Olympus Pen E-P5 at a glance:

  • 16.1-million-pixel, four thirds Live MOS sensor
  • ISO 200-25,600 (with low ISO 100 setting)
  • 3in tilt LCD touchscreen with 1.037-million-dot resolution
  • Five-axis image stabilisation
  • 60-1/8000sec shutter speed range plus live view bulb mode
  • Up to 1/320sec flash sync
  • Optional VF-4 electronic viewfinder (around £250)
  • Street price around £899 body only
  • See Olympus Pen E-P5 product shots

Olympus Pen E-P5 review – Introduction

Given the success of the hugely popular Olympus OM-D E-M5 of last year, it comes as no surprise that Olympus has again taken inspiration from one of its own film cameras for its latest flagship Pen camera, the Olympus Pen E-P5. While the OM-D pays homage to the Olympus OM series of film cameras, the E-P5 is similar in appearance to the Pen F, a camera first announced 50 years ago in 1963. On the surface, the E-P5 is a success – it’s a lovely looking camera and the most attractive modern Pen to date. However, beauty is only skin deep, and the E-P5’s success will hinge on the improvements inside. Thankfully, compared to its predecessor, the Pen E-P3, the E-P5 shows numerous and noteworthy changes.

This latest model is the fourth in the line of Olympus’s flagship digital Pen cameras, beginning with the original Olympus Pen E-P1. Clear progress has been made in the E-P5, even when compared to its direct predecessor, the E-P3, not least of which is the inclusion of Olympus’s 16.1-million-pixel four thirds sensor. For those who like to take hold of the camera’s controls, the E-P5 shows some encouraging signs – it offers twin dials for exposure adjustments, a switch to double these dials up for changes to key controls like ISO, and a function button.

Throughout this test I refer not only to the E-P3 to highlight the improvements made to the E-P5, but also to the Olympus OM-D E-M5, which was released between the two cameras. The E-P5 is, in fact, remarkably similar to the OM-D in many areas, which is encouraging as the camera reviewed so very well in AP 7 April 2012, scoring 85%. In the E-P5 we appear to have a compact, stylish camera that is packed with features.

Olympus Pen E-P5 review – Features

Of all Olympus’s compact system cameras, the flagship E-P series is the last from the company to be fitted with its new imaging sensor. So, whereas the E-P3 uses a 12-million-pixel sensor, the E-P5 features a 16.1-million-pixel sensor. The new sensor is also used in the Pen E-PL5, Pen E-PM2 and OM-D E-M5. The Olympus Pen E-P5 also uses the same TruePic VI processing engine as the OM-D, so we can expect equally good images.

Along with this new sensor comes Wi-Fi. In 2012, Wi-Fi was the most popular new feature in CSCs and was even included in the Canon EOS 6D DSLR, although it remained absent from any Olympus CSCs. The E-P5 is the first Olympus CSC to offer Wi-Fi functionality, although the Olympus Image Share app (available free on both Android and iOS platforms) is required for its use. The main menu in the app shows four areas of wireless control from a smart device: remote control, import photos, edit photo and add geotag.

Using a Motorola Razr smartphone, I experienced no issues remotely controlling the camera (available in i-Auto exposure mode only for shutter and AF control). Likewise, logging the geotag points onto the camera – recorded by the smart device during a day out and about – happened without a hitch. A direct upload of images stored in-camera to the smart device is an excellent way to quickly share images. I am impressed with how smoothly the wireless operates, given this is Olympus’s first attempt. I anticipate that the functionality will be developed for future models, especially the level of remote control.

Like other current Pen cameras, the Olympus Pen E-P5 has a five-axis image-stabilisation system, which is claimed to provide up to a 5EV stabilisation range. Good stabilisation like this increases the number of situations in which one can happily use the camera handheld.

