Wednesday, February 18, 2015

UPDATED - Final Impressions: Olympus E-PL5 & VF-4 Review


Today I want to talk a bit about my E-PL5, how it feels in actual usage compared to the E-M1 (after adding the new grip), and how it works with the best-in-business VF-4.

UPDATE: I did not proof read the post when I published it a couple of weeks ago, and I found a lot of typo & grammatical mistakes. I apologize. Additionally, I have added pictures of the VF-4 mounted to the E-M1, just for fun.

I have been using Olympus OM-D series bodies (E-M5 and E-M1) for around two years, so how does it feel to use a tiny PEN Lite body? I will try to put my points in bullets to keep things a bit coherent.


SIZE

The E-PL5 feels positively small after using the E-M1 exclusively for some time now. It is refreshing to just grab the E-PL5 and the 45mm f/1.8 for a quick outing with family or friends, especially after upgrading the grip. The handling now is pretty much spot-on for the size, and I wouldn't want it to be any larger. It handles better than the E-M5 with it's stock grip.

My favorite lenses on the E-PL5 (size & handling wise) are in order: Bower 7.5mm f/3.5 Fish-eye, Olympus 45mm f/1.8, Sigma 60mm f/2.8 and finally the Panasonic 25mm f/1.4. Using the tiny fish-eye with the E-PL5 is a very stealthy combination.



STABILIZATION

When deciding on the E-PL5, I knew it had inferior IBIS to the OM-D series, but I didn't expect to have issues framing with a stabilized view when using longer lenses. This is very apparent when using a long lens like the 75 f/1.8. The view is quite shaky on the back LCD (which reminded me of how it felt like using the 200L on my 5D). The issue is magnified by holding the camera away from my face in the "stinky baby diaper hold (copyright: Kirk Tuck)".

Apart from the shaky view with long lenses, I noticed that some of my images are not as sharp as I was used to, especially with the longer lenses. At first I thought the IBIS was the main culprit, but the main issue turned out to be shutter shock.


SHUTTER SHOCK

When I had the E-M5 I never noticed shutter shock until I got the 75 f/1.8, which consistently resulted in a double image at shutter speeds ranging from ~ 1/60 to 1/200. The solution I implemented at the time was to avoid using the 75 f/1.8 at these shutter speeds, which is a pain when you already have IBIS, and these shutter speeds are optimum for using lower ISOs.

So when I got the E-M1, and it had the 0s (zero second) shutter release feature which implements a first electronic curtain; and doesn't add delay when taking an image. I've been using it since, and didn't bother to check if the E-M1 had the shutter shock issue. Some say that not all bodies behave the same, and might have some variance regarding this issue.

Now with the E-PL5, I got reminded of the shutter shock again. Since it doesn't have the 0s release mode, I have three solutions:

  1. Avoid 1/60 ~ 1/200 shutter speeds with the 60 & 75 lenses.
  2. Use the 1/8s release mode, but that introduces a delay before taking a picture.
  3. Avoid using both lenses with the E-PL5, which I might just do.


SHUTTER SOUND

I love it. It is louder than both the E-M5 and the E-M1, but it is very satisfying. I didn't like the shutter sound of the E-M5. The E-M1 shutter sound is more subdued. The E-PL5 sounds just as fun as the camera is.


FOCUSING

As good as ever. I didn't notice any issues, and I only use S-AF on the E-PL5.

It is also refreshing to have face/eye detection working with normal single-AF mode. Unlike the LX100 which has a special face-detection focusing mode, which forces you to either use that mode or S-AF, but not together.



IMAGE QUALITY & NOISE PERFORMANCE

Same sensor in the E-M5, same performance and quality. My Auto-ISO is limited at ISO 5000 which is the highest native ISO on the E-PL5, and I have no issues going that high in low light. And just for reference, this sensor is slightly down in high-ISO performance compared to the E-M1 at ISO 3200 and up.

JPEG quality is the same as the E-M5. Both are not as good (colors-wise) as the E-M1 JPEGs, which I am now using more often (I use Medium + Normal JPEGs which are 2500px wide).


