Cuba with an Olympus PEN E-P5, a VF-4 and Three Primes by Richard Nugent

Cuba with an Olympus PEN E-P5, a VF-4 and Three Primes

By Richard Nugent

About two and a half years ago, you posted my user report detailing my experience with my Olympus OMD E-M5 and a Panasonic 12-35mm f2.8 on a trip down the Mekong River. There was some worthwhile discussion generated in the comments section, so I thought I would share my recent experience using the E-P5 and primes as a travel camera.

Owner: Olympus / Region: World Usage: all media

I flew to Cuba from Miami early this year on a people-to-people tour with National Geographic Expeditions. At the time, travel to Cuba from the US was restricted to this type of cultural exchange arrangement. I was eager to visit the island before the recent US-Cuba détente took effect and things changed. I certainly was not disappointed with the trip. Cuba is a marvelous place and its people are welcoming and friendly. Havana is an extraordinarily target-rich environment for photographers. The few areas outside of Havana that we visited also provided opportunities to test ones skill.

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I purchased the E-P5 in order to have a smaller camera and a back-up body to my E-M1. I also bought the VF-4 electronic viewfinder because, after forty-odd years of shooting with SLRs and then DSLRs, I am most comfortable framing at eye-level. Last year, I tried the Sony R100 Mark III as my take-anywhere camera, but I found its controls difficult to work and the viewfinder too small and inconvenient. So I decided to try the E-P5, even though it is not really “small” nor does it have a built-in viewfinder.

The trip to Cuba was my first travel opportunity since acquiring the camera. So I opted to take only the E-P5, the VF-4 and my three primes, even though I usually shoot with zooms when I travel. The prime lenses were: the Olympus 45mm f1.8 (90mm equivalent), the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 (40mm eq.) and 14mm f2.5 (28mm eq.).

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The short version of my experience is that the E-P5 captured some excellent images and was enjoyable to use. Its controls are very similar to the E-M5 and, to a lesser degree, to my E-M1, so operationally things were easy for me. However, the rear LCD was difficult to use because of the bright tropical sun (although indoors it was fine). So I wound up shooting with the VF-4 for most of the time. The detail and refresh-rate of the EVF are excellent; about on a par with my E-M1. Its 90-degree flip-up option was useful as well.

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Changing lenses took me back to my early SLR days before zooms were perfected. But I found that I can still juggle two lenses at a time and I also remember how to “zoom with my feet”. I did miss a few shots though. Also, a 12mm (24mm equivalent) lens would have been useful for interiors and shots on the narrow city streets. And maybe something longer than 45mm (90mm equivalent) might have been useful for street shooting at a distance.
There were abundant opportunities to photograph Havana’s people, architecture and, of course, old cars. Also, as the trip had a cultural-exchange focus, we attended several singing, instrumental or dance performances by both school children and adults (all of whom were very talented and obviously well trained). The Cubans have been doing amazing things with very few resources.

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The performance venues allowed ample opportunity to test the camera’s low-light shooting capability. There were occasional instances of problems locking focus in dimly lighted recital rooms, but with well-lit stages the camera generally focused quickly. High ISO performance (to 1600) was good with a little clean-up necessary in Light Room. Image stabilization worked fine for hand-held shots (I did not use my monopod or tripod).
I have attached some sample images below. More examples can be found on my Flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rsnugent/albums/72157650702299470. There are photos from some of my other travels in there as well.

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To summarize: The E-P5 is a fine camera that has a full array of direct controls and it handles much like the E-M5 (or E-M1). With the small MFT primes, it takes high quality images both indoors and outside. However, operating it in sunny conditions, while relying solely on the rear LCD, can be problematic. In such situations, the VF-4 offers an excellent, though expensive, alternative. But, it also should be noted that the E-P5 with the EVF attached is not really a compact package. I have to admit that I underestimated this aspect of the combination. I had anticipated that I would be able to rely on the rear LCD for most shooting and need to attach the EVF only occasionally. This turned out to not be the case.

In the end, as much as I loved how the camera handled and the images it produced, I sold the E-P5 and VF-4 because, for me, the combination was a bit cumbersome as a travel kit. Now I am evaluating the E-M10 as my “small-camera” option. We shall see how that works out. I will update you all later.

Thank you.

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22 Comments

  1. I can attest to the E-M10 being a delightful little camera. Get the add-on grip for use of larger lenses but take it off and pop that pancake on for a very pocketable camera. The EVF is very similar to the E-M5’s one. That and the lack of completely silent/electronic shutter are the only things holding it back.

    • Hey EM,

      I am liking the E-M10 more and more. The grip does improve handling, even wth small lenses. I would agree that “delightful” is a good word to describe its handling. Hard to put into words otherwise. (However, the really flimsy door to the battery/card chamber does make me very nervous every time I have to open it!)

      Just returned from a trip to Bali and Borneo using both the E-M10 and my E-M1. First glance at the files indicates the resulting images are comparable. We’ll see if that holds up once I get more deeply into them.

