Olympus E-P5 Review
Overview by Mike Tomkins
Shooter's Report by Eamon Hickey
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.
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.
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.
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 2x2 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 720x480 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.
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.)
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.
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).
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 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.)
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 movies. 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.
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
by Eamon Hickey
Over the past few years, I've become a fan of Olympus's PEN series of cameras, especially the more advanced models, because they provide a very nice combination of good features and performance in a compact package. (In fact, I reviewed both the PEN E-PL5 and E-PM2 earlier this year.) So I was eager to see just how far the line has evolved in the form of the Olympus PEN E-P5, which boasts the company's most state-of-the-art Micro Four Thirds technology in almost every area.
Size and feel. As soon as I unpacked the Olympus PEN E-P5, I could immediately tell that it was a well-built, high precision camera -- it just had that feel of quality that an upper-end camera should have. There's no flex or slop in its metal body. Dials and buttons operated easily and fairly precisely with a reasonably good level of resistance -- only the very top professional cameras at much higher prices feel any better than this.
I also noticed right away that the Olympus PEN E-P5's solid construction made the camera a bit heavier than many CSC models that I'd loosely group into the svelte class (Olympus's own PEN E-PL5 or the Sony Alpha NEX-5R, for example). My first day out with the PEN E-P5 was a good test of whether this would bother me, and it was also a good test case for what I think of as the whole value proposition of mirrorless cameras. I was taking a day trip with three friends to the Dia Art Foundation's truly fantastic conceptual art museum in Beacon, New York (known as Dia: Beacon). The trip involved a lot of traveling by foot and train; I wanted to have a good camera along but I wouldn't be photographing full time; and there would be a lot of varied and sometimes tricky shooting situations (the kind my iPhone wouldn't handle well). It was a perfect test of the concept of a very portable yet still very capable camera.
I spent about 12 hours carrying the Olympus PEN E-P5 continuously, more than half of it walking around the museum (located in a huge former box-printing factory) and around the town of Beacon itself. Even with the lens and viewfinder attached, I was never bothered by the camera's mass -- it was just light enough that it never made my shoulder sore. I could also tuck it away fairly easily in a slim shoulder bag (made for an iPad).
Controls. Olympus has a very good sense of what controls and features a dedicated photographer needs, and the PEN E-P5 shows it. The camera provides an excellent range of options for exposure and focus control, including all the features I personally covet. In the morning before my friends and I caught the train to Dia: Beacon I set the camera to activate autofocus with the movie record button instead of the shutter release. I also activated autoexposure bracketing and continuous high burst mode, then set the camera to record RAW+JPEG images simultaneously. Finally, I set the displays (both the EVF and the LCD) to show me shadow and highlight clipping warnings. The ISO setting is by default controlled by the function (Fn) button on the top of the Olympus PEN E-P5, and I left that as is for easy access.
Then, I saved my settings in a custom set (called a "Myset" in Olympus terminology) and assigned the Myset to one of the positions on the Olympus PEN E-P5's mode dial ("iAuto"), meaning I could instantly recall all those settings (and many others I'm not mentioning here to keep this review under book length) by simply turning the mode dial to "iAuto." As I walked around Dia: Beacon I made many quick grab shots with this base setup, using the Olympus PEN E-P5's very quick autofocus -- but focusing only when, and on what, I wanted to (because AF activation was not tied to the shutter release). And every time I shot, I got three different exposures in about 1/3 second, thanks to the exposure bracketing and the PEN E-P5's super fast 9+ frames-per-second burst speed. In the Andy Warhol room, for example, I spotted a bored spectator sitting on a couch listening to his iPod (I think Warhol himself might have approved!) and in less than half a second I was able to lift my camera and capture three exposures covering a 1.3-EV range before he noticed me and looked up. The +2/3 EV exposure turned out to be the best.
