Charles, the Olympus representative out of Dallas asked me if I wanted to review the Olympus E-P5. I jumped at the chance but I clearly stated that I’m giving my honest opinion. All of my previous in-depth reviews were of cameras that I bought myself. This would be the first time I received a review unit from a manufacturer but I wanted to remain as impartial as possible. Charles agreed and he sent me a two toned, black and silver E-P5 with a black 17mm f1.8 lens. I got the camera just a few days before my business trip to California so I got permission to bring it out there with me.
I’ve already done many posts about my experience with the E-P5 out in San Francisco. This review will go into depth and add my thoughts about how it stacks up against other cameras. I decided that street photography in a big city would be a great way to test the speed, handling and image quality of Olympus’ newest micro 4/3 camera. I shot in and around Market Street in San Francisco. After I got back home, I also shot down on 6th street in Austin. All told, I had the camera for about a week and half.
I currently own 4 Olympus micro 4/3 cameras, 2 E-PL1s, an E-P3 and an E-PM2. I also own 7 Olympus and Panasonic micro 4/3 lenses. I’ve shot at least 20,000 frames with my Olympus cameras, so I know these cameras well. I’m here to say that this is my favorite Olympus micro 4/3 camera, hands down. It’s certainly the most refined both from the design, fit and finish and performance perspective. While I don’t own an Olympus OM-D E-M5, I’ve used it enough to be very familiar with it. I strongly considered getting one until I ultimately decided to get the entry-level E-PM2. The E-P5 has better controls and fits better in hand than the OM-D.
Note: Micro 4/3 is a standard that is shared between Olympus and Panasonic. Lenses from both manufactures fit each other’s camera bodies. Micro 4/3 also referrers to the image sensor size. It’s a lot bigger than point and shoots and the 1 inch sensor on the Nikon 1 but it is not as big as the APS-C sensors used in DSLRs and the Sony and Fujifilm mirrorless cameras.
The E-P5 is the camera I was hoping for when I wanted to upgrade from my E-P3. I really like the form factor and I wanted the new Sony sensor. I seriously considered the OM-D but that camera never felt comfortable, at least without the optional grips. I like micro 4/3 for its compact size so I wasn’t keen on adding grips that would increase weight and bulk. The E-P5 feels great in-hand and is the perfect size — big enough to have comfortable controls and small enough to be the perfect travel partner. I own many cameras including the Canon 6D, but the micro 4/3 cameras are what I use the most.
Starting in 2012, Olympus began using the 16MP Sony sensor. This sensor finally put Olympus on par with Canon’s APS-C offerings. Previous to my Canon 6D, I owned the Canon 7D which has a APS-C sensor. I was surprised to find out that my E-PM2 exceeded the low light performance of the DSLR. And amazingly, Canon had not improved the performance of their APS-C offerings in more than 3 years. While I suspect the just announced Canon 70D might finally improve image performance, for the time being, Olympus micro 4/3 matches or at times exceeds the image quality of the APS-C Canon DSLRs. Now keep in mind that full frame DSLRs like the Canon 5DM3 and 6D are a different story. That’s one of the reasons I also own the Canon 6D. The full frame cameras offers a different class of low light performance.
The bottom line is the Olympus E-P5 is a fantastic camera and a blast to play with. It is surely the best Olympus micro 4/3 camera to date and it arguably is the fastest handling mirrorless camera from any manufacturer (with the possible exception of the Nikon 1). For fast action sports, DSLRs may still have the edge but for almost anything else, the E-P5 is plenty fast. The biggest issue for the E-P5 is it’s price. At $999 for body only and $1449 with the 17mm f1.8 lens and EVF, the camera is pricy. The mirrorless camera market is now very competitive and there are many worthy cameras out there. How does the Olympus E-P5 stack up against the competition? Read on to find out.
The E-P5 is basically the same size as the previous generation E-P3. The grip size and feel is remarkably similar but improved somewhat with the rubberized thumb rest. Olympus upgraded the controls with easier to adjust dials on the front and back of the top plate. The jog dial and the tall dial on the E-P3 can be fiddly to adjust. Not so with the improved E-P5 controls.
Unlike some of the OM-D buttons that can be small and mushy, the E-P5 buttons are all easy to access and solid. Olympus slimmed down the previously bulky flip-up LCD, used on the OM-D and E-PL5. Now the LCD fits flush with the body and has a thinner border.
