Olympus announce 2 new compact PEN Micro Four Thirds cameras bringing E-M5 image quality to the masses

Written by Gary on September 18th, 2012

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. 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)
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. The E-PL5 can shoot at 8fps (without AF) or 3.5fps with AF
  11. 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
  12. 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
  13. Auto HDR mode which automatically combines multiple shots at different expsoures – the 1st time in an Olympus camera
  14. 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
  15. Reasonably good 1080i HD video with stereo mics and a new Movie Teleconverter capability
  16. 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
  17. Timed long exposures of up to 60secs – very few cameras have this feature which is nice for photographing stars
  18. The very effective Olympus sensor dust removal system and lovely Olympus jpeg image colours
  19. They look great and the optional front grip for the E-PL5 is a nice touch too.
  20. 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.

These cameras would be fantastic with the compact Micro Four Thirds lenses such as the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake or the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 portrait lens.


4 Comments so far ↓

  1. Janne says:

    Hello! I have been contemplating switching from Canon 550D to Olympus E-M5 for a while now. Having pretty much decided that I will go ahead with it, my only concern now is when will the E-M5 itself be replaced with a newer and better model. Any educated guesses on that one?

  2. admin says:

    Olympus has not made any indications as yet other than it is likely they will produce a more professional version (perhaps next year), and there may be a Four Thirds/Micro Four Thirds hybrid camera (again, perhaps middle of next year?).

    In the interim, there is the Panasonic GH-3 which is also going to be pushing the E-M5 as being the best camera – but depends on which features are important to you.

    I do not think there will be any new Olympus models this year.

  3. Janne says:

    Thanks for your reply. I hadn’t followed news carefully enough to realize GH-3 might even be close to E-M5 level. But then again video is not that important to me. To me the big question is whether Olympus’ next camera will be for Micro Four Thirds or Four Thirds. As if it is for FT, I don’t really care about it, but if it’s for MFT, then it would most likely be better than E-M5. How bad lenses are the 14-42mm and 40-150mm kit lenses the E-M5 is generally sold with? Comparing to, say, the 17-40mm L f/4 Canon and MFT Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 that I have now. I understand that Panasonic 12-35mm and 35-100mm would pretty much be THE lenses to get, but what would be the recommended lenses between those top of the line and the cheap kit lenses?

  4. admin says:

    I do not believe the E-M5 will be replaced within the next 12 months as it is such a good camera that covers off most areas well.

    The next high end Olympus MFT camera is likely to be bigger, more epxensive and with more features for pros than the E-M5, and I suspect it may well be optimised for fast AF with Four Thirds lenses in some way as this is a key issue Olympus is now striving to assess and is certainly not a negative given the availibility of reasonably priced superb FT lenses.

    I am not aware of any comparable testing with the latest Olympus kit lenses vs the Canon kit lenses, however, historically, the Olympus kit lenses have been better built and had better image quality.
    The kit lenses a really for documentary day time or night time flash photography in well lit situations.
    If you want the best imagery from MFT then I would strongly encourage buying the prime lenses which are very nice indeed.
    The 20mm f/1.7 pancake is a great sharp compact lens, fantastic for parties and urban night walks, but AF is slow and noisy, and the bokeh is very average compared to the newer prime lenses such as the Olympus 12mm f/2.0, Olympus 17mm f/1.8 (when it comes out), Sigma 19mm f/2.8, Panasonic 25mm f/1.4, Olympus 45mm f/1.8, Olympus 60mm macro and the brilliant Olympus 75mm f/1.8.

    I am not a great fan of zoom lenses other than for travel or wildlife / nature photography.

    The Panasonic f/2.8 lenses will be better image quality and more versatile than the usual kit lenses but will not give the same shallow DOF a f/1.8 prime lens will give, and generally the bokeh will not be as nice.

    It depends what is important to your style of photography.

    The fantastic situation for MFT users is that there are so many options to choose from and most are far more compact and more affordable than the dSLR options.