      Cheers, Richard

  2. I also use the E-P5 with the VF4 which I find indispensable. I use the camera with the kit 14-42 and the 40-150 zooms mostly as I don’t do a lot of low light stuff and in bright light the VF4 is a must. I have also been using Canon FD lenses with a fotodiox adapter and my absolute gave is the Canon 80-200 L FD zoom which give an equivalent field of view to a 160-400 on 35mm. The results are extraordinary, the in body stabilisation of the E-P5 and the VF4 resolution makes focussing easy though not for action as the DOF is very small and the combo is a bit cumbersome.

    Congratulations, your photographs of Cuba are terrific, the Olympus colours have got real pop, think I will invest more in some Olympus fixed lenses. Look fwd to seeing what you think of the E-M10

    • Thanks Chris. I too like rich colors in my images and Olympus delivers quite well in this regard. I do not use the “Vivid” in-camera option, but do try to optimize color in Light Room processing.

      Richard

  3. I have a similar combination with 3 primes including the Oly 12, 25 and 45 plus 2 telephotos. Very nice pics from Cuba by the way. I love this camera, how it looks, feels and shoots. I was a little surprised that you finished the article by saying you sold it.

    The EP5 is not tiny as you stated, but I find it quite versatile. Lose the VF4 and put on a pancake lens and it is quite svelte and portable. The camera can be what you want. The VF4 allows for many holding angles and is excellent quality. Agreed, it is required for shooting in bright light and attachment/detachment adds a fiddle factor.

    I did a compare with the M10. While they shoot about the same, I favored the EP5 for build quality, ergonomics and faster focus with moving objects. The M5ii, might be another story.

    I agree with comments that the EP5 is overlooked. But I also get the feeling about the external EFV. Had Olympus built the VF4 into the camera, it would have been a great camera. But is a solid camera anyway, thanks for sharing your experience.

    • Dennis,

      I too was impressed by the heft and overall quality of construction of the E-P5. It is truly a very nice camera. Thanks for your comment.

      Richard

  4. For the size of the lenses for M4/3, I think this is a great balance of size and weight for a very good image quality. All Around probably more than any of us will be happy with this format. Great Work in Cuba!

  5. Those are some real nice images of Cuba. Although I use the E-M1 as my primary camera, when I travel, I like to go extremely light. My kit consists of an E-PL7 with an old VF2 attached most of the time and a 14-150 Oly zoom. I also have with me a 20mm 1.7 Panny for low light and a Samyang 7.5mm fisheye for extra wide angles. I agree about the EVF – sometimes it’s essential.

    With the E-M1 and E-PL7 both mounted on a tripod & shooting raw files, I see very little difference in the image quality of the two cameras so I have no remorse about leaving the E-M1 home. (but maybe my eyes aren’t as good as they used to be).

  6. I had an E-P5 for a short while. I loved the camera but I too found I couldn’t cope without an EVF. I bought the VF4, but whilst it’s quite superb in quality, it makes the camera bulky and fragile. The E-M5 is actually smaller (as are the E-M5ii and E-M10) compared to the E-P5 with VF4.

    I now run an E-M1/E-M5 combo and I’m very happy with that. IQ between all the 16Mp u43 cameras is pretty much the same.

  7. Those are really good pictures, nice composition and great PP. I also have an EP 5 and I’m considering to replace it with an E-M1. I do not mind the size of the EP5 with the EVF attached, however does the E-M1 produce better files and therefore better IQ than her little sister EP5?

    • Hey S,

      Thanks for the compliment. I shoot raw and process the images in Light Room. I do not print larger than about 8 X 10 inches. I do not pixel-peep. I have seen no difference in the output from the two cameras using the same lenses. Depending on which lenses you now own, you may see improvement in IQ by upgrading your lenses or using primes rather than zooms.

      Also, be aware that the E-M1 has a myriad of control options. It can be intimidating in this regard…too many settings to remember. I find that I often am distracted from getting the best framing or shooting angle. But then, my history goes back to early SLR film days when cameras were simple to operate. A more tech-savvy person may find the complexity routine.

      Along these lines, I am finding that I enjoy shooting with the E-M10 very much. Smaller form factor, basic controls, lighter and a good EVF.

      Cheers

  8. I too enjoy the E-P5. The VF-4 is indispensable, as you discovered. While not a small camera with EVF attached, it is supremely capable. The E-P5 is an overlooked camera in the Olympus line.

    Thank you for the photos of Cuba. They are exceptionally well done. That country holds fascination for me. The book Walker Evans: Cuba by Andrei Codrescu and Judith Keller is one of my favorite photography tomes.

    • Yeah I’ve veen thinking of getting an ep5, a 20mm f/1.7 and an OVF. Seems like a great take anywhere/street setup to me.

      If Sony releases a small evf-less body with a full frame sensor and adequate AF (I’m sorry RX1, I want to love you) I’ll take the plunge.

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