The Olympus E-PL5 PEN Lite review: a mini-OM-D

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I make no secret of the fact that I’m a huge fan of the original Olympus E-PM1 Pen Mini (full review here); it brought big-camera speed and image quality to a very compact package. However, the OM-D clearly demonstrated that the image quality potential of Micro Four Thirds could be taken quite a bit further without entailing any compromises. After enjoying a period of exclusivity to that body, the same sensor and imaging processor has now made its way into Olympus’ lower end offerings – the E-PL5 Pen Lite and E-PM2 Pen Mini, both recently announced at Photokina. I was given the opportunity to try out a final production E-PL5 recently by Olympus Malaysia.

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Removable grip.

The two cameras retain their original differentiation – a tilting screen and a few buttons. But the E-PL5’s screen now pivots through 170 degrees for self-portrait narcissists (I can’t personally imagine ever using this feature, though tilting it up for waist-level shooting is great for stealthy capture or a better angle without having to bend over). Both also gain the same capacitative touch screen capability of the E-P3 and OM-D, which I’m find increasingly useful and missing on my Nikons. Sadly though, the LCD on the two smaller cameras remains as a 3″, 16:9 aspect ratio unit, which is great for video but leaves a lot of unused real estate in the form of black bars when you’re shooting in the native 4:3 aspect ratio of the sensor. Useable area is probably closer to 2.5″.

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Bookstore abstract. E-PL5, 15/8 body cap

Aside from the 15MP sensor of the OM-D, the E-PL5 also gains a few additional art filters, and compatibility with Olympus’ new OI.Share SD card and app for smartphones and tablets (currently, Apple iOS and Android are supported). There are also interchangeable grips – similar to the E-P3. There are also some minor cosmetic changes that give the camera a slightly blockier, more textured appearance. Personally, I prefer the smooth look of the older cameras. Sadly, Olympus still hasn’t moved the strap lugs – they still dig into your hands in the normal shooting position. I can’t help but feel a narrow loop would be a much better solution for a camera of this size, as well as being silent during video recording.

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It’s grown in size a little, but it’s still roughly in the same ballpark as the original (and Pen Mini, in background.)

In use, the camera is snappy and responsive for all normal operations; AF speed remains excellent, if perhaps fractionally faster than the last generation. (I’m comparing it with my Pen Mini, since I don’t have an E-PL3 handy – they share the same innards anyway.) The menu system is redesigned and now looks very similar to the OM-D, complete with most of the custom functions and extensive customizability that is unusual for a camera in this class, which has become one of Olympus’ hallmarks. It also gains 8fps shooting, though without AF, of course. I use it as a single-shot camera, or at most in bursts of two or three shots to gain some added stability.

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Closed for the weekend. E-PL5, 15/8 body cap

On the subject of stability, the in-body sensor-shift stailization system is improved over the last generation; I actually turned it off on my Pen Mini because it tended to give odd double images under some conditions. I left it on on the E-PL5, but it’s worth noting that it still isn’t as effective as the 5-axis gyro system in the OM-D.

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Pirates can still be found in some parts of Malacca. E-PL5, 45/1.8

One of the things I missed from the OM-D was the configurable single-button magnify option that allowed one-touch enlargement of either live view or the playback image to your desired ratio at the focus point (10x is actual pixels) – until I discovered that you could just double-tap the screen to achieve the same result. Needless to say, score one for the touch screen. You can of course also use it to select the focus point and release the shutter; speaking of focus points, you can now select a smaller point size by default, which the camera remembers when turned off – something I sorely miss on the OM-D as the large boxes often aren’t precise enough. A good number of the other buttons are user-configurable, too.

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Sunset over the straits. E-PL5, 15/8 body cap

Something I had trouble getting used to was the feel of the shutter button. Since it’s probably the single most important control on the camera, the way it feels is actually quite critical in how you feel towards shooting it; in this respect, the pro Nikons and Canons get it right – a soft but distinct half-press, and no clicky transition but a firm increase in resistance to release. There’s enough travel between positions to avoid accidental releases, but not so much to induce lag. The OM-D feels pretty good, too. Other cameras get it wrong – the Sony RX100’s shutter release is far too soft; I’m always accidentally firing off a frame when I meant only to focus. The digital Leica Ms are far too notchy and difficult to press smoothly; it’s as though there’s something rough inside the button’s housing or something; perhaps to do with the three positions. Shame, since the mechanical Ms were fantastic. Unfortunately, the E-PL5 just falls on the wrong side of soft – it isn’t so much the pressure required, but the near-zero difference in travel between half and full press that feels off. And to make things worse, even though the travel is short, the pressure required is very firm – making it difficult to hold the camera steady when releasing. Lack of an eye-level finder only compounds this.

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Determination in the face of choices. E-PL5, 45/1.8

I don’t’ have a lot to say about image quality – if you’ve used the OM-D, you can safely skip this section. The files look exactly the same, and deliver the same amount of flexibility in postprocessing. Colors are typical Olympus – slightly warm, reasonably saturated, and biased towards delivery of very pleasing skin tones. Dynamic range is around 11-12 stops from a carefully processed raw file at base ISO, which also remains at 200. The tonal range tends to be somewhat midtone and shadow biased; the relatively small pixel pitch of the sensor makes itself known in the highlights; expose with care because there isn’t a whole load of recoverable headroom – perhaps a stop at most. Fortunately, there is a live shadow and highlight clipping display option, which allows for precise exposure adjustment at the time of capture. Noise is minimal to ISO 800, and I feel the camera is useable up to ISO 3200, or ISO 5000 under certain lighting conditions.

