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First Impressions: Olympus EP5

by Chris Gampat on 05/10/2013

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It’s been rumored for a while now, and guess what–it appears that the rumors were true. When I walked into my meeting with Olympus and saw the fabled EP5, I immediately asked them to take my credit card away from me. Today’s announcement marks the upgrade to the top tier of the Olympus Pen line of cameras. And in some ways it is outdoing its bigger brother, the Olympus OMD EM5. This is very typical of Olympus, though, as they often tend to cannibalize their own products very quickly and in different ways.

With that said though, there are some differentiating factors between this and the current king: the OMD.

Editor’s Note: The EP5 is available body only for $999.99 in black, silver and white or with the 17mm f1.8 and new VF-4 viewfinder for $1,449.00 in black or silver.

Tech Specs

- 16.1MP LiveMOS sensor (same as OMD)

- Aluminum body with very few external screws

- 5 way stabilization

- 9fps shooting

- Native ISO range from 200-5000

- 1.04MP LCD Screen

- Focus Peaking (finally!)

- No weather sealing

- Dual exposure control dials

- Custom setting switch on the back of the camera

- Built in Wi-Fi transmission

- 50% less lag in the LCD screen with 30% less with the EVF

- Faster focusing in S-AF with older Four Thirds lenses, and faster focusing with all older Micro Four Thirds lenses.

Ergonomics

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Olympus’s new Pen camera has an extremely retro appeal to its design. For the first time, the company is actually putting the Olympus Pen branding on the front and looking even more to their history for even extra aesthetic appeal. The camera will come in black, white and silver. And there are quite a few ergonomic changes and upgrades from the EP3.

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First off, when you look at the front you’ll notice some familiar designs and some minor differences. We still have the AF assist bulb and the lens release on the right side. But the grip is no longer interchangeable. The reason for this is because this is where the WiFi transmitter for the camera is placed. Metal tends to damper reception, so they wanted to keep it down as much as they could.

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The top control deck is where we see most photographers using this camera spending most of their time. Here you’ll find dual control dials, an on/off switch (in a totally newly re-designed way), the familiar mode dial, and the familiar custom function button. This is all next to the hot shoe–which houses the brand new VF4 EVF also announced today.

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And from here, we travel to the back of the camera. On the top left area of the rear, you’ll find a pop-up flash trigger. But then back to the right rear of the camera, you’ll spot lots of controls–significantly more than before. There is a video record button with a switch around it to program the dual control dials to whatever you may want them to be.

Below this is the magnify button for magnifying your images, and this also used to be the manual focus assist. However, now Olympus is incorporating focus peaking into their cameras–and that’s even more exciting.

Around this are the menu, info, trash, and playback buttons that we’re all familiar with. Then there is the four way control button set. It is no longer a dial since there are two others.

During our time with the camera though, we would have loved for the back dial to have stayed in place and controlled the ISO settings.

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The back LCD of the camera also flips up. Unlike the OMD EM5, this screen incorporates three major design upgrades. First off, the issue with the center screw that OMD owners had and that caused a recall is gone. There is also now a tab on the left of the screen to make it easier to pull the screen out. And finally, it has a big resolution bump–and it’s a bright and beautiful display.

Build Quality

This is one darned solid camera. We really wish that they incorporated a viewfinder into the design and added in a bit of weather sealing to make it a partner to the OMD. But overall, we really can’t complain about just how solid this camera felt. It seemed a bit heftier than my OMD.

Autofocusing

Olympus’s FAST AF system has once again received a bump in performance and the EP5 now has the fastest focusing of anything out there that we’ve ever seen. And while the focusing was very speedy, it didn’t seem as smart. On that front, the Fujifilm X100s still has a little bit of an advantage over the EP5.

Ease of Use

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If you’re familiar with the Pen series of cameras or the OMD, you won’t have much of an issue navigating the EP5. There are slightly new upgrades such as the WiFi functionality added in, being able to choose the different peaking settings, and other additions such as a slight boost to the Live Bulb feature.

Image Quality

We weren’t allowed to put a card in the camera to take sample images because this was a pre-production sample. But if they’re anything like the OMD (since it has the same sensor) we’re positive that with the creme de la creme of the Micro Four Thirds glass that this camera will be rockin’.

First Impressions

After walking out of the meeting, I really, really wanted one. The EP5 is a sexy beast of machinery and silicon. It has a ton of features that I wish that the OMD had like focus peaking and WiFi transmission. However, I am slightly disappointed that they’ve made the autofocus faster than their top of the line camera. Additionally, I would have loved if the EP5 was weather sealed as well to compliment the OMD better. More importantly, I really wanted a built in EVF–but we’re not getting it this time around.

These quibbles will be put to the test of ultimate comfort in our full review. But these factors won’t help you to create better images. If anything, I think that Olympus should have upgraded the sensor and made it better than the OMD’s. With just how fast sensor technology is moving, the OMD’s Sony made sensor is starting to look a bit weak.

Oh right! And all your favorite prime lenses are getting a fresh coat of paint.

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