In other parts of the museum, where light was low, I turned on the Olympus PEN E-P5's 5-axis image stabilization, knowing I could get sharp pictures down to about 1/10 second. This worked well on a picture of one of Louise Bourgeois's startling spider sculptures, which sits in a somewhat dim room with bright daylight coming through windows in the background. I shot at ISO 200 to get maximum dynamic range in this high contrast scene. This forced my shutter speed down to 1/13 second but the handheld shot is still sharp. All these features and smart controls left me free to worry only about composition, light and the best moment to take the picture -- the technicalities of focus and exposure were easily covered by the Olympus PEN E-P5's very flexible, photographer-friendly control set up.
At Dia: Beacon I did notice that I had trouble finding the movie record button with my thumb by feel (important because, remember, I used it for focusing), and on four subsequent shooting days that problem never quite went away. I also found several of the buttons on the back of the Olympus PEN E-P5 to be a tad cramped -- the bane of small cameras -- but nothing that bothered me too much. I've complained mildly about the complex menu systems of previous PEN models that I've reviewed, and the Olympus PEN E-P5 suffers from some of the same drawbacks. But the upside to this complexity is that the PEN E-P5 (like other similarly complex Olympus Micro Four Thirds models) can be customized in a very wide variety of ways. And, when all else fails, you can activate the camera's Super Control Panel to eye key settings at a glance, and tap the screen to make adjustments as needed rather than diving deep into menus. To me, the customization and Super Control Panel makes it worth putting up with a menu system that occasionally makes my head hurt.
|Olympus EP5 - Indoor images at ISOs 200, 500 & 800|
|f/4.5, 1/13s, ISO 200|
|f/5.6, 1/30s, ISO 500|
|f/5.6, 1/50s, ISO 800|
Performance, focus peaking and live time. Because the Olympus PEN E-P5 sits right up at the top of the heap for Micro Four Thirds performance, and also because my camera came with the cool but somewhat non-standard M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/1.8 lens, I figured I'd put the PEN E-P5 through its paces with a lot of street shooting. (More on this in the lens section below.)
I headed out one afternoon in my neighborhood in New York City using essentially the same setup that I'd used at Dia: Beacon, and the Olympus PEN E-P5 continued to please me with its very responsive performance. The PEN E-P5 autofocused very quickly on everything I pointed it at, from moving pedestrians to restaurant patrons to parked Vespas. My only regret is that I couldn't effectively test the camera's continuous autofocus performance with the lens I had -- too wide-angle for any kind of meaningful challenge.
I also experienced very little shutter delay, and even though I was again shooting RAW+JPEG images simultaneously, with 3-shot bracketing on for every image, I never experienced a buffer slow down in normal street shooting. I shot a few series of burst images with the camera (also in RAW+JPEG mode), and was amazed how many the E-P5 fired off in rapid succession without stalling the buffer.
On another night I went to Washington Square Park to test the Live Bulb feature (explained upfront in the camera overview) on the Olympus PEN E-P5, mounting the camera on a tripod to shoot nighttime images of the park's famous arch and fountain. Once you figure out how to set the display refresh interval correctly, Live Bulb is as great as it sounds and would be especially useful on really long exposures of a minute or more.
While shooting the fountain shot, I used the new focus peaking feature on the Olympus PEN E-P5. I've used focus peaking before on Sony cameras, and it worked just as well on the PEN E-P5. It's great for manual focusing, and let me easily achieve precise focus despite the low light.
Just after shooting the fountain, I noticed a crowd of people making giant soap bubbles near the arch. This time I used autofocus to grab a quick shot of a delighted soap bubbler and the huge bubble she'd just conjured, and the Olympus PEN E-P5 had no trouble focusing instantly even in the very dim light.
|Long Exposure Time: f/7.1, 11.6s, ISO 200|
|Low Light Autofocus + High ISO: f/1.8, 1/40s, ISO 6400|
Lens and "zone" focusing. Part of the reason why I tried to do so much street shooting with the Olympus PEN E-P5 is that the lens I received with it -- the M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/1.8 -- should be especially good at it. First, its focal length is roughly equivalent to a 35mm lens on a full-frame camera, which is one of the two most popular street shooting focal lengths (50mm on full frame being the other). Second, it opens to a nice wide f/1.8 maximum aperture, making it good in low light (and incidentally also capable of modest shallow depth of field effects). Third, it has a clutch mechanism -- Olympus calls this "snap focus" and introduced it on the M.Zuiko 12mm f/2.0 lens -- that switches the lens into a manual focus operating mode that features a focus distance scale and hard stops at both ends of the focus range (i.e. the focus ring doesn't freewheel). This enables the classic "zone focusing" method beloved of the grizzled, beret-clad street photographers who've stalked the world's alleys and lanes, rues and stradas, plazas and parks ever since the first shiny Leica emerged from Oskar Barnack's workshop. (I can kid because I'm more or less a member of this tortured tribe. Minus the beret.)