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Just your average chaotic street scene. E-PL5, 45/1.8

At this point it’s worth talking a bit about the Olympus Viewer software – I’ve never had to use it before since ACR always supported the files of cameras I’d purchased. This time, I use the built in raw converter to make a relatively low-contrast TIFF with accurate white balance and exposure, which I’d then take into Photoshop. The native environment is very familiar – it looks a lot like Bridge, from which you can develop and save your files in…you guessed it, something that looks a lot like ACR – or at least an early version of it, without the huge number of options the current version has.

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Late afternoon. E-PL5, 15/8 body cap

Previews are fast, and general responsiveness and usability was good. This is easily amongst the better own-brand pieces of software out there. (Nikon, I’m looking at you. For shame.) In fact, the only critical things I can find missing are shadow/ highlight recovery sliders and a gradient tool. I’m not so happy with the output, though – the files seem to have a decidedly magenta cast to them which is both difficult to remove, and renders color not as accurately as the JPEGs – especially skin tones, which I find my Olympus cameras generally excel at even via ACR.

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Harley after the rain. E-PL5, 45/1.8

Battery life is excellent; I estimate around 500-600 shots with moderate LCD use and power-off between shots. It uses the same battery as the E-PL3 and E-PM1, too, which is nice if you’ve got a few spares already lying around. Note that there are two models of battery and charger, some of which are compatible and some of which aren’t – the light gray model is the latest version of both.

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Where Elmo does his shopping. E-PL5, 45/1.8

Throughout the review period, I kept asking myself who this camera was aimed at; the DSLR user/ enthusiast/ amateur looking for a second, more compact body, or the compact upgrader? I personally think it fits the latter better, much like the original Pen Mini. Although it’s compatible with the various accessories that connect to the accessory port under the hotshoe (including an EVF) – the lack of a built-in viewfinder means that if youre going to keep the camera compact, you’re restricted to arms-length style shooting. The huge number of art filters – also useable in movie mode at the expense of reduced frame rate – and in-camera processing options offers a relatively simple (if slightly lacking in control) method for the amateur user to achieve their desired look without resorting to Photoshop. I personally don’t use any of these, but I do know plenty of friends and family who might. What I did really enjoy was using it with the new 15/8 body cap lens as a hyperfocal snapshot camera; in this configuration it’s lag-free, and lets you focus solely on timing and composition. It’s also just about pocketable.

Ultimately, success at this end of the market will depend heavily on the camera’s price point. The rich feature set and overall refinement in operation make me curious to see what will succeed the E-P3; now if only they’d make one with a built-in EVF like the NEX-6…

The Olympus E-PL5 PEN Lite is available here from B&H and Amazon.


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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

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Where are my customers? E-PL5, 45/1.8

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Somewhere in here is a human being. E-PL5, 45/1.8

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Abstract Kuala Lumpur skyline. E-PL5, 15/8 body cap


  1. i have just purchased the PL5 after selling my EM5 through lack of cash what a shock this camera is as good as the OMD. in fact i would go as far as saying the picture sharpness seems slightly better . i cant understand why, but i have used the same lenses on the pen as i did with my OMD. strange. on very happy and surprised PEN owner i wont be getting shut of this in a hurry

  2. Reblogged this on Random Neural Firings. and commented:
    I love my Olympus E-PL5 PEN that I picked up back in March and here is a great review by Ming Thein.

  3. Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to say
    that I have really enjoyed surfing around your blog
    posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your
    feed and I hope you write again very soon!

  4. Nice and thoughtful review. It helped push me over the edge of the cliff metaphorically speaking – have just purchased a new (slightly used, actually) E-PL5 body to supplement my old tried and true PL2. Which btw I think is/was a wonderful and largely under-rated camera (except, perhaps, by Kirk Tuck, during his Olympus phase). But regardless I’m looking forwards to exploring the expanded dynamic range possibilities of it. The only thing that gave me pause was the relatively small and miserably formatted (16:9) screen, a downgrade from the PL2’s screen (which, to date, I think is still one of the best of all the Pen series, apart from the OM-D that is). But I’ll try to live with it. Thanks again for your thoughtful … thoughts ….on this camera.

    • The screen is not so bad, but yes, the aspect ratio is terrible. It’s fine so long as you’re not doing any manual focusing, and hey, it’s perfect if you want to try some cinematics…

      • Fortunately I have the VF2 which is in my opinion maybe a million times better than any of the Pen screens for manual focusing. And the truth is, being an old analog shooter, not only do I not mind manual focusing but in a number of cases, I prefer it to autofocus. Cinematics don’t interest me remotely btw, probably because, in my day job, I’m a screenwriter – so I have no compulsion to use my camera to create videos or movies. And, yes, you’re right, the aspect ratio sucks. The vast majority of the time I’m in a classic 4×3 though sometimes the all square digital format amuses me; but the aspect ratio is just….terrible. Sigh.

        • No problem then. I like squares, but not the idea that I’ve got to throw away a third of the sensor to get there – a full frame digital 6×6 back for my Hasselblads would probably motivate me to mortgage my house to buy one and forgo smaller formats period.

  5. Hello Ming,

    Hope you get the chance to read this,
    I came across the magnificent OMD 5 sensor on this little 4/3, and in your opinion,
    In case this would be your only camera, Would you buy an E-PL5 or a NEX-5R? in term of:
    1) General IQ
    2) expandability via lenses
    3) better kit lens 12-42mm vs 18-55mm
    Thank you for your time.

  6. Shawn Lund says:

    Many photographers have bragged about the e pen-mini 1 but I have had trouble with the focus….I seem to get many blurry photos when the subject is moving. This never happened when I was a Nikon user, does any one know what could be causing this?

  7. Redtuna says:

    Hi Ming, can you tell me what the thumb grip you use on the pictured e-pm1 is? I am looking for one for an e-pm2. You think thus might work with it?

