Rechargeable lithium ion battery, AC adaptor.
Dimensions: 142.5×116.5×74.5 WHDmm.
Weight: Approx. 892 g (with CF card and battery).
Price: Get a price on the Olympus E-5 (body only).

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Olympus E-5
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Barrie Smith is an experienced writer/photographer currently published in Australian Macworld, Auscam and other magazines in Australia and overseas.

Some Older Comments

  • bintang Olym September 13, 2011 07:26 pm

    wooo .... high iso still have good capture

  • Robin August 25, 2011 11:36 pm


    Check Olympus website, you can see a complete line up of their lenses catergorized.... I have a small Studio, and a pretty decent line up of lenses by olympus. 8mm fisheye, 50mm macro, 14-35mm, 7-14mm, 35-100mm, 12-60mm, sigma 30mm, and find myself using the 50mm or 35-100mm for portraits, the Bokeh is just better with the longer lenses....

  • Cheryl August 4, 2011 10:47 am

    I am a new owner of this magnificant e5 camera and love, love all it can do to help me capture life creatively.
    I do struggle with finding an olympus portrait lens. I have a 50mm, 12-60mm and 70-300mm but wonder if olympus makes telezooms for in studio portraiture? 80mm perhaps? Anybody know? Please email me with any info you might have. clcwjc53@yahoo.com


  • APS July 14, 2011 04:08 am

    Was a great admirer of Olympus cameras, especially, the 620, 420 and E1 systems. Until i advised my brother when he was buying a compact after seeing the reviews (some FE 4something series). Found later that it had no sound for movie shooting while a review said it had. Why can't they change the number if some part of the specs are changed for a different country. Am a Canon user now and loving it.

  • cathi SWcott May 3, 2011 08:05 am

    I had an olympus e 410 and had three lenses . I was going to move up to the next evolt available. My husband said no and insisted I move up to the best camera. I got the camera when it first came out-bought it in St. Thomas- love it- still learning how to use it. Went to the Phillies game last night and sat up high in the ballpark. have the 70-300 mm 1:4-5.6. The images were good but I was wondering without breaking the bank what is my option to be able to get great shots @ a distance

  • Ken Williams April 21, 2011 06:09 am

    As a professional shooter (yep, this is my full time job) I work with both Canon and Olympus. While both manufacturers do a great job, I find the Oly lenses significantly better. My Canon 5d has definitely been a work horse, but my E3 and now E5 have both performed equally well. There are only two reasons preventing me from dropping Canon completely

    1)The perception of the public...if you don't have a Canon or Nikon you can't be a pro.
    2) What are Oly's intentions for the future of their professional offerings of lenses and bodies.

    If Olympus would give us a firm commitment that they will not at sometime in the future completely let the pro's like me down who have so heavily invested in them, it would make my decisions much easier. I prefer shooting my Oly's to my Canon's but I know with certainty that Canon will continue to develop new bodies and lenses. I'm not so certain of Oly, so for the time being, I'll continue to work with double investment in both manufacturers.

    Ken Williams

  • Norma Skinner March 25, 2011 12:49 am

    Thought readers of this review might be interested in a similarly positive review of the E-5 in April 2011's issue of Photography Monthly published in the UK. The article is written by Steve Pope who normally shoots with Canon 1Ds Mark IV and was positively surprised by the E-5's performance, going on to consider it a viable rival to Canon and Nikon in build and image standards. (Photography Monthly's website is www.photographymonthly.com.) Well, we knew that, anyway, but it's great to see other brand users recognizing this too!

  • Papa Rotzzi March 10, 2011 12:26 am

    This message is in response to Dave Leach and a few others who somehow believe the E-5 is less of a camera because of things like video and art filters.

    Dave, if the E-3 is the best camera Olympus ever made.. then the E-5 is simply the best E-3 that Olympus made. There is absolutely NOTHING that forces you to use art filters or video. In fact, you can turn the art filters off if you choose.. and the video mode is only available in live view.. which most purists don't use anyway.

    Yep, take those out of the way and you got yourself an E-3 after all. Well, with a bigger sensor and LCD screen. OH, and an even BETTER jpg processing engine with double the ISO ability.. micro AF adjustment per lens.. and a couple of additional programmable buttons.

