- This is a user experience based review.
- All images were shot in RAW and converted directly to JPEG (High Quality) via Olympus Viewer 3.
- General camera settings, Noise Filter = OFF, Contrast/Saturation/sharpness = 0, White Balance = Auto (with an option maintain warm color = OFF), Gradation = Normal
- No post-processing applied to the images, except slight brightness/contrast balance tweak. All images were as good as straight out of camera, with minimal cropping for better presentation.
It has been more than half a year since my last gear review blog, and when Olympus Malaysia loaned me the Olympus PEN E-P5 I couldn’t help but get overly excited. Olympus PEN E-P5 has been announced more than a month ago, and the review unit has not been made available (final version) until recently. This blog review of Olympus E-P5 is the continuation of my previous “Initial Thoughts and Impression post, so if you have not read that entry, please do so.
I was loaned two lenses: 12mm F2 and 17mm F1.8. I did request for 45mm F1.8 and 60mm F2.8 macro but those lenses would only be made available for me the following weekend. Without longer focal length lenses, the photography shooting opportunities have become rather limited for me, and I have expressed my inflexibility in using the 17mm F1.8’s focal length previously. Therefore, for this blog review, I initially have decided to do something rather unusual for a change.
I was loaned the BLACK version of E-P5. I preferred the Silver version, but now that I am using the Black, it is not too bad either!
We already know that the Olympus E-P5 uses the same sensor as the Olympus OM-D E-M5, and Olympus claims that the E-P5’s image is “OM-D quality”. Thus, I will not be spending too much time in reviewing the image quality of the E-P5. No over-emphasis on sharpness, or high ISO performance and color rendition considering they should be near, if not identical to the OM-D E-M5. However, I would like to explore the things that set the E-P5 apart from OM-D, and other micro 4/3 cameras, especially the newer and improved features included in the body. To do so, I decided, in a rather bold move, to use the CCTV Lens 25mm F1.2 for street shooting, on the E-P5.
By using the CCTV Lens, ideally I would be able to:
1. Use the LOW ISO setting (surprisingly ISO100 equivalent) and high shutter speed of 1/8000sec (fastest amongst all mirrorless camera). Imagine shooting under harsh afternoon sun outdoors, at F1.2 for shallow depth of field, you do need the extra low ISO setting, and every bit of faster shutter speed that you can get. I create the necessity to use those new features/improvements, by using the CCTV lens.
2. Testing out the new external Viewfinder, VF-4. Considering there is no autofocus on the CCTV lens, I would be forced to use manual focusing. This would put the new VF-4 EVF to test, how much would it help in manual focusing?
3. Trying the newly included Focus Peaking. Manual focusing should be easier with focus peaking, so how does this focus peaking on E-P5 compare with the Sony’s version?
4. Of course, generally I would be commenting on the comfort and handling while using the camera, and also any other observations that come in.
Then there was the HAZE problem that hit Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur was hit hard, the air quality was so bad the city landscape became whitish blur. Therefore much of the useful sunlight was blocked by the thick haze, negating the need for high shutter speed and low ISO!
Certainly not the best circumstance to test a camera! Alright enough with the lengthy introduction, lets go on with some photographs first.
I always have a backup plan. Thankfully I have.
The shooting session was street photography, and a bit of shooting in the street market in Pudu, Kuala Lumpur. I met up with Raja Indra Putra (we call him Ripi for short) in the morning, and he too, is an avid Olympus Micro 4/3 user. He had with him a few micro 4/3 lenses, and I was fortunate enough to be able to borrow his beautiful 45mm F1.8 lens! Now, we are talking. Honestly I would not be able to shoot fully on the street with just wide angle lenses. Together with Ripi I resumed the shooting session, and hoped for the best to get adequate images for this session’s review, as well as to get to know the Olympus PEN E-P5 better.
When I was shooting with the E-P5, it really felt like a mini OM-D. The focusing was just as fast and reliable as the OM-D, and added the advantage to shrink the focusing box which was implemented first in the E-PL5. As suspected the image quality came out very good, very, very similar to the OM-D upon initial inspection. The menu system was rather similar, and everything just felt familiar and this is actually a good thing: Olympus did a lot of things right with the OM-D, and having some of the most important aspects, such as focusing speed and reliability, image quality and even the 5-Axis Image stabilization included in this latest iteration of PEN, was a very good move. I felt very confident using the E-P5, knowing it can do what the OM-D can do, and a little more!
5-Axis Image Stabilization Got Even BETTER: Landscape Panning I.S.
