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When Olympus introduced the original Micro Four Thirds PEN E-P1 almost 4 years ago in June 2009, it was the first mirrorless interchangeable lens camera to adopt a compact, 'rangefinder-style' body that made no pretence to look like an SLR. It also saw the company striking out in a direction it's followed ever since - designing attractive yet capable little cameras that consciously draw on its long-running film camera heritage. Indeed the SLR-style OM-D E-M5 was one of last year's biggest hits, and even pipped the 36MP full frame Nikon D800 to the title of 'Best Camera of 2012' in our reader poll.

The PEN E-P5 - the fourth model in the E-P range - continues this theme, while adding an array of updates that make it easily the most desirable PEN yet. It includes many of the features that made the E-M5 such a compelling package, such as the same 16MP MOS sensor, advanced '5-axis' in-body image stabilization (now with automatic panning detection), 9 fps continuous shooting, and tilting rear touch screen. It also inherits the refinements debuted on the PEN E-PL5, such as enhanced in-camera RAW conversion, a broad-range 'HDR bracketing' mode, and the ability to specify whether you wish to use in-lens or in-body image stabilization with Panasonic OIS lenses. On top of this it adds-in a top shutter speed of 1/8000 sec, a 'peaking' display to assist manual focus, and this year's must-have feature: built in Wi-Fi for connection to your smartphone or tablet.

Olympus PEN E-P5 specification highlights:

  • 16MP MOS Four Thirds format sensor
  • Twin control dials (front and rear) with '2x2' dual-mode option
  • 1/8000 sec top shutter speed, 1/320 sec flash sync
  • '5-axis' image stabilization with automatic panning detection ('S-IS Auto')
  • ISO 'LOW' (100 equiv) - ISO 25,600
  • Up to 9fps shooting (5.0 fps with continuous AF)
  • Focus 'peaking' display
  • Intervalometer and Time Lapse movie creation
  • 1.04m dot 3" LCD touchscreen display - tilts 80° upwards and 50° downwards
  • Built-in Wi-Fi for remote shooting (iAuto only) and image transfer to smartphone or tablet
  • Optional VF-4 electronic viewfinder: 2.36M dot LCD, 0.74x magnification (equiv), eye sensor

One key change compared to previous E-Px models is a rearrangement of the controls - gone are the thumb roller and tiny rear dial, replaced by 'proper' front and rear dials that protrude horizontally from the top plate. The E-P5 features what Olympus calls a '2x2' dial interface: a small lever on the back of the camera switches these dials from controlling exposure parameters to changing ISO and white balance. If you don't like this arrangement, the lever can be customized to a couple of other options (described later in this review).

The E-P5 places emphasis on speed: it has a top shutter speed of 1/8000 sec, which Olympus says should help make best use of the company's F1.8 prime lenses, allowing them to be shot wide open in sunlight. This is aided by the addition of an ISO 100-equivalent 'LOW' setting, although this will likely come at the expense of some highlight clipping. The E-P5 also offers a fast startup time of just 0.5 sec, 1/320 sec sync with the built-in flash (1/250 sec with external units), autofocus tracking at 5 fps, and a fast shutter release mode with a lag of just 44ms (via a custom setting).

Additional features

In traditional Olympus fashion the E-P5 gets a few new features compared to previous models. There's a 'Super-spot AF' mode that allows extremely precise positioning of the AF point when using magnified live view, very much like the one seen on recent Panasonic models. It gains timed intervalometer shooting, along with the ability to assemble time-lapse movies in-camera. The Live Bulb mode, that allows you to monitor the progress of long exposures while the shutter is open, now features an on-screen histogram to help monitor exposure build-up. The image stabilization system is also now always active by default, to provide a stabilized live view feed (especially useful when using telephoto lenses).

The E-P5 also gets Olympus's 'Photo Story' feature that first appeared on the XZ-10 enthusiast compact. This is essentially an extension of Art Filters, allowing you to generate multi-image composites rather like the pages of a photo book, in a wide variety of themes. It may not be something enthusiast photographers will use all the time, and arguably better suited to lower-end PEN models, but it's good to see Olympus continuing to come up with new ideas.

Colour options

The E-P5 comes in three colour schemes; black, silver and white. The all-black version that we've shown in this review has a textured matte finish which we expect will be appreciated by street photographers - it looks particularly fine when coupled with the black versions of the M.Zuiko Digital 17mm 1:1.8, M.Zuiko Digital 45mm 1:1.8 and M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm 1:1.8 lenses announced alongside. The camera also comes in a very handsome silver-and-black finish that harks back to Olympus's classic cameras from the 1960s and '70s, and a white version with a beige grip. Olympus will also be offering a limited edition model with a wooden grip, and a range of premium accessories such as leather cases.

Silver E-P5 with black 14-42mm kit zoom and VF4 viewfinder White E-P5 with silver 14-42mm lens

Kit options

The E-P5 will be available either body-only for approx. £900/€999/$999, with the M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6R II collapsible zoom for £1000/€1099, or with the M.Zuiko Digital 17mm F1.8 and VF-4 EVF for £1350/€1449/$1449.