PetaPixel

Review: Olympus E-P5 Can Do Tons But Weighs Just Ounces

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It’s the newly released Olympus E-P5 PEN. A 16.1MP Micro Four Thirds retro-styled pocket shooter capable of 9FPS. But will it raise your heartbeat to 100BPM? Let’s find out.

Specifically this is a review of the E-P5 kit, which includes the all metal, brand new M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 lens and also newly released 2,360k-dot LCD resolution VF-4 electronic viewfinder that would make even the most hardened of optical viewfinder holdouts — that’s me — just a little tight in the pants. I’m going to tackle this in three parts. Primarily this is a review of the E-P5, but as we also have the new VF-4 and 17mm f/1.8, we’ll touch on those first.

The VF-4 Electronic Viewfinder

The EVF is great. That is all.

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Well OK there’s a little more. It may in fact the best I’ve been witness to. It is good, damn good. It’s snappy and the image is remarkably crisp. Quicker again when you adjust the E-P5 to reign in the image processing allowing for an even more accelerated frame rate. Handy if you’re shooting fast subjects or get annoyed (or sick) with a the low frame rate commonly found in electronic viewfinders. The VF-4 allows tilting to 90° — a little redundant on the E-P5 with its rear articulating LCD — and includes a diopter adjustment and positive lock to keep it in the hot shoe.

My only criticism is that the tilting EVF is kept in check only by a resistance clip that has a tendency to pop loose with the camera slung over your shoulder, bouncing as you walk.

The New 17mm f/1.8 M.Zuiko Lens

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Like the VF-4, the lens too is wonderful. Effectively a 35mm lens, it is the tops. Contrasty but requiring a slight step down to f/2.2 to begin seeing true sharpness, I was chuffed to bits that this lens able to match the quality of the E-P5 itself.

White balance shift and just a teasing of vignetting applied in the corners. Also used the brush to slightly bump the shadows on the right side.

White balance shift and just a teasing of vignetting applied in the corners. Also used the brush to slightly bump the shadows on the right side.

Heck, it even has a distance scale for zone focusing during street photography or that family garden party your grandmother begs you to take pictures at every year. The lens switches into manual focus as the ever popular pump action focus ring pulls back to reveal the distance scale.

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Olympus calls this the “Snapshot Focus Mode”, which combined with the distance scale is perfect for when the kids hit sugar overload and no amount of autofocus can track them (though I must say the E-P5 does a damn good job of trying, more on that later).

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The dampening of the focus ring actually improves when it is slipped into manual mode. Becoming a shade firmer to swing and stopping hard at both ends. For a focus-by-wire lens it really is quite nice.

I tried shooting situations where this lens would flare. And it did. Subtle enough for anyone looking to fake UFOs swamp gas or weather balloons photos but nothing to write angry letters to Mr. Olympus over.

Yes it flared, just a little and to be fair I was shooting directly into the sun.

Yes it flared, just a little and to be fair I was shooting directly into the sun.

The light falloff is rather hard to notice and what is apparent disappears in post. For $499 by itself, it’s a heck of a lens. It’s easy to see why the 17mm is one of the more expensive of Olympus’ available MFT lenses.

Oh and it’ll focus pretty close to, a tight 9.84″ to be precise. Perfect for that food blog.

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The only knock being a slight wobble in the focus ring, which only becomes noticeable when or if you ever use manual focus. It’s such a non-issue that it’s barely worth mentioning, except that it proves how little there is wrong with this lens.

The E-P5 PEN

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To pick one word to describe the E-P5’s body itself, it would have to be ‘impressive’. It just feels rugged, strong and like it could take a few smacks off the kitchen table. The front and rear 2×2 dials have perfect resistance and the rear buttons, including the Custom Lever are just bang on. The button spacing too is very well done, everything is within a single thumb’s reach save for the flash popup trigger.

And I struggled to find anything bad to say about it, except for maybe the lagging experienced when quickly adjusting an exposure value via the a control dial. Spinning a dial very quickly will just not register any adjustment to your settings — frustrating when in the thick of it and you need to get from f/1.8 to f/8 as soon as possible. Just like the human statue below, slow and steady will win every time.