    • It’s an old model of ThumbsUp with the lock screw to stop it from falling out because it doesn’t sit all the way in. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work…

  8. The photos especially which is taken with 45/1.8 are gorgeous. the colors are very well saturated. Are they taken as raw or jpeg? Do you use any filter with 45/1.8? Thanks:)

    • Thanks – always raw and edited via ACR. Out of camera jpegs are useless, I would never submit something like that to a client or call it finished work. No filters.

  9. Hi Ming.
    E-pl5 with the 14-42mm kit lens or RX100. Which in your opinion has better image quality?


  10. Hi Ming!
    Would you recommend an adapter for Leica M Lenses to E-PL5? And what would you recommend on the setting to use Leica M lenses.

    Kind Regards,


    • Avoid the wides – they don’t play nice with the microlenses it seems – otherwise, it’s fair game. The best (but most expensive) adaptors are the voigtlander and panasonic versions.

  11. I have the E-PM1. People have commented about “IBIS blurring” with it. I haven’t noticed it personally. Would the E-PM2 likely have that issue? Everything else I’m reading says if you don’t need the swivel screen then go for the E-PM2, but if the E-PL5 does better with IBIS, I’d be inclined to get it for that reason. Also, I assume my Lightroom 3.5 software won’t open the RAW files, I’d need to upgrade it to version 4?

    • The PM2 and PL5 have the same sensor/ shutter/ IBIS assembly as far as I know. It’s definitely better than the one on the PM1. So yes, the difference basically boils down to the tilt screen and a few extra buttons.

      You can download the adobe DNG converter for free which allows you to batch convert any supported camera raw files (including new models not directly supported by LR or PS) and then use those files.

      • PL5 does not have the IBIS of the OMD. OMD is 5 axis and PL5 is 3 axis. Works but the OMD is definitely better. Own both. Tested IBIS extensively.

        • I wasn’t referring to the OM-D – the PL5 and PM2 have the same 3-axis IBIS. The OMD uses a different system, and yes, it’s much better – perhaps the best system I’ve used including the lens-based systems.

  12. Nice review as always, Ming. I’m a Nikon DSLR user debating between this and the E-P3 as a camera to carry with me at all times. The E-PL5 clearly has better image quality, but the major deciding factor for me is the utility of the E-PL5 with manual focus (Nikon) lenses using the VF-2 finder. Does the E-PL5 has a similar focusing magnifier like the E-P3? If not, I’ll get a used E-P3 or wait till the E-P5. (Or I’ll just get the Sony RX100).

    • Thanks Tony. You can of course use the same EVFs with the same magnification feature as the E-P3…I can’t actually think of any reason why you would buy the E-P3 over the E-PL5 right now.

      • Thanks for your prompt response, Ming. That’s what I was hoping to hear. I just wanted to check they didn’t remove the magnification feature as a means of cost cutting. Now I need to decide between the E-PL5 and RX100. A nice choice indeed.

  13. drpankajshukla says:

    Thank u sir for your response !:)

  14. drpankajshukla says:

    I wish there was more to read about the LCD …and about how much was the image review representative of the image[exposure and color] actually captured …:)


    Dr Shukla

    • To some extent all camera LCDs are not that useful other than for judging compostiton and overexposure (using blinking highlights) because of both the limits of screen technology and the tonal flexibility available in a good raw file. The PL5 has a strange aspect ratio screen that means in 4:3 capture mode you actually get only about 2.5″ of screen real estate. This is far more annoying than any tonal or color shortcomings the screen might have – for the pet part, it’s reasonably accurate.

      • drpankajshukla says:

        Thank u for responding 🙂 so… may I deduce that the superior OLED image review screen is not very much better than the LCD on the EPL5 in as much judging the color and exposure of the captured image is concerned ….therefore the differencein price may go towards funding of better glass…?:):)

      • drpankajshukla says:

        correction of error in the above comment …kindly read name of mentioned cam as OMD-EM5

      • drpankajshukla says:

        I wish there was a edit button …kindly ignore the correction….many apologies offered for the above mess and confusion created by me …:(:(

      • hiram hamilton says:

        I just bought the E-PL5 and i am finding the color saturation of the LCD way too warm. There is a feature in this camera which allows you to adjust this but still not feeling like it very representative of real life colors. Any way to more more precisely adjust lcd coloring and brightness?

        • Not really – you shouldn’t be using the camera’s LCD to judge color accuracy anyway, it doesn’t have anywhere near the same gamut as a good calibrated monitor. It should’ve used to check framing, focus and maybe exposure – and that’s about it. Doesn’t matter much anyway if you shoot raw since you should be adjusting your white balance manually after capture anyway.

  15. Hi Ming Thein,

    I currently using E-PL3, I like the size, lightness and functions of this system, but I found it’s shutter sound is a bit loud for me to shoot in certain situation. I need advice whether among the m4/3 cameras which has the lowest shutter sound? At this moment i own several m4/3 lenses which i still satisfy with, so I intend just to upgrade the body instead of changing the whole system. Do OM-D and E-PL5’s shutters quieter ? What would you recommend?

    Teoh YC

  16. ed artiano says:

    My understanding is that the E-PL5 is capable of of 12 stop AEB. Can it do this with RAW files? Great review , Thanks

  17. Greetings, Apa Khabar.

    Quick question. Having the OMD and the PL5, I find that both clearly suffers from blurring of the shutter. When I set it with anti shock at 1/8th second, things sharpen up very nicely. Having done extensive tests, I’ve found no exception tot he case. And that applies also with the IBIS which often makes things worse than better when I hold very stably. (i.e. With my hip on against a pew at church or my back to a wall) I’m wondering if you have ever seen this. Curious that neither your nor Robin Wong seem to have made comments to this phenomena. Do you have a work around or have you simply never experienced it?


