Monday, October 18, 2010

The Tropical Undergrowth World Through E-5

Part 1: A quick look at E-5 and the Zuiko Digital 50mm f2.

In September 2005 Olympus launched one of its most successful DSLR- the phenomenal E-500. It was cheap, packed with unimaginable features and produced amazing colors through the Kodak KAF-8300CE sensor. I was considering to get my first digital camera and after evaluating several possible choices, I eventually picked the E-500. The choice was based on the value for money and I was simply amazed by the Four Third vision which was bold enough to develop an entire system from scratch, optimistically speaking. See, with the Four Thirds system I will get 1-stop deeper depth of field than any APS-C camera, which is a good news for macro photographers. The E-500 was Olympus' third DSLR.

5 years later Olympus announced the E-5 which came quite late by today's standard. Since a couple of years back, camera manufacturers came to get the habit of producing too many DSLR models too frequently. Sometimes the newer model just cannot be justified properly- they take an existing model, thrash out some minor features and there you go- the latest entry level DSLR. So how is E-5 different from their previous professional camera, E-3, or even the last one out, E-600? I can't tell you much since I don't have either. But I can tell you how E-5 responds when I took it out on some macro shootings.

Shot with E-500 on ZD35/3.5

Olympus Malaysia offered me a unit for testing together with the STF-22 twin flash unit and some other goodies. Naturally whenever someone loan me a camera for a week for testing purpose, it must be that we want to see how the beast can fare when we attach a macro lens to it. Anyone can take macro shots but the number drops when we talk about nature macro. Unlike still life, living critters in the wild hardly pose for you hence a good set for nature macro kit needs to be more than just capable of taking nice photos. Things get more complicated if you intend to haul the gears deep into the tropical rain forest.

I have both Zuiko Digital macro lenses. Most of the time I use the 35mm f3.5 for macro works because although the 50mm f2.0 is significantly sharper, it suffers badly from erratic autofocus when used in low light. Furthermore, it can yield a magnification of only 1:2, which is half of what the el cheapo 35mm produces. Nevertheless it serves as a perfect portrait lens since the sweet spot is somewhere close to the widest aperture and even open wide, its resolution is significantly higher than all other 50mm. So for this review, I will put the Zuiko Digital 50mm f2.0 to test.

Due to time restriction, I only have enough time to do a few tests. This is the test to see how the 50/2 performs on E-5 compared to E-500. OK, I know it sounds like a bad joke but that antique is the only thing I got.

1. In a test done by a famous website, they concluded that the ZD 50/2 out resolves the E-3 sensor. That means this lens still has some untapped potential. On the E-5, the images taken with the 50/2 show much higher detail which correlates to higher resolution. In layman terms- photos will look sharper and crispier with the E-5.

2. The hunting syndrome commonly associated with the 50/2 is well managed by the E-5. The auto focus locks faster and hunts less on low light. It even behaves quite well with the EX-25 attached! Now this is something I never have expected. I taught the chronic low light hunting syndrome suffered by 50/2 is incurable and was simply amazed beyond words when I can easily lock focus with C-AF under the shades of the forest canopy. The focusing speed feels faster as well but that might just caused by some stray endorphin after realizing my favourite lens is cured from night blindness.

Ok, time for sample photos.

This is a portrait shot taken with the ZD50/2 on the E-5 with available light. The details (if you can see the high resolution copy) are mind blowing. I can't compare with other recent DSLRs but against my little sidekick the E-500, the difference is like heaven and earth. Below is the 100% view straight from the camera without any editing (except probably auto-resizing by blogspot). The setting was "Natural" mode and no adjustment to contrast nor sharpness. As bare as it can be.

By now I can hear someone complaining- "Dude, we hate your boring portrait shots. Bring out the spiders!" Since it is not so frequent that I got the chance to test a pro camera before it hits the store, why not we indulge on something else first. In fact macro and portrait share a lot in common since I shoot both using the same lens. Next is a macro shot, taken with the STF-22 on a partially random setting. Personally for me, I have no complaint in regards to the image quality, at all. The image is so refine with rich details and virtually no annoying noise. Good enough for my standard and beyond.

In terms of color reproduction, I am very pleased to note that the E-5 maintains the signature of Olympus on producing very pleasant and natural colors. Coupled with the 50/2, there isn't much you need to (or can) tweak at post processing unless you got the white balance screwed up. The colors are just nice and I find them to be richer than other MOS-based DSLR from Olympus. Oh, a note on the auto white balance. It is fairly accurate and much better than the E-500 although most of the time during the test I use either the preset or manual (Kelvin) settings. This habit was the by product of using the E-500 for so long. At other times, the auto white balance is very reliable.

Now let's get a bit serious. I was wondering if E-5 is a better choice for macro photography compared to my current gear. One distinct advantage the E-500 has is its light weight- a very significant advantage for hand held macro shooters like me. E-5 needs to do more than just giving higher resolution in order to seriously compete with E-500 in the realm of macro. This old work horse has helped me to gain several international recognitions and to date I found no other DSLR model which is suitable to replace it. This, we will look deeper in the next part.

To end the first part of this review, I have 2 conclusions. First, the ZD 50/2 which has already received a legendary status, becomes a super lens with even higher details and much improved auto focus. Secondly, the E-5 is a major improvement in terms of image quality than E-500 or even the E-520 (I had the chance to play with one for 3 weeks). I am saying this as a hardcore E-500 fanboy who has been resisting any sort of gear change for years.

Thank you for reading this entry which has nothing to do with spider. But I need to write something, somewhere.



  1. very nice article and description

  2. Buy, buy.

    Muahahahahahh... resistance is futile!

  3. red, lucky loan together with STF and all the stuff.

    put more photos from E-5.. esp the macro.

  4. I am glad I was not the only one who found a vast improvement when shooting the 50mm f2 lens on E-5. It (almost) did not hunt, and locked on focus rather fast, even in shaded situations. This is a huge thing, because if 50mm can focus this fast, all other lenses must have been a lot better in terms of AF speed, because 50mm F2 is the slowest of all ZD lenses.

    I am waiting in excitement for your coming macro shots. Bring them out !!

  5. Thank you for leaving your thoughts. Yes Robin, the 50mm f2 was just like being resurrected when used with E-5. I cannot tell much about other lenses but may do some tests with others if opportunity arises. The weekend was quite tight to do all what I have planned.

  6. Laaa... I thought they'll give you the new system for free...

  7. hehe how i wish, with the twin flash some more.

  8. Great post Amir. Hope to see more. The Zuiko 50 and E-5 are a heavenly combo. Cheers.


  9. Thanks Brandon. I have read you review earlier both in blog and FB. Very envious of the photos.