Support me by shopping at B&H!
Olympus PEN E-P5 Ken McMahon, July 2013
 
   
 

Olympus EP5 verdict

The Olympus PEN E-P5 is the Flagship of the PEN range, replacing the E-P3 and, on the 50th anniversary of the launch of the original PEN F, strengthening the retro design that celebrates the company's 20th Century heritage. But underneath the PEN E-P5 is a very modern digital camera.

Inheriting many of the features of the OM-D E-M5, including the same 16 Megapixel sensor, 5-axis image stabilisation, fast sequential shooting and versatile auto bracketing in a more compact body, the E-P5 adds a host of new upgrades including a 1.03 million dot flip-out LCD display, extended sensitivity range to 25600 ISO, and a 1/8000 fastest shutter speed.

The rear wheel control on the EP3 has been replaced with a new 2x2 control dial system which provides versatile handling of the kind rarely found on mirrorless compact system cameras, with probably only the Sony NEX-7 providing a similar level of control.

Not content with upgrading the hardware, Olympus has also incorporated plenty of new firmware features and enhanced existing ones. For novices and those who like to have some fun with their photography there are new art filters and a Photo story composite mode. For more ambitious and accomplished shooters, Focus peaking (albeit for stills only, not video), super spot AF, Live Bulb and Live Time modes, an interval timer and time-lapse movie feature, HDR bracketing, and the extension of the tap to focus feature to movie shooting all add up to a very exciting and compelling upgrade. So before my final verdict, here's how it compares to a selection of rivals.

   
 

 

Compared to Panasonic Lumix GF6

     
 
 
     
     

Like the PEN E-P5, the Panasonic Lumix GF6 is based on the Micro Four Thirds standard jointly developed by Panasonic and Olympus. As such they share the same sized sensor (albeit from different manufacturers), the same 16 Megapixel resolution and the same lens mount. But beyond that there's a world of a difference between them.

Let's start with design. Where The PEN is a retro-stlyed model that harks back to the glory days of the 35mm half-frame PEN-F, the Lumix GF6 carries no such baggage. Whether you think that's a good or bad thing is largely a matter of personal preference, but the PEN E-P5 is certainly more sturdily contstructed, has more physical controls and handles better for it. That said, it's also bigger and heavier than the GF6.

Olympus doesn't make as much use of its touch-screen interface as Panasonic does. Physically, though, there's not much difference between the screen panels with both offering the same 3 inch 3:2 proportions with capacitance-type touch technology. The GF6's screen does, however, flip up-and-over for self-shooting which the PEN E-P5's can't do. The E-P5 does however sport a hotshoe and accessory port which lets you fit an optional EVF and, for many, the new 2.36 million dot VF4 will be an automatic purchase along with the camera. There's no such option on the GF6 which rules it out if you're one of those people who really wants a viewfinder. The lack of a hotshoe on the GF6 also means you can't use an external flash like you can on the PEN E-P5.

Where Olympus favours in-body sensor-shift stabilisation, Panasonic builds stabilisation into some of its lenses. That means you get stabilisation with any lens you fit to the E-P5, but only with lenses that offer it on the Lumix GF6. The PEN E-P5 also has a neat new feature that allows you to choose which stabilisation you want to use when you have a Panasonic O.I.S lens fitted.

Both cameras offer a similar range of shooting modes with PASM as well as auto modes, scene modes, effects, timelapse and so on; the E-P5 lacks the panorama mode of the Lumix GF6, though it makes up for it to a degree with its new Photo Story mode and focus peaking. The E-P5 has a faster full-resolution continuous shooting speed and a larger RAW buffer, though the GF6 has a wider range of burst options including faster reduced resolution shooting. Both are fitted with wifi, but the GF6 smartphone app provides much more control for remote shooting, plus the GF6's use of NFC makes setting up a wifi connection a doddle with compatible handsets, as you just tap the two devices together. While there's currently only a limited number of smartphones that can use NFC, and iPhones aren't among them, this is a system that's bound to gain in popularity. That said, the QR code system offered by the E-P5 allows pretty quick setup on both iOS and Android devices. The E-P5 also offers a faster 1/8000 shutter speed.