    • Khabar baik, terima kasih. 🙂

      I’ve experienced the blurring with the E-PM1, but not on the OM-D, and very seldom with the PL5. The OM-D gives me critically sharp images down to 1/2s(!) with wide lenses. Are you using electronic M43 lenses or legacy via non-electronic adaptors? If the latter, you need to set the focal length of the lens in use so the camera knows how much to move the sensor to compensate – if you don’t do this, or set the wrong focal length, then yes, you get plenty of blurring with IBIS on.

  18. Thanks for the great review, I got my E-PL5 just a week ago, still trying to get use to it, I was wondering which gradation setting do you use with this camera? thanks again for the great review.

    • I don’t bother changing it from standard because it doesn’t affect the RAW files.

      • Thanks so much for the reply, I’m also a “RAW ONLY” shooter, it’s nice knowing the setting doesn’t affect the RAW file at all, by the way ,I miss KL a whole lot, I was living in KL from ’88~90, I left KL while the twin tower is still under construction.

        • I think it might affect development if you use the sony software – presumably it tags some conversion settings like all other manufacturer raw converters – but nothing beyond that.

          The urban landscape of KL has changed massively in the last five years…let alone 20+.

  19. It’s Black Friday here in US/Canada, both PL5 and PM5 are on sale for USD$100 off, plus there is an option to add $49 for the 14-42mm R II and $99 for the 40-150mm, not to mention a free 8GB Toshiba FlashAir card ($90 value).

    If I manage to sell the bundle lenses (14-42 and 40-150), I pretty much would get a brand new Olympus for about $200-$300, so tempted to get a light travel cam/backup to my EM5 (originally was thinking of RX100), but can’t find the deciding factors to choose between PM2, PL5 and RX100, any thoughts?

  20. Hi Ming.

    Thanks for the review. It really seems to give your personal perspective to Now, I’m interested in the new PENs solely because of the OM-D image quality they offer in a ligand a relatively cheaper offering. Whether they really took out the anti-aliasing filter is really not all that important, as I know that Olympus used only very thin AA filters anyway, so even if they did, the difference in image quality, I believe, would be minimal. Now this is the worrying factor for me. Since E-PL5 and the E-PM2 is essenwith only a fewexterior differences, is it worth spending that extra $100 for the Lite? I won’t be needing the tilting screen as I can just move my body to frame from awkward angles. The mode dial is really not all that important to me, neither, as I shoot in Manual mode majority of the time, and for the few times I need a different mode, I can just use the menu system to change. I feel like the physical differences in the E-PL5 is there only for the sake of convenience rather than making it revolutionaryimprovements. Like I mentioned, if you learn to compromise for the lack of the physical features of the E-PM2, they are the same camera! What do you think, Ming? Is ‘convenience’ worth $100 or is Olympus trying to convince consumers that the extra money is going towards purchasing a ‘better’ camera?


    • Sounds like you’ve answered your own question – go for the E-PM2. The only real advantage I see is the swivel screen.

    • Well, Seungmin, I’m not so sure if the tilting screen is just a question of convenience. It enables you to shoot in the waistlevel-finder style and will result in pictures with a completely different perspective. Before I purchased my PL3, I also thought that a tilting screen is something that I don’t need – as I never used the swivel screns of my E-5, E-30 and the likes. But this tilting screen is a completely different affair. Indeed, I love it so much that I’m going to never again buy a camera that doesn’t offer the option of a display that can be tilted up and down directly.
      And in addition, it’s helpful if you are shooting kids or street as the kids/people feel far less observed and won’t start posing or looking annoyed.
      So, from my point of view: Yes, the tilting screen alone is worth the 100 bucks – and in combination with the touchscreen of my E-M5 or the PL5, it gets even better.

  21. About the epl5 where did you see deal with the standard zoom and free 45 1.8 lense and 15mm lense cap no such deal exist I live in uk iv tried park cameras Wex and olympus uk and they said the deal doesn’t exist you don’t get 45 lense with it only with omd

  22. It’s getting very tempting in the UK… If you buy the PL5 with kit zoom you also get a free 45mm f1.8 lens, a free 15mm f8 body cap, and a free 8Gb FlashAir card. Sell the kit zoom (it’s not worth much) and get a VF2 viewfinder (and maybe a 20mm panny) and you have a very compact system for a lot less than a standard EM-5 (to be fair, you get a free 45mm lens with the EM-5 too).

    • DonParrot says:

      Hi Rupert, could you please tell me if this is a ‘UK only’ offer or if they ship to the continent, too?

    • Wow, that’s a pretty sweet deal…but I suspect you may pay more for the whole thing in the first place.

      • Well, yes – we always get high pricing in the UK. Part of that is 20% VAT, but even so…

        The PL5 with 14-42 kit lens is about £600 (US $950). Please note that I made a mistake about the 45mm f1.8: it isn’t free (but it is with the EM-5), but has £250 off (i.e. it’s £99). On the PL5 with kit lens is about $700, and the 45mm f1.8 about $400, the 15mm f8 about $60 – so it’s still not such a bad deal. For the UK it’s bloody brilliant!

        • The E-PL5 with 14-50 and EVF is hovering around AUD1000, which is AUD300 cheaper than the equivalent spec OMD. So it’s just trying to figure out whether a permanent EVF and the 5 axis stabilisation is worth the extra 300. The PL5 is not in the shops here yet, so I’m going to wait and go have a play before I make the jump. The other problem is of course, a Canon 650D with a decent tele is AUD1500…..

          • I’d prefer to have the OM-D, personally – partially because it’ll be more compact than the E-PL5 + EVF, partially because of the stabilizer, partially because of the weather sealing, but mostly because the controls are a lot better – those two dials make a big difference.

