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Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 Review
by Chris Gampat -  12/3/2012


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.

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.

Performance

The Olympus E-PL5 has overall excellent performance for autofocusing, responsiveness, and image quality. But it enters into a domain where there is lots of competition that is very stiff on different fronts.

Shooting Performance
Power up time for the E-PL5 is on the slower side - the screen was lit about 3 second after startup and a first shot can be taken after unlocking and extending the lens. Single shot-to-shot times ran about 1 second. The camera made 8 fps in "sequential" (continuous) drive at full resolution with JPEGs.

Shutter lag on the E-PL5 was a very respectable 0.01 seconds, and AF acquisition time ran about 0.27 seconds.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Digital Camera Score
Olympus E-PL5 0.01
Olympus Stylus XZ-2 0.01
Olympus E-PL3 0.01

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Digital Camera Score
Olympus Stylus XZ-2 0.35
Olympus E-PL5 0.27
Olympus E-PL3 0.13

Continuous Shooting

Digital Camera Score
Olympus E-PL5 8
Olympus Stylus XZ-2 6
Olympus E-PL3 4.7

*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.



Battery life is listed as approximately 360 shots when IS is on. We experienced good results with battery life.

The Olympus E-PL5 has an included flash that can be slid into the hotshoe/accessory port. To use the flash it must be lifted to the "up" position. 

This port also allows you to attach several different accessories developed for the Olympus line of cameras, including the VF-2 and VF-3 electronic viewfinder, the SEMA-1 microphone adapter set and the MAL-1 macro lights. Unfortunately, only one of these can be attached at a time.

Lens Performance
The kit lens is the 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 and provides a 24-84 field of view. The lens is really quite good, sharp, fast to focus, and collapses into itself for more compact storage. What users will need to keep in mind though is that if the lens is locked/collapsed, the camera won't take pictures. You can, however, access the menu functions.

If used correctly though, the lens's Bokeh can look very nice though not as pleasing as some of the compact prime lenses that the company makes. Also, this lens will force the camera/user to shoot at higher ISO settings in low light. Thankfully, Olympus's sensor-based image stabilization system works well to ensure that camera shake doesn't happen.

If the user chooses to shoot in JPEG mode and auto ISO, then the images they yield will look great on the web when using this lens. Chromatic aberration, softness, vignetting and flare are also very well controlled. However, the lens can suffer from some fringing in super high contrast areas.

Video Quality
The EPL5 has one distinct advantage when it comes to recording video, and that is the fact that it has sensor based stabilization. That means that when you're moving around trying to record, the footage will look much smoother. But for the best results, we still recommend holding the camera in as close to your body as you can.

The footage looks a little muted even when the camera is set to the vivid mode; so users might want to import the files into their favorite editing software to give it a bit if a sprucing before showing off their masterpiece.

Image Quality
Overall image quality on the Olympus E-PL5 is excellent. Borrowing the sensor from its bigger brother, the OMD EM5 helps quite a bit with this. Color capturing and white balancing are extremely true to life, though the camera can sometimes render images warmer than they should be. This can be turned off though by adjusting the according setting in the camera's menus. The exposure performance also ranked very well with the images all being very balanced according to the camera's light meter.

Using the art filters can be fun if you're looking to be creative, but in the end it will only just degrade the image quality.


Pop Art

Soft Focus

Pale and light color

Light Tone

Grainy Film

Pin Hole


Diorama

Cross Process

Gentle Sepia

Dramatic Tone

Key Line

Watercolor

ISO performance is exceptional up to 1600; and there is where the camera starts to not perform as well as some of its competitors in this category. When noise reduction is turned on, it can smear fine details. For the best results, we recommend shooting in RAW and adjusting the noise reduction and sharpness accordingly.


ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800


ISO 1600


ISO 3200


ISO 6400


ISO 12,800


ISO 25,600

Additional Sample Images

Conclusion
The Olympus E-PL5 has a lot going for it: great image quality, quick controls, a lightweight body, a large screen, fast focusing, and does it all at a pretty great price tag. The camera will be one that both beginners and enthusiasts will be able to pick up and shoot with little issues from the very start. Olympus has made the ergonomics extremely versatile by making it a point-and-shoot camera style body with a large LCD screen that mimics the feel of a TLR experience. This screen will also be of great use to people shooting video. The overall compact package makes it a great choice for vacations or an every day camera.

The focusing performance is top notch for a camera in this class when accompanied with the right lenses. You'll be able to photograph kids running around, or flowers moving around in the wind with ease.

Though the image quality is really quite good and the RAW files are extremely versatile, the camera doesn't have the greatest high ISO image quality. With that said though, most users will be more than happy with the results that it gives.