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Aug 09

Review: Olympus Pen E-P5

Key Features: Wi-Fi

The E-P5 is the first Olympus interchangeable lens camera to feature built-in Wi-Fi.  Wi-Fi first started really becoming a must have feature late in 2012, and the majority of new cameras in 2013 are coming with at least some form of Wi-Fi capability.  The E-P5 is the second camera I’ve used with Wi-Fi capability (the Panasonic GH3 was the first) and it adds some very nice functionality to an already highly capable camera.

The QR code and setup for Wi-Fi connection to a mobile device

The QR code and setup for Wi-Fi connection to a mobile device

Olympus’ Wi-Fi is usable between the camera and Android and iOS smartphones and tablets using the Olympus Image Share app.  The Wi-Fi capabilities allow you to share (JPEG) images from the camera to your mobile device, syncrhonize your camera and smartphone to allow for location information gathering, which is then written back to the camera to geotag all your images (if so desired), as well as provide limited camera control.

Setting up the Wi-Fi connection is relatively easy.  You can go into the Wi-Fi setup either through the menu, or  by tapping the Wi-Fi button on the rear screen.  This will bring up an SSID and password that you can manually enter to connect, or you can simply scan the QR code with the Image Share app and it’ll do the setup for you.  After this, you won’t need to enter the information again.

The Wi-Fi image transfer worked very well, though it would be fantastic if the Olympus software contained a RAW converter to allow for RAW editing on the go with a tablet.  However, for the images you like, you can develop JPEGs in camera, though this is tedious to do for a large amount of images.

I was less impressed with the remote control capabilities, primarily because I was spoiled by the excellent control implementation that Panasonic uses on the GH3.  Panasonic allows you to completely operate the camera remotely, changing focus points, aperture, exposure compensation, etc. However, when using the remote camera control on the E-P5, you are limited to the camera’s iAuto mode only.   I really don’t understand this limitation, and I simply have to chalk it up to a lack of programming time on Olympus’ part.  I don’t see any reason this control couldn’t be offered.

Geotagging is, well, geotagging.  It works fine, though you’ll need to watch your smartphone battery.  I’m not one to really worry about geotagging my photos, but it could certainly come in handy.

Overall, the Wi-Fi implementation is a nice addition to the E-P5.  I found myself using the image sharing on a few occasions during my time with the camera.  I’d take a shot of family with the E-P5, transfer it to my phone and I could then just quickly post it to Facebook without having to worry about going to my study to transfer images.  It’s a feature that is going to become standard on almost every camera over the next few years, and the ease of use and implementation will only improve.

Focus Peaking

The E-P5 is the first Olympus camera to feature focus peaking.  It’s been much requested for quite some time in the Micro 4/3 community, and unfortunately, this implementation of focus peaking is pretty poorly done.  In good light, it does OK, providing a bright, thick white outline around those things that are in sharpest focus.  Unfortunately, the way they are doing peaking is essentially an art filter overlay, and it dramatically slows down the live view refresh rate, making you feel very disconnected to the scene.  It’s also very heavy-handed, and so not quite as precise as some other peaking methods.  Overall, I found myself turning it off, as it was more of a distraction than it was worth.  The good news is, with the VF-4 fitted, I found focus peaking to be completely unnecessary, as the VF-4’s view is so big and sharp that manual focus was a piece of cake, even with large aperture lenses such as my old Konica Hexanon 57mm f/1.2.

In-Body Image Stabilization

The E-P5's IBIS helped capture this candid - taken at 75mm and 1/40 second handheld.

The E-P5’s IBIS helped capture this candid – taken at 75mm and 1/40 second handheld.

The E-P5 inherits the OM-D E-M5’s 5-axis in-body image stabilization (IBIS), which was one of the best features on the OM-D.  While all Olympus Pens have had IBIS, this is the first with the more advanced IS system from the OM-D.  On the OM-D, I found it capable of providing sharp handheld photos a good three to four stops slower than I would be able to handhold the camera without IS.  Luckily, the E-P5 retains this great level of IS performance.  I was regularly able to handhold shots a good 3-4 stops slower than otherwise possible, even when only using the rear screen.  Having built-in IS like this makes shooting with any lens easier in lower light conditions, and can improve image quality by allowing you to use lower ISOs if you aren’t shooting a moving subject.

