Olympus was one of the instigators of the mirrorless uprising, having formulated the Micro Four Thirds standard with Panasonic. At first it looked like Olympus might be overshadowed by Panasonic's technical prowess but a combination of its class-leading JPEG processing and pretty heritage-inspired designs meant they were able to offer something interesting. With the first PEN Mini it was also able to offer the least-expensive mirrorless model on the market, but the camera that really made us sit up was the Olympus OM-D.

When we gave the OM-D EM-5 our Gold Award we said it was arguably the most capable and likeable mirrorless camera we'd then seen, and there's not been a real challenge for that crown (though the Fujifilm X-E1 might change that). Now, with the arrival of the fourth PEN Lite (the PL5) and the second PEN Mini (PM2), Olympus looks set to bring E-M5 image quality down to mass-market prices. And that's a big step forward - if these offer the E-M5's genuinely DSLR-standard image quality in a smaller, more compact-camera-like body.

Olympus PEN E-PL5 and E-PM2 common features

  • 16MP Four Thirds sensor
  • Touch-sensitive screen
  • 460k dot 3" LCD screen (16:9 aspect ratio)
  • In-body image stabilization
  • ISO 200-25,600
  • TruePic VI processor
  • Up to 8fps continuous shooting
  • 11 Art Filters
  • Revised in-camera Raw file processing with presets
  • AP2 accessory port for accessories such as an electronic viewfinder
  • Movie effects as seen on OM-D E-M5, plus Picture Style shift effect

As with the previous generation of PENs, both cameras are very similar, with the PEN Lite offering a flip-up screen, exposure mode dial and two more buttons on the back of the camera than the Mini. On top of this, the PL5 gains a removable front hand grip. The articulation of the rear screen has been improved, meaning it now flips all the way up for self-portraits or into a flat position for waist-level shooting, using its touch screen to focus or fire the shutter.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 key features

  • Touch-screen flips up by 170 degrees, with reversed image for self-portraits
  • Removable front grip (with other designs available)
  • Drive mode dial

There have been additions to the PEN Mini too. Whereas the PM1 always felt it had one button too few for anything more than point-and-shoot use, the PM2 adds another two, one of which is a user-customizable function button. It also gains a fixed hand grip on the front of the camera and a touch sensitive screen.

Finer focus point option

Both camera still feature the 35 autofocus points seen on their predecessors but, as well as being able to over-ride these by pressing on the screen, it's also possible to refine them down to finer points. Pressing the INFO button while you're in AF point selection mode allows you to cycle between the camera's different AF area sizes (all 35 points, a 9-point square, single point or single small point). This makes it easy to select where you wish to focus with great precision.

Lens IS priority

Another addition to both cameras, to help them work more happily with Panasonic's range of stabilized lenses for the Micro Four Thirds system is new 'Lens IS Priority' option in the menus (which is set to 'on' by default). It means the cameras will make use of the lens' stabilization system, rather than using their in-body systems when available.

In-camera Raw processing

Olympus was one of the first manufacturers to provide the option to re-process a Raw file, if you decided you wanted to apply different processing parameters or if you needed a JPEG of a Raw shot you'd just taken. This feature gave the ability to adjust the noise reduction, fine-tune the white balance or change the gradation settings to optimize your image using the rather good Olympus JPEG engine, without having to boot up your computer. It extended to providing the chance to apply different art filters, after you'd taken the shot or apply a different one if you didn't like the one you first chose.

The E-PL5 and E-PM2 become the first Olympus models to allow you to create and edit two presets, making it faster to make quick JPEG copies of your images. Now, when you hit 'OK' to confirm that you want to process the selected Raw file, you are presented with a dialogue that gives you the choice of applying the current settings, Custom 1, Custom 2 or to not bother. The two custom options can be edited just before you apply them, by pressing right on the four-way controller. This gives a range of options including the new options to push or pull exposure and boost or suppress the highlights or shadows. It's pretty powerful stuff for a camera at this (or any) level.