Olympus Pen E-PL5 Review

Olympus Pen E-PL5 Review

The Olympus Pen “Lite” E-PL5, which was introduced in 2012, inherits a key feature: from the top model OM-D E-M5: the acclaimed CMOS image sensor with a resolution of 16.1 megapixels. This was to take image quality to a new level. But the camera’s speed has also been improved, with Fast AF and a continuous frame rate of eight frames per second. Otherwise she seems to resemble her predecessor like an egg to the other. We have tested the E-PL5 intensively to find out whether good things have been preserved and other features have been improved.

Brief assessment

Pros

  • Very good image quality up to ISO 1,600, good up to high ISO 3,200
  • Fast autofocus
  • Very good video mode with manual exposure and fast focus tracking
  • Screw-on handle for more grip
  • Clever swivel mechanism of the screen with self-portrait

Cons

  • 16:9 display on a 4:3 camera shows a relatively small image
  • Sloppy program selector wheel adjusts easily
  • Flash must be attached first and blocks the accessory shoe for other accessories

 

Ergonomics and Workmanship

The housing of the small mirrorless system camera is perfectly processed and looks very high quality thanks to the metal shells. The actually well-done design is somewhat disturbed by the screen, which somehow looks artificial. The photographer can decide whether he prefers a tidy front of the housing or a handy one, because the handle can be screwed on and off. There is also the possibility of using handles in different colours to give the design a little extra style and individuality or to further enhance the ergonomics with larger handles. On the back, a rubberized thumb cavity offers sufficient counter support. Hidden behind a small plastic cap secured to the housing with rubber struts is a USB-AV combination interface to which a cable remote release can also be connected, as well as a standard mini-HDMI socket to play back the camera’s pictures and videos directly on an HD TV. The metal tripod thread on the bottom of the camera is a little unfavourably placed, as it is not in the optical axis and blocks the flap to the battery and memory card compartment, provided that the camera is equipped with a quick-release plate or mounted on a tripod. The lithium-ion battery is sufficient for a decent 360 pictures according to the CIPA standard measuring procedure, an AC adapter can be connected via battery dummy. The SD card slot is also compatible with SDHC and SDXC, so using very large memory cards is no problem.

The folding mechanism of the rear screen is both smart and robust. It can be folded down almost 90 degrees, which makes overhead photography much easier. However, you can just as well pan it upwards to use the camera in front of your stomach or on the ground for unusual perspectives without having to lie down in the dirt. The special highlight is the Z-joint, which allows the display to be folded forward – making self-portraits much more easy. The screen itself is in 16:9 format and has a resolution of 460,000 pixels – with a diagonal of three inches this is sufficient. However, since the camera sensor has a native aspect ratio of 4:3, wide black borders remain on the display, which are used for parameter displays but not for the live image. This makes the viewfinder image appear unnecessarily small. The display protection screen is slightly anti-reflective, but bright highlights may overlay the viewfinder image. The display is bright enough for normal ambient light, but on the beach or on the ski slope, the brightness reaches its limits and you can only guess your subject. The screen has a little extra: it is touch-sensitive. But the touch function plays a rather minor role, as the menus and camera settings cannot be operated via it. However, focusing and triggering with a fingertip is possible as well as scrolling and zooming in the playback view.

It is clever if you buy an electronic viewfinder as an accessory, because it not only offers a higher resolution but also independence from ambient light. But the system hot shoe with the additional contacts underneath can do even more, for example a stereo microphone adapter can be connected here or a wireless transmission module. The supplied miniflash also makes use of the data interface because it is powered by the camera, among other things. The small speed camera sits somewhat far away from the optical axis, but blocks the accessory shoe. A built-in flash would be more practical and cannot be lost. After all, the supplied flash is capable of wirelessly controlling external system flashes on four channels and in four groups.