One issue that I did have with the E-P5’s IS that I have not experienced with the OM-D is the so-called ‘shutter shock’ issue.  This happens at certain shutter speeds, in this case between about 1/50s and 1/80s, where the IBIS registers the vibration from the shutter actuation as movement, and over-corrects with the stabilization, thus inducing blur.  On my OM-D, I never noticed it affecting my images in general use (and I’ve been shooting with it for over a year).  On the E-P5, when it appeared, it made the images unusable.  I’m not sure if it was just the sample I was reviewing or indicative of a more widespread problem (readers…please comment on the article yea or nea with your E-P5).  In any case, I learned to try to avoid those shutter speeds with IBIS engaged, either opting for a slower speed at lower ISO if I could, or raising the ISO to get into the 1/100s range or higher.

Other Useful Features

The E-P5, like several of the other more recent Olympus Micro 4/3 cameras, featuers a Live Bulb and Live Time mode.  While these are not new features, they are worth mentioning because no other camera maker (that I am aware of) includes such features, and they are incredibly useful.  In Live Bulb or Live Time, which are used for long exposures (multiple seconds to minutes), you actually get to see the photo develop over time as the sensor is still recording the image.  This is incredibly useful for very long exposures, as a single exposure might be 2 minutes, followed by 2 minutes for the long exposure noise reduction to take a black frame.  On most cameras, you just hope that your exposure is right…but often when setting up at first, it won’t be right, and that’s four minutes of light you just lost trying to get your exposure correct.

With Live Bulb and Live Time, you just watch your exposure develop on the LCD, and stop the exposure when it’s to the level you want it to be.  If you are wondering, Live Bulb works just like bulb mode on any other camera…the shutter stays open for however long you hold down the shutter release (or remote release).  In Live Time, the shutter opens when you press the shutter once, and closes when you press the shutter again.  These modes make long exposure night photography much more efficient and enjoyable.

Continue: Image Quality

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad

14 comments

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  1. lisandra

    great review as always jman. It seems the camera has a fair bit of issues; some can be corrected to a degree, others cant. Youre the first to say outright that the focus peaking doesnt work all that great, and I applaud it. It should be a full fledged feature and not an overlay. If sony, fuji and now even pana can do it, so can oly.

    Needless to say, image quality is stunning.

    1. Jordan Steele

      Thanks. I have to say…overall, the ‘issues’ are pretty minor. I really enjoyed shooting with the camera. It’s one of those things where it gets almost everything right. There are a few things that make it not perfect, but overall it’s a great little camera. Last year I’d have said that it was worth every penny of the $999 asking price, and I think given the construction of the body, the image quality and the features, that in pure worth, it’s not an unreasonable price. The problem is there’s real competition, and the real competition is undercutting it in price while including an EVF….those other great features it has are going to get lost to the average consumer when they see that to get an EVF they have to shell out another $300. It’s a phenomenal EVF, but still.

      If I didn’t have the OM-D already, I’d strongly consider picking up an E-P5 with the VF-4 and the 17/1.8 kit (where the price becomes less of an issue), but since the OM-D exists, it’s sort of hard to justify, even if the E-P5 improves on the OM-D in many areas.

  2. Seth

    I just purchased a VF-4 to use on my E-PL3, but I tested it on my OM-D as well. On the E-PL3 the picture is OK, but not as good as the built in finder on the OM-D. Mounted on the OM-D the view is much improved and beats the built in finder but not by a huge amount (clarity). Did you find the performance to be even better on the E-P5 or the same as on the OM-D?

  3. Eric

    Nicely done review, thank you. I rather like the fact that I have a convertible camera of sorts in the EP5. When I want a somewhat larger but better camera “especially outside in daylight” I put the EVF on. When I want “or need” to be a bit more nimble I just leave the EVF in the bag. This is my favorite camera short of the Canon 5D MkII which it compliments rather than replaces. I’ve had numerous other Micro 4/3s cameras “all Panasonic” and this baby blows them away by far for me.