The video capabilities are similarly matched with the GF6 offering a 1080i50 best quality mode and the E-P5 1080p30. The GF6 saves its HD video files in AVCHD fromat where the PEN E-P5 uses QuickTime files. If you're a serious videographer, the ability to attach an external mic to the the PEN E-P5 via its AP2 accessory port is also a factor to consider.

Finally, there is of course the price to consider. There's no getting away from the fact that, for now at least, the PEN E-P5 is an expensive bit of kit. You should expect to pay around twice as much for the E-P5 as the GF6, plus more on top if you want the accessory EVF.

See my Panasonic Lumix GF6 review for more details.

 

Compared to Fujifilm X-M1

     
 
 
     
     

The Fujifilm X-M1 is the latest release in the X series of compact system cameras. Like the PENs, Fuji's X series puts the emphasis on retro rangefinder styling and conventional controls including lenses with an aperture ring, but the X-M1 breaks with form opting for a more contemporary design with a mode dial and exposure compensation dial. While the new design might give the X-M1 wider appeal, it doesn't sit well with the existing X Series line up and, for me at least, doesn't handle nearly as well as the PEN E-P5.

Fujifilm has done well to develop a respectable lens catalogue in the relatively short time frame since the launch of the X mount. The addition of the new 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 OIS brings the total number of lenses to 8, five of which are primes, with another three on the way. But Micro Four Thirds is the most established of the mirrorless system formats with more than forty lenses available from Panasonic and Olympus along with third parties including Sigma, Tamron, Samyang, Voigtlander and others. And with the E-P5 you have in-built sensor-shift stabilisation regardless of what lens you have attached, currently only the Fujinon X mount zooms are stabilised.

Like the PEN E-P5, the Fujifilm X-M1 has a 3 inch 3:2 proportioned LCD screen. It has a resolution of 920k dots, close to the 1.03 million dots of the E-P5 and it tilts up and down in a similar fashion, but it isn't touch-sensitive. And although the X-series is renowned for its innovative hybrid viewfinders, the X-M1 lacks a built in viewfinder or the option to attach an accessory. It does have a hotshoe for attaching an external flash as well as having a built-in one, though.

The X-M1 offers the full range of manual and semi auto shooting modes along with a fully Auto mode, scene modes, and Advanced filters that are broadly equivalent to the PEN E-P5's Art filters. Its auto bracketing isn't as versatile as the PEN E-P5, and its continuous shooting performance, at 5.6 frames per second, is slower with a smaller buffer. Both cameras are equipped with wi-fi for transferring images wirelessly, but the X-M1 lacks the smartphone remote shooting of the E-P5.

After a lacklustre start Fujifilm has worked hard to bring autofocus on the X-range up to speeds that compete with the fastest mirrorless models around - those from Olympus and Panasonic, and the X-M1's AF is fast, but not as fast as the PEN E-P5. It has Face detection, but not the E-P5's ability to pick out a specific eye, it does, however, provide a peaking display for manual focussing, something that's becoming increasingly popular.

With a 1080p30 best quality video mode and a dedicated movie record button, something not seen on an X Series camera previously, the X-M1 is more video friendly than other models in the range, but it lacks the PEN E-P5's dedicated movie position on the mode dial along with its manual exposure modes as well as the ability to plug in an external microphone.

The PEN E-P5 is around 40 percent more expensive than the X-M1, though that differential is likely to erode over time. Is it worth paying the extra? That depends on what you're looking for from a mirrorless compact system camera. The E-P5 offers better handling, is more versatile in a number of areas and has more to offer enthuiast photographers. The X-M1 is Fujifilm's attempt to broaden the appeal of the X Series beyond its narrow enthusiast following, it's more consumer-friendly, but ultimately, as well as being less expensive, it's a less exciting, less capable camera than the E-P5.

