Operation and Menus
The general operation of the E-P5 is very much like its older sibling, the OM-D E-M5. They share the same relatively confusing menu structure that makes it impossible to find things, but gives you endless possibilities to customize your experience. You can change the programming controls for the two command dials, the function buttons, the magnify button, the record button, etc. Basically, you can get the camera to behave how you want it to behave. Unfortunately, it also requires that you navigate a horribly convoluted and confusing menu that takes months to truly understand where everything is. Luckily, since I’ve been shooting with the OM-D for over a year, I knew where everything was right off the bat, but new users won’t be so lucky. Give it time and you’ll get to know the system, but Olympus could really use some reorganizing here.
One of the first things to enable in that confusing mess of menus is the camera’s Super Control Panel. (Gears->D->Live Control->Mode->Super Control Panel On). This will then allow for quick access to major settings simply by pressing the OK button in the middle of the four-way controller on the back of the camera. This makes changing most settings fast and easy.
The tilt screen of the E-P5 works seamlessly and the touch response of the panel is excellent. You can set the touch screen to place focus points, or do touch shutter, so that touching anywhere on the screen focuses there and snaps the shot. You can also turn touch focus off altogether, which some may prefer.
Overall, once set up to your liking, the camera is very easy to control and most things are quickly available. I grew to quite like the lever switch to enable quick access to ISO settings…it’s a nice addition.
Performance and Autofocus
One thing that I almost immediately noticed upon using the E-P5 after using the OM-D for so long is that the E-P5 is a more responsive camera. This is saying something, as the OM-D E-M5 is no slouch in that department. However, in shooting, everything feels just a little bit faster. There is a quick shutter release mode that pre-cocks the shutter, allowing for extremely short shutter lag. The autofocus is just a tiny bit faster and everything just feels instant. You don’t wait on this camera. If you do your job, it will respond effortlessly.
While this speed increase is nice, the biggest thing for me with regards to autofocus performance on the E-P5 is the ability to set small focus points on the main grid. This feature made its appearance on some of last year’s Pen models, but this is the first time it’s been available in one of Olympus’ top tier Micro 4/3 cams. The increase in precision is much needed: finally catching up with Panasonic’s small points and allowing for much more precise selection of focus. Unfortunately, Olympus uses black broken squares as its AF points, and when the AF point size is set to small it is often difficult to see the black outline when placed over anything dark. It’s a minor inconvenience, but I prefer the white outline of Panasonic’s small focus points.
Like the OM-D, the E-P5 can do 9 frames per second continuous shooting (without autofocus tracking) but improves upon the OM-D by offering 5 frames per second shooting with autofocus tracking. Unfortunately, while single shot autofocus is exceptional, like all contrast-detect autofocus systems, continuous focus isn’t quite there when compared to phase detect systems.
In a first for the Olympus Micro 4/3 cameras, the E-P5 features a fastest shutter speed of 1/8000s. Combined with the abilty to choose ISO 100 as an expanded ISO, the E-P5 now allows for shooting in mid-day direct sunlight with the fastest lenses while still maintaining proper exposure.
Overall, the E-P5 is an extremely responsive and fast camera. It’s definitely one of those cameras you can use when you just need to get the shot, and it helps in capturing that decisive moment.
The E-P5 features a recessed pop-up flash on the left edge of the body. It flicks up quickly and surely, and the mechanism for the flash feels strong and durable. Unfortunately, the tradeoff for that strength is the inability to hold the flash backward in order to bounce the flash off a ceiling or wall (in portrait mode). This is a feature I use fairly regularly on the Panasonic GX1 and my Fuji cameras, but with the E-P5, it’s direct flash only.
However, the pop-up flash does work quite well. It does a fantastic job when coupled with the Olympus 60mm macro lens for macro shooting. It’s close enough to the lens to provide a ‘big’ light source that creates even illumination for macro subjects. See the sample photos of butterflies at the end of the review, all of which were taken using the pop-up flash for illumination. One thing I did note after shooting butterflies for a while using the flash is that after repeated flash photos, the right side of the camera where you grip it became quite warm, bordering on hot. Keep an eye on how quickly you shoot with flash.
The E-P5 has a flash sync speed of 1/320 second, which is quite good, and should allow for flash use in a wider range of situations than many other cameras, which are often limited to 1/160 or so.