  23. Thanks for a typically thoughtful and informative review. FWIW, it’s a 16MP sensor though, not a 15MP one.

  24. Hang on…where are people buying the OM-D for only 50 bucks more than an E-PL5 with EVF? I can get the E-PL5 + EVF for under a grand, for the OM-D with the same kit lens it’s 300 bucks more.

    Thanks heaps for the review, Ming! Info on this new model is so thin on the ground at the moment, it’s good to have some idea about it early on.

    • No problem. Try here – not sure if they ship to Australia (guessing from your email address), though.

      • Nah when I add it to my cart, it comes out to 1300, which is the local price. Also, I read somewhere that the E-PL5 has a different AF set up to the OM-D that makes it better at tracking moving objects. I know ‘action’ isn’t exactly your thing, but do you think the E-PL5 is workable for indoor/outdoor sports? If not, what would be a better option?

        • There are multiple buying options – try one of those? E-PL5 seems about the same for AF tracking to me, i.e. not anywhere close to a good PDAF system. Frankly, none of the mirrorless options are good for moving subjects – you have to either trust single AF to be fast enough, or prefocus even for moderately slowly moving street photography targets.

      • DonParrot says:

        Once again I have to contradict, here. I shoot sighthound races with my E-M5 and the M.Zuiko 75-300 and there are others who shoot BIF with the same combination. You just mustn’t use the video optimised Lumix lenses.

        • Well naturally it can’t be ‘impossible’ to shoot moving objects, but I get the felling that if the OM-D/E-PL5 can’t do it, then at this price nothing can. From the literature, I’m seeing both can shoot 3+fps AF’ing every frame, but on full burst it’s only taking the FP of the first frame. Have I got that right?

          • It doesn’t seem to make much difference to me. I really hope I’m doing something wrong, but I’ve resorted I trap focus most of the time. Shots that are easy to obtain with a DSLR are tough with the OM-D. I’ve got hope for the next generation though – maybe if we get one of those sensors with phase detect photo sites incorporated…

            • Can anyone make sense of this then?

              3D tracking AF with enhanced moving object tracking
              The imager AF used in Micro Four Thirds cameras features better recognition capability of the subject face/color/pattern than an AF based on phase difference detection. Exploiting this advantage to the utmost, the E-PL5 uses a 3D tracking AF with a movement prediction function that can track depth-direction movement, as well as a traditional tracking AF to track objects moving in the up, down, left and right direction, to improve the accuracy of AF on moving objects. In the C-AF (continuous AF) mode, sequential shooting at 3.6 fps is possible by tracking the AF across a wider image area than with digital SLR cameras based on phase difference AF. This system is also able to track objects that are hard for phase difference AF to follow, such as humans and their faces. Precise tracking of objects is possible in movie recording, as well as still photo shooting.

              • I’m sure in theory it’s possible, but I have no idea how the camera is going to distinguish between a moderately textured subject and a complex background without phase information. I didn’t notice any difference in practice between the two: they both really don’t C-AF very well.

                • Well, from the media release I cut’n’pasted it seems like Olympus knows it’s a problem and are doing something software-wise to improve it, but so far I’m not convinced quite that the E-PL5 is going to do what I want it to do without annoying the heck out of me. Given that, does anyone have any other recommendations of any other M43 cameras? My sports of choice are Mountain Biking and Badminton, if that helps. My budget initially for a kit is somewhere around the E-PL5/OM-D price bracket.

                  • At the moment, the OM-D is pretty much the top of the heap as far as focusing is concerned. Perhaps the upcoming GH3 will be better, but ten you’re going to take another price hike. How about a D7000?

                    • I was trying to avoid the whole DSLR thing, but yeah, there are a few budget ones in the same price range. Couldn’t do Nikon though because NOBODY in Australia buys Nikon. I’d be ostracised in a second!

                    • Haha really, why? Not that it matters – if everybody ignored me because I used a particular camera, I’d pick up several in a heartbeat. Invisibility and low-key-ness are aspects I actually value. No sense in attracting crowds of equipment masturbators…the real photographers won’t care what you use anyway.

        • Could be the problem. I’m using the 100-300 and it’s simply not a workable solution for moving targets – motorsport – even with the tricks of high refresh rate and high contrast enabled. It tends to hunt around the point a lot – so you might get one in focus, one back, one front and repeat.

      • DonParrot says:

        @ Ming: You’re absolutely right, C-AF only works with burst mode ‘L’ (up to 4.4 pics). In ‘H’, the AF systenm focuses just once and keeps the focus there.
        But believe me: you’d be amazed how much better the C-AF works with the M.Zuikos 75-300, 40-150 or 14-150.
        While the Lumix lenses are video optimised and AF clearly smoother and better than the M.Zuikos in this area, it’s just the other way round when it comes to stills. I even bought the Lumix 45-175 as I heard miracles about its blinding fast S-AF. and indee, in S-AF it was faster than any of my other tele zooms but in C-AF… the same old story, no chance at all. Combined with the E-M5, that is. So, at this point in time I’d say that the videographers who want to AF need Lumix lenses while those who want to shoot stills of action or sport are better off with the M.Zuikos. With the Zuikos – and a dose of practice due to the in the burst mode invisible AF field – shooting sports up to racing dogs with a proper keeper rate is absolutely possible.

