Hands-On Review: The Olympus E-P5

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Did you ever look at a camera and say, “Wow, this thing can do everything!”? My first impression of the Olympus PEN E-P5 Mirrorless Digital Camera was a bit like that; there are so many functions and customizable options, I was concerned that I would get lost in the possibilities. However, as soon as I attached the lens and rattled off 9 frames per second with just a tap on the LCD, I was taken by this handsome and high-performance camera that follows in the footsteps of the previous PEN mirrorless digital cameras, including its predecessor, the E-P3 and its larger, weather-sealed stablemate, the OM-D E-M5. Really getting to know a camera, especially a fully loaded, customizable digital is a long-term project and I am glad I had the opportunity to test the E-P5 not only because it can do so many things, but because it can do them so well.

 

In terms of form, the camera looks and feels great. It is compact, as befitting its Micro Four Thirds format, but not so compact as to be difficult to handle. It is solid but not overly heavy—you can almost feel how well it is made simply by holding its aluminum-alloy chassis. I had many people ask me about the vintage rangefinder I was using, only to be wowed when I flipped up the LCD and told them it was a brand-new mirrorless camera.

An ergonomic rubber thumb grip on the rear plate really gives you a place to hold onto and lets your fingertip rest right on top of the shutter button. On the E-P3 there was no such thumb grip; instead, there was a vertical rolling control dial which has been replaced by a horizontal dial and made more accessible to the thumb. The E-P5 also has a two-position lever just below this dial that allows you to change what the control dials adjust. Called a 2 x 2 Dial Control, it’s a kind of quick customizer for the two main dials. If you are shooting manually and want to use the dials to control aperture and shutter speed, or in Program Auto and want to adjust ISO and White balance, you can customize to accommodate. A menu item allows you several combinations of customized settings, expediting you through a range of functions.

In general, the dials are smooth. They are easy to adjust with just your thumb, having no big clicks but clearly recognized detents. The buttons are nicely responsive and a four-way controller gives you quick access to important settings like continuous shooting rate, exposure compensation, and flash. Under the 2-way lever is a magnification button, which helps you find critical focus and zoom in on your image in playback. Navigating through the menu was intuitive and allowed me to get to image size, format, and ratio right away and explore the deeper features and art filters that the camera provides.

The 3.0-inch LCD monitor is bright and offers color-accurate playback and composition viewing. It tilts up 80° and down 50° but does not articulate to the side for complete range of motion. When composing with an LCD monitor I like to shoot at belly level and with the E-P5, the monitor extends straight back, not to the side, which was a bit uncomfortable when I kept it open. Also, not being able swing out, the LCD is limited when shooting vertically as you are not able to tilt it up or down for composing odd-angle shots. The hinged mechanism for the LCD’s movement has to flip up and out to get full extension; however, it stood up to my hard use, showed no sign of weakness, and is certainly an improvement over the E-P3, whose LCD did not move at all.

In terms of performance, this camera is top notch. Yes, it is a Micro Four Thirds with its relatively small sensor (17.3 x 13mm), but with 16.1 effective megapixels; fast focus, shutter, and burst speed; in-camera 5-axis Image Stabilization; and an ISO that ranges to 25600; there is very little it cannot do. When shooting in low light, the 5-way in-camera image stabilizer performed as advertised, producing sharp images at slow shutter speeds while correcting vertical and horizontal camera shifts in addition to pitch, yaw, and roll motion. Other IS modes are available to concentrate their effectiveness when panning and/or to apply IS to the image on the LCD and viewfinder. High-ranging ISO turned darkness into light, as I was able to shoot clear handheld images in even the darkest settings. Noise was not noticeable at all on the LCD screen until I got to ISO 1600 and then it was very mild. Of course, it increased as I went up the ladder, but it was never out of hand and the low-light capture that ISO 25600 can offer is really incredible

Speed was never a problem for this camera. Autofocus was quick and locked-on, rarely hunting for focus and, with two settings for continuous shooting, I could rattle off up to 4 fps at slow speeds or up to 9 fps in high-speed-continuous mode. Combining high-speed-continuous shooting with Tracking autofocus and Image Stabilization for Panning, I could capture some great shots of horses speeding by me at the Belmont Stakes. The E-P5 offers shutter speeds up to 1/8000 second for freezing action and it was very effective when I photographed children playing in a water fountain with drops of water suspended in mid-air and the faces of the kids caught in a playful scream or smile.

