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Olympus streamlines its pretty PEN E-P5

The company's replacement for its E-P3, the E-P5, incorporates all the right updates.

Lori Grunin/CNET

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 1.5 years since the E-P3, it feels like it's taken just a little too long for the PEN E-P5's debut, especially given the relatively catch-up feature set of the new model.

Not that there's anything wrong with the updates in the E-P5; there's plenty here that probably makes it a better camera. The most noticeable is the new design, still retro but based off the PEN F film camera this time. It's quite attractive, especially in the black and silver, though it comes in the same off-white and camel and all-black of the previous model.

Much of the control layout has been changed and seems both more traditional, with front and a back dials, as well as more streamlined with increased customizability. I like most of the changes; the one notable exception is probably the shallow fixed grip. On the E-P3 you had the ability to easily replace the shallow grip with a more pronounced one.

Olympus' also 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 phone, and the app automatically configures the connection. It's a clever, inexpensive solution to the setup problem, as long as you only want to connect your camera to the phone.

Olympus' new EVF. Olympus America

Other important enhancements include the same AF system as the OM-D E-M5, with some more performance optimization with Four Thirds lenses (the E-P3's overall performance is pretty good, though); the same image-stabilization system and sensor as the E-M5, though hopefully with tweaked image processing; a tiltable touch screen; broader scene analysis in auto mode; and 1080/30p video. The camera also gains focus peaking and a smaller spot AF and the Photo Story feature introduced in the XZ-10 (it lets you select different aspect ratios of photos to shoot, which the camera automatically loads into a multiphoto template). Plus it offers time-lapse and intervalometer options.

Olympus also rolled out black versions of its high-quality f1.8 primes (17mm, 45mm and 75mm) and a new electronic viewfinder (EVF), which is included in a kit with the 17mm lens; it's bigger, higher-resolution, and adds an eye sensor.

Here are some of the E-P5's current competitors:

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 23.5 x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.5x 2.0x 2.0x 2.0x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 (expanded)/ 200 - ISO 6400/25600 (expanded) ISO 200 - ISO 12,800 ISO 100 (exp)/200 - ISO 25600 ISO 200 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 - ISO 12800 ISO 100 - ISO 25600
Continuous shooting 6fps
3.0 fps
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% coverage
Optional plug-in articulating EVF
1,440,000 dots
Optional EVF
2.36 million dots
100% coverage
1.44 million dots
100% coverage
480,000 dots
100% coverage
2.4 million dots
100% coverage
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 60-1/4000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes 60 - 1/8000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes; 1/250 sec x-sync
(FP to 1/4000 sec)
60-1/4,000 sec.; bulb to 8 minutes; 1/250 sec x-sync (flash-dependent) 30-1/8000 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; 1080 x 810/24p; 720/30p H.264 MPEG-4 AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/ 24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440 x 1080/30p @ 12Mbps
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 connection 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.) 13.0 14.8 (est) 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) $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 $899.99 (with 17mm lens) $1449.99 (with 17mm lens and VF-4 EVF) $1,099.99 (with 14-42mm lens) n/a n/a
Ship date November 2012 August 2011 May 2013 April 2012 May 2012 October 2012

While the Sony Alpha NEX-6 isn't as eye-catching, it's cheaper and a pretty strong competitor, with a bigger sensor. Furthermore, if you're going to add the optional EVF, you might as well get the E-M5, which has the extra weather sealing and has better continuous-shooting for roughly the same body-only price.

The E-P5 looks nice and will probably be a fine camera, but unless you're buying primarily on looks it doesn't have any competitive edge that I can think of. Then again, a good-looking camera, especially one bundled with one of Olympus' better lenses, might pull it off.

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