Olympus appear to have consolidated their 3 model PEN Micro Four Thirds camera range into 2 models as expected.
There is no upgrade to the E-P3, but instead the E-PL3 upgrade, the new Olympus E-PL5 (PEN Lite) gains some of the features of both the E-P3, the E-M5 and a few new tricks as well.
The “point and shoot” model, the E-PM2 is a very handy upgrade of the E-PM1 or PEN Mini.
So what is so exciting about these cameras?
- They bring the fantastic image quality of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 to a smaller, lighter, cheaper camera which will suit the needs of a much wider audience. They both use the same 16mp sensor and image engine as the E-M5 and allow ISO 200-25,600, although best results will be ISO 1600 and lower.
- They both sport touch screen interfaces which makes their use much easier for novices and enthusiasts alike, and allow you to select a focus point on screen – even changing it during movie mode
- They have the the FAST AF of the E-M5 which is one of the fastest autofoicus systems in any camera (as long as the subject is not moving fast)
- The E-PL5 touch screen rotates upwards to allow self-portraits – as long as the screen is not blocked by a hotshoe accessory such as a flash – so not as good a solution as the articulating, swivel screen as on the Panasonic GH series, but better than none at all.
- They both have sensor based image stabilisation as with their predecessors, but not the 5-axis version as on the E-M5, and it is not clear if this will work during movie mode as it does on the E-M5.
- For the smallest kit, you can buy the new cheap, super slim 15mm f/8 manual focus “Body Cap” lens – fantastic for carrying these cameras in a pocket.
- They have remote TTL flash capability to allow remote flashes to be controlled by the master flash on the camera’s hotshoe such as the FL-LM1 which is supplied with the E-PL5
- Flash sync is an industry leading 1/250th sec with the latest flash units, and they support Super FP High Speed Sync flash to 1/4000th sec.
- They are able to use the best range of dedicated compact autofocus lenses available for any mirrorless system and are smaller and lighter than comparable lenses for dSLRs.
- The E-PL5 can shoot at 8fps (without AF) or 3.5fps with AF
- Unlike most dSLRs, the AF regions cover almost the entire image not just the central half or third, and as mentioned can be easily selected using the touch screen
- They can accept hotshoe accessories such as electronic viewfinders – this means when the next quantum leap in EVF quality occurs it may be possible to use these as well
- Auto HDR mode which automatically combines multiple shots at different expsoures – the 1st time in an Olympus camera
- New Watercolor ART filter in addition to the ones on earlier models, plus the ART filter can be changed DURING movies and the change will be introduced gradually
- Reasonably good 1080i HD video with stereo mics and a new Movie Teleconverter capability
- The E-PL5 has support for Toshiba’s FlashAir WiFi-capable flash cards and an Android or iOS app will allow sharing of photos via smartphone
- Timed long exposures of up to 60secs – very few cameras have this feature which is nice for photographing stars
- The very effective Olympus sensor dust removal system and lovely Olympus jpeg image colours
- They look great and the optional front grip for the E-PL5 is a nice touch too.
- New Lens IS priority option which allows you to automatically disable the sensor-based IS if a Panasonic lens with OIS is being used
What is not so good about them?
- no built-in viewfinder means you must use the touch screen or buy the optional EVF, but then you cannot use flash as it occupies the hotshoe
- no built-in flash – but the E-PL5 is at least bundled with a small plug in flash
- user interface is not great for enthusiasts wanting to take control of the camera fully themselves – this is particularly the case with the E-PM2 while the E-PL5 has the additional function button and drive mode dial, but at least both have the nice Super Control Panel which allows functions to be accessible via the touch screen
- as with all current mirrorless cameras, autofocus will be slow or not possible on fast moving subjects – I expect this to be addressed on new cameras in the next 2-3 years as it is one of Olympus’ R&D priorities
- 20Mbps HD video quality is not up there with the latest high end cameras such as the Panasonic GH-3, and only supports 30fps (no 60fps nor 24fps)
- they are not weatherproof
These are important upgrades to the PEN system as image quality is one of the main reasons the E-M5 is so popular and now this same quality is available in the lower end cameras and that is brilliant indeed!
One could get this image quality and camera size with a Sony NEX – but you won’t get the in-camera image stabilisation system which works on any lens, and you won’t have access to the fantastic compact, lightweight range of dedicated autofocus lenses that is available for Micro Four Thirds, nor the ability to create a system with the best hybrid video cameras such as the Panasonic GH-3, not upgrade to one of the most versatile, fun compact cameras, the brilliant, Olympus OM-D E-M5.