        @Warwick. I don’t know. Since the update to firmware 1.2, the tracking of the E-M5 is usable indeed. But if it’s about objects moving really fast, it doesn’t deliver.
        For my own dogs (Chow Chows, Shar Pei and an Elo) it’s fast enough (I added the blurred pics at the end of several series deliberately to demonstrate at which distance the tracking stops to work proprerly) …

        Starsky Tracking 1

        …but when I tested it at the dog-race track, itr didn’t produce a single well focused picture.
        In these situations, using just the C-AF and keeping the AF field on your subject yourself is the better solutions and results in pics like these:

        Attacke  1 - 1600

        And your post is the first one I’ve read saying that the PL5 should have a better C-AF. I have my doubts, but even if this should be the case, it won’t be too helpful as other than the E-M5 (as far as I’m informed) , the EVF of the E-PL5 doesn’t produce a live-pic in the burst mode but only shows the last shot picture. What makes keeping the AF field on your subject extremely difficult.
        Therefore, I’d say: If you plan to use the C-AF regularly for shooting moving subjects, go for the E-M5M.

        • Seems like you’re losing 2/3 stop aperture with the 75-300, and possibly more in the T stop. The lens is also nearly twice the price of the 100-300. In my part of the world, that’s about the same price as a Nikon 300/4, which is eminently useable in DX crop mode to give 450/4 equivalent on the D800. Much better optics, too – as you would expect from a prime…

      • DonParrot says:

        Nearly twive the price! Here in Germany, I had to pay ‘just’ €150 more than for the Lumix 100-300. And yes, you are losing 2/3 stop (what do you mean with T stop, please? English isn’t my first language) but I don’t care too much as I usually am shooting my action outdoor, in good weather conditions. And on the other hand its lighter, more compact, offers a bigger focal range and – first of all, it is able to C-AF on the E-M5. So, this certainly was worth the extra of €150. Twice the price? I don’t know… But in consideration of the fact that my back problems made it impossible for me to keep on running around with a heavy DSLR bag and that C-AF is vital for me, I arguably would have bought it, nevertheless.
        Particularly as there is no alternative on the same performance level available on the market, at this point in time.

        • T stop = transmission. f stop is the physical aperture; if you’ve got lots of elements or poor coating, then a lot of light can be lost between the first and last elements because of internal reflections. I’ve got an article on that here. I don’t mind the compromise personally as I shoot mostly static subjects anyway, and very rarely use that focal length. Couldn’t justify the price, otherwise I’d probably have a Nikon 500/4 and a set of teleconverters.

      • DonParrot says:

        Thanks Ming – a truly enlightening link.

  25. I see from a french site that the E-PL5 has no anti-aliasing filter – and given the using the same sensor as the E-M5, it is no wonder the camera can deliver as good, if not better, image quality. Makes for a very tempting proposition indeed for those who want to avoid the “faux” DSLR form factor but want the image quality improvement.

    • I’m not sure about the no-AA filter comment – I was told by Olympus Malaysia that the sensor is identical (and I didn’t see any difference in the output, but then again I didn’t have ACR support so I couldn’t do an A-B comparison). It might well be the case – but begs the question, why didn’t Olympus make a bigger deal of it?

  26. Hi, Ming

    I’ve been enjoying your blog since stumbling across it a month or two ago; thanks so much for sharing. As one who is unfamiliar with m4/3 cameras, can you tell me about the shutter release sound on the E-PM1 (mini) vs. E-PL5 (and perhaps E-P2 mini)? A review I read elsewhere made a passing comment about the “relatively loud shutter sound” of the E-PL5–you’d think that would be something one could turn off?

    Anyway, I prefer quiet/silent shutters for discrete shooting as you may as well. Any thoughts on this point? Based on your reviews and my other research, I think I’m leaning towards an E-P1 or E-P2 to replace my Canon S90.

    Best regards,

    • Thanks Laurence. The shutters on the Pens are physical, so you can’t turn the noise off. The shutter curtain has to open and close to make the exposure. The E-PL5 is slightly louder (it runs at a higher frame rate, so the pitch is sharper).

      If you prefer silent shutters…have a look at the Sony RX100.

  27. Hi Ming,

    After reading your review I decided to keep my Pana 20mm f1.7 and EVF and wait for this baby to be available. My previous µ4/3 is the E-PL2 and I totally love the guy except the high ISO performance not to my liking (the highest I go around 1600 – 3200), poor dynamic range and also slow focusing.
    I know the Pana 20mm is a slow focusing lens, but any improvement on the E-PL5? What about the high ISO performance and dynamic range? Would love your opinion on that.
    At the same time I have a shutter cable release that works great with my E-PL2 (using it mostly in bulb mode), will this cable work with the E-PL5.

    Thank your your time Ming and have a great day 🙂

    • Still just as slow. High ISO and DR is the same as the OM-D, i.e. a stop better in both respects compared to the E-PL3/ E-PM1/ EP3. I haven’t used the E-PL2 to compare, sorry.

  28. Hi Ming,

    Thanks, good review, not too much technical gibberish, but plenty on how the camera actually feels to use. I find this kind of review much more helpful. I have an E-PL2, with the VF-2 which is on the camera almost constantly. I enjoy taking street shots, much like yours in the review and I like the unobtrusive look of the Pen cameras. I think an OM-D would look a bit too ‘pro’ or even ‘serious amateur’ for me. The quirky looks of the Pen with the EVF stuck on top work just fine.

    I was interested in your final comment about the replacement for the E-P3. I saw an interview with Oly, where they said the Pen was aimed at the Facebook generation, art filters, wireless social media connection… ugh! Not for me. I am very encouraged by the E-PL5, technically it seems like a great camera, and from your review it also seems well thought out and practical. My hope is an E-P5 will be along soon with the same technical excellence of the E-M5, but with a recognition that there are some serious Pen users out there who really don’t want the SLR form factor. A few more manual controls would help, and the clamour for a built in EVF must have reach Olympus by now, surely?

    • No problem. Yes, the regular Pens are aimed at the FB generation – with their art filters and wireless SD cards/ tablet transfer – but if you ignore that, they’re highly customizable cameras with great image quality and responsiveness – perfect for the off-duty pro.