The small Pen isn’t overloaded with controls, but is sufficiently equipped. These include a program dial that is a little too easy to operate, allowing the photographer to quickly switch between auto, scene mode, art filters and classic P/A/S/M shooting modes. On the backside you can find the usual four-webbed-rocker, which is surrounded by a slewing ring. This is much too small and does not have a good grip. It is advisable to turn it carefully with your fingernail, because pressing it too forcefully operates the four-weigher and only with the fingertip you can easily slip off. Despite the few buttons, the operation is easy to handle, because the functions have been cleverly distributed among the controls. In addition, the OK button can be used to call up a quick menu in which all relevant recording parameters can be set. The menu, however, is typical for Olympus and needs getting used to, whereby the extensive expert settings have to be activated first. Here, the camera can be individualized in the smallest detail, even a calibration of the different exposure metering methods is possible, if the camera tends to expose too bright or dark and one wants to save the normal exposure correction for other purposes.

Equipment

By default, the Olympus Pen E-PL3 is a camera that shoots photos quickly at the touch of a button without requiring a lot of adjustment. The intelligent automatic system detects the subject, faces, etc. and adjusts the camera accordingly. In addition, the autofocus is very fast, with less than 0.3 seconds it is one of the fastest ever. Entry level DSLRs with standard zoom easily outperform them. Above all, the pen scores points with its creative adjustment options. Numerous recording filters can be applied directly. In the same way, the photographer can also develop his creativity with the camera settings such as aperture, exposure time and ISO sensitivity. A special highlight is the Live Bulb function, which Olympus introduced with the OM-D E-M5. During the long exposure, the Pen shows live on the screen how the image develops. So you can stop the exposure exactly when the picture appears bright enough or you are finished with a light painting for example.

The video function of the “Lite” Pen has a lot to offer. There is the built-in stereo microphone, which records the sound in decent quality, but can also be replaced by an external microphone connected to an adapter. The E-PL5 tracks the autofocus in a targeted and rapid manner without jerking or pumping. The same applies to the exposure, which is normally determined automatically. While the image stabilizer integrated in the housing compensates for camera shake by means of sensor movements when taking photos, an electronic stabilizer is used for video recordings. Thanks to the video recording button, which is within reach of the thumb but has been positioned so that it can hardly be accidentally operated, the camera is always ready to record. If you wish, you can also control the exposure manually. For smooth zooms, however, the kit zoom 14-42 mm 1:3.5-5.6 II R is less recommended, as you can’t turn the manual zoom ring smoothly enough, but rather a power zoom, which Olympus also has in its program. The Art Filters are also available during video recording, but depending on the filter, the frame rate drops significantly, which is close to a stop-motion effect. If you turn the program dial to video mode, you benefit from the 16:9 screen, which is finally used in full width for the live image. HD and Full HD movies (720p and 1080p respectively) are recorded on the memory card as H.264 compressed Quicktime Movie. If you want to fall back on the traditional Motion-JPEG in AVI format, you can do so in HD (720p) and VGA (640×480) resolutions. The frame rate is always 30 frames per second.

While there are numerous art filters available during recording, there are significantly fewer when editing JPEG in playback mode. A black-and-white and sepia mode, exposure correction and an e-portrait function are available. You can also crop images or change the aspect ratio. Raw images that the pen can take instead of or in addition to a JPEG can be developed directly in the camera to a JPEG photo. Instead of using the current camera settings, the user can also use user-defined settings to control, for example, JPEG quality, color space, aspect ratio, etc. In addition, RAW images can be subsequently overlaid using multiple exposure.

Picture Quality

The new 16 megapixel CMOS image sensor already convinced us in the OM-D. Now it is also used in the Pen Series, which promises excellent image quality even in the entry-level class. Together with the set lens 14-42 mm 1:3.5-5.6 II R we measured the E-PL5 with the help of the testing software.

The ISO sensitivity range of the E-PL5 starts at ISO 200 and goes up to high ISO 25,600. The signal-to-noise ratio at ISO 200 is impressive at well over 40 dB, and even at ISO 400 this value is not yet undershot in the luminance channel. The signal-to-noise ratio decreases continuously to just below the critical limit of 35 dB at ISO 3,200. This is also the limit up to which the luminance noise is well suppressed. But above ISO 3.200 it shoots up and the images are overlaid by a well visible brightness noise. It has a grain size of around 2.5 pixels, which means it scratches just along the visibility limit on an A4-sized print. Olympus has better control over colour noise, which only becomes visible at ISO 12.800 and then becomes noticeable at ISO 25.600.

