Olympus E-P5 Review

July 8, 2013 | Mark Goldstein |


The brand new E-P5 is the latest Micro Four Thirds camera for keen enthusiasts from Olympus. The Olympus EP5 offers a 16-megapixel "Live MOS" sensor, tiltable 1.04-million-dot touchscreen, a pop-up flash and external flash hot-shoe, built-in Wi-Fi, sensitivity settings of ISO 100-25600, Full HD 1080 30p video recording with stereo sound, built-in 5-axis image stabilisation, top shutter speed of 1/8000th second, fast contrast detect auto focus with Super Spot and Touch AF functionality, focus peaking in manual AF mode, and 9fps continuous shooting. The Olympus E-P5 is available now in black, silver or white for £899.99/$999.99 body-only, £999.99 with the 14-42mm lens, or £1349.99/$1449.99 for a bundle including the 17mm f/1.8 prime lens and new VF-4 electronic viewfinder.

Ease of Use

The latest generation of Olympus' mirror-less Micro Four Thirds system has an even more retro feel to it than its predecessors, with an all-metal body that's very reminiscent of the 50-year-old PEN F half-frame film camera and similar sloping lines, elegant Olympus lettering and ‘step-down’ front profile. You can even fit an optional real-wood ergonomic grip in one of three styles if you really want your camera to stand out from the crowd. With white or black body choices also offered, we had the silver version of the E-P5 in for review, arguably the most retro-looking of the three colourways.

Despite the obvious historical references, the E-P5 is very much a 21st century camera. It's the latest digital Pen to feature touch screen operation, although you can for the most part get away without using it much at all, as there are a plethora of physical buttons ranged alongside it, which are either dedicated to specific functions or can be customized to suit. Indeed, the screen's implementation hasn't led to a cleaner or more pared-down minimalist look for the Pen.

The 3-inch 4:3 aspect ratio screen has a super bright 1.04-million-dot resolution, a big increase from the 640k dots LCD of its E-P3 forebear. Images look particularly vivid with plenty of contrast when viewed on the E-P5's screen and happily this carries over when results are downloaded to your desktop. The screen on the E-P5 now tilts, rather than being fixed in place, with a hinged design that rotates 90 degrees up and 45 degrees down, useful for both waist-level and overhead shots. You can't twist the screen out to the side though.

If you'd rather use a viewfinder to frame your shots, the tiltable VF-4 electronic viewfinder is an attractive, if rather costly, option. With its 2.36-million-dot display, the VF-4 has a magnification factor of 1.48x (35mm conversion: 0.74x), built-in dioptre control, and can be tilted through 90 degrees to act as a waist-level viewfinder. It displays a lot of shooting information and even automatically switches mode when it detects your eye. The VF-4 is quite large though, so much so that the E-P5 is physically bigger then the flagship OM-D EM-5 when it's fitted, and also you can't use both an external flash and the EVF at the same time. Still, the VF-4 is undoubtedly one of the best EVFs that we've ever had the pleasure of using.

The E-P5 is the first PEN to feature built-in wi-fi connectivity (previous PENs have relied on wireless memory cards), although it's rather restricted in use as it has to be paired with a smartphone. Install the Olymopus Image Share app and you can control the E-P5 remotely using an Apple or Android smartphone, including the autofocus and shutter release, embed GPS information in your shots, and upload pictures to the Web.

Olympus E-P5 Olympus E-P5
Front Rear

Low light sensitivity has been boosted on this latest Pen, jumping from ISO 12800 to a semi pro-like ISO 25600, and also offering a new LOW/ISO 100 setting. The top shutter speed has also been increased to a very impressive 1/8000th second, making the E-P5 the first compact system camera with a mechanical shutter to offer such a highspeed, and great for freezing fast-moving objects or shooting wide-open with fast lenses, even in bright conditions.

Most image stabilization systems compensate for camera shake by correcting yaw and pitch. Olympus claim that camera shake is actually caused by five different kinds of motion, and the E-P5's image stabilization mechanism additionally corrects for horizontal shift, vertical shift and rotary motion (rolling) for both still images and movies. You can see some examples on the Image Quality page of this new system in action. We also had very few images that suffered from camera shake during the review period.