See my Fujifilm XM1 review for more details

 

 

Compared to Olympus OMD EM5

     
 
 
     
     

It's easy to think of the PEN E-P5 as a more compact version of the OM-D E-M5 without a viewfinder, but the new PEN flagship is actually much more than that. There's a lot that's mostly the same, from the lens mount, sensor and stabilisation, to the touch-screen, menu system and AF, so let's take a look the main differences.

Personally, I think the E-P5 provides better handling than the OM-D E-M5. This is obviously a subjective judgement, but if you like the twin dial arrangement on the E-M5, you'll love the 2x2 system on the E-P5 which offers double the functionality at the flick of a switch.

The E-M5 uses the same 3-inch 610k dot touch-sensitive OLED screen as the E-P5's predecessor, the E-P3. The E-P5 has substituted that for a new screen that's the same size and proportions and is also touch sensitive, but has a higher resolution 1.03 million dot LCD panel which, like the E-M5's flips up and down for composing at unusual angles. Both are excellent screens and I doubt this difference is one that will be a factor in anyone's choice of one model over the other. The viewfinder is a different story though. The E-P5 doesn't have one built-in, but if you opt for the VF4 accessory you get a substantially bigger viewfinder with a more stable higher resolution view than the OM-D E-M5's built in EVF - 2.36 million dots compared with 1.44 million.

There's a raft of other additions, improvements and enhancements. The 5-axis stabilisation on the E-P5 now has an auto mode that can tell when you're panning along with a option to select priority for Panasonic lenses with built-in stabilisation. I'm not sure I could tell if the AF was faster as claimed, but the E-P5's focus peaking is a definite benefit. The E-P5 also gains a 1/8000 fastest shutter speed and while the continuous shooting specifications are closely matched, in practice, I found the E-P5 to be slightly faster with a larger RAW buffer. The E-P5 inherits the E-M5's innovative Live bulb and Live time features, which allow you to watch a long exposure 'develop' on screen while you're making it and adds an intervalometer and time-lapse movie features. The E-P5 has built-in wifi, allowing you to wirelessly transfer images as well as remotely control the camera, though you can at least get the wireless transfer part on the E-M5 as it supports eye-fi cards (albeit with some reported compatibility issues at times). Video modes are similar, but the E-P5 adds the ability to use the touch-screen to focus while recording.

If all this sounds overwhelmingly in the E-P5's favour, there's two major benefits to the OM-D E-M5: first is the built-in viewfinder and second is the weather-sealed body. Moisture and dust sealing means you can use the OM-D E-M5 in environments where it would be unwise to risk the E-P5. Having said that, the limited number of weather-sealed MFT lenses currently available make that less of an advantage than it otherwise might be. The E-P5 also lacks the E-M5's HLD-6 Power Battery holder, which offers more controls and doubles the length of time for which you can shoot, along with its innovative two-stage optional grip.

Finally, as always, there's the question of price. You don't have to look to hard to find the OM-D E-M5 body priced significantly lower than the E-P5, and if you buy the E-P5 with the VF-4 viewfnder accessory, you're looking at an even wider gap. Having used and reviewed both models I think the E-P5 is worth the extra. But if you're on a budget and can live without refinements like the bigger viewfinder, focus peaking, 1/8000, and intervalometer, the OM-D E-M5 is a bargain waiting to be snapped up.

See my Olympus OMD EM5 review for more details.

 

Compared to Panasonic Lumix GX7

     
 
 
     

Panasonic's Lumix GX7 is another mirrorless camera aimed at a higher-end photographer and many will be wondering how it compares against the EP5.

As always, I'll start with the things both models have in common: Micro Four Thirds lens mounts, 16 Megapixel resolution, 1080p video, 3in tilting touchscreens, built-in stabilisation which works with any lens you attach, metal bodies with twin control dials, Wifi, focus peaking, 1/8000 top shutter speeds, 1/320 fastest flash sync speeds, built-in flashes, a hotshoe and approximately the same weight with battery, not to mention roughly the same dimensions from the front. Neither has an external microphone input or weather sealing. Gosh, that's quite a lot in common.

