Why would anyone buy the new Olympus E-5 dSLR – well there are a few very good reasons!

Written by Gary on November 21st, 2010

Olympus has been very quiet of late in updating their Four Thirds dSLR cameras and lenses – largely due to the combination of the global financial crisis and the distraction of the successes from their Micro Four Thirds mirror-less camera system with which they are joint partners with Panasonic.

Indeed, the success of the Micro Four Thirds camera system which has taken the photographic world by storm has meant that the Four Thirds dSLR system seems to have become even more marginalised to the extent that its future seems uncertain.

I suspect another important factor is that the sensor contract with Panasonic is apparently ending early 2011 and this has apparently prevented Olympus from sourcing other sensor options such as the new Kodak sensors – 2011 may give us a very different picture of the future of Four Thirds!

Why then would anyone pay $2000 or so for what is a rather modest upgrade of the Olympus E-3 semi-pro dSLR that is the Olympus E-5?

To my mind the reasons fall into these categories:

  • existing Four Thirds users and others who wish to upgrade to a camera that is not only an excellent photographer’s camera with great image quality (especially at ISO 800 and below), weather-proofing, excellent build, adequate pixels, AF and burst rate for most photography, swivel LCD, inbuilt image stabiliser, and finally some HD video capabilities.
  • as a compliment to the Micro Four Thirds camera, which are not designed to handle the larger lenses as are the larger dSLRs, but the E-5 will still be able to use the same electronic flashes and similar accessories, while the Four Thirds lenses can be used on Micro Four Thirds cameras via an adapter and you still maintain full aperture control and a variable degree of AF capabilities.
  • wildlife photographers looking for a relatively light, compact, weatherproof, super-telephoto kit – when combined with the 3.3kg 90-250mm f/2.8 or 300mm f/2.8 lenses – do you really want to carry around a $A10,000 Canon 400mm f/2.8 IS lens and all the gear that needs to go to cope with its 5.4kg back breaking weight?
  • storm chasers like Mark Humpage who love the weather-proof compact Olympus kits
  • those who believe that Olympus will not leave Four Thirds users out in the cold in a few years, or do not care if they do.
  • those who want to use one of the superb, unique Olympus Four Thirds Zuiko Digital lenses.

Let’s look at the last category – those unique Zuiko Digital lenses, renown for their superb optics with edge-to-edge performance not usually possible on Canon or Nikon lenses which must use a larger image circle, and physics dictates that aberrations increase exponentially the greater the distance from the centre.

There are some Four Thirds users deserting the system quite reasonably given the uncertainties which Olympus’ marketing department have contributed to, and this has meant lower demand for, and thus often lower prices for these excellent lenses, especially in the second hand marketplace – this means potential for snapping up some excellent lenses, but a risk you may only be able to use them for the next few years or decade if Olympus does indeed cease support for Four Thirds – which I think is unlikely.

Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD:

  • I am a BIG fan of this lens
  • you cannot buy a Canon, Nikon or Sony lens which covers the same field of view as this lens with comparable combination of aperture, image quality, image stabilisation (built-in the camera), weatherproofing, close focus, weight, size, price and bokeh.
  • RRP has been $A1300 or so which means it is not a super expensive
  • although it is a little big and heavy for many people, it is no where as big or heavy as you would need for a Canon or Nikon equivalent field of view
  • it weighs 1kg but similar lenses from Canon or Nikon weigh at least 1.36kg, and over 1.5kg if you go for the traditional 70-200mm f/2.8 IS lens
  • it’s length is only 157mm which means normal backpacks will hold it mounted to a camera – you will need a special photo backpack which you have to take off your back to access if you try mounting a Canon or Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens to a dSLR.
  • this lens alone would make me buy the E-5 if my old E-510 gave up the ghost – it is too big for Micro Four Thirds use, but when you want blurred backgrounds at a bit of a distance, or lower light capabilities at long focal lengths, this is one versatile lens
  • furthermore, you can combine it with the excellent Olympus EC-14 (1.4x) or EC-20 (2x) teleconverters for even more telephoto reach – up to 800mm f/7 hand holdable in daylight!
  • see more comparisons of this lens in the table on my web page here