It seems like every detail of the previous micro 4/3 cameras have been rethought and fine tuned. The camera did feel a bit heavy compared to my light-weight E-PM2. But after using it on the streets of San Francisco, I found the weight to be a non-issue. The camera is certainly a lot smaller and lighter than any DSLR. If anything, the extra weight gives the E-P5 a very solid and high quality feel.
The menu system remains the same as the previous Olympus micro 4/3 cameras. For anyone familiar the Olympus interface, the camera will fit right in. Some say that the Olympus menu system is too complex with too many configurable options. I agree that there is a level of customizability beyond most camera brands. As a serious shooter, I like the control it gives me. For the novice, the menus might overwhelm.
While I generally like black cameras, the two toned silver and black E-P5 is certainly handsome. I prefer it over the pure black model. The shiny silvery top and bottom give just enough sparkle to add design interest. Coupled with the black 17mm lens, it makes for a very stylish and retro inspired camera. The all metal build, while adding a bit of heft, adds to the premium feel of this camera. In comparison to the E-P3, the E-P5 has a level of sophistication and build that is a notch or two above. My wife, who is not into cameras at all, remarked how nice the E-P5 looked. For anyone into design and familiar with previous Olympus cameras, the E-P5 is a noticeable step up in quality and sophistication. My friend Dan out in California owns an Olympus E-PL5. As soon as he saw the E-P5, he wanted one. It’s that much nicer in looks.
All of the dials, especially the ones at the top, have a crispness about them. They seem like they too are milled from metal and have that quality feel. All of the dials also had the right amount of resistance that gives a reassuring click as the settings are adjusted. I also noticed that there are no longer any visible screws except for the bottom plate. In comparison, the E-P3 has a pair of screws on the left and right side of the camera.
As mentioned previously, the flip-up LCD, folds flush with the body, This makes it visually attractive but also improves the camera ergonomically by not getting in the way of the rear grip area. The shutter click sound great like the OM-D’s though if memory serves, the E-P5′s might be a bit quieter. It’s not totally silent but should be quiet enough for most situations. The on and off switch is new, indicating its state by its lever position. The previous Olympus Pens had an annoyingly bright blue LED which attracted attention at night. I much prefer the new switch.
Like the E-P3, the E-P5 has a built in retractable flash. I rarely use flash but I like it built into the camera. On the OM-D, E-PM2 and E-PL5 for example, there is a separate clip on flash that inevitably gets left at home. I’ve been stuck before without the flash.
About the only thing I didn’t like design wise is the optional EVF that attaches to the hot shoe. The big plastic unit is built decently enough but it doesn’t match the finish or robustness of the all metal camera and lens. Aesthetically, the big chunky unit ruins the lines of the retro looking camera. Functionally, the EVF works great and it’s one of the newest, high quality units. However it’s an appendage that seems to get in the way. It changes the shape of the camera enough that it is awkward to put into a small camera bag. I found that while in a bag, I like to take the EVF off to make the camera fit in a tighter space. For people with large camera bags, this may not matter. I tend to use small bags for my small cameras.
Simply stated, the image quality on the newest Olympus is fantastic. It matches the quality of all current mirrorless and APS-C DSLR offerings at least up to ISO 3200. Olympus has always had great, vibrant color, which is what attracted me to them in the first place. The JPEG processing is better than most manufacturers and the RAW easily boosts the sharpness and low-light performance.
The in-body image stabilization also helps in low light shooting along with the f1.8 lens. With the 16MP Sony sensor and good high ISO performance, the camera will handle your daily photographic needs without hesitation. This includes interiors at night as well as night shots in the city.
Take a look at these 3 photos I shot inside the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco. This is a dark hotel but I was able to take high quality photos without using a flash. The lens was at f1.8 (wide open) and at about 1/20 per second shutter speed. The first two images are at ISO 1600, the last one at ISO 3200. This is what you can do with IS, f1.8 and high ISOs.
At this point, the only way to tangibly increase image quality, especially at low light, is to use a full frame DSLR. Those cameras, however, are still more expensive and are a lot more bulky. As you can see, the small E-P5 is more than enough to capture life around you. I enjoy taking urban images in the evening or dark, moody, interior photographs. The sample photos in this review were shot with the Olympus E-P5 in San Francisco — real world results of its low light performance.
The E-P5 is noticeably faster starting up and focusing than the previous generation E-P3. It seems to be on par with the OM-D and E-PM2. I found the camera to be fast enough for nearly any occasion. I would not hesitate recommending this camera for a parent trying to photograph their children. For most casual usage, I find the focus speed comparable to a DSLR in decent light. In darker conditions, the focus speed does slowdown somewhat but not enough to be annoying.
