Olympus E-P5 Review - The E-P5 is the manufacturer's first CSC of 2013. Find out if it's a worthy contender in the What Digital Camera Olympus E-P5 review
The flagship model in the PEN range, the E-P5 not only faces some stiff competition from a growing number of new rivals that have emerged scene since 2009, it also in some respects has to make a case for itself against the rather excellent Olympus OM-D, which has stole much of the limelight from the PEN range since its launch last year.
Is this heavily refreshed model put the PEN back on the map?
Olympus PEN E-P5 Review – Features
The Olympus E-P5 borrows quite a few of the key features from the OM-D, starting with the same 16.1MP Micro Four Thirds Live MOS sensor and the TruePic VI processing engine, providing the E-P5 with an ISO range from 200-25,600, but now with a new ‘LOW’ mode that’s equivalent to ISO 100 should you want to greater control over the exposure.
Olympus claims the E-P5 to be the first CSC to achieve a 1/8000 sec shutter speed through a mechanical shutter, as opposed to an electronic alternative. Not only that, but the E-P5 also boasts a flash sync speed of 1/320 sec with the internal flash, dropping to 1/250sec when an external flash is attached.
The rear screen, rather than sitting flush with the body like it did with the E-P3, the new 3in screen at the rear of the E-P5 is now articulated, tilting down 50 degrees and up 80 for a range of shooting angles. While at first glance the screen appears to have been borrowed from the OM-D, it is based on LCD rather and OLED technology, with a resolution of 1.04m-dots compared to the 610k-dot resolution in the OM-D.
There’s also capacitive touchscreen functionality, allowing for a host of controls to be performed via the display – more on that later.
Unlike a host of premium CSCs, the E-P5 omits an electronic viewfinder, which could be a deal breaker for some. Via the E-P5’s Accessory Port 2 an optional EVF can be attached, and alongside the announcement of the E-P5, Olympus announced a new VF-4 EVF, priced at £249.
As with the previous VF-2 finder it boasts a free-angle design, which allows the eye-piece to be rotated upwards, although its resolution is significantly higher at 2.36million dots (compared with the VF-2’s 1.15million dots). Not only that, but with a 1.48x (0.74x in 35mm-equivalent terms), it is said to be more generous than the viewfinders on all other CSCs and APS-C DSLRs currently available.
Using Olympus’ FAST (Frequency Acceleration Sensor Technology) 35-area AF system, the E-P5 promises comparable AF speeds of that of any DSLR, while the new Super Spot AF option allows the focus point to be minimised by up to 14x for pin-point precision when required.
The E-P5 utilises the clever 5-axis image stabilisation anti-shake system found in the OM-D, designed to counter for pitch, yaw, vertical and horizontal motion. On top of this, it can also compensate for rolling movements as well, which can occur when the shutter button is pressed.
There’s also a Lens IS Priority mode that we first saw on the E-PL5, which will be off interest for those using any Panasonic image stabilised lenses on the E-P5, allowing you to give priority to whether you use the lens or camera’s IS system.
The Olympus E-P5 is the first Olympus CSC to sport built-in Wi-fi – a feature previously only available through Toshiba FlashAir Wi-Fi and Eye-Fi cards. This allows for the wireless transmission of images to other Wi-fi-enabled devices and the internet, and through a dedicated app it’s also possible to use a smartphone or tablet for remote shooting.
Olympus PEN E-P5 Review – Design
The Olympus E-P5 shares the same design ethos as previous modern-day PEN cameras, but with a more noticeable nod to the original PEN F 35mm half-frame SLR. The E-P5 does away with the modern day Olympus logo on the front and instead proudly displaying a virtually identical ‘Olympus PEN’ inscription to that of the PEN F.
It adds to the charm of what’s a very nice looking camera (I favour the two-tone silver and black combo, but both black and white models look the part too), with a definite premium look to it. The finish is also excellent as well, with the shell crafted from aluminium alloy, while the control dials and shutter button are milled from metal to underline that quality feel.
The dimensions are virtually identical to Olympus E-P3, if a touch chunkier thanks to the new articulated screen, while it only weighs 5g less than the OM-D, giving you a little idea of just how well the E-P5 has been put together. There’s a welcome rubberised thumb rest at the rear, while the grip at the front is now integral to the body, rather than removable like the E-P3’s.
While it shares some of the design principals of the E-P3, the Olympus E-P5’s control layout has come in for quite an overhaul. There’s now a control dial positioned on the front of the camera, underneath the shutter button, while at the rear, gone is the thumb scroll dial (which was always easily knocked) and scroll dial round the 4-way control.
This has been replaced by not only a second control dial, but also a two position lever around the movie record button. This allows you to quickly change the function of both control dials to an alternate two – by default its set to composure comp and aperture or shutter speed control to white balance and ISO, but this can be tailored to your preference within the E-P5’s menu.
