Olympus PEN E-P5 Review: Time Lapse, Cheer Leading and Conclusions

Important Notes:
1. This is a user experience based review.
2. All images were shot in JPEG (Large Normal).
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 slight brightness/contrast balance tweak. All images were as good as straight out of camera, with minimal cropping for better presentation.

This blog entry is the final part of my blog review series of the Olympus PEN E-P5. If you have not done so, please read my previous review parts here: 

In this particular blog entry I shall be summarizing my opinion and thoughts about the new Olympus PEN E-P5, what I like about the camera and what I thought can be improved. 

Apart from that, I also have done an additional feature demo video on the newly added built in camera Time Lapse function. As a closing entry, I have attended a cheerleading competition at Bukit Jalil Stadium and captured some action shots of young girls being thrown around in the mid air, a perfect opportunity to torture the camera for some high-speed shooting. 

Time Lapse Demo

The Olympus PEN E-P5 came with quite a few additions of useful features, and that included some sort of intervalometer to enable time lapse shooting. I must honestly admit that I have not done any time lapse photography prior to this, and my attempt of shooting was purely to see how the camera functions and what I can do with it. Looking into the menu system to enable the time lapse function in E-P5, I immediately noticed that the main limitation, which many will find restrictive is the total number of photographs being set to only 99 images. Of course you can continue taking photographs after the 99 photos are taken but that would be rather troublesome, and higher number photographs limit would allow more flexibility surely. You can customize image to image intervals, and a choice to automatically converted what you have shot into a movie clip straight from the camera processing itself.

Though with limitations, I still think the time lapse feature can be useful, and with proper planning and setup (and that comes with some inconvenience) can still function for serious purposes. The thought of not having to set up the camera with an external intervalometer, or connecting to phones and computers makes life a lot more hassle free. It is a matter of making it as simple as possible and easily usable without too much effort. Time lapse photography should be fun, and Olympus E-P5 proved this to be true without all the cumbersome setting up and execution process. Of course, I am not speaking on behalf of professional or serious time lapse photographers out there. 

Olympus PEN E-P5 
Time Lapse Feature Quick Demo

Note: This video demo was published ahead of this blog review entry on my FACEBOOK PAGE. If you want faster news and some quick updates, please follow me and support my FACEBOOK PAGE (click) by "liking" it. 

So here was what I did for the time lapse demo. 

1) I woke up at an ungodly hour, 5am in the morning, on a working weekday, and took the earliest train down to Jelatek, and went up to the highest floor of the building (an apartment).

2) I set up my tripod and mounted the Olympus E-P5 on it, together with the awesome lens M.Zuiko 12mm F2. 

3) I enabled the time lapse function from the menu. I did two takes. First shooting was done before sunrise, and the second one was done immediately after sunrise was over. The main reason for this was because I wanted to capture the long motion trail of the vehicles on the highway, and obviously after sunrise this was pointless because it was too bright already,

4) Camera settings before sunrise
Shutter priority, ISO Auto, 4 seconds shutter speed, Image Stabilization OFF
Time lapse set to 11 seconds intervals (to allow enough time for dark frame noise subtraction).

5) Camera settings after sunrise
Aperture Priority, ISO Auto, F11, Image Stabilization OFF
Time lapse set to 1 second interval

6) I did not use the built in movie clip compilation feature, because I wanted to compile the clips with a video showing how the live shooting works. You can see the video clip in between the two time lapse shootings, which I made with my Android phone. 

7) In total I captured 208 images, taken between 6.50am to 7.30am. Sunrise was at 7.08am. The images were compiled into time lapse movie with Windows Movie Maker. I understand there are better software to do so, but hey, this was just a simple demo to show how the camera functions. 

And I hate Malaysian weather. In my mind as I was heading out in the morning I was so excited for the sunrise shooting. However the blurry skyline and cloudy condition just killed my mood, and there was NO Golden Hour!!!!! I wish I could make another attempt but the thought of waking up at 5am again the next morning was too painful especially when I was working full day on a construction site. 

Shooting a Cheer Leading Competition

Last Sunday I was invited by friend Jason Lioh to an event with journalist's pass (thanks Jason) to shoot a Cheer Leading competition at Bukit Jalil's Stadium Putra. I thought this was the perfect chance to try out the Olympus PEN E-P5 in a more challenging shooting condition. 