About the only thing I won’t recommend this camera for is fast action sports, like soccer, with unpredictable motion. Sports like baseball and tennis, where you can better anticipate player position, should work fine.
The E-P5 is more than fast enough for street photography. If fact, I had to slow down the multi-shot medium setting from 5 frames per second to 3. The high-speed shooting mode goes up to 9 frames per second. You don’t get continuous focusing at these speeds but it is impressive never the less.
I expected video on the E-P5 to be better than any of my previous Olympus Cameras, mostly because of the 5 axis image stabilization. The IS is similar to the one used on th OM-D but with a slight improvement where it auto detects tripod usage.
What I didn’t expect, and was pleasantly surprised, was how much quieter the lenses were on the E-P5. On my E-PM2, I was disappointed with the video because I heard clicking sounds caused by the auto focus lenses. I expected the Olympus designated MSC (Movie Stills Compatible) lenses to be completely silent in auto focus mode, but there weren’t, at least on the E-PM2. Interestingly, the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 is my quietest lens.
I’m happy to report that on the E-P5, most of the lenses I tried were dead quiet. That included the Olympus 17mm f1.8, Olympus 45mm f1.8, Panasonic 14mm f2.5 and Panasonic 25mm f1.4. Only the Olympus 14 – 42mm f3.5 – 5.6 II R kit lens, that came with the E-PM2, had some faint clicking sounds. Much quieter than on the E-PM2 and barely audible on the E-P5. The kit lens is probably usable in all but the most quiet settings. Regrettably, I didn’t try the Panasonic 20mm f1.7, but my guess is that the slow focusing lens is not well suited for video.
The EP-5 is the closest yet to having that universal device that creates high quality stills and high quality auto focusing video. DSLRs, for example, produce great videos but they don’t auto focus well. My video needs are modest. I’m not looking to create cinematic movies. I just want to take effortless home videos, the kind that autofocuses and autoexposes without me fiddling with the controls. The E-P5 does this quite well, good enough that I can ditch the family camcorder. You still occasionally get that fast in and out refocusing that is prevalent in contrast detect focusing systems but for the most part the camera is well-behaved.
So how does the E-P5 compare with the competition? Olympus along with Panasonic started the mirrorless interchangeable market but now every manufacturer has a mirrorless offering. The biggest competition comes from Sony and Fujifilm.
When Sony released the NEX 7 at the body only price of over $1000, I was a bit surprised. Price wise, it went over a psychological barrier for me. To be sure it was nicely equipped. A high-resolution 24MP APS-C sensor and the built-in EVF are its standout features. Now the E-P5 comes in with a similar or arguably higher price. For the $1000 base price on the Olympus, you get a smaller, lower resolution sensor and no EVF. But the two are better matched than the specs might indicate.
The Olympus has a smaller sensor but superior high ISO performance at a per pixel level. The camera is also faster and it has that wonderful 5 axis image stabilizer (IS) which works with every lens. Add to this the large selection of lenses for micro 4/3 and you still have a superior ecosystem.
Compared to the NEX 5R and NEX 6, the price difference becomes more startling. While not an exact comparison, pair a NEX 5R or NEX 6 body with the Sony 20mm f2.8 and you get a 30mm prime system from $850 to $950, some $500 to $650 less expensive. The sensor and image quality comparisons are close too. The Olympus still has a superior IS and a better lens selection but the price difference is significant.
I prefer the color on the Olympus and the fit and finish of the E-P5 is superior but Sony wins in the value proposition.
In a previous post I compared the E-P5 to the Fujifilm X100S. While the X100S does not have interchangeable lenses, there are many similarities to the E-P5 with the 17mm kit. They have the same focal length equivalent and both are well-built with a sharp retro look. The X100S has the superior, integrated with EVF, styling at $1299 which is $200 less. The Olympus adds the 5 axis IS, interchangeable lenses and a more solid build.
Image quality of the X sensors used by the X100S and the other X cameras are a mixed bag. While strides have been made by Adobe and others to come out with a better RAW processor, I don’t think the true power of the X sensors have been unlocked. RAW quality now looks on par or slightly better than JPEG but the images look soft with less detail. I think the Olympus is competitive up to ISO 3200 but above that the Fujifilm does better.
With the price decreases of the Fujifilm X-Pro1 and X-E1, they are also in the same ball park, price wise. Fuji does not currently have a 35mm equivalent X mount lens. But if you consider the 27mm f2.8 which is equivalent to 40mm in 35mm terms, you get a X-Pro and X-E1 package around $1249 to $1649.
