Olympus E-5 Review

 
Camera Reviews / Olympus Cameras / Olympus E i First Shots
Basic Specifications
Full model name: Olympus E-5
Resolution: 12.30 Megapixels
Sensor size: Four Thirds
Kit Lens: n/a
Viewfinder: Optical / LCD
ISO: 100-6400
Shutter: 60-1/8000
Max Aperture: n/a
Dimensions: 5.6 x 4.6 x 2.9 in.
(143 x 117 x 75 mm)
Weight: 31.5 oz (892 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $1,700
Availability: 10/2010
Manufacturer: Olympus
Full specs: Olympus E-5 specifications
12.30
Megapixels
Four Thirds mount Four Thirds
size sensor
image of Olympus E-5
Front side of Olympus E-5 digital camera Back side of Olympus E-5 digital camera Top side of Olympus E-5 digital camera Left side of Olympus E-5 digital camera Right side of Olympus E-5 digital camera

Olympus E-5 Overview

by Shawn Barnett, Mike Tomkins, and Zig Weidelich
Date: 9/14/2010

Almost three years since the announcement of the professional E-3 digital SLR comes the Olympus E-5, a Four Thirds digital SLR camera that has fewer physical changes than its predecessor, but some noticeable improvements nonetheless, including a higher-resolution sensor, a much larger swiveling LCD, a new low pass filter and processor arrangement, and of course the addition of 720p HD video at 30 frames per second.


 

Olympus E-5 Hands-On Preview

by Mike Tomkins and Shawn Barnett

While the E-3 was a long awaited upgrade to the original flagship E-1, the Olympus E-5 is more of an incremental upgrade of an already capable Four Thirds digital SLR camera. Most of the upgrades bring the Olympus E-5 up to speed with the current digital camera market, with a 12.3-megapixel sensor and a 3-inch, 920K-dot LCD, but there's some tuning under the skin as well, with a tweak to the low-pass filter and the processing engine in the E-5. If the E-5's images at least equal the excellent quality we've seen from the Olympus PEN Micro Four Thirds cameras, we'll be satisfied; if they exceed them, so much the better.

Look and feel. While its predecessor had the Nikon D300 and Canon 40D to tangle with, the Olympus E-5 now faces a wider field of competent digital SLR cameras: The Nikon D300S, Canon 7D, Pentax K-7, and even the Panasonic GH-1 come up as competitors in terms of price and features. Like I said of the E-3, the Olympus E-5 feels very tight, solid, hefty, and seems well-thought-out. Its grip is burly and though it's a fairly heavy chunk of camera, it doesn't feel like a burden for some reason. Weight between the E-3 and E-5 has increased only a small amount, only 0.1 ounce (3g) to 31.5 ounces, (1.96 pounds, 892g).

Every inch has a purpose, and there's lots of room for the extensive controls needed on a professional-grade digital SLR camera. It's a great match for the hearty, burly lenses made for the Four Thirds system, including the refined 12-60mm f/2.8-4 lens that's equivalent to a 24-120mm lens.

The Olympus E-5 has a large pentaprism like most of the other pro and semi-pro digital SLRs, but part of that size is due to the pop-up flash. The large pentaprism inside is big and bright, looking similar if not identical to that on the E-3, sporting a magnification of 1.15x.

The Olympus E-3's viewfinder has eleven autofocus points, which appear as black squares until they are illuminated with bright red LEDs. The green status display runs along the bottom. It's still a little tight to see all of the frame plus the status display with my glasses on, but there's a nice big rubber eyepiece protector to prevent my glasses from scratching.

Just beneath the E-5 logo on the front is the camera's unique Auto White Balance detector.

The grip on the Olympus E-5 is pretty much the same as the E-3: very comfortable, with a nice indentation for the middle finger, and a good counter-grip on the back. Its tacky rubber surface really helps the hold; it may be the best grip surface I've felt on a digital SLR camera.