Typically for a cheer leading performance, there was plenty of fast moving actions, and the part where the girls were jumping high up and flying around were surely difficult to shoot, especially under an indoor stadium's lighting condition. The lighting condition was not too bad I must admit, but it would still pose a challenge especially for fast focusing. 

I was using the Olympus M.Zuiko 75mm F1.8 lens mounted on the E-P5, and the following were my general camera settings:

1) Single AutoFocus, with immediate click to capture (as I hear the AF confirmation "teet-teet" I instantly click the shutter button)

2) ISO Auto (come on, give the camera some trust), The camera chose between ISO 800 to 1600. 

3) Shutter Priority with Shutter Speed set to 1/640sec (initially I tried 1/300sec, still not sufficiently fast to freeze some fast motion, and yes the girls were devilishly fast). The camera constantly opened the Aperture to the maximum, at F1.8

4) Metering was set to Multi-Pattern, and Exposure Compensation at +0.3 EV. 

5) Image Shot in JPEG (Large Normal) with Noise Filter set to OFF. 

6) Continuous Shooting (burst) mode was set to High, which means it was about 9 Frames per second

7) I was shooting with the electronic viewfinder VF-4 

As I was shooting with the M.Zuiko 75mm F1.8, the memories of me reviewing the lens came flooding back to me. I cannot remember which photography web review concluded that this lens is possibly the sharpest lens on the planet. I just cannot agree more with that reviewer. Even reviewing the images right from the camera screen, it was difficult not to be quickly impressed by what the Olympus 75mm F1.8 can do.

Having the focal length of 75mm (equivalent to 150mm in 35mm format) means I have very tight perspective, and my privilege of being able to stand very close to the stage area was another contributing factor to getting very close up shots. The Olympus M.Zuiko 75mm F1.8 was the right lens for the job. 

So how did the Olympus PEN E-P5 fare in this super high speed action shooting?

It did extremely well. 

Some would be disappointed with the less than average continuous focusing and tracking capability of Olympus cameras, but I always, always say that for most conditions, the single autofocus worked well enough. You can almost always just press the shutter button without the need to wait for the confirmation AF and still get accurately focused images. I did wait for the "teet-teet" confirmation of course, and the trick is to quickly fully press the shutter button after the "teet-teet" sound. That way you won't miss the focus. I find almost 90% of my shots were in focus, and that was a very high percentage considering the moving actions at all times. 

The lighting condition was not too dim, but it was far from ideal as well. ISO being set to Auto, the camera kept selecting ISO1600 for my shutter priority exposure being fixed at 1/640 sec shutter speed. The camera was smart enough to open up the aperture to the widest F1.8. I had the 75mm F1.8 lens to work with, which meant the F1.8 extra wide aperture opening gave me an advantage in this shooting condition, whereas other photographers using zoom lenses (eg 70-200mm F2.8) would have to bump up their ISO much higher, say ISO 3200 if they are shooting at F2.8. Some may argue that other cameras especially the newer ones would have improved high ISO shooting abilities, and I agree, but Olympus has offered its own counter measure by releasing very practical and powerful lenses, such as the M.Zuiko 75mm F1.8. 

From shot to shot, shooting in continuous burst mode, there was no delay or lag at all, the camera operation was smooth and consistent. Focusing rarely missed, and almost every time snapped to focus instantaneously. The fact that the camera and lens combination was still very light in comparison to many other camera systems out there, added to the overall shooting experience. Only after an hour of shooting I started to feel a little strain on my left wrist, mainly due to stabilizing the 75mm F1.8 lens. My method of stabilizing the camera, was shifting more weight to my left hand which was holding the lens, while my right hand was only steadying the grip and gently pushing down the shutter button with as little force as possible to minimize shake. My method, no right and wrong, and you can hold and shoot your camera whatever ways you like. 

It did show that the Olympus PEN E-P5 may not be balanced enough to handle larger lenses, such as the 75mm F1.8, for long hours shooting. 

Oh did you see the girls flying in mid air? The E-P5 caught them, in perfect focus, almost every time. I was impressed. Such performance can also be obtained from the Olympus E-PL5 and OM-D E-M5 really, nothing overly exciting and new here to be honest. 

What I like about Olympus PEN E-P5

1) Built in 5-Axis Image Stabilization, similar to OM-D, and improved for panning shooting (auto-detection). If you do not know how revolutionary and amazingly useful this 5 Axis Image Stabilization is, you must be missing out a lot in photography world. 