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1/8000s at f/1.8

Aside from that, everything is brilliant. The rear thumb grip has just enough of an angle and traction to function as it should. Even the touchscreen which one might expect to suffer from little lag itself, had worked its way so well into my routine when reviewing, that I found myself swiping the back of my Nikon’s more than once after a week of shooting primarily with the E-P5.

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On the topic of battery life, I tried to give the E-P5 a tough test for one battery: four days of hiking, camping and capturing family memories. It passed. I even gambled by leaving the charger at home on this excursion and it wasn’t until the early evening of day four — on the way home — that it finally gave up.

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It had shot almost 400 frames and 45 minutes of video, and was accidentally left on more than I’d care to admit. However I will admit that I was impressed as I’d changed my Nikon’s battery twice already.

But let’s rewind to the day I removed this Micro Four Thirds gem from its box.

Within my first hour of picture making with the E-P5 one thing popped into question almost immediately. Weather sealing. The answer? It has none.

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Above me an air conditioner dangerously dripped water nearby as I began testing the E-P5. It was at that point that I became a little paranoid about the its lack of weather sealing. It’s not like it was a lot from that air conditioner, but one single drop could and would, according to Murphy’s Law, find its way past the E-P5’s defenses. Any kind of weather resistance would be nice.

I became even more concerned when I got caught in a thunder shower later that day. The inability of the E-P5 to repel any of this water had me quickly tossing it in my bag and switching back to my trusted Nikon for the couple photos I had to make.

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Weather sealing is something rarely found in cameras of this ilk and price point, making it hard to nitpick Olympus too much for this infraction. Except that, if you open up any magazine this month you’re bound to see adverts for Olympus’ submersible line of point and shoot cameras. Furthermore, the E-M5 — the E-P5’s big brother — also includes water resistance. So it begs the question: why not just adopt a little of that tech for your brand new top-o-the-line Micro Four Thirds do-everything-in-a-small-package camera? I’m not asking to be able to go swimming with the sharks but to simply be able to get caught in a down pour and not be too concerned about getting it the slightest bit damp. I don’t think that’s asking too much from Olympus.

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On a slightly more positive note, the noise levels at higher ISOs qualify in the “I can deal with this” category. It’s nothing to write home about but it could easily be worse and still manageable. With an available ISO 25600, detail at distance is maintained up to ISO 3200. Only beyond that will you begin to see any detail loss worth moaning about. We all know that with MFT comes a trade off. Smaller sensor, smaller package but lower quality of the images when compared to a two times larger full frame sensor. The majority of users who will clamor for this will be very happy with the results at those high ISO levels. Oh and fear not, grabbing focus in the dark is made pretty easy when coupled with the big aperture of the 17mm lens.

100% crop of the above image. ISO3200 f/1.8

100% crop of the above image. ISO3200 f/1.8

Sticking with grabbing focus for a second. I shoot a lot of sports, and I love a good tracking autofocus as much as the next guy. It is something I can live without though. I did with the X100 and X-Pro 1 when they first arrived on the scene and I made out just fine. Sure they can do continuous AF, but that isn’t locking onto a subject and maintaining that lock like a dog to his bone.

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The E-P5 is the dog and the bone is your subject. It does not let go. Watching that green square dance around the screen makes me smile. My Nikon’s do this too, but it’s not as fun. Not as fluid and most importantly, not as accurate. Precise isn’t a strong enough word to describe how well the E-P5 will hold focus on your requested target. It’s borderline creepy. What does this camera know that I don’t? What can it see that I can’t?

On top of that it will lock focus AND still shoot at 9 frames a second. Doing so with an optional 44ms shutter lag I might add. No slouch when compared to a D4’s 43ms lag time.

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It was at this point where my love affair with the E-P5 really began in earnest. Like I said, I love sports and I love action. Though I try to be considerate with my shutter finger, when the s**t hits the fan sometimes you just have to press the trigger and hold on for the ride. As I said, I do enjoy thinking photos through. Instead of just blasting away Willy-nilly it’s time well spent when you take a moment to sit back and watch, digest and compose your photos.

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Which is why I love the E-P5 and the VF-4’s waist level abilities. No, really. There’s lots of ways to teach yourself to slow… down… and compose… better… pictures. And one neat way to slow down and think about every photo you take is using a waist level finder. And if you’ve never used one before you might discover that you like it a lot more than you would have thought it.