      No idea about future stuff, but I was told that the OM-D is not the top of the heap yet…there may be another model above that.

      • Thanks for the reply. My view on the next Oly offerings (meerly from following the rumor sites):
        E-P5 – very likely they will fill that gap, but unclear on built in EVF or not.
        Pro OM-D – possible but currently tied up in the internal debate about the replacement for the E-5. Support for fast focussing on 43 glass. Should it be added the top end M43 cameras. Adding phase detect to the sensor would degrade image quality. So it is a tough call for Olympus, they don’t want to degrade image quality and they want to sell more M43 lenses, but the old 43 user base is still out there and they want a new body. Will there be a Pro OM-D and an E-7? Unlikely I think.

        • Makes sense and is in line with my sources. As for phase detection degrading image quality – seems unlikely given the Nikon 1 and recent Sony NEC implementations of it.

      • Maybe I’ll finally get the multi-spot metering I loved with my c 1983 OM-4!

  29. Jeff McCaffrey says:

    I found your site searching on the Nikon 28-300 review and continued reading about the Olympus E-PL5 review. Both are excellent; love your writing style. I’m considering a m4/3 camera to compliment my D7000 for video and portability. What’s your opinion of the Panasonic Lumix GH3 recently announced at Photokina? Their 12-35 & 35-100 F2.8 lenses would make a great combination for photo and video. Would you recommend the Olympus E-M5 or Panasonic GH3? Thank you in advance.

    • Thanks Jeff – haven’t used the GH3 so no opinion yet, but it does look big – similar in size to the D7000, actually. Defeats the point of portability somewhat. I like the OM-D quite a lot; it’s my choice when I’m not working but need more than the RX100.

  30. Excellent shots: Thanks for the review; still love my Epm1 and the VF2 ! Can’t wait to put the 15 lens cap on it ….


  31. I would never use the tilted screen to take pictures of myself like a teenager. But i have taken countless photos that way with my lovely wife countless times when we travel. Very useful when you just want a quick snap and not bother with a gorrilapod or something. So that is a pretty sweet feature comparing to my omd i think.

  32. Corina M. says:

    Other than the view finder, form factor, and price, how is this camera different than the omd 5?

    • Fewer features and manual controls. I would have thought that was obvious by the lack of buttons…

      • Corina M. says:

        Thank you for the reply! I am trying to decide what would work best for me. I currently use an old generation Canon 20D DSLR and am tired of the heft and bulkiness of it. So I’m looking at the m 4/3 camera and after reading lots of reviews, the OM-D quickly became my favorite. But the price point is making me wait…truth is, I’ll use it more than anything else for taking pictures of my family and fast moving kids. I care about quality, and I care about the fast auto-focus, in camera stabilization, and good performance in low light. When the E-PL5 was announced, I instantly wondered if this is going to give me all I need. It’s still pricey, though, and I don’t like the E-PL5 looks as much, so I am now torn on whether that extra $300 will really give me that much more. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

        • Compared to a 20D? Definitely. Image quality from the OM-D is on par with the best of the current DX cameras. For continuous AF – sadly not. But it does focus fast enough most of the time in that mode if you just press all the way and trust the camera…

  33. Diederik de Jongh says:

    I’ve been meaning to ask you ever since I first saw a photo of your epm1 what that clip-on thing is? It looks a brilliant idea to have the camera always at hand. Is that really what its for (to clip on belt/clothes) or is it something else? And if it is, does it not mess up the settings/screen?

    • It’s a ThumbsUp grip originally meant for a Leica M; I had it lying around from my M8 days and put it on because it helps handling; stops the camera from slipping out of your grip because there’s no thumb grip on the thing. Doesn’t interfere with the screen but it does block the record button (which is a good thing; I have it set up to one-touch delete anyway).

  34. Thank you for early and good review. i would like to ask about focusing in low light, because on my E-PM1 it was very weak spot, it could not autofocus in dim or low light, even with focus assist on it jut serched for focus point but coulN’t find, also the same problem was with E-PL3 and E-P3. Is this improved on the E-PL5/E-PM2 ?


  35. Lovely pictures, and a helpful review, as always.

    I love Olympus products, but I wonder if their financial problems are driving their pricing, what with separate, $50 lens hoods and such.
    The E-PL5 is available for pre-order in the US at $699. (So far it’s only available with the kit lens.) If you want an EVF, which for me is necessary, that’s another $250, for a total of $949.

    Only $50 less than the EM5. I’m not sure that makes sense for me; I think I’d rather have a second EM5 body.

    I know it’s sort of a waste of bandwidth to complain about pricing, but there’s a lot of competition out there in the $700 range, both from low-end dslrs, and high end point and shoots like the Sony RX100. I think this camera belongs somewhere around the $500 mark.

    I guess the market will decide.

    • Thanks Scott. You’re right, at that price you might as well buy another OM-D. But if you don’t need the EVF – and I know many OM-D users who hold the thing at arm’s length and use the back LCD – it’s not so bad.

  36. considering getting the elp5 just wanting to know does it have a level indicator if not is there a way to correct this in camera or in supplied software. do you think it is worth waiting for ep5. thank you

    • There’s a level indicator.

      • vic vas says:

        Hi Ming,

        Where is the level indicator in the settings. I am trying to find it and have been searching the manuel, but I can only find a grid.


        • Info button toggles the level display etc.

          • To the person who is asking about the level indicator I have got an epl5 and there isn’t one on it one of the reasons I bought it because got told there was and there isn’t one looked on the olymus website in the specifics it’s not listed so defiantly not

            • I don’t have a camera on me to check conclusively, but if it does have one, it’ll be in the same place as the OM-D and E-P5 – on one of the cycled ‘info’ button screens.