The input dynamics are astonishingly high with over eleven aperture stops (EV) in the range of ISO 200 to 1,600, while the value of ten aperture stops at ISO 3,200 is still in the good range. Only at high ISO 12.800 does the aperture fall below the limit of nine stops, at ISO 25.600 a respectable eight stops are still achieved. Despite this powerful image processing up to the high ISO regions, the E-PL5 to ISO 3.200 shows perfect sharpness of detail, only above this fine structures slowly become softer, but this is only visible from ISO 12.800. The Four-Thirds sensor has always had to struggle with the reputation of being at least one ISO level at a disadvantage due to its somewhat smaller dimensions compared to APS-C. But Olympus more than compensates for this with excellent image processing in JPEG, so that the APS-C competition has a hard time keeping up.

The aggressive image processing of the E-PL5 is also noticeable in the crisp, steep tone value curve. Fine colour nuances are very well differentiated up to ISO 3.200, fine brightness gradations, however, only up to ISO 1.600. In the i-enhance mode, in which the laboratory test was carried out, the pen shows colours clearly saturated, especially in the warm shades. The pictures thus appear very lively, colourful and bright. Apart from this, the colour tones themselves are reproduced quite accurately. With the good image quality, even the set lens can keep up to some extent. For A4 prints, it is crisp and sharp at all apertures and focal lengths from the centre to the edge of the image. When measuring the resolution at 50 percent edge contrast, the lens even achieves more than 50 line pairs per millimeter (lp/mm) in the image center; towards the edge, the resolution in wide angle decreases by about 25 percent at open aperture. At medium focal length, the edge fall-off at the open lens reaches almost 30 percent, while at telephoto, 10 percent edge fall-off is already very low. But this is because the lens resolves less in the center of the image when in telescopic position than when in wide-angle position at the edge of the image. The fade out brings partly still slight resolution gains up to F8, partly it already decreases slightly. From F11 on the resolution decreases overall due to diffraction. The edge dimming is a low 30 percent at maximum, which corresponds to half an aperture stop. Dimming to F8 brings some improvement, above that the edge dimming remains constant at the level of F8. Apart from a slight barrel distortion of 1.5 percent in the wide angle, the lens is practically distortion-free. Color fringes in the form of chromatic aberration are hardly visible on average, but in extreme cases they can be particularly noticeable at wide angle with the aperture open, for example at the edge of the image.

Conclusion

The Olympus Pen “Lite” E-PL5 is an all-round mirrorless system camera. It doesn’t afford any major weaknesses and can score points in practically every area from processing, ergonomics and equipment to speed with high continuous shooting rates and rapid autofocus. Above all, Olympus was able to improve the image quality with the new CMOS sensor – despite the 33 percent higher resolution compared to the predecessor model E-PL3. Thanks to the excellent image processing, the pen even manages to compensate for the slightly smaller sensor size compared to APS-C cameras. Up to ISO 1.600, the image quality is excellent, at ISO 3.200 good and even at ISO 6.400 still usable, only above that does the noise become too strong with sinking details. The set lens also convinces with its decent performance, but you should definitely try the excellent fixed focal lengths from Olympus in the Micro-Four-Thirds system, with the 45 mm 1.8 there is even a quite affordable entry.

