by Ian Burley
Olympus' New Pen E-P5 - style as well as substance?
The E-P5 justifiably reclaims Olympus flagship status from the OM-D E-M5
After two years we should not be surprised that Olympus has finally replaced the Pen E-P3, which did a solid if unspectacular stint as the flagship model of the Olympus Pen camera range. As is often the case with Japanese camera companies Olympus has skipped the number 4 in its model progression and so we have the E-P5. Read on and you may come to agree with us that the E-P5 wrests back, from the OM-D E-M5, the status of Olympus' flagship Micro Four Thirds mirrorless compact system camera. The E-P5 out-guns the E-M5 in several key specification areas and matches it in most others. But above all the E-P5 is going to make headlines about style as well as functionality. After spending a day with some pre-production E-P5 samples, here are our first impressions.
When Olympus launched its first Micro Four Thirds camera, the Pen E-P1, back in 2009, the company unashamedly banked on its 1960s heritage and presented us with a camera whose styling was heavily influenced by the old Olympus Pen F half frame SLR camera. This was greeted with enthusiasm by a lot of reviewers and buyers, but not as much as last year's first Olympus MFT offering with an integrated viewfinder, the OM-D E-M5. Olympus used the same retro style tactic as with the Pen E-P1, except familiarity with the OM SLR system of the 1970s and 80s was fresher and arguably more cherished, helping the E-M5 to be a much bigger hit than the Pens despite its premium price tag.
So it's no surprise that Olympus is revisiting the retro game yet again with the new E-P5, blending cutting edge modern design and technology with even more fundamental design cues lifted from the Olympus' past. The E-P5 is even adorned with the old-style Olympus logo used in the 1960s. Detailing has been more carefully crafted to the point that the screws holding the all-metal body together are nowhere to be seen. It's not plainly obvious that the E-P5 has a tilting screen because its resting position dovetails so neatly into the body. The re-arranged dual adjustment wheels are neatly crafted in metal rather than a typically anodyne finish. You can even opt for a factory-fit polished hardwood hand-grip, which must be a first for a mainstream digital camera.
Features and functionality
The E-P5 borrows much from the OM-D E-M5, including the same 16MP Sony sensor and TruePic VI image processing engine. Unlike other Pens, the E-P5 gets the superior voice-coil 5-axis moving sensor image stabilisation system which Olympus claims can give up to an equivalent 5 EVs worth of additional camera steadiness instead of 3 EVs for ordinary Pens. The shutter is also just as impressively quiet and damped - and 9fps quick - as the E-M5's. As we will explain in just a moment, the E-P5 actually offers some welcome improvements over the E-M5. The two primary areas where the E-M5 still has the upper hand over the E-P5 are in having dust and moisture-sealing and the option of the HLD-6 battery grip with portrait-orientation controls.
The new switch for swapping adjustnent modes of the two control wheels
So where does the E-P5 out-gun the E-M5?
- 1/8000th top shutter speed compared to the E-M5's 1/4000th maximum
- ISO extension mode that enables lowering sensitivity to ISO 100 instead of ISO 200 on the E-M5. Combined with the faster top shutter speed the E-P5 makes it much easier to use fast lenses, like the growing range of m.Zuiko f/1.8 primes, during bright conditions.
- Switchable dual-mode adjustment wheels. With the flick of a thumb the two adjustment wheels can be toggled between aperture and shutter speed modes and ISO and white balance modes. You can also assign different adjustment modes to the wheels via custom settings.
- Built-in wifi compatibility backed up by Android and Apple iOS apps for image sharing and camera control, including remote live view on your smartphone or tablet including touch -screen control of autofocus points and shooting. GPS coordinates for geo-tagging can also be logged from your device over wifi.
- New extra small AF focus points designed for macro photography.
- Image Stabilisation system can now automatically detect when the camera is being panned and so intelligently select IS Mode 2 (vertical stabilisation only).
- Intervalometer for un-attended shooting at a pre-determined frame rate which can be used for creating speeded-up movies.
- Focus-peaking mode for critical manual focusing.
- Photo Story multiple image framing and 12 Art filters (first introduced with the Olympus XZ-10)
- Integrated pop-up flash which can operate as a multi-channel wireless remote control flash commander.
Improved optional VF-4 electronic viewfinder
The new VF-4 2.4 million dot LCD electronic viewfinder fotted to an E-P5.
At long last there is a new optional electronic viewfinder; the VF-4. This is not an OLED unit as popularised by Sony, we think it's an Epson LCD-based unit and the good news is that the dot count has risen by almost 1 million to just under 2.4 million dots, or 800,000 pixels (1024x768 pixel resolution). The older VF-2 EVF, also used in the OM-D E-M5, is a 1.44 million dot display or 480,000 pixels (800x600 pixel resolution). Olympus are also very pleased with the optical design of the VF-4, which has larger magnification than before, making it similar in viewed size to the Olympus E-3/5 DSLR viewfinder. But that's not all - the VF-4 has an eye-sensor and the VF-4 can be securely locked into position on the accessory shoe of the host camera. Older Pens with Accessory Port connectors are VF-4 compatible, but only the E-P5 can utilise the eye-sensor. In our brief time with the VF-4 we can happily report that the view quality is extremely good - every bit as good as the very slightly higher resolution Sony OLED EVFs used by Panasonic on its Lumix DMVC-GH3 and by other manufacturers.
So far so good but what's the bad news?
There is no such thing as a perfect camera and the E-P5 is no exception. So let's list some of the points that we think some may, with good reason, regard as disappointments concerning the E-P5's design and specification:
- No integrated viewfinder. Notably Fujifilm and Sony have managed to include EVFs in some of their compact system camera models and without requiring an OM-D 'SLR' style hump. Anyway, logically an Olympus CSC with a viewfinder would most-likely be categorised as an OM-D model rather than a Pen.
- No interchangeable hand-grips as seen on the E-P3, E-PL3 and E-PL5. This is because Olympus had to place the wifi antenna under the hand-grip area and this meant having to remove solid metal from the structure of the camera's shell where the hand-grip would have been screwed in.
- Only 30 frames per second video recording, which is problematical in some circumstances where artificial lights are used in countries that use 50Hz electrical frequency.
- No silent electronic shutter mode.
- Still no substantial improvement to continuous AF reliability when photographing fast-moving subjects like birds in flight.
- Screen dooes not articulate so that it can face forward (like the E-PL5) and nor is it side-hinged.
- No environmental sealing like the OM-D E-M5.
- Multi-touch gestures not implemented on touch screen - so no pinch-to-zoom, for example.
- No integrated GPS receiver. If these are now ubiquitous on smartphones and many travel zoom compact cameras, why not on a premium compact system camera?
So there you have it - judging by the reception of other journalists and even Olympus staff, the E-P5 looks like being the most-attractive Olympus Pen yet. Combined with the new VF-4 EVF and the E-P5 looks very compelling, especially if you're won over by the retro styling. Let us know what you think!
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