the pen is mightier than the old pen (a kind of review)


the successor shot with the predecessor

after three years of using the olympus pen e-pl1 and being very happy with it (it was my first interchangeable lens camera and a real eye opener) i thought it would be nice to upgrade a bit.

why would i think that, what’s wrong with me the e-pl1? isn’t the image quality great? yup, it is. it really is. i have to admit that for my style of shooting the e-pl1 probably is good enough. then again, i thought maybe i have my style of shooting because of the e-pl1? preference of bright static subjects? hmmm.

when i tested the sony a99 this spring and discovered its really fast autofocus and the two control dials for changing exposure very conveniently  i quickly ventured into new territory of street photography with more people in it. scenes where i wouldn’t even had raised the e-pl1 because i knew the camera would be too slow to focus accurately or it would have been too dark already, or both… so with the exception of its sheer size (and price of course) the a99 triggered a bit of g.a.s. ;)

since i’m a real fan of the m43 format because of the size advantage i naturally started looking there. i used to skip the panasonics because of the lack of in-body image stabilization, a feature that panasonic obviously now incorporates into the very soon to be announced  lumix gx-7.

of course there was the om-d. a beautiful 70s design with a new sensor, built-in viewfinder, two dials for changing exposure, and a really fast autofocus. after trying the om-d several times i nevertheless decided it was not for me really. i didn’t like the form factor that much (it did not fit into my bag properly ;)), the dials are placed a bit awkward, it had no built-in flash, what would i do with my vf-2 (the external viewfinder i sometimes use and enjoy)?

and the om-d’s price was steep… regarding the last issue, the e-p5 has made no progress or rather it has even “progressed” in the wrong direction unfortunately.

then there was the e-pl5. actually a winner in many regards. i think if olympus would have sold a body-only version i had bought the e-pl5 and lived happily ever after. but that’s not how the story goes. the e-pl5 is a nice camera for sure but it lacked a bit of sex appeal imho. i did not find it particularly good looking (with the exception of some full frontal shots where the e-pl5 really looks great). the design of the display looks like an afterthought, a design feature i did not like on the e-pl3 already. it has no built-in flash. furthermore the user interface was not so much different from the e-pl1 and that was something where the a-99, the om-d and finally the e-p5 really deliver.

so i was quite excited when the feature set of the e-p5 was announced and quite equally shocked when the price tag leaked. long story short:  i really won a sony rx100 from a photo magazine, i sold it for around 500 euros and that helped tremendously with my decision to go for the e-p5 despite the price.

well, good for me, but how does the e-p5 perform compared with the e-pl1?

as hoped and expected it trumps the e-pl1 in almost every respect: it is a lot faster in several regards. the ergonomics of the two very correctly placed control dials allows for speedy operation of the camera itself. the autofocus is a lot faster (albeit not really as fast as the a99). the shutter release via touch screen is a great addition to the tool box and speeds up the workflow when it matters.

it has 1/8000th as minimum shutter speed. that means essentially i can leave my nd filter at home (i won’t but i could ;))

it has a much better higher iso image quality. from iso 800 upwards the e-p5 wins hands down, no competition and at lower iso one can lift the shadows even in jpg that would not have been remotely possible with the e-pl1.

it has an auto focus illuminator which is a bit awkward to use in the face of people but nevertheless remarkably effective…

it has the mythical 5-axis image stabilization that really seems to work. at least there is the hissing sound that also the om-d emits. jokes aside, i am under the impression that the stabilization really works quite well but only for the first picture in a series? maybe someone can enlighten me here. if i am in sequential l-mode (which is my default mode) the first shot of the series is typically sharp but the second and third not so. maybe i missed a setting here?** the live stabilization on the display is amazing. i have tried the zuiko 100mm  and it was really impressive how steady the image on the display was.

it has a much better display. bigger, much higher resolution, tiltable, and very touchy. i think it has a very slight greenish colour cast but maybe that’s just me (or mine?).

it has wi-fi and can be remotely controlled via app on my android mobile but not for whatever reason with my i.onik tablet for which the app is not available.

it looks like a young god (even the hotshoe is black ;))

heck, it’s even a little bit smaller in height than the e-pl1.

and yes, it finally has focus peaking!  focus peaking is really helpful with manual focussing when implemented correctly. i really liked it on the sony a99 and the rx100. on the e-p5 it feel a bit gimmicky because it seems implemented as an art filter that considerably slows down the screen refresh rate or at least it seems to do that. it worked reasonably though, but i haven’t tried it a lot yet.

the only thing that concerns me a bit is that i am not as happy yet with the pictures at base iso as i was with e-pl1. unfortunately i cannot really describe it. i miss something but i don’t know exactly what. maybe the additional megapixels don’t give enough room for the other pixels to breathe or something. now, at the latest, you know why i called this ‘a kind of review’ because i cannot really substantiate my impression. i’m quite confident though, that there is a ‘right’ parameter setting in the e-p5 and i will find it.

another reason for being just ‘a kind of review’ is the lack of test shots or – even better – comparison shots between the same scenes once taken with the e-pl1 and once with the e-p5. i have to admit that i’d love to do such a comparison but i did not have the time yet. maybe i’ll update this post in the next few weeks.

but i do already have a preliminary conclusion: i’m quite happy with the e-p5 and i think the upgrade was definitely worth it.

stay tuned for more pictures made with the e-p5 in the future. here is another one:


the predecessor shot with the successor

**update 8.8.2013: yup, i missed something here. in the Gear C menu there is an option called “<sequential icon> + IS Off”. this has to be set to ‘off’. then the IS is ‘on’ during sequential shooting. unfortunately this does not seem to be the default. i found that hint in this very helpful user guide about the om-d so this seems to be a known issue.