First Impressions of the Olympus E-PL5

Olympus E-PL5 with Panasonic 20mm pancake

My Olympus E-PL5 arrived on Tuesday, and the lenses arrived yesterday. Most of yesterday afternoon I spent reading the user manual and shooting a few hundred photos.

My first impression of the camera is that it’s great. Really, really great.

Here is a Flickr set with the 31 photos I thought were good enough to share with the Internet. All the images were shot in RAW and edited a bit in Lightroom using the default presets.

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  • Hardware: It’s a dense and heavy camera. Heavier than I thought it would be which makes it feels expensive. But it’s not so heavy that it’s difficult to hold or operate. With the front grip attached I can comfortably hold and operate it with my right hand.

The movable / tiltable touch screen has sturdy hinges and I don’t feel like I’m going to break it. As a feature, the adjustable screen is very welcome. I found myself frequently holding the camera at waist height to take a shot and then tilting the screen up towards me so I could see to frame the picture. It makes taking shots at or near ground level as easy as kneeling down.

  • Speed: I have two Panasonic lenses I’m trying out (see more below). Olympus cameras are known for their super-quick auto focus, and my E-PL5 lives up to its reputation. Focusing seems near-instantaneous most of the time, but in lower light it can take up to half a second to focus (even with the “slower” focusing 20mm pancake). And speaking of focus, the tap-to-focus-and-then-snap-a-photo feature of the touch screen is great. Very useful for auto-focusing on something not in the center of the frame.

Not only does the E-PL5 focus quickly, but it turns on in about one second. After I press the power button, it’s up and ready to go before I have the lens cap off. One of the reasons I bought this camera is so I could take better shots of Noah. Assuming the camera is nearby it would be ready to take a picture nearly as fast as my iPhone would be.

  • Point and Shoot (but only if you want): After my first day shooting, I felt like I got several high-quality images that turned out great and all I did was point and shoot. The E-PL5’s Automatic mode is great at detecting what sort of image your taking and what the lighting is like and then favoring the best settings. Thus this camera will allow you to take some great photos without having to do much more than frame the shot.

But it’s not all auto. The E-PL5 has priority modes and full-on manual mode — I can adjust all sorts of stuff that I don’t yet understand.

This is exactly the sort of camera I was hoping to get. It will allow me to learn how it works and learn about the finer details of photography, but not require it of me. I could give this camera to anyone and tell them to just point and click and they’d likely get a pretty decent image, if not a great one.

  • Battery Life: I took a little less than 300 pictures yesterday and the battery indicator says it’s still at full. I don’t yet know for sure how long the battery will last, but it’s obviously much longer than a good afternoon of shooting.

  • Preconceived Notions: I’m trying hard to remember what I’ve always told myself when it comes to print and web design: tools do not a designer make. In my dreams I tell myself that after 5 years of avid iPhone photography, I’ve slowly grown in my composition skills as a photographer and that I’ll pick up this new high-quality camera and instantly produce jaw-dropping photos.

While I’m sure that the photographic eye I’ve developed over the past few years is better than starting from nothing, it’s also likely that since I’ve been using one camera for so long I’m now somewhat pigeonholed into what the iPhone is and is not good at. There is now a whole world of options and styles that the Olympus and it’s different lenses will open me up to.

Simply having a nice camera does not mean my shots will be what I want them to be. And that’s okay — I’m here to learn.

  • Voice: I am as excited about editing images as I am about taking them. Just as a writer, over time, develops their writing voice, so too does a photographer. But with photography you develop your voice not just in composition but also in post processing. And those two come together.

  • Lightroom: I bought Lightroom 4 when it came out and have been using it to post-process some of my iPhone photos. Mostly to clean them up and make them pop a little bit. There is still a lot I have to learn about post-processing.

One thing to note is that Lightroom 4.2 does not support RAW files from the E-PL5. Adobe recently made available the beta RC1 for version 4.3 that does.

The shots from yesterday I took in RAW and edited with Lightroom’s stock presets. For my first day shooting and editing with what could be considered “pro” gear, I am thrilled with the results. But I’m not blown away — I know I can do better. The good news is that I feel only held back by my own skill and knowledge.

  • Lenses: Though I only plan to keep one, I ended up ordering two lenses: the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 and the 25mm f/1.4. Because I’ve read and seen so many good things about both I wanted to use and compare them side-by-side and determine for myself which I wanted to keep as the daily shooter. The lens I decide not to keep will just be returned or sold.

Panasonic 25mm and 20mm lenses

The 20mm f/1.7 is a pancake lens, which, in terms of size, is ideally what I want. Not only does the pancake make the camera more portable, it also makes for a less intimidating camera. People who aren’t used to a fancy camera, tend to act awkward or look funny when there’s a giant camera pointing at them. A small camera that looks like no more than a humble point-and-shoot I got at Walmart may help friends and strangers alike to pay no mind and thus allow me to capture some great candid shots.

However, the 25mm f/1.4 is a bit faster and is slightly higher-quality glass. It gives a creamier depth of field than the 20mm, and it’s auto-focus is quicker as well. And so it has me wondering if the tradeoff in portability and incognito-ness may be worth it.

But it’s impossible to conjecture about which lens is the better daily driver without using and comparing the two. All throughout the day I tried to take the same shot twice — once with the 20mm and then again with the 25mm. As I was later going through all the photos in Lightroom, most of the shots which stood out to me as being better than the others were the ones taken with the 20mm. (Perhaps this is because the focal length of the 20mm seems more akin to that in the iPhone, and so I’m naturally used to framing shots in such a way that the 20mm shines more?)

Down the road I’m planning for my 2nd lens to be the Olympus 45mm f/1.8. It will make a fine companion to the pancake 20mm, and so, though I haven’t made my final choice yet, my gut instinct is that the 25mm — as nice as it is — will not make the cut.

  • Is it fun? I felt like a dork walking around with my camera and taking photos. I’ve never thought other people with cameras were dorks, but I sure felt like one. I’m just going to assume that this is something all photographers feel and that once I get over it I’ll have a lot more fun taking photos, and the quality and style of my photos will increase as well.

As they say: just relax.

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My favorite two photos from yesterday are this one of Noah laughing (though that picture would have looked good no matter what camera it was taken on), and this one of Anna and Noah playing:


Anna and Noah

It is tough to say after only one day of shooting, but I’m feeling extremely happy with the E-PL5 and the Panasonic lenses. So far, it looks like I made the right choice for the best compact, mid-priced, Micro 4/3 camera.

First Impressions of the Olympus E-PL5