Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 Review

by Chris Gampat Reads (29,670)
Editor's Rating
8.80

TG Ratings Breakdown

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 9
    • Features
    • 9
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 8
    • Performance
    • 9
    • Expandability
    • 9
    • Total Score:
    • 8.80
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

Overview

  • Pros

    • Great image quality up to ISO 1600
    • Fast focusing
    • Excellent feel in the hands thanks in part to the large tilting LCD screen
    • Removeable/Interchangeable grips
    • Excellent battery life
  • Cons

    • No pop-up flash
    • High ISO pixel smudging

The Olympus E-PL5 is the successor to the E-PL3 and is targeted at enthusiasts and consumers that want more power than their point and shoot may give, but also want better image quality. Conversely, the E-PL5 was also designed with a unique crowd of shooters in mind.

Overview

There is much to like about the Olympus E-PL5 besides the image quality though; it is a small and lightweight camera that is comfortable in the hands, though it could have been a tad larger for optimal comfort.

The Olympus E-PL5 commands a $699.00 price tag and includes the 14-42mm kit lens. The camera sports the 4/3rds sized 16.1 MP LiveMOS sensor from the Olympus OMD EM5, its bigger brother. However, the sensor was modified to have a very weak Anti Aliasing filter; therefore giving the user sharper images no matter what lens is attached. Because of this, the camera also has more appeal to those that embrace the ability of a Micro Four Thirds camera to have several different types of lenses adapted onto it due to the fact that many lenses will also be sharper.

It also features a TruePic VI Processor that promises better performance and processing of images. The camera allows for an ISO range of 200 on the low end to 25,600 on the high end; though after 6400 one should start to see that the higher ISO settings are extensions.

The autofocus is an upgrade of Olympus’s F.A.S.T. autofocus system that takes advantages of the company’s MSC lenses to deliver some of the fastest autofocus performance that we’ve seen so far from a camera in this class.


Wide Angle, 19mm

Telephoto, 42mm

The camera also has 1080i HD video shooting capabilities for those that want to record quick movies during their vacation.

The camera can shoot JPEGs, RAWs, or both if they want. To shoot these, the user can take advantage of the 3 inch 460K dot touchscreen. This screen enables touch to shoot, touch to focus, or can be disabled from shooting. In playback mode, one can think of it almost like an Android device in terms of flipping through images, zooming in on them, etc.

Build and Design
The E-PL5 retains a very high end point-and-shoot-eqsue style of camera body but adds a touch of retro appeal to its exterior. It makes maximum use of the real estate by including direct control buttons where it can but without adding too many to overwhelm the user. It comes in many colors, but we used the Silver version; which reminded us a little bit of silver editions of old SLR and Rangefinder cameras. The camera is also available in black or white.

Coming in at 4.4 x 2.5 x 1.5″ / 11.1 x 6.4 x 3.8 cm and weighing just 11.46 oz / 325 g, it is a camera that one can have strapped to their wrist, around their neck, or around their shoulder all day without fatigue. With that said though, the body feels a bit plasticy, and even with a pancake lens like the 17mm f2.8, it can at best fit into a winter jacket pocket.

In real life use, what may really appeal to many people is the flip-up style LCD touchscreen. When shooting, it can remind you a little bit of an old TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) camera that is an absolute joy to shoot and will provide much more stability for you when trying to track your dog running through the yard.


Ergonomics and Controls
The Olympus E-PL5 is a very straightforward camera that allows many users to take advantage of all the power that it packs, but still keeps things simple for those that want it. The top dial is in a great place to let the user switch from iAUTO mode to Manual if they so want. Next to that is the shutter release button that feels like an old threaded shutter release button to the touch, but that has a nice click almost reminiscent to a game console controller when pressed down. To the right of the shutter release is a small on/off button. It is also only barely raised above the chassis. In real life practice, the button is large enough to be pressed if you intentionally want to, but small enough for you to not mistakenly turn the camera off. One can tell that a lot of thought was put into it.

Along the edges of the screen are lots of buttons. The E-PL5 has a playback button, trash button, Fn button that doubles to zoom out, a magnification button, video record button, info and menu button. It may take some time to get used to the placement of the buttons though; but after a while it may remind some experienced users a bit of a Canon DSLR due to the layout.

Then we get to the main control dial. The dial also serves as a multi-directional control panel with each direction controlling a different assigned feature such as flash. All of this is around the, “OK” confirmation button. This dial also will help users control their image more carefully in P/S/A/M modes for them to adjust the exposure. Note that in manual mode though, the user will need to press an exposure control button and then turn the dial.

Want the camera to be thinner? Well, the grip is removable; and that also means that different grips can be attached onto it via a screw.

As far as ports go, the camera has an A/V/USB port and an HDMI out port.

The camera doesn’t have a pop-up flash built in, but one is included that can be attached onto the hot shoe/accessory port. Users can also attach other items such as a flash, electronic viewfinders from Olympus, and more.

