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Olympus crafts a classic with the Pen EP-5

By Leigh D. Stark | 3:00 pm 10/05/2013

Photographers are sure spoiled for choice, and a new model on the way from Olympus only adds to that, offering up a camera with looks that match some evolved insides.

The new camera continues the reinvention of the Olympus Pen brand, a camera model that dates back to the sixties with the popular Pen EE cameras. Olympus revived that camera in 2009 with the first digital Pen camera, called the E-P1, and now several years and models later, it’s time to introduce the E-P5 to the world.

Don’t let that “5” fool you, as this is actually the fourth model to carry the “E-P” flagship moniker, and there are several others fitting under the “E-PL” Pen Lite and “E-PM” Pen Mini brand. Regardless, the E-P5 is the latest model from Olympus, and it will carry some very cool technology inside, evolving the digital Pen cameras to make them better in design and as a camera.

We’ll start with the optics and technology inside, because that’s really what makes a camera a camera.

In the E-P5, Olympus is sticking with the Micro Four Thirds mount that it uses alongside Panasonic’s own mirror less cameras, and throwing in a 16.1 megapixel LiveMOS sensor capable of shooting wither RAW (ORF) or JPEG images with an ISO range from 100 to 25600 for some heavy low-light sensitivity.

New to a mirror less interchangeable is a shutter speed of 1/8000 of a second, the same speed available in high-end digital SLRs, such as the Nikon D4 and D800 cameras. A high flash sync speed is also offered from the built-in flash – 1/320 – and Olympus is talking up a maximum shooting speed of nine frames per second,, with 17 frames able to be shot in RAW before the camera stops and takes a breather for a few seconds.

We didn't have much to take pictures of from our brief time with the E-P5. There was breakfast, but that's about it.

There’s a 3 inch tilting touchscreen on the back of the camera, allowing you to touch where you need to focus, with 35 focus points to choose from, but the Olympus E-P5 will also offer manual focus with a mode that shows what you’re focusing on in bright white edges, similar to the old focal plane method of focusing in older cameras.

And if you don’t want to use a 3 inch LCD to focus, this camera will be compatible with pretty much every Olympus electronic viewfinder, including a new one released for the occasion, the VF-4.

The controls include dials on both the front and back for manual controls, and there’s even a nifty switch that lets you jump between different settings for what those controls do, changing their functions on the fly.

As a first for an Olympus mirror less camera, WiFi is built into the body, so you can send images and videos straight to a tablet or smartphone with up to four devices connected simultaneously.

Using a QR code on the back of the camera – those square barcodes – tablets and smartphones will be to link up quickly with their E-P5 camera, with all the necessary connection information being transferred over from that one scan.

Currently, the feature only works on iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch), but we’re told an Android compatible app is being developed for this.

The apps that use this feature, however, do more than just let you grab your files from the camera: they also let you take photos through the camera.

Once the link has been made over WiFi, you’ll be able to see what the camera sees, touching the screen to focus on fire. A quick demo of this saw autofocus was just as fast as it was in the camera, and images are not only stored on the camera, but transferred wirelessly to the tablet or smartphone the moment they’re shot.

The app also features software versions of the E-P5’s creative art filters, so you can make your images look just as arty out of the camera (before they’re eventually sent to Instagram).

The Olympus Pen E-P5 will also come in black.

We’ve touched on the tech, but there’s also the look and style, and that’s an area where it feels like Olympus has really made a leap forward in the E-P5.

While previous digital Pen cameras were a blend of the old design with the new logo, the E-P5 looks like how the classic Pen would have evolved if Olympus had continued designing cameras in that style.

The logo is branded now as “Olympus Pen,” and the build is pure metal, with a heft that is both comfortable and durable, making it feel as if you’re carrying a camera and not just a toy.

Even with a touchscreen on the back, the overall feel the E-P5 is one of a classic camera, and even though our play with it was brief, we wondered why so many other cameras didn’t feel like this.

It’s one of those times where we’ve held a camera and realised that if we were overseas on holiday, we would think of ourselves more as a photographer than a tourist, just a tourist with a camera.

Image quality aside – and we can’t attest to that from this yet, but hope it will be as good as what we saw last year’s E-M5 – this camera gives off the feeling that you might actually be using a classic camera, and not just another digital camera.

Olympus says the camera will be ready for purchase sometime in in July, and while representatives wouldn’t say what the price would be, we’ve heard that it could come in around the $1499 mark with the VF-4 electronic viewfinder and the 17mm F/1.8 lens bundled in (above).

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