  37. Ming, thanks for a very good (and early!) review. I see you have not written much about ergonomics – the rear wheel, in particular, seems very small and uncomfortable to use. Could you share your thoughts? Thanks

  38. “Sadly, Olympus still hasn’t moved the strap lugs – they still dig into your hands in the normal shooting position. I can’t help but feel a narrow loop would be a much better solution for a camera of this size, as well as being silent during video recording.”

    Have you considered the Leica M strap for your E-PL5? It is quiet, quite durable, and can double as a wrist strap in a pinch. I use one on my D300 as it has the same lugs.


  39. Ming, could you post an image of the E-PL5 PEN Lite side by side with the OM-D, just to see how much “mini” it is?

    • A little thinner and minus the hump, but the rest is about the same size. I’ll sort one out later. Forgive me if I forget…1001 things to do at the moment with both client delivery, retouching and teaching.

    • Mercurio,
      you might want to look here:
      –> excellent site for that purpose.

      Btw. Ming: thanks for your great review – sites like yours are just what I need to make up my mind… Tend towards the pl5 now and spend the saved money on some decent glass… I’m really upgrading from a compact (Fuji x10) and can probably go without an in-built EVF – at least until I really get hooked on photography… Thanks and keep up the good work.

  40. Excellent review as always Ming…

    Looks like a perfect backup to the OM-D and travel cam if you already have a healthy dose of pancakes. I agree with the comment above of packaging this with the 15/8…

    Dave Tong

  41. I’ve had the e-pm1 since it came out and, other than the sometimes wonky IBIS, I love it. I’ve decided to keep it as a backup and buy another camera with better high ISO performance (the e-pm1’s isn’t too shabby, especially with fast primes, but I find I occasionally need better noise performance). How many stops would you say the e-pl5 is better than the e-pm1 in terms of noise performance? Better still, how does the e-pl5 compare to the Sony Nex (anyone that you may have tried) in this regard?

    Thanks for the great, informative review as always.

  42. Great review Ming Tein! Just wondering whether the penpal can still be used in this epl5?

  43. Thank you.
    Does it have stabilized live view like E-M5? (half-press shutter and IS turns on, this needs to be enabled in menu first)
    And does mechanical IBIS work during video shooting, or only software IS, like on previous pens? (Wobbly video with IS on would indicate software IS)

  44. hi i would to ask what about live view bulb mode from OM-D ? it is implemented on E-PL5 too ? or is it another advantage of high end model ?

  45. Will you write a review of the 15mm lenscap soon? Could you give us a short impression of its IQ?

    • It’s in the plan. I’m waiting for a final production version though, this one is an engineering sample. So far – center is sharp, edges not so much.

  46. I think I’ve found my next camera!

  47. I’ve always have soft spot for Olympus, after all my first SLR was the OM10. What are your thoughts on using the M.Zuiko Digital 60mm f2.8 on E-PL5 Pen Lite or E-PM2? Will it be money wisely spent? Fantastic review as always.

  48. Wow – that body cap lens is nice! Good photos as always, and thanks for the report Ming.

  49. Wow, you weren’t kidding about the 12mm. I see you have replaced it with the 15mm! 🙂

  50. Hey thanks for the review and photos, some very careful work there with colour and exposure.

    I also have and love the E-PM1, and was fully really to get the E-P5. But the E-PL5 will do nicely I am sure.

    I’m wondering about how you access shadow/highlight control on the camera. On the E-PM1 you’d select Exposure Adjustment (up arrow), then Info to get to the shadow adjustment, then Info again to get to highlight adjustment.

    Is it any better on the E-PL5?

  51. Hi, Ming.

    There has been conflicting information about whether there is an orientation sensor in these new cameras? It is a really annoying problem in the current E-PM1 and E-PL3 models. Did you have to manually rotate your “portrait” oriented photos while viewing, editing?

    • There’s an option to rotate/ display the correct orientation under the playback menu, so yes, it would appear that it has an orientation sensor.

  52. Thanks very much indeed, Ming. for such a timely report for these cameras.

    Which camera did you mean by “E-PM5”, the E-PL5 or the E-PM2? (There is no such camera called E-PM5 yet.)

  53. Hi Ming,

    thanks for your review.
    Seems as if I should replace my E-PL3 as second camera to my E-M5 or not.

    If I only knew if the C-AF works on the level of the E-M5. But as you don’t like the C-AF of the E-M5 anyway you arguably won’t be able to answer this question, will you?

    But there are two other things I’d like to know (if you checked them): Does the camera (display or EVF) show a live picture when used in burst mode ‘L’ – and remains the AF field visible when shooting in the burst mode?

    Thanks again for the great work



    • CAF on all of these things is pretty ropey. As for burst mode…it shows the last taken image, but no AF box.

    • Well, as you know I don’t share this opinion when it comes to the E-M5.
      It produces live pictures in the burst mode L, the blackout-phases can be reduced by switching the EVF-speed to high – and with the M.Zuiko 14-150 and 75-300, the C-AF is good enough for shooting sighthounds at work.
      I know, it still is far from being on the level of the sports monsters such as the D4 or the 7D – but from, my point of view, it’s absolutely usable.

  54. Thank you for your very illustrative review, as always your images are very good.
    As an owner of a OM-D, I will love to buy the Olympus E-PL5 PEN Lite as a second camera if it was sold as a “body only” or perhaps with the new 15mm f/8 but not with the kit lens. Maybe Olympus will have to think about. 🙂

    • Thanks. I’ve been trying to convince them about the 15/8 too…

    • Very Nice review and pictures. The pictures from the 45mm 1.8 really pop. When I got to the “Determination in the face of choices.” I could not believe you got that shallow depth of field with the lens cap. Then i saw it was the 45 mm and it all made sense… Did you use the EVF? Best Wishes – Eric


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