Profile

Profile
Manufacturer Olympus
Model Pen E-PL5
Price approx. EUR 700* at market launch
Sensor Resolution 16.2 megapixels
Max. Image resolution 4.608 x 3.456
(aspect ratio) (4:3)
Lens M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II R
Filter thread 37mm
Viewfinder optional (electronic)
Field of view 100 %
Resolution 1.44 million
(800 x 600 pixels)
Dioptre compensation yes
LCD monitor 3″
Resolution 460.000
rotatable
swiveling yes
as Viewfinder yes
Video output AV and HDMI (each PAL/NTSC)
Automatic programming yes
Automatic aperture control yes
Automatic timer yes
manual exposure yes
BULB long time exposure yes
Scenee modes
Portrait yes
Children/baby yes
Landscape yes
Macro yes
Sports/action yes
More 18 additional scene modes
Exposure metering Multi-field, centre-weighted Integral, Spot
Flash yes (attachable)
Flash connection System hot shoe
Remote release Cable
Interval recording
Storage medium SD/SDHC/SDXC
Video mode yes
Format MOV or AVI
Codec H.264 or Motion-JPEG
Resolution (max.)
1.920 x 1,080 (MOV)
1.280 x 720 (AVI)
at frame rate
30 frames/s
Sensitivity
automatically 200-25.600
(upper and lower limit adjustable)
manually ISO 200-25,600
White balance
Automatic yes
Sun yes
Clouds yes
Fluorescent lamp yes
Incandescent lamp yes
Miscellaneous Shadow, flash, manual color temperature selection
Manually yes
Autofocus
Number of measurement fields 35
AF auxiliary light Orange
Speed approx. 0,3 s
Languages English
further 33 additional languages are available
Weight
(Ready for operation)
320 g (body only) 440 g (with lens*)
Zoom
Zoom adjustment at the lens
One-hand operation
(zoom and shutter release)
Trip during saving possible. yes
Battery life about 360 pictures (according to CIPA)
– = “not applicable” or “not available
“* with lens M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II R

Brief assessment

Pros

  • Very good image quality up to ISO 1,600, good up to high ISO 3,200
  • Fast autofocus
  • Very good video mode with manual exposure and fast focus tracking
  • Screw-on handle for more grip
  • Clever swivel mechanism of the screen with self-portrait

Cons

  • 16:9 display on a 4:3 camera shows a relatively small image
  • Sloppy program selector wheel adjusts easily
  • Flash must be attached first and blocks the accessory shoe for other accessories

Olympus Pen E-PL5 Datasheet

Electronics

Sensor CMOS sensor 4/3″ 17.3 x 13.0 mm (crop factor 2.0
)17.2 megapixels (physical) and 16.1 megapixels (effective)
Pixelpitch 3.7 µm
Photo resolution
4.608 x 3.456 pixels (4:3)
2.560 x 1.440 pixels (16:9)
1.024 x 768 pixels (4:3)
Image formats JPG, RAW
Color depth 24 bits (8 bits per color channel), 36 bits (12 bits per color channel)
Metadata Exif (version 2.2), DCF standard
Video resolution
1.920 x 1.080 (16:9) 30 p
1.280 x 720 (16:9) 30 p
640 x 480 (4:3) 30 p
Maximum recording time 29 min
Video format
AVI (Codec H.264)
Audio format (video) WAV

Lens

Lens mount
Micro Four Thirds

Focus

Autofocus functions Single AF, Continuous AF, Tracking AF, Manual, AF Assist Light
Sharpness control Live view

Viewfinder and monitor

SLR viewfinder Grid fade-in
Monitor 3.0″ TFT LCD monitor with 460,000 pixels, transreflective

Exposure

Exposure metering Center-weighted integral measurement, matrix/multi-field measurement over 324 fields, spot measurement
Exposure times 1/4,000 to 2 s (Automatic
)1/4,000 to 60 s (Manual)
Bulb function
Exposure control Programmed automatic, Shutter priority, Aperture priority, Manual
Exposure bracketing function Exposure bracketing function with a maximum of 7 shots, 1/3 to 1 EV increments, HDR function
Exposure Compensation -3.0 to +3.0 EV
Photosensitivity ISO 200 to ISO 25,600 (automatic
)ISO 200 to ISO 25,600 (manual)
Remote access Remote triggering
Scene modes various motif programs, documents, fireworks, candlelight, children, landscape, macro, night scene, night portrait, panorama, portrait, sunset, sports, and beach/snow.
Picture effects Fisheye, pinhole camera, soft focus, pale, cross development, various tint and filter effects in parameterizable b/w mode, high key, grainy film, light tint, low key, model making, pop art, b/w filter (yellow, orange, red, green)
White balance Automatic, Clouds, Sun, Fine Tuning, Shadow, Fluorescent lamp with 3 presets, Incandescent light, Manual
Color space Adobe RGB, sRGB
Continuous shooting Continuous shooting function max. 8.0 fps at highest resolution and max. 19 stored images, up to 3.5 fps in L
Self-timer Self-timer with 2 or 12 s interval
Recording functions Live histogram

