Although I'm not going to claim credit for the existance of the viewfinderless CSC end of the market, it's certainly something I urged Olympus to do more or less from the start of the (IMHO) ridiculous full-sized 4/3 system. What I wanted was something to replace my Leica CL; a compact system body, with access to small, high quality lenses. But having urged them, I then didn't quite find a model I was totally happy with, so have resisted buying into the idea; instead, I have made do with a high quality compact camera (Canon S90) and a compact APS-C DSLR (Canon EOS 600D), both of which have actually been excellent choices. However, second-hand prices have dropped substantially on first generation CSCs, so appropriately enough, on Shrove Tuesday I received a silver E-P1 with 17mm lens - Pancake Day indeed. I've also got my hands on a Panasonic G-1 with 14-42mm lens as a comparison - review of that to follow before it goes back whence it came.
So, first impressions: it's a lovely looking bit of kit. I generally much prefer all-black cameras - after all, I'm from the generation where black cameras were more expensive than chrome, and were considered to be more professional as they were less showy. That said, the stainless steel finish of this camera is gorgeous, and the lens and optical finder match it very well - it looks decidedly retro, and feels rather good in the hand. I don't particularly like the green glow around the power switch when it's on, but that's about the limit of my complaints about the looks. It fits into a jacket pocket with the pancake, which is crtical for me - if it doesn't fit into a pocket, what real-world advantage is there to me over a small DSLR? In use, there are two control wheels, my favoured method of dealing with controls on electronic cameras. However, they're not well positioned; both are on the back. The upper one, a vertical roller, falls nicely where the thumb goes, but the other one is a real stretch to use with the camera in position - and it's somewhat small for the size of camera, being virtually identical to the rear wheel on my S90. However, they, in conjunction with the buttons, mean that you can control the main functions of the camera without delving into the menus. Which is just as well; the main menu structure is an absolute nightmare. My very first digital camera was an Olympus (Camedia 3000z), and I had hoped that the company had learned from those times. They haven't. Compare and contrast with EOS menus; my original DSLR, an EOS 10D, also had a fairly poor menu structure, but the current EOS menus are a lesson in clarity. Surely it's not too much to ask for Olympus to make their system clear and logical? Rant over! That aside, there's little to criticise in handling; the VF-1 finder works well with the 17mm lens to allow a traditional eye-level grip on the camera. The screen is acceptable for use in most light conditions, but does struggle in bright light; I would give it the benefit of the doubt and say that it's a three year old camera, but then so's my EOS 5D II, and that has a vastly superior LCD, and it doesn't rely on it for everything.
So - results. Well, the 17mm isn't that great - poor edge perfromance doesn't help. However, fit the Panasonic kit zoom, and results are very much better. However, you start to lose the pocketability that for me is the whole attraction of the system in the first place. So I'm looking at alternatives there... but overall, quality at low ISOs is really quite decent. It does start to tail off a lot more quickly than I'm used to as you get to ISO 400 and beyond, though - closer to my S90 than any of my DSLRs. Not so bad I can't live with it, though, until you get to 3200. Again, I have to remind myself that this camera is not a current generation.
The in-body image stabiliser works, but my rather unscientific tests show that the MEGA OIS in-lens stabiliser on the Panny lens works about a stop better. However, because of the type of grip you need to take on this type of camera, I guess it makes sense to have stabilisation built-in - I would estimate (again unscientifically) that the method of holding introduces about one stop more unsteadyness.
I've also got a third-party OM adaptor, so I've tried it with several OM lenses. The 35mm f2 and 50mm f1.8 work very nicely, are easy enough to focus and balance nicely; my old 70-150 feels dreadful and isn't at all easy to use - never mind the quality. Also, I'm not convinced by the image stabiliser with this lens. I am very interested in obtaining a Leica M adaptor so that I can use my 40mm f2 Summicron-C - a lens which should suit the size of camera beautifully.
Compared to the G1, this is a very different camera; it has looks and character, and controls that are largely aimed at photographers. For wide through to short teles, this is a much nicer camera to use, even if that's only because you don't have an awful EVF to look through; at longer focal lengths, the more traditional grip on the camera with a viewfinder really wins out.
Overall, so far, I do really like this camera. The flaws with the positioning of the control wheels and menu system were issues I was already aware of, and were really the reasons I hadn't bought one of these new at the time. The biggest issue with the camera is that I'm really not entirely clear what purpose it serves for me; it rather falls into the "neither fish nor fowl" category as even with the pancake, it's not small enough to fit into a shirt pocket, nor that much superior in quality to the S90. It does look very nice, takes great pics with the Panny zoom, and as I say, I like it; is that enough to justify it, though? I'm not entirely sure.