To try out zone focusing, I took the Olympus E-P5 for yet another walk, this one through the East Village and then up the East River Promenade. I held the camera at my waist and simply set the lens to a pre-focused distance of about 10 feet. My f-stop was set for f/4.5, which would provide depth-of-field from about 6 ft. to 30 ft. -- easily enough to cover any errors in my distance estimate (this is the zone idea in "zone" focusing). When I got to a spot about 10 ft. away from a scene or human subject I liked, with everything pre-set, I simply lifted the camera up a few inches, using the tilting LCD for rough framing, and shot instantly, capturing a candid moment before my own presence changed it.
I spent the next couple of hours doing much the same thing for another 40 or 50 shots and found it to work quite well, giving me essentially instant response and no autofocus lag, with a high percentage of acceptably sharp pictures. Note that I say "acceptably sharp" -- the point of zone focusing is not to get perfect focus but instead to use depth-of-field to achieve reasonable sharpness while being able to shoot instantly. The fact that Olympus is using the M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/1.8 as a kit lens for the PEN E-P5 (at least in the U.S.) tells me that the company expects a lot of photographers to be interested in the camera for not only zone focusing but also street-type shooting in general.
The M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/1.8 also feels nicely built, and it's pleasingly compact and reasonably lightweight, although not as slim as a pancake lens. In my test shots, especially at Dia: Beacon with its plethora of straight lines and squared perspectives, I noticed some complex barrel distortion. This isn't a great architecture lens, but that's not what it's made for anyway. It also shows some substantial color fringing at wider apertures, although this is easier to correct. For general shots, I really like the way the lens looks when used wide open at f/1.8 -- it has a pleasing way of rendering out-of-focus backgrounds and highlights.
EVF and LCD. On my zone focusing outing, I shot the majority of my images using the Olympus PEN E-P5's tilting LCD for composing. The tilting capability is a huge benefit for general street and knockaround photography, making it easy to shoot quickly and unobtrusively. Nearly all of my street photography samples for this review were shot that way. I found the PEN E-P5's LCD to be sharp and easy to see in all but the most direct daylight. And in keeping with one of Olympus's claims, it also seems to be fairly resistant to fingerprints. It's a top-notch LCD.
My test camera also came with the Olympus VF-4 electronic viewfinder (detailed above), and this is a truly superb EVF -- the best I think I've ever seen. It gives a large, sharp view of your scene even in difficult light. It saved me on several occasions where the LCD, as good as it is, was hard to see -- including one late afternoon, into-the-sun shot of a Con Edison substation on East 14th St. (the same station, now repaired, that blew up during Hurricane Sandy) and also on the long time exposure of the fountain in dark Washington Square Park.
Image quality. The PEN E-P5 uses the excellent sensor introduced on the OM-D E-M5, so I was not surprised in any way by the excellent images this camera makes. My real-world test shots showed very good dynamic range, low noise even at higher ISOs, and rich color reproduction. The latter is, of course, greatly influenced by Olympus's very good processing for JPEG format images. Many of the differences that I did notice compared to my previous PEN reviews are all explained by the M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/1.8, which was a pleasant change from the kit zooms I've tested before.
Further below there's a set of image quality comparison shots which shows how the E-P5 stacks up against its competition. Overall, the camera fares very well, but we did notice one important aspect worth pointing out here. When placing the E-P5's JPEG still life lab images next to those from the OM-D E-M5 -- which features the same sensor -- we saw that the E-M5's shots were sharper, especially at low ISOs. However, at high ISOs, sharpening artifacts and noise reduction efforts became more pronounced on the E-M5.
