Preview: Olympus Pen E-P5

Launch SRP ▼

Design & Handling

 

Design & Handling

Olympus says the Pen E-P5's new look is inspired by the classic Pen F, and we can certainly see the family resemblance. The company also has some rather bold words as to why this is the first Micro Four Thirds Pen model to actually have the word 'Pen' on the camera body (the rest just said 'Olympus'):

That logo is the crown of the Olympus Pen brand, symbolizing that this is the flagship model for which advances have been made that are only appropriate for this brand, and has provided new value as an innovation on cameras from the age of film.

Here's where we preface everything by telling you the E-P5 in our preview is a prototype model, and as such the final production model is still subject to change. Now, let's move on.

The first impression you'll get when you pick up the E-P5 is how dense it feels. The E-P5 is nearly 50g more than the E-P3, and feels heavy in the hands. The weight isn't cumbersome but it is substantial. The E-P5 is nearly the same weight as the E-M5, but that camera had a substantial thumb-rest, the E-P5 not so much. 

But the E-P5's controls feel more luxurious than the E-M5's. One complaint we had with the latter camera was how cramped the controls were, but on the E-P5 the controls are well-spaced with room to breath. In fact, when compared with the preceding Pen E-P3, every control on the E-P5 feels much better. The Power button is gone, replaced by a better-feeling switch. The tall control dial, which we never really liked, has been replaced by two infinitely better control dials, one on the front of the camera and one on the back. Just like on the E-M5, you can now handle this little beauty like a DSLR camera...with a little extra twist.

Olympus calls the new twin controls the "2x2 Dial Controls", because of the new Function lever on the back. By switching the lever from 1 to 2, you switch around the functions of the two control dials. For example, right now our E-P5's control dials are dictating shutter speed and aperture value in Manual mode. When we flip the Function lever, the dials now control ISO and white balance settings. It's clever and frees up the Function button for another value other than ISO and white balance.

Now the Function lever and 2x2 Dial Controls aren't open to much customization. There are four 'modes' you can choose from within the menu, which lets you choose what happens when you flip the lever to point 1 or 2. The first two just flip around which dial, the front or back, takes which command, the third mode switches to movie recording immediately and the fourth changes AF mode. Our preview set didn't have it all working, so we'll need to get back to that. Suffice to say we love the new 2x2 control dials, which put settings right at your fingertips.

A paradox about the close similarities between the E-P5 and the E-M5 is how the E-P5 actually does some things better than the E-M5. Case in point, the 3" tilting monitor with touch-control. The screen is higher resolution than the E-M5's, with a resolution of 1 million dots compared to the E-M5's 610k dots. It makes a difference, the live preview is stunning. 

One more thing the E-P5 does better than the E-M5 is that it actually comes with focus peaking, the E-M5 does not. Focus peaking helps to make manual focusing that much easier by highlighting the areas in focus, and should come in useful with the Micro Four Thirds manual lenses like the bright Voigtländers. 

Sadly, something the E-P5 and the E-M5 have in common with are the awkwardly placed strap lugs, which get in the way of your shooting finger every time you want to press the shutter or rotate the front control dial. It's a disappointing misstep at the end of a series of great steps forward, and it's hard to imagine why the designers at Olympus missed this one, especially since the rest of the camera seems so well thought-out and cared over.

Before we end this preview, we want to mention once more the E-P5's implementation of auto-focus point selection, which is without doubt the best on the digital camera market today, barring DSLR full-frame cameras. To go into the AF point selection grid, you simply press left on the d-pad. To go back into Multi-AF mode, you simply bring the AF point outside of the grid. It's the fastest and most elegant way we've seen for you to get your focus point on the right subject, and Olympus deserves to get extra kudos for it once again.

Oh, and did we mention the camera is gorgeous? The Pen E-P5 is easily one of the most charismatic mirrorless system cameras on the market today, and one of the most beautiful digital cameras in recent memory. Like its namesake the Pen F, the Pen E-P5 feels like something you want to keep for a long, long time. Check in again for our complete review once we get our paws on a production unit.

9.0
Performance
9
Design
9
Features
9
User-Friendliness
8
Value
8.5
The Good
Beautiful design
Twin control dials instead of one
Easy to switch AF points
Leading-class 5-axis IS
Impeccable image quality
The Bad
Strap lugs get in way of fingers
UI not intuitive in some places
Menu doesn't respond to touch
White balance leans towards yellow