Olympus PEN E-P5 Review

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SUMMARY

The Olympus E-P5 takes the best of its predecessor, the E-P3, and many features from the acclaimed OM-D E-M5, and adds a few new wrinkles of its own to make it the company’s best PEN-series Micro Four Thirds camera yet. Key new features include 5-axis image stabilization, a 1/8000s top shutter speed, an improved touchscreen LCD and increased ISO range. Overall, this flagship mirrorless model delivers blazing fast autofocus, burst shooting near 10fps and exceptional image quality — even at higher ISOs — that rival the performance of many top enthusiast DSLRs.

PROS

Handsome retro styling; Very good image quality and dynamic range, with competitive high ISO performance; Lightning fast autofocusing; Excellent burst speeds (nearly 10fps at full res); Top shutter speed of 1/8000 second; Sharp, bright 17mm f/1.8 kit lens; 3-inch tilting touchscreen LCD with 1.04M dots of resolution.

CONS

Heavier than some mirrorless models; Weak flash; Below average battery life; No built-in viewfinder (but EVF available in a kit or for separate purchase); A bit pricey compared to the similar E-M5, which offers a built-in EVF and weather sealing at about the same price.

PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

The Olympus PEN E-P5 first came available in May 2013 for US$999 body-only, or for US$1,449 kitted with the M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 lens (US$499 separately) and VF-4 electronic viewfinder (US$270 separately). The camera is available in black, silver (with black trim) or white (with tan grip).

The Olympus PEN-series of mirrorless, interchangeable lens cameras has proven to be very popular for the company, and we weren’t alone in praising the flagship PEN E-P3 for its well-considered design, very fast autofocus, good image quality, rich feature set and relative affordability. The success of the E-P3, however, presented a tough challenge for Olympus designers: Just how do you follow it up? The answer, a little under two years later, was a comprehensive inside-and-out revamp to create the Olympus PEN E-P5, a camera that couples the best of its predecessor with many features borrowed from the much-loved OM-D E-M5, plus a generous sprinkling of features unique to the new camera.

Olympus E-P5 Review - Front quarter view

The Olympus PEN P5 is clad in a brand-new body that features more external controls than ever, along with a new tilting LCD panel. Both display and image sensor have more resolution than ever, and a number of other key metrics — sensitivity range, maximum shutter speed, X-sync speed, and lag time for the LCD and viewfinder — have also been improved. The Olympus P5 also received brand-new Wi-Fi connectivity, and supports an overhauled viewfinder accessory that itself boasts much higher resolution. Add much the same 5-axis stabilization system from the OM-D, and you’ve got quite a proposition for the prospective mirrorless camera owner.

Olympus E-P5 Review - Front view

Design

Like its predecessors, the Olympus E-P5 draws on the heritage of the company’s PEN-series film cameras, but now its restyled body makes that association clearer than ever. Front and center, in place of the Olympus logotype, the E-P5 proclaims itself as an “OLYMPUS PEN,” using the very same font as the acclaimed PEN F film cameras of the 1960s. The clean-looking body of the P5 — unfettered by visible screwheads anywhere — draws strong styling cues from that camera as well.

Olympus E-P5 Review - Top view

Place it alongside the PEN F, though, and while the heritage will be clear, the new camera will look even more the part. It has sprouted several new physical controls since its direct predecessor, including both front and rear control dials — which Olympus calls 2×2 dial control — and a new customizable function lever. The latter, by default, switches between control of shutter speed or aperture with either of the twin dials, and control of ISO sensitivity or white balance. You can, however, opt for it instead to serve as a locking switch for the movie shutter button which it encircles, or have it function as an auto / manual focus control.

Olympus E-P5 Review - Back view
Size and weight

Despite the new controls and the addition of a tilting LCD panel, among many other changes, the Olympus PEN P5 is only a few millimeters thicker than its direct predecessor, and barely distinguishable in terms of width and height.

There’s been a noticeable 18% increase in body-only weight to some 378 grams (with battery and memory card, it’s 420 grams), but that’s understandable given its solid construction. Not only is the camera’s casing crafted from metal, but so are many of its buttons and dials.