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And that is one of the most beautiful things about the E-P5. It is designed to please everyone and makes little sacrifice in doing so. People who are new to photography, never before holding a camera and people who have shot professionally for years but now want something small and versatile to use sporadically without needing to re-learn how to use it each time, all stand to be quite happy with the E-P5.

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It is highly customizable, Olympus’ 2 x 2 Dial Control with Custom Lever assures of it. Unfortunately Olympus hasn’t done anyone any favors with the deplorable menu interface because it will take some digging on occasion to change settings. The tool tips revealed when hitting the info button help clarify some of the more ambiguous menu options. But things like having two sections for WIFI setup, separated by several pages of options, is just wrong. So wrong, it kind of makes you chuckle.

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While the menu interface is a bit confusing, you are not going to spend a lot of time in there anyway. They’ve done a fantastic job of pushing any of the most used settings onto the “Live Control” slider which will pop out instantly with a quick press of the OK button. Without moving your thumb you can then navigate the menu up or down while adjusting settings with the left or right toggle. For example you swiftly go from Single AF to Continuous AF (with tracking) in two ticks.

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The Live Control slider function is far more fluid than much lauded Q button that Fuji placed in an obviously daft location: underneath your right thumb. The very thumb you’ll be holding and bracing the camera with while you’re shooting. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve picked up my X-Pro 1 and launched the Q menu accidentally before even putting the camera to my face, I’d have $28 now. Furthermore, the Olympus Live Control menu does not block my view through the lens when it appears. It slides in. I make a change. I take a picture. It couldn’t be easier.

Better still, all of that mess disappears if I choose. And all that remains are exposure settings, allowing for a nice large, clean and clear viewfinder. What is not to love.

As a settings tweaking junkie I absolutely loved the ability to change what seemed like every little adjustment on the camera to match my style. It was nice to be able to change the front and rear dials to multiple options but most important was setting them the same as my Nikon’s with aperture and shutter speed front and rear respectively, spinning in the same direction. Add to that there’s a Custom Lever to swap the dials and buttons to another set of options and the control granted without digging through the onscreen menu is highly convenient.

Minor Gripes

To be clear, these are minor gripes. Very minor gripes.

I hate to say this, but even with my average sized hands I wanted more size to this camera. The weight of this camera sits in the Goldilocks zone, just right. But its dimensions left me — well mostly my right pinky and ring finger — grasping for air every time I’d grab the E-P5. It’s going to be a common complaint until the eBay hand grips make their appearance from China. When they do however, this may become one of the more comfortable cameras I’ve held.

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Too small for my hands but fits perfectly in the tight center console in my car.

Yes it is kind of silly to nitpick a purposefully small camera for its small size but my hands are not giganticsauraus hands yet they feel strained holding this camera for too long. As I was only really holding the camera with my index and middle fingers, it was actually a bit of a trick to spin the front dial with my index finger while essentially only holding the camera with my thumb and middle finger. A grip of any sort will fix this.

The lack of a PC sync port will prove very, very annoying for a few but most won’t even notice it’s missing. The unfortunate side of it, is those who do find it troublesome are so bothered by it that they just won’t make the purchase. Trigger an off camera flash when you have the EVF mounted? You can’t.

Olympus has a pretty neat App available for both Android and Apple. I tested it on the iPhone and it was good. It does live stream the camera’s view (great for remote work) but simple things, like using your phone as a cable release to operate the camera in bulb mode were absent from the application. Making a connection from the camera to the phone took some doing, despite the fact it should be a very simple process with the QR code linking method employed here. I’d all but gave up on it till I was in a situation where I had nothing else to do but tinker with it for an hour. After 45 minutes it finally connected.

Scrap the flash and fill the void with a built in viewfinder and I think they’ll sell a few more of these. Though the flash does a good job, it could be done without and most would gladly take the built in EVF over the hot shoe version.

Oddly I found myself doing something I do not often do: shooting video. Then I found myself being something I kind of expected: disappointed. The video looks OK. Really, it’s a five out of ten. With an eye to the EVF with the Olympus’ 5-axis Image Stabilization doing its thing, my videos had me fooled into thinking I’d become the next Martin Scorsese. But back home on the big screen of my iMac the reality of it was that the sensor was not truly intended for making anything but family memories.

