Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 £599.99

22nd Oct 2012 | 10:37

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5

We try out the new Olympus PEN E-PL5

TechRadar rating:

4.5 stars

Like:

Tilting screen; OM-D sensor; Large lens range;

Dislike:

Not an articulating screen;

Introduction

Olympus has refreshed its PEN lineup of compact system cameras, with two new introductions to sit in the middle and at the bottom of the lineup.

The Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 uses the same 16.1 million pixel image sensor as the highly regarded Olympus OM-D, released back in January 2012.

This camera therefore marries the best technologies of the Olympus OM-D with the compact and stylish bodies of the PEN series. The Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 remains slightly smaller than the Olympus PEN E-P3, which hasn't been upgraded (as yet). It's also larger than the camera sitting below it in the range, the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

Like the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 that it replaces, the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 has a tilting screen, but this 3-inch device is now touch-sensitive.

Unlike the Olympus OM-D, this touch sensitivity doesn't extend to an on-screen menu in semi-automatic and manual modes, but it can be used to set the autofocus point or trigger the shutter release. When using the camera in fully automatic mode, the touchscreen can be used to access the Live Guide menu.

The main difference between the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 and Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 is the grip and the tilting screen, with the latter having a fixed touchscreen.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

Another of the key specifications of the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 include FAST AF autofocusing, something which is already seen on the Olympus OM-D, along with in-body stabilisation.

Throughout its Micro Four Thirds range, Olympus has become well known for its love of digital art filters. On the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5, there are 12 different effects, including Cross Process and Pop Colour.

There are also new effects that haven't been seen on the PEN series before, taken from the Olympus OM-D. These art filters can be used on both stills photographs and when shooting HD video.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

It's been a big year for compact system cameras, with many key releases from the majority of camera manufacturers.

Olympus, along with Panasonic in its CSCs such as the Panasonic G5 and Panasonic Lumix GF5, uses the Micro Four Thirds format. This uses sensors that are smaller than the APS-C devices currently found on the Canon EOS M, Sony NEX-5R, Samsung NX1000, Fuji X-E1 and other CSCs.

There are both downsides and upsides to using a smaller sensor. These cameras tend to be a bit smaller than their APS-C counterparts, but there is always a risk that image quality will suffer.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

Olympus is keen to push the sensor technology of its latest cameras as being class leading and able to take on those with larger devices. We're keen to discover whether that's true in our lab tests.

Other interesting specifications of the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 include sensitivity capability up to ISO 25,600, Full HD video recording and 8fps shooting.

This is all available for a full price of £599.99/AU$749/US$699.95, including a kit lens, which is reasonable indeed.

Build quality and handling

As with previous PEN series cameras, Olympus has produced a camera that is very responsive and easy to use. Naturally, if you're already a PEN user, making the transition to the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 will be more or less seamless. It may also potentially be considered as a second or backup camera for Olympus OM-D users.

The grip on the front of the camera, combined with the thumb rest at the back, make this a great camera to hold, feeling secure in the hand even when shooting with one hand.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

One of the best new features of the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 is the addition of a capacitive touchscreen. This now means that you've got both the benefits of a tilting device and a touch device in one. It's a shame that the screen isn't fully articulating, since this would have been more flexible for shooting in portrait mode.

You can flip the screen for taking self-portraits, down for shooting from a high angle, or up for shooting from a low angle. It's a little awkward to use, especially since you need to pull the screen out quite far to flip it up to portrait mode, but it's handy to have once you get used to using it.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

Because the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5's touchscreen is capacitive, it's very responsive and easy to use. Selecting autofocus points via a touchscreen is so much more convenient than using the physical buttons, though you can of course do that as well if you prefer.

You can also have the camera focus and trigger the shutter release via the touchscreen, which is useful for capturing quick moments. These options can be toggled between, using an on-screen option.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

As with the Olympus PEN E-P3, you can reduce the size of the AF points to make it easier to select a small target, but the newer cameras enable you to do this however the AF point is selected, not just when you use the touchscreen.

On the Olympus OM-D, there's the option to access an on-screen quick menu that you can use to alter settings via the touchscreen. Sadly, this isn't available on the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5. If you want to make quick changes without delving into the full menu, you can access a reasonably extensive range of settings by pressing the OK button on the back of the camera.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

Like other PEN compact system cameras, there are fewer dials and direct access buttons than can be found on the Olympus OM-D, but there's still a fair amount of control that can be had via the body itself, especially when compared to the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2.

For a start, the dial on the top of the camera enables you to quickly switch between different modes, such as fully automatic, semi-automatic (aperture and shutter priority) and fully manual.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

The dial on the back of the camera can be used to set the aperture/shutter speed or exposure compensation, but first of all you need to hit the up button on the four way directional pad.

