Image Quality: Dynamic Range and Color
The Olympus Pen E-P5 features the same 16 megapixel sensor that first debuted in the OM-D E-M5 and has since trickled down to the E-PL5, E-PM2 and now the E-P5. Normally, I might be upset at the rehash of the same sensor, but it’s the best sensor ever made for Micro 4/3 (to this point) and it still packs a great punch for the size.
Dynamic range out of the E-P5 is outstanding, allowing for the capture of a wide range of tones in a single image. There’s tons of highlight headroom in the RAW files and shadows are quite detailed as well. The dynamic range of the E-P5 is on par with the majority of interchangeable lens cameras, even those with larger APS-C and full frame sensors. While there are larger sensors that do perform a little better than the E-P5 in this department, there are just as many that the E-P5 bests, and in any case, there’s enough range to work for almost any shooting situation.
Color on the E-P5 is in line with other Olympus cameras: Excellent. Colors are rich and accurate, providing a great natural look while still giving enough pop to impress visually. The RAW files work best here, but the JPEG engine in the E-P5 is quite excellent. Coupled with the relatively accurate auto white balance this allows for a great experience for taking files right out of camera if you prefer to shoot this way.
Image Quality: Noise
Noise performance on the E-P5 is right in line with the other Olympus cameras using this sensor. There might have been some very minor tweaking of the processing and the sensor, but ultimately in real world use it’s essentially identical.
The E-P5 provides very nice, relatively clean files at low ISOs, with only a very fine-grained noise visible in areas of solid color in the RAW files (that wouldn’t be visible in a print). JPEG files show no noise from ISO 100 to around ISO 800, where a little mottling starts to settle in. On the RAW side, noise is well controlled up to about ISO 1600, and ISO 3200 and 6400 are also quite usable if you manage your exposure properly. ISO 12,800 is usable for small prints or web use with proper noise reduction, though ISO 25,600 is just a step too far…only suitable for those situations where there’s no other way to capture an image.
The E-P5 maintains good color balance at high ISOs up to around ISO 6400. Beyond that, colors start to become notably more muted, with some light color shifting going on at the very highest ISOs. At the highest ISOs, it may make sense to think of them as black and white only situations, which allows you to avoid any issues with color and still get usable images, despite a little extra grain.
The E-P5 ships with 12 different art filters, which allow you to add distinctive processing to your JPEG images if you so choose. Some of these are really nice, and others are, well, a little over cooked, but if used well, they can add something to your images. Photographers who know their way around Photoshop and other post-processing tools would probably do best to stick with that method, but a few of the art filters can produce a really nice look in the right situations. I quite like the Dramatic Tone filter. The Soft Focus filter, while a bit over the top, can also really work in the right circumstances.
As I mentioned at the opening of the review, I am not a videographer. Any video that I take with my cameras is almost entirely for capturing family moments. As such, I’m not the reviewer you need to be reading if your primary concern is with video. In the few video samples I did take, the video was nice and clear, with minimal artifacts. Video on the E-P5 is helped by the in-body IS system, which allows for a much smoother video experience than with a lot of other cameras since all lenses can be stabilized. The E-P5 doesn’t offer a ton of different modes for video, and lacks the more film like 24p frame rate, but can shoot full 1080/30p and 720/30p HD video.
18 thoughts on “Review: Olympus Pen E-P5”
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
Great camera, but I have tested two pcs and all of them had strong shutter shock issue. Hope Olympus will fix the problem.
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:
(I will upgrade some time but I’ll invest in a newly released body only if I know it fulfills all my current wishes.)
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 🙂
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.”
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.
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~
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.
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!