Daily Prompt: Do over and over and over?

Do I think it’s ever possible to get life “right”?

In a word? No.

And how dull would it be if we did?

RepetitionSigned

Victor Davis Hanson – The Israeli Spring

See on Scoop.itIn and About the News

IsraeliSpring

Israel could be forgiven for having a siege mentality — given that at any moment, old frontline enemies Syria and Egypt might spill their violence over common borders.

The Arab Spring has thrown Israel’s once-predictable adversaries into the chaotic state of a Sudan or Somalia. The old understandings between Jerusalem and the Assad and Mubarak kleptocracies seem in limbo.

Yet these tragic Arab revolutions swirling around Israel are paradoxically aiding it, both strategically and politically — well beyond just the erosion of conventional Arab military strength.

In terms of realpolitik, anti-Israeli authoritarians are fighting to the death against anti-Israeli insurgents and terrorists. Each is doing more damage to the other than Israel ever could — and in an unprecedented, grotesque fashion. Who now is gassing Arab innocents? Shooting Arab civilians in the streets? Rounding up and executing Arab civilians? Blowing up Arab houses? Answer: either Arab dictators or radical Islamists.

The old nexus of radical Islāmic terror of the last three decades is unraveling. With a wink and a nod, Arab dictatorships routinely subsidized Islāmic terrorists to divert popular anger away from their own failures to the West or Israel. In the deal, terrorists got money and sanctuary. The Arab Street blamed others for their own government-inflicted miseries. And thieving authoritarians posed as Islam’s popular champions.

But now, terrorists have turned on their dictator sponsors. And even the most ardent Middle East conspiracy theorists are having troubling blaming the United States and Israel.

Secretary of State John Kerry is still beating last century’s dead horse of a “comprehensive Middle East peace.” But does Kerry’s calcified diplomacy really assume that a peace agreement involving Israel would stop the ethnic cleansing of Egypt’s Coptic Christians? Does Israel have anything to do with Assad’s alleged gassing of his own people?

There are other losers as well. Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wanted to turn a once-secular Turkish democracy into a neo-Ottoman Islamist sultanate, with grand dreams of eastern-Mediterranean hegemony. His selling point to former Ottoman Arab subjects was often a virulent anti-Semitism. Suddenly, Turkey became one of Israel’s worst enemies and the Obama administration’s best friends.

Yet if Erdogan has charmed President Obama, he has alienated almost everyone in the Middle East. Islamists such as former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi felt that Erdogan was a fickle and opportunistic conniver. The Gulf monarchies believed that he was a troublemaker who wanted to supplant their influence. Neither the Europeans nor the Russians trust him. The result is that Erdogan’s loud anti-Israeli foreign policy is increasingly irrelevant.

The oil-rich sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf once funded terrorists on the West Bank, but they are now fueling the secular military in Egypt. In Syria they are searching to find some third alternative to Assad’s Alawite regime and its al-Qaeda enemies. For the moment, oddly, the Middle East foreign policy of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the other oil monarchies dovetails with Israel’s: Predictable Sunni-Arab nationalism is preferable to one-vote, one-time Islamist radicals.

Israel no doubt prefers that the Arab world liberalize and embrace constitutional government. Yet the current bloodletting lends credence to Israel’s ancient complaints that it never had a constitutional or lawful partner in peace negotiations.

In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak’s corrupt dictatorship is gone. His radical Muslim Brotherhood successors were worse and are also gone. The military dictatorship that followed both is no more legitimate than either. In these cycles of revolution, the one common denominator is an absence of constitutional government.

In Syria, there never was a moderate middle. Take your pick between the murderous Shiite-backed Assad dictatorship or radical Sunni Islamists. In Libya, the choice degenerated to Moammar Qaddafi’s unhinged dictatorship or the tribal militias that overthrew it. Let us hope that one day westernized moderate democracy might prevail. But that moment seems a long way off.

What do the Egyptian military, the French in Mali, Americans at home, the Russians, the Gulf monarchies, persecuted Middle Eastern Christians, and the reformers of the Arab Spring all have in common? Like Israel, they are all fighting Islamic-inspired fanaticism. And most of them, like Israel, are opposed to the idea of a nuclear Iran.