Unsurprisingly the E-P5 retains the Olympus USP of on-board Art Filters, which are also worth singling out for praise. These filters can be applied to Full HD video as well as stills, recordable in AVCHD or reduced resolution Motion JPEG formats, which helpfully ups the E-P5's game.

The E-P5 features a built-in flash, here of the pop up variety, which means it has been neatly and unobtrusively sunk into the top plate. Activated with a press of a dedicated button sitting just behind, it's been added without increasing the overall bulk of the camera.

Feeling robust and reassuringly solid in the palm thanks to the retained metal build, the E-P5's dimensions are 122.3 x 68.9 x 37.2mm. So it's still one for a camera bag rather than a pocket with the kit lens attached, with a body-only weight of 378g (50g heavier than the E-P3). Unlike the E-P3, you can't remove the handgrip, a feature we rather quite liked.

Olympus E-P5 Olympus E-P5
Side Tilting LCD Screen

From the front of the E-P5 it's pretty much business as usual, with a chunky lens release button to the left of the lens mount and Micro Four Thirds system logo directly beneath. There's also a small porthole for the AF Assist lamp and the afore-mentioned angular handgrip, which only has space for two fingers rather than three. Completing the front of the E-P5 is a very welcome second control dial, which in conjunction with the rear control dial makes it a cinch to change the aperture and shutter speed when shooting in Manual mode.

The Olympus E-P5' top plate has a vacant hotshoe sits directly above the lens, with a recessed shooting mode dial to its left hand side, again if viewing the camera lens-on, making room for the embedded flash on the right. The coin-like shooting mode dial has a surrounding ridged edge for easier purchase, although we found that it was moved far too easily when stored in a bag or pocket. The options on the dial have largely remained the same as the E-P3's, the shooting options being program, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual, video, scene modes, Art Filters and - the most obviously highlighted of all - iAuto mode. Art Filters have also swelled from ten to twelve in number. A new shooting option for the E-P5 is the quirky Photo Story mode, which offers a range of collage-like layout styles and frame effects, the twist being that the camera shows a live preview of the layout, into which your picture are inserted on-the-fly.

As with its predecessor in the E-series the Art Filter digital effects are applied at the time of capture which means write speeds are inevitably a couple of seconds longer than for regular images. When shooting using certain filters, such as Diorama or Dramatic Tone, the screen's refresh rate slows, providing a real time preview of how the eventual image may look. Somewhat strangely, the new Focus Peaking function is actually applied as an art filter, slowing down the frame rate of the display, although it can be used in conjunction with the MF Assist magnification and the built-in image stabilisation system.

Controls adjacent to the shooting mode dial have also changed slightly; the adjacent shutter release button is now slightly smaller but just as usable, and the dedicated exposure compensation button of the E-P2 has become a non-specific user attributable 'Fn2' function button. By default this opens the Live Guide menu, presented as a colourful toolbar on the left hand side of the screen. This lets users try out picture adjustments with the aid of an onscreen slider bar to adjust the likes of depth of field and see the results in real time before pressing the shutter release button with accessibility extended beyond iAuto mode.

From the top we have the ability to change colour saturation, from 'clear & vivid' to 'flat & muted', next down is the ability to alter 'colour image', which translates as shifting the tone between warm and cool via slider bar, with the third option shifting brightness/exposure between a simple bright and dark. The fourth option down is probably the most interesting/effective in that it provides the ability to incrementally blur the background of your shot by again dragging an indicator on a slider - thus providing a similar shallow depth of field effect to that achievable with a DSLR and suitable aperture.

Olympus E-P5 Olympus E-P5
Pop-up Flash Top

For its fifth Live Guide option Olympus has retained the curiously named 'Express Motions', which to us has always sounded more like a bowel movement than the actual emphasizing of subject motion by introducing blur. Well, in fact, there's the option to both blur any movement or stop it in its tracks, again achievable by dragging a slider indicator. The last option on this tool bar is a on-board shooting hints and tips manual, with the usual 'suspects' of photographing children and pets given the most prominence ('take a picture at their height level' being a summation of the level of advice imparted). We even get tips, as a bit of closet advertising, for attaching Olympus accessories, such as lens converters.

