E-Pl5 review after 1 year of use.

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Jorginho
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E-Pl5 review after 1 year of use.
7 months ago

Intro:

So after just over 1 year of use I think it is time to give my opinion on this cam, as it is still the top of the line of this series by Olympus (EPl-3, 2 & 1 being the other siblings).

I'm just a beginning amateur trying to do his best when he takes a pic and I have always been fond of the technical aspects of cams, reviews about them etc. This probably will filter through in this review. I am much more a weatherhobbyist than a photographer, but I added photography in 2008 to document special weatherevents like blizzards, supercells etc. Started with the FZ-50, went on to the Canon 1000D and in December of that same year I bought the first m43 ever: the G1. In 2011 the GH2 got me into movie and in november 2012 the E-PL5 joined that cam.

So, what do I think of it a year onwards? I will first focus on the body and some of the features and then will get into performance.


Ergonomics & handling
:

The E-Pl5 is a small cam with fewer controls than the GH2. Hence it depends much more on the menu. The controls that are present are small and it is all a bit cramped. But that is to be expected. Its low weight and small size means it easily fits in a coatpocket. I do not even notice it unless you put a larger lens on it of course.
The camera feels well built. Not tanklike like the FZ-50, but it is okey. Slightly below the G1 or GH2.

In practice:

The E-PL5 fits in my hand better than I expected. The small screw-on grip helps a lot, without it the cam is very slippery. A DSLR-like cam like the GH2 feels much more comfortable especially with larger zoomlenses. You can get third party grips that have a similar shape like the one on the GX7. Speaking of which: with the standard grip I found the E-PL5 better in my hand with the 12-35 on it than the GX7 with new 14-42. I think it is personal so try it out yourself in a shop when possible.
To my mind, the maximum size of lens that fits nicely on this cam is the panasonic 12-35 mm F2.8. Larger lenses feel as awkward as they look on this cam as can seen in the link below.

EPl5 with 20 mm, 45 mm, 12-35 mm and 100-300 mm lens on it

As there are fewer controls on the cam, the menu becomes more important. Compared to a Nikon, a Canon or a Panasonic cam I found the Oly menu not intuitive at all. With the MySets function you can alleviate this. You first set the cam to your needs, then assign this setting to (for instance) one of the settings on the mode dial. Say: the Artmode. Now the artmode isi programmed to your exact specs! There are four MySets in total. I think it is usefull, but not nearly as convenient as more and larger dials on a camerabody. The GX7 for instance, which is not that much larger, is much better here.

Finally there is the rotary dial. An important part to change settings. It is fiddly and not accurate. It can switch constantly between two settings, switching constantly from one to another making it very hard to execute your choice....And this is after the FW update Oly made for this flaw. This could be my unit though. I did not check other units.

The LCD-screen is strange: it is big, but you get a 4:3 pic on a 16:9 screen. But why is this so on all sides? In the end the screen is the exact same size as the one on my GH2, but the pics on it are only 70% the size of those on the GH2 (and G1, GX7 etc). Why I don't know. However: the screen is bright, has nice colours and is responsive (touchscreen). In bright sunlight it is difficult to see anything on it, but you can articulate it so it alleviates the problem a bit.
I do not use a screenprotector, yet after a year of intensive use there are no scratches on it!

Sensor cleaning: the E-PL5 cleans the sensor everytime you start it up. It is very, very effective. I am not cauteous at all with this cam. If I want to change lenses I do so. I only once had dust on the sensor. It is easily cleaned with contactlensfluid and a cottonswab.

Reliability: I used it in blizzards, in -15 C cold for a long time, in light rain etc: it has performed flawlessly. In 2012 it went face down in a pile of snowpoder with no lens(cap) on it. It was chuckfull with snow. I immeditaley tried to blow the snow out of it. It was wet. 8 hours later I put it on the central heater and it has performed like always since than (dec 2012). Great!

Responsiveness: I find the cam very responsive. You shoot and fire and there seems to be no delay whatsoever. The touchscreen works even better at times. Just point to the subject (say a bird in the trees) and it focusses and shoots right away.


Features

I won't go into a lot of detail here so I'll pick out some things that really stand out. Either because they are missing or because they are really special. Yes: the JPEGs are great....
First of all: the artscenes which Oly is renowned for. I like them a lot. Not all, but especially the Dramatic Tone in B&W and sometimes colour (example below) is very nice and usefull to my mind for grim landscapes or for portraits. Another one is the Noisy Film mode (translated from Dutch, sorry).

Dramatic Tone in Colour. Works better in B&W I think but still liked it.

Noisy film mode adds to the grim coldness in the Dutch landscape at the end of March.