Flashgun

Flash no built-in flash availableHot shoe
: Olympus/Panasonic (also Leica compact camera), standard center contact
Flash code Guide number 10 (ISO 100)
Flash functions Auto, fill-in flash, flash on, flash off, slow sync, red-eye reduction

Equipment

Image stabilizer optical image stabilizer
Memory
SD
Microphone Stereo
Power supply 1 x Olympus BLS-5 (Lithium ion (Li-Ion), 7.2 V, 1,150 mAh)
Playback functions Red eye retouching, image rotation, image index, slide show function with music
Voice memo Voice memo (WAV format)
Face recognition Face recognition
Image parameters Sharpness, contrast, color saturation
Special functions Live view
Connections Data interfaces: USBUSB type
:USB 2.0 High Speed
AV Connections AV output: HDMI output Micro (Type D)
Supported direct printing methods PictBridge
Tripod thread 1/4″
Special features and miscellaneous TruePic VI image processorFlashAir
compatibleAdditional
aspect ratios of 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1Dust filter
with ultrasonic self-cleaning functionBuilt-in
low-pass filter and infrared blocking filterFace recognitionAF working area:0-18 EVManual
focus with 800 measuring points and magnifying glass (magnification factor 5-, 7-, 10 or 14x)
Tracking autofocus (also when recording video)
Eye-Detect-AFine
stereo microphone Adjustable
exposure parameters in program mode (shift function)
AE lock (AE lock)
AF lock (focus lock)
5-step adjustment of color saturation5-step
adjustment of camera-internal sharpness5-step adjustmentofimage contrast3-step
adjustment of graduation (high-key,

Normal, low-key)
LCD image cover:

100% playback zoom
(2X to 14X)
Calendar view image playbackLight panel viewSimultaneous

RAW and digital recording

JPEG format possibleDisplay of
highlightsAfter
image resizing (resolution)
Subsequent saturation correctionRAW processing functionmechanical

image stabilizerBulb mode
up to 30 minutes exposure timeAdditional
menu languages can be loadedHyperCrystal
LCD with brightness and color adjustmentWhite balance bracketing

and ISO bracketing functioniAuto mode
automatically selects from one of 6 scene modes-portrait function
for skin retouching color enhancement
i-Enhance functionManual
mode also for video
recordingMemory for individual userArt filter Exposure bracketingAdditional

video art filter Multiple echo

Unique EchoArt filter
Pop ArtSmoothBlade

Size and weight

Dimensions W x H x D 110 x 64 x 38 mm
Weight 325 g (ready for operation)

Miscellaneous

standard accessory Olympus BLS-5 Special Battery Charger
BCS-1USB Connecting CableAV CableStretch StrapCamera SoftwareOlympus Viewer
additional accessories Olympus BLS-5 special batteryOlympus
FC-WR (radio control unit) Flash accessoriesOlympus
FL-700WR attachable flash with swivel reflectorOlympus
RM-UC1 cable remote releasePanasonic
Leica DG Vario-Summilux 10-25 mm 1.7 (H-X1025) zoom lensRemovable memory cardOlympusPen System System accessories (including flash units)
Micro FourThirds standard interchangeable lensesCamera bag
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Peter Dench
I am Peter Dench. Digital Photographer, born in London 1972, currently living in Deerfield, near Chicago. I have numerous photography expositions and also working in model photography. In this website, PhotoPoint, I usually review cameras provided by local dealers in Illinois and by the manufacturers. Sometimes I, Peter Dench, review lenses too, but only when I have a suitable camera for them. Please let me know in the comments if I can improve any of these articles.