The Olympus E-PL5 Mirrorless Camera: My One-Year Review

It’s been a year since the Olympus E-PL5 showed up at my door, and I want to give a report.

The Olympus E-PL5

The Olympus E-PL5

The E-PL5 is the first nice camera I’ve ever owned. A year later, as I look back at how often I’ve used the camera, the pictures I’ve taken with it, and what my opinion is of the camera itself, the short answer is that I still use it regularly and often, and I’m still very happy with it.

It was the fall of 2012 that I began researching mirrorless cameras to find a setup I could easily take with me anywhere I went, and which cost under $1,000 (for the body and a nice prime lens). I wanted the camera to have an Auto mode so I could just point and shoot if I needed to (I still am a beginning photographer, and don’t always know which manual adjustments to make to get the exposure right). I also wanted an Auto mode so I could hand the camera over to a family member to let them point and shoot with. But it also needed to have good manual modes so I could learn and grow into the manual controls as I learned more about the technical details of photography.

The setup I went with was the then-new Olympus E-PL5 and the world-famous Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens.

As I mentioned in my official review, it was the iPhone that actually led me to getting a better camera. I was taking more and more and more pictures, but wasn’t doing much with them other than keeping them on my iPhone. A year later, I still couldn’t be happier about my decision to get a nice camera and I am still very happy with the camera I chose.

I’ve had and used the E-PL5 through Thanksgiving 2012, Christmas, my son, Noah’s, first birthday, a few trips to Colorado, a trip to San Francisco, a camping trip, a trip to New York, the birth of my second son, Giovanni, and countless other weekend and weekday excursions.

Last year we bought several new photo frames to put around the house. And every couple of months I order a few new 8×10 photos printed from Shutterfly and we swap out all the pictures in the house. It’s inexpensive1 and it’s so wonderful to have high-quality photos of our kids and family.2

Something we did last year, and which we’ll do again this Christmas, was get a few of Apple’s iPhoto photo books. Photo books make great Christmas presents to parents and grandparents. Last year’s book was half photos from my iPhone covering January through October, and then half photos from my E-PL5 covering November and early December. This year the photo book will probably be 90-percent (or more) E-PL5 photos.

I still consider the E-PL5 to be one of the best-kept secrets in the mirrorless camera landscape. For the body only, it’s very reasonably priced. And it’s fast, has great battery life, works with all the micro-four thirds lenses, is well built, has 4-axis in-body image stabilization, and has the same sensor found inside the critically acclaimed Olympus E-M5. It’s a beast and it won’t break the bank.

On Twitter I was asked if a better camera in this space has come along. For the same price as the E-PL5, no, I don’t think so.

Of course, since I got my E-PL5 a year ago, the mirrorless camera landscape has improved quite a bit. There’s now the Fuji x100s and X-E2, the Olympus E-P5, and the new Olympus E-M1 (to name a few). These are all really great, but they’re also all more expensive than the E-PL5.

You can get the E-PL5 body and a very nice prime lens for about $800-$900 (depending on the lens you pick). The E-P5 is $900 for the body alone; the Fuji x100s is $1,300 and comes with a great lens (that cannot be swapped out), but it is not a beginner’s camera.

In my opinion, someone looking to get a great camera and a great lens (where by “great lens” I mean “a prime lens” — not the kit zoom lens), can’t go wrong with the E-PL5. It’s compact, it’s easy enough to use that a beginner could pick it up and take decent shots with it (no comment about technique), and it has most of the same internal components (same sensor, similar IBIS) found in Olympus’ top-of-the line cameras, the E-M1 and the E-P5.

Here are answers to a few other questions I got from folks on Twitter:

  • What’s the best first lens? The Panasonic 20mm f/1.7. It’s one of the less expensive among the good prime lens selection; it’s a pancake lens, so it takes up very little space; it takes wonderful photographs; and the 20mm focal length (which is the 40mm equivalent on a full-frame camera) is in the sweet spot range for all manner of photos. So, if you don’t know which lens to get, get the Panasonic 20/1.7.