2) Same image quality as OM-D E-M5, same beautiful colors and fine detail capture. Images come out with pleasing colors and sharp. 

3) Much improved camera back screen, LCD Screen with 1.037 dot resolution, and better color accuracy, matching the new electronic viewfinder VF-4

4) Packed with useful features, such as Wi-Fi for remote control and wireless image transferring, time lapse control, and focus peaking. However, all the functions could have been better. (see what could have been improved section  below for further elaborations)

6) Wi-Fi implementation was no-frills, simple and efficient. The QR code scanning to connect camera to phone/tablet/smart devices was a brilliant idea. The App Olympus O.I. Share (available for Android and iOS) is quick, and very responsive. 

7) Excellent build quality, beautiful and stylish design, and very good, comfortable handling

8) Well thought out for photographers' priority in mind: 1/8000sec shutter speed, ISO Low and 1/320sec flash sync limit, 2x2 dual dials control offering more control and flexibility in shooting.

9) Improved battery life: I did about 1200 shots in a single charge (done with burst, continuous shooting mode, hence the high number) and the battery was very much alive. Previously with OM-D and E-PL5 I could only manage about 300-400 shots per charge. 

What could have been better in Olympus PEN E-P5

1) Wi-Fi remote control function can be improved in several key areas: it should at least offer basic controls of camera exposure functions such as ISO, shutter speed and aperture. I hope Olympus can allow full access to the camera's amazing Super Control Panel via the remote control function. Without any control at all, restricted to only I-Auto shooting mode, the full potential  of the E-P5 via remote control shooting was not realized. 

2) Focus Peaking still needs a lot of work. The focus peaking has several issues that needed to be fixed, such as significant drop of frame rate when the focus peaking is activated, resulting in jaggy and jumpy screen. The focus peaking will not function at the half-press of the shutter button, which negates the use of live preview of the 5-Axis Image Stablization. The 5-Axis IS would help shooting at higher magnification (1 to 1 ratio macro shooting), and the focus peaking could not be used concurrently in this regard. 

3) Time Lapse is limited to only 99 photos per shoot. 

On the whole, Olympus PEN E-P5 takes some of the best parts of the successful OM-D E-M5, and added some important features and functions on its own. I like that the E-P5 can do many things that the E-M5 can do, and expanded to faster shutter speed of 1/8000sec and flash sync of 1/320sec. I also noted that Olympus has listened to our many compaints over the years, such as the poor LCD (or OLED) screens at the back of their cameras, and improved the resolution and color accuracy in E-P5. Also, I remembered being very loud about the poor battery life, which many photographers I have met using OM-D have agreed with me. Added some new and important features, such as the Wi-Fi functions, focus peaking and time lapse intervalometer, E-P5 is quite a camera that has features and controls that is unparalleled by any other cameras at the moment. 

However, not all is perfect yet. The new additions of features and implementation of the functions could have been improved, and developed much further. It was as if Olympus was hinting to us the potential and future capabilities of what they might bring into their cameras. A preview or glimpse into what will come soon, I hope, such as the improved VF-4 electronic viewfinder, which I strongly wish Olympus would include in their coming OM-D iteration of camera. The Wi-Fi function, focus peaking and time lapse features all needed some work, and those limitations were mostly software imposed, and can be fixed via better programming. If they require some hardware upgrade (stronger and more efficient processing power) then, why not, just make that upgrade happen! The E-P5 allowed so many new, cool and to be frank, very useful features but their potential was limited at the moment. I am sure the way to go forward is to BREAK those limitations. 

Some will also point out the higher than usual price point of the Olympus PEN E-P5. Look at it this way, Olympus E-P5 delivers beautiful, crisp images, performs well in difficult shooting conditions, and can be relied on for serious, demanding circumstances. It is an overall well-made, well-built camera, and not many cameras out there in the same category can come close to its generous offerings of wide array of functions and features. Of course Olympus will not make the camera cheap! Whether the price is justified or not, that is up to you to decide. 

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  1. Robin, Nice work as always. Can't wait to see how this all translates into the next OMD. With regard to focus peaking, do you find it more or less useful than the implementation on your Sony's? (I can't remember which Sony SLT body you have)

    1. Thanks for the kind words Peter. I believe both the Sony and Olympus' implementation are rather the same. However with the Sony we do not get live Image Stabilization preview, not like OM-D. I wanted the live IS preview to work together with focus peaking, after I half press the shutter button.
      Also the Sony's focus peaking does not make the screen too jumpy or shaky (laggy), as the Olympus'. There is drop in resolution but the Olympus' suffered more.

