Olympus E-PL5 Review: Top-Notch Guts in an Awkward BodyS

Olympus has seen great success in the mirrorless camera world with its PEN series. The line's latest iteration is the E-PL5, a micro 4/3 camera that shares a few details with its more expensive brother, the OMD-EM5. It shoots beautifully—what's the catch?

What Is It?

A 16 MP micro-4/3 mirrorless camera that costs $700 with a kit lens, and $650 body only.

Who's It For?

People who want a fairly compact body capable of the best images a 4/3 sensor can shoot.

Design

The PL5 comes in black, silver, or white. From the front, it is gorgeous and simple. But the rear reveals an awkward bulkiness that sort of ruins the show.

Using It

Snapping pics is a joy. The autofocus system (the same found on the lauded OMD-EM5) is lightning fast. Once you get a hang of the menus, they are easy enough to navigate, but the experience in general is hampered by small, squishy buttons and a tiny rear dial.

The optional 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens hinders the PL5's usability. The lens barrel must be manually unlocked from its closed position, severely slowing down the shooting experience. Then, it remains extended at every focal length. It's unsightly, and it's hard to intuitively know if your lens is zoomed in or out.

Olympus E-PL5 Review: Top-Notch Guts in an Awkward BodyS

Olympus E-PL5 Review: Top-Notch Guts in an Awkward BodyS

The Best Part

This is the best image quality, low light performance, and focusing to be found on a micro 4/3 camera. It shares the same 16 MP sensor as the OMD-EM5. This thing rocks serious top-notch guts. Just look at the full-size image samples (all images taken with the 14-42mm kit lens).

Tragic Flaw

The stupid articulating display. It sits on a series of hinged arms that are overly complex and add a truly annoying bulk to the rear of the camera, making many of the buttons difficult to press naturally.

Olympus E-PL5 Review: Top-Notch Guts in an Awkward BodyS

This Is Weird...

I mentioned the squishy buttons already, but the video record button is really awful. You don't even know if you've pressed it half the time.

Olympus E-PL5 Review: Top-Notch Guts in an Awkward BodyS

Olympus E-PL5 Review: Top-Notch Guts in an Awkward BodyS

Olympus E-PL5 Review: Top-Notch Guts in an Awkward BodyS

Test Notes

  • With this articulating display, Olympus seems like it capitulated to the market of tweens taking "selfies" (even though those customers aren't buying high-end mirrorless cameras).
  • Despite the bulky display, the overall footprint is on the small side due to the lack of an electronic viewfinder (an accessory you can purchase) and a built-in flash (it comes with an small external flash).
  • As much as we praise the image quality, it can be slightly outshined by larger sensors, such as those found on Sony NEX cams, some Fuji X cams, and Canon's new EOS-M.
  • The display is a touch-screen, but we found it clunky to use, and much preferred sticking to the menus to change settings.
  • Zoom lenses are not a strength of the micro 4/3 system. The Olympus primes are more expensive, but very good, and will make the PL5 shine.
  • Video mode is an afterthought. The quality isn't great, and you can't adjust settings other than general exposure compensation.
  • It includes a thin grip that mounts to the side of the lens. Handling is better with the grip on.
  • Burst mode can achieve a hearty 8 fps, though without continuous auto-focus.

Should You Buy It?

The saving grace for this camera is the stellar image quality and focus system. If you can get over general usability issues and want a top-notch compact performer for your micro 4/3 lenses, the PL5 is a good choice.

However, keep a few things in mind. The cheaper E-PM2 ($599 w/ lens) is essentially the same camera, but without the bulky hinged display and mode dial. Also, if you are just venturing into the mirrorless world and want a better overall experience, consider the Sony NEX-5R. It has a larger sensor and better ergonomics.


Olympus E-PL5
• Sensor: 16.1 MP Four Thirds CMOS
• ISO Range: 200-1600 (200-12,800 expanded)
• Lens Mount: Micro 4/3
• Display: 3" Tilting 460,000 dot touch-screen
• Video: 1920 x 1080 @ 30 fps only
• Price: $699 with 14-42mm f.3.5-5.6 kit lens, $649 body only
Gizrank: 3.0