Other great lenses include the Panasonic 25mm f/1.4, the Olympus 45mm f/1.8, and the Olympus 17mm f/1.8. I’ve rented the 25/1.4 and the 45/1.8 and they are both fantastic.

  • What is your most-used lens? Just the one I have: the panasonic 20/1.7. It’s a fantastic lens for the price and size. My favorite lens of all the ones I have used is the Pany 25/1.4, but I like the size of the 20/1.7 pancake too much. And, since the 20mm and the 25mm are so close in focal length, it seems silly to keep them both.

  • Have you been tempted by any other cameras? Yes; the E-P5. It has all that’s awesome about the E-PL5, but in a nicer body with more manual controls (without giving up automatic modes), and with an even better sensor and IBIS. However, the E-P5 is several hundred dollars more expensive, and I honestly don’t know if that increase in price is worth it for me at my current skill and usage levels.

  • How do you travel with it? For outings, I use my DSPTCH strap. As for a case, I don’t have one yet because I haven’t yet found one I like (well, the Hard Graft camera bag looks gorgeous, but I’d rather buy a lens).

  • What do you wish was different? What annoys you about the camera? The same thing that I’m tempted by with the E-P5: I wish the E-PL5 had better manual dials. You can set it in Aperture or Shutter priority modes, but you have to use the menu dial to quickly change the aperture / exposure / shutter settings. This can be a bit awkward or inaccurate. But… It doesn’t bother me so much to dislike the camera, and like I mentioned above, I’m not sure it’s worth the cost for me to buy a more expensive camera right now. I’ll probably keep the E-PL5 for a few more years and invest my money in lenses instead of upgrading my camera body.

  • Has your frequency of use decreased since you first got the camera? Yes and no. I’m not forcing myself to take it out like I did when I first got it. But I still use it often around the house and at family events, trips, and other things. Since the first day of owning it I have always felt silly taking it out and using it. But, looking back, I wish I would get out with the camera more often.

  • What about ergonomics? The camera feels great. It’s very light, it has incredible build quality, and it’s very easy to hold with one hand. The flip-out view screen makes it easy to take photos at all sorts of angles.

  • Auto-focus and other settings? The E-PL5 with my Panasonic 20mm lens does hunt a fair bit in super low light, but in my understanding it’s no better or worse than most other cameras like this. When I was renting the Olympus 45/1.8 lens, the auto-focus was a bit quicker, but not significantly so.

I mostly shoot in Aperture Priority mode, but when I’m having trouble I’ll switch to Auto and the camera does a great job at deciding what sorts of settings I want.

  • To what degree does the camera’s physical size impact when/where you use it. How often have you wished you had it but didn’t? The size of the camera is fantastic. It’s small enough to fit in my winter coat pocket or my small laptop bag without bothering me. It’s also light enough that when I’m wearing it with the shoulder strap I can have it on for hours and never consider its weight.

There are often times I wish I had taken it somewhere but didn’t. This, however, has everything to do with me not being in the discipline of taking the camera and using it. It has almost nothing to do with the size of the camera.

  • What is the most important thing you’ve learned about photography since getting this camera? That I regret 100% of the shots I don’t take. Too cliche? Okay, fine. But it’s true. Like I said above regarding frequency of use, I want to get out with the camera more often.

  • What is your usage of the E-PL5 compared to your iPhone camera? I certainly use my iPhone more often than the E-PL5 just because of the fact that my iPhone is with me all the time. But I don’t often take “great photos” with my iPhone. Usually they are cool snapshots that I will then share on Instagram, email to friends and family, or put into Day One. And that’s exactly why I got the E-PL5. I didn’t want to all-out replace my iPhone, but I wanted something I could use to take much, much better photos when it mattered most.

