Olympus PEN E-PL5 review
Written by Ken McMahon
The PEN E-PL5 is a fourth-generation Micro Four Thirds mirror-less compact system camera and its maturity shows – in a good way. As the middle choice in a range of three PENs, in many ways it combines the best of the enthusiast PEN E-P3 and the entry-level PEN ‘Mini’ E-PM2 with a great balance between size, ease of use and control.
It offers improvements in resolution, image quality, handling and new features over the earlier PEN E-PL3. A 16 Megapixel sensor first seen in the flagship OM-D E-M5 produces superb image quality and offers a 1080p30 best quality video mode. The 3in screen is now touch-sensitive and can be flipped up-and-over for use as a forward facing monitor. And new art filters and movie effects provide something to play with for those who want to explore their creative side without too much effort.
The E-PL5’s fast autofocus makes it suitable for all kinds of photography from street shooting to landscapes and with a library of more than 30 Micro Four Thirds lenses to choose from as well as accessories including electronic and optical viewfinders, an external microphone adapter, macro lighting and Bluetooth transmiter (but no GPS or wifi, unless you use a wifi enabled SD card), it’s a good choice for either novices or enthusiasts looking to build a system from scratch.
Compared to Canon EOS M
From the point of view of a compact upgrader, the Canon EOS M and Olympus E-PL5 offer two very different propositions. Despite the different sensor size – the 18 Megapixel APS-C sensor in the EOS M is a little larger than the PEN E-PL5’s 16 Megapixel Four Thirds sensor – in quality terms there’s actually little to choose between them.
In terms of native lenses, the PEN E-PL5 is an easy winner, with access to over 30 options from the mature Micro Four Thirds catalogue, compared to just two native lenses for the EOS M at the time of writing – the 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 zoom and 22mm f2 pancake prime. Crucially though, with the EF-EOS M adapter you can mount any EF or EF-S lens on the EOS M and still have full use of AF and all exposure modes. To be fair, the E-PL5 can also accommodate other lenses via an adapter, but the only ones you’ll enjoy autofocus with come from the original Four Thirds mount system.
The E-PL5 body is little thicker and heavier than the EOS M, but it has built-in sensor-shift image stabilisation that works with any lens you attach – a key advantage Olympus compact system cameras have over rivals. Because of the EOS M’s larger sensor, EF-M lenses are also bigger to begin with, plus the existing 18-55 and any new stabilised lenses will involve additional weight and cost. And though you have access to the entire Canon EF and EF-S lens catalogue, many of these lenses are designed for full-frame pro DSLR bodies and will dwarf the EOS M body negating any size and weight advantage it might have had. So for anyone who doesn’t already own Canon lenses, the adapter isn’t as attractive an option as a wide choice of native mount lenses.
Both cameras offer touch-screens; the PEN E-PL5’s 460k dot screen is lower resolution than the EOS M’s 1040k. Both measure 3 inches diagonally, but the EOS M’s fixed screen shares the same 3:2 aspect ratio as its sensor, so still images fill the screen. The PEN E-PL5’s 16:9 screen is much wider than its 4:3 proportioned still images which only fit the central portion, with wide black bars down either side, a much worse arrangement for stills shooters, but better for shooting HD video. In its favour, the PEN E-PL5’s screen is articulated and flips out and over so you can see it from in front of the camera. And If you don’t like composing with the E-PL5’s screen, you have the option of fitting one of two electronic viewfinders (or an optical one), a choice that’s sadly lacking on the EOS M.
Compared with the PEN E-PL5’s fast contrast detect AF, the EOS M is sluggish, to put it charitably. So for street, sports and action photography of any kind, the EOS M comes a poor second and not just to the PEN range, but just about any other mirror-less CSC you care to mention, with the possible exception of the Fujifilm X-Pro 1, at least with its original firmware.
Both cameras have a conventional hotshoe, but the PEN-E-PL5’s included flash accessory is powered by the camera. Canon’s Speedlite 90EX supplied in some regions with the EOS M takes a couple of AAA batteries and is larger, but with roughly equivalent output when base sensitivities are taken into account. And talking of power, the EOS M’s battery will last for 230 shots compared with a more generous 360 shots for the E-PL5.
All in all the PEN E-PL5 is a smaller, less expensive and more versatile camera than the EOS M, but if you’re upgrading from a Canon compact, or have a Canon DSLR and lenses, the EOS M still has plenty to offer.
See my Canon EOS M review for more details.
Olympus PEN E-PL5 final verdict
The mirrorless compact system camera market now offers more choice than ever before and, with the addition of Canon’s EOS M it promises to become even more crowded. By giving the E-PL5, and presumably any upcoming PEN models, the same sensor as the Flagship OM-D E-M5, adding features that improve usability, like the touch screen, and expanding the choice of lenses and accessories Olympus is doing exactly what it needs to, to maintain its position as a leader in the CSC market. The company also has something that competitors like Sony, Nikon and Panasonic lack and that’s the legacy of brands like the PEN and OM ranges, which it very successfully trades off by adopting retro styling that hints of classic cameras. Bringing them right up to date though is built-in image stabilisation which works with any lens you attach – a feature unique amongst current CSCs.
The PEN E-PL5 looks the part, but it can also deliver when it comes to other things that photographers value. Its image quality is excellent (certainly not beaten by many APS-C models), it handles very well, and it’s a capable video camera too. It provides lots of physical controls, plenty of options for customisation and you can plug in an accessory viewfinder – all things that will appeal to enthusiasts. At the same time it has a touch-screen, easy-to use auto modes and lots of fun features, so it’s also very well suited to compact upgraders and other novices. This-all round versatility is something that’s not easy to achieve but Olympus has pulled it of with great style and panache, a feat which earns the E-PL5 our Highly Recommended award.
(relative to 2012 advanced compacts)
17 / 20
18 / 20
18 / 20
17 / 20
17 / 20