The Olympus E-5's shutter button is in just the right position when I grip the camera, with a nice finger well to guide me to the button. Though the button itself doesn't have a firm break between half-press and full, it still responds just right to increased pressure, firing just when I expect.

There's no Mode Dial on the Olympus E-5; instead you press a button on the top deck, left of the pentaprism, and turn the Rear Main dial, while changes appear on the both the top and rear Status displays. Turning the Front or Sub dial changes the Drive mode. Autofocus and Metering also split one button between both dials, while White balance, EV, and ISO are adjusted with either dial.

The rear is where the primary physical differences lie between the E-3 and Olympus E-5. Most of the changes come due to the LCD's size increase from 2.5-inch to 3-inch, while retaining the swivel hardware. Text on the new 920K LCD is razor sharp, which makes composing images and focusing when in Live View mode a pleasure too.

Three of the buttons that used to run along the bottom of the LCD on the E-3 are now above the LCD. The Delete button moved to just beneath the Four-way navigator. The navigator and power switch have also been shoved over, and the card door release lever was omitted, and the more common sliding door lock was put in its place. Despite the changes, though, my thumb and the heel of my hand still fit comfortably on the back of the Olympus E-3 without pressing any of the buttons unintentionally. The SSWF (super sonic wave filter) lamp is gone, as is the IS button.

In the upper right corner, the AF-point selection button is now also the Movie start/stop button when in Live View mode.

A new light sensor appears between the optical viewfinder and the LCD, dimming the LCD when you bring your eye to the viewfinder. A similar sensor was positioned in the upper left corner of the LCD on the E-3, but here it serves a dual purpose.

The E-5's four-way navigator, which Olympus calls an Arrow pad, is well-positioned for easy access. Other buttons on the back and top are clearly marked for easy comprehension. The Olympus E-5's rear LCD also serves as a Status display whose settings are accessible via a press of the center OK button.

Build. Just like the E-3, the Olympus E-5's body is a die-cast magnesium alloy whose two shells pretty well completely enclose the E-5 for a very solid feel. Olympus says they use a Thixomold process to make these shells, a method that promises greater durability, with less potential for bubbles or seams in the magnesium alloy shell structures. We don't know whether other manufacturers do the same, but this low-temperature technique is one of three major methods to cast this increasingly popular metal, and is supposed to give better crystalline structure to the material than the more common hot die-cast method.

The body of the Olympus E-5 is sealed against dust and water, even the flash and swiveling LCD. Technically, the body is splashproof, not fully waterproof.

Comparison: Olympus E-3 vs Olympus E-5

Mostly similar. The most dramatic differences between the E-3 and E-5 are found on the back, thanks mostly to the larger LCD screen. (Images courtesy of Olympus America.)

Sensor. The Olympus E-5's design is centered around a new 17.3mm x 13.0mm, 12.3-megapixel, High Speed Live MOS image sensor. It's the same type and size as that used in the E-3, but resolution has been increased just slightly from the E-3's 10.1 effective megapixel chip. Total resolution is 13.1 megapixels, up from 11.8 in the E-3. Maximum image dimensions from the Olympus E-5 are 4,032 x 3,024 pixels, and the camera now allows selection from an unusually extensive range of aspect ratios applicable only to JPEG shooting -- 4:3, 16:9, 3:2, 6:6 (i.e. 1:1), 5:4, 7:6, 6:5, 7:5, or 3:4.

As well as changing the sensor design, Olympus has reduced the strength of its overlying optical low pass filter -- a standard feature of digital camera designs that slightly blurs incoming light to prevent moire artifacts and false color, at the expense of a slight loss of per-pixel detail. Reducing the strength of the low-pass filter is a little risky, as moire should be impossible to remove in most circumstances, but Olympus seems sure that they've tuned the remaining filters and the TruePic V+ sufficiently to handle the job.

The diagram above shows the more traditional approach to moire and false color reduction on top with the E-30, while the E-5 is said to allow more of the detail through, including the detail that can cause moire and false color-inducing patterns, relying instead on processing via the new TruePic V+ processor.

