Olympus PEN E-P5 Review
In use - handling
The E-P5 builds on an Olympus control and menu system that's been gradually evolving from the company's E-System Four Thirds DSLRs. And, as such, it continues all of what was wrong with the existing interfaces, as well as what was good. So, although the camera can be made very pleasant to operate, its default setup isn't ideal (from an enthusiast perspective) and it takes a fair amount of menu diving and camera wrangling to get the most out of the E-P5.
We still consider the Super Control Panel to be the best way of getting at the cameras' settings - especially when used in conjunction with the E-P5's touchscreen - so it's a shame that you have to delve into such an obscure corner of the menu to gain access to it. Once you have, you're left with most of the camera's key settings accessible simply by pressing the 'OK' button. With them all displayed on the screen, you can either use the four-way controller, the rear control dial, or simply touch the screen to select a setting, then use the front dial to change the setting - a really nice way of gaining access to the camera's settings.
Once this has been engaged, the E-P5 becomes very similar to the OM-D E-M5 to shoot with (which is pretty high praise). Strangely, it's rare for a mirrorless camera to offer a traditional DSLR-style twin dial interface and the E-P5 makes good use of it. It means you have direct control of shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation, depending on your preferred exposure mode.
The E-P5 also becomes the first Olympus to offer its 2x2 dial interface - a switch on the back of the camera that slightly changes the behavior of the camera's controls (depending on how you configure it).
2x2 dial interface
The 2x2 interface is an interesting idea but, as we've learned to expect from Olympus, it's rather more complicated than it could be. At its simplest, it provides a simple way to access ISO and White Balance using the control dials, simply by flicking a switch on the back of the camera. However, the other modes, that switch between user-chosen focus modes, and switching the action of the function button are quite different in character - making it a little difficult to decide which of these functions you want applied to it.
We're somewhat ambivalent about a system that, by default, changes the mode of the cameras' main control dials - if you inadvertently flick the switch to position 2 (which isn't too hard to do), then you can find yourself changing the white balance or ISO by accident. Another oddity is that while the E-M5 gained a button to offer sensibly direct access to the camera's adjustable tone curves, the PEN reverts to requiring a sequence of button presses usually reserved for revealing secret levels in videogames.
Our only other concern is how easy we found it to accidentally hit the mode dial, rather than turning the rear control dial. We suspect this is most likely to be a problem for E-M5 users, who are used to its rear dial being in this location, especially when using an EVF. Obviously this may not be a problem for everyone, but it happened often enough to interfere with the otherwise seamless shooting experience.
We also found ourselves accidentally popping the flash up on the E-P5 more than expected, as its rear release button is quite prominent. But we consider this little more than a minor irritation - we might have just been unlucky to catch it on clothing a couple of times.
Beyond this, the E-P5 has a selection of customizable buttons, including a Fn button on the top plate, magnify button on the rear and the movie REC button. The right and downwards positions on the four-way controller (Flash and Drive Mode, by default) can also be reconfigured but your choices are more restrictive.
Shooting with the E-P5
All of these options mean that you really can set the camera up to behave how you want it to - you can not only define the dials' functions (per mode, including their behavior in playback mode and navigating through the menus), but you can also define the direction in which they operate. As usual with an Olympus, tailoring the camera to your way of shooting will require some time spent working through the custom menu options.
If you choose to engage the Super Control Panel and fine-tune the behavior of the rest of the camera's buttons, then you gain quick access to most of the camera's key settings. Oddly, though, no amount of configuration can gain you sensible access to the camera's tone curve adjustments (instead it requires a combination of presses of the Exposure Comp, Info and four-way control buttons).
So, although the E-P5 can be a real pleasure to shoot with (especially after a little re-configuration). However, while wading through the menus there's an occasional sense that it's a camera with an interface that's evolved in a piecemeal fashion and perhaps isn't the way it'd be designed if Olympus started with a blank sheet of paper.
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