The improved shutter-speed range is class-leading for a CSC with mechanical shutter, at 60-1/8000sec, and there is also a bulb mode. Given there are several f/1.8 lenses in the Olympus range now, such as the 17mm, 45m and 75mm optics, this new fast shutter speed gives greater scope to make the most of these wide apertures in bright light. The live bulb mode is a genuine innovation – it displays the progress of the exposure in bulb mode via live view (which now includes a histogram), so the exposure can be stopped at the right time rather than reviewing the image at the end of the exposure and having to shoot again if it turns out to be incorrect.

Drive modes include a continuous high speed of 9fps with the focus locked on the first frame, or 5fps with continuous AF during the sequence. The continuous high-speed burst lasts 2secs in raw or JPEG (18 frames), while the continuous low appears to capture an unlimited burst.

The Olympus Pen E-P5 also offers multiple exposure and time lapse, which are certainly not a given on other similar cameras. Multiple exposure is limited to just two frames, while up to 99 frames are in time lapse, with manual control over the start time and with frame intervals between 1sec and 24hrs.

A new multi-frame mode has generously been given a place on the shooting mode dial. In this mode, up to three images are placed within custom frames, with the option to apply various picture effects to the images. The full-resolution version of each image taken for a multi-frame guide is stored separately. I suspect this mode will be more popular with the consumer than enthusiast photographer. I would like to see these kinds of edits possible in-camera, post-capture, and a space on the dial given to a more useful mode such as bracketing.

Again, there are several art and scene modes, but the camera lacks true panorama and HDR modes. Instead, frames are recorded separately and require the user to stitch them together manually post-capture. I would like to see this achieved in-camera, as is possible with many other camera systems. However, the array of bracketing modes is useful – one can bracket for every art effect with one press of the shutter button. All in all, the Olympus Pen E-P5 is packed with features.

Olympus Pen E-P5 review – VF-4 EVF

A key difference between the OM-D E-M5 and the Pen E-P5 is that the former has a built-in viewfinder, yet while the new camera does not, it does feature a hotshoe port via which an optional unit – the new VF-4 (around £250) – can be attached. It is interesting to see just what difference using this viewfinder makes when compared to the E-P5‘s rear LCD screen, and also how the VF-4 fares against the OM-D’s built-in unit.

The optional VF-4 unit compatible with the E-P5 offers a resolution of 2.36 million dots and can be angled up to 90°, while the built-in unit in the OM-D is fixed and has a lower resolution of 1.44 million dots. The lack of a built-in viewfinder means the E-P5 is a more compact model, although the viewfinder of the OM-D gives the camera a distinct style. One gripe with the optional VF-4 EVF is that although it can angle up to 90°, the hinge is so loose that pressing the eye against it usually causes it to shift downwards, which can be frustrating.

Having compared the two displays, I am hard-pressed to identify any real differences in clarity and contrast. In bright light, both are preferable to using the rear screen, as the finder display can be seen more clearly. Having used the E-P5 with and without the VF-4 unit, I would recommend adding the EVF to the shopping list.

Olympus Pen E-P5 review – Build and handling

The Pen E-P5’s key selling point is its looks. For those who want a stylish camera, the E-P5 certainly delivers. It’s a beautiful compact system camera, matched only by another Olympus model, the OM-D, although each camera has a different appeal. The E-P5 is available in three colours and the version on test – black with a silver top-plate – is my favourite, as it is most true to the original Pen F that inspired its design. The body is made from a durable metal, but this does come at a premium because the E-P5 is more expensive than its competitors.

During the test of the E-P5, I also had the E-P3 and the OM-D in hand to weigh up the differences. The E-P5 has very similar dimensions to its predecessor, so it’s not the smallest CSC around but sits very nicely in the hand. The camera is actually a fraction deeper than the E-P3 on account of its tilting rear LCD screen, compared to the former’s fixed unit. The OM-D, on the other hand, is taller because of its built-in viewfinder, but once an optional viewfinder is attached to the hotshoe port of the E-P5, the camera becomes taller than the OM-D.

