The first step Olympus made with the new model is more modern looks. Although still reminiscent of a few older cameras, E-PL1 definitely looks less retro than its predecessor. Besides the design changes, in order to decrease its weight (and price), the body was manufactured with less metal and more plastic. This isn’t to say that production quality has decreased; only that certain metal parts have been replaced by plastic ones in order to reduce weight. The front panel is made of metal, while the rest of the body is plastic. We find the new design more attractive than the previous one, but since tastes aren’t to be discussed, we’ll let you decide on your own from the pictures. As far as grip is concerned, it’s insufficiently deep. Although possibly manageable with one hand, the camera is best held with both hands, since it doesn’t really feel that well otherwise. Button configuration is similar to compact cameras, without the wheel for choosing between various exposure and blend opening values. Buttons are high-quality, although they could’ve been a bit bigger, in order to ensure a more practical experience. Direct access and ISO buttons are missing completely, unfortunately. The menu is very rich in options, which is commendable. The drawback is that you’ll require some time to get accustomed to it, since atypical acronyms and thumbnails render the menu a bit confusing at first. Photo modes are picked via the wheel on the top of the body. Besides standard SLR modes (P, A, S, M), Pen E-PL1 also has the scene selection mode, or ART, in which you can choose between predefined artistic filters, as well as the Auto mode, which simplifies camera usage down to the compact camera level. This is when the camera chooses the scene, contrast and colour settings on its own, resulting in photos with strong colours and contrast, typical of compact cameras. Lest we forget, a video mode is available as well, for shooting 720p videos at 30 fps and a maximum video length of seven minutes.
As far as the specs, things aren’t all that different compared to the previous, PEN E-P2 model. A 12.3 MP sensor, 4/3” dimensions and a TruePic V image processor have all been taken directly from the E-P2 camera. If any dust should stick to the sensor, an ultrasound cleaning system will take care of it. The novelty which you’ll notice immediately is the integrated flash. This was by far the most reproached issue to the previous model, which has been rectified this time around, luckily. The flash isn’t located on the same axis as the objective, therefore reducing the red eye effect. Another improvement is the maximum ISO value having been reduced from ISO 6400 to ISO 3200, since ISO values as high as these are completely redundant to the target market of the PEN. The autofocus system is based on contrast detection and uses eleven autofocus points. Manual focus point selection is done via a four-directional cursor button, just like a true SLR. Besides the automatic and manual selections, there is also the option to automatically recognise faces in the scene and autofocus on them. Rapid shooting has a speed of 3 fps, but the absence of a viewfinder makes it practically useless. We believe that the situation would be much improved after purchasing an additional electronic viewfinder, obtainable as an accessory. We must also commend the format choice available to the user. You can take pictures in JPEG, RAW or RAW + JPEG formats, which isn’t exactly a feature commonly seen in lower-class SLR cameras of other manufacturers.
Although it’s the size of a larger compact camera, Pen E-PL1’s performance put it in the SLR category much more accurately. Focus is precise, albeit a bit slower than we’d like in single mode; in continuous mode, it’s so horribly slow that it’s almost useless. Since it has no assistance lamp of its own to assist with autofocus, it’s also slow in weak light conditions, sometimes even unreachable. Photo clarity is excellent, detail quantity just as well. We have nothing to reproach in the colour department either. The light measuring system is precise. High contrast situations make the camera sub-expose a little, which is positive, since it will save the lightened scene parts from burnouts. Automatic white balance performance is good, and under artificial light conditions, imprecise, as expected, requiring manual setting up. Looking at ISO performance, we got as much as we had expected. Very good noise control up to ISO 800 and very noticeable noise further up. Noise reduction does a decent job, though, which keeps all photo details in their place. Noise is a bit more evident because of this, though, but this is preferable to excessive reduction resulting in blurring and detail loss. Another good thing is that you can set the reduction intensity in the menu, and you can also turn it on for long exposures.
The device uses a Lithium-Ion BLS-1 battery with a capacity of 1150 mAh, which enabled us to take about 250 photos and ten minutes of video during the testing on a single charge; this is a rather good result taking into consideration that the screen is also being used for live view. We tested the camera with a 14-42 mm (28.84 mm at 35 mm) objective lens. Image stabilization is installed into the camera, based on sensor movements, and you have the liberty of three exposure steps. The lens has turned out to be very good, even for shooting in macro mode, albeit not being a typical macro objective lens. Olympus doesn’t have particular macro objectives for the Micro 4/3 systems yet.
Pen E-PL1 is exactly what its predecessors should’ve been. A few unnecessary features have been removed, while others, much more useful ones, have been added, resulting in a more appropriate camera for the target market. Improved focus speed compared to PEN E-P1 and E-P2 models (although still slower than classic SLR cameras) and an excellent image quality is what makes this camera a logical choice for all buyers who don’t have serious intentions of delving deep into the SLR world, but wish a compact camera with an image quality provided exclusively with a larger sensor and the possibility of changing objectives as needed. With a price much lower than previously, we can recommend it warmly if your desires match those stated in the previous sentence. Besides the one we tested with, Pen E-PL1 is also sold with the new 14-150 mm f4-5.6 objective lens, with a price higher for about 260€. SLR performance in a compact body is a separate concept in camera development, it seems, and as Olympus would put it: “Not a compact. Not an SLR. It’s a PEN.”
|Olympus PEN E-PL1|
|Effective resolution||12.3 MP|
|Image processor||TruePic V|
|Max. image size||4032 x 3024 pix|
|Display||2.7", 230,000 pix|
|Sensor||4/3" Hi-Speed Live MOS|
|Exposition||1/2000 - 60 s|
|Stabilization||mechanical (Sensor Shift)|
|ISO sensitivity||100 - 3200|
|Sensor cleaning||Supersonic Wave Filter|
|Video recording||HD 1280x720 pix|
|Size||114.6 x 72.2 x 41.5 mm|
|Price (with kit objective)||610 €|