Olympus E-PL5 Review

The Olympus E-PL5 is a nice little machine. I wanted to share my first experiences with the camera by writing an Olympus E-PL5 review. I bought the kit that includes the 14-42mm lens and a tiny little flash. It’s going for about $500 MSRP these days, which seems to be pretty fair given the other options in the same class of devices. My aim with this purchase was to have a walk-around camera to take around with me that had RAW capability, decent lenses,  quality sensor, and wasn’t too huge.

Olympus E-PL5 with Nikon 50mm 1.8D
Olympus E-PL5 with Nikon 50mm 1.8D

Handling and First Impressions

The camera body is pretty tight and compact. It feels balanced and, while the articulating LCD on the rear takes some getting used to, it also comes in handy. The kit 14-42mm lens fits nicely with the body and compacts itself down for when it is being stored, which saves an inch or so when carrying it around. The battery/memory card compartment cover is a little weird with a metal cover and small sliding latch to open it. It works though – and the battery and memory card are easy enough to insert and remove.

Getting the lenses on and off the camera body is pretty straight-forward and works basically like any regular SLR with a push button to release and twist with the same button and twist releasing the lens for removal.

The camera offers the same shooting settings as a most DSLRs with P, M, S, A and various scene modes along with HD video. Once you turn the camera on for the first time you have a variety of options. In order to have easy control over all setting in the M (Manual Exposure) Mode there are several settings to manipulate and assign functions to various buttons. That is not something really spelled out in the manual but was a tip picked up by other users around the web. Sort of a drawback but once you get the settings set to your liking it makes it much easier to shoot with a DSLR-like experience.

The hot shoe is a great addition and it makes things easier to adapt when trying to make the camera body a part of a studio or off camera lighting workflow. I have experimented with it and it seems to handle decently with a large aftermarket on-camera flash, even if it does become a bit top-heavy.

Switching back and forth among modes seems easy enough. One nice perk of the video mode on the Olympus E-PL5 is you can still shoot photos during the video recording process. Manual exposure controls are also available for video modes. All of the other modes (Aperture, Program, etc) seem to work just as they do on any other DSLR.

When using the kit lens focusing is very fast, although not always silent. At any rate it is generally less noisy than my Nikon D800. There is shutter noise when using the camera, which is a bit louder than expected but still much quieter than a mechanical version as found on traditional SLRs. I have also been using the Olympus E-PL5 with a m4/3 to Nikon converter and my Nikon 50mm 1.8D lens. Although this makes the lens into a completely manual lens I find that I actually prefer it to the kit lens – at least when speed is not a priority. Focusing with the zoomed in live preview is great and really helps to nail the focus when operating manually.

The Olympus E-PL5 offers a great ISO range from 200-3200 with some extended settings beyond that. File formats available include various JPG resolutions and the ORF Raw format.

The OEM battery lasts pretty long as well. I was able to tear off 200-400 photos on each charge using manual focus and minimal video recording. I’m sure that if you were doing a lot of video and using autofocus regularly it would be closer to the low end of that.

Image Quality

Image quality on the Olympus E-PL5 is very good, even up to ISO 3200 and a bit beyond. Noise is really great at higher ISOs and produces more usable images at higher ranges than I have gotten out of my higher end DSLRs. The level of detail preserved, even with noise, seems to be better than most DSLRs that I’ve used. Couple the camera body with a great f1.8 lens and you’ve got a true low light workhorse.

Cat photo with Olympus e-pl5
Cat photo with Olympus e-pl5

The kit 14-42mm lens is OK. The image quality it produces is decent enough for snapshots and walkabout shots, but I really wouldn’t trust it with anything that I’d be giving to clients. As I stated earlier, I’ve been coupling it with my Nikon 50mm 1.8D using a fotodiox adapter. I really dig the images I get from that combo. I’ll be picking up an olympus m4/3 compatible f1.8 or f2.8 lens in the near future so that I’ll have autofocus back in control of the camera.

The raw files produced by the camera are useful and easy enough to manipulate using any of the recent Adobe CC applications. I wouldn’t hesitate to use the Olympus E-PL5 for candid, detail or macro shots at any of my weddings or fashion shoots.

For video use the camera also produces very usable 1080 video. There are some limitations to sound inputs (there aren’t any) but since there is a hotshoe it would be easy enough to slide a mic or compact recorder onto the camera body to record audio separately. It’s a very compact device so it would make for a nice and compact travel or concert capture camera.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA PC230303 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Conclusions

Overall I’m really happy with the Olympus E-PL5. The kit lens, flash, and camera body are all nice and useful. For a casual photographer or just the regular family snapshots this camera is fantastic. Couple it with some upgraded lenses, a couple of extra batteries, and some higher end lighting gear and it can really become a part of the professional photographer’s kit. It may not be my primary workhorse but it’s definitely way easier to tote around a 1lb camera with lens along with my other 10lb rig than to endure two 10lb camera setups around my neck/shoulders.

I would highly recommend the Olympus E-PL5 to someone looking to get their first M4/3 camera, especially if you’re going to be investing more into the form factor in the future. The higher end Olympus m4/3 cameras offer more professional options that are starting to rival the higher end DSLRs and I see the m4/3 market eventually taking their places.

PROs:

  • Light and compact – even with lenses attached. Will fit in a coat pocket.
  • Lots of accessories and lenses available. Easy enough to get cheap adapters to use other lenses, even those from 35mm and DSLRs
  • The MSRP is not crazy and offers a lot of value for someone looking for more creative control over their photos without dumping $2k into a DSLR and lenses
  • LCD screen articulates and allows you to see yourself for selfies 😉
  • Lens compatibility with some Panasonic m4/3 lenses
  • Doesn’t cause back and neck pain to carry around for 12 hours.
  • Side-by-side with a solid DSLR the fact that it can keep up and excel beyond a lot of the ‘current generation’ DSLRs is awesome.

CONs:

  • The Auto white balance is kind of overactive.
  • No viewfinder, only the LCD. You can purchase an add-on viewfinder but it is matched to the simulated view of certain lenses and takes up the hot-shoe.
  • Battery/Sd card door is kind of weird to open and close.
  • Manual controls during video are a little difficult to get the hang of
  • Too big to put into a pants pocket
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