Olympus PEN E-P5 Review

The Olympus PEN E-P5 jams the latest camera technologies into a solidly built, elegant retro body.
The Olympus PEN E-P5 jams the latest camera technologies into a solidly built, elegant retro body.
The Olympus PEN E-P5 jams the latest camera technologies into a solidly built, elegant retro body.

Highs

  • Attractive retro design
  • Efficient and intuitive controls
  • Good performance
  • (Almost) infinitely customizable

Lows

  • Autofocus not as smart as we would have expected
  • Myriad features and customization options may be too confusing for some users
  • Noise filter aggressively removes detail from JPEG images

DT Editors' Rating

The Olympus PEN E-P5 is the latest in Olympus’ Micro Four-Thirds (MFT) interchangeable lens camera lineup. While the E-P5 blends the latest tech into a classic retro body, does the performance match up with its elegant design?

Features and design

The first thing you’ll notice about the E-P5 is its classic retro camera design. The camera looks like it stepped right out from the 1970s, but that isn’t a bad thing; as they say, “Everything eventually comes back in style,” and the E-P5’s good design proves that. The camera comes in silver, black, and white. We received the black version to test, but they all look equally sharp.

The good design doesn’t end with just looks. The controls are very thoughtfully laid out, with just about every camera function a button press away. The top plate of the camera houses the on/off switch, function button, shutter release, and mode dial. There are front and rear dials, which as in most cameras are used to change shutter speed and aperture (although Olympus throws in a little twist).

Olympus PEN E P5 lens macro

The rear of the camera features a lever that controls Olympus’ “2×2 dial” interface. What this means is that when the lever is in position one, the front and rear dials can be used to change shutter speed and aperture. Slide the lever to the “2” position and those same dials can be used to change ISO and white balance settings. Like we said earlier, just about everything on the camera is a button press away.

Other controls are fairly standard for a camera of this size: four-way controller, movie record button, playback, trash buttons, etc.

The E-P5 is a highly customizable camera that will do really well in any number of shooting situations.

Taking things further, you can change the function of every button and dial on the camera to perform just about any function you want. This is probably one of the most customizable cameras we’ve ever used. We will say that some users – particularly those stepping up from simple point-and-shoots – may find all these options a bit daunting, so it’s worth studying up the user’s manual before you use it.

The E-P5 features a 1.04-million dot LCD panel. It’s a 3-inch capacitive touchscreen that tilts both upward and downward in a wide range of angles. For shooters that prefer a viewfinder, a new optional VF-4 2.36-million dot LCD hot-shoe accessory is available as well. During our testing, we found the VF-4 to be very bright and provided an excellent means for composing images. It has eye detection, so it automatically turns itself on and turns off the LCD when you bring the camera up to your face. We found it more pleasing than using the LCD to compose images. At $279, it will cost you though. The good news is that older VF-2 and VF-3 viewfinders will also work on the E-P5.

When it comes to image capture, the E-P5 uses the same 16-megapixel sensor that is also used in the OM-D E-M5 (LINK). In addition to all the normal shooting modes, you’ll find 12 artistic digital filters such as grainy film and soft focus, and 23 scene modes such as sports and portrait. Olympus also packed in its “5-axis” image stabilization that’s found in the E-M5. This advanced IS technology allows for compensation for just about any type of camera movement.

Also new to the line is Wi-Fi, where Olympus has been a bit of a slow mover. Unfortunately, Olympus’s smartphone apps for iOS and Android were not ready as of the time of this writing, so we’ll be taking a closer look at them in a future review.

Overall, the E-P5 is a solidly built camera. The body is aluminum and features minimal plastic parts. It’s well designed and feels good in your hand.

What’s in the box

Depending on your kit, you’ll find either an f/3.5-5.6 14-42mm zoom or f/1.8 17mm prime lens, battery, battery charger, and camera strap; you can also purchase the body without a lens. Our test kit also included the optional VF-4 viewfinder.

Performance and use

Overall, the E-P5 was a real joy to use. The controls were well laid out and the camera has very good ergonomics.

The autofocus was really fast, but not as smart as we would have liked. There were several instances where the AF chose to focus on an area of the shot that we didn’t expect.

The 9 frames-per-second drive shooting performed well in action-oriented situations. When combined with the very fast 1/8000-second top shutter speed, we were able to capture all the fast outdoor action.

When it came to image quality, we initially found that the E-P5 was producing a lot of JPEG images that weren’t sharp and lacked detail. We found this a little confounding, so we kept on shooting until we could figure it out. By default, the camera’s noise filter is set to “standard.” Even in good lighting, the filter seemed a bit too aggressive at removing detail from our images.

Once we turned off the noise filter, we found that images were very sharp when we zoomed in. Images also had nice color reproduction and the auto white balance worked very well.

We found images start to get noisy at around ISO 800, especially with the noise filter turned off. However, our opinion is that the noisier images with the filter turned off looked more pleasing than the less noisy images with the detail removed by the noise filter. It might take some tweaking, but you’ll probably find the right balance of noise versus detail for the shooting conditions you’re working in.

Video quality looked very nice, and the E-P5 shoots up to 1080/30p HD video. The continuous autofocus was a tad bit slow when shooting video, but that’s a very minor complaint.

Conclusion

All the staffers who had a chance to try out the E-P5 loved it, and we were sad to see it leave our hands. It’s nicely designed, has a ton of features, and produces really nice images. The noise filter is a bit aggressive that results in less-than-sharp images, but this is easily fixable by adjusting the settings to your liking. The E-P5 is a camera that will do really well in any number of shooting situations, as long as you can handle the price tag.

Highs

  • Attractive retro design
  • Efficient and intuitive controls
  • Good performance
  • (Almost) infinitely customizable

Lows

  • Autofocus not as smart as we would have expected
  • Myriad features and customization options may be too confusing for some users
  • Noise filter aggressively removes detail from JPEG images
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