Skip to main content

The best Micro Four Thirds camera thus far

The good: The Olympus PEN E-P5 renders extremely good photos for its class, and has a streamlined shooting design. Plus, it's fast.
The bad: The navigation button/dial is annoyingly awkward, and I wish the flash tilted.
The bottom line: An excellent entry in the Micro Four Thirds universe, the Olympus PEN E-P5 should please a lot of folks, but it's also expensive given that it doesn't deliver best-in-class photo quality.


Normally a two-year product cycle isn't that much for a camera targeted at advanced photographers. But in a field where technology mutates as quickly as it does for advanced interchangeable-lens cameras, that's a long time. So at two years since the Olympus PEN E-P3, it feels like it's taken just a little too long for the PEN E-P5's debut. But in addition to incorporating the sensor, autofocus, and image stabilization systems from the E-M5, the E-P5 gains a tiltable touch screen; broader scene analysis in auto mode; 1080/30p video; and other features. All the changes add up to what feels like a completely different camera, with better photo quality, a more streamlined design, faster performance, and a broader feature set.
You can buy the camera either as body-only or as a kit that includes the 17mm f1.8 lens plus add-on electronic viewfinder. The latter configuration is expensive, but I'm quite partial to the EVF. It's humongous, but it's a lot more stable to shoot that way. If you do opt for the body only, resist the impulse to pair it with the cheap 14-42mm lens; a camera like this really cries out for a sharp, high-quality lens.
Image quality
The E-P5 delivers the best image quality I've seen from a Micro Four Thirds camera, finally ratcheting up my image quality rating, but it's still not quite as good as APS-C competitors. The camera's JPEGs look good up through ISO 400, and OK through ISO 800; by ISO 1600 the noise suppression gets aggressive. I really wouldn't shoot at ISO 3200 or higher with the E-P5. As it is, at ISO 1600, only the precisely sharp areas look good viewed at 100 percent, though 13x19 prints look OK. You can gain a little latitude by shooting raw, though you're generally exchanging mushiness for graininess. Olympus' image processing has gotten better since the O-MD E-M5, with less sharpening and less of the crunchy look.

Olympus PEN E-P5 photo samples (pictures)

1-2 of 12
Scroll LeftScroll Right
The camera clips a little more in the highlights than I like, and there isn't a lot of recoverable detail in the raw files on bright areas. I did have some luck reclaiming detail in clipped areas of bright, saturated reds, however, as well as bringing up dark shadow areas. Olympus defaults to a Natural color preset that still pushes the saturation a little more than I like, but color accuracy in raw files looks good. 
Automatic white balance is slightly cool but acceptable.
Click to downloadISO 100
ISO 800
ISO 1600
Video looks fine for vacation clips, but isn't great. There are edge artifacts, like moire, aliasing, and haloing, and low-light video is mushy. I also had some playback problems; clips played fine in QuickTime, Adobe Premiere, and VLC, but Windows Media Player had decoding issues.
Performance
The E-P5 is really fast; it's one of the fastest non-dSLRs I've tested, and faster than a lot of dSLRs. It powers on, focuses, and shoots in 0.8 second, and time to focus and shoot in good conditions runs just 0.22 second, rising to an excellent 0.25 second in dim light. Two sequential JPEG or raw shots clock at 0.23 second, which becomes 0.7 second with flash enabled. (Note that I usually report these numbers rounded to 0.1 second, but the differences are so minor that rounding would overemphasize their significance.) Shooting simultaneous JPEG+raw feels as fast as shooting JPEG alone, though there's a slight processing overhead that may slow down your photo reviewing.
Continuous shooting is seriously zippy as well. With a 95MBps card it can sustain a JPEG burst at 9.6 frames per second for about 18 frames before it slows to a still-quite-respectable 6.3fps. (Though it's rated to drop without fixed AF, I didn't notice any significant change with tracking AF.) Raw bursts at about 10fps for 16 shots, then drops to about 3.7fps.
The camera incorporates the same AF system as the OM-D E-M5, with some more performance optimization with Four Thirds lenses. I had no problems with the autofocus system for still photos; it generally snaps decisively to the subject. For video, though, it was a little disappointing. It pulses on still objects, and there's no way to have it ease into focus from one object to another via the touch screen -- it just snaps decisively.
The screen fares pretty well in direct sunlight, and the tilting helps, plus it's bright and shows contrast well. Still, I prefer the tilting EVF.
Shooting speed (in seconds)(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Raw shot-to-shot time  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Olympus PEN E-P5
0.8 
0.2 
0.2 
0.3 
0.2 
Sony Alpha NEX-6
2 
0.2 
0.2 
0.5 
0.2





 
Olympus OM-D E-M5


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Best tech gifts under $100 for Dad

Roku's speedy streamer is the best box yetThe good:The Roku 3's excellent new interface and faster processor makes it feel quicker and more responsive than any other streaming box. More than 750 channels are supported, including Netflix, Amazon Instant, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, Pandora, MLB.TV, Amazon Cloud Player, and Vudu. It also has cross-platform search that scours several major TV and movie services to find content. And Roku's nifty new remote has a built-in headphone jack that lets you listen without disturbing others. The bad:There's still no official YouTube channel. Some services have an outdated interface on Roku compared to other streamers. The Apple TV still works better within the Apple ecosystem. And the Roku 3 isn't a great option if you're mostly looking to stream your personal digital media collection. The bottom line:The Roku 3 is the best streaming-video box yet, with tons of content sources, lightning-fast performance, and an innovative remote wit…

'Star Trek II' producer talks Ceti Eel, J.J. Abrams, and more (Q&A)

Robert Sallin, producer of "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," shares his experience working on the film, looks at the future of "Trek," and dishes on whether that was Ricardo Montalban's real chest.

The release of "Star Trek Into Darkness" has not only spurred interest in the "Trek" world in general, but especially in its film daddy, the original Khan-as-villain movie "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." While the new film takes quite a few detours, it is full of homages to the earlier work. Let's look back to 1982. "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" had been released in 1979 and faced a poor critical reception. Paramount, the film's studio, was gun-shy after the movie nearly doubled its original budget, ending up with a $46 million price tag. Nonetheless, plans for a second movie plodded along. It's 30, 40 years later and we have new audiences. You can't keep dwelling on the old guys and the old things. It has…

Power-packed plasma shines brighter

The good:The Samsung PNF8500 series exhibits outstanding picture quality with a class-leading bright-room image, exceedingly deep black levels, very good shadow detail, highly accurate colors and superb off-angle and uniformity characteristics; mind-boggling feature list with touch-pad remote, IR blaster with cable box control, four pairs of 3D glasses, motion and voice command, and the industry's most capable Smart TV platform; unique styling with full-width ribbon stand and slim-bezel metallic finish. The bad:Extremely expensive; correct film cadence requires sacrificing some black level; remote lacks numerous direct commands; imperfect cable box control; consumes more power than LCD TVs. The bottom line:Samsung's best-performing TV ever, the PNF8500 series pushes the plasma picture quality envelope, especially in bright rooms.Amid the hubbub aboutPanasonic's financial troubleand questions about how it will affectthe future of plasma TV, it's easy to forget about Samsu…