“Downgrading” to the Olympus E-PL5 camera

Since the end of last year, I upgraded away from my Canon EOS Rebel XTi in favour of Olympus’ E-PL5 camera. I posted this as a “downgrade” mainly due to its smaller size and this is a good thing indeed. I can assure you that everything else is an upgrade.

I had been following the micro four-thirds format for a long time. One of photography-obsessed friends told me in 2011 to buy the Olympus OMD EM-5 and as tempted as I was at all the rave reviews, the price range put it out of my budget.

Fortunately at the end of last year, Olympus announced the release of two new models that contained the very same inside sensors as the OMD EM-5. I read some early reviews, and decided that it worked for me. I read somewhere that when you have taken enough photos with your equipment to equate to about 5p per shot (mine turned out to about 1.7p per shot approximately) then you hit a good time to upgrade.

I got the kit lens (couldn’t buy it without it) as well as the 40-150mm R lens for a telescopic (zoom) lens. I shortly bought the Panasonic 1.7 20mm pancake lens as well given that these had some great reviews and it’s the lens that I use the most. The kit 14-42mm II R lens was decent but just not fast enough for use in dark places – particularly restaurants where I take a lot of photos for my food blog.

What I love

Using a touchscreen – People complain about missing an electronic viewfinder (or just a viewfinder) and I think it would make a great deal if I took a lot of outdoor pictures in the sun. Fortunately I can just keep taking a lot of photos and it seems to work out. Better yet, this touchscreen tilts so that you can take pictures at waist height (it’s less obvious and you can capture moments instead of people posing because you take a camera out). Flipping the touchscreen at 170 degrees (slightly more would be better) also allows for better positioning of self-portrait shots. Something I didn’t think I would use but I definitely use a lot more now that I have it.

(sneaky table height shot captures the moment above)

Taking photos is fast – I thought when I upgraded to my DSLR photos were fast. Focus is amazingly fast, and you can take a lot of photos in a short amount of time. Tracking in low-light is more dependent on the lens you’re using and it can sometimes take a while to not-focus if it is too low light (a problem for most cameras).

(taking a photo on the go during a demonstration)

It is small – I went for the micro four-thirds format instead of the competing Sony or Fuji cameras for two reasons. One is that the difference in sensor size makes negligible difference (at least to me) in the final photos. The sensor size translates directly to the lens size that both affects weight and physical dimensions. As a result, I carry my camera around almost all the time and use it to replace my normal compact digital camera I use for work photos. I also notice that my back is much better off it when carrying all lenses and the camera in a sling bag.

(compact enough to bring with me on the ski slopes in my ski jacket pocket)

Lens choice – I like the fact that I can choose between Olympus, Panasonic and now other manufacturers are making lenses for the m43 format. Longevity in technology is very much an arms race and I like the choice from a standard that means more differences in prices. Although I probably won’t buy another lens for a while, I’m comforted that there will be more choice (and probably cheaper prices) for these.

What I like

Art filters – Although I think most cameras offer this feature now, I have to admit I do like playing around with the different effects. My most favourite are probably the Pin Hole or the Soft Focus effects. There’s even an “Art Bucket” mode that applies all the filters and saves a copy of the file (although I wish I could selectively turn off which filters when into that as I never like the Key Line or Pop Art filters)

(picture above with soft focus filter)

(picture above with pin hole filter)

Customisability – Although it takes a while to traverse the manual, this camera allows you to change some (maybe) all the camera configuration. For example, I don’t really take any motion videos, so I’ve replaced the instant-record button (you have a dial mode for that anyway) to switch between auto focus and manual focus modes. One of the best customisations is to turn off the auto focus assist lamp, a bright red light that makes is super obvious you are taking photos in dark places. The trade off for me has proven to be worth it for now. There’s plenty more options you can configure and I would highly recommend reading the manual a few more times after you’ve played with it.

Battery life – Battery technology probably continues to get better. I took my camera with me for a ten day business trip to Ireland and although I wasn’t using it every day as if I was on holidays, it took probably about 1000 photos and the battery wasn’t yet complaining about getting low.

Small improvements

The dial and button combination – The dial and button combination is a little bit fiddly to play around with. I’m lucky I don’t have huge fingers but I can imagine that for some people it doesn’t work so well.

Image stabilisation – I think my previous two lens for the Canon SLR spoilt me for image stabilisation as they were rock-solid. I noticed it when I moved back to the Canon 50mm 1.8 lens. I think the IS works pretty well in the camera, but you have to be careful in darker locations where I think because it is a much smaller, I find it harder to keep the camera more steady. Fortunately the flip screen helps with this because you can lean the camera up against something and still frame your shot appropriately. I’d be keen to see how the OMD series do although not sure it’s significant enough to pay the difference.

Focus on moving things – Apparently one of the weaknesses with the micro four-thirds (or at least the way Olympus does) is that it’s less good for taking pictures of fast moving objects. Where my old camera could do pretty well even at a zoom level, I haven’t testing the camera to its limits. Once again, not a big issue for me, but could be for some of you using it.

Conclusion

I have had the camera for probably about six months. After about three months I decided it was good enough to replace the DSLR. I haven’t looked back since.

One Reply to ““Downgrading” to the Olympus E-PL5 camera”

  1. No way the E-PL5 can replace a DSLR entirely. I have this camera as well as a Nikon D5100 with four lenses, and I am keeping the Nikon for times when I don’t need to lug it around all day and yet have to take high quality photos. The E-PL5 is good, no doubt, but it will never outshine the D5100.

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