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Olympus PEN E-P5 review: The best Micro Four Thirds camera thus far

While it's not perfect, the company's latest intechangeable-lens camera is probably the best Micro Four Thirds model we've seen to date.

Lori Grunin
Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice

I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.

Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
9 min read

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.

Olympus PEN E-P5 (Body Only, Silver)

Olympus PEN E-P5

The Good

The <b>Olympus PEN E-P5</b> 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.

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)

See all photos

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 download ISO 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.

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)

Sony Alpha NEX-6
Olympus OM-D E-M5

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Design and features
With an even more solid, dense build and a more traditional control layout than its predecessor, the E-P5 feels extremely streamlined to shoot with. Unlike the E-P3, it has front and back dials, as well as increased customizability. I like most of the changes.

On top are a front control dial, an assignable Fn button, and a mode dial with the usual manual, semimanual, and automatic modes, plus Art Filters and the Photo Story feature introduced in the Olympus XZ-10 (it lets you select different aspect ratios of photos to shoot, which the camera automatically loads into a multiphoto template). On the back is another adjustment dial, plus four-way navigation/button controls for exposure compensation, focus area, drive mode, and flash options. Beneath the record button, a two-position lever changes the dial operations dependent upon shooting mode. For instance, in shutter-priority mode the lever toggles the dial functions between exposure compensation and shutter speed or ISO and white balance. You have some limited control over how the functions are assigned.

Although I initially thought I'd object to the fixed, shallow grip -- on the E-P3 you had the option to easily replace the shallow grip with a more pronounced one --the bigger annoyance turned out to be the navigation button control. It's just a little too small and the ring just a little too thin; enough that I repeatedly hit left when I was trying for down or down when I was trying for right. I also wish the flash tilted back for bounce control.

While the E-P5 has a touch screen, you don't really operate the camera with it. In advanced modes you use it for touch focus, touch shutter, or to initiate Wi-Fi, and in iAuto mode you use it to adjust the sliders.

