Built around the same 16.1-million-pixel sensor as the Olympus OM-D E-M5, the diminutive Pen E-PL5 should offer excellent image quality. Richard Sibley tests this latest system camera. Read the Olympus Pen E-PL5 review...

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Olympus Pen E-PL5

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Olympus Pen E-PL5 review


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Noise, resolution and sensitivity

These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 macro lens. We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.

This is the third time we have seen a 16.1-million-pixel sensor in an Olympus camera, with both the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and Pen E-PM2 including the same unit. In both cases we have been impressed with the image quality produced. Although other cameras may use higher-resolution sensors, 16.1 million pixels is a good compromise that allows the E-PL5 to produce detailed images while keeping noise to a minimum. This means it is possible to make decent-sized prints from the digital images.

Generally, the E-PL5 does an excellent job of reducing chroma noise in the JPEGs it creates in-camera. Speckled colour is largely non-existent, even when shooting at high sensitivities. Luminance noise is far more difficult to reduce, however, but the E-PL5 controls it quite well in-camera up to around ISO 800. At ISO 1600, there are hints of speckled noise and this increases with the sensitivity. The camera tries to correct this by smoothing out some of the noise, but this also reduces detail. Having said that, at the sensitivity settings most photographers will use – ISO 200-1600 – noise shouldn’t be too problematic.

One thing the E-PL5 is guilty of is overprocessing JPEGs. In some images taken at ISO 200, edges are slightly oversharpened, which is noticeable due to a hint of luminance noise. Slight image artefacts appear occasionally in shadow areas, although these aren’t noticeable in raw images. I would suggest reducing the in-camera sharpening of whichever image style you are working in, and also using the Super Fine JPEG settings. Strangely, this is tucked away in the custom menu, rather than in the JPEG/raw menu. It is odd that Olympus has always left this setting in the custom menu in its E-series DSLRs and micro four thirds cameras. Why not make it far more obvious? After all, it improves the quality of JPEG images by compressing the image less.

Opening raw files in Olympus Viewer 2 makes it clear that some processing of raw files is going on in the background. Even with the noise reduction set to Off, it still seems that some basic luminance noise reduction is applied. The latest updates to Adobe Camera Raw 7.3 and Lightroom 4.3 include support for the E-PL5 and give a clearer idea of what the raw files look like, and they are very good.

Luminance noise is obvious, but colour noise is well controlled and is easy to remove almost completely. I tend not to apply too much luminance noise reduction as it reduces detail. I found that just nudging the luminance noise reduction slider to about 5, and then applying a slight sharpening and a touch of local contrast with the Clarity tool, created just the right compromise between luminance noise and detail, particularly in ISO 800 images.

At lower sensitivities, just a slight sharpening and tweak to the contrast was about all that was needed.

In terms of resolution, the 16.1-million-pixel sensor is about on a par with other 16-million-pixel cameras we have tested, reaching around 28 on our resolution test chart.

Image: Taken at ISO 400, this black & white shot shows very little luminance noise in the shadow area



  1. 1. Olympus Pen E-PL5 at a glance:
  2. 2. Features
  3. 3. Graduation function
  4. 4. Build and handling
  5. 5. Metering
  6. 6. Autofocus
  7. 7. Dynamic range
  8. 8. Noise, resolution and sensitivity
  9. 9. White balance and colour
  10. 10. Viewfinder, live view, LCD and video
  11. 11. The competition
  12. 12. Our verdict
Page 8 of 12 - Show Full List
  • simon Parry Jones

    Pleasantly surprised by the quality and resolution of this camera. I had been very disappointed by my previous camera a Canon EOS450D, I found it hard to get any punch or vibrancy into the images. But the NX does it bucket loads and with ease.
    The features and controls take a little getting used to after the Canon, but I am finding my way around nicely and its fairy intuitive anyway.
    The wifi functionality can be a bit hit or miss, especially with the Samsung Galaxy S4, they don’t like each other for some reason, which when you consider these are from the same manufacturer that does seem a bit daft!
    I find the handling is generally pretty good for such a small object, I do however keep starting the video recorder via the dedicated (red) button adjacent to the thumb rest, the position of this button has been moved on the NX300 which is an improvement.
    The display I find works well in bright light and is as comprehensive as you could desire, really impressed with it.
    Reviewing images is slightly different with the NX compared to the 450D, but once you are tuned in it seems fine and I like the daisy wheel on the multi selector, I found it works well for reviewing images.
    The flash generally sits on my NX all the time and I have found that coverage is not too bad, but there is fall off at the 20mm setting and wider, which is to be expected really. With a guide number of 8, you’re not going to fry any eggs but it is more than the competitors pop up varieties.
    Being a bit of a traditionalist, I found the iFn button on the lens a little superfluous, I didn’t instinctively use it, but I guess that will change as I get used to the camera.
    At long last a kit lens you don’t feel like binning the moment the camera arrives. After the Canon 18-55mm offering I was pleasantly surprised by Samsungs 20-50mm. Whilst this lens doesn’t have OIS I found that I can live without it, the slightly smaller range was nothing to worry about either. The performance of this lens is pretty impressive too, pictures I have taken thus far are way better than I was able to get from the Canon. Lumping a big DSLR around is surely something consigned to the past.
    All the buttons have a quality feel, as does the body, even though its largely plastic in construction, it never feels that way and so what is wrong with polymers anyway?
    To summarise, this is a great camera for someone who is new to interchangeable lens photography or someone looking to switch from DSLRs or someone who would like a portable, small, easy to use point and shoot camera which produces stunning images. It has its weaknesses ie action or sports photography would highlight these due to the AF system, but I would wholeheartedly recommend this camera for travel or everyday photography, you will not be disappointed.

  • Leona Simpson

    This would be a great site for information for us amature photographers if ur adverts did not cover great pieces of text.