Olympus Pen Lite E-PL5

Olympus has churned out a very nice camera in the form of the Pen Lite E-PL5, which will satisfy many photographers looking for an upgrade from their compact camera or smartphone.

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Lexy spent her formative years taking a lot of photos and dreaming in technicolour. Nothing much has changed now she's covering all things photography related for CNET.

First impressions

While much of the focus on Olympus in 2012 has been thanks to the success of the OM-D, it's time for the little Pen cameras to take some of the limelight. The Pen Lite E-PL5 succeeds the earlier Lite E-PL3, and brings a range of improvements and an overhauled design.

Design and features

On the outside, it's slimmer and more lightweight than the previous Lite model. The 3-inch gapless LCD screen can flip up 170 degrees to help take self-portraits, plus it's a touchscreen. Shooting options like touch to focus and touch shutter are available to help lure smartphone owners over to the world of interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs).

To compensate for the rather slippery feel that beleaguered the older E-PL3, this camera now comes with a detachable front grip. It screws into position on the front to make holding the camera a little more sturdy.

Rather than living in the shadow of the OM-D, the E-PL5 and the Pen Mini E-PM2 both take the same 16-megapixel Live MOS sensor and image processor from their older sibling. This means that theoretically, image quality should be exactly the same, especially if you use the same sort of lenses that would normally accompany the OM-D.

That said, the E-PL5 comes with the standard Pen 14-42mm kit lens, which is not as impressive as the variants found accompanying the OM-D straight out of the box.

The E-PL5 doesn't come with a pop-up flash, though you are provided with a small unit that sits in the hotshoe of the camera for extra light. Just underneath the hotshoe sits an accessory port for attaching a range of Olympus accessories, like electronic viewfinders and macro arm lights.

At the top of the camera is a mode dial that provides access to full PASM control. The E-PL5 also comes with the requisite Olympus art filters, totalling 12.

Some of the art filters available on the E-PL5 include grainy film, cross-process, dramatic tone and watercolour.
(Credit: CBSi)

Flash Air

Connectivity hasn't been left behind in the Pen range, as the E-PL5 is compatible with Toshiba's Flash Air cards. These SDHC cards come with 8GB of storage space, as well as a built-in wireless transmitter — much like an Eye-Fi card. Using a dedicated Android or iOS app called Olympus Image Share, users can view images straight from the card via Wi-Fi, and transfer them to their phone or tablet device, and can also send them out to social-media sites.

Within the camera menu, select "Connect to smartphone" to set up the connection. Then choose an SSID name as well as a password, save these values and start a private connection from the menu. The camera should then be discoverable from your mobile device, and you can start the app.

From here, the app allows you to view images on the card (they are streamed across very quickly for small previews), and also to transfer full-resolution photos to the device. The app lets you apply a range of the Olympus art filters to images stored on your smartphone, whether they have been taken on the camera or not.

At the time of writing, Olympus is offering a Flash Air card free for photographers who purchase an eligible Pen camera, normally valued at AU$129. If you miss out on the free promotion, or just don't want to spend that much money on a memory card, the E-PL5 is also compatible with the (slightly cheaper) Eye-Fi card.

Compared to

Sony NEX F3 Panasonic Lumix GF5 Canon EOS M Olympus E-PL5
16.1-megapixel Exmor R CMOS sensor (APS-C) 12.1-megapixel Live MOS sensor (Four Thirds) 18-megapixel CMOS sensor (APS-C) 16-megapixel Live MOS sensor (Four Thirds)
3-inch, 921,600-dot flip-up LCD 3-inch, 920,000-dot touchscreen LCD 3-inch, 1.04-million dot touchscreen LCD 3-inch, 460,000-dot flip-up, touchscreen LCD
25-area AF 23-area AF 31-area AF 35-area AF
Full HD video (AVCHD/MP4, 1080i) Full HD video (AVCHD/MP4, 1080i) Full HD video (MPEG-4, 1080p) Full HD video (MPEG-4, 1080i)


General shooting metrics (in seconds)

  • Start-up to first shot
  • JPEG shot-to-shot time
  • RAW shot-to-shot time
  • Shutter lag
    Olympus Pen Lite E-PL5
    Sony NEX-F3
    Panasonic Lumix GF5

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Continuous shooting speed (in frames per second)

  • 7
    Olympus Pen Lite E-PL5
  • 5.5
    Sony NEX-F3
  • 4.8
    Panasonic Lumix GF5

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Autofocus performance is incredibly quick, with the camera locking on to targets in an efficient manner — though it's not as speedy as the Panasonic GF5. The camera holds its own, even when it comes to low-light focusing using the kit lens.

The E-PL5 has a number of continuous shooting modes, with the fastest being able to hit 7 frames per second at full-resolution JPEG. It does, however, slow down considerably once it hits 14 shots in a row. When shooting a burst of RAW+JPEG shots, the camera takes approximately 10 seconds to clear the buffer and process the shots. We measured this using the provided Flash Air card (class 6 8GB), but performance may improve with a class 10 card.

Olympus rates the battery at 360 shots.

Image quality

Photos from the E-PL5 are impressive, though not as "wow" inducing as those from the OM-D. We put this down to the kit lenses differing quite substantially, as when we paired the excellent 60mm f/2.8 macro lens with the camera, it yielded superior results.

Exposures are accurate, and the E-PL5 does not show any real tendency to under- or over-expose images when using automatic exposure modes. Colours are very good, with only a slight amount of excessive saturation when shooting on the natural colour mode and using automatic settings.

A comparison of the RAW and JPEG images produced by the E-PL5 (exposure: 1/400, f/9, ISO 800). As you can see, the files are very similar, especially when viewed at 100 per cent. The RAW image was processed with the Olympus Viewer 2 software (provided in the box).
(Credit: CBSi)

Noise control is good on the E-PL5. Up to ISO 800, images stay reasonably clean. One thing to note is that the screen is not entirely colour accurate; it is a little cool in comparison to the actual scene.

The E-PL5 records in 1080i at 30 frames per second in MPEG-4/H.264. There is also an option for 720p and VGA filming, also at 30fps. Video quality is decent for a camera of this class, though it is not as impressive as that from the OM-D. The built-in microphone does pick up quite a lot of wind noise, as you can hear in the video below, even with the wind filter activated.

Image samples

Exposure: 1/200, f/5, ISO 200

Exposure: 1/400, f/8, ISO 200

Exposure: 1/125, f/5.6, ISO 200

Exposure: 1/320, f/9, ISO 200

(Credit: CBSi)


Not quite ready for the might of an OM-D? Olympus has churned out a very nice camera in the form of the Pen Lite E-PL5, which will satisfy many photographers looking for an upgrade from their compact camera or smartphone.

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