    2. I have a Sony NEX 5N I picked up when it went on deep discount due to the release of the 5R. I've tried its focus peaking and I was not all that impressed with it. The NEX 5N is overall a great camera, but from what I've experienced so far, focus peaking is not one of its better features.

    3. Hello Bill,
      Thanks for the mention on Sony's focus peaking. Truly it still needs a lot of work.

    4. Hi again Robin, On my NEX6, I find the focus peaking better implemented on the Display than wit h the EVF. Very noticeable in low contrast situations. I was using with my 3-day old grandson today. With the EVF I got peaking on the face (his eyes and mouth were closed), but when I went to the Display I picked up the peaking on his shut eyes and mouth.

  2. Great stuff Robin. The timelapse - for now, it is what it is. Why they just didn't put in full intervalometer function we'll never know. The only thing I can figure s that this is sort of idiotproof for the GIF fans.

    Really nice shots of the girls - beautiful color.

    1. Thanks Libby for the kind words.
      I am sure they will improve the intervalometer, if enough noise and complaints are made!

  3. http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-_rwduZA21oY/UdVPxrQNhwI/AAAAAAAAZt0/N1bOPi6-fnc/s1600/P5301829.JPG

    What's the fella looking at? :-)

    Nice review as always... Cheers Robin!

  4. Impressive captures of the cheer-leading competition, Robin.

    I have a few questions regarding the AF technique you used:

    Did you use the central AF point to focus on the intended subject and then re-compose just before firing the shutter?
    Did you try focusing on a subject and releasing the shutter via the touch screen?
    Does the AF system refocus between each shot of a 9 frame burst?
    Can you shoot immediately after recording a 9 frame burst or do you have to wait for the buffer to clear?

    Thanks for all your efforts here; they are much appreciated.

    1. Hello Bjorn,
      Yes, I used the AF point, set to the center most of the time. I almost did not recompose my subjects and always focus what I needed at the center of the frame.
      No, for such critical shooting, I did not rely on the touch screen shooting. For normal shooting, it worked just as well as OM-D and E-PL5.
      For the 9 frames per second continuous shooting, the focusing is fixed to the first locked frame.
      I never had issue with lag or buffer slowing down, everything was smooth and I continued shooting again and again with no interruptions. Of course I was shooting JPEG. If you shoot RAW, and depending on your card speed (I used Class 12 SD card) things may differ.

  5. Great review. I always look forward to your user reviews. I agree with your comments regarding the wifi control of camera, 99 frame limit on time lapse and focus peaking. Olympus could have made a great camera into an outstanding one, but chose not to do so. Still a great camera though. Maybe they are saving these features for the OMD EM-5 replacement.

    1. Hello Yat Tang,
      Thanks for the kind words and support, appreciate them a lot.
      I like the way you see that all these things may be improved and made available for the coming OMD! Lets hope so!

  6. Excellent work and review Robin. As always a pleasure to read. And, forget about the bloody sunsets and sunrises: the pretty girls are much nicer :-)
    Seriously though: the timelapse feature is interesting -and thanks for the effort you went through, despite the lacking weather- but needs improvement indeed. I did quite a bit of (scientific) timelapse photography in my time, but even then we had better control. Like you observe: better programming will surely solve it. In that regard, Oly should follow the example of Fuji who's software (firmware) updates come out fast and offer much improved functionality.

    I was amazed, to be honest, about the excellent JPEG's and noise performance of this camera. From what I can see this is simply on par with the best of APC-C sensors out there, which is of course no small feat. Oly is really doing some amazing stuff. I wouldn't even dream of using ISO 1600 on my D80 - it's downright horrible compared to this. The quality of the optics speaks for itself: stellar!

    Thank you for your hard work, the highly enjoyable review and accompanying excellent photographs.

  7. Thank you for this review. Definitely the most complete one I have read so far ! And everything you write comforts me in my decision of buying the PEN E-P5. Now I can't wait to have it and play with it !
    Thanks again, and keep up with the good work !

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  11. May I have your suggestions about E-M5 and E-P5?
    Already have a Nikon D7000, but it's quite heavy and huge.
    I am a father of two kids(1yr old and 4yrs old) and wish to have a low weight camera for daily use.
    Prefer the viewfinder inside in E-M5.
    But the E-P5 has some improvements better than E-M5.
    Really hard to make the decision.