In comparison with the ruined economies of the Arab Spring — tourism shattered, exports nonexistent, and billions of dollars in infrastructure lost through unending violence — Israel is an atoll of prosperity and stability. Factor in its recent huge gas and oil finds in the eastern Mediterranean, and it may soon become another Kuwait or Qatar, but with a real economy beyond its booming petroleum exports.

Israel had nothing to do with either the Arab Spring or its failure. The irony is that surviving embarrassed Arab regimes now share the same concerns with the Israelis. In short, the more violent and chaotic the Middle East becomes, the more secure and exceptional Israel appears.

— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His new book, The Savior Generals, is just out from Bloomsbury Books. You can reach him by e-mailing author@victorhanson.com. © 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc

See on www.nationalreview.com

A dream of freedom

When I lived far away and spoke of home, no matter how long I lived away, I knew where home was. America.

What’s America? A dream of freedom, a failure of reality? An amazing constitution that nonetheless signed on for eighty years of institutionalized slavery? The greatest nation on earth? The greatest oppressor in history?

All of the aforementioned?

Afternoon walk - Tombstone

Like a person, America is all things, contradictory things. Mythic. Iconic. A place of extraordinary natural beauty, preservers and despoilers. The best government, the worst failure.

All of the above.

Government fails. All government perpetrates injustice, murder, cruelty, intolerance then tries to bury the truth … like all good all people who do bad things. Find me one that has not. I dare you.

BostonCrosswalk-2

It’s a terrible thing that governments and nations are made of human beings. Such flawed clay from which to build. Wrong-headed people with good intentions. We don’t get it right, but try (usually) to do the right thing. Our failures are human. That we keep trying is divine.

Government is corrupt, will always be. We deplore corruption as we reap its benefits. We fervently object to any corruption which doesn’t give us a piece of the pie, but love and protect corruption that rewards us. You don’t? Really? You sure?

We aren’t our government, legislators, even our history. We are all this, more or less. Are we greatest amongst nations? What do you mean by that? Biggest? We aren’t, never were. Richest? Not today. Best form of government? Maybe.

We are a light to the world and embody a promise as perhaps does no other place on earth. We have ridden to the rescue of peoples and nations when no other nation would dare. And destroyed others. Been spit on for the good we do and applauded for the evil. Sometimes, it’s hard to know which is which.

We’ll do it again because we’re just that kind of place.

96-Sunrise-Rockport-NK-3-A

Weekly Photo Challenge: Gloucester on Cape Ann

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The legendary whaling port that produced the toughest sailors on earth … not the huge fleet it once was, but still alive in the 21st century.

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Midnight Riot, Ben Aaronovitch (2011)

London probationary constable Peter Grant hopes to become a detective, but his tendency to be distracted by details that others think are unimportant has landed him in the Case Progression Unit. That’s where the paperwork gets processed and where the biggest danger is a paper cut.

While collecting evidence from a crime scene, Peter finds an eye-witness who appears to be a ghost. This brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale. Nightingale is in charge of the secret police division that investigates crime involving the undead, magic, various deities or anything else that could be classified as weird.

Nightingale has always — and always turns out to be a long time indeed — worked alone, but incidences of the strange and bizarre seem to be increasing around town. Enter Peter Grant, the distractible cop with a natural ability to “sniff” vestiges of magic and the first official apprentice wizard in the history of the division.

I starting reading this on the recommendation of one of my readers. I’ve never been led astray by a reader’s recommendation and this was no exception. The is the first book in a series in which there are three books to date, but hopefully more to come.

I read a lot of mysteries and a lot of fantasy. Peter Grant is much more of a cop than he is a wizard, though that will probably change as the series progresses. In this first book, despite a strong magical theme, it is also a real cop thriller. There’s a lot of wonderful description about the life of a constable in the London metropolitan police. There’s even more background about growing up as a racially mixed, working class kid in London. Like whipped cream on a sundae, the book provides rich detail about everything from the social interaction of Londoners on the underground at rush hour, to architectural disasters and bomb craters … and the gods and goddesses who care for the streams and rivers of London. Lots about them.

