At the Precision Camera mini vendor fair, I finally got my hands on the newest Olympus Pens, the E-PL5 and the E-PM2. I gave a scathing review of Canon’s EOS M, but the Olympus Cameras worked well as expected. However, there was a surprise that I’ll talk about later. Both cameras were lightning fast including the focusing and the frames per second — such a big contrast from the plodding EOS M. Olympus has been at this game for a while and you can tell they have refined their cameras over the years.
My blog readers know that I’m in search for yet another Olympus camera (like I didn’t have enough already?) I’m buying another micro 4/3 camera before the end of the year, but which one? In my post In limbo between the Olympus OM-D and E-PL5 I went back and forth between the Pen and the OM-D. I’ve decide to go “lower end” and opt for the E-PL5 — the smaller size and the familiar Pen interface won out over the high-end OM-D. But, when I actually played with the new Pens, I became unsure.
The E-PL5 is better built than the previous E-PL3. It feels like a skinnier version of the high-end E-P3 with a similar build quality. Design wise, however, I still prefer the E-P3. The chunky flip-up LCD screen dominates the back — so much so that I found it uncomfortable to hold. I had a similar experience with the OM-D EM-5 but the smaller E-PL5 is worse. I probably have smaller than average hands for a guy — people with larger hands will certainly suffer. The OM-D has optional grips to make the camera easier to hold, the Pen line does not. The flip-up LCD is the culprit. It has a beefy build with a big frame, much more than the slender Sony NEX. The big LCD assembly squeezes the controls on the right side and it makes holding and making adjustments a tight experience. The Sony NEX is better ergonomically. Its beefier grip makes it easier to hold and even one-hand the controls. I like flip up LCDs but the slender Olympus grips makes for a compromised holding experience.
The E-PM2, by contrast, was a surprise. Without the articulating LCD, the rear grip was just large enough to make a difference. The camera is also lighter so there is less strain on the hand. For $100 less, you get a camera with the same sensor and image processor but with a cheaper feeling body. You lose the flip-up screen, the beefier metal build and a couple buttons. But, I actually prefer the E-PM2. It feels better in hand and the button placement is better. The E-PM2 has a programable function button by the shutter, just like the E-P3. It also uses the jog dial to zoom into pictures during playback. I prefer this to the slower operating buttons on the E-PL5. I found it ironic that the entry-level unit is more customizable for my needs. I was able to better match its interface to my Olympus E-P3 which is important because I plan to use both cameras together.
I also like the simpler look of the E-PM2. It reminds me of the E-PL1 design with its silver band that wraps the body. I don’t, however, like that cheap plastic feel of the camera. Compared to the E-P3, E-PL5 and even the E-PL1, the E-PM2 feels light and a bit entry-level. But, I like the ergonomics and it’s also the least expensive way to get that new, fantastic 16MP Olympus sensor. It also makes for a really compact kit with the Panasonic 14mm and 20mm pancake lenses. Yup, the E-PM2 is going to be my next Olympus camera.