Olympus are wasting no time in expanding their PEN series of cameras. The E-PL1 follows on hot on the heals of the E-P2 but aimed at a different Market segment. The was as the E-P1/2 are aimed at the more serious photographer the E-PL2 has been designed to appeal have more appeal to the novice whilst maintaining a number of features derived from it's bigger brother. Build quality seems to be in keeping with the earlier models. The E-PL1 come in 4 colours: Silver, Red, Black and Champagne.
It has a 12 megapixel image sensor using Olympus's latest image processing engine, TruePic V. Like the other PEN cameras there has been provision made to shoot in other than the standard 4:3 aspect ratios (3:2, 16:9 and 6:6). HD movie recording is in 16:9 and SD in 4:3.
The Olympus PEN E-PL1 comes packed with features to keep the serious photography satisfied with low complexity for the novice. The key features are as follows:
- 12 megapixel TruePic V image sensor
- HD Movie Recording (1280x720 at 30fps)
- HDMI connection
- Dedicated movie record button
- Built in flash with wireless flash control
- 3fps continuous shooting
- In body image stabiliser
- Dust reduction filter (SSWF)
- iAuto for easy camera control
- Art Filters
- Real time effects monitoring
The E-PL1 has many of the features found on the E-P1 but there are some omissions and this shall be discussed in the full review.
The Olympus E-PL1 powers up very quickly and ready for action in minimal time. The attached 14-42mm lens (equivalent to 28-84mm lens in the 35mm format) if locked (in its most compact form) will matters as the camera will display a message on it's 2.7" LCD screen to remind the user to unlock the lens. The top plate of the camera as well as featuring the power on/off button as has the shutter release, exposure mode dial and the external flashgun mount which also is employed to hold an external viewfinder or microphone. The back of the E-PL1 has controls for image playback, menu, display information, and file deletion. Another cluster of controls provide exposure compensation, AF selection, flash mode selection and drive/timer delay.
For the purpose of the press event shooting with the camera was restricted to using the iAuto mode. The iAuto has been revamped with the inclusion of Live Guide to promote simplified exposure controls in this mode. Usually such auto modes are designed to limit user input but Olympus has provided a number of overrides for adjustment of depth of field, shutter speed, colour saturation, colour balance and brightness that does not require any prior technical knowledge. Both what Olympus term Blur Background (aperture adjustment) and Express Motions (shutter speed adjustment) show none of the usual f-stop or shutter speed parameters as the whole process has been simplified down to a single scroll bar represented on the right of the screen. Adjustments are made with the up or down buttons. It's a matter of just pressing the OK button, choosing the feature required and pressing up or down for example towards blur or sharp.
It seems that the E-PL1 prevents the user from having to worry about undesirable side effects like, low shutter speeds or not enough light with the automatic use of the in body image stabiliser and auto adjustment of the ISO sensitivity. This is commendable as the novice user may not be plagued by shaky or under exposed shots.
It most be noted that the Live Guide method employed does not make it easy to replicate results at a later date as there are no parameters to go by and memorise. In terms of the blur control it would of been nice if at either end of the scroll bar an indication was provided based on information derived direction from lens focal length information and subject distance. With this kind of information the E-PL1 can better represent the amount of blur or sharpness that can be applied based on the lens settings. A novice user may apply blur and get very little effect not realising that the subject is too far away or the focal length is just too wide.
The iAuto mode sets the wide AF area (consisting of 25 points) with face detection active. The auto focus seemed to be quick at acquiring focus lock (with the attached 14-42mm lens) and the face detection gave a competent performance with what seem to be minimal false indications. For best AF performance it was better to have a single AF point selected as wide AF area can result in focus on the wrong point or some indecision. This issue is in keeping with other cameras using wide focusing areas. With the market segment this camera is aimed at it is quite possible that the user will mainly use the camera for taking people photos and as such the face detection AF will make easy. Manual focus selection was limited to 11 AF points and navigating the points was fast.
The E-PL1 movie mode was swift to activate due to the dedicated record button. A single press starts recording and another press ends it. Timing information is shown on the LCD screen. Movies replay smoothly and the sound is monaural but there is provision to attach an external microphone. The movies are recording in the AVI format.
The Art Filters have become standard on Olympus cameras (for the E-PL1: Pop Art, Soft Focus, Grainy Film, Pin Hole, Diorama, and Gentle Sepia) and they can be applied in the movie mode as well as for standard photos. They can add that extra bit of artistic look to an photo without recourse to a computer.
A key feature missing (or at least not included) on the two earlier PEN cameras) was the lack of built in flash. The E-PL1 has a flash unit hidden in it's body which was raised once a switch on the back of the camera was released. For the more advanced user or those that like to be experiment the flash comes with the added benefit of being about to act as a wireless controller for Olympus's FL50R and FL36R flash units. This is a great bonus over the E-P1/2.
The Olympus E-PL1 was only made available for a short time to enable this pre-review to be written. Look out for the full view on full review as soon as we have the E-PL1 in. If the E-P2 can be considered the serious PEN then the E-PL1 has more emphasis on fun.
The camera felt solid and comfortable in the hand with the 14-42mm lens attached. This lens compacts down when not in use but has to be unlocked when powering up the camera. The camera will display a message to remind the user of this when it is powered up and the lens detected as locked.
There are digital compacts designed to behave like DSLRs and DSLRs trying to be as portable as digital compacts. The E-PL1 seems to fit in the middle ground offering DSLR image quality with almost digital compact portability. It's too big for a shirt pocket but should prove no problem for a coat pocket or small bag. It is essentially light weight (at 300g body only and 150g for the 14-42mm lens) without being a 'light weight' making it comfortable to carry around all day. It was felt the 14-42mm lens provided decent colour rendition with acceptable level of sharpness although for the demanding photographer some post-processing will help to further improve matters. It will be nice to see Olympus introducing higher quality optics for the PEN cameras to ensure the very best quality is got out of the image sensor.
The E-PL1 is available with the 14-42mm lens at £549.99, and with both the 14-42mm and 40-150mm lenses at £699.99.
The Olympus PEN E-PL1 shall be reviewed in full so look out for it at RWI.