After using an OM-D for a while, it's a shame not to have quicker access to aperture priority, and it can seem a little bit fiddly having to push a button first to access this control. It's something you do get used to after a while though, so it's a relatively minor complaint.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

The Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5, as with other PEN compact system cameras, does not feature a built-in viewfinder. You can purchase one separately if you feel that you're missing one, although composing with the screen is really very good.

An in-built flash is also not included, but one that slots into the hotshoe at the top of the camera is included in the box, should you want to use one.

Performance

Because it uses the same sensor as the Olympus OM-D E-M5, we had extremely high hopes for the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5, and we're extremely pleased to say that the camera doesn't disappoint.

Images straight from the camera are extremely good. They contain lots of detail and the colours from it are rich and punchy without being overly vibrant.

There's a good range of shooting modes to enable you to get the best from the imaging sensor. For instance, should you find yourself shooting autumnal trees, you can opt to shoot in 'Vibrant' mode to emphasise colours, while you can shoot in 'Neutral' for other subjects, such as portraits.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

Autofocusing speeds are one of the key selling points of both Olympus and Panasonic cameras, with both companies claiming to have the fastest speeds. It's difficult to measure which is accurate, since we're talking about fractions of a second, but needless to say the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 is another very quick camera with impressive speeds that enable you to capture the action as it happens.

As is common with contrast detection systems such as the one seen in the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5, autofocus speeds drop a little in lower light conditions, but it's still pretty quick.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

We found with the Olympus OM-D that the level of detail captured, especially in good light and at low sensitivity settings, was outstanding. And we've found the same with the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5, since it uses the same sensor.

JPEGs straight from the camera are very sharp indeed, while you can apply your own sharpening to raw format files if you choose to capture them.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

In the majority of situations, automatic white balance did a good job of accurately assessing the situation to produce spot-on colours. It struggled ever so slightly with some indoor conditions when under artificial light, but changing the white balance mode is easy and soon sorts this particular problem out if you feel the results aren't accurate enough.

When the Olympus OM-D was launched, Olympus was keen to point out the improvements it had made both to the sensor and to high sensitivity performance. Here, because the technical details are the same, we can report a very similar low-light performance.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

Image quality does to start to drop off from about ISO 1600, but some images captured all the way up to around ISO 10,000 are useable when publishing online or printing at relatively small sizes. Of course it's unlikely that those high speeds will be used in everyday situations, and noise control at ISO 1600 - the probable top end of usual speeds - is more than acceptable.

Olympus has become well known for its wide array of art filters, and the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 has the most available on any Olympus camera to date. It takes all of those that are available on the Olympus OM-D and adds a new Watercolour filter.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

It goes without saying that some of the filters will be more popular than others, depending on personal preference. However, the Cross Process, Pinhole and Dramatic Tone filters are particular favourites.

One of the best things about the PEN/OM-D series is that the art filters can be applied when shooting in semi-automatic and manual modes, making sure that you retain full control over shooting parameters.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

It's also useful that you can shoot images in both raw format and JPEG when using filters, meaning that should you decide you'd prefer the image without the filter later on, you can remove it in post-production, or - using Olympus's own software - by swapping them around.

Although the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 doesn't include inbuilt Wi-Fi, it is compatible with Toshiba's new FlashAir Wireless LAN SDHC cards, which will come packaged in the box as a fantastic free extra.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

This enables you to transfer images to a smartphone or tablet via a free downloadable app without having to connect to the internet - the card itself creates the network.

It's a shame that you can't control the camera wirelessly using this, but it is a handy and quick solution to getting your images onto your phone for sharing instantly to social networks. If this is something you'll want to do, one recommendation is to shoot in raw format with low resolution JPEGs, which will be quicker to transfer across. Perhaps Olympus can work on releasing a remote control app in the future.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5, we've shot our resolution chart.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 200 the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 is capable of resolving up to around 24 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

JPEG

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

ISO 200, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

ISO 400, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

ISO 800, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

ISO 1600, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

ISO 3200, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

ISO 6400, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

ISO 12800, score: 12 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

ISO 25600, score: 10 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw

Olympus PEN E-PL5 review

ISO 200, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN E-PL5 review

ISO 400, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN E-PL5 review

ISO 800, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN E-PL5 review

ISO 1600, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN E-PL5 review

ISO 3200, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN E-PL5 review

ISO 6400, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN E-PL5 review

ISO 12800, score: 12 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN E-PL5 review

ISO 25600, score: 10 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

Here we compare the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 with the Sony NEX-5R, Panasonic GF5 and Olympus PEN E-PL2.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

This graph shows that the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5's JPEG files have a weaker signal to noise ratio than those from the Sony NEX-5R. They produce similar results to those from the Panasonic GF5 and Olympus PEN E-PL2 at lower sensitivities, but after ISO 800 the Olympus E-PL5 beats both cameras.