Fujifilm X-E1 Olympus PEN E-P3 Olympus PEN E-P5 Olympus OM-D E-M5 Samsung NX20 Sony Alpha NEX-6
Sensor (effective resolution) 16.3MP X-Trans CMOS
12.3MP Live MOS
12 bits
16.1MP Live MOS
12 bits
16.1MP Live MOS
12 bits
16.1MP Exmor HD CMOS
23.6mm x 15.6mm 17.3mm x 13mm 17.3mm x 13mm 17.3mm x 13mm 23.5mm x 15.7mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm
Focal- length multiplier 1.5x 2.0x 2.0x 2.0x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 (exp)/200 - ISO 6400/ 25600 (exp) ISO 200 - ISO 12800 ISO 100 (exp)/200 - ISO 25600 ISO 200 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 - ISO 12800 ISO 100 - ISO 25600
Burst shooting 6fps
unlimited (LN) JPEG/17 raw
4.5-5fps (lens-dependent, IS off)
70 JPEG/20 raw
(9fps with fixed AE/AF, no IS)
17 JPEG/11 raw
11 JPEG/8 raw
11 raw/15 JPEG
(10fps with fixed exposure)
Viewfinder EVF
2.36 million dots
100 percent coverage
Optional plug-in articulating EVF
1,440,000 dots
Optional EVF
2.36 million dots
100 percent coverage
1.48x/ 0.74x
1.44 million dots
100 percent coverage
1.15x/ 0.58x
480,000 dots
100 percent coverage
1.04x/ 0.69x
2.4 million dots
100 percent coverage
1.09x/ 0.73x
Hot shoe Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Autofocus 49-area
contrast AF
35-area contrast AF 35-area contrast AF 35-area contrast AF 15-point contrast AF 99-point phase detection, 25-area contrast AF
AF sensitivity range n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a 0 - 20 EV
Shutter speed 30 - 1/4,000 sec.; bulb to 60 min; 1/180 x-sync 60 - 1/4,000 sec.; bulb to 30 minutes 60 - 1/8,000 sec.; bulb to 30 minutes; 1/250 sec x-sync
(FP to 1/4,000 sec)
60 - 1/4,000 sec.; bulb to 8 minutes; 1/250 sec x-sync (flash-dependent) 30 - 1/8,000 sec.; bulb to 4 minutes; 1/180 x-sync 30 - 1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 sec x-sync
Metering 256 zones 324 area 324 area 324 area 221 segment 1,200 zones
Metering range n/a 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 18 EV 0 - 20 EV
Flash Yes Yes Yes Included add-on Yes Yes
Wireless flash No Yes Yes Yes No No
Image stabilization Optical Sensor shift Sensor shift Sensor shift Optical Optical
Video 1080/24p H.264 1080/60i AVCHD @ 20, 17Mbps; 720/60p @ 13Mbps 1080/30p @ 20Mbps H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/60i QuickTime MOV @ 20, 17Mbps 1080/30p; 1,080 x 810/24p; 720/30p H.264 MPEG-4 AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/ 24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps
Audio Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo Stereo; mic input
LCD size 2.8-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed OLED
614,000 dots
3-inch tilting touch-screen LCD
1.04 million dots
3-inch tilting touch-screen OLED
614,000 dots
3-inch articulated AMOLED
921,000 dots
3-inch tilting touch screen
921,600 dots
Wireless None Optional via Bluetooth Wi-Fi None Wi-Fi Wi-Fi
Battery life (CIPA rating) 350 shots 330 shots 330 shots n/a 330 shots 270 shots
(with viewfinder)
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 5.1 x 2.9 x 1.5 4.8 x 2.7 x 1.4 4.8 x 2.7 x 1.5 4.8 x 3.5 x 1.7 4.6 x 2.5 x 1.4 4.8 x 2.8 x 1.1
Body operating weight (ounces) 12.4 (est.) 13 15.1 15.1 14 (est) 12.3
Mfr. price $999.95 (body only) n/a $999.99 (body only) $949.99 (body only) n/a $749.99 (body only)
$1,399.95 (with 18-55mm lens) discontinued
$899.99 (with 14-42mm lens)
n/a $1,199.99 (with 12-50mm lens) $1,099.99 (with 18-55mm i-Function lens) $899.99 (with 15-60mm PZ lens)
n/a $595.99 (est, with 17mm f2.8 lens) $1,449.99 (with 17mm f1.8 lens and VF-4 EVF) $1,099.99 (with 14-42mm lens) n/a n/a
Ship date November 2012 August 2011 July 2013 April 2012 May 2012 October 2012

Olympus takes an interesting approach to wireless connectivity, incorporating QR codes for quick Wi-Fi setup rather than NFC. When you bring up the connection on the camera it presents a QR code that you capture with the OI.Share app on your device, and the app automatically configures the connection. It's a clever, inexpensive solution to setup on devices without NFC, but it still has some rough edges. For instance, even after you've configured it, every time you initiate Wi-Fi on the camera it pops up that same QR code screen and leaves it there, at least on iOS. It really should tell you that you have to go into your Wi-Fi settings and select the camera's SSID. (Part of that is iOS' fault, though.) My iPad repeatedly asked for a camera password, which the folks at Olympus couldn't replicate. And the Android app running on the HTC One couldn't even get a lock on the QR code to scan it.

The app allows you to use your device as a basic remote control (focus, self-timer, and shutter), import photos from the camera, apply Art Filters or add stamps to any photo on the device, and geotag photos.

Other notable camera features include focus peaking, time-lapse, and an intervalometer. For a complete accounting of the E-P5's features and operation, download the PDF manual.

With a nice shooting design and solid build, extremely good photo quality in decent lighting, and some of the fastest performance we've seen in its class, the Olympus PEN E-P5 has a lot to recommend it. I think I still prefer the photo quality of the Sony Alpha NEX-6, which is cheaper and more compact with its built-in viewfinder, but the overall package of the E-P5 comes pretty close.

Olympus PEN E-P5 (Body Only, Silver)

Olympus PEN E-P5

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Image quality 8
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