These two factors led us to conclude that the E-M5 is set for more aggressive default sharpening and slightly different noise reduction than the E-P5. Interestingly, when comparing the RAW files, the lab images from both cameras were virtually identical -- sharp, rich and detailed. All this means is that if you want your E-P5 JPEGs to appear sharper, you'll have to play with the settings a bit to get the output you desire. (It could be that Olympus intended the E-P5's JPEGs to favor smoothness over detail.) In any case, as we saw from the RAWs, the same fine image detail the E-M5 produces is indeed present in the E-P5.
Art effects and tone control. Olympus provides an extensive array of so-called "art filters" with all of their Micro Four Thirds cameras, and, for what they are, they're fairly good ones. If you like to play with different processing treatments but don't want to delve into Photoshop, the Olympus PEN E-P5 has an unusually generous set to try.
The Olympus E-P5 is not equipped with in-camera HDR capability, however it does allow you to adjust tonal control. The simple (but not so simple to find) tone control setting allows you to maximize highlights or shadows before post processing. At 0 the setting is in "neutral" and makes no adjustments to the image. Adjusting to positive values brightens the highlights up to a maximum +7, while scrolling to negative values increases the shadow depth up to a maximum -7. You have to press the exposure value mode on the control dial and then hit the info button to access this feature. Not such a difficult thing to do, but it did take quite awhile to figure it out -- even after reading the manual -- as it was neither an obvious thing nor explained very clearly.
|Olympus E-P5 - Tone Control|
|f/7.1, 1/1000s, ISO 200 (tone control dial 0)|
|f/7.1, 1/1000s, ISO 200 (tone control dial +7 to boost highlights)|
|f/6.3, 1/1000s, ISO 200 (tone control dial to -7 to darken shadows)|
Wi-Fi. We noted above that the Olympus PEN E-P5 has a new simplified method for setting up a Wi-Fi connection between the camera and your smartphone or tablet. It worked seamlessly for me, as did Olympus Image Share, the accompanying app. (I tested the iOS version.)
The app's capabilities are fairly basic, but it's reasonably polished and worked well for transferring images to my iPhone and for remotely triggering the camera, although you can shoot only in iAuto mode, so you have no real control over the camera's settings. It's also easy to transfer a GPS log from your smartphone to the images on the camera's memory card.
Video. To test the Olympus PEN E-P5's movie mode, I took it one evening to Cooper Square, a busy hub of pedestrian traffic. It's a simple matter to record movies on the PEN E-P5 no matter what exposure mode you're in, and I had all the options for controlling exposure and focusing that I'd be likely to use. My test footage looks very sharp, and the PEN E-P5's image stabilization does a good job eliminating camera shake while recording.
|1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 30 frames per second, MOV
Download Original (28.6 MB)
|1,280 x 720
Time Lapse, 10 frames per second, AVI
Download Original (13.3 MB)
To try out the Olympus PEN E-P5's time lapse movie feature, I put the camera on a tripod and took a position on a street corner with a good view of Cooper Square. I set the time lapse to capture 99 frames (the maximum) at 1 frame-per-second, and the camera automatically shot the images and then combined them into a 10 fps time-lapse movie. It's fun, and saves a lot of post-processing time, but I'd like the option to take more than 99 frames.
Summary. The Olympus PEN E-P5 looks great, feels great to shoot with, and is extremely responsive. I also really appreciated its excellent range of features and control options for advanced photographers. It's a very flexible and capable picture-taking machine. If you don't require a built-in EVF and you're not looking for the very lightest CSC available, it's really hard to beat.
Olympus E-P5 Review -- Image Quality Comparison
Below are crops comparing the Olympus E-P5 with the Olympus E-P3, Olympus OM-D E-M5, Fuji X-E1, Panasonic GH3 and Samsung NX300.
NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction. All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses.