Conclusion

An admission is due here. When I first checked into the E-P5 I didn’t think I’d like it at all, much less love it as much as I do now. I’m not entirely shocked that it has grown on me as quick as it has, Olympus is doing some great work here. Aesthetically they have done an amazing job of continuing to model the 2013 PEN after their 35mm film shooters of old, and that suits me just fine. And while yes it could use a hand grip, it’s manageable and on the very edge of fitting into coat pockets without bursting any stitches. A big tick in the box for a camera meant to usurp your clunky DSLR from time to time.

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Yes the video quality stinks. The WiFi function could be improved and the body itself can be a little too nimble at times. But in the end, does it matter? I wouldn’t buy this camera to make professional video and in the long term use I’ve put this through, the diminutive size of the body and the hand pains it initially caused began to fade. Further, I reeeeeally got used to the weight of it. Doing a ten mile hike with a 40lbs of DSLR bodies and lenses with just the E-P5 around my neck for quick snaps was liberating. And while the video quality isn’t exactly pure raw 1080p output, it is good enough for quickly capturing the moment your friend falls face first into a sandy beach.

On top of that, the feature set is huge. 3.0″ Tilt Touchscreen. Focus Peaking. Remote viewing and triggering on your phone. 9FPS. Flash sync to 1/320s. Interval Mode. Live Bulb. Wonderfully adjustable and customizable on camera controls. Crazy accurate focus and tracking. 5-Axis Image Stabilization. 1/8000s Mechanical Shutter. HDR and bracketing.  The list goes on I assure you.

It does so much that perhaps it’s easier just to mention what it isn’t. It isn’t a full frame. Nor is it even an APS-C. And there’s the rub. The image quality while great for MFT, wasn’t comparable to APS-C which is found in rival cameras like the Fuji X100/s, X-E1 or Sony’s NEX-7.

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Yet I can’t help but reflect on how I used this camera most and realize that image quality — especially since it’s pretty good anyway — is not a top priority for a camera like this. There’s a definite sensor to body size trade off you need to be willing to make if you’re going the Micro Four Thirds route. It is the ability to make a high quality picture that captures everything you wanted in focus, properly exposed and in time before little Billy runs out of the room with his new toy — all in a very small and convenient package size — that is perhaps the single goal of any camera like this. The E-P5 succeeds with flying colors.


 
  • Caca Milis

    Looks like a nice camera, small and great for street photography, but I’m still curious to see how the Olympus and Sony marriage will turn out

  • http://tsurufoto.com/ Aaron Tsuru

    I love my E-P1, this can only be that much better.

  • KeeFyBeeFy

    Uhmmm….It’s a m4/3.
    Need i say more?

  • http://www.mmm-fruit.com/ Shar

    Great shots! Are most of these SOOC (Straight Out Of Camera) or are they all post-processed?

  • Four Letter Nerd

    The EVF falls off while carrying the camera on a shoulder strap? How is this not a total fail?

  • BDWT

    Colin, any chance you can post links to the full size images? I’m curious to see the lens sharpness in some of those examples and maybe some noise samples too, it looks like it would make for a great travel/day trip camera.

  • Joe Gunawan

    How about shoot with one first, maybe? Mu4/3 sensors are far more capable than you think. Not convinced? Most the fashion/commercial images I have on my site are shot with either the GH2 or the GH3: http://www.fotosiamo.com

  • matt jones

    I can’t help wonder how you would feel about the IQ if you tried the E-P5 some of the other lenses like the 45 f1.8 or the 25 f1.4, the 17mm f1.8 always seems a little middle of the road to me.

  • gochugogi

    I doesn’t easily fall off unless broken off by dashing against a rock or other solid object. However, the upper section can tilt up to 90 degrees and thus a hard rub or snag may cause it to tilt. Luckily the fiction latch holds it well and I have yet to have it accidentally tilt after 2 months of use but I use a handstrap and am not prone to rubbing it against my body..