Olympus PEN E-P5 Review – Performance
Whereas the previous generation of E-P series cameras could be a bit clunky to use, the Olympus E-P5 is much more polished in part thanks to the dual controls dials and lever switch. The addition of these controls sees the E-P5 incredibly quick to shoot with, with access to 4 core settings just a finger flick away while the positive clicks as the dials rotate adds to a satisfying user experience.
The E-P5’s AF system doesn’t disappoint, with it living up to the ‘FAST’ name – in Single AF, focusing is fast and precise, very rarely bouncing back and forth slightly before focus is confirmed.
Continuous AF is pretty sound, with AF Tracking kicking in a following your subject. It does struggle in a lot of instances to maintain focus if your subject is moving at a reasonable pace, but its one of the better CSC performers in this department.
The touchscreen at the rear of the Olympus E-P5 is pleasingly sensitive in operation, with light touches required to adjust settings, though as we’ve seen on other Olympus CSCs there’s not quite the same comprehensive set of controls as with some rivals.
You can however set focus (including using the new precision Super Spot AF mode), fire the shutter and flick through images with the aid of the touchscreen amongst other things, while the polished controls of the E-P5 means there’s actually little need to use the touchscreen.
When using the screen for composition and reviewing images, the 3in display delivers a wide viewing angle and a pleasing amount of clarity and contrast, though as with all screens, you’ll struggle to see it in bright sunlight and to really appreciate using the E-P5, we’d have to say that either the VF-2 or VF-4 is an essential purchase.
We used it in tandem with the VF-4, and we have to say that the quality is excellent – a large, bright viewfinder with and excellent response time, while the automatic eye-sensor reacts quickly when the E-P5 is raised to your eye.
The clever 5-axis image stabilisation system works a treat, giving you real confidence to shoot at relatively low shutter speeds and still achieve sharp shots should you need too, while those using Panasonic lenses with Power or Mega O.I.S. Will welcome the ability to decide which IS system you’d prefer to use.
One thing we will say is that the E-P5’s IS does emit a low-frequency hum when active – nothing so loud as to disturb subjects with, but you will hear it when the camera is raised to your eye.
The 9fps burst mode is excellent, while it’s also capable of sustaining this for 18 Raw files before the buffer slows up, while JPEGs are a little better at 28 frames.
Olympus PEN E-P5 Review – Image Quality
Colour and white balance
There’s not complaints about the quality of colour delivered by the Olympus E-P5, with pleasingly but not overly saturated colours, which only loses a little bite at the high sensitivity settings. The Auto White Balance behaves very well, delivering accurate results under a range of lighting conditions, while there’s a decent choice of presets also.
The Olympus E-P5’s 324-zone metering system is incredibly accurate, doing an excellent job to record the scene correctly, even when shooting in backlit scenes. If there is occasion where you do have to adjust exposure to compensate for the metering, the dual control dials and lever make this a quick process. As well as the 324-zone Mulit-zone (ESP) metering system, there’s also the choice of Centre-weighted, Spot, Spot Highlight and Spot Shadow metering modes.
The 16MP Micro Four Thirds chip will see large A3 prints possible at 240ppi without the need to interpolate the file beforehand, while the amount of detail rendered is strong, resolving down to just over 24lpmm (lines per mm) on our resolution test chart at ISO 200. While good, it’s a little way behind rivals like the Fujifilm X-E1, which performs a touch better at the same sensitivity, resolving down to 31lpmm.
To get the best out of the sensor, we’d suggest investing in a nice prime or two as while the bundled 14-42mm lens is adequate for generally shooting, it could be sharper.
Results from the E-P5 at low ISOs display little if any noise at all in our diorama shots, with noise only becoming noticeable close-up above ISO 1600. While sharpness does suffer at ISO 6400 in JPEG files, with a hint of in-camera noise processing suggested by the slightly waxy look to certain elements of fine detail, noise is kept very well under control considering the sensitivity.
Even ISO 12,800 is not bad, though the muddy look to images and loss of detail at ISO 25,600 mean it should be used as a last resort.
Olympus E-P5 review – Verdict
We love the beautiful premium finish and styling Olympus E-P5, while the overhauled controls make it a much more satisfying experience to shoot with over previous models. Then there’s the image quality – while it can’t quite compete for out-and-out detail with its APS-C rivals, results are still impressive and shouldn’t disappoint.
That said, the body-only price is currently about £100 more than that of the OM-D (not to mention rivals like the Fujifilm X-E1 and Sony NEX-7), which has the luxury of a built-in EVF. While you may not be that fussed about an EVF and prefer the slightly more compact proportions of the E-P5, that’s still a hefty premium to pay.
There’s no question that the E-P5 is a lovely camera and the best PEN model we’ve seen to date, but we’d plump for the OM-D and the money saved we put towards one of the wonderful Olympus primes available.
Sample Image Gallery
These are just a small selection of sample images captured with the Olympus E-P5. For a full selection, head on over to the Olympus E-P5 review sample image gallery.
