Review: Olympus E-5 Digital Single-Lens Reflex Camera
If his readers have been paying attention, they are well aware that WC aspires to be a nature photographer, and particularly to photograph birds. WC recently picked up a new piece of equipment, over the protests of Mrs. WC: a new camera, an Olympus E-5, reviewed here:
Olympus famously uses the Four-thirds technology it helped develop in its DSLR products. That technology defines both the strengths and weaknesses of the DSLR product line, including the E-5.
The sensor in Olympus DSLR cameras is half the size of a 35mm frame. On the downside, that limits the number of pixels the sensor can capture, in comparison to a full-frame product. It also implies more noise than a full-frame sensor at the same ISO setting. The E-5 captures 12 megapixels; there are Canon and Nikon cameras in the same price range that get twice as many pixels. The E-5 can now shoot with acceptable levels of noise at ISO1600 (a four-fold improvement over the E-3). But, again, Canon and Nikon DLSR cameras in the same price range manage the same low noise at ISO3200 and even ISO6400. This is by no means the best low-light DSLR camera on the market. The E-series won’t be as long as it uses the Four-thirds technology.
But there are very real, very important advantages to the Fourth-thirds technology, too. The Zuiko lenses built to 4/3rds are quite simply the best DSLR lenses available in the world. It’s not just that they are razor-sharp, aberration free and well-built; the 4/3rds tech makes them focus faster, makes them lighter and superior to the equivalent Canon/Nikon glass. The Olympus 300mm f/2.8 Super Telephoto ED Lens for Olympus Digital SLR Cameras is by far the best telephoto lens WC has ever owned. Because image stabilization is in the camera, not in the lens, the form factor is smaller as well as lighter. The improvements to the E-5 play to these strengths.
WC just finished a 17 day trip into the tropics, photographing birds. WC used the E-5 for every shot. While the E-3 is a splendid camera, that that WC has happily used for years, the E-5 is so superior to the E-3 that WC never broke the E-3 out of his gear bag.
Some of those advantages:
(1) Much faster focusing, and more reliable – although still not ideal – focusing in low light. Focus acquisition with a teleconverter on is especially improved, and it’s now possible to shoot a bird in flight with the 300mm with a Olympus Zuiko EC-20 2x Teleconverter for Olympus Digital SLR Cameras mounted.
(2) Greatly improved performance in low light. Noise levels are acceptable to ISO1600, where the E-3 wasn’t much good below ISO400.
(3) Improved in-camera processing. Images emerge needing much less Photoshop work. The level of detail is simply extraordinary.
(4) Substantially improved multiple shooting, with a higher frames per second rate and a bigger buffer. There’s some improvement in the write speed as well, so you spend less time waiting for the buffer to write to media.
(5) Larger, more accurate LCD view screen. Pixel count and density are higher, and you can adjust the viewer for lighting levels.
(6) Greatly enhanced user configurability. As someone who is left-handed, that’s especially important to WC.
WC understands that the JPG processing is especially good, but WC shoot’s exclusively RAW, so there’s little benefit for him. Art filters aren’t of any use in nature photography, so WC can’t speak to the ten new art filters, either. The new video features are fine, but not WC’s primary goal.
If you have an investment in Zuiko lenses, or want the best possible glass for your work, then the E-5 is an easy choice. Beyond question, you’ll get better photos. If you haven’t invested in Zuiko, then the E-5 may be a more difficult choice. But if you are a nature photographer looking for the sharpest possible images, and not shooting in consistently low light, then Zuiko lenses and the E-5 are the tools of choice.
WC’s very highest recommendation.