1. This is a user experience based review.
2. All images were shot in RAW and converted directly to JPEG (High Quality) via Olympus Viewer 2,
3. General camera settings, Noise Filter = OFF, Contrast/Saturation/sharpness = 0, White Balance = Auto (with an option maintain warm color = OFF), Gradation = Normal
4. No post-processing applied to the images, except the black and white images. All images were as good as straight out of camera, with minimal cropping for better presentation.
This is a continuation from the Part 1 of my blog review for the new Olympus PEN E-PL5, if you have not read my Part 1 please kindly do so here (click).
In the previous part of my review, I brought the PEN E-PL5 for a real life paid assignment shoot, which was an actual day wedding coverage for dear friends Nigel Sia and Kel Li at Hotel Maya, Kuala Lumpur. In that entry I have commented on how I was impressed by the little camera's performance for a more serious photography environment, producing excellent image quality (similar to the OM-D E-M5), having almost instantaneous autofocus and very good handling for a small camera, being used for a full day shoot (12 hours duration almost non-stop). That was actually out of the ordinary practice, where I usually would bring the camera for street shooting or more casual situation. I shall be using the beautiful E-PL5 for my own shutter therapy session, which will be the center of discussion for this Part 2 of my E-PL5 review.
In this particular shooting session, I was accompanied by a long time loyal blog reader and friend, Wan Amirruddin (an E-PL1 user like myself) on a Sunday morning, and we attacked Petaling Street. The main lens of choice was of course my most favourite lenses of all from micro 4/3 lens line-up, the M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8. I also used the 12mm F2 lens for situations where wide angle is a necessity, to capture more into a single frame composition. I only worked with both lenses, and I set the camera to Aperture Priority at all times, shooting mostly at base ISO200 under bright sunny condition, and bumped up the ISO as necessary when I was inside buildings (temples, market) or shade. EXIF information is provided at the bottom of each photograph.
Smaller Camera for Street Shooting
I have mentioned this a couple of times before in several occasions, and I will say it again, using the PEN (or any micro 4/3 camera small bodies) on the street just felt so right. While I cannot say this is the best suited camera size for professional use (I did have my share of complains and wish for better and beefier gripping for my wedding shoot in Part 1), but for casual shooting, having something smaller in footprint, causing less or no strain at all to any part of your body, yet being able to deliver images on par to even the best APS-C cameras out there (it is proven now by both DXOMark and DPreview, so if you disagree, go bring the argument elsewhere), surely this was something incredible.
Remember what made Leica M-series so famous in its early days? It was because Leica was bold enough to come up with smaller styled body, without the compromise of image quality, allowing photo-journalists to bring the camera everywhere, hence birthing the new generation of photo-journalism, and next street photography. The solution was simple: providing mobility solution: the best camera is the camera that you have with you at that moment you need it, because a lot of photography opportunities happen when you least expect them to. Olympus Micro 4/3 system, much like the reasons that made Leica so infamous for their rangefinder system, is making a strong remark about having smaller and lighter system, something you would not hesitate to chuck into that hand bag or backpack as you go out from your house.
Using a small size camera on the street will gather different set of reactions from the people you shoot. Generally photographers with smaller cameras are looking less threatening, hence that allowed you more comfort zone to work with, getting closer. I found that most people did not even take me seriously, and just ignored my presence, which worked great for my style of shooting (non-intrusive).
For some unexplained reasons, there already is this ridiculous mindset that goes around locally here (and perhaps, to a certain extent, it is the same everywhere else, I would presume) that if you want good image quality, the camera must be huge. There is this completely wrong theory of the performance and image quality of the camera is directly proportional to its size and weight. How untrue !! Therefore there has always been this "DSLR" mentality, whenever someone carried something large and black, he means serious business. That "mentality" is working against the street shooting environment, and honestly, having something smaller and more inconspicuous will save you some broken noses.
I think it all comes down to your own choice of style and preference. The OM-D E-M5 was shaped and designed to look more serious, and by all means, that is one serious looking camera. The E-PL5 somehow felt more relaxed, both in the hands of the photographer shooting with it, and also the reaction that the photographer gets from the crowd he is shooting.