The on/off control is now a much more tactile switch, rather than a button. The activation of the flash via the button on the rear meets an instant response, sound-tracked by a satisfyingly robust 'clunk' as it's raised approximately an inch above the body on a spring-loaded Meccano-like mechanism. A pair of stereo microphones are located just in front of the hotshoe and directly above the lens mount, completing the E-P5's top-plate.

The Olympus E-P5 quickly readies itself for action in less than a second; that is, as ever, if you've first manually unfurled the retractable 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens (equivalent to 28-84mm in 35mm terms). Otherwise you're faced with a text message on a blank OLED screen asking you to perform this action before a picture can be taken, which is slightly irritating. For street photographers for whom the E-P5 is otherwise ideal, the business of extending the lens does inevitably lengthen the time between seeing something that might make a good picture and actually being able to take said picture.

Squeeze down halfway on the shutter release button and as previously indicated the E-P5 very nearly instantaneously responds, the screen very briefly blurring before snapping back into focus, AF point flashing up in green with an accompanying bleep of confirmation. Go on to take the shot and even when shooting RAW and Fine (top quality) JPEG in tandem there's a wait of an acceptable three seconds before the shot is fully committed to card. Buffer memory is such however that you don't have to wait that long to squeeze off another shot if the opportunity presents itself.

Moving to the backplate of the E-P5, the lineage from the E-P3 to this model is fairly clear. The accessory port, the same Accessory Port 2, has been retained directly below the vacant hotshoe, with the flash button over to the left. The first control that we come to, top right of the screen, is the second, thumb-operated, control dial. Below is a small red video record button. Press this to record, or stop recording, no matter which shooting mode is otherwise selected on the top dial.

Olympus E-P5 Olympus E-P5
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

This is now surrounded by a brand new switch that, along with the controls dials, forms an integral part of what Olympus refer to as the 2x2 Dial Control system. In the first position, moving the control dial on the front of the camera adjusts the aperture while the dial on the back adjusts the shutter speed. On the second setting, the dials change the ISO value and white balance respectively. You can also configure the switch's operation too. It's a clever system that helps to keep the number of external controls to a manageable level, although it is easy to set the switch to the second position to change the ISO speed, forget that you've not changed it back to position one, then curse when you go to change the aperture/shutter speed and change the ISO again instead.

The button immediately below is for enlarging an image up to 10x in shooting mode to aid manual focusing (with up to 10x also available in playback mode), and below that again the Menu and Info buttons.

Ranged around the E-P5's backplate control dial/pad are controls for exposure compensation, flash settings, continuous shooting/self-timer options, and the ability to manually specify the AF point. Dragging a finger, and so the AF point, around the touchscreen will achieve the same end, though inadvertently subsequently taping it will cause the shutter to fire. Yes, this facility can be deactivated by prodding the relevant shutter button icon on the touch screen, but it's just as easy to accidentally turn it on again; even via an action as incongruous as the button of your shirt connecting with the screen as you're wearing the E-P5 on a neck strap, or the thumb of your left hand straying as you handle the camera.

Completing the rear of the E-P5 are dedicated and self-explanatory image deletion and playback buttons.

While chunky lugs for attaching the supplied shoulder strap hang at either side of the camera, thankfully out of the way of fingers and controls, on the right hand flank, if viewing the camera from the back, we find a pair of covered ports for joint USB/AV output and mini HDMI output respectively. This cover, being a weaker plastic element amidst the surrounding brushed metal, is one of the very few flimsy points on the outwardly covetable camera.

Also plastic-y, but more reassuringly chunky, is the flip open cover protecting the joint battery and card compartment at the E-P5's base. There is the option here to use all varieties of SD media card, up to and including SDXC cards. Slightly off-centre is a metal screw thread for attaching a tripod. The PS-BLN1 rechargeable lithium ion battery supplied with the E-P5 is good for around a more than respectable 400 shots.