Years ago I had different Olympus PEN cameras and liked them very much when traveling. I managed to own, at one time or the other, the Olympus E-P1, the E-PL2, and then the E-P3 camera. I found that the PEN cameras were lightweight, small, and worked well with prime lenses when traveling in Ireland and Tunisia, but I eventually replaced them to increase the quality of my images. I decided that the image quality (IQ) of the micro 4/3 system just wasn’t what I desired, especially at higher ISOs, so I replaced my Olympus E-P3 with a Fuji X100.
This year, Olympus came out with a new version of the PEN series, the E-PL5. It has the same Sony sensor and processor that they use in the more expensive OM-D E-M5 camera. That new 16 MP sensor has shown in reviews to have far better IQ than the older 12 MP sensors that were in my previous PEN cameras. Based on the reported quality of that sensor, I decided to try an Olympus PEN camera again. The question: “Is it now good enough to replace my Fuji X100 and my Canon S95 cameras?” According to the literature, the IQ of the E-PL5 is almost as good as the X100 and the camera is smaller and lighter and has a wide choice of good lenses available for it. The E-PL5 is larger but has far superior IQ than my Canon S95, and thus the E-PL5 fits nicely in between the two cameras that I have. My Canon S95 is a very small pocket camera but I have stopped carrying it due to its’ relatively poor IQ.
If warranted, my intentions would be to use the E-PL5, mostly with the Panasonic 20 mm lens, as my jacket pocket camera and when I want a more discreet camera than my Pentax K-5. I would miss the hybrid viewfinder of the X100 but the tilt-able LCD of the E-PL5 would probably compensate for it. It also has the advantage of being able to use it to take pictures down low to the ground. I have a very stiff back and can’t bend down low like I use to so I expect this to be a very useful feature. The E-PL5 would also enable me to take occasional movies for insertion into my video shows. I also imagine that I would use the E-PL5 when traveling, especially when flying when I keep the weight as light as possible.
In order to check it out, I ordered the E-PL5 with the 14 – 42 mm zoom lens. I doubted that the kit lens would be useable from my perspective but since they include it for only $50 more than the body alone I got it. So far I have only used the E-PL5 with the 14 – 42 mm zoom lens and I don’t like the lens. It is a little too large for my use (carry in a jacket pocket), is too slow for low light photography, and is not sharp enough to allow for significant cropping. The pictures at the top illustrate the limits of sharpness and low light capabilities for an optimum aperture and zoom for the lens. These pictures were all taken hand-held with no flash at the 20 mm zoom range, ISO = 5000, f/4.0, and 1/25 or 1/40 sec. I was surprised at the low noise levels at this high of an ISO … they cleaned up reasonably well using LR4 on the raw files of such a small sensor. This shows that the sensor and processor of this latest PEN camera are far superior to the earlier ones. My biggest complaint is the lack of sharpness at all zoom ranges, and this is due to the lens. I have the Panasonic 20 mm lens on order and I’ll let you know how the E-PL5 performs with it when I get it. There are newer and better lenses available for the micro 4/3 system but they are more expensive and larger.
I love my Fuji X100 and it would be a difficult decision to sell it if I decide to keep the E-PL5. I definitely wouldn’t sell it if I didn’t have the Pentax K-5. While I have had problems in the past carrying the weight of the K-5 with heavy lenses, I am managing it now and I have enjoyed its excellent IQ and other features. My K-5 will remain as my go-to, preferred camera when its’ quality and features are desired and I can handle the weight and size.
Basically I am still a conflicted photographer. I enjoy photography but find that I really have no particular style or preferred subject. If I did, my camera of choice would be an easier decision. I have always believed that having and using just one camera would be preferable for me. Since I don’t have a particular preference in type of photography, and since I have had various physical limitations that have changed over the years, I have tried different cameras with the hope of finding “the one” for me. What I have found is that there doesn’t seem to be “one camera”; therefore, I’m hoping to use the K-5 as my preferred camera and something like the E-PL5 as my discreet carry with me camera when among people.
I believe that my camera capabilities exceed my capabilities and that I need to focus more on getting out and about and taking pictures. I still need to practice and try more things and I’m hoping that having the small E-PL5 with a prime lens on it in my jacket pocket or a small bag will enable me to do that. Some may think that I have taken two steps forward and then one back with this latest choice of camera, but I’m going for more portability with a more discreet choice as part of my plan to be a better opportunistic photographer. As Ming Thein would say, I’m going more for sufficiency than quality.