Olympus E-P5 Review - Sensor

Sensor

Inside sits a new 4:3 aspect, Live MOS image sensor, and while its dimensions are unchanged at 17.3 x 13.0mm, its resolution gets a noticeable increase. In place of the 12.3 megapixel chip from the E-P3, the Olympus P5 boasts a resolution of 16.1 megapixels. Seem familiar? That’s because it’s the same chip seen previously in the OM-D E-M5. (And the PEN E-PL5 and E-PM2!)

Total resolution for the new Live MOS chip is 17.2 megapixels. Compared to the sensor from the P3, the P5’s new imager provides around 14% higher linear resolution, and this comes accompanied by a 23% increase in RAW file sizes. Maximum image dimensions are 4,608 x 3,456 pixels.

Olympus E-P5 Review - Processor

Processor

Just like both the E-P3 and E-M5 before it, the PEN E-P5 pairs its image sensor with a TruePic VI image processor. That’s not to say that performance hasn’t been improved, however.

Sensitivity

For one thing, the sensitivity range is now wider on both ends, although we should note that the native sensitivity of the image sensor itself is still ISO 200 equivalent. Still, you now have access to a working range encompassing everything from ISO 100 to ISO 25,600 equivalents. (By way of comparison, the E-P3 had a range of 200 to 12,800 equivalents.)

Performance

Perhaps more significantly, though, there’s been a big step forwards in terms of performance. The biggest increase is in the PEN E-P5’s burst shooting speed. Where the E-P3 offered a sedate 3.1 frames per second in our burst testing, its successor clocks in nearly 10fps (almost one fps more than Olympus claimed!) with focus and exposure locked from the first frame, and image stabilization disabled. Even with AF tracking active, the company says a rate of 5fps is achievable. And at the nearly 10fps rate, the E-P5’s buffer depth is excellent, allowing a max of 16 JPEG, 18 RAW and 15 RAW+JPEG images to be shot before the buffer slows down, per our tests.

There’s also a new short release-time lag mode, which increases power consumption by around one-fifth, but decreases prefocused shutter lag by around the same margin. Olympus is claiming a time of around 0.049 second, which would gel well with a 20% reduction over the 0.060 second we measured for the E-P3. In our tests the E-P5’s shutter lag wasn’t quite as fast as claimed, but it was close at 0.052 second.

Olympus E-P5 Review - Stabilization

Stabilization

While the lens mount hasn’t changed, the stabilization system has. It’s essentially the same system featured in the Olympus E-M5. Where the PEN P3 provided only two-axis correction of front-to-back pitch and left-to-right yaw, the P5 adds correction of left-to-right roll, as well as lateral motion on both horizontal and vertical axes. Olympus claims a correction of some 5EV is possible.

The system now operates in one of four modes. As previously, it can correct for motion both horizontally and vertically, or it can correct on only one axis, leaving the other axis unaffected for panning shots. What’s new is that it can now select one of these three modes automatically. And you can, of course, disable the system altogether.

Focusing

The Olympus PEN E-P5 also largely inherits its 35-point contrast detection autofocus system from the OM-D E-M5. There are a two notable changes related to focusing, however.

Perhaps most significantly, there’s a new magnified autofocus frame function which allows a much, much finer-grained focus point selection. This operates by first selecting an area of the image on which to concentrate your attention at one of four zoom levels: 5x, 7x, 10x, or 14x. Once you’ve magnified the image at your chosen area, you can then select a focus point within that magnified view, giving you much greater precision in placing that focus point. A total of 800 focus point positions are possible around the confines of the image frame.

The other change in focusing is the addition of a focus peaking function, handy when focusing manually. You can select one of two peaking colors — either black or white — and the image areas with strongest local contrast will be highlighted in this color.

Olympus E-P5 Review - EVF
Viewfinder

Although it doesn’t include a built-in viewfinder, the Olympus E-P5 does support a variety of electronic and optical viewfinder accessories, including one brand-new model that’s available kitted with the camera (or available for separate purchase). This is the Olympus VF-4, and it’s a much more highly-specified unit than past efforts, providing a total resolution of around 2,360,000 dots. That equates to an array of 1,024 x 768 pixels, with each pixel comprised of separate red, green, and blue dots.