The LCD monitor on the E-P5 provides touch control of focus, shutter, menu, and playback options and I found the focus control to be particularly adept. The camera’s AF system has 35 separate focus areas spreading corner to corner throughout the image area and you can set the LCD monitor to display that grid pattern. With the grid pattern showing on the LCD, I could touch any square within the image area and focus would land there instantaneously. I tested this while shooting through a chain-link fence and was impressed with how fast and accurate the AF was, achieving focus on objects just through the fence, in the far distance and even right on the fence itself with just a quick tap on the monitor. Focus areas can also be arranged to suit your subject and can be larger 3 x 3 groupings or a small spot-focus point.

Seeing Focus Peaking on the E-P5 was a pleasant surprise and it is a significant upgrade. Focus peaking is a focus assist option not offered on the E-P3 and something I found very effective when using the LCD Live View. Magnified focus assist is also available and I found that more useful when shooting on a tripod with a stationary subject.

The built-in flash unit on the E-P5 was nice, its range is 23’ (GN7/ISO 100) and in TTL auto mode it gave adequate fill and performed well in back-lit situations. It has a simple button on the camera’s rear plate to spring it, and it opened like an attentive jack-in-the-box and closed with a solid click. It cannot be maneuvered to bounce its light from a ceiling, but it does offer commander mode to control off-camera flashes in 4 groups (3 off-camera) and with 4 channels. The shutter on the E-P5 can sync with the built-in flash up to a maximum speed of 1/320 second. A hot-shoe mount is provided for compatible flash units as well as viewfinders, mics, and other accessories.

Speaking of viewfinders, the model I had came with the VF-4, which slides into the hot shoe smoothly and can tilt up 90° for tripod use. For a person who generally does not like electronic viewfinders, this one was great. Image details and colors were accurate and it did not feel like staring into a tiny TV with one eye. Its lag time was minimal enough as to not really be noticed and adjustment information was quite visible. It has a very responsive auto eye sensor; the moment you put your eye to it, the LCD switches off and the EVF illuminates. One thing to keep in mind if you already own one, is that both the VF-2 and VF-3 electronic viewfinders are compatible with the E-P5.

Full HD 1080 video is supported by the E-P5 and while I’m not sure if this camera would be the first choice for someone shooting pro video, it certainly was impressive in the basic steps through which I put it. At one point during a dimly lit concert, I set it to auto-everything and held it high above the crowd. With a lot going against it—dim lighting punctuated by an errant spotlight blast, gyrating crowd, and loud music—the images (and stereo sound) captured by the E-P5 were very impressive. Also, its Micro HD port provided an easy connection to see the accurate focus and sharp resolution on an HDTV.

The E-P5 has built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, which was easy to set up and utilize. In fact, after a simple tap on the Wi-Fi icon on the LCD, I was offered a QR code to photograph and link with my iPhone. To utilize Wi-Fi functions, the Olympus OI. Share Smartphone app must be installed and, with this done, I could select and transfer images to my phone and also use the phone as a remote. The degree of functionality is basic, as all remote shooting is done in iAuto mode.

The camera I tested came with the M.ZUIKO Digital 17mm f/1.8 lens, which is a compact, all-metal lens that matched the aesthetic of the camera perfectly. Its fast f/1.8 maximum aperture provided opportunities for shallow-depth-of-field portraiture and, combined with the camera’s built-in stabilization and high ISO, made low-light shooting incredibly effective. As an MSC lens, (Movie and Still Compatible) its autofocus was truly silent when focusing. Manual focus is engaged, complete with distance scale, by pulling back a ring on the barrel. The lens's 35mm equivalent focal length is 34mm. The Micro Four Thirds format in general, and Olympus itself, offers a generous range of lenses and focal lengths.