Aaronovitch’s writing is witty — sometimes downright funny — and intelligent. His ironic humor keeps the book moving along at a brisk pace. Peter Grant feels very real. I feel like I’ve met him, would recognize him at a party. He’s got a history. He’s smart and intuitive, but also human. He makes mistakes and learns from them. He actually works at his job.

I didn’t just read the book, I also bought it from Audible and have listened to it twice. Once for the fun, and the second time to pick up details I might have missed first time around. There is a lot of detail. There’s humor, danger, magic and then there’s mood. Wherever Peter Grant goes, you are treated to a description so thorough you can pretty much see the whole thing … smell and taste it, too.

If you like audiobooks, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is a marvelous narrator. He has the knack of making the book and its characters come alive but being non-intrusive so you see the book in your mind and don’t notice the narrator at all. This is exactly as it should be when the narrator and the books are perfectly matched.

I’m enjoying the second book even more than the first. Peter has begun to have more self-confidence, both as a police officer and as a wizard. I can sense where the series is going and I’m glad to be going along for the ride.

If you’re looking for a new series, this is a good one! I have a feeling it’s going to get even better as it matures.

Natural good fortune

Blackstone Canal, Uxbridge
Blackstone Canal, Uxbridge

I sometimes forget to count my blessing. I intend to. But I only remember some things and take the rest for granted.

The beauty of this valley is one of the things I sometimes no longer notice. When we first moved here from Boston, I was constantly aware of it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I would just be driving from one place to another, and I’d look around … and it took my breath away. Autumn, of course, when all of New England is in its glory. Winter, despite my constant complaints about it … there is nothing more glorious than a fresh snow that clings to every surface. A snow-covered world can be so amazing it looks unreal, like a picture from a book you saw as a child. It’s always Christmas during the winter here.

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Thus when you see my pictures and think it must be a special place … like a national park or some such … and I realize it’s the little park near the railroad trestle in town. Or the place along the canal adjacent to the parking lot of the medical building. Or the miniature park with two picnic tables, a tiny boat launch ramp, and a teeny parking lot. It’s even paved in places. I think it used to be paved everywhere, but that was long ago in an economy far, far away.

Apple Blossoms

It’s easy to take nature for granted. I think that’s one of mankind’s biggest problems — in a nutshell. There seems to be so much of it, you can’t imagine it ever running out. But I spent most of my life in a city or a tame (well-paved) suburb where there were no wild riverbanks, no wild anything. So I can easily imagine it. There were other good things in citified areas. If you bother to look, there’s always something.

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Here, though, the entire world is a picture postcard. And that’s just my backyard. When I forget … then … I have pictures to remind me to say a big, heartfelt “thank you” to Mother Earth for the daily gift of such extraordinary beauty.

Mumford before the falls
Mumford before the falls

The Olympus E-P5 Review

See on Scoop.itForty Two: Life and Other Important Things

See complete review on ATMTX PHOTOGRAPHY BLOG

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.

Olympus E-P5

THE ERGONOMICS

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.

THE DESIGN

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.

Olympus E-P5

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.

IMAGE QUALITY

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.

Waiting in front of Bourbon Steak - San Francisco, California
Waiting in front of Bourbon Steak – San Francisco, California
The long moody corridor, Westin St. Francis - San Francisco, California
The long moody corridor, Westin St. Francis – San Francisco, California
Making Reservations, Westin St. Francis - San Francisco, California
Making Reservations, Westin St. Francis – San Francisco, California

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.

More photographs taken with the Olympus E-P5

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.

VIDEO

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.

COMPARISONS

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.

Sony NEX

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.

Fujifilm X

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.

MISCELLANEOUS

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.

Olympus E-P5

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.

MY LIKES

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

MY DISLIKES

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.

CONCLUSION

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.

Getting Off, Market Street - San Francisco, California
Getting Off, Market Street – San Francisco, California

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.

Tourist Stores - San Francisco, California
Tourist Stores – San Francisco, California

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.

Lively Market Street - San Francisco, California
Lively Market Street – San Francisco, California

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.

Palace Garage Neon - San Francisco, California
Palace Garage Neon – San Francisco, California

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.

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

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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