  • derzeus

    m4/3 bleah… bettter sony FF

  • derzeus

    you do not have a photo that has the smoothness zeiss 135 1.8… m4/3 good only for “everything in focus or photoshop”

  • KeeFyBeeFy

    Any camera works at f8 f11 100 ISO. Even a point and shoot.
    If you’re a photographer, you should know that by now.

    Your photographs speaks just that and lack of dynamic range displays is prolly your style. Maybe if you tried a hassie in with the same lighting setup you used, you’ll be better convinced.

  • dcaseyjones

    I tried a prototype of the E-P5 out at a trade show a few months back, and loved everything about it…until I discovered that while recording video, I was unable to change my aperture/ISO (which is a deal-breaker for me). None of the people working the Olympus booth could tell me if that was a limitation of the prototype or not.

    So my question is…can you change your aperture/ISO while recording video in the final model?

  • Joe Gunawan

    I don’t just shoot f/8 or f/11, although I don’t really care much for super shallow DOF in my style, either. As for lack of dynamic range, my images usually have a good deal deal of dynamic range because I tend to shoot with many gridded or flagged modifiers (gridded/flagged beauty dish, gridded reflectors, gridded strip, etc).

    And yes, I do shoot with the Phase One IQ180 from time to time, as well as my friend’s Hasselblad, so I’m well aware of the difference in quality. For the higher end work, I do use MF. For everything else, mu4/3 works just fine.

    So where’s your work KeeFyBeeFy?

  • Joe Gunawan

    I rarely shoot super shallow DOF. When I need to, I have the superb Olympus 75mm f/1.8, which is 150mm so not that far from the 135mm.

    Not saying that the Zeiss 135mm is not superb, just saying that the 75mm is no slouch either.

  • Kyle Adams

    great review, I’m sold.

  • Don Tusk

    Good but Fuji X-E1 (with new firmware) is much better.

  • mafktss

    ZING!!!

  • Andrew Kurcan

    Just dropped in to say nice work, Joe!

  • derzeus

    150 mm?? the dof is the same of a 75 in FF
    for my pro shots, minimum is an apc fortunately will come out the nex ff

  • R O

    X-E1, like NEX, is a half stop improvement in ISO over this camera. But with that comes slower focus and a very limited lens line-up, and the lenses are larger. No wide angle zoom lens, no portrait lens, no fast 35mm equivalent. M43 covers all of these areas with multiple lenses. Once Fuji can complete these gaps, it will have might have my attention. I do like the aperture ring on lens and labelled shutter and ISO dials (cuz that’s all I need those dials for) that Fuji has.

  • Zos Xavius

    I looked and your pictures were pretty stunning. I don’t think you have anything to worry about!

  • nt

    Great write up, though I am surprised no one said anything about beating Canon or Samsung’s APS-C for image quality, hey it M43 beating some APS-C if not all

  • Four Letter Nerd

    I see. I confused accidental tilt with accidentally knocking the viewfinder off the body. Thanks.

  • derzeus

    not the next nex FF :-)

  • derzeus

    lets wait the nex FF and then…… ^_^ will blow out those crap m43

  • Jason

    Nice camera combo, but still lacks what theNEX-6 is capable of.

  • c_henry

    OK, m43 has 2x the DoF as FF or 2-stops. What’s the DoF difference between m43 and APS-C though? Isn’t it like 1/3 to 1/2 a stop? Would you really notice the difference?

  • http://www.colinpeddle.com Colin Peddle

    Nope. I just double check but as far as I can tell and from flipping through the manual, it’s not there.

  • http://www.colinpeddle.com Colin Peddle

    I truthfully found using the ep5 faster to make adjustments on then I have with the Fuji’s I’ve owned and used extensively. I attributed this to the similarities with the two dials on the ep5 to the Nikon setup though. I always found the top dial for shutter on the Fuji to be a bit precarious when it came to quickly shifting it from one shutter speed to another.

  • http://www.colinpeddle.com Colin Peddle

    I too wondered the same thing. The 45mm would be right up my ally.

    I tried to convey this message in the review, but it’s not exactly bad quality [the sensor]. I wouldn’t make a 36″ x 24″ picture with any of the images… but, I could if I had to and it would be just fine because frankly, no one’s looking at a 36×24″ picture at a close enough distance to see the flaws.

    On the screen, it was somewhat easy to see a very, very subtle lack of detail in the shadows.