In both stills mode and HD video, color was always spot-on, never overblown. In natural color mode I was impressed with the varying greens of a forest path on a cloudy day. When shooting with art filters, the soft focus, grainy black-and-white and miniature effect were favorites. As I mentioned at the beginning, this camera can do almost everything and I tried all of its capabilities, from interval shooting and bulb mode to multi-exposure, HDR bracketing and Photo Story, which puts together a customizable mini-photo essay. All worked as they should and made me realize how advanced—as embodied by the Olympus E-P5—a mirrorless camera can be and still take great photos.

Click on image at upper left to view slideshow.

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Camera TypeMicro Four Thirds interchangeable-lens system camera
MemorySD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS-I compatible & Eye-Fi Card compatible)
Screen Size17.3mm (H) x 13.0mm (V)
Lens MountMicro Four Thirds
Sensor4/3 Live MOS Sensor
Total Pixels17.2MP
Effective Pixels16.1MP
Aspect Ratio 4:3
Recording FormatDCF, DPOF compatible / Exif, PRINT Image Matching III, MPO compatible
File FormatRAW (12-bit lossless compression), JPEG, RAW+JPEG, MPO (3D still)
RAW Recording Image Size4608 x 3456 pixels
JPEG Recording Image Size4608 x 3456 pixels - 640 x 480 pixels
File SizeRAW: 4608 x3456 - 1/1.5 lossless compressed (17MB)
Set1(LF): 4608 x 3456 - 1/4 compressed (7.5MB)
Set2(LN): 4608 x 3456 - 1/8 compressed (3.5MB)
Set3(MN): 2560 x 1920 - 1/8 compressed (1.1MB)
Set4(SN): 10
Image Stabilization Type5-axis image stabilization (yaw/pitch/vertical shift/horizontal shift/roll) image sensor shift type for movie & stills
Image Stabilization Mode4 modes (S-I.S.AUTO, S-I.S.1, S-I.S.2, S-I.S.3, OFF)
IS for Live View ImageAvailable by half-pressing the shutter button or enlarging operation
Manual Input Focal Length Settings8, 10, 12, 15, 16, 18, 24, 28, 30, 35, 40, 48, 50, 55, 65, 70, 75, 80, 85, 90, 100, 105, 120, 135, 150, 180, 200, 210, 250, 300, 350, 400, 500, 600, 800, 1000 
Shutter TypeComputerized focal-plane shutter
Shutter Speed60 - 1/8000 sec.
Live View100% field of view, Exposure compensation, WB adjustment Gradation auto and Face detection preview (up to 8 faces), Grid line, Histogram, Magnification display (x5/x7/x10/x14)
Display ModesNormal, Histogram, Highlight and Shadow, Level Guide, OFF
Monitor Type3" (7.6cm) 1037K dots (3:2) with electrostatic capacitance touch panel
Tilting AngleUp to 80° (upward) / Up to 50° (downward)
Brightness / Color Temperature Control±7 levels / ±7 levels
Color Tone SelectVivid / Natural
AF SystemHigh-speed imager AF (full-time AF available)
Focus ModeSingle AF (S-AF) / Continuous AF (C-AF) / Manual Focus (MF) / S-AF + MF / AF tracking (C-AF + TR)
Magnified Frame AFSelectable from over 800 AF points
Magnification x5, x7, x10 (default), x14 (selectable)
Super Spot AF (0.02 - 0.16% in view image)
Eye Detection AF ModeOFF / Nearer-eye priority / Right-eye priority / Left-eye priority
Focusing Point35-area multiple AF
Metering System (TTL Image Sensor Metering)Digital ESP metering (324-area multi pattern metering), Center weighted average metering, Spot metering, Spot metering with highlight control, Spot metering with shadow control
Metering RangeEV 0 - 20 (at normal temperature, 17mm f/2.8, ISO 100)
