Olympus Pen E-PL5 – Deliver Enough New Tricks To Make A Case For Itself? (Part 1)

4/24/2013 9:10:04 AM

Is the latest PEN CSC more than just an incremental upgrade?

While Panasonic’s G1 may have been the first CSC, it was the Olympus PEN E-Pl that really sparked interest in this new system among photographers, thanks to its blend of DSLR-like image quality and handling characteristics in a smaller, stylish body. Since then, the PEN range has grown to encompass three different lines, with the “Lite” model as the mid-level offering.

With the previous Lite E-PL3 struggling to stand out from the crowd, does the E-PL5 deliver enough new tricks to make a case for itself?




Rather than sticking with the 12.3MP Live MOS sensor found in the earlier generation of PEN CSCs, the E-PL5 features the same 16.1MP Live MOS sensor as Olympus's flagship OM-D E-M5, along with the TruePic VI image processor. This sees the E-PL5 capable of shooting at ISO ranges from 200 to 25,600, improving on the E-PL3’s ISO ceiling of 12,800, though a baseline ISO of 100 would have been welcome. As well as that, the E-PL5’s burst mode has also been sharpened up, improving on the E-PL3’s 5.5fps to an impressive, but not class-leading, 8fps.

The screen has also been tinkered with. The 3in widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio display with a 460k-dct resolution remains the same as the E-PL3, but touchscreen functionality has now been incorporated, just like we’ve seen on the OM-D, though this benefits from OLED technology and a higher resolution of 610k-dots. The amount by which the screen can be angled has also been improved over the E-PL3, with the E-PL5's screen now able to rotate 170° out from the camera body (improving on 85°) to face forward, allowing easy composition for self-portraits if that’s your thing, while it can face downwards 45° for shooting from up above and be positioned for waist-level shooting also.

In an effort to keep its size down, the E-PL5 doesn’t feature a built-in flash; instead, the E-PL5 is bundled with a small flashgun that can be slotted on to the hotshoe, which may be considered a bit of a nuisance.

The hotshoe also works in conjunction with Olympus's Accessory Port 2 at the rear of the camera, allowing you to connect a range of accessories, such as the very good VF-2 electronic viewfinder.

The ability to vary the size of the AF point allows you to precisely focus or a specific element.

Rather than the sophisticated 5-axis image stabilization system employed by the OM-D, the E-PL5 sports a more conventional 2-axis system, though it being body-based does mean that it’s effective with every lens attached, rather than the majority of systems that opt for lens-based anti-shake systems. One such system is the Panasonic G-series, which is based round the same Micro Four Thirds system as the PEN series. With the same lens mount shared between the two brands, it’s natural to expect that some image-stabilized Panasonic lenses will find their way on to an E-PL5. With this in mind, the E-PL5 now features a Lens IS Priority mode in the menu, giving you the option to set priority to whether you use the lens or the camera’s IS system.

The E-PL5 builds on the 35-point AF system that’s been on previous PEN cameras. The 35 points still cover the majority of the frame, though not to the very edge of the image, but the E-PL5 now allows you to refine the size of the AF frame. So as well as having a standard AF point size, this can be increased to a single nine-point square, the entire 35-point area or an even smaller AF point for even greater precision.

As you’d expect for a PEN camera, the E-PL5 is loaded with 12 Art filters, and while the E-PL5 doesn’t feature built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, images can be transferred from the camera via the additional PENPAL accessory attachment or FlashAir SD cards.

Both exposures and the dynamic range delivered was good, with well-balanced exposure on the


The E-PL5 is a compact little package and with one of the growing selection of pancake prime lenses available for it, quite a pocketable proposition. Even with the 14-42mm on the front, it's far from cumbersome and smaller than comparable APS-C based CSCs with similar optics.

The design is a subtle progression from the E-PL3, and while it may not have the retro charm of the OM-D or the original PEN E-PI, it still looks pretty sleek thanks to the curved edges and smooth finish. For a camera in this sector, it’s pleasing to see a predominantly metal exterior, while the shutter button and beveled Olympus badge add to the quality feel. If we’re being picky, the rear screen feels like a bit of an afterthought to the design, with it protruding from the rear somewhat, but then it is tiltable.

To avoid some of the criticisms leveled at the E-PL3, the E-PL5 does feature an attachable front grip like we saw with the E-P3, producing a better grip than is possible with the camera’s smooth finish. It does look a little ungainly from some angles however, though there's a growing selection of third-party options on the market.

The E-PL5 is reasonably well catered for when it comes to exterior controls. There's a mode dial along the top of the camera, while running above the rear screen are controls for Playback. Delete, zoom-out/Fn, zoom-in and video capture. Both the zoom-out/Fn and video capture buttons can be programmed to access other settings should you wish in this instance, we set the zoom-out to alter ISO, and video capture to AEL/AFL.

To the side of the screen is a scroll dial, which is used to adjust a range of settings, with a four-way d-pad nestled inside it to control exposure compensation, AF selection, flash and drive. Dead in the center of that is the OK button to confirm adjustments as well as access the Quick menu during shooting.

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