In its favour, the EP5's built-in stabilisation is probably more effective (although this has yet to be compared with the GX7), the stabilisation works for movies as well as stills, it shoots faster at 9fps vs 5fps, there's wireless and more sophisticated flash control and it supports an optional microphone adapter. The EP5 is also slimmer than the GX7, and some may also prefer the centrally-located position of its optional EVF.

In its favour, the GX7 features a built-in viewfinder which is also higher resolution than the EP5's accessory, its Wifi is complemented by NFC for one-tap configuration with compatible handsets, it focuses in lower light, has an auto panorama mode, manual exposure control for movies, the choice of higher 50 / 60p for movies or more cinematic 24p, and slightly deeper AE bracketing (7 frames vs 5).

The major difference between them is of course the built-in viewfinder of the GX7, versus the optional viewfinder on the EP5. You'd think this would make the GX7 a larger, heavier and more expensive camera, but it actually only impacts the thickness, with both cameras having the same body price, being almost identical in size from the front and similar weights too. Add the optional viewfinder for the EP5 and it becomes significantly taller than the GX7.

Considering both share the same body-only price at launch, I'd say the GX7 sounds like better value thanks to its built-in viewfinder, but that would be ignoring things like the effectiveness of their respective stabilisation. The EP5 also shoots faster and has superior flash control if you're into that sort of thing.

But there's no denying the GX7 is a similar size, weight and price to the EP5, yet manages to squeeze in a very good viewfinder at no extra cost, whereas it's an accessory for the Olympus which increases both the overall size and price. It'll be very interesting to shoot with them side by side as further differences in handling may emerge.

See my Panasonic Lumix GX7 preview for more details.

 

Olympus PEN E-P5 final verdict

The Olympus PEN E-P5 is a flagship model worthy of the name. It does exactly what manufacturers and retailers expect of a premium product - makes you yearn for it, regardless of whether you need or can afford it. It offers a truly compelling range of features in a form that combines half a century of design legacy with the latest that imaging technology has to offer.

While the E-P5 has a range of features that are targeted at casual shooters with deep pockets, its real appeal lies in what it has to offer those who take their photography more seriously. Olympus has concentrated on improving the things that help photographers get better pictures - framing, focusing, selecting exposure, and, of course, shooting.

The PEN E-P5's specifications are impressive, and its images look great, but it's in the handling that it really excels, and that's a difficult thing to get across in words and numbers, so more than ever, if the E-P5 is on your mirrorless compact system camera shortlist, you should attempt to spend some hands on time with it. In the time that I've spent using and reviewing it I've come to the conclusion that it's a very deserving recipient of a Cameralabs Highly Recommended award.

 



Good points
2x2 dial exposure control.
5-axis, 5EV built-in stabilisation.
1.03 million dot tilting LCD panel.
Optional 2.36 million dot VF4 EVF.
Focus peaking (albeit for still photos only).
Touch focus for movies.
Intervalometer and time-lapse.

Bad points
No panorama mode.
99 frame intervalometer limit.
Not weather-sealed.
Flash easy to accidentally pop-up.
Focus peaking doesn't work for movies.
Quite pricey at time of launch.




Scores

(relative to 2013 system cameras)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

17 / 20
18 / 20
18 / 20
17 / 20
16 / 20

86%
   

If you found this review useful, please support me by shopping below!
 
 
Living Landscapes eBook
By Todd and Sarah Sisson
Price: $29.99 USD (PDF download)
More details!

Todd and Sarah Sisson are two of my favourite landscape photographers and in this superb ebook, they'll reveal the secrets behind their wonderful photos. Over 130 pages, it combines tutorials, field guides and technical advice, using the beautiful scenery of New Zealand as a backdrop. An informative and attractive ebook that's highly recommended for anyone wanting to improve their landscape photography! Well worth the price.
     
All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2014 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

/ How we test / Best Cameras / Advertising / Camera reviews / Supporting Camera Labs