But a feature that really is unique for Olympus camera's is the Live Time mode. This is like Bulb mode. Suppose you take a 10s exposure to capture lightning. Every 0,5 s (you can set this) the screen shows you how it is developping. So when you reach the point of overexposure or you got what you needed, you hit the shutter again and that is it. Nice for Aurora borealis too and in short anything that needs a long exposure. It has gotten me much more keepers for lightning than before. A downside is that even when you use a SanDisk 95 Mb/s card like I did, the cam needs 10 seconds or more to process the pic...You cannot shoot anything during that time. Anyway: here is the result.

A lightning strikes. This is much easier to capture with Live TIME mode on the cam.

The hotshoe on the cam lets you use the VF2 (large), VF3 (small) and VF4 (best EVF of all) EVF. If this is your one and only cam I think it is almost mandatory. I use the VF3. It is not that good and small but still helps a lot in bright light. It articulates much like the one on the GX7. You can look down preventing bright sunlight entering your eye, but also for left-eyed shooters your nose does not smudge the screen anymore. Something some reviewers missed in the GX7 review on some site I think....

A flash is not built in, so it uses the same hotshoe. The flash supplied is as can be expected weak. I have never used it. I rather use my Nissin 466. This also examplifies why a built in EVF is so nice: suppose you work in a studio or in any other situation where you need both an EVF and a flash. That is impossible with cams that do not provide an EVF built in. Another thing some reviewer overlooked in some recent review...On the other hand: the E-PL5 is much cheaper than GX7/NEX6/7 and a cam like the Samsung NX-300 does not even let you use an EVF period. You can't have it all at that price.

A standout feature everstill is the IBIS (in body stabilsation). A lot has been said about it already. It gives you 2 to 2,5 stops extra in situations where you want to shoot static subjects. I have compared it with the 100-300 mm Panasonic at the long end. The in lens stabilsation is marginally better (3 stops). A new feature, compared to the EP1-EP3 series is that the cam autodetects whether you have an OIS lens or not. If so, the lens stabilsation is used. If not, the IBIS kicks in. You need to set this in the menu though.

Shuttershock problems...yes, they do exist but I rarely cam across it. It is a problem where with certain shutterspeeds the IBIS somehow overcompensates. In stead of getting a shapr picture the picture looks unsharp. Here is an example:

Shuttershock effects

Now it may be not that obvious ot you, but I did not understand why this pic was so much worse thna all other I shot with the very same lens. This one is shaprned up as much as possible in PP and the end result is a nice landscape but it looks unnatural, just nor right at all..Well: it is not sharp. And no, it is not difraction at F9. Although it is a different kid of shot, look at the pic at F10 below with the very same lens and see how sharp it is.

Same lens, alsmost same aperature but different shutterspeed, no stabilsation and a tripod: good sharpness.

It doesn't seem to happen consitently, it does not happen often actually. But GX7 does not exhibit this behaviour. So Some work for Olympus here.

What is missing?

The E-PL5 does not provide Focus Peaking for Manual Focussing. Now you get an enlargement, which up to 14 times. It is helpfull. it is far less helpfull that it is difficult to get it down when needed. 14 times magnification is way too much many times. Focus peaking, like on the GX7 9which adds a clear blue fringe on parts in focus) works so much better.
2 axis level is nice too and found on the E-PL6 BTW. In body HDR is another one that E-PL6 seems to have, but GX7 has for sure. There is also no time lapse mode (E-PL6 has it though) and no sweep panorama mode. There is no electronic shutter. Now this cam is very nice for street and social shooting. An absolutely silent mode, like the one found on the Nikon V1 (2011) or the GX7/GM1 would have been very nice.
Built in ND filter would be great too. To be found on the Sony RX10 for instance.
But Focus peaking, Time Lapse mode and in body HDR are way overdue. The other things are nice to have.
Shutterspeed and ISO range: ISO ranges from 200-25600. Shutterspeeds from 60 minutes to 1/4000 s. IQ will be discussed later, but ISO 200 + 1/4000s maximal shutterspeed means that in good light you need to stop the lens down (considerably). E-PL6 has ISO 100, which means you can win a stop here. GX7 and GM1 have a 1/16000s speed (up to ISO 3200) and ISO 125. That is almost a three stop difference. So if you need f5.6 on the E-PL5 to counter overexposure you can still shoot at F2.0 or F2.5 with the GX7/GM1. A notable difference.

Performance.