The camera starts up quickly. It is ready in roughly 0.5secs and able to capture an image in less than 2secs after turning it on. When tested against the E-P3 and OM-D, the E-P5 is quicker, which should be of interest to street photographers and those wanting to capture decisive moments. The shutter-release action is pleasant and the touchscreen is near instant to focus and shoot when in good light. For more on the touchscreen operation, see LCD, viewfinder and video.

An aspect of the E-P5 that really impressed me was its manual handling, with some key improvements made since the E-P3. Photographers will find that taking manual control over the camera is speedy and intuitive. Gone is the vertical rear dial and rear control wheel combination used in the E-P3. Instead, there are two dials on the top-plate within easy and comfortable reach of thumb and forefinger. The rotation of each dial has a nice click like in the OM-D, which cannot be said of the rear control wheel of the E-P3. The top dials work with a new rear switch. In short, whether it is manually changing aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance or other customisable controls, the E-P5 is clear and quick to operate.

Like the OM-D, the E-P5 uses the BLN-1 battery, which has a slightly higher 1,220mAh capacity than the 1,150mAh of the E-P3’s BLS-5. According to Olympus, approximately 400 shots can be expected from a full charge, although this will of course be affected by the use of Wi-Fi and other battery-draining functions, such as continuous AF.

All in all, the E-P5 is very satisfying to use. It sits in the hand well, is customisable and speedy to navigate.

Olympus Pen E-P5 review – Metering

The E-P5 uses exactly the same 324-zone multi-pattern metering system as the OM-D and other current Pen cameras. With such quick access to exposure compensation for tweaks to exposure, one can largely leave the camera in its (handily) predictable multi-pattern metering mode, which, on the whole, provides accurate exposure settings.

There are, of course, the usual centre weighted and spot-metering options available, as well as spot-highlight and spot-shadow modes. The spot modes are locked to the central point only, working independently from the focus point (unless the focus point is the central point itself). While it can be an advantage for the focus point and metering point to be separate, more often than not one wants the point of focus to be metered for correctly. By manually setting the camera to lock exposure (AEL) when the shutter is half depressed, one can then recompose the shot once the spot reading from the central point has been taken.

Olympus Pen E-P5 review – Autofocus

Images: For this subject, I could benefit from the full 9fps high-speed burst because continuous AF was not needed

All Olympus CSCs use a contrast-detection AF system, which in the E-P5 consists of 35 points that cover most of the frame. Each point can be selected individually via the rear four-way pad or more quickly using the touchscreen. A more precise spot can be selected by touching the desired area of the screen and then using the live view manual-focus assist (up to 14x). This new function, which Olympus calls ‘super-spot AF’, provides extremely precise spot selection. Touch focus can work independently from the shutter or in tandem with it.

A comprehensive range of AF modes covers most situations. In good light and with continuous AF activated, autofocus is near instant. Selecting continuous AF does drain the battery a little, but it is worthwhile for keeping subjects close to focus. There is also continuous tracking AF, which can keep up with a moving subject of moderate pace and has a 5fps high-speed burst. Being a highly customisable camera, the E-P5 allows the rotation for manually focusing the lens to be switched between clockwise and anti-clockwise.

In low-contrast light the speed of focusing is compromised a little, but I was still impressed by how well the camera performs. There is an AF assist lamp for such conditions, but generally I found the AF just as quick without employing the lamp, and when being discreet one does not want a bright light emitting from the camera.

Face-detection focusing has its own menu, with options that include face priority, face and eye priority, face and right eye priority, and finally face and left eye priority. These latter modes are very useful when taking portraits: usually one wants the person’s eye closest to the camera to be the one in focus, and this can be ensured by selecting the appropriate eye priority mode.

