Olympus PEN E-PL5: The Lite Heavyweight

 
Olympus PEN E-PL5

Olympus PEN E-PL5

Who is the Olympus PEN LITE E-PL5 aimed at? A DSLR user looking for a smaller body? Or a compact upgrader? Ambarin Afsar finds out.

Bringing big camera speed and image quality to a compact body has been a part of Olympus’ plans for a while, what with the slew of releases they had when they announced the E-PM1, the E-PL3 and the E-P3. The tiny, cost-effective E-PM1 had the same sensor as the E-PL3 and the E-P3.

And at Photokina 2012, Olympus did it again by announcing the E-PL5 and the E-PM2. Both cameras feature the OM-D E-M5’s 16.1MP sensor and the TruePic VI image processing engine. According to the US pricing, they have been priced a 100 dollars apart. So what does the E-PL5 have that the E-PM2 does not? A mode dial, an extra button, a flip-up LCD and a screw-on front grip.

We have heard that Olympus may not introduce the E-PM2 to India any time soon. So for users looking for the OMD’s quality, the E-PL5 turns out to be their best bet. Billed at quite lesser than the OM-D’s price, what do you get when you choose this diet version?

Features
Besides the sensor and the image processing engine, the E-PL5 also the same capacitative touchscreen capability of the E-P3 and the OM-D. The screen also gains the ability to pivot through 170° for people who wish to make self portraits.

While I did not use the screen for this feature, I certainly enjoyed having the ability to tilt the screen up for waist-level shooting. This is great for those discreet captures or for finding a better angle without having to twist around too much.

Sadly, though the LCD is a 3-inch, 16:9 aspect ratio based screen. While this sort of a screen is great for shooting video, it leaves a lot of unused real estate in the form of two thick black bars, when you are shooting in the native 4:3 aspect of the sensor. So, ultimately, the useable area of the screen is closer to 2.5 inches, which I found to be a little annoying. Additionally, the LCD clocks in at 460k dots instead of the OM-D’s more lush 610k dot OLED screen.

A very interesting thing about the E-PL5 is that it does not have an Anti Aliasing filter at all. This helps the camera retain extra detail. However, the downside is that the camera might be subject to moiré, though I personally did not observe any such aberration that affected image quality.

Besides the usual P, S, A, M modes, the camera has 12 Art Filters, including a couple of new ones like Watercolour and Key Line. As usual, the Filters are a delight to use and one can even bracket them using the Art Bkt option.

Now, the OM-D offers something called 5-axis image stabilisation that corrects for roll, and for up/down and left/right translational motions. On the other hand, like most image stabilisation systems, the E-PL5 only corrects for pitch and yaw.

The camera offers Full HD video along with stereo sound and does a great job of allowing users to adjust focus while shooting, by simply tapping on the desired areas of the screen. The Touch AF in video is quick, and one can even switch between Art Filters while recording! You just need to switch Movie Effects on, and you will be able to fade in and fade out between the Filters.

The 16MP sensor exhibits great dynamic range and gives far better quality than the previous PENs. Exposure: 1/60sec at f/3.5 (ISO 2000). Photograph/Ambarin Afsar

The 16MP sensor exhibits great dynamic range and gives far better quality than the previous PENs. Exposure: 1/60sec at f/3.5 (ISO 2000). Photograph/Ambarin Afsar

Handling
The camera is decidedly tiny. Some might even call it too tiny. It did slip out of my hands a couple of times (thank heavens for camera straps), and I have tiny hands. The build is definitely plastic, but the camera feels sturdy enough to withstand a few knocks.

What I love most about it is its touchscreen experience. Despite being a 460k dot screen only, it was a complete joy to review my photos. The images looked crisp and the colours looked bright. I also did not have any trouble viewing the LCD in bright sunlight. What I also appreciate, is the fact that Olympus has given important functionalities to both, the touchscreen and the buttons. So you are not being forced to use the touchscreen.

While the E-PL5 comes bundled with a clip-on flash, it is something I have always found a little too flimsy.

The buttons are responsive and the dials rotate smoothly. Ergonomically, the camera is pretty simple to use and quite light.

The menu system is extensive and exhausting. I felt a little intimidated, but this system is pretty standard to Olympus cameras. Simply put, the menu system would be heaven for geeks and for someone who loves customising. But, simplifying the interface would be a good idea.

Performance
The image quality of this camera is far better than previous PEN cameras. There is nothing really to complain about. The high ISO performance is quite impressive and very workable. Right from ISO 200–6400, the camera does not disappoint. There is some chrominance noise at ISOs 2000 and above, but it is nothing that cannot be corrected. The dynamic range is superior to previous PENs. And as with all PEN cameras, the colours are vibrant and crisp. The E-PL5 also does a great job of blending available light with fill flash.

I had overexposed a few images by nearly about two stops and when I saw the RAW files, I was quite surprised. The RAW files had recorded data even in the areas which I thought would be completely blown out, that were irrecoverably white in the JPEG versions.

The AF is blazing fast. The E-PL5 inherits the 35-point AF system of the OM-D, and the AF points can be made larger or smaller, depending on your preference. Combine this with extremely intuitive Touch AF and Touch Shutter, and you can make images in an instant. C-AF is fast while recording video, and you can simply tap the screen to focus on a different area!

The corner performance of the lens is not perfect, but it still produces very sharp images. The optics are definitely better than the usual kit lens standards. Photograph/Ambarin Afsar

The corner performance of the lens is not perfect, but it still produces very sharp images. The optics are definitely better than the usual kit lens standards. Photograph/Ambarin Afsar

Conclusion
The E-PL5 is a lightweight camera that is completely customisable, filled with features, and has great image quality. It is everything that made the original Olympus PEN series of cameras work.

Olympus has always had a great lens system. But, where they fell short of matching up to APS-C cameras, was in the sensor quality. With the E-PL5, the company certainly seems to be catching up.

If you want an inbuilt viewfinder, the Panasonic G3 is available for just a little more. But the E-PL5 has several other advantages including in-body IS, Art Filters and similar quality to the OM-D. We are disappointed that there is no body-only option and that the kit’s price (Rs. 44,990) is even more than the price of the E-P3.

Each of the Art Filters can be customised to your heart’s content. From adding vignettes to making colours pop out radically, you can play endlessly! Photograph/Ambarin Afsar

Each of the Art Filters can be customised to your heart’s content. From adding vignettes to making colours pop out radically, you can play endlessly! Photograph/Ambarin Afsar

Final Ratings
Features
16MP, 12 Art Filters, in-body stabilisation, Touch AF, no inbuilt viewfinder
27/30

Performance
Best image quality seen in a Micro Four Thirds camera, fast AF, good battery life
28/30

Build Quality
Feels sturdy, flimsy flashgun
16/20

Ergonomics
Lightweight, perhaps a little too compact, wordy menu system, 460k dot screen
12/15

Warranty & Support
Three-year warranty, wide service network
3/5

OVERALL: 86%
Value For Money: 3.5/5 stars

Who Should Buy It?
Anyone who values a small camera with good ergonomics and interchangeable lenses.

Why?
Considering that the budget NEX cameras are not available in India, this is the cheapest mirrorless option that combines an excellent sensor with good autofocus.

Tags: Olympus, Ambarin Afsar, Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5, january 2013, epl5 lite review, olympus mirrorless