Olympus Pen E-PL5: Qualities of the OM-D E-M5

Thursday November 15 2012

Sensor Review
Introduction | Olympus Pen E-PL5 sensor performance | Olympus Pen E-PL5 versus competition | Conclusion

The Olympus Pen E-PL5 versus its micro 4:3 competitors

Olympus PEN EPL-5 vs Olympus PEN EPL-3


With a DxOMark Score 20 points superior to that of the Pen E-PL3 and its 12Mpix sensor, the Pen E-PL5 is a good measure of the progress Olympus has made toward improved image quality, particularly with respect to the Pen E-PL3.

For color depth, the Pen E-PL5’s sensor provides finer gradations, with a score 1.3 stops better under studio conditions.

The Pen E-PL5’s dynamic range achieves a spectacular improvement, with a gain 2EV over the Pen E-PL3 and thus over all the older generation of Pen compact hybrids.

Olympus PEN EPL5
The curves for dynamic range make it totally clear that the Pen E-PL5’s sensor results are head and shoulders above those for the Pen E-PL3.

As for low-light sensitivity, the Pen E-PL5 brings a notable gain of more than 2/3EV, a good result for a sensor with the same sensitive surface size. As of now, the Pen E-PL5 (along with the OM-D E-M5) is the best compact micro 4:3 in terms of low-light sensitivity.

Olympus PEN EPL5
The curve for the Pen E-PL5’s signal-to-noise ratio shows some progress, notably at high sensitivities.

Olympus Pen E-PL5 vs Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5


With a DxOMark Score 21 points better than that obtained by the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5, the Pen E-PL5 shows a comfortable lead and offers a significant competitive advantage.

 For color depth, the Olympus sensor offers finer gradations, with a score 1.4 bits higher.

The Pen E-PL5 provides a better dynamic range than the Panasonic G5 — 0.7EV more. It’s a tangible increase, even if the Panasonic isn’t really beaten by the Olympvus, which has an even greater dynamic range when compared with the older G3 or GX1 cameras (a difference of 1.7EV). As one can see from the curves below, the dynamic range of the two sensors both follow a similar pattern, and the Olympus sensor maintains a steady advance over the Panasonic.

Olympus PEN EPL5
The dynamic range / sensitivity of the Pen E-PL5 and the Lumix DMC-G5.

As for sensitivity, the Pen E-PL5 is superior to the Lumix even though its performance is roughly the same — only 0.5EV more (889 ISO vs. 618 ISO).

Olympus Pen E-PL5 vs Sony NEX-7 and NEX-5N


Unsurprisingly, the Olympus Pen E-PL5’s DxOMark overall sensor score lags behind the excellent scores obtained by the two Sony compact hybrids equipped with 16Mpix and 24Mpix EXMOR CMOS sensors.

 But with only 5 points separating it from the NEX-5N, the Pen E-PL5 has come closer to APS-C hybrid cameras of reference than a micro 4:3 compact has ever come before (excepting the OM-D, whose sensor the Pen E-PL5 uses). The Pen E-PL5 changes the game by reducing the image quality gap between the micro 4:3 and the NEX APS-C formats.

For color depth, the Sony cameras retain an advantage of 1 bit, more or less — fairly hard to detect on a photo.

For dynamic range, the Pen E-PL5 is outdistanced by the NEX-5N by one full stop in terms of exposure latitude — ultimately not very much, given that the NEX-5N is a champion in this area. But compared to the NEX-7, with its score of 12.7EV, the Olympus is pretty much in the same league in this category with a score of 12.3EV.

Olympus PEN EPL5
It’s rare to see such very close dynamic range measurement curves when comparing a micro 4:3 compact with a Sony APS-C…

With larger sensitive surface areas, the two Sony NEX cameras come out ahead for low-light sensitivity, but it’s just a slight lead, given that the Pen E-PL5 is only 1/10EV less sensitive than the NEX-7. In short, the three cameras are essentially tied — quite a feat for the micro 4:3 with a smaller sensitive surface area.

Olympus PEN EPL5

Olympus Pen E-PL5 vs Fujifilm X10


Twenty-two points separate the OM-D from the Fujifilm X10, whose sensor is much smaller: 6.6 x 8.8mm versus 13 x 17.3mm for the Olympus.

The Pen E-PL5 has a very significant lead of 2.3 bits for color depth, and provides an additional full stop for dynamic range.

The difference in sensitive surface area has a particular impact with respect to the low-light sensitivity criterion in favor of the Olympus Pen E-PL5, whose score of 889 ISO is more than triple that of the Fujifilm X10 expert compact (245 ISO). The Pen E-PL5, with its high sensitivity and good signal-to-noise ratio, extends its sensitivity range up to 25,600 ISO.

As one can see by comparing the curves, the Pen E-PL5 provides the same signal-to-noise ratio at 6400 as the Fuji X10 at 1600 ISO.

Olympus Pen E-PL5 vs Nikon 1 J2


The 1" CMOS sensor of the Nikon 1 J1, V1, and J2 sensors is well-conceived, as we have seen through our sensor tests for all three cameras. But the new Olympus LiveMos sensor in the Pen E-PL5 brings a qualitatively larger gain, with an overall score that is 18 points better than the last-tested Nikon 1, the J2. The new Olympus sensor is better across all of our evaluation criteria.

For color depth, the Pen E-PL5 brings a gain of 1.5 bits — progress that is starting to become consequential even if it is still hard to see on a print.

The Pen E-PL5 beats the Nikon 1 cameras’ honorable scores with an already comfortable dynamic range, but which Olympus has improved by one and half stops.

Olympus PEN EPL5
Fairly close at high sensitivities, the dynamic ranges of the two sensors show a significant difference starting 400 ISO and lower in favor of the Olympus.

With a more generous sensitive surface size, the Olympus Pen E-PL5 logically achieves low-light sensitivity score 2.5EV greater than the Nikon 1 cameras (889 ISO vs 245 ISO).

Olympus PEN EPL5

The comfortable lead that this Olympus micro 4:3 sensor enjoys in our test results with respect to the Nikon’s first-generation 1" sensor is very likely to be upset by the new Nikon 20Mpix sensor used in its recently-announced V2 model. (To be continued….)