Processor. Output from the Olympus E-5's new sensor is handled by a new generation of Olympus' proprietary image processor, dubbed TruePic V+. This is several generations evolved from the TruePic III processor in the E-3, with the TruePic III+ design having since featured in the E-30, E-450, and E-620 digital SLRs, followed by TruePic V in the company PEN-series single-lens direct view cameras. One of the main changes in the Olympus E-5's image processor is a new Fine Detail Processing function, which aims to reduce moire artifacts and false colors in images, accounting for the lower strength of the E-5's optical low-pass filter.

Sensitivity. Despite the slight increase in sensor resolution, Olympus has expanded the E-5's sensitivity range, as compared to that of the E-3. The minimum sensitivity of ISO 100 equivalent is unchanged, but where the E-3's maximum sensitivity was ISO 3,200 equivalent, the Olympus E-5 tops out at ISO 6,400. Like its predecessor, this still lags the competition somewhat, perhaps showing the difficulties faced by the smaller sensor format of Four Thirds cameras, compared to their APS-C rivals. (By way of comparison, Canon's EOS 7D and 60D both offer sensitivities to ISO 12,800, while the mid-range Pentax K-r can reach as high as ISO 25,600. Olympus' 2007 flagship E-3 model was likewise bested by Nikon D300, a camera of similar pricing and vintage with an ISO 6,400 maximum. Just having higher numbers, of course, does not determine relative quality at those settings; we'll have to wait to test the E-5's ISO settings in the lab.) The Olympus E-5 provides 1/3 or 1EV steps in ISO sensitivity, and also offers an Auto ISO function which operates within a range of ISO 200 to 6,400 equivalents.

Shutter. Like its predecessor, the Olympus E-5 can capture full-resolution JPEG or Raw images at a rate of five frames per second. Information on burst shooting depth isn't currently available. The Olympus E-5 also retains the Supersonic Wave Filter dust reduction system that debuted on the 2003-model Olympus E-1, and which has since been mimicked by the company's DSLR rivals. Olympus' design, for which the company recently won an award from the Japan Institute of Invention and Innovation, uses a piezoelectric element to shake the low pass filter at high frequencies, shaking dust particles free to be collected by a sticky strip at the base of the mirror box. Another important feature retained from the E-3 is Olympus' in-body image stabilization, which works using a sensor shift mechanism. Olympus claims the system offers the same potential five-stop correction as it did with the E-3.

The Olympus E-5 is capable of shutter speeds from 1/8,000 to 60 seconds, plus bulb. The computerized focal plane shutter is identical to the one in the E-3, and has a rated life of 150,000 shots. Three metering modes are available -- Digital ESP, Center-weighted averaging, and Spot. The Digital ESP mode considers the frame as 49 separate areas when shooting using the viewfinder, and 324 areas in live-view shooting. Spot metering has three possible modes -- standard, Highlight control, and Shadow control. The metering system has an operating range of EV 1 to 20 (ISO 100, 50mm f/2 lens, room temperature). Exposure modes include Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, Manual, and Bulb. Exposure compensation is available within a wide 5.0EV range in 1/3, 1/2, or 1 EV steps. The Olympus E-5 also offers exposure bracketing, but with a wider range than was possible in the E-3. The E-5 can now bracket 2, 3, 5, or 7 shots with 0.3, 0.5, 0.7, or 1 EV steps between exposures.

White balance. Like the E-3, the Olympus E-5 uses a hybrid white balance system, considering information both from the imaging sensor, and from a dedicated white balance sensor on the front of the camera body. White balance modes include Auto, seven presets, four user settings, and direct entry of color temperatures between 2,000 and 14,000 Kelvin. Preset white balance options include Sunny, Shadow, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Underwater, and Flash -- the Underwater preset being a new addition, and the E-3's Neutral White and Daylight Fluorescent presets having been removed.

Flash. The Olympus E-5 retains the built-in popup flash strobe from the E-3, with a guide number of 18 meters at ISO 200 (13m at ISO 100). Like its predecessor, the E-5 also has a hot shoe, and supports wireless flash with the Olympus FL-36R and FL-50R external strobes, with three independent wireless flash groups, and the ability to enter and check flash setup from the camera's LCD display.