Olympus Pen E-P5 review – Dynamic range

Olympus really upped its game when it introduced its new 16.1-million-pixel sensor in the OM-D – a sensor that is now present in all its current CSCs, including the Pen E-P5. Not only does the higher resolution result in greater detail than in the last generation of models, but the sensor’s performance has also been improved to offer a greater dynamic range (DR). The Olympus CSCs using the older 12-million-pixel sensor have a DR in the region of 10EV, while those using the 16.1-million-pixel sensor enjoy a DR in the region of 12EV – a 2-stop improvement.

Our lab tests indicate that the E-P5 performs best at ISO 200, with a DR of almost exactly 12EV, and it stays above 11EV up to ISO 800. At the low ISO 100 setting, the DR is 11.5EV. The loss of half a stop from ISO 200 is seen in images in the slightly clipped highlights. I’d stick to ISO 200, and thankfully there is a 1/8000sec maximum shutter speed so this ISO setting is usable in bright light even with wide aperture lenses. At ISO 25,600 the DR has dropped to approximately 6.5EV, which is to be expected. All in all, this performance matches or comes close to other CSCs.

Other than a shading compensation option in the Colour/WB menu (which reduces the effect of vignetting), there are no real options to boost the dynamic range in a single frame. Unfortunately, the HDR mode simply records consecutive images with different exposure values, which the user then manually combines post-capture using software. It would be nice to see a true HDR mode included next time.

Olympus Pen E-P5 review – White balance and colour

Image: The red b&w filter effect is used with the monotone picture mode in this scene to add drama to the tones in the sky. Given that the subject was still, I had time to take a spot-meter reading from the white horse to ensure highlight detail wasn’t lost

When used in its natural picture mode, the colour rendition of JPEGs from the E-P5 is pleasing and even punchy in bright conditions. As such, I only used the vivid and i-Enhance picture modes on the odd occasion in flat lighting. Raw files are a little less saturated. I did, however, find great pleasure using the monotone picture mode, to which b&w filters can be added. The green filter makes midtone detail more obvious, which is great for bringing out the detail in a person’s skin, while the red filter enhances sky and is perfect for landscapes.

By default, flicking the rear switch to ‘2′ enables the rear dial to directly control white balance. The auto white balance (AWB) is perfectly fine for most situations. Furthermore, it has a ‘keep warm colours’ option, which operates exactly as it claims. At times AWB can be a little cool, so activating this option is worthwhile. A custom white balance reading is easy to record – all one needs is a sheet of white card with which to fill the frame under the prevailing lighting, and follow the simple on-screen instructions.

Olympus Pen E-P5 review – Noise, resolution and sensitivity

These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens set to f/4 . We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately.

The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.

The E-P5 uses the same 16.1-million-pixel sensor and TruePic VI processor as the OM-D E-M5. It is a multi-aspect sensor with 17.2-million-pixels in total, offering views of 4:3, 3:2, 1:1 and 16:9.

The full 4608×3456 resolution is available in 4:3 format, with 12-bit raw files approximately 17MB in size. This enables 100% prints sized to 15.4×11.5in and with a print resolution of 300ppi.

We used the 75mm f/1.8 (150mm effective) lens set to f/4 to record our resolution charts with the E-P5. Under these conditions, the camera can resolve up to the 28 marker at ISO 200 (and the extended low ISO 100 setting), which is a solid performance. There is, however, an impression of detail even at the very end of the resolution charts, which is impressive.

I would be happy to use the E-P5 all the way up to ISO 800. At ISO 1600, luminance noise starts to become evident and from then on through to ISO 25,600 there is a gradual decline in the dynamism and crispness of detail as luminance noise increases. The highest ISO setting also shows significant chroma noise in raw files without noise reduction applied.

Olympus Pen E-P5 review – LCD, viewfinder and video

As mentioned in Features in use, VF-4 EVF, the E-P5 does not have a viewfinder, although it is compatible with the VF-4 EVF. As such, the E-P5 body comes in at a more affordable price than the viewfinder-equipped OM-D did when it was released. Include the VF-4 with the E-P5, however, and the prices are similar.