Image quality of the interchangeable X cameras are in line with the X100S which bests Olympus at high ISOs. The Olympus counters with a much faster focus speed, better video, better IS and more lens options. The build quality on the E-P5 is better too. The Fuji X cameras (excluding the X-M1) have an all metal build but they feel more hollow compared to the Olympus.
Panasonic micro 4/3
The just announced Lumix GX7 has a feature set the resembles the Olympus. I only had a few minutes to play with this camera but have a feel for it. Price wise, it’s roughly $250 less than a comparably equipped E-P5. There is a high quality integrated (in body) EVF that also tilts up — I think a first — at least in the recent mirrorless camera market. The physical design, the button placements and the beefy grip are very comfortable. The onscreen user interface (UI) is attractive, which is a big change from previous Panasonics. Earlier micro 4/3 Panasonics had this horrendous 90s era blocky fonts and amateurish icons. I’m glad the GX7 is updated with a modern UI.
What’s disappointing about this camera is its budget plastic build. While the two toned, silver and black has as similar appearance to the E-P5, the GX7 is primarily plastic — at least the top and bottom silver parts are. The E-P5, by contrast is an all metal camera. This makes all the difference. The E-P5 feels and looks upscale. And the Panasonic? It looks okay but feels cheap. Comparable in build to my E-PM2, a $450 camera, about $650 less expensive than the GX7. Yes, the GX7 has a nicely integrated EVF but the value proposition is not there for me.
Olympus micro 4/3
The E-P5 replaces the 2011 model E-P3. While the size and shape are about the same, every detail has been upgraded. The controls have been improved, the metal appears to be more substantial and there is an integrated tilt screen. The in-body image stabilization now works in 5 axises instead of 2. Most importantly, the E-P5 uses that same excellent 16MP Sony sensor first released with the OM-D E-M5.
Operational speed is another huge improvement. The camera starts almost instantaneously instead of waiting the second or 2 it takes for the E-P3. This makes a big difference when you want to capture that candid moment. The focusing speed of the E-P5 is class leading. I don’t know of any mirrorless camera that is faster except perhaps the Nikon 1. The Nikon 1, however with its small sensor, does not compete in terms of image quality.
On almost every measure the E-P5 is superior to the E-P3. The two are so different from each other in feel and capability, it might be almost foolish to compare them. About the only thing I prefer on the E-P3 is the slightly lighter weight. On paper, there is a 51g (1.8oz) difference, but it’s noticeable, at least for me.
The more likely competitor to the E-P5 is Olympus’ OM-D E-M5. The two cameras share almost all the same specifications but there are crucial differences. Simply put, if you want an integrated, in body EVF or want a water-resistant body, go with the OM-D. For everything else, I believe the E-P5 is superior. I already mentioned that the ergonomics are better on the E-P5, with a better grip and better placed controls. The E-P5 is better built and has a more premium feel. The E-P5 also has a 1/8000 per second top shutter speed and built in WiFi. It also has a built-in flash which, in a pinch, is useful to have. The E-P5 even has a dedicated HDR bracketing mode (it’s also on the E-PM2 and E-PL5) that the OM-D does not have.
The lens packaging for the E-P5 vs the OM-D may be the biggest factor, however. The OM-D comes in 3 less expensive configurations, body-only, with the 14 – 42 kit and the 12 – 50mm kit lens. The E-P5 comes either body-only or with the 17mm prime. Olympus is clearly aiming the E-P5 to a more experienced, premium market. The lack of a kit zoom option may turn off some potential buyers.
The E-P5 has built-in WiFi which will probably become a check off item for all future cameras. I tested this feature and it worked easily. When you turn on WiFi, you get a QR code on-screen. The Olympus OI.Share app reads that QR code and automatically makes a secure connection. The only thing that wasn’t clear from the documentation is that you then have to explicitly select the camera’s WiFi network from the iOS WiFi settings screen.
You can browse all the images taken on the E-P5 and then select them to be copied over to your phone or tablet. Once copied, you can optionally add image effects and add custom or preset watermarks. Below, I added the Olympus logo and applied the pinhole Art filter and then emailed it from the iPad. If you want to edit you photos extensively, you will need a separate image editing program like iPhoto on iOS devices.
You can also stream the live view feed directly to the iPad and take pictures on the E-P5 by tapping on the iPad’s screen. This can be handy when you want to remotely trigger photos while seeing what you are taking. The WiFi system is limited as a high volume professional work flow. As a consumer-oriented application, it’s great for casual photographers who want to post photos to social media.
