Body & Design

The E-P5 maintains the same basic design at the E-P3, which means it's a solid, attractive-looking camera whose design pays homage to the PEN F 35mm half-frame SLR from the 1960s. Indeed this connection is emphasized more than ever, with the resurrection of that camera's 'Olympus PEN' logotype. Compared to previous models in the line the E-P5 looks a little more purposeful and 'professional', especially in its all-black livery.

The body shell is crafted from aluminium alloy, with only the compartment covers and the handgrip made from plastic. In fact the grip acts as the Wi-Fi port, which is why it's no longer interchangeable. The control dials and shutter button are all finely milled from metal, lending a real sense of quality to the construction. The rear thumb grip is rubberized to provide a more positive hold of the camera.

In terms of size the E-P5 is essentially the same as its predecessors in the E-Px line, or the OM-D E-M5 excluding its EVF 'hump'. It's rather larger than the E-PL5, meaning that there's space for its twin control dials and built-in flash. And it's those dials that really mark it out as a much better-handling camera than its little brother.

Top of camera

The E-P5's top plate is very similar to the E-P3's. The pop-up flash is on the left, with the hot shoe and built-in stereo mics towards the centre of the body. The exposure mode dial has a new position for the Photo Story function. The front dial is concentric with the shutter button, and the rear dial slightly displaced to the right. A programmable Function button and the power switch are placed on the right.

One possible concern for E-M5 owners looking to complement their camera with the more portable E-P5 is that the latter's mode dial sits in the same position relative to the front dial and shutter release as the E-M5's rear dial. This means you can find yourself reaching the wrong way, and changing mode when you really want to be tweaking exposure settings.

In your hand

The E-P5's flat-body design offers a fairly good grip, aided by the rubberized thumb rest and textured handgrip. It's small but not too small, and the dials are well-positioned for normal shooting.

Tilting capacitive touchscreen

The E-P5 uses a 3:2, 1.04m dot LCD panel that gives a slightly-wider-than-VGA 720x480 pixel display. This marks a change from the E-P3 and E-M5, which used an OLED display: Olympus says the LCD gives more accurate colour. The 3" capacitive screen tilts 80° upwards and 50° downwards, and a ridge down the left side makes it relatively easy to pull out and adjust. However it doesn't share the E-PL5's trick of hinging right up to point forwards for self-portraits. And like all tilt-only screens, it adds nothing when shooting stills in portrait format.

One minor point is that, when tilted down, the E-P5's screen protrudes below the bottom of the camera. This means it can clash if on a tripod, restricting its movement, especially as the mounting socket is towards the rear of the camera.

To be fair this isn't unusual on small cameras; the Sony NEX-7 and PEN E-PL5 are the same, for example. But the OM-D E-M5 doesn't have the same issue.

Optional VF-4 Electronic Viewfinder

The E-P5 gets the option of a new, high resolution electronic viewfinder, the VF-4. It uses a 2.36M dot LCD panel (quite likely the Epson panel we believe is used in the Fujifilm X100S), and offers an impressively high magnification equivalent to 0.74x with 100% coverage of the image to be captured. This means it gives an image as large and accurate as the optical finders on high-end, full frame SLRs. It also tilts 90 degrees upwards, has built-in diopter correction, and includes both a locking switch to prevent it inadvertently sliding off the camera, and an eye-sensor to auto-switch with the rear screen (there's also a button for switching over manually if you prefer). The VF-4 is back-compatible with older PEN models, but the eye sensor won't work on them.

Our impressions of the VF-4 are very positive - it gives an experience that comes remarkably close to shooting with a conventional optical finder, but with the advantage of a detailed overlay of shooting information, including such things as electronic levels and a live histogram. The display lag is minimal (Olympus claims a mere 32ms), and the live view image sharp and detailed into the corners of the frame. About the only negative point is that the view is so large that spectacle wearers may struggle to see into the extreme corners.

If you already own one of Olympus's existing electronic viewfinders, the VF-2 or VF-3, then have no fear - these will both work perfectly well on the E-P5.

This is the VF-2, which despite its lower resolution and magnification is still a very decent finder (it's effectively the same as the E-M5's EVF).

Viewfinder size and view

One figure hidden away in the specs is the size of the viewfinder (often in a format that makes comparison between competing types impossible). The size of the viewfinder is a key factor in a camera's the usability - the bigger it is, the easier it is to frame and focus your shots, and the more enjoyable and involving process it is.

Because of the way viewfinders are measured (using a fixed lens, rather than a lens of equivalent magnification), you also need to take the sensor size into account, so the numbers in the diagram below are the manufacturer's specified magnifications divided by the respective 'crop factors'.

The VF4 is one of the largest electronic viewfinders around: its 0.74x equivalent magnification places close to the very best optical finders found in full frame SLRs such as the Canon EOS-1D X. It also offers 100% coverage of the field of view, allowing critically accurate composition.