Olympus Pen E-P5 – Modern Meets Vintage Class

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Olympus PEN E-P5

Olympus has announced its new model in the Pen E-P micro 4/3 lineup, the beautiful looking Olympus Pen E-P5. This camera combines the cool look of the 60’s photojournalist with some amazing, modern features sure to make this camera a hit.

You can get your’s from B&H now!

Personally I’ve not been a big fan of mirror-less cameras due to their slow responsiveness and electronic view finders. I have to say though that the Olympus Pen E-P5 is making me want to give them another chance as there are some new things about micro 4/3 that are making me curious. I find it interesting that there seems to be a void in the market today for the next generation of “street” cameras. You know, the Henri Cartier-Bresson/ Robert Frank school of off the cuff, raw emotion photography that many photographers aspire towards. The mobile phone is quickly making the point and shoot camera obsolete. Smartphones have post production apps built in and internet connectivity bringing them to the forefront of this improvisational feel of street photography. However the “Achilles Heal” of the smartphone is the optics. You just won’t beat the image quality of a real camera with the microscopic lenses and sensors that smartphones use. This is not to say that you can’t get great photos from them, but it is to say that it potentially keeps serious photographers away.

On the other hand we’ve seen some really interesting cameras come out in the last few years from Fuji and Olympus that bring a retro style to their look – perhaps to eclipse the smartphone features they lack. However it is interesting to see that there is a market that seems to respond well to this. Of course if you want to shoot like Bresson or Frank I think you should shoot film. It really gives the look perfectly. But there is an enormous market of people who want to feel like they are doing this but then working digitally. Nothing wrong with that, but its just odd to me.

Olympus PEN E-P5

Let me talk a minute about Micro 4/3. This is a small sensor and proud of it. This doesn’t mean that the image quality is poor. Be very clear about that. These new sensors such as the Olympus Live Mos sensor and TruePic IV Image Processor are capable of amazing images in any light. If you want the film look you can always check out Silver FX from Nik Software which gives the most amazing film look to digital images. You can actually get some amazing results from this camera.

The biggest advantage of micro 4/3 to me is the design of the way the sensor is right behind the lens mount. This means that you can use just about any lens ever made for any camera as long as you can find an adaptor for it. I’m a huge fan of vintage lenses – everything from old 35mm to medium format to C lenses used in television and 16mm. You can use them with this camera. This is the biggest attraction for me personally. Combine this with the smaller sensor implying smaller camera and you can have a serious rig that is highly portable, easy to carry and fun to use.

What’s New in the Olympus Pen P-E5

The standout feature for me is WiFi Connectivity. This is a major game changer in bridging the gap between smartphones and smaller, “real” digital cameras. This makes 2 things possible – 1) moving your images over a WiFi connection to a server, cloud service or mobile device and 2) GeoTagging becomes automated. The downside to this is for geotagging, you need to be connected to WiFi and if you’re outside, chances are you won’t be connected. This is a stretch to advertise this as a feature. Perhaps someday a camera will have 4G connectivity just for this feature and it will be more usable. Another note about WiFi transfer – I’ll be more interested in how the images can transfer back to the mothership computer than I will be interested to see them show up on a smartphone. I shoot RAW about 95% of the time and this doesn’t play nice with smartphones. This feature seems to appeal to the proud parent who is really into gadgets. I’m more interested in my session already being ready on a server when I get back to the studio. I suppose we’ll see how versatile this feature is, but it sure sounds promising.

Features Unique to the Olympus Pen P-E5

Olympus PEN E-P5 Back

CMOS Sensor and Image Processor

Probably the most interesting feature of the Olympus Pen E-P5 is the new CMOS sensor and Image Processor. The specs are showing these new features are capable of a much faster auto-focus and low-light/low-noise performance of up to ISO 25600. This is outstanding if it holds up to the promise. Nikon and Canon have upped the game on low-light performance in the last year, particularly with the Canon 5D mkIII. I’m willing to believe that Olympus has upped their game as well – at least to be usable at 6400 ISO. We’ll know for sure when this camera comes out, but its looking good on the spec sheet. Also impressive is the 9 fps (frames per second) shooting burst speed. If you favor low-light shots without using a flash this could very well be your “street” camera.

Image Stabilization

This is a revolutionary feature. Historically the work-around for image stabilization has been to use an electronically spinning element inside the lens to stabilize motion blur. It works, but sometimes produces some weird effects. BUT – to have this work electronically inside the camera is very interesting. Basically, the Olympus Pen E-P5 uses a sensor that measures a 5 point method to achieve stabilization that measures yaw, pitch, roll, vertical shift and horizontal shift to even out motion at slower shutter speeds. Again – if this works it will be an amazing, unique camera.

Shutter Speed

Olympus is boasting 1/8000 of a second for its fastest shutter speed on the Pen E-P5. This is certainly DSLR territory and probably puts to bed my concern of its responsiveness. I rarely like to shoot this fast, but it is there if you feel like its accurate and you need it. Real photographers understand how to get an image with a more reasonable shutter speed, but if you don’t have ND filters on hand this can be a nice feature.

