Wednesday, September 15, 2010

First Thoughts on the Olympus E-5

Olympus E-5 Press Release

As a long time Olympus camera user, I was quite looking forward to the release of the company's next flagship dSLR. When I bought my C-5050 back in mid-2004, I thought it was an amazing little camera with its f/1.8 lens, crisp 5MP CCD (well... crisp at ISO 100), and the many options it offered. A short while after the E-500 was released, I picked one up and found it to be a worthwhile investment and a wonderful step up from the advanced point and shoot model. By the time Olympus came out with the E-3, I could hardly stay in my skin. I wanted a better, faster dSLR, and Olympus delivered. The E-3 was a monster; weatherproof, faster and more accurate AF, improved image quality, more megapixels, and many controls to keep even the most avid of photographers happy. I was also very pleased to add the E-P2 to my collection at the beginning of this year. Even though the little stainless steel beast sits in a different class, it manages to capture higher quality photos than my E-3, is fairly portable, and the video is superb; the primary reason I snagged one as I could use all of my existing lenses (with the adapter).

So other than I might be an Olympus fan-boy, what else have we learned from this quick history lesson? Progress. Improvement. Those are a couple of words that come to mind. So does the E-5 live up to my expectations? Let's continue... but keep in mind that the following are only my opinions and depending on your experiences and needs, you may feel differently about this which is totally cool.

The Pros
Perhaps some photographers are not impressed by a 12MP sensor, but I'm not terribly disappointed myself. Twelve is still a nice number to produce great looking prints up to 11x14" and even beyond if you don't mind a little resampling. In addition, fewer pixels on a sensor can translate into a cleaner (less noisy) image. Apparently Olympus has lightened up the AA filter and the new TruePic V+ engine can perform a little magic to maximize the detail out of this sensor (which according to a few sources seems to be the same as in the E-PL1). I have yet to see sample pictures, so at this point I'll cross my fingers and hope there is a noticeable improvement in quality and noise levels at higher ISOs.

The larger 3" higher resolution swivel LCD screen is a welcome enhancement and long overdue in my opinion. Although I don't spend a lot of time gazing at the photos on screen after taking shots, this could make macro photography and shots from unusual angles (e.g. very low) easier to compose when using live view. Speaking of live view, it also seems that AF has been improved when using it.

Although a minor change, bracketing can be set to seven frames versus five. I can already hear HDRI fans rejoicing. Lastly, at least what has caught my attention, is the ability to add copyright information to your photos. Canon and Nikon have offered this feature for many years and although it certainly wouldn't prevent some individuals from copying photos, this feature has its merits.

The Cons
Alright, I just wrote that I'm not terribly disappointed with 12 megapixels, but it would have been nice to see a little increase... 14 perhaps... dare I say 16... even if a little noisier. For those of us that jumped on the E-P1, or 2, or PL1 bandwagon, there's not much incentive to upgrade from this perspective, unless the weatherproof body and faster AF is a must (or longer battery life). I'm just as happy composing and taking photos of landscapes and bugs as I am with my E-3; in fact happier as the image quality is wonderful from the PEN. I can only assume at this point, but it's likely the E-5 can squeeze a little extra out of the sensor than the E-P2. Nonetheless, I doubt it is a substantial enough increase to alone justify the roughly $1,700 price tag of the new model.

Art filters... in a pro model? Ok, in all fairness this may not necessarily be a con, but this just seems out of place. Even though my E-P2 has them I've only recently tried them out. Yet I still avoid their use as I prefer to muck around with the effects/tools in Photoshop where have a lot more control over the look and feel I want. May work for some, but not a selling point for me.

Some people may disagree with me here, but I actually quite like the ability to shoot video with my still camera (keeping in mind that I do aspire to one day create some short films and already produce a photography series on YouTube). With my E-P2, I don't mind that it can only do 720P HD video; it's a compact and primarily still camera after all (yet manages to capture some very good looking video). However, to me there is no excuse that the E-5 can't at the very least do one single mode of 1080P HD video. For $100 Canuck bucks more, I can get a Canon 7D body and no less than three useful full HD videos modes (not to mention an excellent 18MP digital SLR).

Imre's Verdict
I'll start this conclusion off with what I think personally. With the equipment I already have there are too few valid reasons to add this body to my collection. I say this with pain though, as I absolutely love the Olympus cameras and Zuiko lenses that I own (especially the lenses). If I had the money and was forced to "upgrade", then at this point I would instead consider moving to a new system entirely (Canon 7D or 5DMkII; they simply offer more bang for buck even though other issues hit the fan such as investing in a new lens collection = $ x lots). On the other hand, I'd like to emphasize that this is coming from my perspective and situation. For example, if you only own an E-3, have a growing lens collection, and require the faster AF and tank-like body, then I see the E-5 becoming a very attractive new workhorse. In this case, you get more megapixels, a better sensor, a few new features, and of course your lenses would still be just as useful (oh... and art filters!). And if you currently have no digital SLR at all, the E-5 may still work for you (smaller and lighter lenses compared to the larger sensor cams for example), but it is certainly up against some stiff and worthy competition. What do you think?

3 comments:

  1. As a switching option you mentioned the Canon 7D, how about the fresh, Nikon D7000. What are your thoughts on this one?

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  2. What do you think will happen to all the other models (i.e e-30, e-620, etc.)?

    Do you think they will go away or do you think they will be updated also with the TruePic V+ image processing engine?

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  3. Jaime: I'm glad you mentioned the Nikon D7000. When the D2Xs was on its way out I almost bought one (but with some lenses it went a bit over my budget). Anyway, for it's price the D7000 offers great value; 16MP sensor, new processing engine, 1080p HD video (although just at 24fps by the looks of it, but does have three modes for 720p), lots of lens choices, and Nikon is a wonderful brand overall. Unless you need other HD video modes, I'd personally consider this one over the Canon 7D and 5DMkII.

    brufman: That's an excellent question and I was contemplating that myself the other day. The lack of innovation and choices (business wise) made with the E-5 may indicate that Olympus is very slowly moving towards micro Four Third cameras. I still don't see them dropping the E-620 and E-30-like models, but if I had to guess, there may not be much advancement in those areas. Like the E-5 and what you've already hinted at, we may see them switching the sensors in these cams to something a little newer along with TruePic V+; oh and probably the art filters! :P But I have a strong feeling that micro Four Thirds models will be expanded, as well as the Zuiko micro mount lens line. Another fairly significant justification of this (in my opinion) is the recent announcement from Carl Zeiss and Cosina in regard to making lenses with the micro 4/3 mounts.

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