  • What are your favorite pictures taken with the E-PL5? This one is probably my most favorite:

Anna and Noah reading

These are also favorites:

The B&B Cafe


You can see more of the photos I’ve taken on my Flickr page.

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So. If you’re in the market for an awesome and pocketable camera, I’ve got good news and bad news…

The good news is, there are a lot of really great options. The bad news is, there are a lot of really great options. Good luck!

  1. 8×10 prints are normally 3.99 each, but Shutterfly seems to have sales all the time to get things for 40-percent off or more. I’ve also heard great things about WHCC’s pricing and quality, but haven’t yet used them myself.
  2. I’ve also been using the camera to take “fancy” hero images for use on this site and on The Sweet Setup.
The Olympus E-PL5 Mirrorless Camera: My One-Year Review

Barley is a new WordPress plugin that lets you edit the text and content of your posts and pages from the front end of your site, rather than going into the back-end editor.

This workflow makes a lot of sense. And Barley does a very good job at implementing it. For me, the vast majority of edits I make to my site are fixing typos and broken links. And, usually, I find myself on the front-end permalink first (because someone pointed out the typo via email or Twitter, giving me a link to the page).

I’ve spent some time with Barley over the past week and it’s very well done. You just click your cursor in the text and you can write, edit, and more — add in links, change text to bold, write whole paragraphs, etc.

However, I have one quibble that I think is a deal breaker for me. After a post has been edited in Barley, the back-end text of the article gets converted from Markdown to HTML. I use a different Markdown plugin here on than I do on The Sweet Setup, and Barley converted my markdown text to HTML formatting on both sites. It’s not a destructive change at all, and I fully trust Barley. But, I also like to keep my posts in Markdown. So, we’ll see.

Barley is on subscription pricing plan. It’s $12/year to use it. If it sounds interesting, I definitely think it’s worth checking out. It could remove a lot of friction in your typo-maintenance workflow, and more (like the fact you can write whole posts right there in the browser!).

Barley: Front-End WordPress Content Editor

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My thanks to Fracture for sponsoring the RSS feed this week. Sponsorship by The Syndicate.

Sponsor: Fracture. Your picture, directly on glass.

Yes. Love this story from Ben Thompson. As well as the point he’s making that Apple’s new website about using the iPad in real life gives examples of people that don’t quite fit the mold for how most people could benefit from an iPad.

I think most of us who are “tech savvy” can relate to the situation of having a non-tech-savvy parent and or grandparent get an iOS device and instantly become more connected and conversational through FaceTime, email, and messages. My folks went from candybar phones to iPhones about 6 months ago and our amount of day-to-day quick communications has increased dramatically. We are always sharing photos and videos with each other over group iMessage conversations, we do quick FaceTime chats so grandma can say hi to her grandsons, and more. It’s a far different — and I think better — experience than the once-a-week phone call check in.

Whose iPad Life?

Great piece by Tim Bajarin. I often jokingly refer to my iPhone as “Command Central”. As Tim points out, smartphones are quickly becoming our “central hub” devices because they have become extremely capable thanks to software. I’d add that we’ve gravitated towards them, and allowed them to become so central to our digital lifestyles, by the sheer fact our phones are always right there in our pockets.

Smartphones are Becoming the Hub of our Digital Lifestyles

Matt Gemmell:

Compromises don’t make for great products, and nor do they make for great experiences.

That’s why you have more than one device. That’s why it’s perfectly reasonable to pack and travel with several of them. And that’s also why a more rational view of a piece of technology is that it’s part of an ecosystem — your own personal one, encompassing your work, leisure, interests and utility needs.

The Unacknowledged Compromise


Leading up to the launch of The Sweet Setup, we were wrangling about 20 active documents. I was working with half-a-dozen different authors on their app reviews along with writing several reviews and blog posts of my own, and Jeff Abbott was editing everything.

To manage all of these documents we use Editorially.

It’s awesome. Here’s why.