Exposure Modesi Auto, P: Program AE (program shift can be performed), A: Aperture priority AE, S: Shutter priority AE, M: Manual, Bulb, Time, Scene Select  AE, Art Filter, Underwater Wide / Macro, My Set
Scene Select AEPortrait, e-Portrait, Landscape, Landscape + Portrait, Sport, Night, Night + Portrait, Children, High Key, Low Key, DIS mode, Macro, Nature Macro, Candle, Sunset, Documents, Panorama, Fireworks, Beach & Snow, Fisheye Conv., Wide Conv., Macro Conv.
ISO SensitivityAUTO ISO: 100 - 25600 (customizable, default: 100 - 1600)
Manual ISO: 100, 200 - 25600, 1/3 or 1 EV steps selectable
Exposure Compensation±3 EV in 1/3, 1/2, 1 EV steps selectable
AE LockLocks at 1st release of shutter button (can be set to Fn/Rec button)
Flash MethodTTL Auto, Auto, Manual, Super FP1 (FP-TTL AUTO, FP-MANUAL)
Flash ControlUp to ±3 EV in 0.3, 0.5, 1 EV steps selectable
Built-in FlashTTL Flash, GN=7 (ISO 100) / GN=10 (ISO 200)
Flash ModesFlash Auto, Redeye, Fill-in, Flash Off, Red-eye Slow sync.(1st curtain), Slow sync.(1st curtain), Slow sync.(2nd curtain), Manual (1/1 - 1/64)
Sync Speed1/320 sec. (built-in flash)
1/250 sec. (external flash)
Super FP: 1/125 - 1/4000 sec.
Wireless Flash ControlTriggered and controlled by built-in flash (Olympus Wireless RC Flash system compatible)
External Flash TypeTTL Auto, Auto, Manual, FP-TTL-AUTO, FP-MANUAL
Wireless Flash Control Channels4
Group Number4 groups (external flash 3 groups + built-in flash)
Sequential Shooting Max. Speed9 fps (H mode), 4.5 - 5 fps (L mode)
Max. Recordable Images on Sequential ShootingRAW: 20 frames (L), 15 frames (H) / JPEG: 70 frames (L), 19 frames (H)
Self-Timer12 sec., 2 sec., custom 1-30 sec. (shooting interval 0.5/1/2/3 sec., 1-10 shots)
Exposure Bracketing2, 3, 5 frames in 0.3, 0.7, 1.0 EV steps selectable / 7 frames in 0.3, 0.7 EV steps selectable
ISO Bracketing3 frames in 0.3, 0.7, 1.0 EV steps selectable 
White Balance Bracketing3 frames in 2, 4, 6 steps selectable in each A-B/G-M axis
Flash Bracketing3 frames in 0.3, 0.7, 1.0 EV steps selectable 
Art Filter Bracketingi-Enhance, Vivid, Natural, Muted, Portrait, Monotone, Custom, Art Filters selectable
Bracketing for HDR post process3, 5 frames in 2.0, 3.0 EV steps selectable / 7 frames in 2.0 EV steps selectable
Movie Recording FormatMOV (MPEG-4AVC/H.264) , AVI (Motion JPEG)
Movie Mode (MOV)Full HD 1920 x 1080/30p at 20 or 17 Mbps (16:9); HD 1280 x 720/30p at 13 or 10 Mbps (16:9)
Movie Mode (AVI)HD 1280 x 720 at 30 fps (16:9); SD 640 x 480 at 30 fps (4:3)
Max. Recording Time (MOV)Full HD: 22 - 29 min. / HD: 29 min.
Max. Recording Time (AVI)HD: 7 min. / SD: 14 min.
Image Stabilization (Movie Mode)M-IS (image sensor shift), OFF
Exposure Control (Movie Mode)P: Program AE, A: Aperture priority AE, S: Shutter speed priority AE, M: Manual, Art Filter
Compression RatioM-JPEG: 1/12 (HD), 1/8 (SD)
File SizeMOV: 4GB max / M-JPEG: 2GB max
Audio Recording FormatWAV (stereo linear PCM/16-bit, 48kHz)
Microphone / SpeakerStereo / Mono
Max. Audio Recording TimePicture with Sound: 30 sec.
White Balance ModesAuto, 7 Preset, 2 Capture, Custom (K setting)
White Balance Compensation±7 steps in each A-B/G-M axis
Preset White BalanceSunny (5300K), Shadow (7500K), Cloudy (6000K), Incandescent (3000K), Fluorescent (4000K), Underwater, WB Flash (5500K)
Color MatrixsRGB, Adobe RGB