  • Alan Roberts March 3, 2011 04:50 pm

    Comments for MM from Canada: I am an architect and avid amateur photographer, having used Oly for 34 years. Bought a Trip 35 in '77 then an OM1 in '78, OM2n in '84, OM4Ti in '98, C2020 then a C5050, an E-1 in '06 & E-3 in '07. I waited for the E-5 but was pretty disappointed with the specs. With Oly's first DSLR, the E-1, they decided to fix their sensor size and design a completely new system, scrapping all of their old lenses. This really frustrated me and left me high & dry with a whole selection of expensive, Zuiko lenses that were now useless. I decided however to stay with Oly as the other brands back then were very confusing and had no lenses fully compatible with their multiple sensor sizes. So, I bit the bullet and began rebuying most of my lenses. I've built up a very nice selection from the 8mm ED fisheye to the 50-200mm ED zoom. I wanted to buy a major prime telephoto like the 300mm f2.8 but, at that price, did not want to drop the price of a used car on a lens and have the body die. I read everythiing I could about the E-5 and studied it intently. Yes, you get fantastic shots from it, it has a wonderful build quality, but I am extremely doubtful as to the body style, 4/3 format surviving. 8 years ago the Oly approach of a small sensor size seemed like a good idea but not any more. Purely in terms of physics, barring some incredible discover which clearly has not happened, a small sensor simply cannot perform well in terms of noise & lower light performance. Wanting to outlay so much on a single lens I decided to study the competition and narrowed it down to Canon, Nikon & Sony. I then had to choose sensor size and decided to go full frame. After much study and research I decided on the Nikon D700, said goodbye to Oly, and bought it. (Oly has left me in the lurch before as noted above & I see no reason to believe they will not do so again. After all, it doesn't matter how good or bad a particular Oly camera is, if it doesn't sell enough volume it will die and their volume appears to be disappearing as far as DSLR's are concerned. No-one in my town even carries Oly DSLR's any more). Secondly, Oly has already announced they will not be making any other focal length Zuiko lenses than what is available now and they are rather limiting. Since buying the D700 I've bought a number of Nikkor lenses to compliment it, the 16mm fisheye to the f2.8 300mm prime plus some specialized lenses like the 28mm perspective correcting, 100mm macro, 135mm portrait with defocus control and so on. What I have discovered is the following: My Nikon is way bigger, bulkier & heavier, the lenses too. The camera and lenses do not seem to have quite the same standard of build quality as my Oly stuff in regard to splash & dust proof, BUT, the quality of the images is absolutely superb. (I know I'm not comparing apples with apples - but just telling you my experience). The low light performance absolutely blows anything the E-5 has to offer way out of the water. The selection of lenses is simply outstanding. So, I've kept all my Oly gear in case Oly has a miracle and produces something that performs up to the specs of the competition - but I won't hold my breath... I'm actually very sorry to change brands after using Oly for so many years and I love the quality of their products - but I see no long term future in the E system and was not going to spend any more money on it.[eimg link='' title='' url='http://farm3.static.flickr.com//5115577265_.jpg']

  • Norma Skinner March 3, 2011 03:25 am

    Thank you for your excellent review of the E-5 confirming what a "beastie" it is.
    I am a professional photographer who has just traded-in Canon 5d mark II and I and all my lenses for the Olympus E-5 and pro-lenses (after extensive comparisons). The Canons simply could not match my daughter's E-3 in colour and clarity, especially with Canon's lens fairly wide. While I was making the trade-in, the dealer happened to mention a fellow-pro, whom I knew, who had traded in all his Nikon D3's and lenses, and made exactly the same swap - to the E-5! There is no other flagship camera which has all the features of the E-5 and can turn out beautiful, edit-free jpegs. If the E-3 was good enough for David Bailey in India, then the E-5 is certainly more than good enough for us lesser mortals! (Our website contains a mix of Olympus and Canon images. See if you can spot which is which? [eimg url='www.euphoria-photography.co.uk' title='www.euphoria-photography.co.uk'] )

  • Daphne Ellenburg March 1, 2011 08:19 am

    I am in love with the E-5 (I couldn't wait to buy it) I've had it since the last week of October 2010- Its noticably faster than the E-30 and the color is even more fantastic! Most of my new shots on both my blog and website are with the new E-5. My clients love the quality!

