Sunday, October 10, 2010

My personal review of the Olympus E-5 [ part 1]

*This is an initial production unit of the Olympus E-5. The features and performance of this camera may be subject to change.

*All images were taken using super high quality jpegs. Minimal post processing was applied accept some minor cropping and exposure correction. Please respect copyright and do not repost without attribution.

* Click here for Part 2 and Part 3

Hi people! If you are visiting this blog for the first time, a very warm welcome to you ! I'm Brandon from Malaysia, and I have been an Olympus user for the past two years. I started off my journey into DSLR photography with an Olympus E-510 which I purchased on February 23rd, 2008. Since then, I've never looked back, and continually strive towards excellence in my photographic projects.

I was recently contacted by the staff from Olympus Malaysia to conduct a review on the Olympus E-5. Of course, I jumped at the chance to do so, and a test unit arrived at my doorstep a few days later in a small cute Olympus back pack.

And here it is, the Olympus E-5 test unit fitted with an absolutely gorgeous Zuiko 14-35mm f2 SWD lens and a HLD-4 battery grip with a single BLM-5 battery inside. Quite a formidable looking piece of equipment, isn't it?

This fellow is meant to handle serious abuse due to its dust-and-splash proof construction. The magnesium alloy material used definitely adds some weight while at the same time ensuring the camera remains robust. There have been numerous reports of Olympus E-3's being used in the wettest and dustiest places on the planet, but it soldiers on despite the elements like the champ. The Olympus E-5 should perform to the same standards.

From the front, nothing much has changed compared to its predecessor, the Olympus E-3. The large hump is still there due to the 100% field of view and impressive 1.15x magnification.

Everything looks the same too from the top. Similar to the E-3, there is no mode dial, just a little button which you press to get you to Program/Aperture priority/Shutter priority/Manual. Unfortunately the buttons are also a bit small, so it was a little confusing for me because I did tend to get mixed up between the ISO and exposure compensation button at times. The top panel LCD is great for checking camera settings on the fly, although it is definitely more comprehensive to check out the more detailed settings from the 920k 3 inch dual axis LCD monitor.

On the side, the dual CF / SD card slots ensure your images are backed up safely in case one of the media gets corrupted. A welcome change indeed compared to the XD cards before that never fully made it before it got phased out.

On the other side, a microphone port is included to take advantage of the E-5's 720p HD movie recording capability. I'm yet to test this feature, but it should prove to be quite interesting.

The biggest change was of course the larger 3.0" 920k hypercrystal LCD monitor for your pixel peeping pleasure. As a result of  the larger LCD, the existing buttons had to be repositioned and redesigned. Frankly speaking  I still prefer the button layout of the E-3, but this would have to do for now.

Higher resolution and larger LCDs suck up more juice, hence the higher capacity BLM-5 was introduced. It has a different charger too. Zone 10 states that the BLM-5 and BLM-1 batteries shouldn't mixed up for optimum results.2 BLM-5s can be comfortably inserted into the HLD-4 battery grip for better camera handling in portrait orientation.

With the HLD-4 battery grip, the E-5 feels quite well balanced, especially with heavy lenses such as the 14-35, 35-100, 90-250/2.8 and 300/2.8.

The E-5's ergonomics are great too. Everything is easily accessible with your thumb and index finger except the mode button which you have to press with your left hand. The rubber texture on the E-5 body improves it's tactile quality, and the camera feels as great in your hand as the E-3.

Of course, I got to use some other lenses with the E-5 also, such as the spectacular Zuiko 7-14/4. It was the first ultra wide crop sensor zoom to offer 14mm coverage when it was released with the legendary Olympus E-1.

Highest per pixel sharpness

Although the 12.3 MP Live MOS sensor has been inherited from the E-30, Olympus claims that the E-5 offers the highest per pixel sharpness among other APS-C sensor competitors. Although I do not have the scientific and logistical ability, I can certainly attest to the fact that the Olympus E-5 has the best image quality of the entire E-system to date.

How is this so? The Zuiko lens digital system, together with the new optical filter and TruePic V+ image engine work hand in hand to extract the most amount of detail as possible through the use of advanced algorithms, which they term 'fine detail processing'. The weaker Anti Aliasing filter as well as the TruePic V+ engine give more detail and sharpness by exhaustively processing each pixel.What it offers next is better noise performance, dynamic range, and colour accuracy even at all ISO values. This is indeed great news when some time ago, the E-3 couldn't deliver acceptable image quality at ISO 1600, and what more ISO 3200. Olympus' sensor technology has finally begun to catch up with their spectacular digitally optimised and weather sealed lenses. This is indeed great news! :)

And now, lets move on. If cameras are just there for us to brag, pixel peep and compare specifications, we lose track of its main purpose - to empower us to take better pictures.

Due to the smaller sensor size, getting sufficient depth of field on a 43rds sensor size is not a problem, even when using medium apertures (f5.6-8).

 I was lucky to have beautiful blue skies in Petaling Jaya today. Olympus is very well known for producing true to life, brilliant blue skies. I have never been able to get colours this brilliant, vibrant and natural from my Nikon straight out of camera. The self polarised effect of the Zuiko 7-14 lens also helped to get these wonderful colours.