Time-Lapse1 sec. - 24 hr (99 frames max)
Multi-Exposure2 frames / auto gain, exposing on recorded picture (RAW)
Multi-Aspect Ratio4:3 (default), 3:2, 16:9, 1:1, 3:4
Level Gauge Detection2-axis
One Push Tele-Converter Magnificationx2
Wi-FiYes
GPSAvailable by using smartphone GPS data
Wireless ShootingLive View, Rec View, Wireless Touch AF shutter, Power OFF
Image SharingJPEG/MOV (connect up to 4 devices simultaneously)
QR Code SettingYes
Playback ModesSingle-frame, Information display, Index display (4/9/25/100 frames), Calendar, Enlargement (2x - 14x), Movie (with sound, FF/REW/Pause), Picture rotation (auto), Slideshow (with sound including BGM, 2 selectable slide show effects, replaceable BGM), Light Box display
Information DisplayHistogram (independent luminance / RGB available), Highlight/Shadow point warning, AF frame, Photographic information, OFF
Menu LanguagesEnglish, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Russian, Czech, Dutch, Danish, Polish, Portuguese, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Croat, Slovenian, Hungarian, Greek, Slovakian, Turkish, Latvian, Estonian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Rumanian, Indonesian, Malay, Thai
Print FunctionPrint reservation (DPOF), Direct print (PictBridge compatible)
InterfacesUSB 2.0, Micro-HDMI (Type-D), Hot Shoe, Accessory Port (multi-connector), Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n)
Battery TypeBLN Li-Ion (included)
Sleep Mode1/3/5 min.
Battery Life330 shots (CIPA)
Operating Temperature / Humidity32 to 104°F (0 to 40°C) / 30 - 90%
Storage Temperature / Humidity -4 to 140°F (-20 to 60°C) / 10 - 90%
Dimensions (WxHxD)4.81 x 2.71 x 1.46" (122 x 69 x 37mm)
Weight (Body Only)13.3 oz (378 g)
Weight with Battery & Memory Card14.8 oz (420 g)

 

1 Comment

What a beautiful camera -- I really like the seamless design Olympus has employed here. For me, these cameras from Olympus in particular represent an evolution in photography, particularly since they're the only mirrorless cameras with a sensor this big that feature sensor-based image stabilization. And although Mr. Harris seems biased against electronic viewfinders, these latest EVFs from Olympus make them pretty easy to get used to, especially when you realize how good they are and that you can see things such as exposure adjustments and art filters BEFORE you take the photo.

The E-P5 has some features (including a few that my older E-P2 shares) that I wish my E-M5 had, like the four-way quick access buttons on the back, 1/8000th sec. professional-grade max shutter speed, and wireless connectivity and remote control. On the other hand, the E-M5 has a few useful features the E-P5 does not, especially weather sealing, a hotshoe that's not occupied by its viewfinder, and an optional grip that in my opinion greatly improves handling and offers a second battery, which can often make or break you at a gig any day.

So I can see advantages to either of these latest Olympus Micro 4/3 cameras, depending on what your needs are. For an available-light photographer who appreciates classic feel and quality, rarely uses flash except for fill, and won't be shooting out in the rain (as most normal people won't be), the E-P5 looks to be a very powerful camera indeed. Truth is I'd have one in black on order already if I didn't already have my E-M5!