LCD. Externally, the most immediately obvious change in the Olympus E-5 is its new LCD panel, which has grown in both size and resolution. The new 3.0-inch panel has 920,000-dot resolution, roughly equating to a 640 x 480 pixel array with each pixel comprising adjacent red, green, and blue dots -- a significant improvement over the 2.5-inch, 230,000 dot panel of the E-3. It's still mounted on a tilt-swivel mechanism, allowing viewing from a wide range of angles, including in front of the camera for tripod-mounted self portraits. The mechanism allows the screen to be folded outwards 180 degrees from the camera body, and the 270-degree swivel allows viewing from above, below, or even in front of the camera, as well as letting the LCD be closed with the screen facing inwards for a modicum of protection. Like the camera body itself, the LCD panel and tilt/swivel mechanism are dust- and splash-resistant for outdoor use.

Olympus has also added a small ambient light sensor in between the LCD panel (when closed against the camera body) and the viewfinder eyepiece. This is used to allow the camera to automatically adjust panel brightness, balancing good visibility against power consumption. Placing your eye up to the viewfinder also dims the LCD to prevent its light from causing glare when shooting indoors. It's still possible to control the brightness manually within a 15-step range if preferred, and Olympus has added a 15-step color adjustment. The on-screen graphical user interface has also been tweaked to better make use of the extra real estate provided by the larger LCD panel, and features a color-coded menu system, and a new control panel for live view shooting.

Viewfinder. The Olympus E-5's eye-level pentaprism viewfinder is essentially unchanged from that in the E-3. Coverage is 100%, and the viewfinder has a generous 1.15x magnification. Eyepoint is 20mm from the eyepiece cover glass, and a diopter adjustment of -3.0 to +1.0m-1 is provided. There's also a built-in eyepiece shutter, which is much more convenient than the strap-mounted or separate eyepiece covers used with many cameras, and prevents light entering the eyepiece and affecting metering or exposure when shooting without your eye at the viewfinder. As with the E-3, the Olympus E-5's Neo-Lumi Micron Matte focusing screen is not intended to be user interchangeable, although it can be replaced with an FS-3 grid-type screen at Olympus service centers.

Autofocus. Olympus' 11-point phase-detection autofocus system from the E-3 is also retained for the Olympus E-5, and the company is still claiming it to be the world's fastest when used with one specific lens model -- the ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-60mm f2.8-4.0. All eleven points are dual (or biaxial) cross-types, sensitive to detail in both vertical and horizontal axes, and the system retains Olympus' staggered "hound's tooth" pixel layout which is said to offer improved detection accuracy. Operating range for the autofocus system is from -2 to 19 EV (ISO 100, 20°C). Like the E-3, the Olympus E-5 lacks a dedicated autofocus assist lamp, and instead uses short low-power bursts of its internal flash strobe to help with low-light focusing on nearby subjects. The flash is deployed manually, however, so one must pop-up the flash if you want the AF-assist to work.

AF fine-tune. That's not to say that autofocus is completely unchanged in the E-5, however. Olympus has added an AF fine-tuning function that allows photographers to correct for slight front- or backfocusing errors with specific lenses or lens/teleconverter combinations. Unlike some competing systems, Olympus' AF fine-tuning is capable of recognizing individual lens serial numbers, and so it is possible to dial in different adjustments for two lenses of the same model -- useful for photographers shooting with equipment from a shared pool. The function only works with Four Thirds lenses, and corrections for up to twenty different lenses or lens / teleconverter combinations can be registered in-camera, as well as one default value for the camera body. (It's not currently clear whether the two values are additive, allowing a greater overall correction range.) For each correction, you can set an adjustment within a range of +/- 20 arbitrary steps. It's possible to list the fine-tuning adjustments that are stored in the camera body (including serial numbers), and to delete them from the body itself, if you need to clear space for a new lens adjustment.

