Olympus E-5 Review

December 22, 2010 | Zoltan Arva-Toth |

Image Quality

All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 12.3 megapixel Super Fine JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 8Mb.

During the review, the Olympus E-5 produced images of very good quality. In the Natural picture mode, colours are vibrant without being garish or over-saturated, while dynamic range is pretty good (except at ISO 100, which is actually ISO 200 overexposed and "pulled" by a stop, leading to highlight clipping in some cases). Auto Gradation can be very helpful in maximising shadow detail, and should be your preferred setting when shooting in contrasty light. From ISO 100 through ISO 800, image quality is on a par with - and arguably superior to - the APS-C competition thanks to an unusually crisp rendering of fine detail that reaches nearly Foveon-esque levels with the Noise Filter turned off. Above ISO 1600, the situation is reversed as the Olympus E-5 cannot keep up with the likes of the Nikon D7000 and the Pentax K-5, which remain perfectly usable up to ISO 6400 and beyond, where the E-5 simply can’t follow them. Long exposures are OK, but not spectacular - you will really want the camera to use dark frame subtraction to avoid hot pixels, even if this solution effectively doubles your exposure times. Finally, the presence of Art Filters may be unusual in a pro camera, but they do produce special effects that would otherwise require you to spend a lot of time in the digital darkroom.


The Olympus E-5 has a base sensitivity of ISO 200, with ISO 100 available as a "pull-processed" option (ISO 200 overexposed by a stop, and "pulled" back by the processing engine). The highest speed is ISO 3200, with a "boosted" or "push-processed" setting of ISO 6400 also available. The following crops illustrate the quality at each full speed, with the Noise Filter (see below) turned off. The raw files have been processed with ACR 6.3 at default settings.


ISO 100 (100% Crop)

ISO 100 (100% Crop)


ISO 200 (100% Crop)

ISO 200 (100% Crop)


ISO 400 (100% Crop)

ISO 400 (100% Crop)


ISO 800 (100% Crop)

ISO 800 (100% Crop)


ISO 1600 (100% Crop)

ISO 1600 (100% Crop)


ISO 3200 (100% Crop)

ISO 3200 (100% Crop)


ISO 6400 (100% Crop)

ISO 6400 (100% Crop)


Noise Filter

The Olympus E-5 offers four Noise Filter settings: High, Standard, Low and Off. The default setting is Standard, but it’s unnecessarily strong and robs images of fine detail, especially at slower ISO speeds. The Noise Filter settings can be modified in Menu G (Quality/Aspect/Colour/WB). The following 100% crops demonstrate the effect of each Noise Filter setting at ISO 3200.



Standard High


With the Noise Filter turned off, photos from the Olympus E-5 are crisp and sharp using the 12-60mm lens. That said, you might still want to add some extra sharpening in a program like Adobe Photoshop. Alternatively, you can change the in-camera sharpening level to suit your needs. Here are two 100% crops which have been Saved for Web - Quality 50 in Photoshop. The right-hand image has had some sharpening applied.

Original (100% Crop)

Sharpened (100% Crop)


File Quality

Olympus offers no less than four JPEG quality settings - Basic, Normal, Fine and Super Fine. Incomprehensibly, Super Fine is not selectable by default; you first have to enable it from the menu. Naturally, you may opt to save your photographs in the camera’s raw file format (ORF). Raw+JPEG shooting is available.

12M Super Fine (100% Crop) 12M Fine (100% Crop)
12M Normal (100% Crop) 12M Basic (100% Crop)
12M RAW (100% Crop)  


The weak anti-aliasing filer used in the Olympus E-5 helps with capturing fine detail that would be lost on a stronger filter, but can occasionally lead to artefacts such as colour moiré. This does not happen often, and can usually be reduced in post-processing, but is still something to be aware of, especially if using a lens that can out-resolve the sensor.


The Olympus E-5 features a pop-up flash that has multiple modes including Forced On, Forced Off, Auto, Slow Sync, Rear-Curtain Sync and almost any of these combined with red-eye reduction. It can also serve as an AF assist light or as a controller for wirelessly slaved FL-36R or FL-50R units. In addition to the on-board unit, the Olympus E-5 also has a hot-shoe for system flashes, and a PC sync terminal for studio strobes. The pictures below were taken of a white ceiling from a distance of 1.5m, with and without the built-in flash.

Flash Off - Wide Angle

Flash On - Wide Angle

ISO 64 ISO 64

Flash Off - Telephoto

Flash On - Telephoto

ISO 64 ISO 64

And now for some portraits. The pop-up flash of the Olympus E-5 did not really cause a red-eye effect, so the only noticeable difference between the Forced On and Forced On with Red-Eye Reduction settings is that the second causes the subject’s pupils to contract.

Flash On

Flash On (100% Crop)

Red-eye reduction

Red-eye reduction (100% Crop)


The Olympus E-5 lets you dial in shutter speeds of up to 60 seconds and has a Bulb mode as well for exposure times as long as 30 minutes, which is very good news if you are seriously interested in night photography. On the other hand, the appearance of hot pixels can be a problem with long exposures, which can be tackled by turning on the Noise Reduction function. Distinct from the Noise Filter discussed above, NR is based on the principle of dark frame subtraction. Do note that this solution effectively doubles your exposure times.  The shot below was taken using a shutter speed of 30 seconds, aperture of f/11 at ISO 200. We’ve included a 100% crop for you to see what the quality is like.

Night Shot

Night Shot (100% Crop)

Image Stabilisation

The Olympus E-5 comes with a sensor-shift image stabilisation (IS) system, which allows you to take sharp hand-held photos at slower shutter speeds than with cameras that lack this feature. These examples are 100% crops from two photos taken at 1/13 second at the 120mm equivalent setting. As you can see, the one taken with IS turned off is really blurry, whereas the one captured with the help of the stabilisation system is sharp.

Night Shot

Night Shot (100% Crop)

Shadow Adjustment Technology

The Olympus E-5 features Shadow Adjustment Technology (SAT), a useful feature for JPEG shooters. Similarly to Nikon’s D-lighting, Sony’s DRO etc., this solution brightens the shadows in a high-contrast scene without affecting the midtones or the highlights. The way to engage SAT is to set the tonal gradation to Auto via the Super Control Panel. Below you can see a comparison of Normal and Auto gradation; the difference is noticeable in the shadows. (Two other, special-use gradation settings are available on the camera, Low Key and High Key. The former is for photographing dark subjects against dark backgrounds, whereas the latter is for light-toned subjects against a light-toned background.)



Picture Modes

Olympus’ Picture Modes are essentially pre-set combinations of saturation, contrast and sharpness, except for the new i-Enhance mode that aims to optimise each photo individually. You can tailor each Picture Mode to your needs. The following examples demonstrate the differences across the available Picture Modes.









Art Filters

Perhaps surprisingly for a professional digital SLR camera, Olympus has decided to include no less than ten Art Filters in the E-5. One of these, Dramatic Tone, is entirely new. Given that these filters apply irreversible modifications to JPEGs, it makes to shoot raw+JPEG when applying any of them, so that you always have an untouched original to work with in case the effect is not to your liking.

Cross Process


Full-size Image Full-size Image

Dramatic Tone

Grainy Film

Full-size Image Full-size Image

Light Tone

Pale Light

Full-size Image Full-size Image


Pop Art

Full-size Image Full-size Image


Soft Focus

Full-size Image Full-size Image