Olympus gets a video dSLR at last: Hello E-5

The last manufacturer to add video capture to its dSLR product line, Olympus adds an updated entry-level professional model, the E-5.

Olympus USA
Olympus USA

While professional cameras don't get updated nearly as frequently as consumer models, Olympus is still pushing it with the almost 3-year gap between its E-3 and the newly announced E-5. Given the pace of technological change, especially in that market and most notably with respect to video capture, it's a wonder that more Olympians haven't jumped ship. Don't get me wrong; there's still a lot to like about the Olympus system. If you shoot telephoto, the 2x focal-length multiplier makes for more easily achieved long-zoom shots, and the company still makes some of the best lenses. And it's well constructed, dust and splashproof. But for commercial photographers tasked with keeping up with ever more demanding clients, it must be frustrating to watch the company concentrating on its ILC (interchangeable-lens camera) market while you wait..and wait...and wait.

Was the E-5 worth the wait? While I can't really answer that until I've tested it, based on the specs I'm not very optimistic. Although it has the same autofocus system as the E-3, it's been tweaked, and the E-3 has always been pretty fast, anyway. It also retains the articulated LCD, which grows to 3 inches--definitely a plus. And of course, there's the resolution bump, and video. Here's a comparative summary:

 Olympus E-30Olympus E-3 Olympus E-5
Sensor (effective resolution)12.3-megapixel Live MOS10.1-megapixel Live MOS12.3-megapixel Live MOS
17.3 mm x 13.0mm17.3 mm x 13.0mm17.3 mm x 13.0mm
Color depth12 bit12 bit12 bit
Sensitivity rangeISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 6400ISO 100 - ISO 3200ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 6400
Focal-length multiplier2x2x2x
Continuous shooting5 fps
12 raw/unlimited JPEG
5 fps
16 raw/unlimited JPEG
5 fps
16 raw/unlimited JPEG
Viewfinder
magnification/effective magnification
98% coverage
1.02x/0.51x
100% coverage
1.15x/0.58x
100% coverage
1.15x/0.58x
Autofocus11-pt AF
twin center cross-type
11-pt AF
twin center cross-type
11-pt AF
twin center cross-type
Shutter speed1/8000 to 60 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync1/8000 to 60 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync1/8000 to 60 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync
Shutter durabilityn/a150,000 cycles150,000 cycles
Metering49 points49 points49 points
Image stabilizationSensor shiftSensor shiftSensor shift
VideoNoneNone720/30p Motion JPEG AVI
Monoaural
Manual aperture and shutter in videon/an/an/a
Mic inputn/an/aYes
LCD size2.7 inches articulated
230,000 dots
2.5 inches articulated
230,000 dots
3 inches articulated
920,000 dots
Wireless flashYesYesYes
Memory slots1 x CF, 1 x xD1 x CF, 1 x xD1 x CF, 1 x SDXC
Battery life (CIPA rating)750 shots610 shots870 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD)5.6 x 4.2 x 3.05.6 x 4.6 x 2.95.6 x 4.6 x 2.9
Body operating weight (ounces)26.831.631.5 (est)
Mfr. price$999.99 (body only)$1,299.99 (body only)$1,699.99 (body only)
Ship dateJanuary 2009November 2007October 2010
Olympus USA

Things that don't appear in a comparison table include an update to the TruePic V+ image processing engine plus an addition to its Art Filters, Dramatic Tone ("applying unrealistic tones of light and darkness based on local changes in contrast") and the ability to use the Art Filters in all shooting modes. Olympus also expanded the exposure bracketing to seven shots, but at least based on the specs the camera doesn't seem to have the latitude to really take advantage of it.

For Olympus shooters who've been waiting for video, this is bound to be a disappointing implementation. While it's similar to the D300s', that camera's a year old and pretty underpowered as well. Even if you're OK with the 720p resolution, Motion JPEG is simply an inefficient video codec. (It's unclear to me as of this writing how flexible the manual controls will be.)

Here's how it compares to the competition:

 Canon EOS 7DNikon D300s Olympus E-5
Sensor (effective resolution)18-megapixel CMOS12.3-megapixel CMOS12.3-megapixel Live MOS
22.3 mm x 14.9mm23.6 x 15.8mm17.3 mm x 13.0mm
Color depth14 bit14 bit12 bit
Sensitivity rangeISO 100 - ISO 6400/12,800 (expanded)ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 3200/6400 (expanded)ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 6400
Focal-length multiplier1.6x1.5x2x
Continuous shooting8 fps
15 raw/126 JPEG
7 fps
n/a
5 fps
16 raw/unlimited JPEG
Viewfinder
magnification/effective magnification
100% coverage
1.0x/0.63x
100% coverage
0.94x/0.63x
100% coverage
1.15x/0.58x
Autofocus19-pt AF
all cross-type; f2.8 center
51-pt AF
15 cross-type
11-pt AF
twin center cross-type
Shutter speed1/8000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync1/8000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync1/8000 to 60 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync
Shutter durability150,000 cycles150,000 cycles150,000 cycles
Metering63 zone1005-pixel 3D Color Matrix Metering II49 points
Image stabilizationOpticalOpticalSensor shift
Video1080/30p/25p/24p; 720/60p/50p
H.264 Quicktime MOV
Monaural
720/24p Motion JPEG AVI
Monaural
720/30p Motion JPEG AVI
Monoaural
Manual aperture and shutter in videoYesNon/a
Mic inputYesYesYes
LCD size3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
3 inches fixed
921,000 dots
3 inches articulated
920,000 dots
Wireless flashYesYesYes
Memory slots1 x CF1 x CF, 1 x SDHC1 x CF, 1 x SDXC
Battery life (CIPA rating)800 shots950 shots870 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD)5.8 x 4.4 x 2.95.8 x 4.5 x 2.95.6 x 4.6 x 2.9
Body operating weight (ounces)3534.231.5 (est)
Mfr. price$1,699.99 (body only)$1,699.95 (body only)$1,699.99 (body only)
Ship dateOctober 2009August 2009October 2010

At least as far as the specs indicate, it's slower than Canon and Nikon, with a less sophisticated autofocus system, and a viewfinder with the lowest effective magnification. If you like shooting Live View, Olympus does tend to excel at LV autofocus speed. But I can't see any obvious advantages the E-5 might have over them. The resolution increase alone might make it worth the while of E-3 upgraders, but there's not much compelling here. I'd like to hear from the Olympus shooters out there, though. Is this what you've been waiting for?

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