Live View. The Olympus E-3 included a Live View mode, made all the more useful by its tilt-swivel LCD panel, and the E-5 retains this feature with some useful improvements. In the E-3, live view autofocusing was performed with the dedicated phase-detection sensor, by briefly dropping the reflex mirror during AF operation, causing a short interruption to the live view stream. This is still possible in the Olympus E-5, but there's also a new contrast detection autofocus mode performed on data streamed from the imaging sensor. Curiously, Olympus has chosen to mirror the eleven autofocus point locations from its phase-detection AF mode when using contrast-detection AF, rather than allowing the photographer to position the focus point anywhere within the frame (except the extreme edges), an implementation favored by most other manufacturers. This decision sadly removes one of the main advantages of contrast detection over phase detection: the ability to focus anywhere in the frame without needing to recompose your image afterwards.

Face detection. Also new is face-detection capability in Live View mode, available whether the camera is set to use contrast-detection or phase-detection autofocusing. When face detection is enabled, the Olympus E-5 automatically sets metering to Digital ESP, AF mode to Single, AF Area to Auto, and Gradation to Auto. For burst shooting, face detection applies only for the first shot in the sequence. The requirement that your subject fall under one of the eleven focusing points doesn't apply when using face detection with contrast-detect autofocus, but if phase-detection AF is enabled, the Olympus E-5 uses the autofocus point nearest the detected face's location.

Beyond the addition of contrast-detection AF and face detection to Live View mode, Olympus has also made a couple of other useful changes. The Magnify function, which makes it easier to focus manually by enlarging a portion of the live view stream, now offers an increased maximum strength of 14x, in addition to the previous 5x, 7x, and 10x positions. There's also a new Live Guide control panel, with lines the right side of the LCD display with common shooting functions, while the bottom of the display is given over to adjustment of the currently selected function. This provides for quick settings changes without needing to dig around in the camera's main menu system.

Movie mode. The Olympus E-5 is the first E-series digital SLR to offer movie recording capability, something that's become commonplace in digital SLRs at all levels. High-def DSLR video first appeared in the Nikon D90, some ten months after Olympus launched the E-3, and just a couple of years later there are even several DSLRs that offer Full HD (1,920 x 1,280 pixel) recording capability. While lower resolution than those of some competitors, the Olympus E-5's movie mode still offers 1,280 x 720 pixel high-definition resolution, recorded at a rate of 30 frames per second. There's also a standard-def VGA (640 x 480) pixel recording mode. Like Pentax, Olympus has opted for the Motion JPEG format in an AVI container -- an older standard that requires more storage space for the same clip length, but has lower computer hardware requirements for editing or playback, and can provide good image quality. In common with other video-capable DSLRs, the Olympus E-5 has a clip size limit of two gigabytes per recording. In addition, there's a maximum clip length of seven minutes at 720p resolution, or 14 minutes at VGA.

The Olympus E-5 allows three exposure modes for video recording -- either Program, Aperture-priority, or Manual, and movies adopt whichever exposure mode is currently set for still image shooting (unless in Shutter-priority, in which case movies are recorded with Program exposure). In Program and Aperture-priority modes, the camera controls ISO sensitivity automatically, and exposure compensation can be set manually before -- but not during -- video recording. For Manual mode, Auto ISO isn't possible, and the photographer must select the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO sensitivity before recording commences. Movie shutter speeds vary between 1/60 and 1/250 second, in 1/3EV steps, and use an electronic shutter.

Single contrast-detection autofocus operations are possible during movie recording, but with the likelihood that autofocus motor drive noise will be picked up by the camera's internal microphone. Face detection autofocus isn't possible during movie recording. The sensor-shift stabilization mechanism is disabled during movie recording, and if IS is enabled, the E-5 will instead use dual-axis digital image stabilization, causing a slight cropping of the image frame. Rare among DSLRs, the Olympus E-5 also allows use of its in-camera filters during movie capture, although just like in the company's PEN-series SLD cameras, there may be an impact on movie frame rate. In one case -- the Diorama filter -- movies will play back at greatly accelerated speed, with no sound.