Built in Flash and Wireless Control

The Olympus Pen E-P5 features a built in flash with a GN of 7 (ISO 100). This means nothing to me as built in flash is usually ugly in images. However – what’s interesting is 1) the flash sync is capable of 1/320 which makes fill flash in daylight exceptionally useful and 2) the built-in flash can be used to drive 4 channels of external flash!!! This makes this an extremely powerful studio camera to say the least. This is the feature they need to be bragging about!

2×2 Dial Control

The 2×2 dial allows you to control 2 combinations of aperture/shutter speed, exposure compensation, ISO settings and white balance. Better than nothing, but this has always plagued digital cameras in that they are basically computers. Why nobody will revisit the Nikon F3 and study the user experience is beyond me. We don’t want computers, we want cameras.

42 Shooting Modes and Scene Select AE

If you are a beginner and no nothing about how a camera works this will likely be a great feature. This stuff has always sold cameras and means nothing if you know what you are doing.

Art Filters and Photo Story

Again – seriously? These might be “fun”, but any photographer who knows what they are doing will prefer to do this stuff in Adobe Photoshop or something similar. I know there is a new amazing LCD (there is a new, amazing LCD in every camera), but my lord – its a 3″ screen!!! You can’t edit this way and expect professional results! Photo Story apparently allows you to group photos with custom frames. Seriously…

HDR and Bracketing

Up to 7 shots may be bracketed which is actually useful. Just don’t make those stupid, bubble gum HDR non-sense. Use this to get the right exposure or HDR images where you know what you’re doing that aren’t effect. Its a nice addition – again this is DSLR territory.

Interval Mode, Multiple Exposure and Live Bulb

Very nice if you need these things. Timelapse photographers will rejoice. Bulb exposure is very useful for night shots, but this will be interesting to see how the sensor behaves on long exposures. Very nice addition though.

Level Gauge

Popular on the newer DSLR’s this is a great feature for landscape and still life photographers. Not sure people who are good at this actually need it, but nice to have. Its basically an electronic leveler.

M.Zuiko 17mm f1.8 lens

Now we’re talking again! This lens sounds amazing on paper. It should be amazingly sharp and well built. This is the equivalent more or less to a 35mm lens on an old 35mm film camera. Perfect for street photos. It boasts a close focusing distance of 9 inches. It also uses three aspherical lens elements and (I’m assuming 1) a “High Reflective Index Element” to minimize aberrations. I don’t mean to sound sarcastic – Olympus Zuiko lenses have always been fantastic and underrated – even since the 1970’s. I’m sure this will be amazing.

Olympus PEN E-P5 EVF

VF-4 Electronic Viewfinder

The specs on this viewfinder sound more than adequate. I’m sure its nice. I think the technology could do more here though. Take a look at the Zacuto EVF – I realize this is designed for video – and its expensive, but the cool feature here is coloring focus. When lines come into focus they get colored with this view finder. This is very useful for video – why not stills? I guess we’re dealing with auto-focus but I think it would be a great addition. Minor complaint – don’t make this a reason not to go with the camera. Its just something I’d like to see down the road.

Video on the Olympus Pen E-P5

Sorry folks – this might be a deal breaker for me. I love to shoot video and I really love it when I can carry one camera – particularly one that boast such awesome specs as the Olympus Pen E-P5 and has such a cool, classic look.

But seriously? It shoots 1080p video – so does just about everything else. But the Olympus Pen E-P5 is stuck at 30 fps (frames per second). Sorry folks this doesn’t cut it. 23.976 is the standard for US film, 25fps is the standard for England and 29.9 is the standard for broadcast. The 30 fps format is kind of an amateur, video device format. You’re fine if YouTube is your destination and you don’t care if it has the 23.976 look or not. You can change the frame-rate in post, but as this slows it down this camera isn’t good for anything other than slightly under-cranked looking B-Roll.

I have no idea why Olympus can’t work this out. Every other camera on the market can do this. If you’re a film maker and you want a pocket camera to get stuff with from time to time – you’ll need to look elsewhere as this camera won’t do it. I really hate that – I wanted this to be the camera that brought video in seriously for Olympus but alas it falls short. So many great features and this was left alone. This is a bit disappointing.

Conclusion

Is this the Olympus Pen E-P5 your next camera? If you’re not dependent on video – absolutely. Its amazing. Its got a great vintage look to it that screams class. You will get amazing stills from this camera – particularly in studio, fill flash and low-light situations where previously you’d really need a DSLR. This is a total game-changer.

If you’re wanting this camera for a pocket video camera – look elsewhere. You’ll get a much better bang for your buck from Sony or even the new Blackmagic pocket camera due out this summer.

Comments

  1. Carl says

    Thanks for publishing your opinion on this new gadget. Your Nikon F3 reference would suggest that Fuji are closet to its analogue interface, certainly when used with primes. Such an interface on a m43 camera would certainly find a niche though I think Olympus/Panasonic will develop the computer-based functionality instead.

  2. Tom says

    I too will be interested to see how images can make it to a computer. It would be great to access images directly from the card in the camera while it is working in the studio. Olympus has covered how it will work with a smartphone if you have the Olympus App to make it work.

  3. Andrew says

    The EP5 has focus peaking for use with old manual lenses as well – maybe you missed it…