  • DonParrot March 1, 2011 06:34 am

    I don't quitze understand your criticism.
    The E-5 represents major progress in nearly every respect - and unfortunately, video is a must in every new camera launched today. But just as me, you needn't use it. And the same applies to the art filters. So go for the goodies you like and just forget about the others.

  • Dave Leach February 28, 2011 04:33 pm

    I am a Olympus user, I am retired and over 50. When selecting a digital camera I went to the books and magazines looking for "What to Buy" & "How to Select", it boiled down to one and only one criteria in camera selection, "GLASS". All of the pro's and evaluation labs pointed back to the Zuiko lens, they cost more and few mfg. support the 4/3's lens. So not much is out there for cheaper aftermarket lens options. I like the E-3, and consider Art Filters the same as plug ins, they should be in software not the camera. If I want to take a video, then I will use a video camera that is designed for that, I don't use my video camera to take pictures.

    At my age and health, big cameras and lens with single use buttons/knobs/dials are easier to use in hand operation and mental memory. Weight and size equals bigger is better (look at all of the high end units, bigger is better), same for lens just look at all of the catalogs.

    I just wish that the manufacturers would ask and listen to some of it's users, many of us would rather have an E-3 than the extras they are including. So why not keep producing the E-3, why throw away the best camera Olympus has ever made. Or make a E-5M with out video and art filter but keep the it is a great idea to use SD card verse the XD and the 12. MP is a plus also.

  • Barrie Smith February 28, 2011 07:36 am

    To MM from Vancouver:

    For most people the sensor size is often overplayed.

    If your final output will be no larger than 6x4 inch prints even a $100 point and shoot will be enough!

    It's only when you start to make really large prints (larger than A3) that the niceties of large sensors come in to play.

  • v February 27, 2011 03:50 am

    i would love an e5, but it's too expensive. i think the image quality is excellent and olympus suits my needs just fine....except for the price. thanks for the review though, i love my olympus cameras

  • MM from Vancouver, Canada February 26, 2011 04:39 am

    I have set my eyes on four cameras and have been reading many reviews about them - the Olympus E-5, Lumix GH-2, Pentax K-5 and the Fujifilm HS20-EXR. I intend to buy one that I will keep for at least maybe 5 years. I like the weather-proof/bulletproof make of the E-5 and the K-5. I like the small size of the K-5, but I wouldn't touch it until they add the fully articulating LCD display like that on the E-5. I'm not really a fan of the Canons and Nikons (although I have owned almost the entire line up of Canon 35 mm film SLRs during my younger days). My dilemna is knowing what is "good enough", in terms of image quality, high ISO performance and noise level especially considering I am not a professional photographer, just an advanced amateur doing a lot of travel and portrait photography. I travel a lot on business and do take a lot of pictures using my current Canon S5-IS. However, I would like to go beyond that (the EXR technology on top of its 30x zoom on the Fuji seem to have overcome many of my concerns about small sensors on the point-and-shot cameras and I have seen some really impressive shots from it). Do you think Four-Thirds is good enough, considering it is smaller than APS which seems to be the standard measure for many? Does this 4/3 format measure up? I have read many negative comments from the Canikon fanatics in the past that is why I am somewhat hesitant. I'd appreciate any comments. Thanks.

  • DonParrot February 25, 2011 11:57 am

    I love my E-5. My E-30 is a great camera, but the E-5 lifts my lenses to a new level.
    And that's why I don't think it's expensive. You always shoud look at the system, not the cam,era alone. And I don't see anybody on the market who will be able to provide me a camera-lense combination deliverng on the level of E-5/ Zuiko 50 2.0/12-60 SWD/50-200SWD. The E-5 squeetes details out of the lenses I didn't know they exist. And it turns the previously really slowly focusing 50 2.0 into a truly fast lense. Thanks Olympus for this marvellous cam!

  • Nathan February 25, 2011 09:37 am

    I figured that at some point some gearhead would point out the DXOmark scores. I've used the E-30 to produce spectacular images in bright light, low light, and night. I really don't think sensor performance is the end-all-be-all of camera utility.