1/1000sec, F1.8, ISO200
1/1000sec, F1.8, ISO200
1/1250sec, F1.8, ISO200
1/4000sec, F1.8, ISO200
1/250sec, F1.8, ISO200
1/2000sec, F1.8, ISO200
1/320, F1.8, ISO200
Smaller Box Focusing
If you have been following my blog you would know that my main camera system is the DSLR E-5 and some wonderful zuiko lenses. Like most DSLRs, E-5 has very small, almost pin-sized focusing points, which gives that extra boost of confidence when you have a very specifically small area of target for focusing. One complaint that many voiced over the micro 4/3 system is the overly large focusing boxes, looking more like focusing area rather than focusing points. When one casual shooter decides to dabble deeper and more seriously into photography, attention is paid more to focusing accuracy. Generally I never had much issues with the focusing accuracy from PEN E-P3 or newer PEN bodies onward, but that gigantic green box area somehow did not seem convincing enough.
Some users have gone through a few work-arounds in the camera menu playing with the settings to get that smaller target AF area in the OM-D, and this work-around has become a hit through photography forums.
Thankfully we all do not have to suffer that and this issue has been addressed in the E-PL5. How I wish Olympus would provide a firmware upgrade to have this inside the OM-D as well !!
Again, that Blazing Fast Autofocus
Having that smaller target AF box for use in street shooting was quite a game changer. For extra control and accuracy, I felt more confident shooting with the smaller green boxes, especially when I really wanted to make sure the human eyes are in focus for my street portrait shooting. Yes we can trust that face detection AF, much like we can trust driving an Auto car, but when I want to get serious, I prefer to have more controls, much like manual car drivers. Working with Olympus AF system is one of the best things I can say about this micro 4/3 system. It is a blessing to have such instant focusing for street shooting. Both the 12mm and 45mm that I tested responded very positively with the E-PL5, The camera was so fast, that there are many times I managed to steal some shots of the people on the streets before they could react to my camera.
I tell you, if such blazing AF was invented long ago, no one would even care about zone-focusing for street shooting anymore.
1/500sec, F2, ISO400
1/80sec, F1.8, ISO800
1/80sec, F1.8, ISO800
1/125sec, F1.8, ISO800
1/1250sec, F1.8, ISO200
That Not So Great LCD Monitor Screen
I might have slipped out in my previous review on the OM-D, but I was not fully satisfied using the OM-D OLED screen for many reasons: 1) the resolution could be better (614k dot only) and 2) the color balance is completely off. It is very difficult to check the colours from the screen, but general focusing accuracy review was fine. Knowing the screen uses OLED, color accuracy was not something to depend on.
Now, on the E-PL5, they used a different screen, perhaps it is the same screen as the E-PL3 or E-PM1 (I have none to compare, so I cannot verify if it is the same). The resolution is lower than the E-M5, and that color balance somehow seemed even worse. I was reviewing photographs taken both on the street and the previous entry's wedding event, and the main problem I had was how the skin tone looked through the screen. I remembered a friend
cough Jason Mumbles cough who stood beside me as I was shooting commented on how "horrible" the colors from the camera was... and I was having a very difficult time to convince him that the colors you see on that not so great LCD screen was completely different from the real output of the camera. Indeed to my eyes the colors on the screen looked overly saturated and unrealistic at all. Working with OM-D files and generally the signature Olympus colors have always stayed the same through the many years, hence looking at the screen I knew very well I cannot trust working with it at all.
Yes, we know that the resolution of 460k dot is not so great, since many modern cameras now have 1000k dot and above in their 3 inch or larger monitor screen, and that the color balance could be improved somehow to reflect a more realistic outcome. I actually loved the resolution and color balance of my DSLR E-5's LCD screen, the feel and experience was very close to how I would judge from seeing a photograph from my own PC screen. Many who have used the E-5 DSLR would know how great the LCD screen is, why can't we have similar color balance and resolution on the E-M5 or PEN cameras?
