Olympus PEN EPL-5 Review

by Enche Tjin on May 20, 2013

Olympus EPL-5 is one of the cameras that belong in the micro four thirds system. The camera is aimed at the amateur and professional photographers who want a simple, lightweight but high performance camera. Off course, these photographers want high quality images too.

Reviewing the camera body, Olympus PEN E-PL5 has a body that is small enough and light compared to other mirrorless cameras like the Sony NEX and Samsung NX. As with other Olympus PEN, the camera grip is small, it can be opened and replaced. For me, holding Olympus EPL5 is more similar to holding a large compact digital camera rather than holding DSLR camera. For me, the grip is a little small. I prefer the larger grip like on Sony NEX 6. However, EPL-5 is quite comfortable to hold for a long time.

olympus-epl5

The quality of the camera body feels sturdy and not worse compared to entry level DSLR camera. On the camera body, there are a number of buttons that can be programmed to become shortcut of other camera functions if desired. Although this camera is aimed at beginners, but i think it has good amount of buttons for easy navigation and tactical control.

On the top of the camera, it has a hot shoe AP2 port to attach other accessories such as a macro flash, stereo mic adapter, penpal (for bluetooth connection), flash, viewfinder VF2. Interestingly, there is a folding LCD screen that can be rotated up to 180 degrees, ideal for photo of yourself (self-portrait).

The menu is pretty neat camera arranged by category: Shooting menu, playback, custom menu (which are divided into various categories such as for autofocus, programming buttons and others), and camera setup. At first glance, the Nikon menu is similar, but more orderly because it is arranged per-page, so users won’t have to scroll down to find specific menu item.

Camera and autofocus performance
Autofocus performance is very fast. Surprisingly, it is faster than most DSLR cameras. Autofocus can be activated by pressing half shutter button or pressing directly on the camera’s LCD screen like you usually do with a camera phone. Startup and shutdown time of the camera is quick, it is under one second. It is almost as fast as entry-level DSLR camera.

Image quality
Most people probably underestimate the micro four thirds system camera because those cameras are using smaller image sensor compared to many DSLR cameras. But from my observation, photo quality from Olympus E-PL5 is very good, especially when using low ISO. ISO 1600 is still okay (except when you zoom in at 100%) and ISO 6400 is still good enough for small or print size for online needs. Colors and sharpness are still good at high ISO. You can push it to ISO 25600 if you need it. For example, when you are shooting in extremely dark places.

Olympus EPL5 has the similar image sensor to Olympus OMD EM5 which costs twice as much. This is great because you save a lot of money but still get some features from higher-end camera.

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ISO 200 (base ISO), 1/320 second f/8

Crop of the image above

Crop of the image above

Lenses

Smaller sensor (four thirds sensor) enabling smaller and lighter lens design. Olympus lenses are much smaller and shorter than its competitors such as Sony NEX, Samsung NX lenses, let alone lenses from DSLR camera.

Kit zoom lens 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 is short and small size when you lock it up, and turns into a bit long when we unlocked it. The resulting image quality is sharp and the lens is able to capture fine details. I also had the opportunity to try the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 MSC lens. This large aperture fix lens is relatively small and has metal casing. The resulting image quality is sharp and the out of focus area is smooth when you set it to f/1.8.

Art filters
Art filter is post processing filters that process your image automatically directly after you shoot. Some of these filters include pop art, soft focus, Pale & light color, light tone, grainy film, pin hole, diorama, cross process, gentle sepia, dramatic tone, key line, and watercolor. Olympus’ Art filters feature has been around for a long time, since Olympus DSLR era. Unfortunately, when you choose a specific Art Filter, you don’t get the original picture. So the resulting image is final, processed image. In other cameras, such as Nikon DSLR cameras, digital filters can be applied after the shooting and the camera will create a new file for the processed one.

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ISO 6400, 1/25 second f/4.7

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Lens system
In addition to smaller camera size. Micro four thirds system has the advantage of smaller and more complete lenses. This is because micro four thirds system is supported by many other company such as Panasonic, Sigma, Tamron, Leica, etc. Compared to other mirrorless system, this m43 system has the most complete up to date, ranging from standard quality lenses to high quality, pro lenses.

Recommendation
Olympus E-PL5 is a pleasant camera to use: lightweight, fast and flexible performers. Image quality is very good. Though designed for beginners, but many sophisticated features are also given. For example, 16 MP image sensor, bracketing feature, custom white balance settings with Kelvin temperature, autofocus speed is very good, and battery is good enough for 400-600 photos. Overall, I highly recommend this camera.

Plus-minus

+ Relatively small size and light weight
+ Very fast autofocus performance
+ Many BKT option (including HDR bracketing, white balance until the art filter)
+ Very good photo quality up to ISO 1600
+ Very good lens collection
+ Good battery life (up to 600 photos per charge)
+ Custom White Balance: allows setting of the Kelvin temperature
+ Image Stabilizer installed in the camera
- LCD folding mechanism is rather complicated to use
- Relatively small button size and grip
- Touch screen LCD is a bit too sensitive. A slight touch will cause camera to snap picture
- Auto ISO maximum is limited to 1600
- No built-in flash, but small external flash is provided

Important specification Olympus EPL-5

  • 16 MP Four Thirds sensor (2X crop sensor than full frame / 35mm)
  • 3-inch LCD touch screen, 460 thousand dots.
  • Continuous shooting 8 fps
  • ISO 200-25600
  • Built-in image stabilizer
  • Shutter speed range from 1/4000 – 60 seconds
  • Price with standard kit lens: check it out (last time I checked it is $599)
ISO 200 f/8, 1/320 second

ISO 200 f/8, 1/320 second

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ISO 1600 f/4.5 1/40 second

ISO 200 f/4 1/320 second

ISO 200 f/4 1/320 second

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