CONTROLS

Hmmm ... ahhhh ... well, they're rubbish compared to the E-M1, there's no way around it. I personally believe that every camera shall have:

  • at least two control dials: one for the aperture/shutter speed, and the other for exposure compensation.
  • you'd also want a dedicated button for ISO setting, push the button and spin a dial to change ISO.
  • move focus points directly using the directional pad or a dedicated joystick like Canon 7D/5D/1D (the LX100 adds a further step, when you're moving the focus point, you can quickly rotate the dial to change its size ... mega convenient).
  • a focus mode/release button controlled by the two dials mentioned earlier.
  • a quick menu to change other infrequently used settings like WB, flash EC, etc...
  • a few customizable buttons as per every user needs.


The E-PL5's major controls issue lies in having just one dial at the back, and very few customizable buttons that are tiny and spaced out in different places. When I need to change EC or ISO, I'd have to remember which buttons did I map them to. But at least it has a control dial. I can't imagine how I was about to get the E-PM2 which has no control dials at all.


BUFFER

I am using a 16GB Class 10 EyeFi Mobi card since the E-PL5 doesn't have built-in WiFi. The card is not very fast, and the buffer fills up fairly quickly when shooting RAW + JPEG. I could live with that, but after shooting 3 or 4 consecutive RAW files, I'd have to wait for a few seconds before I can play back the images. But if I try shooting while it's writing to the card, it works.


LCD

The 3" LCD on the E-PL5 is a few generations old, and is the main reason I jumped at the $99 VF-4 deal. The back LCD supposedly has 460k dots (compared to 1 million dots for current gen screens) which is not that big a deal in real use. However, the 16:9 aspect ratio is what bothers me. Despite being 3" in size: with a 16:9 ratio, the height of the screen is noticeably shorter than other 3:2 screens. And if you're going to be using the normal 4:3 ratio, you're going to have two large black rectangles at the left and right edges of the screen. Even shooting at 3:2 ratio still has these black bars, which make the actual display area very tiny.

My solution was to shoot 16:9 ratio in order to fill the screen, and then re-crop the RAW image (which is recorded in full 4:3 ratio) later on lightroom. This is probably caused by the lower height of the camera, but I believe they could have easily changed the screen ratio to 3:2 at least and  keep the same size. I wonder if the E-PL7 has a 16:9 ratio screen as well.

One positive point though: this screen goes 180 degrees upwards. Unlike the restricted 90/45 degrees on the E-M5 & E-M1 cameras. This might be useful if you want to take a self-portrait.


OLYMPUS VF-4

Finally we get to the Olympus VF-4. This is the same EVF as the one in the E-M1, which; along with the Fuji X-T1's EVF, are touted as the best EVFs there are. It has 2.36 million dots (more than twice the modern 3" back LCD resolutions, and almost 5 times the resolution of the back LCD on the E-PL5), and large magnification. There are a few things worth noting though:

  • It seems to me it has a 4:3 aspect ratio. The E-M1 has a 3:2 aspect ratio EVF which I like better.
  • It doesn't have auto-brightness like the E-M1's EVF.
  • The eye sensor doesn't work on the E-PL5, actually it doesn't work on any camera except the E-P5 (not sure about the E-PL7) as per olympus' website. That means that you have to switch between the LCD and the EVF using the button on the EVF. (Update: it works on the E-M1).
  • The VF-4 tilts 90 degrees upwards, like the GX7, but I don't see a practical use for this feature when you can already tilt the back LCD.
  • Funny enough, it can be used on the OM-D series which already have built-in EVFs. It will be an improvement over the ones built-in in the E-M5 and the E-M10, while it's only added value on an E-M1 would be the tilting feature. One day I will put it on the E-M1 and show you a picture. (Update: I did. Pictures at the end).
  • It comes with a soft carrying case, which can be mounted to your camera's strap for safe-keeping.
  • Most importantly, the VF-4 is HUGE, especially in the height department. The E-PL5 with the VF-4 is higher than the E-M1!!! And I can't fit it in any of my mirrorless carrying bags, unless I remove it first. So I usually carry it separately in its case and use when I need to.

Now I will leave you with a few pictures for the VF-4 (all taken with the LX100 using room lights). Please let me know if you have anything to ask for.