    From a “should I purchase this” POV, I don’t think it [sensor size/quality] should impact a purchase decision for the majority of users who will consider it. Few people these days view their photos on anything beyond an iPad or screen. Rarely do people print their photos and if they did, they’d realize the d70s they had back in 2008 was perfectly fine for their photographic needs.

    Back to your point… I do suspect some of the image quality issues — minor as they were — were certainly due to the lens itself. I’d suggest they were 50/50, so with a more superb lens mounted, perhaps they’d become unnoticeable.

  • http://www.colinpeddle.com Colin Peddle

    Yeah… I just kind of wish they had a small button release or even slide lock to pop it in and out. It’s used so rarely and likely not at all for some, that if it’s never used, it should never be noticed. Stay put.

  • http://www.colinpeddle.com Colin Peddle

    There’s minor post on most them but several are straight out of cam. My theory being, no one runs SOOC pics anymore… there’s always something, even if it’s just a tone curve. I will always note it in the image’s caption if there’s more then just a tone or contrast/exposure adjustment, as I did in one of the first images of the bearded fellow. I was more concerned about the compositional ideas of that lens in that portion of the review then discussing the camera, but of course, I noted below the picture what was applied in post to that image.

  • http://www.colinpeddle.com Colin Peddle

    One of the best cameras I’ve ever used for street. It has everything. Small size. Small lenses. Not imposing. Looks old/vintage, so not a threat for thievery. It’s definitely durable. Has great battery life. Super quick to focus and shoot. I actually sold my xpro1 about a week after I got this. No need for it. Ep5 does exactly what I’d hoped my xpro1 would but never did.

  • http://www.colinpeddle.com Colin Peddle

    I do not think it’s possible you’d be disappointed with an upgrade.

  • http://tsurufoto.com/ Aaron Tsuru

    True! But, I’m happy with the E-P1, so I’m good! Besides, my money’s being spent on 35mm film these days… =)

  • http://www.colinpeddle.com Colin Peddle

    Hah… that’s a habit that can be hard to kick. :-D

  • http://www.colinpeddle.com Colin Peddle

    Will mention it and find out if we’re set up for such a thing or find some way to do it.

  • http://www.mmm-fruit.com/ Shar

    Thanks for responding so quickly! I figure most people don’t post SOOC, but occasionally you have people who do, and I was just curious since it was a camera review, I wanted to see what it was capable of without post processing. Thanks! :)

  • BDWT

    Cool, thanks. Even just a link to a flickr page would be fine.

  • http://tsurufoto.com/ Aaron Tsuru

    haha! so true.

  • Mike

    @derzeus: I have a Nikon D7000, a Canon 6D, and the Olympus PEN E-P5. Whatever you are saying about m43 vs. APS-C and FF is utter nonsense. The E-P5 is the best camera of the three. Don’t bash what you don’t know.

  • Mike

    I tried the X-E1 was not that impressed. Slow AF and the body felt cheap. Lack of IBIS is also a huge bummer (I really wish Nikon would get IBIS on the DX bodes as all decent DX glass lacks VR).

    I’m also not the biggest fan of the Fuji lenses, too much corner softness.

  • Mike

    When I compare my E-P5 to my Nikon D7000, the IQ is a match or even slightly better on the E-P5. I’m astounded by this. I couldn’t be happier with the output from both cameras.

  • derzeus

    sure sure… XD

  • Benny Jett

    Won’t it be simpler and cheaper to just get a Fuji X100S?

  • Jimmy

    Yeah there’s so many interchangeable lenses for that one, right Fuji employee?

  • jimmy

    wtf is with this fanboy religious cult when it comes to effing camera gear? Like My dik is bigger than yours crapp. who cares?

  • beejaquelinewte

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  • 6×9 Observer

    Yep, true… Like NEX 6’s coming up the better part of “200 lines” of rez short and adding more noise at the most practical ISOs, in comparison… according to ‘Popular Photography’s’ full test reports, which I just read through at the library yesterday. FWIW. The same compared to Pentax’s use of the 16mp Sony sensor in the K-01 and K-30/K-50, with respect to their test format resolution results. Fanboys and camera gear READERS do love getting led around by the nose in the dark, keeping judgments simple…