Audio. The Olympus E-5's movies can optionally include sound captured either with an internal, monaural microphone, or via a standard 3.5mm external stereo microphone jack. Audio is recorded as 44.1KHz, 16-bit wave PCM, and a monaural speaker is included for in-camera playback. Sound recording can also be disabled altogether. Movie recording is started and stopped with the AF-point selection button, which doubles as a movie shutter button. Still images can be captured by pressing the Shutter release button during movie recording, and this will cause a brief interruption to the movie stream, which will automatically span two separate files. Olympus recommends use of Class 6 or higher SDHC cards for movie recording.

Leveling sensor. Another new addition in the Olympus E-5 is a dual axis tilt sensor, used to provide an electronic level display function. The horizontal level can be shown in the viewfinder status display, on the top-deck control panel display, or on the rear-panel tilt / swivel LCD, while the vertical level can only be shown on the rear LCD. Usefully, the Olympus E-5 provides the ability for users to recalibrate the level gauge themselves, if it is found to be inaccurate.

User settings. Like the E-3 before it, the E-5 allows an extensive list of camera settings to be saved for later recall. The function has been renamed from "My Mode" to MySet, and now offers four groups of settings to be saved, twice as many as previously.

Picture Mode. Also retained from the E-3 with a slight improvement is the Picture Mode function, which offers control over the look of images. In addition to the previous Vivid, Natural, Muted, Portrait, Monotone, and Custom presets, the E-5 adds Olympus' i-Enhance mode, as previously seen in the company's PEN-series models. i-Enhance has three-step user-selected strength, and automatically detects the main subject in any scene, then boosts brightness / saturation selectively for those areas of the image so as to draw your attention to the subject.

Art Filters. Another feature seen previously in the PEN-series cameras, as well as some of Olympus' consumer DSLRs, are the Art Filter modes. These apply only to JPEG shooting, and the E-5 includes nine art filters seen previously in other Olympus models, plus one new addition: Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale & Light Color, Light Tone, Grainy Film, Pin Hole, Diorama, Gentle Sepia, Cross Process, and the new Dramatic Tone filter. This last mode limits the Auto ISO function to 1,600 max., although the photographer can manually select higher sensitivities. This mode adjusts local contrast to provide the punchy, high-contrast HDR look that's been the fashion of late, although it's achieved with only one shot, making it suitable for moving subjects. As well as being available in videos (with certain limitations regarding frame rate), Olympus' Art Filters are now available in Program, Priority, and Manual exposure modes.

Editing. In-camera JPEG editing features in the Olympus E-5 are extensive. In addition to resizing and shadow adjustment as in the E-3, the E-5 adds the ability to change the aspect ratio, crop, fix redeye, adjust saturation, convert to B&W or sepia, and smooth skin tones. This last option relies on face detection being able to locate your subject's face, and the resulting image can only be saved at 4.9 megapixel resolution or below. It's also possible to process raw files, or to merge multiple raw images in-camera.

Naming. Olympus has also added the ability to set up both an alphanumeric artist name and copyright tag in-camera, via the LCD panel and control dials. Subsequent images can then be automatically tagged with this information as they're saved, with the tags visible in the EXIF header. While it's not useful for protecting image rights -- EXIF tags can easily be stripped from images, after all -- it's useful for making the information available to those who'd abide by it, and keeping track of image ownership (so long as none of your workflow tools will accidentally strip or overwrite the data.)

Connectivity. Alongside the NTSC / PAL switchable standard-definition video output from the E-3, the Olympus E-5 adds a high-definition Type-C Mini HDMI (v1.40a) output. There's also a USB 2.0 High Speed data connection. Standard-def video and USB cables are included in the product bundle, but the HDMI cable is an optional extra. HDMI video modes include 480p, 576p, 720p, and 1080i. There's also a 3.5mm microphone jack, as mentioned previously, plus a nine volt DC input useful for extended power, such as in studio shooting.