Olympus E-P5 versus Olympus E-P3 at base ISO
Olympus E-P5 at ISO 200
Olympus E-P3 at ISO 200
Olympus E-P5 versus Olympus OM-D E-M5 at base ISO
Olympus E-P5 at ISO 200
Olympus OM-D E-M5 at ISO 200
Olympus E-P5 versus Fuji X-E1 at base ISO
Olympus E-P5 at ISO 200
Fuji X-E1 at ISO 200
Olympus E-P5 versus Panasonic GH3 at base ISO
Olympus E-P5 at ISO 200
Panasonic GH3 at ISO 200
Olympus E-P5 versus Samsung NX300 at base ISO
Olympus E-P5 at ISO 200
Samsung NX300 at ISO 100
Most digital SLRs and CSCs will produce an excellent ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do compared to other cameras at ISO 1600, 3200, and 6400. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. We also choose 1600 because we like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.
Olympus E-P5 versus Olympus E-P3 at ISO 1600
Olympus E-P5 at ISO 1600
Olympus E-P3 at ISO 1600
Olympus E-P5 versus Olympus OM-D E-M5 at ISO 1600
Olympus E-P5 at ISO 1600
Olympus OM-D E-M5 at ISO 1600
Olympus E-P5 versus Fuji X-E1 at ISO 1600
Olympus E-P5 at ISO 1600
Fuji X-E1 at ISO 1600
Olympus E-P5 versus Panasonic GH3 at ISO 1600
Olympus E-P5 at ISO 1600
Panasonic GH3 at ISO 1600
Olympus E-P5 versus Samsung NX300 at ISO 1600
Olympus E-P5 at ISO 1600
Samsung NX300 at ISO 1600
These days, ISO 3200 is a very viable shooting option for most good cameras, so let's take a look at some comparisons there.
Olympus E-P5 versus Olympus E-P3 at ISO 3200
Olympus E-P5 at ISO 3200
Olympus E-P3 at ISO 3200
Olympus E-P5 versus Olympus OM-D E-M5 at ISO 3200
Olympus E-P5 at ISO 3200
Olympus OM-D E-M5 at ISO 3200
Olympus E-P5 versus Fuji X-E1 at ISO 3200
Olympus E-P5 at ISO 3200
Fuji X-E1 at ISO 3200
Olympus E-P5 versus Panasonic GH3 at ISO 3200
Olympus E-P5 versus Samsung NX300 at ISO 3200
Olympus E-P5 at ISO 3200
Samsung NX300 at ISO 3200
Detail: Olympus E-P5 versus Olympus E-P3, Olympus OM-D E-M5, Fuji X-E1, Panasonic GH3 and Samsung NX300.
Olympus E-P5 Review -- Print Quality Analysis
Terrific 24 x 36 inch prints at ISO 200/400; a nice 11 x 14 at ISO 3200; and a good 5 x 7 at ISO 12,800.
ISO 400 makes a great 24 x 36 as well, with wall display prints possible at 30 x 40 inches.
ISO 800 yields a nice 20 x 30 inch print. There is a bit of typical softening in some red areas as well as minor noise in shadowy areas, but still a nice print.
ISO 1600 produces a good 16 x 20, with similar issues as mentioned with the 20 x 30 at ISO 800.
ISO 3200 prints a good 11 x 14. 13 x 19s here are OK for less critical applications, but are somewhat more noisy in certain areas than what we like to call "good".
ISO 6400 produces a nice 8 x 10 for this ISO. It is beginning to lose contrast detail in our tricky red swatch, as most cameras do here, and has some apparent noise in shadowy areas, but still a solid print.
ISO 12,800 prints a good 5 x 7 for this ISO, with colors still popping very nicely.
ISO 26,000 almost makes a good 4 x 6. Some loss in color fidelity and a bit too much grain in some areas prevents us from calling it "good", but for certain situations you can still get a decent print here. Best however to stay at ISO 12,800 and below to be safe for printing.
The Olympus E-P5 stacks up nicely against top competitors in the image quality department, including matching strides with its highly touted cousin, the Olympus OM-D E-M5, across most of the ISO range. At low ISOs it makes wonderful prints at large sizes, and holds its own up to ISO 6400. After that, its smaller sensor starts to show its limitations when compared to some recent APS-C cameras. Bottom line: At ISO 6400 and below, the E-P5 packs quite a punch in image quality.
