A Mini Review

Started Jul 17, 2013 | User reviews thread
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jackkurtz Veteran Member • Posts: 4,534
A Mini Review

I picked an E-P5 in Bangkok this weekend and I've been using it exclusively for a couple of days. This is a bit of a mini review.

I am a photojournalist. My "big" cameras are Canon 5D Mark III with the 24mm L, 50mm L, 100mm f2 and 200mm f2.8 lenses. I've been using Micro 4:3 cameras for a few years now as a backup or complement to the Canons. They fill the same role in my camera ecosystem that Leicas rangefinders did in manual focus days and Contax G2's did in the autofocus film days did. My M4:3 lenses are the Panasonic 14mm f2.5, 20mm f1.7 and Olympus 45mm f1.8. My previous M4:3 bodies were the Panasonic GF-1 and GX-1. This is mostly a comparison to the GX-1. I used the Panasonics with their accessory viewfinders, I also have the VF-4 for the E-P5. I work with the EVF about 95% of the time.

Straight to the conclusion: I really like the E-P5. It's faster than the GX-1, the autofocus is better, high ISO is better (although I haven't gone above 1600 with the E-P5 and never went above 1600 with the GX-1). There seems to be more dynamic range in the raw files from the E-P5 compared to the GX-1, though neither can match the 5D Mark III (and I don't expect them to). I really like being able to use ISO100 and 1/8000 of a second on the E-P5, truth is I use low ISO and high shutter speeds (to get shallow f-stops) a lot more often than I use high ISO. I wish the E-P5 could go down to ISO50.

This is my first camera with image stabilization. (I'm old school.) I never owned a Canon lens with IS (like I said, I'm old school.) Holy cow! I was oh so wrong. I can handhold my Canon with the 24mm at 1/15, sometimes 1/8. I always thought the GX-1 was more prone to image blur from movement (that's me, YMMV) so I tried to keep it to 1/30 and never went below 1/15, even with the 14mm. Last night I made pictures with the Olympus at 1/6 that were acceptably sharp. It was an exercise class and people were moving, so they're blurry, but the background was sharp, which was the idea when I made the photos.

At this point, I still prefer the ergonomics of the GX-1 a little. This is a tricky thing because ergonomics, unless it's a really messed up design, can be learned. I've had the GX-1 for 18 months now and a GF-1 for about a year before that, so I am very comfortable with that camera. This is my first Olympus and I am still learning it. The more I use the Oly, the more I like it. Some things I wasn't sure about, like the multi-function lever on the back, are absolutely brilliant. The two control dials are also a great feature and a huge improvement over the thumbwheel thing on previous Pens.

How fast is the E-P5? Really fast. Close to dSLR speeds I think. The autofocus, especially with the 45mm f1.8 Olympus lens, feels about as fast as the AF was on my 5D Mark II with the 100mm f2 lens (back when I had a Mark II). The 5D Mark II was not known as an AF speed freak, but I think that performance out of the Pen is pretty good. The speed also translates to responsiveness. I turned down the fps from the defaults (9fps hi speed, 5fps low speed) to 7fps and 3fps because I was shooting a lot more than I intended. And for what I need 7 and 3 are plenty.

The autofocus is reliable enough that I've turned off the assist light. It's really distracting, especially if you're working in a church, temple or mosque. So far, the camera has focused on everything I've expected it to. The ability to quickly pick AF points is great and very well implemented.

Almost every button can be reprogrammed, which is nice but very confusing. You will want to keep the manual handy when you're learning this camera. It's a shame that (at least in Asia) the manual is a .pdf. I really wish it was a printed book. I copied it into my Evernote, but I would like to have a printed copy I could carry with me. The Olympus menus are completely new to me and require a lot of exploration to figure out. Right now, I would say it's an issue of it being new and relatively unknown. There are no disasters that make me say "what were they thinking?!?!?"

So far, the only thing I've been really disappointed with is battery life. If you buy one of these you will want to buy at least one extra battery. I've exhausted my battery each day I've gone out with the camera to photograph in Bangkok. Granted it's still new, so a lot of time I using the LCD to fiddle with menus and settings, but I would like to be able to get more than 300 frames out of a battery.

Image quality is excellent. At low ISOs it's a little better than the GX-1 but the files seem to have more Dynamic Range than the GX-1, a great thing since I frequently wrestled with blown highlights on the GX-1. At ISO 800-1600, the E-P5 is considerably better and noise is easily controlled in LR5.

I work exclusively in raw and process everything in Lightroom 5. I didn't even install the Olympus software on my computer. I haven't shot any JPEGs with this camera yet, so I haven't tested Olympus' legendary JPEG engine. I will be working in raw + JPEG when I am on deadline assignments though. Then I will be using the camera's wifi to send JPEGs to my iPhone for editing and transmitting using Photogenie.

Is it worth the upgrade cost? That's the big question. I don't have any previous Olympus bodies, so I can't compare it to the older Pen series. If you have an E-M5, I would guess not since this seems to be an E-M5 in a Pen body. If you're using Panasonic bodies older than the GX-1 I would say absolutely. This is the camera I wish the GX-1 was - if you have a GX-1 and wish it had better dynamic range and better high ISO, was faster and had 1/8000 shutter speed and in body stabilization, then absolutely, this is the camera for you.

A few photos:

Made in a mosque in Bangkok during Ramadan.

Pouring juice before Iftar at the mosque.

Serving iftar.

A sleeping tuk-tuk driver. ISO1600.

Religious instruction at a Bangkok mosque.

Exercise class, 1/6 of a second shutter speed, ISO400.

Same class, ISO1600, 1/50th.

These are all sized down considerably. There are full size versions of most of them in my archive on my website. Thanks for looking.

 jackkurtz's gear list:jackkurtz's gear list
Olympus PEN E-P5 Olympus E-M5 II Olympus E-M1 II Panasonic Lumix G 20mm F1.7 ASPH Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 45mm F1.8 +7 more
Olympus PEN E-P5
16 megapixels • 3 screen • Four Thirds sensor
Announced: May 10, 2013
jackkurtz's score
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Low light (without flash)
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Canon EOS 5D Mark II Canon EOS 5D Mark III Olympus PEN E-P5 Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2
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