Raw signal to noise ratio

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 have a very similar signal to noise ratio to those from the Sony NEX-5R, from sensitivities of ISO 200-3200, after which the Olympus surges ahead. The Olympus E-PL5 beats the Panasonic GF5 and Olympus PEN E-PL2's results at every setting.

JPEG dynamic range

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

JPEG results for dynamic range are more spread out than those for signal to noise ratio, with the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5's images showing a more impressive ratio than those from the Sony NEX-5R, Panasonic GF5 andOlympus PEN E-PL2.

Raw dynamic range

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

The Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5's TIFF images (after conversion from raw) again have a similar signal to noise ratio to those from the Sony NEX-5R, with the two cameras staying within a hair's width of each other at every sensitivity setting. The Panasonic GF5 is the next most impressive performer, but is a long way off the other two cameras, and the Olympus PEN E-PL2 is the weakest performer here.

Sample images

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Locking onto a subject with the Olympus PEN E-PL5 is quick and easy, and also proving accurate in the majority of cases.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

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Colour reproduction from the E-PL5 is accurate, without being overly bright and punchy.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

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Thanks to the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5's large sensor, you can achieve pleasing shallow depth of field effects.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

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Colour rendition in Natural setting is good, with colours accurate and bright, without being overly punchy.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

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There are several shooting options you can choose from - for instance, you could use Vivid when shooting an autumnal scene to really make colours pop.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

A wide variety of lenses are now available for Micro Four Thirds cameras, including those made for Panasonic cameras, since they share the format. This was shot with an Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

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Another example of the lens range available for these type of cameras, this was shot with an ultra wide angle Panasonic 7-14mm lens.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

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Lots of detail is captured by the Olympus PEN E-PL5's sensor - which is the same as that found in the critically acclaimed Olympus OM-D.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Images shot with art filters can be shot in raw format, meaning you can remove the filter using Olympus's own software - or, if you prefer, you can swap the filter for a different one.

Art filters

Olympus is well known for its love affair with the digital filter. The new PENs have a wide range of different options, some of which are shown below. One handy feature of the PEN is that you can Art Bracket, meaning the several versions of the same shot can be taken, each with a different filter effect applied.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

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Pop Art

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

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Soft Focus

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

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Pale and Light Colour

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

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Light Tone

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

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Grainy Film

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

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Pin Hole

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

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Diorama (Miniature)

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

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Cross Process

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

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Gentle Sepia

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

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Dramatic Tone

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

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Key Line

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

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Watercolour

Sensitivity and noise

JPEG

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

Full ISO 200 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 200

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 400

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 800

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 1600

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 3200

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 6400

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 12800

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 25600

Raw

Olympus PEN E-PL5 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 200

Olympus PEN E-PL5 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 400

Olympus PEN E-PL5 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 800

Olympus PEN E-PL5 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 1600

Olympus PEN E-PL5 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 3200

Olympus PEN E-PL5 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 6400

Olympus PEN E-PL5 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 12800

Olympus PEN E-PL5 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 25600

Verdict

When the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 was announced, we were very excited about getting it in to test it properly. The Olympus OM-D was a very good camera, and to see the same technology in a smaller and lighter body is very exciting.

Like with most of the other Olympus cameras, its retro style might not appeal to everyone, but its small size and stylish finish should see it grab the imagination of many users.

Although it doesn't have an EVF, there's a lot to love about this camera, and this helps to keep the ultra-small size.

We liked

The excellent screen, which is both tiltable and touch-sensitive, makes this a fantastically flexible option for shooting in all number of situations, quickly and easily.

We disliked

It's a shame that you can't do more with the Wireless LAN FlashAir cards, such as control the camera remotely, but hopefully this is something that can be worked on in the future.

Final verdict

The incredibly wide range of compatible Micro Four Thirds lenses now available on the market - aside from Olympus' own optics, don't forget there's also Panasonic lenses and third party manufacturers such as Sigma producing lenses - make any camera released by Panasonic or Olympus an extremely attractive proposition.

At £599.99/AU$749/US$699.95, including the 14-42mm kit lens, this is a very, very good price. You're basically getting the best parts of the Olympus OM-D for roughly half the price. If you can live without an electronic viewfinder built into the body, and some of the extra dials, this is probably the better option.

Olympus has once again delivered a fantastic camera in the shape of the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5.

This is a company that continues to produce cameras that appeal to a wide variety of consumers. And by marrying the best technologies from the Olympus OM-D with the stylish bodies of the PEN series, Olympus has a potential big seller on its hands here.

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