The new viewfinder accessory has 0.74x magnification (or, if you prefer, 1.48x magnification after accounting for the 2x focal length crop of a Micro Four Thirds camera.) It includes a locking pin, ensuring that it won’t be accidentally bumped off your camera and damaged. An integrated eye sensor is provided for automatic switching between the EVF and monitor.

It’s also worth noting that, according to Olympus, the lag time for images displayed on the electronic viewfinder in the E-P5 has been reduced by almost one-third. The company now rates EVF lag at around 0.032 seconds.

The new VF-4 is also compatible with the E-PL5, E-PM2, E-M5, E-PL3, E-PM1 and E-P3 with firmware updates, though its eye sensor feature will not be supported. The E-PL2, E-PL1, E-PL1s, E-P2 and XZ-2 will also be supported with firmware updates, though again the eye sensor will not supported, and the viewfinder image will be degraded.

Olympus E-P5 Review - Touchscreen LCD

Touchscreen LCD

Display latency has also been reduced for the rear-panel LCD monitor, although Olympus doesn’t cite a specific figure here. The reduction of 50% in display lag for the LCD panel is even greater than that for the EVF, however.

As for the panel itself, it’s still a 3.0-inch unit with a 3:2 aspect ratio, but dot count has been increased by 69%, to a total of 1,037,000 dots. That equates to roughly a 720×480 pixel display, with three colored dots per pixel. The new panel also offers much more control over brightness and color, with a +/-7 step adjustment for both variables. (Previously, there was a +/-2 step brightness adjustment, and a +/-3 step color adjustment.)

The display might be new, but it’s still touch-capable, as was its predecessor. Specifically, it’s an electrostatic capacitive touchscreen of the same kind you’d find on a modern smartphone. The touchscreen also features a fingerprint-resistant coating. Perhaps more importantly, though, the new LCD monitor is now articulated, where that of its predecessor was fixed in place. The display can’t be viewed from in front of the camera, but it can be tilted upwards by around 80 degrees, and downwards by some 50 degrees.

Olympus E-P5 Review - Flash

Flash

Just like its predecessor, the Olympus E-P5 includes both a popup flash strobe, and a hot shoe for external strobes. With a guide number of seven meters at ISO 100 (or 10 meters at the camera’s native ISO 200), the internal strobe looks to be the same as that in the earlier camera.

There’s a very important difference, however, that can be found in the flash sync speed. Previously limited to 1/180 second, this has now been boosted to a much more respectable 1/250 second with external strobes, and 1/320 second with the internal strobe. You can, of course, still control off-camera flash strobes wirelessly from the built-in strobe, as well. Four channels are available, and three groups (not counting the internal strobe itself.)

Olympus E-P5 Review - Mode dial

Exposure

The full complement of exposure modes you’d expect to find on an enthusiast-friendly camera are here, including Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, and Manual. There’s also an updated Advanced Intelligent Auto mode that now aims for higher shutter speeds with moving subjects in low light, along with the same complement of scene modes found on the E-P3.

Metering

This, again, is essentially unchanged. Measured using the image sensor itself, exposures are metered using a 324-segment Digital ESP metering system, and both center-weighted and spot modes are available. The latter can be biased either for highlight or shadow control.

Shutter

Another important change, though — in fact, a record-setting one — is to be found in the Olympus P5’s focal plane shutter mechanism. We’ve already mentioned the improvement in flash sync speed, but it can also yield faster shutter speeds than ever before, and for that matter faster than any other mirrorless camera’s mechanical shutter. You can now opt for shutter speeds ranging from 1/8,000 to 60 seconds, plus either bulb or timed exposures. Previously, the upper limit was a still fairly respectable 1/4,000 second.

Olympus E-P5 Review - Shutter

That bulb exposure mode, incidentally, has one very snazzy feature. Called live bulb exposure, this essentially shows your image during capture in bulb mode, building it up on the display over time to allow you to review both exposure and composition, and to stop exposure at exactly the right moment. The live display is accompanied by an equally live histogram, to help you judge the exposure level better.

