The mirrorless category is all about packing the most punch in the smallest package, reaching for dSLR-quality from a much smaller shooter. The Olympus PEN E-P5 pushes the boundaries with a snappy 1/8000 maximum shutter speed, a bright f1.8 lens with a beautiful depth of field and ISO numbers reaching 25600—the mirrorless lineup doesn't get much more versatile than the E-P5.
And speaking of versatile, the E-P5 includes both a tilting LCD screen and tilting, removable viewfinder. Not to mention the wi-fi, GPS and touchscreen. Oh, and did we point out the Micro Four Thirds sensor yet?
The Olympus PEN E-P5 looks absolutely beautiful on paper, but can it perform in the hands on tests as well as in it's tech spec lineup? Can the camera that looks spectacular on paper take spectacular images? Here's what we discovered.
Olympus PEN E-P5: Body and Design
The design of the E-P5 is refreshing—there are very few plastic pieces and the mostly metallic build looks like it's made to last a long time. The lens and dials are made from metal too, and there really isn't anything flimsy or cheap looking anywhere on the camera. The viewfinder add on is made from plastic, but still appears rather durable.
|The back of the Olympus PEN E-P5 features a tilting touchscreen.|
At the top of the camera, there are two separate dials, an exposure wheel near the front and a second wheel towards the back for aperture/shutter speed. There's also (of course) the shutter release, on/off toggle, function button and the pop-up flash. The front of the camera has a textured middle and a rubberized grip for a more comfortable hold.
Looking at the back of the screen, the PEN E-P5 doesn't appear to have a tilting LCD screen, it folds nearly seamlessly into the camera, unlike some models that have bulky screens that stick out from the camera body. The back of the camera also has so many controls, you wouldn't notice the touchscreen (and in fact, all of the cameras functions can be completed without the use of the touchscreen). There's a separate record button for video and shortcuts for exposure, flash, burst mode and focus area.
|Larger than some mirrorless models, the Olympus PEN E-P5 is still a compact camera.|
The E-P5 is designed after the classic 80's film SLR cameras—including the size. At 1 and ¼ inch wide, it's larger than mirrorless models like the Nikon 1 J3, but still much more compact than a dSLR. The metallic build means it's also a bit heavier, but the sturdy, classic build is worth every ounce. The included kit lens is fairly compact as well. The optical viewfinder adds a significant amount of bulk to the top of the E-P5, but it is removable and includes a case.
Navigating though the E-P5 takes a little adjusting—there's so many features that our two week review wasn't enough time to discover them all. With a bit of use, however, the features are easy to access. The touchscreen and shortcut options mean the menu is seldom accessed. The custom menu is definitely worth a look though, nearly every imaginable setting can be set to your preferences, from the function of the control wheels to the speed of the burst modes.
Olympus E-P5: User Experience and Performance
The E-P5 performs at an advanced level and has a user experience to match.
Like most mirrorless models, the E-P5 includes manual modes, but has a capability range that bests most other cameras in the category. The included lens allows for apertures as low as f1.8, while mechanical shutter speeds reach all the way to 1/8000. The ISO also has an extreme range, up to 25600, though the noise becomes noticeable around 6400.
|The tilting viewfinder on the Olympus PEN E-P5 allows for some interesting shots.|
The E-P5 also offers a variety of scene modes, including favorites like panorama, wide angle, portrait, landscape and sunset. The art effects option adds digital filters to images for options like a pinhole camera effect, soft filter and dramatic tones, to name a few. The fun frames setting creates collages as the image is taken, though most users will still create their own in post processing.
The shutter speed isn't the only thing that's fast on the E-P5—start-up takes about three seconds. The autofocus system is snappy as well, though in a few instances when using the touchscreen to shoot a busy scene, the image was taken before completely focused. There is a delay after using continuous shooting while the processor records all the images, depending on how many shots were taken.
While the f1.8 kit lens lends a beautiful depth of field to the images, it's also fixed, meaning consumers have to purchase additional lenses if they want to zoom. The lens also has a longer minimum focusing distance, so it isn't the best for macro shots. The lens is high quality, but is not as versatile as the camera body itself.
|The range of features on the Olympus PEN E-P5 allows for a variety of different shots.|
The touchscreen on the E-P5 is also definitely worth a mention. The camera includes all the dials and buttons so the touchscreen isn't necessary—in fact, in our first few days of testing, we didn't use it at all. The touchscreen does lend a few nice features however, like using the screen to focus and take the shot. But the ability to use either the touchscreen or the buttons and dials is a welcome perk to anyone suffering from fat-finger-syndrome.
The wi-fi on the E-P5 is easy to set up by scanning a QR code directly off the camera. The Olympus app can be used to take images remotely, upload photos and edit the shots with the variety of art and collage options available on the camera. As with most camera apps, only the automatic mode is available for the remote capture.
Sound is seldom mentioned as a feature for digital cameras, but the E-P5 warranted a bit of listening to. The shutter release sound is just as classic as the body style and lends to the overall feel of the camera. The autofocus motor, however, is rather noisy. Sure, it's not loud enough to be heard when shooting at a busy event, but may not go unnoticed when silence is key.
Overall, the E-P5 has a nice range of shooting options and customizable features that lends to an overwhelmingly positive user experience.
Olympus PEN E-P5: Image Quality
With a 16 megapixel Micro Four Thirds Sensor and a wide range of aperture and shutter settings, images from the E-P5 really stand out. Photos have a perfect level of saturation without touching the settings, though users can customize the saturation levels to their liking or select options like vivid or muted. The edges on the subject are sharp and clear.
Images turned out best with the exposure dialed up a bit, but the exposure dial makes adjusting the settings to different scenarios quick and easy. In low light, images had very little grain, even at ISO 3200 to 6400. Other than the increased noise at the extreme end, changing the ISO didn't affect the colors or saturation of the image.
The f1.8 lens created some beautiful depth of field images. Additional settings can be used the increase the background blur even further. The faster shutter speeds froze motion without blur, lending to some good action shots.
The E-P5 includes manual modes to record video as well. Within the video, the picture quality is just as nice as the image quality and the stabilization system is decent for a dedicated camera. Using the autofocus system while recording, however, isn't silent; there's a quiet, almost beep-like noise as the camera refocuses. When recording loud scenes, the noise isn't likely to be an issue, however.
Olympus PEN E-P5: Conclusion
There's a lot to love about the E-P5. The large sensor and wide range of aperture, shutter and ISO settings translates into some stunning images. There are plenty of features, which are well thought out like the touchscreen, button and dial combination, easy wi-fi setup and tilting viewfinder and LCD.
|The Olympus PEN E-P5 is a versatile, capable camera.|
The price and feature set make the E-P5 an ideal camera for the intermediate to advanced photographer. The Panasonic GX-7, due out at the end of September and pricing at about $1,100, is likely the strongest competitor to the E-P5 with a similar feature set and a 14-42 mm lens but slower burst capture. Sony's Alpha NEX line is also a competitor, but lacks the optical viewfinder. Nikon's 1 J3 has faster continuous shooting, but with a smaller sensor and fewer features isn't quite in the same category.
With the features, capabilities and image quality, the Olympus PEN E-P5 is the top Micro Four Thirds mirrorless model that we've seen so far in 2013.