The E-PL5 is comfortable to hold with lenses like the 14-42mm kit lens. The camera seems to have been designed for someone to shoot from the hip like they would use a Twin Lens Reflex as the camera feels so much more right in this position vs having the LCD screen help up to your face.

Menus and Modes
The main shooting control menus (that can be accessed by simply pressing the, “OK” button) are very straightforward for users that understand the lingo when using the P/S/A/M modes. However, if someone chooses to switch to an automatic function, then Olympus’s Live Guide comes up to help make everything easier. As was apparent in the past, the user has control over things like saturation, brightness, shutter control, etc; and Olympus tries to break these terms down for people into common vernacular.


The menus that can be accessed by using the menu button are a bit deeper and more complicated to navigate. For those that aren’t familiar with Olympus’s system, they’ll have a tougher time cutting through this forest.

Otherwise, the camera’s other shooting modes are fairly straightforward.

  • iAuto: Fully automatic mode with camera handling settings using either portrait, landscape, night portrait, sport, macro or low light scene modes for image capture. If the camera can’t decide on a scene it defaults to Program Auto for capture. User can change color saturation, color image, brightness, or blur the background via a “live guide” menu.
  • Art Filter: Automatic mode offers 11modes and 5 filter effects.
  • Scene: Automatic mode with 18 scene-specific shooting options, few user inputs.
  • Custom: User-saved set of shooting settings.
  • Program Auto: Camera handles shutter and aperture, user has wide range of inputs.
  • Aperture Priority: User sets aperture, camera sets shutter and user has wide range of inputs.
  • Shutter Priority: User sets shutter, camera sets aperture and user has wide range of inputs.
  • Manual: User sets aperture and shutter, has wide range of inputs.
  • Movie: Full HD at 1920×1080 and HD at 1280×720, both at 30 frames per second (fps). Maximum file size is 4GB, maximum recording time is 29 minutes at both settings. Audio is Wave Format Base Stereo PCM/16bit, 48kHz with wind noise reduction.

Display/Viewfinder
The back of the camera is where all business management happens. It is dominated by a bright LED touchscreen. The screen can flip up, out, down, and in nearly and vertical position one could think of. However, it doesn’t swivel and in use you’ll see that it helps the user keep a better center of balancing and composition by staying in the position.

The E-PL5’s three inch touchscreen is the primary display for users to focus, compose, and operate the camera, though there are two different electronic viewfinders available if the user chooses to go that route. No matter what the lighting conditions were, the screen often had enough resolution for composing and viewing images despite being only 460K. The choice for including such a low resolution display is puzzling though as Olympus’s XZ-2 high end point and shoot has one with more resolution.

In practice, the screen was more than good enough for composing and shooting. It was also more than satisfactory when it came to using the camera’s touch to shoot functionality. That statement pertains to the use of autofocus lenses like the 14-42mm kit lens; and we have no doubt in our mind that it would work exceptionally with others such as Olympus’s 12mm f2 or 45mm f1.8. All of these lenses have the company’s MSC motors built in, and so would deliver images to the super very quickly due to just how fast the focusing system works.

Micro Four Thirds users also love using and finding old glass that can be adapted to the camera; and we’re sure that some of you may have closets full! This glass often needs to be manually focused, and when doing this it is best to ensure that the screen delivers a faster frame rate by enabling this in the menu. Surprisingly, we also saw that this didn’t have any major impact on battery life.


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  1. danieladougan

    I own this camera as well as five Micro 4/3 lenses. It’s my “good” camera, not a backup.

    Pros: The compactness is great, although that gets eroded somewhat since I use the (excellent) VF-4 viewfinder. Nevertheless I can fit this camera along with four lenses, a second battery, the little flash, the viewfinder, and a macro adapter into a small bag and carry them all easily. If I moved up to a messenger bag then I could even fit my kit lens, but I never want to use that anyway. I can’t overstate the importance of this: the best camera is, after all, the one you have with you.

    The camera is very, very fast to focus and shoot. I would agree with the author that ISO 6400 and above are only for emergencies…but ISO 3200 is quite usable. When I replaced my old E-PL1 with the E-PL5, it was a huge leap forward.

    Cons:

    Like most mirrorless cameras, the E-PL5 falls down when it comes to tracking autofocus on moving subjects. Just yesterday I tried to track a flying egret (beautiful bird) that I saw at the park, and it really let me down. I really wish Olympus would put phase detect AF on more of its models than just the pricey OM-D E-M1.

    Another con is the grip. The author talked about the grip being removable to make the camera thinner, but if anything I want a deeper grip. Olympus sells a deeper grip that fits this camera, so I may have to buy it soon.

    Although I love the flip-up LCD screen (pro), I would prefer a flip-and-twist screen like the one on my old Canon PowerShot S2 IS (P&S circa 2005). I see that the new E-PL7 has a screen that flips down instead of up, but good luck using that with a tripod.
    I’m not saying that I need a separate screen to show my exposure settings (but it would be nice), but it would be nice to be able to make adjustments by turning a dial instead of just pointing up, down, left, or right one stop at a time.

    All in all, the E-PL5 is a very good camera that is just short of being excellent.