Before Olympus introduced the OM-D line of interchangeable-lens compacts, its Pen series cameras were the flagship Micro Four Thirds bodies. Now, the new 16.1MP Pen E-P5—with its metal chassis, 1/8000-second top shutter speed, tilting LCD, five-axis sensor-shift image stabilization, and built-in Wi-Fi—presents a compelling finderless alternative to the highly acclaimed (and a bit long in the tooth) OM-D E-M5.
While the Pen E-P5 lacks the OM-D’s extensive weather-sealing and lovely electronic viewfinder, we appreciated the small size, especially when using it with its petite 17mm f/1.8 kit lens (the camera streets for $999, body only; $1,449 with this lens and VF-4 electronic viewfinder). Plus, the P5’s images provide plenty of detail and well-controlled noise.
In the Test Lab
The E-P5 fell just shy of top honors in our resolution test, thereby earning an overall Image Quality rating of Extremely High from ISO 100 through ISO 1600 in our tests.
As is common, the E-P5 aced our color accuracy test with an average Delta E of 7.9—not quite as impressive as we’ve seen in some cameras lately, but still an assurance that colors will be very faithfully reproduced.
In our resolution test, the E-P5 turned in 2460 lines per picture height at its lowest sensitivity of ISO 100. That puts it at the top end of the Extremely High rating band on our scale. By ISO 1600, its resolution score dropped fewer than 100 lines to 2375, slipping to 2300 at ISO 3200, and 2270 at ISO 6400. From there, noise dropped off more sharply, ending up at 1780 lines at the camera’s top sensitivity of ISO 25,600. While this looks like a steep drop, it’s likely due to Olympus’s aggressive noise reduction at higher ISOs. So, if you find yourself in a situation where you absolutely need to crank up the ISO just to get any image, you should end up with a shot that you can print at a small size or share on Facebook.
Noise is kept to impressively low levels throughout the camera’s sensitivity range. As noted, this comes at the expense of resolution at the high end of the ISO scale, but it also makes it easy for anyone who buys the camera to get great results from RAW images. Note, though, that the Olympus Viewer software that comes with the camera doesn’t offer the same level of adjustments you can perform with such editing programs as Adobe’s Photoshop Lightroom.
When a camera’s resolving power remains within one rating band and color accuracy is excellent, we use noise as the limiting factor (specifically, the range at which noise scores a Low or better rating) to determine the range of ISOs for our image quality rating. The E-P5 keeps noise to Low or better up to ISO 1600. At ISO 100 and ISO 200, the camera got top honors of Extremely Low noise—something of a rarity for ILCs. Noise didn’t reach an Unacceptable rating until ISO 12,800.
Most amateur photographers will be impressed with the images that the E-P5 can produce. Pros will notice some compromises compared with gear that costs thousands of dollars more, but for them this will likely be a second body for use in more casual situations. And given their skill and experience, serious photographers will still be able to work within the E-P5’s limits to make amazing images.
In the Field
Each generation of Olympus’s P-series cameras brings more refinement to the shooting process. This time we see a solidly built body that bears even more resemblance to the company’s film-era Pen half-frame cameras than the original digital Pen had. The shell on the metal body has extremely tight seams between parts, with no visible screws, except on the camera bottom and behind the tilting 3-inch, 1.04-million-dot touchscreen. The result is a body that feels extremely solid and looks downright sleek. There’s even a silver/black two-toned version if you go for that retro look.
One of the big differences between the E-P5 and OM-D is the new camera’s lack of a built-in viewfinder. For some this will be a detriment, though for an increasing number of shooters, it isn’t a deal-breaker. We shot without a finder for about half of our field testing, and although it’s not nearly as steady a way to shoot compared with eye-level viewing, we found ourselves more often trying odd angles that would be impossible otherwise.
Most of the time, between the image stabilization—which netted our testers an average of 3 stops of shutter-speed leeway when shooting handheld—and the camera’s impressive noise performance at higher ISOs, we were able to compensate for the less steady camera position. (If all else fails, there’s always the pop-up flash.) For the other half of our field tests, we attached Olympus’ optional VF-4, a 2.36-million-dot LCD EVF ($279, street). The view has plenty of detail and, though it blanks out some during burst shooting, it has a fast enough refresh rate that you might not find it a hindrance when panning along with subjects moving at slow or medium speeds.
If you are a fan of burst shooting, you should take note that the 9-frames-per-second setting keeps the same focus and exposure settings throughout the burst, while the 5-fps setting meters and focuses for each shot. Continuous autofocus was able to keep up with moving subjects very well during burst shooting.