Battery. The Olympus E-5 adopts a different battery pack from the E-3, selecting a 1,620 mAh, 7.4V BLM-5 lithium-ion rechargeable, rather than the previous 1,500 mAh, 7.2V BLM-1 model.

The Olympus E-5 is also compatible with the Olympus HLD-4 Power Battery Holder, a vertical grip and battery holder that can hold two BLM-5 batteries or six AA batteries.

Storage. The Olympus E-5 can store images in either JPEG or losslessly compressed 12-bit raw formats, as well as recording both formats simultaneously for each image. Like the E-3 before it, the Olympus E-5 offers dual media slots, although the compatibility of both slots has been changed. The CompactFlash slot no longer accepts Type-II cards or Microdrives, but does provide UDMA compatibility. The E-3's xD-Picture Card slot, meanwhile, has been replaced by a slot for the much more common Secure Digital card format, compatible with the latest SDHC and SDXC cards. Note that Olympus recommends use of Class 6 or higher cards for high-def movie recording.

Price and availability. The Olympus E-5 is available from October 2010, priced at US$1,700 for the camera body without a lens.

Brief Shooter's report

by Shawn Barnett

Even a short time spent with the Olympus E-5 is enough to remind me that Olympus pro cameras are serious photographic tools. It's the little things that matter a lot. Mirror blackout time with the E-5, for example, is brief, which I find an essential factor, especially when shooting portraits. When what you're capturing are mere moments, and when expressions change in each moment, keeping contact with your subject is very important, and the Olympus E-5's rapid return mirror allows that.

Shooting with the 12-60mm f/2.8-4 zoom lens is indeed a dream. I can't be sure if it's actually the fastest lens I've used, but I use plenty of pro lenses on most major camera systems, and this lens surprised me sometimes by how quickly it found sharp focus. It's about as quiet as Canon's ultrasonic motor lenses, only making a sound at the start and stop of the motor's motion.

I also found myself doing a double-take at the Olympus E-5's gorgeous screen. It wasn't just the Live View and Playback images that impressed, but seeing Olympus' menu displayed with such fine precision after so many years of their lower-resolution displays was refreshing. The rear LCD is also very usable outdoors or in, and though I find the light sensor dims the sensor too much for proper judging of images indoors, outdoor contrast and quality is excellent.

Having a choice of which LCD to use -- the top deck or rear display -- is a good option that I've grown accustomed to with most pro and semi-pro digital cameras, so I'm glad Olympus retained that monochrome top-deck LCD. It comes in most handy when setting things like Bracketing, because you have to look at the top deck to keep both the Mode and AF buttons pressed well enough. And those bracketing options are pretty impressive, ranging from just two shots up to seven. I've very often only needed two, knowing I would throw away the third; but I've never even dreamed of being able to capture seven at a time: talk about insurance when you need it. Setting the Olympus E-5 to either of the continuous modes (I chose High) allows you to crank them off in rapid succession, without having to worry about going over: the camera stops when your two, three, five, or seven shots are done.

There are a few things I worry about with the Olympus E-5, including the external flash connector and remote caps, which are small, untethered, and have a tendency to jump free from my fingers and bounce in unpredictable directions. Just as I was about to get under my desk and root around for the remote control port cap, where I was sure I saw and heard it fall, I found it behind my chair. The White Balance sensor on the front of the camera also gives me pause. I can imagine a large lens with a big hood blocking the important light, and even a finger reflecting some incandescent light from a lamp in the lodge into the sensor while I try to shoot skiers outdoors in the sunlight. This has yet to be tested, and hopefully I'll get the choice of ski lodge when we do.

Since we can't comment on image quality at this point, I'll have to leave it there for now. Though I'm shooting a prototype camera, I've been impressed with the images nonetheless, which is a good sign, and I've enjoyed using it. Perhaps the best thing I can say about the Olympus E-5 is that whether I'm picking it up, shooting with it, or setting it down, I find myself wishing for an assignment.


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