In the Box
The Olympus E-P5 retail kit package (as reviewed) contains the following items:
- Olympus E-P5 camera body (in black, silver or white)
- 17mm f/1.8 M.ZUIKO Digital lens
- VF-4 electronic viewfinder
- Rechargeable Li-ion battery BLN-1
- Battery charger BCN-1
- Lens cap LC-46
- Rear lens cap LR-2
- USB cable
- Shoulder strap
- Olympus Viewer 3 CD-ROM
- Large capacity SDHC/SDXC memory card. 16GB Class 6 should be a minimum.
- Spare battery BLN-1 for extended shooting sessions
- Electronic viewfinder VF-4 (if not purchased in a kit)
- External flash FL-600R or FL-50R
- Additional lenses
- Remote cable release RM-UC1
- MMF-3 adapter for Four Thirds lenses
- External microphone adapter set SEMA-1
- Medium camera bag
- Micro HDMI cable
Olympus E-P5 Review -- Conclusion
Don't let the PEN moniker fool you. The Olympus E-P5 not only outshines its PEN predecessor, the E-P3, but also in many ways outpaces its older, acclaimed cousin, the OM-D E-M5. Though the E-P5 and E-M5 boast a lot of the same advanced photographic capabilities -- thanks to their shared 16-megapixel Four Thirds Live MOS imager -- the new mirrorless model has quite a few new tricks up its sleeve.
For one, the PEN E-P5's build and design is decidedly different, and in fact we prefer its more streamlined shape, its robust mostly-metal construction and the feel of its numerous physical controls. Speaking of controls, the camera includes a two-dial (2x2) system plus a toggle lever and other buttons that combined give you increased direct access to some of the most important settings. We loved that you can change shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance and more without having to dive into menus, as well as that all of these controls are super customizable to suit your personal shooting preferences and styles.
We were also thrilled with the E-P5's significant performance improvements, including a 1/8000s top mechanical shutter speed -- one of the fastest, if not the fastest, we've ever seen on a mirrorless model. The camera's continuous burst shooting fired off almost 10 frames per second -- a huge step up over the E-P3 -- and we never hit the buffer limit in our real-world testing. The increased ISO range, now at 100 to 25,600, also proved valuable, providing more shooting flexibility, especially in low light. And the E-P5 delivers much better images than its predecessor at high ISOs, as well as many other mirrorless models.
Pitting the E-P5 side-by-side against the E-M5, we noticed some very interesting differences, even though we expected their image quality to be virtually identical. Their RAW images matched very closely, with a slight nod going to the E-M5 since it appears to have a slightly weaker low-pass filter and thus produces more detail. With JPEGs, the E-M5 proved to be sharper and produced more detailed images at lower ISOs, but demonstrated more sharpening artifacts at the upper reaches of sensitivity. Meanwhile, the E-P5's high ISO images were smoother than the E-M5's. But we're really pixel peeping here -- both cameras produce excellent photos with good dynamic range and color.
By no means is the E-P5 a perfect camera -- we're still waiting for one! For some, the lack of a built-in viewfinder makes the E-P5 a no-go, but its accessory VF-4 EVF is a very good one, and available in a kit with the M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 lens or for separate purchase. And while movie quality has improved with the help of sensor-shift I.S. and other tweaks, we were disappointed that Olympus didn't include additional frame rates, offering only 30 fps at 1080p and 720p. Additionally, we found the E-P5's built-in flash to be weaker than advertised, and its battery life below average. And, finally, we wish Olympus would simplify or streamline its user interface, as it's quirky and confusing with a sizable learning curve. (Though once you figure out the menu system and optimize it, you'll find it allows you a ton of control.)
Overall, when you consider its improved image quality, smart design and lightning-quick performance, the Olympus PEN E-P5 clearly marks a step up from the PEN E-P3. But when you add in some of its special bells and whistles, it's also a clear rival to the lauded OM-D E-M5, as well as other top mirrorless models and enthusiast-level DSLRs. We find that at this level, with such incredible capabilities, you really can't go wrong -- and your ultimate decision comes down to personal preferences. We think many of you will love the Olympus E-P5, and it earns a solid Dave's Pick.
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