Screen size comparison when shooting at original 4/3 aspect ratio. (E-PL5 left, E-PL1 right). Image taken with my HTC One V
Another small complain I have about the screen was how it was optimized for a 16:9 shooting. Perhaps the LCD screen was designed for movie shooters, since video recording was done at 16:9 aspect ratio. Nonetheless, to get the full 16MP resolution and the best image quality out of the E-PL5, we have to shoot at 4/3 aspect ratio, and in this case the display has been reduced in size. It seemed so small, in fact it seemed to be even smaller than the 2.5 inch display from the older E-PL1 !! If E-PL5's default aspect ratio was 16:9, I would have no issue with the elongated screen to fit into the full display, but if the original uncropped full size image was 4/3 in aspect ratio, I would expect the LCD screen to be optimized for that display. After all for most people who use micro 4/3 system, they use it primarily for still photographs. I also noticed that E-PL5 could possibly be using the same screen with the E-PL3, and this issue may be the same as the E-PL3, but I still think this is worth mentioning here.
1/4000sec, F1.8, ISO200
1/1600sec, F1.8, ISO800
1/250sec, F5, ISO200
1/200sec, F1.8, ISO400
1/160sec, F1.8, ISO400
On the whole, the new Olympus PEN E-PL5 is indeed a very fun and capable camera to work with. Basically, E-PL5 is what an Olympus PEN has always been famous for: light-weight, small in size, full with features, such as the built in Image Stabilization, full manual controls and customization, and now, add the highly regarded image quality of OM-D to the E-PL5, considering the use of similar image sensor and processing engine. Olympus E-PL5 offers an option for photographers who do not need all the extra functions and features that come along with the Olympus OM-D E-M5, yet maintains the few important characteristics that made OM-D E-M5 such a great camera: the blazing fast autofocus as well as reliability as a camera system, in terms of camera performance on the filed and final image quality delivery.
What I liked about E-PL5?
1) Excellent image quality, similar to Olympus OM-D E-M5, superb high ISO performance and good dynamic range.
2) Small sized, light, and comfortable to handle (with current set of smaller sized M.Zuiko lenses, like the 12mm F2 lens and 45mm F1.8 lens). But I do prefer the handling with the OM-D, PLUS the additional hand-grip.
3) Blazing Fast Autofocus
4) Smaller Target AF area box for pin point accurate focusing.
5) Very reliable, even in a very demanding shooting condition (wedding coverage) and the camera worked without a slightest hiccup.
6) That GREAT Olympus signature colors. True to life and pleasing skin tones.
What I wish could have been better?
1) Better Battery life. Currently I took about 300 shots under heavy usage, and ideally 500-600 shots per single battery charge would be great.
2) Better LCD screen. We need higher resolution (at least 900k dot and above) with improved color balance.
3) Having a built in viewfinder, for practical shooting reasons. If I attach the external viewfinder on the hot-shoe, how then can I use the external flash? I need BOTH the EVF and the flash, hence having built in EVF will allow me to use the flash at the same time.
Do take note that Olympus has released the OM-D E-M5 prior to E-PL5, which catered for more serious shooters that demanded more from a camera: better handling with add-on hand grips, built in EVF, weather sealing, having more shortcut/customizable buttons, dual control dials, etc. If you need all those extras, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 is surely more fitted for you, especially if you are faced with more challenging and demanding photography environment.
Nevertheless, there are many other casual shooters that only use the camera for casual shooting, thus nullifying the need for weather sealing (not everyone wants to shoot in rain), prioritizing simplicity (hence needing less buttons and dials), treasuring the smaller size and lighter weight (so that the camera is easier to carry around everywhere) and yet, without having to compromise on the image quality. Fitting into this category of users, E-PL5 is a very attractive option.
1/40sec, F3.5, ISO500
1/40sec, F3/5, ISO500
1/20sec, F3.5, ISO320
Wan Amiruddin, a proud E-PL1 owner, much like myself.
It is very interesting to witness how Micro 4/3 is expanding in choices of cameras and lenses, and surely advancing in terms of technology. In terms of image quality Olympus micro 4/3 is fully capable to deliver very competitively, and add to that the good selection of high quality Zuiko branded glasses to match. The year 2012 has been very interesting for Olympus, having OM-D, E-PL5 as very capable camera bodies released for the micro 4/3 system, and the great longer prime lenses such as the 75mm F1.8 and the 60mm F2.8 macro. Adding to the family are also very respectable camera bodies from Panasonic, such as their G5 and new GH3, with their contribution of fully capable lenses such as the 12-35mm F2.8 and 35-100mm F2.8 lenses.
Soon, we will see how micro 4/3 system make splashes all around the world (if the splashes have not already begun).