Olympus ZD 150mm f/2.0:

  • I do not own this lens as it is a bit expensive for me at $US2499 while RRP in Australia is a ridiculous $A4299 and a street list price of $A3199 even though the $A is on parity with the $US  (thanks for trying to promote your system in Australia Olympus!), but this is a superb, unique lens.
  • I love my Canon 135mm f/2.0 lens on a 1.3x crop Canon 1D Mark III which gives an effective 189mm field of view, but it is not image stabilised (a big issue when you must resort to 1/320th sec or slower for fill-in flash portraits) and suffers from quite a bit of flare.
  • the 150mm f/2.0 lens in contrast is designed to be quite a different beast – it gives a field of view of a 300mm lens while allowing a fast f/2.0 aperture to still retain shallow depth of field but not too shallow and allowing faster shutter speeds  than a 300mm f/2.8 or f/4 lens would allow, and of course you get image stabilisation courtesy of the cameras.
  • if one was using a full frame dSLR, you would need at least a 300mm f/4 IS to match the field of view and depth of field characteristics, but you lose 2 stops of light coming in, so you would need to use 2 stops higher ISO to compensate, and you may still not get the superb edge-to-edge image quality of the smaller Olympus lens, while use with a 2x teleconverter only gives f/4 aperture instead of a dim f/8 aperture as with a 300mm f/4 lens.
  • at 1.6kg it is quite a heavy lens for its size, but is a relatively compact 150mm in length which is substantially shorter than a Canon 300mm f/4 lens at 221mm long.
  • it would make a superb astrophotography lens as there are no optical IS elements to adversely impact the image quality of pin point stars and the f/2.0 aperture would allow shorter exposures.
  • LensTip have just reviewed this lens and their tests re-affirm how superb this lens is.

The other superb Olympus ZD lenses:

  • the other pro and super pro Olympus lenses are superb with edge-to-edge image quality generally not possible on Canon or Nikon equivalents, but these are either too expensive for most of us (eg. over $US6000 for the 300mm f/2.8 or 90-250mm f/2.8), or the benefits over Canon or Nikon equivalents are not quite as substantial (the 14-35mm f/2.0, 35-100mm f/2.0, 11-22mm, 50mm f/2.0 macro) while the Olympus 7-14mm f/4 can potentially be replaced by the cheaper Panasonic Micro Four Thirds 7-14mm lens, although image quality uncorrected by software or Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras is not as good and the superb Panasonic Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 can potentially be replaced by the much smaller, and cheaper Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 Micro Four Thirds lens. (Note you cannot use a Micro Four Thirds lens on a Four Thirds camera!)

I am sure others will have their own reasons for buying an E-5, but now that the Canon 7D offers an articulating LCD, reasonable weatherproofing and better HD video, the E-5 camera itself is perhaps not a sufficiently compelling reason to buy into Four Thirds at this stage – it is only when  you look at the unique camera-lens options available that you realise, there is a great reason to buy an E-5 over a Canon 7D or Nikon 300s.


3 Comments so far ↓

  1. Geir says:

    Interesting to see that Photomagazine Deutschland rates the E5 as the third best DSLR of all time, with image quality being up there with the other cameras.
    I did consider leaving the ship this summer, but for me the E5 is just the camera I need.

  2. admin says:

    Thanks for that link Geir, I managed to decipher the main German words and I must admit I was pleasantly surprised at how highly the E-5 rated!
    But I should not have been so surprised as it does appear to address the far majority of needs for most photographers.
    I can’t wait to see what Olympus do with an even better sensor – perhaps a non-Bayer Kodak one next year?
    I would suggest that what we are increasingly seeing is that nearly all current dSLR image quality is adequate for the far majority of photographers and thus there is little to be gained for many by upgrading to a larger dSLR than an E-5.
    Indeed, the image quality of Micro Four Thirds is adequate for most, and few people really want to carry around large lenses.

  3. admin says:

    ps, sorry Geir, my recent Europe trip didn’t get me to Norway – but it was certainly getting cold enough for me in Stockholm in October – perhaps you need to fly south for Winter – to sunny, warm Australia 🙂