  • Markdown support: All the writers we work with prefer to write in Markdown. I prefer markdown. And, well, Editorially supports markdown syntax highlighting in the browser. It also displays images inline. When you’re done writing you can export your writing as an html, markdown, plain text, Latex, rich text, MS Word, or ePub file. Wow.

  • Collaboration: invite people to join the document as read-only privileges or with editing privileges. You can highlight words and passages to make notes about, and you can comment on the document in general.

  • Track changes and version control: Editorially auto-saves as your working on a document, so if your browser crashes you don’t lose your work. It also keeps all the versions of a document, and allows you to compare the changes of one version with another.

  • Document status: Documents start as “Draft”, and as you progressively work on them you can change their status to “Reviewing”, “Revising”, “Copyediting”, and “Final”.

These states worked perfectly with our workflow, and followed perfectly the progression of our articles from the initial submission by a contributor, my reviewing of it, the author’s revising of it, and then Jeff’s editing of it. When visiting my Editorially dashboard I could see instantly what the state of each document was, and knew which ones I needed to attend to myself.

  • Dropbox support: you can link Editorially to a folder in your Dropbox and then send an article to that folder. This is Editorially’s answer to “archiving” since there is nowhere to move documents that are in their final state and which have been published and that you no longer need to keep on your dashboard. This is how I archive all of our published articles, and it works very well.

  • Pasting into a document: Copy rich or formatted text from one place and when you paste it into Editorially it will format in Markdown. Even images. Amazing.

  • iPad and iPhone friendly: Editorially is a web app only with no native apps. However, it has a responsive design that works great in Safari on the iPad and iPhone. It can be a bit clunky if you’re making lots and lots of notes and annotations, and I wouldn’t want to spending hours a day, every day, working in Editorially on my iPad. But I edited several documents from my iPhone and iPad with no trouble.

Our Editorially Workflow

Being editor-in-chief, I was reaching out to potential writers asking them if they’d like to do an article for the site. Once they submitted their draft to me I would paste it into Editorially and read through it.

Because Editorially lets me make highlight words and passages, it was easy to make comments about what I felt were good, what needed improvement, and what was missing altogether. I would also make general comments on the document itself such as, “All done. Your turn.”

If I hadn’t already, I would then invite the author to join the document so they could see all my comments and edits, and then they make any changes and leave comments of their own.

Some articles were done after just one pass. Others took several rounds of back and forth work to get it to a place where we were completely happy with it.

Once the article reached the point where the author and I were happy with it, then I would invite Jeff to join. (Jeff is the editor for The sweet Setup.) He would then read through the article for the first time, making sure it had a good flow, made sense, covered all the bases, and was free from typos and other grammatical errors.

When Jeff was done, he’d set the article’s status to “Final”. I would then export the markdown out of Editorially and paste it into our CMS. Editorially also supports publishing to WordPress, but I don’t use this feature — we have quite a few custom fields and other metadata tables set up in our WordPress install that hinder us from just publishing straight to the site from Editorially.

Technically, Editorially is still in beta. There are a few bugs here and there (for example, the dashboard doesn’t remember my preference for displaying documents in a grid format or a list) and there are some other features I’d love to see added (such as the ability to transfer ownership of a document from one user to another, or an “inbox” that listed all the recent activity on all my documents). But these are small issues, and Editorially has proven to be an invaluable tool for us.

We are using it to get a lot of work done without losing our minds. I can’t imagine what our workflow would look like without Editorially.


Introducing The Sweet Setup

Today is the day. It’s here. The Sweet Setup has launched.

There are three groups of people I want to thank:

There is much more to say about the site, but right now I’m busy fixing launch-day typos and broken links. I hope you’re able to take some time to check out the site and read some of our fantastic and considered articles. If you’re not sure where to start, take the Dime Tour.

Introducing The Sweet Setup

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My thanks to Voila for sponsoring the RSS feed this week. Sponsorship by The Syndicate.

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