Image Quality

Olympus has provided the best possible mFT sensor to all its cams and it is still the best performing sensor now. Compared to the GH2 (and G5/G6) is has somewhat better noise performance, clearly better dynamic range, tonality and colour sensitivity. In fact it performs like an average APS-c sensor in spite of its significantly smaller size. The dynamic range is very nice for landscapes. Clouds are far less blown out compared to the Gh2 and details are easier get back in PP. Still: I do use graduated ND filters for landscapes, but so do Medium format shooters...I use the brand 84.5 mm filters for this. These are inexpensive and good. More on that in another review may be.
A very visible difference between the GH2 (hence G5 and G6) is that the colours are much better kept in higher ISO that the Gh2. The GH2 breaks down really at ISO 2500 or so, looks washed out.
Also: the E-PL5 exposes much better than the GH2. GH2 underexposes qquite a bit.
A small note on ISO versus ISO...I have extensively tested the GH2 and the E-PL5 from ISO 200 to ISO 6400 in RAW under identical circumstances. The difference in shutterspeed at the same ISO is 1/3 of a stop in poor light and not there in good light and this was done with manual exposing everything. Again, the lack of colours in higher ISO with the GH2 was notable.
The E-PL5 is at best used in colour till ISO 3200 in B&W ISO 6400 is the maximum I think.

How do Olympus and Panasonic lenses perform on the E-PL5?

I'll focus on some very popular lenses for the m43 system which I use a lot too and see how they do on the E-PL5.
First the 12-35 mm f2.8 Panasonic. In short: it works great and is about as large and heavy as you want it to get. On occasion you need to correct some things in post. I rarely have to do this (1 in a 100 shots or so). I use this one for landscapes and it does not dissapoint on this cam.
The 20 mm 1.7: my favourite lens on this cam. Two possible problems. One is lens and body related, the other is sensor-related. First one: it is not as fast focussing as almost all other m43 lenses. On the Gh2 it is however consistent and it is fast enough for what it is meant for. On the E-PLl5 under less than ideal lighting conditions, it can hunt about 20% of the time. Not a big deal for me.
Banding. When you hit ISO 3200 or more, there is strong banding visable. It is sensor related. All 43 camera's with the 16 MPixel Sony-sensor have this, but also the new panasonic sensor shows the exact same thing. With a 1.7 aperature I rarely hit ISO3200. So there is no problem for me. Your Milage May Vary...
The 45 mm f1.8. Fast and accurate AF. Sharp wide open. Great lens for portraits. A very good companion for this cam. Can't find any fault with.

Some reallife examples

So, how does this translate into reality? The pics below have gone through minimal processing, so they are very close to reality. I think he camera did really well!

The best twilight this year! With the 12-35 mm Panasonic F2.8 lens.

The 100-300 mm (as a side step) can get you a nice bokeh and depth of field.

ISO 200 with the 100-300 mm Panasonic lens

At lSO 800 in the light of the Golden Hour.

I love the colours and shallow DOF in this portrait. Shot with the 45 mm f1.8

Here is an ISO 3200 shot with the same lens, indoors

ISO 3200 shot at 1/125 s indoors. Very usable.

Autofocus performance. CDAF has its limits.

It is quite simple when it comes to static subjects: even in low light the focus is very fast. Only eclipsed by the GM1 and GX7. It is accurate and when needed you can pinpoint yor subject by focussing with the touchscreen. Point to the subject and it shoots right away. that is how I got the cam to focus on the bird and not some branches in front of it.

Touchscreen focus helped here.

A weak point of CDAF is subjects moving towards you or away from you. On the E-Pl5 with the 45 mm f1.8, a very fast focussing lens, it still does a reasonable job. But for sports and birding a fixed focal length is just not very usefull. At least not 45 mm. With the 45-200 mm and 100-300 mm zoom things get worse. The focussing in fast moving subjects is hit and miss. It is better than on my GH2 let alone G1, but a cam with good PDAF is much more reliable. For moving kids though, which are not that fast, it is okey to my mind. Sports etc: get another cam if that is what you want to shoot.
The cam will shoot up to 8 frames per second without focus tracking and 4 FPS with it. A solid performance. The camera slows down after about 16 shots (with a fast card) in JPEG-mode and 11 shots in RAW or RAW+JPG-mode.That is after a few seconds of course. It does not matter whether you use a 60 Mb/s card like the Lexar 400X or a 95 Mb/s SanDisk Extrem Pro. However, the writing times on the latter is 17 seconds where it is 23 s on the Lexar. Slower cards of course take a lot more time.

Example: a dog runs away at high speed. Shot with the Panny 100-300 mm with focus tracking. Note that one frame is missing because it was out of focus. Some times 70% of the shots are in focus, but especially when the lens starts to hunt it is over and out...

A young playfull dog runs away

Next frame is okey too

Zoomed in to show the dog is in focus, not the background (too).

Miss a frame here and there, but in this case it got its focus back. Reasonably good performance.

Another example:

A kitesurfer in action again with the Panny 100-300 mm. When things do not move in straight line from or to you, the keeper rate goes up considerably. So these shots had a much higher keeper rate.