    The Olympus SLRs produce better image quality than film in 90 percent of use, and for the other 10 percent, even a D700 is still not quite up to the task. Shoot what you like, let images speak for themselves. It's not like Four Thirds can't shoot in dim light and produce printable image with low noise. It can.

  • mrtflop February 25, 2011 09:09 am

    try to shot at 160 ISO, then resemple 2x and print at 135x190 cm (if you can..). Wich camera can do that?

  • DM|ZE February 25, 2011 08:02 am

    Nice review, the E5 is a bit pricey for me (I will stick with my e-620 for now). I am curious to see where Olympus is going though. I really love my e-620, I just wish there was more support for it (3rd party lenses, etc.). The high iso has nice noise levels to me even over what I've seen with my camera. I've only had my DSLR for a little over a year so it'll be a little while before I upgrade. Hopefully Olympus does something in the mean time to keep me from jumping ship.


  • Carlo February 25, 2011 04:13 am

    IMO that's one of the best ISO tests out there. Great setup.
    Thanks for the art filters preview of the same scene as well.

  • d February 24, 2011 09:57 am

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  • david February 24, 2011 08:55 am


    it seems to show great exposure control, not something my current Nikon knows how to do!

    I was ready to go buy one but the price is in fact on the high side, especially since it seems to come without a lens deal!

    Maybe the Lumix GH2 with the 14-140mm lens is a good alternative........ about the same price but lens included!

    Personally I can't be bothered with RAW and PC post processing which is another reason to lust after this one.

    High ISO images look superb....

    Wish list for lotto win.....I still have 2 of my old Olympus OM lenses.....

  • Barrie Smith February 24, 2011 07:07 am

    To danfoy:

    Yes, I was sceptical when Olympus first introduced the art filters to its DSLRs. But since then I have come to appreciate them more and more.
    They can quite quickly give a radical look to even the most mundane shot without resorting to Photoshop. Try them out at your local camera shop. I'm sure you will be impressed.

  • Ozone51 February 24, 2011 01:21 am

    I think it's extremely expensive for the poor performance you get in terms of image quality. For exemple, for the price of only the body of the Olympus, you can get a Nikon D7000 with a lense. According to Dxomark, the E5 as an inferior level of image quality then a Nikon D3100...

  • Papa Rotzzi February 23, 2011 11:38 pm

    If you are going to buy the E-5 "to capture RAW images" you are wasting your money. I do not believe that I have seen any DSLR camera that does not shoot RAW. For the majority of DSLRs.. shooting RAW is the only way to get the best image out of the camera!

    The strength of the E-5 lies in its JPG processing. Sure, I could shoot in RAW, (and I used to) but why bother?! It takes more effort to get the RAW to look as good as the JPG anyway. OK, if you are the kind of guy that enjoys spending more time squeezing every bit and pixel in Photoshop.. more power to you. You loose nothing. But for the rest of us, wow. Shoot, download, move on!

  • danfoy February 23, 2011 09:29 pm

    In all seriousness, what the hell are those 'art filters' about :P

    There are some interesting things hidden away in the 'more' section though - the dual card slots and 7 frame bracketing do sound interesting, and noise levels look pretty good too.

  • Focx Photography February 23, 2011 10:31 am

    Thank you for the review!

    There are a couple of things I would add: Of course the E-5 does RAW, but Olympus cameras are often said to have the best JPEG engine around, so if you want a weathersealed professional body but don't feel like spending too much time on RAW development, the E-5 might be a good choice. The pro and top-pro grade Zuiko lens range is also a great plus: I wouldn't want to use any other lens than my 12-60mm.

    Unfortunately, I don't have the E-5 yet, so the only "sample pictures" I can deliver are made with the PEN E-PL1 and the 12-60mm lens (but the PEN uses the same sensor):

    Cosmos habitat

    I would love to hear some comments from E-5 users! :)

  • Bogdan February 23, 2011 09:34 am

    This comes at the right moment! I was just going to give up on olympus, but I found this camera + some awesome lenses (12-60mm and 35-100mm F2.0!!!). There's still hope!