Creative

Although most creative options on the Olympus PEN E-P5 — scene modes, bracketing functions, multiple exposure, digital filters, and so forth — are inherited unchanged from the P3, there are some new functions. You can now automatically bracket for high dynamic range exposures (though the camera does not combine them), and there’s also an interval timer function which will capture up to 99 frames with an interval anywhere between one second and 24 hours. (This is also used to provide the in-camera generated time-lapse movies.) Additionally, there’s a new underwater white balance preset, and a new Photo Story function. This last feature will combine multiple shots into a single collage-framed image. There are seven layouts to choose from, and some of these allow filter effects to be used on individual shots in the collage, as well.

Movie

Although the maximum movie resolution of the Olympus E-P5 is the same as that of the earlier camera — it’s still Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) capable — there are a few noteworthy changes. First of all, the Olympus P5 now uses MPEG-4 AVC compression, instead of AVCHD. That means a change from the 60 interlaced fields per second of the earlier camera, to a more sensible 30p frames per second, matching the rate provided by the image sensor. If you desire, you can still drop the resolution to 720p (1,280 x 720 pixels), and you can also opt for Motion JPEG compression at 720p or VGA (640 x 480 pixel) resolution.

Another improvement is the availability of sensor-shift image stabilization during video recording, versus the purely electronic or “digital” IS offered by the E-P3. That’s a major enhancement, because the P3’s digital stabilization was prone to a bizarre, double-axis jello effect that we found much more objectionable than the shake it was supposed to be correcting for.

Other changes include a new, stronger 4x digital teleconverter function which simply crops sensor data more tightly — and which can cleverly be enabled or disabled with a tap on the touchscreen during video capture — plus a new time-lapse movie function. The latter simply takes images from the interval timer function and stitches them into a single movie file played back at a rate of 10 frames per second.

Audio

As in the earlier camera, the PEN E-P5 still features a built-in stereo microphone, plus a monaural speaker for levels monitoring. The hotshoe-mounted Olympus SEMA-1 microphone adapter set is also still compatible, connected via the E-P5’s Accessory Port 2. This allows you to use 3.5mm stereo external microphones, including the one that’s bundled with the adapter.

Optics

Like all PEN-series cameras, the Olympus E-P5 features a Micro Four Thirds lens mount capable of accepting quite a selection of dedicated lenses from Olympus and its partners. Courtesy of several first- and third-party adapters, it can also accept a huge variety of older glass, so there’s a very good chance you’ll be able to mount your existing lenses, if you’re willing to stick to manual control. The only kit lens for the E-P5 is the M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 (which we used, along with the VF-4 electronic viewfinder, in our review).

Olympus E-P5 Review - Available lenses

Wi-Fi

Another brand-new feature of the E-P5 is this year’s de rigeur 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi wireless networking connectivity, making it easier to get your photos and videos off the camera, and onto your smartphone or tablet for sharing on social networks. There’s a twist, though. A traditional bugbear of in-camera Wi-Fi is the difficulty of setting up a connection in the first place, something a few manufacturers have aimed to solve using an extra, low-speed Near Field Communication radio that’s used to set up the (comparatively) high-speed Wi-Fi connection. It’s a great feature, but NFC is not universally supported by mobile devices, and it adds both to the camera’s size and weight, and to its bill of materials. (In other words, its cost.)

Olympus E-P5 Review - Wi-Fi setup with QR code

Olympus has done something really rather clever, taking advantage of the fact that basically all smartphones and tablets these days include cameras, and that the camera itself already has a large, built-in display. An app available on iOS and Android devices uses the mobile gadget’s camera to look for a Quick Response code, a type of two-dimensional barcode. This is shown by the E-P5 on-screen, and you simply aim your phone or tablet camera at the Olympus’ display. The QR code is seen, recognized, and the mobile device configures its Wi-Fi to connect to the camera automatically, as instructed by the QR code. All very simple, and it saves on the need for extra radio hardware.

