The Pen E-PL5 is Olympus' latest venture into the world of interchangeable lens compacts, bringing a few minor changes on the outside and a major shake-up on the inside. In fact, the E-PL5 has been treated to the same 16-Megapixel sensor as the OM-D E-M5! So could this latest mid-range Pen PL camera get one up on Olympus' top-end Pen P-series models? Time to find out.
On the outside, the E-PL5 is a fairly minor update of the E-PL3. Both cameras have the same basic control layout, but this year Olympus has added a removable grip handle that can be unscrewed from the camera body. This makes the E-PL5 easier to keep hold of than the E-PL3.
The screen is bright enough for use in sunny conditions or for shooting strongly backlit scenes. The onscreen image is nicely contrasted but colour fidelity isn't great. This 460,000-dot LCD still has a vertical-tilt function but has now gained touchscreen functionality, so you can do things like select a focus zone by tapping the screen or access settings in iAuto, Art and Scene modes. Note that you still have to use the physical controls to change settings in the P, A, S and M modes.
This is one pretty speedy camera to use! Then again, the E-PL5 does use the same sensor as the OM-D E-M5, and the E-PL3 was already a very responsive camera. Start-up remains well under a second and the autofocus works very quickly at all focal lengths. The E-PL5 is no match for the OM-D in low light, though. That said, this could be due to the fact that we tested the cameras with different lenses (we tested the OM-D with the 12-50 mm lens).
The E-PL5 is based on the same electronics as the Olympus OM-D, whose 16-Megapixel sensor has already been proven more than capable of keeping noise in check up to 3200 ISO or even 6400 ISO.
And the results of our ISO tests (below) speak for themselves. The E-PL5 takes shots which, like the OM-D, hold up very well, with hardly any visible noise or smoothing up to 3200 ISO. Upwards of 6400 ISO, however, even a small format print (4" x 6" / 11 x 15 cm) will be only just passable in quality.
The 14-42 mm kit lens supplied here has already been tried and tested elsewhere. It's a decent enough piece of kit that takes respectable-quality shots. Sharpness levels are good in the centre of the frame at all focal lengths. The edges of the frame are a little less sharp at full aperture (things get more consistent at f/5.6) and there are some traces of chromatic aberration at wide-angle. That's nothing too serious, though, we're nit-picking more than anything.
Note that the E-PL5 sensor doesn't use the same stabilisation system as the O-MD. This camera instead inherits the old system from previous models. To get clear, sharp shots in our Barbie test, we had to push up to 1/13 ths, which is OK, but nothing more.
The E-PL5 records 1920 x 1080 HD video at 30 fps as a .MOV file with H.264 encoding. The image is very highly contrasted and tends to flood darker parts of the picture and overexpose brighter, lighter zones (this was very visible on our "train set" video test scene). Sound is recorded in stereo, ensuring a bare minimum when it comes to quality.
One problem we already noticed in the E-PL3 is that taking a photo while filming causes video recording to momentarily cut out, starting up again just after taking the shot. As well as chopping up your films, this in turn increases the number of video files stored on the memory card.