Now the first feature that I wanted to explore, which may not be the most important feature to many, is the minor improvement they made to the already incredible 5-Axis Image stabilization. It was already a miracle (well, in electronics and digital world nothing is miraculous since technology is evolving very fast) that Olympus squeezed in the 5-Axis IS (that created the hump on OM-D) into the E-P5, without causing a hump. They further added a mode called S-IS Auto which is a “landscape panning I.S. as stated in the description on camera. What does it do? When using the S-IS Auto, the camera will detect that you are panning the camera (horizontal axis, eg left to right) and it will disable that particular axis for smooth motion blur, which was intended.
Let me explain why this improvement is crucial for me. In order to create a smooth panning shot, Image Stabilization has to be switched off. Olympus has introduced several panning modes optimized for panning, but they have to be activated individually. Image Stabilization is probably one of the least toggled controls, and recently the dedicated IS button has been dropped from newer cameras. To disable the IS, one needs to dig deep into the menu system, or the super control panel, which requires a few presses of buttons, and this surely will delay the quick response needed to capture that moment when you see it happen right in front of you!! Every single setting change, every single press of button is a waste of time. Usually I would switch from Aperture Priority to Shutter Priority, change from single-AF to Continuous AF with tracking and from single shot to burst (usually set to LOW). Imagine having need to go through all that settings (yes there are CUSTOM menu modes which can be used, lets talk about that another day) and finally, I still need to go into the menu and turn off the IS manually.
With the new S-IS Auto, the final step is removed. That made life SOOOO much easier, and the camera would just detect the panning and adjusts the IS accordingly. It actually… WORKED!! And it worked well.
Take notice that ISO low setting, as reported in the EXIF is ISO125 equivalent.
New Electronic Viewfinder: VF-4
Together with the Olympus PEN E-P5, the new electronic viewfinder, VF-4 was introduced. I understand frustration of many people everywhere on the decision not to include the viewfinder into the E-P5 body. I too do wish that the camera came with the electronic viewfinder. Whether the E-P5 should or should not have an electronic viewfinder built in it, the addition of VF-4 is a welcome, because the greatly improved electronic viewfinder, in comparison to VF-2 and VF-3, is fully compatible with older Olympus micro 4/3 bodies (except XZ-1 and E-P1). So what is so great about the new VF-4?
Firstly, the VF-4 is designed to work seamlessly with the PEN E-P5. I have been very loud in my complaints, SEVERAL times, in my review of E-P3, OM-D and E-PL5, where I complained about the unsatisfactory LCD (or were they OLED) monitors used, with poor resolution, and the screen being just almost useless to judge the color balance directly on camera. Secondly, on the OM-D, the issue was worse, because the built in viewfinder has a very different color balance in comparison to the camera back screen. The E-P5 enjoys a NEW LCD screen, with MUCH better resolution (1037k dot resolution). On top of that, the color balance on the LCD screen matches the VF-4’s color balance very closely!! To me, this is VERY important, because I strongly believe the advantage of using digital camera is providing you the instant feedback, especially when judging white balance and overall color rendition of the image. Having reliable displays, both the Viewfinder and camera back screen being consistent, is necessary.
I like the VF-4 very much. The display, though digital, it looked bright and super detailed. The fact that the viewfinder is larger than most viewfinders is quite an encouraging note. It was comfortable to view even under very bright sunlight (strong advantage over LCD camera back-screen) and I find myself composing my shots with ease through the VF-4. The only viewfinder out there to measure up to the Olympus VF-4 is probably the Sony EVF, but the Olympus EVF reportedly has higher refresh rate, resulting in smoother display, especially when the camera or subject is in motion. True enough, I did not feel any “jaggedness” or lag, everything seemed so smooth all the time.
The transition between the VF-4 and E-P5’s back-screen was very well carried out. The efficiency of the auto-switch between EVF and LCD screen has been improved, and the response time of the switch was almost instantaneous. The change of use between the VF-4 to LCD screen or vice versa, was pleasing too. What you see on the electronic viewfinder was what you see on the camera LCD screen, they look almost identical. I do use the LCD screen for difficult angle compositions (low angle and high angle) and the fact that it maintains the OM-D’s flexibility in tillable fashion LCD screen, it helped in my shots a lot! In contrary to that, I loved the EVF so much that I always found excuse NOT to use the LCD back-screen, unless absolutely necessary.
LOW ISO Setting is ISO125 Equivalent?
I might need more testing to find this out and to be more certain, but my images shot in ISO Low setting indicated that the ISO value as read in the EXIF embedded, was actually ISO125. Of course we all know that the ISO125 is a pulled down value from the native ISO200, which is the image sensor’s base ISO sensitivity. Many have suggested that having a digital ND would have been helpful in some situations. I have not encountered a situation where I find the low ISO setting necessary, with exception of my panning shots done when I was testing the improved 5-Axis Image Stabilization for panning. While I slowed down the shutter speed (shooting in shutter priority), I set the ISO to Auto for convenience. As the camera chose F22 under the bright afternoon sun, with the shutter speed forced at slow 1/8sec, the camera decided to pull the Auto ISO down to LOW setting. Obviously, to prevent highlight clippings. When I got home, I saw the ISO rating through the Olympus Viewer 3 software, it read ISO125. Or the equivalent of it.