Albeit the hype about the new 'Dramatic tone' art filters which produces HDR-like images, I very in love with the i-Enhance picture mode. (Don't worry, I'll still show some examples about the Dramatic tone art filter later). This feature selectively increases the vibrance of the colours in the image, while at the same time retaining a very natural output. I seem to notice a little 'posterization' effect in the images, but maybe that's just me.

 At the base ISO of 200, plenty of detail is retained. The files are crisp and sharp. Olympus keeps improving on its image quality, and this is a welcome sign indeed for times to come with the Micro43rds system.

Of course one should be more careful when a bird flies above you. You may get 'dive bombed', if you know what I mean.

The articulating LCD screen is very useful when you like to take low or high angled shots. Thanks to the contrast detect AF technology, live view on the E-5 is much faster and efficient than ever before compared to the clunky interface of the E-3.

 The grainy film art filter is a nice one to use for expressive monochromatic images, but it does tend to lose detail in both the highlight and shadow areas because of its high contrast. If you're okay with that, that's fine, but if you wouldn't like the tones to cut off too severely, its best that you process your black and white photos using appropriate software such as Photoshop.

The external white balance sensor does it job elegantly unlike other cameras which do not have this feature. Hence colour temperature shifts are less likely to happen, and the results are more accurate.

 The ESP metering system works fine in most situations but it did tend to underexpose the image, especially in shaded areas. Some post processing was done to lighten the image, but that is about it.

 Although its magnification ratio is less than the dedicated 50 /f2 macro, the Zuiko 14-35/2 still manages to extract a lot of detail, especially the texture of the orange skin. This is a wonderful testament about the Fine Detail Process feature so far.

 Selling beancurd.

 Picking 'fresh' tomatoes. Hmm.. usually we keep tomatoes in the fridge, not in the scorching hot sun, isn't it?

Whites do tend to blow out, but I reckon you can recover detail by shooting RAW (which I haven't tried yet).

 These mobile hawker stalls are packed in the morning serving  customers their breakfast.

 The man and his motorcycle.


 Image taken using 'normal' picture mode.

The I-Enhance feature boosts up the greens and blues slightly, albeit looking a little artificial. It still looks very natural despite the colour boost.

Pop Art - Go Wild!

 The Pop Art filter is great for colourful objects, but not so for portraits.

 Normal or portrait mode works much better instead.

 One interesting thing I noticed myself doing is that I now shoot according to the art filter effect I'd like. If this seems bland using the normal picture mode...

 ...the 'pop art' effect makes this photo 'jump in your face' because of the striking colours. I love this image much more than the former.

I know.. I know.. I used to despise the art filter features and say that they're only useful for amateurs who're keen to get instant results without having to post process the images using the appropriate program. Only now I can see the value of the art filters. They're pretty awesome! Although others may comment that using art filters in a flagship body looks amateurish, I don't really care what they say (and neither does Olympus for that matter). I'm expressing my photography through the art filters, and I'm happy with the results. Its that simple, really!

 As promised, here are some examples of the dramatic tone art filter. The TruePic V+ image engine works hard to recover detail in bright areas, while at the same time turning up the notch quite a bit for the blacks.

 I once read a Lightroom tutorial explaining step by step how you can get this effect by clicking several buttons and previewing the results little by little. Now, its just a click of a button - truly one touch! More time saved to go out and capture great photos instead of sitting in front of the computer. Now, users are able to fully control camera parameters eg. aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance, etc in all P/A/S/M modes. Before this, we couldn't control the results.

It's been a joy working with art filters via the Olympus E-5 body. I've rediscovered the concept of what it means to just shoot, and be happy with the results.

The dramatic tone art filter makes this billboard look menacing and dark..

 ..while 'Pop Art' makes the billboard look more welcoming.

How you use the Olympus E-5 (or any other camera) and which art filter you choose to express your creative vision depends entirely on you. Just get out of your chair, go out, and shoot!

I hope you have enjoyed the first part of my review with the pre production unit of the Olympus E-5. Do stay tuned for more, and you're welcome to contact me if you've any inquiries.


* You may continue to view part 2 of my review here


Margaret said...

Nice review of what sounds to be a very nice camera :) I'm dreaming of one!

Lance said...

enjoyed reading it, thanks for sharing :)

DonParrot said...

Hi Brandon,
gorgeous pics!
Im really looking forward to upgrade from my E-30 - and your review ist increasing my 'Wanna-have-it' feelings

Johnny Lim said...

Nice review on the E-5. Colour rendition looks really good and the best part is Olympus finally puts in a weaker AA filter into their flagship model. Now I'm torn between a Lumix GH2 and a E-5!

Shamrie said...

Another great review and photos from our ground.. Malaysian style.

Keep it up.

Anonymous said...

I would love a comparison between the E5/Zuiko 7-14 & the Panasonic GH2/Lumix 7-14. I hope someone out there does it because I think it would be truly useful to a lot of people... And thanks for the E-5 review. My heart says Olympus, my mind Lumix!

cheokkuan said...

I have my E-520 around 3 years ago and still in a very good shape. I really love Oly than others..... Thanks for the sharing...Btw, i am from PG too.. :)

Anonymous said...

So are you going back to Olympus or are you sticking with Nikon?

Peter said...

Hi Brandon,

May I ask what is 'normal' picture mode? I cannot find such a setting on the camera. Thanks.


mahasiswa teladan said...

Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
thank you :)


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