Like the OM-D, the E-P5 has a 3in rear tilting touchscreen, although on this new camera it is a 1.037-million-dot-resolution LCD type, rather than the OM-D’s 610,000-dot OLED display. OLED screens are supposed to have greater contrast than LCDs, but when viewing the displays together I found it difficult to see any real differences in their clarity and boldness. The E-P5 has a lovely, punchy LCD screen. However, during the test I was often in bright sunshine, under which the rear screen is not completely clear, especially with finger marks on it. I found the EVF to be the better option for clear viewing in bright conditions.

The capacitive touchscreen works really well. Its response is instant, with touch options for shutter, AF and metering. Compared to Panasonic’s Lumix G models, which carry some of the best touchscreens on the market, the E-P5 holds its own. What would be handy is if the E-P5’s touchscreen worked while the viewfinder is in use.

Video recording is on the modest side, although the E-P5 does still offer full HD 1080p recording at 30fps.

Olympus Pen E-P5 review – The competition

A Panasonic model will always be an Olympus camera’s closest competitor, given that both camera ranges use the four thirds system. However, looking over the specifications of the Panasonic Lumix cameras, the budget-level GF6 is quite similar to the E-P5 in many areas, with same resolution sensor, a rear tilting LCD touchscreen and built-in Wi-Fi. On the style and price front, however, the Fujifilm X-E1 is closest. It has a larger APS-C sensor and built-in EVF, but its handling and lens choice is currently more limiting.

Another competing model is Olympus’s own OM-D E-M5, because it is similar to the E-P5 in so many ways and is, at the time of writing, a close match in price. Both are among the most stylish CSCs on the market. The key difference, as outlined in Features in use, VF-4 EVF, is the OM-D’s built-in viewfinder and therefore different shape, while the E-P5 uses the optional VF-4 EVF unit.

Olympus Pen E-P5 review – Our verdict

Image: I could get wide for this scene by using the 12mm f/2 lens. Its effective focal length is 24mm because of the four thirds system’s 2x crop factor. Detail is lovely and crisp

Compared to its competition, the Olympus Pen E-P5 is certainly stylish, if on the expensive side, being one of the best-looking CSCs available. Thankfully, though, it handles just as well. Those who like to take manual control of their camera are spoilt for choice, with twin dials and a touchscreen providing a comprehensive level of user control. The camera is speedy, too, with quick start-up, fast AF and shutter speeds, and excellent flash support. As for the images, I experienced few surprises having already reviewed the Olympus OM-D E-M5.

Panasonic and Olympus now use a 16-million-pixel, four thirds sensor as standard. The four thirds system also has some fine glass now, and I am pleased with the images taken using the 45mm f/1.8 and 12mm f/2 lenses. Certainly in good light, detail is crisp, and even up to ISO 800 I am really pleased with my images. Like the OM-D, the E-P5 is one of the best CSC options available.

Olympus Pen E-P5 – Key features


The built-in pop-up flash is released manually using this catch. It has a class-leading flash sync speed of 1/320sec, while external flash units attached via the hotshoe enjoy a flash sync speed up to 1/250sec, which is again very impressive. The built-in flash has a guide number of 10m @ ISO 200 (GN 7m @ ISO 100).

As mentioned in the Build and handling section, this lever can change the function of the dials. As a default, the ‘1′ position is set for aperture/shutter speed, while the ‘2′ position changes the white balance/ISO.

The rear dial is placed close to the front dial, which makes the pair quick to operate together for changes to exposure, among other things.

Live-view magnification from 5x and up to 14x is possible using this button, which improves accuracy when using manual focus.

Battery/memory-card compartment
Located on the right of the underside of the camera, it is possible to open the battery/memory-card compartment without needing to remove the camera from most tripods.