The 2×2 Dial is Brilliant!!
I like the fact that the E-P5 has now fully functional, dual dials, much like the OM-D (front and back of the shutter button area) and also similar to all top of the line professional cameras. These dual dials mean being able to control a combination of two of the following: shutter speed, aperture and Exposure compensation, and is enhanced further with the new 2×2 dial, which is strategically placed next to the thumb rest at the top right corner of the camera. The 2×2 switch has two options, 1 and 2, both can be customized. Since I left everything to default, the switch at option 1 allows me to use the dual dials to control the default of the camera parameters, such as shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation. When I turn the switch to option two, the dual dials controls two different things: white balance and ISO setting. This just takes shortcuts to another different level, and I like how all important controls are now within the thumb and index finger’s reach. You can almost have a single-handed, full control over the camera!
Camera Handling, and How does it feel in hand?
We all know that the E-P5 is NOT a cheap camera at its pricing point. As I hold the camera in my hands, it does feel expensive indeed. I like the texture on the camera (Black version, can’t remember how the silver one feels like now). There is a certain class to the feel of the texture. The camera does not feel light at all, in fact it feels as though I was holding an OM-D equivalent of weight. Not that OM-D was heavy, but the slight heft added assurance and should be able to handle larger lenses better. I would still think the 75mm F1.8 will feel out of balance (did not test this out extensively yet), but having that slight extra weight was better than being anything lighter! The E-P5 is still small and light enough to be considered so much more of a pleasure to carry around, in comparison to the bulk and weight of DSLR systems. I used the neck strap provided and I almost did not feel anything hanging around my neck at all, after all these while hanging Olympus E-5 around it! There really is very little to complain, if any about the handling of E-P5, but I must add that the OM-D E-M5, added with the battery grip, even with single landscape/horizontal grip, will give you improved handling, when dealing with larger and heavier lenses (eg: Panasonic 100-300mm lens).
The 2×2 dial switch control, next to the thumb rest. Very useful control.
During my shooting, something unexpected happened. I chanced upon an Indian Wedding as I visited a Hindu Temple. When I arrived it was late and the wedding ended. I walked around, and was merrily greeted by little kids, who were overly friendly toward me.
One boy was fascinated by my camera, and followed me everywhere I went to. As I bent down to take one shot, he grabbed by arm, and begged me for the camera to shoot with. Here I was using a camera that was loaned from Olympus, and the kid was giving me the puffy, pitiful kitten’s eyes look, and I thought, what the heck, what harm would it do to let him have the camera for a while? Shocking to me, the moment he got the camera, he was running around, and I had to CHASE him! He was not running away alright, he was just joyful that a stranger would lend him something to play with. So he snapped away happily at whatever that caught his attention. I observed him. He took more shots than he should, and held on to the camera way longer than I wanted him to. The parents were nearby and they scolded the kid and asked him to hand the camera back to me, but I said it was alright to let him shoot a few more frames.
I set the camera to Aperture Priority (should have set to I-Auto), Auto ISO and then Face Detection AF before handling the camera to the kid.
I did eventually get the camera back (or else I will never get loaned anything from Olympus anymore) and as I reviewed the images that the kid took, I was actually pleased with a few of them! Not bad from a small kid, really, not bad at all. I decided to use some of the images he took here!
The kid in the middle was the one who took the E-P5 and shot a few images, featured in the following image.
A compilation of images shot by the kid from the previous photo! Not bad at all, right?
The above 3 images were taken with my HTC Android Phone. Look at the kid go, he has pro standing stance! Serious shooter, yo!
I understand that this is a little bit different from how I usually review a new camera or lens. There will be Part 2, and possibly Part 3 of E-P5 review, where I intend to shoot insect macro, and perhaps cover an event or more street shooting, to test various other aspects of the camera, which I have not yet covered in this blog. Yes, there will be proper macro shots with the Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 lens, which I will get from Olympus Malaysia next weekend. Therefore, the Part 2 will come much later than expected.
I shall also be testing some of the important features of the E-P5 on the weekdays, especially the Wi-Fi built in camera function, which does not require physical shooting. Hopefully, I shall find enough time between my hectic full time job to cover this!
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You may also read my FULL user experience review blog entries of the Olympus 17mm F1.8 and 45mm F1.8 in the Gear Review Page of my web site.