Once connected, you can not only download movies or images, but also control the camera remotely, including a live view feed and remote shutter release. You can have up to six clients connected to the camera at any one time, as well, and while only one can be controlling it, all six can receive copies of the camera’s images for instant sharing with a group of friends or colleagues at the same location. Note, however, there’s a catch for remote shutter release: You have to use Intelligent Auto exposure if you trip the shutter remotely.

The Olympus E-P5 also allows you to piggyback on your phone or tablet’s GPS receiver for geotagging of images, a function offered by some competitors. (And, we’ll be honest, one we’ve never found terribly useful, since you have to leave power-hungry GPS running on the mobile device to capture a track log, rather than it running on the camera only as needed.)

Olympus E-P5 Review - Ports

Connectivity

Of course, Wi-Fi isn’t the only connectivity option. You can also opt for a USB 2.0 High Speed wired connection via the EP-5’s Micro USB multi-connector, which also serves as a composite A/V output and wired remote port. There’s also a Type-D Micro HDMI high-definition video output, replacing the larger Type-C Mini HDMI connection of the earlier camera. And as mentioned, the E-P5 also retains Olympus’ proprietary Accessory Port 2 terminal beneath the hot shoe, allowing for several unique accessories such as electronic viewfinders, a microphone adapter, a macro arm light, and even a Bluetooth wireless data transfer accessory.

Storage

Here, the Olympus E-P5 is basically unchanged from its predecessor. There’s a Secure Digital card slot, and it supports both the higher-capacity SDHC or SDXC card types, plus the higher-speed UHS-I types. Olympus recommends at least Speed Class 6 to capture HD┬ámovies. The Olympus P5 also continues to support Eye-Fi Wi-Fi capable SD cards, if you desire — although given the in-camera Wi-Fi connectivity there would seem to be little point in using these any longer.

Olympus E-P5 Review - Battery + SD card
Battery

Although the battery type in use has changed — Olympus now specifies a proprietary BLN-1 lithium-ion battery pack instead of the previous BLS-1 pack — expected battery life is unchanged. It’s CIPA-rated for 330 shots per charge, and the bundle comes with a dedicated BCN-1 battery charger.

Olympus does not appear to offer an AC adapter for the E-P5, nor is in-camera charging via USB supported.

Pricing and availability

The Olympus PEN E-P5 started shipping in May 2013, priced at US$999 body-only. Three body colors are available in the US market: black, silver (with black trim), or white. A kit including both the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 17mm f/1.8 lens and VF-4 Electronic Viewfinder is available, priced at US$1,449. The kit will include a black lens, and your choice of black or silver bodies. The 17mm lens retails for US$499 by itself, and the VF-4 viewfinder for US$279.

Shooting with the Olympus E-P5

Olympus EP5 – Indoor images at ISOs 200, 500 & 800
Olympus E-P5 Review - Sample indoor photo
f/4.5, 1/13s, ISO 200
Olympus E-P5 Review - Sample indoor photo
f/5.6, 1/30s, ISO 500
Olympus E-P5 Review - Sample indoor photo
f/5.6, 1/50s, ISO 800

Olympus PEN E-P5 had no trouble focusing instantly even in the very dim light.

Olympus E-P5 Review - Sample evening photo
Long Exposure Time: f/7.1, 11.6s, ISO 200
Olympus E-P5 Review - Sample evening photo
Low Light Autofocus + High ISO: f/1.8, 1/40s, ISO 6400

 

Basic Specifications
Full model name: Olympus PEN E-P5
Resolution: 16.10 Megapixels
Sensor size: 4/3
(17.3mm x 13.0mm)
Kit Lens: Non-Zoom
17mm
(34mm eq.)
Viewfinder: No / LCD
Native ISO: 200 – 25,600
Extended ISO: 100 – 25,600
Shutter: 1/8000 – 60 seconds
Max Aperture: 1.8 (kit lens)
Dimensions: 4.8 x 2.7 x 1.5 in.
(122 x 69 x 37 mm)
Weight: 19.2 oz (545 g)
includes batteries, kit lens
Availability: 05/2013
Manufacturer: Olympus
Full specs: Olympus E-P5 specifications

(imaging-resource.com)

 

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