E-PL5 vs. NEX-5R vs. NEX-5N comparative review (long)

Started Feb 3, 2013 | Discussions thread
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cptobvious
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E-PL5 vs. NEX-5R vs. NEX-5N comparative review (long)
Feb 3, 2013

I had and returned an Olympus E-PL5 due to a rattling IBIS (in-body stabilization).  Rather than exchange I decided to buy an NEX-5R to replace the 5N I recently sold (which in hindsight was a mistake).

Between these direct competitors, here are my impressions.  My conclusion is that neither is a slam dunk over the other, but both are good but flawed cameras.

First, the million dollar question about image quality: my conclusion is that they are neck-and-neck in terms of dynamic range and high ISO for raw files.  This is not from a controlled set-up shooting but from taking them out and shooting them.  The new sensor in the E-PL5/E-M5/E-PM2 is really that good.  I would not consider sensor specs to be a factor in deciding between the two cameras.

But, reasons you should buy the NEX-5R over the E-PL5:

1) Much better ergonomics.  The NEX-5R fits in the hand very well despite its small size.  The E-PL5 with its stock grip feels like it could slip out at any moment, so two hands are almost always necessary.  You can buy a slightly larger, rubberized grip for it for $20, but a big minus to Olympus for not including it with the camera.

2) Focus peaking.  Manual focusing is much easier with the NEXs because of this.  The E-PL5 lacks it, which is a shame because there are a lot of good fast primes for MFT that could use it.

3) Top dial and power switch.  Two improvements over the NEX-5N.  With the E-PL5 you still have to use the rear dial to change aperature/shutter speed (and by default, it requires you to use a series of button presses which is inexplicably stupid).  The E-PL5 has a power button rather than a switch which is not terrible, but the 5R's 'Nikon-style' power switch is clearly the best way to go for any camera.

4) Articulating LCD is much better designed.  With the 5R you can flip the screen 180 degrees in one motion.  The E-PL5 is very clunky with multiple fold out points and the hinges are very tight.

5) Battery/card door.  The door is spring loaded, the battery retaining clip is big enough, and the memory card slot has enough clearance for your finger to push the card in/out.  The E-PL5's design sucks: flimsy plastic door that stops halfway and forces you to push it all the way open; a barely big enough battery clip; and a memory card slot that is flush against the side so you have to use your fingernail to push the card in and out.

6) Another design issue: The strap lug on the E-PL5 presses against the palm much more than the 5R.

7) Menus/interfaces on the 5R is not great (compared to say, Canon) but the E-PL5's are terrible and confusing.  It's the first time I had to use an online guide to set-up my camera.

8) Miscellaneous - 5R has Wifi and apps but I have not tried it as it's not a feature I will use right now.  5R does automatic panorama stitching output to JPG which is a useful feature (E-PL5 has a panorama 'assist' function which does not stitch for you).  Raw files from the 5R process significantly quicker than the E-PL5's in Lightroom (not sure why this is; may be due to the extra correction data in Olympus files).  The 5R kit lens has better apparent build quality over the E-PL5 kit lens (metal shell), at the expense of size/weight/range.

Next, reasons you should buy the E-PL5 over the NEX-5R:

1) AF (single).  Yes, the NEX-5R has hybrid phase detect now, but in both good light and low light the E-PL5's AF is clearly superior, both in speed and accuracy.  AF speed largely depends on the lenses used, but Sony does not have a competing line to Olympus' MSC (e.g. 45mm f/1.8, 17mm f/1.8, 12mm f/2) that focus almost instantaneously regardless of lighting condition.  The NEX-5R's PDAF doesn't work in low light/small apertures and its CDAF hunts like a compact camera in these situations, which is disappointing.

2) Touch shutter.  Also a result of slower AF, but the E-PL5's touch shutter works instantaneously and rarely misses critical focus.  The 5R's touch shutter is about as fast in good light but missed focus in almost half the shots.  I ended up turning the touch shutter off on the 5R.

3) Auto WB.  E-PL5 seems to get white balance bang-on in most situations, including indoors with difficult lighting (different temperature bulbs).  The 5R seems to get daylight right but always requires tweaking in post for indoor lighting.

4) ISO hotshoe.  No funky adapters required to use your wireless flash triggers.

5) Better 24mm and 85-90mm equivalents.  Yes they are much more expensive than the Sony 16mm and 50mm, but the Olympus 12mm and 45mm are professional quality, sharp, and compact.  The Sony 16mm is kind of a joke lens in my opinion and 50mm is huge in comparison to the 45mm.  I have not tried either lens, but  it looks like the new Olympus 17mm f/1.8 is much smaller, cheaper, and focuses quicker than the Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 (both 35mm equivalents).

6) In-body stabilization for the E-PL5, works with all lenses.  But mine was defective (made rattling noises at low shutter speeds).  Compared to Sony's lens stabilization they are about the same, about 2 stops.

7) Miscellaneous - capacitive touchscreen, what the 5R should've had.  Comes with a separate battery charger, also what the 5R should've had.  Also comes with a body cap and rear cap for the kit lens, ditto.  Kit lens is smaller and has more range than the 5R's.

Last, reasons to stick with your 5N over the 5R

-The shutter button is now plastic and mushy compared to the 5N, which makes half-pressing the shutter for a long time (such as for dynamic MF) more tricky.

-The resistive LCD is not as responsive as the 5N's screen and it occasionally does not register light touches, and requires more precision to press soft buttons with small targets (like the touch shutter on/off button).

-Phase detect AF on the 5R is not that much faster than the 5N with updated firmware.

Conclusion: If you have the 5N save your money and wait for the next generation.  I would probably not even upgrade to the NEX-6 unless they improve the PDAF with the firmware update.  If you're deciding between the 5R and E-PL5, I would go with the 5R if you shoot manual focus lenses (focus peaking) or value ergonomics over AF speed.  I would go with the E-PL5 if you shoot street photography or candids because of the faster AF and touch shutter.

What will I do?  Between both cameras it's a wash, and I will stick with the 5R until the next generation comes out.  Mirrorless is almost there but Sony needs more work on their AF and lenses and Olympus needs more work on their ergonomics and design.

NEX5R Olympus PEN E-PL5 Sony Alpha NEX-5N Sony Alpha NEX-6
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