  4. Nelson

    I also have the shutter shock issue too with E-P5 and 45mm at around 1/100s, where there is some kind of double image occur.

    The overall performance is indeed more responsive than E-M5, after using my friend’s E-M5 it just felt slightly slower especially on blackout

  5. Nelson

    Another thing regarding video that a lot of review missed, is E-P5’s ability to zoom in/out (4X) anywhere on the screen during recording (in video mode), this is extremely helpful when you have prime lens on the camera, I think this is the only camera that have this capability.

    Other camera you have to digtial zoom in first and can only zoom in the center, you can’t zoom out/in during recording.

  6. Alex

    Great camera, but I have tested two pcs and all of them had strong shutter shock issue. Hope Olympus will fix the problem.

  7. András

    I’m very glad Jordan mentions the shutter shock issue. I’ve been using Olympus PEN’s since 2010 and the thing that definitely annoys me the most is shutter shock. What’s especially tedious that every PEN behaves differently with every lens and I couldn’t figure out when enabling anti-shock improves or worsens the situation.

    I recently bought an E-PM2 in addition to my E-PL3. To my astonishment, the E-PM2 behaves worse in several situations than the E-PL3. I hoped until now that I could get out of the shutter shock hell by upgrading to an E-M5 or E-P5 but Jordan and the following article, which tells about shutter shock on the E-M5, saved me a lot of money:
    http://cameraergonomics.blogspot.hu/2012/09/micro-43-shutter-shock-revisited-omd-em.html

    (I will upgrade some time but I’ll invest in a newly released body only if I know it fulfills all my current wishes.)

    1. James

      I read this article and I’m not sure I agree with the conclusions. Anti-Shock does not change the shutter sequence but adds a delay between pressing the trigger and the firing of the shutter. It is meant to counteract the user introducing blur by shaking the camera when pressing the button. There may indeed be shutter shock issues but if your camera needs to be locked on a tripod and images viewed at 200% to see then for practical purposes I think they can be ignored. The other option is to buy a mirrorless camera with an electronic shutter :)

      1. urban

        According to Olympus, anti-shock does change the sequence. The suggest that it only relevant with really long lenses, though there is enough user experience to suggest otherwise:

        “When you press the shutter button fully on a Micro Four Thirds camera, the shutter first closes and the immediately opens to take the picture. In most cases this does not affect the image. However, when using microscope or super telephoto lenses at large magnification ratios, the movement of the shutter closing can result in vibrations and may cause blur in the image. With [ANTI-SHOCK], a time lag is introduced between the shutter closing and it opening, greatly reducing the vibrations when the picture is taken.”

        http://asia.olympus-global.com/imsg/webmanual/dslr_function/antishock/index_mft.html

  8. Jay

    Good take on the camera overall, but I have to say for me, when I went to the store to give it a trial run, the point you made about “While my grip always felt sure on the E-P5, I didn’t find it particularly comfortable to handle” was the deal breaker for me. I wanted to like the E-P5 (and buy it), but it really just isn’t a comfortable camera to hold. Compare the grip on say a Panny G5, where your fingers kind of just naturally wrap around the grip, whereas with the E-P5 I find myself struggling to put my fingers in a comfortable position. I understand the form factor from a looks and design point of view, but I can’t learn to live with a camera that’s not comfortable to hold for extended periods.

  9. John R. Parks

    Jordan, would you compare the VF-4 viewfinder in use on the E-P5 (for size, magnification, clarity, etc.) versus the in body viewfinder on the E-M10 II ? Thanks, John~

    1. Jordan Steele

      It’s definitely bigger. I can’t recall off hand if it’s as detailed…it’s been quite a while since I used the VF-4, but if I’m remembering correctly it’s a superior finder in most ways. It also is quite a large attachment.

  10. Walter

    Hi Jordan, just found your website with these very useful reviews!

    As to the shutter shock issue with the E-P5: What about switching IBIS off at critical shutter speeds?

    Since Olympus has meanwhile addressed the said issue with a firmware: Do you think the problem is fixed now?

    I really like your kind of reviewing photo gear!

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