1. Premium, almost luxury build
2. Attractive retro styling (without the EVF attached)
3. Well designed controls and placement
4. Excellent quality photographs to ISO 3200
5. That great Olympus color
6. Accurate Exposure
7. Class leading 5 axis in-body image stabilization
8. Fast focus
9. 1/8000 per second maximum shutter speed
10. Built-in flash
11. Extensive ability to tweak parameter settings
12. Great lens selection, best in the mirrorless market
1. High price, at the upper end of the mirrorless market
2. Large external EVF not harmonious with overall design
3. Slightly heavier than previous E-P3.
While it’s always fun to play with a new camera, I initially didn’t expect too much from the Olympus E-P5. After all, I’ve been using the E-PM2 for over 7 months and that camera shares the same sensor and image processor. I also use the E-P3, the previous generation, for nearly a year and a half. I knew the E-P5 was better built and had some tweaks but I never expected the sum of those changes to add up to an absolutely enjoyable camera, far beyond any of my previous Olympus cameras.
Spend a few minutes with the E-P5 and you realize that Olympus has put together a beautiful looking camera. They took the existing 17mm f1.8 metal lens and mated it to the all new but familiar sized body with beefed up metal. This combination, especially with the optional lens hood makes for a surprisingly harmonious camera. I would venture to say it feels almost like a luxury item. It not only looks retro but feel old world in its heft and build quality. There are so much disposable plastic gadgets these days that a metal tool just seems like something from another era.
The old world illusion, however, is easily broken if you attach a different, plastic lens. Even the very nice Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4, with its plastic build, diminishes the aesthetics of the camera (though the image quality will be spectacular). I now understand why Olympus chose to pair this camera with the 17mm f1.8 lens. Not only does it have an easy to frame and versatile 34mm equivalent point of view, the visual synergy of this combo can’t be beat. The only other lens that would look equally good, aesthetically speaking, is the 12mm Olympus, which also has an all metal build. As long as we are talking about aesthetics, I would also recommend adding the optional metal lens hood. The hood not only protects the lens element but completes that old world retro look.
But here’s the thing. That nice looking metal lens hood costs an eye-popping $59 (even higher for the silver version). That seems completely crazy until you get to see it in person. The $15 eBay metal lens hood are screw-on models that don’t tighten with a chrome compression fitting. And even the all plastic Canon lens hoods can cost up to $40.
Ultimately, the lens hood pricing is a microcosm of the E-P5. To be sure, the E-P5 is a fine camera and from the review you can tell I like it a lot. But is it worth $1500? There are many worthy competitors, some with even better image quality at high ISOs. I think the build quality is superior to all other mirrorless competitors. It’s nearly Leica X Vario level but with more character lines.
The shooting experience is unmatched too. The speed of focusing and the versatility of controls and the flip-up LCD makes for a very fast camera. The street photography in San Francisco was telling. As much as I talk about the aesthetics, I truly became enamored with the camera once I started shooting it on the street.
So would I buy the camera? If I didn’t already have the E-PM2, yes. To be sure, it’s at or above the upper price range for my mirrorless budget. But I’ll gulp hard and plop down my credit card. But with the E-PM2 already in my arsenal, it’s a harder sell.
Here’s the best analogy I can come up with. A Toyota and a Lexus are both great cars. They’ll both get you reliably to where you want to go. But the Lexus is going to get you there in better style and comfort. The materials will be better and the cabin will be quieter. If you like or appreciate the good things in life, the E-P5 is the camera for you. It should handle all the stuff you need it to, day in and day out, in a small and elegant package.
As a Toyota owner, I tend to go for solid, no-nonsense devices. But when you get to experience that touch of luxury, you get spoiled. That’s how I feel about the E-P5. Is it absolutely necessary? No. But it sure is an enticing camera to own. If spending $1000 will get you the best of something, maybe that’s worth it to you. Certainly, the E-P5 is the best micro 4/3 Olympus camera and possibly the best micro 4/3 period. And depending on the type of photography, it may be the best mirrorless camera yet.
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Sample photographs were taken with an Olympus E-P5 using the 17mm f1.8 lens that comes as part of the kit. The photos of the camera and lens were on loan from Olympus. E-P5 product photographs taken with the Olympus TG-2 waterproof point and shoot camera.
A great camera review from my favorite photography blog. Not only a great photographer, but a fine writer and the guy who got me into blogging.
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