Kite surfer at high speed in murky conditions

Cpatured the surfer in action like I wanted to.


Movie Mode

As many probably know: it is almost a gimmick. Well..if you are not serious about it the movie mode is not that bad. It simply cannot come close to the GH2. let alone GH3 or GX7. Not by a very long mile. It is probably more disturbing that even the E-M1 won't do this much better. If you are even slightly serious about movies, don't get this cam. Get the GX7 or the GM1 if small m43 cams are what you want. The sensors are so good they seem to perform better than even the GH3 in low light, which remains the cam of your choice if you are serious about filmography. "Blowing the E-PL5 out of the water" is a big understatement here.


Battery Life

MILCs are not renowned for their battery life. The E-PL5 is no exception. Let's keep it simple: you can buy OEM batteries for this cam for 8 euro or so. They work fine, thye weigh 25 grams. I have a brand that says 1600 mA/7.4 V. It is more like 1000 mAh but that is still okay. Also: unlike Panasonic, Olympus does not have the bad habbit of shutting OEM batteries out with FW updates(so they do not work anymore). And the batterylife indicator works just fine as well.


Connectivity

I got the E-PL5 with an Eye-FI 8 Gb card. It lets you connect to your Mobile Phoen but I am unsure of it. the card is so slow that I never borthered to use it. So I can't say much about it. it seems highly unlikely that it provides the same capabilites as the G6. E-P5 or E-M1 for instance. I am pretty confident that if you want to remotely control the cam, these camera's and some others are a much better option.


CONCLUSION

I am really happy with the cam in general. The things it does less well were expected by me, so there was no surprise. And what it does well it sometimes does better than expected. If I would have to use just one camera. it would not be tHe E-PL5 because its handlingis subpar. At the same price, I would go for the Panasonic G6. It has a swiveling screen, better ergonomics, a fantastic EVF, Focus PEaking etc. IQ is not as good as the E-PL5 but it is a better cam still.
If I could spend more money than I meed to now on the E-PL5 it would be the GX7 or the E-M1. E-M1 for PDAF and weathersealing especially.

Pro's:
- Image quality in both JPEG and RAW. JPEG not shown, but Olympus is renowned for it.
The best m43 sensor on the market, but it does not come at a premium cost.
- Very good autofocus on static subject, both accurate and fast
- The camera is very reliable, never let me down actually
- Nice and usefull scenemodes
- Small size and low weight make it coatpocketable and barely noticable
- Added gscrew-on grip is really usefull
- Articulated screen if tocuh senstive and it works very well. Does not scratch easily.
- Fast burst modes lets you shoot nice series
- Hot shoe even allows you to use the best EVF currently available (after FW update).

Lows:
- buttons are small, fidely and the rotary dial is unreliable and mushy.
- Focus tracking not nearly as good as on midrange DSLRs or E-M1 or Nikon 1 series. PDAF is needed.
- Shuttershock happens every once in a while causing unshapr pcitures.
- Menu seems makes you wish you had more dials on the cam itself. It is not intuitive and illogical.
- Movie mode is far behind the competition. It is almost a gimmick considering it is 2013.
- One would expect Focus Peaking, Time Lapse mode and in body HDRin a cam that entered the scene late in 2012.
- No electronic shutter so no absolutely silent mode available.


A tip for buyers:

E-PL6 was meant for the Japanse market, but it is available in europe for the same price as the E-PL5. It has a ISO 100 setting, 99 frame time lapse and in body HDR. Other than that it is identical to the EPL5. Get that cam if you can and the price is indeed nearly the same.


Advice to Olympus for the E-PL7:

- ISO 100 and at least 1/8000s shutterspeed is now almost mandatory
- Connectivity now needs to get better
- Focus peaking, inbody HDR, at least 999 frame Time Lapse, digital ND filter and sweep panorama mode are needed to keep the cam uptodate
- But most of all the camera mode needs to be completely revised
- The rotary dial needs to be much more accurate and give a good click-sound so you can reliably chose the right setting.
- Address the shuttershock problems.


How do I rate the cam?

Below, there is a rating provided by dpreview. I compare with the best camera possible. So For landscapes, Mediium Format is Excellent, Full Frame is Great, the best APS-c with 24 MPixels is good and this cam is okay.

 Jorginho's gear list:Jorginho's gear list
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 Olympus PEN E-PL5 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 Panasonic Lumix G Vario 14-45mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH OIS +9 more
Jorginho's score
3.5
Average community score
4.1
bad for good for
Kids / pets
okay
Action / sports
acceptable
Landscapes / scenery
okay
Portraits
good
Low light (without flash)
good
Flash photography (social)
unrated
Studio / still life
okay
= community average
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