The Olympus E-P5 serves as a direct replacement for the two-year-old E-P3 model, and combines the same 16.1MP sensor and TruePic VI processing engine as the flagship OM-D E-M5 model. It also benefits from that camera’s sensor-based 5-axis Image Stabilization system to help maintain sharpness in images.
The Olympus E-P5 is the first Olympus CSC to sport built-in Wi-fi – a feature previously only available through Toshiba FlashAir Wi-Fi and Eye-Fi cards. This allows for the wireless transmission of images to other Wi-fi-enabled devices and the internet, and through a dedicated app it’s also possible to use a smartphone or tablet for remote shooting, a feature which has already been seen on other CSCs such as those within Samsung’s NX series.
Furthermore, in lieu of a GPS system inside the camera itself, the app can record a GPS log and subsequently add this to images for the purpose of geotagging. Olympus has stated it will provide a version of the app for both the iOS and Android platforms.
The company also claims the Olympus E-P5 to be the first Compact System Camera to achieve a 1/8000sec shutter speed through a mechanical shutter, as opposed to the electronic alternative used in models such as Nikon’s V2. The model also boasts a high sync speed of 1/320 for the internal flash, which drops to 1/250sec when an external flash is used.
The Olympus E-P5’s previously seen FAST AF system debuts a new Super Spot AF option, which allows the focus point to be minimised by up to 14x times, resulting in it covering just 1/70th of the screen’s diagonal. This makes it potentially very useful in situations when a larger focusing area may miss a particularly small subject.
Focusing can also be performed through the camera’s 3in capacitive touchscreen display, which at first glance also appears to be borrowed from the OM-D E-M5. It is, however, based on LCD rather than OLED technology, and has a resolution of 1.04million dots next to the OM-D E-M5‘s 610k dots.
Aside from its functionality, Olympus is keen to emphasise how the E-P5 has been developed with design and operation in mind. With a styling heavily influenced by the Pen F film camera, the all-metal body boasts front and rear command dials, the functions of which can be changed at the flick of a lever on the rear. There’s also a defined grip around the front and a rubbered thumb rest around the back, with further grip options available should you wish to customise the camera.
Announced alongside the Olympus E-P5 is a new VF-4 electronic viewfinder. As with the previous VF-2 finder it boasts a free-angle design, which allows the eye-piece to be rotated upwards, although its resolution is significantly higher at 2.36million dots (compared with the VF-2’s 1.15million dots).
Its lag time is said to be as short as 0.032 seconds – which potentially makes it suitable for action photography – and Olympus also claims that it only takes 0.4 seconds for the camera to alternate between the viewfinder and camera’s rear display, thanks to its sensitive built-in sensor.
The viewfinder’s other draw is its 1.48x magnification (0.74x in 35mm-equivalent terms), which is said to be more generous than the viewfinders on all other CSCs and APS-C DSLRs. Olympus is also said to have paid attention to its optical design to ensure images remain free from distortion.
We managed to get our hands on a pre-production sample of the Olympus E-P5 to gain a better understanding of its operation and performance. Although the full production samples are likely to have minor revisions to optimise image quality and performance, it was still possible to get a good idea of what the camera looks set to deliver.
The first thing you notice about the Olympus E-P5 is its size; possibly thanks to the articulation of the rear display it’s a little on the bulky side, which may not please everyone. Comparing specifications shows it to be just a few millimeters thicker than the E-P3 it replaces, which doesn’t sound like much, but is nevertheless noticeable on such a relatively small camera. Of course, some may prefer its size next to smaller CSCs, given the impact this has on its handling.
Indeed, general handling and operation are positive. It’s great to have a dedicated thumb rest, which means the thumb doesn’t need to rest on either the side of the display or over any buttons as on other CSCs, and with it being rubbered and curved to the edge it’s easy to hold the camera securely. The dials move freely and are large enough to get a decent grip, both of which make light work of changing exposure parameters.
The Olympus E-P5’s FAST AF focusing system appears to live up to its name, with only a slight bounce back and forth before focus is confirmed. Our brief time with the camera didn’t allow us to test it fully in a variety of conditions, or with different lenses, and naturally focus times will vary with both, but in both fine and moderately-lit conditons its speed is unlikely to disappoint. Given that the camera’s firmware is not yet final there’s every possibility this will be even more prompt on full production samples.
The camera’s rear display also appears to be pleasingly sensitive when set to focus by touch, needing only a gentle press to kick it into action. The display’s clarity and contrast appear to be similar the OLED panel on the OM-D E-M5, with an equally wide viewing angle too. Indeed, it’s easy to assume both are the same, despite being based on different technology.
Overall we’re impressed with what the Olympus E-P5 has to offer, particularly with regards to its focusing system and rear display. Although a UK RRP is yet to to be announced, it looks likely to be a more affordable alternative to the company’s OM-D E-M5, while still offering that camera’s key desirable attributes. We’ll have a full review of the camera as soon as full production samples become available.