Olympus Pen E-PL1 review

April 10, 2010

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Beneath the retro styling of the Olympus Pen E-PL1 is a new Live Guide designed to aid beginners, but does it make photography any easier? We put it to the test


Build and handling

Like the previous two digital Pen models, the E-PL1 has a simple but sleek retro design that harks back to the rangefinder cameras of the 1960s. The body itself is made of polycarbonate with a metal lens mount, and feels extremely solid and well built.

In terms of size, it is about the same as the Canon PowerShot G11, and the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 L ED lens is about half the size of an equivalent APS-C-format kit lens.

Most of the buttons on the Olympus E-PL1 are the standard selection that you find on nearly all DSLRs. However, a few slight differences include a dedicated Record button situated on the rear of the camera to allow quick access of video capture.

One control I sorely missed, though, is a control dial. Instead, changing the size of the aperture or shutter speed on the E-PL1 is achieved by pressing the exposure-compensation button and then using the up and down control buttons. This is very cumbersome. I wonder whether the saving in cost at the expense of ease of use was really worthwhile.

The camera’s on-board flash is located on the top left of the camera, popping up when its sliding switch is released. The small flash is mounted on a double hinge that helps lift it up away from the camera body and further from the lens, thereby reducing redeye.

The in-camera menu system will offer no problems to anyone who has used an Olympus camera before, and it is straightforward and easy to navigate. That said, it isn’t easy on the eye and looks a little dated compared to the sleek and stylish graphic interfaces appearing alongside the introduction of better LCD screens.

When in the automatic iAuto exposure mode, the new Live Guide is activated by pressing the OK button. This displays six icons on the right-hand side of the screen, which are labelled Change Colour Saturation, Change Colour Image, Change Brightness, Blur Background, Express Motions and Shooting Tips.

The colour saturation option is fairly self-explanatory, but a few of the others are oddly named. For example, the Change Colour Image adjusts the white balance, allowing you to warm up or cool down the image. Change Brightness is an EV adjustment setting, while Blur Background actually relates to aperture adjustment. The most confusingly named is Express Motions, which is actually the shutter speed control. Finally, Shooting Tips is a simple guide that offers advice on how best to take a variety of pictures.

Each of the different adjustments is controlled by using the rear buttons to adjust a vertical slider on the right-hand side of the screen. By default, the adjustment level is set to the middle of the slider, and moving the level up or down alters the strength of the effect. So, by moving the Blur Background option to its maximum, the widest available aperture is selected.

Despite the confusing names, the Live Guide is simple to use. However, only one of the Live Guide settings can be changed at any one time. While this makes it easier for the camera to automatically produce a correct exposure, it is very restrictive. It would have been better to allow multiple adjustments, such adjusting the saturation and blurring background, and to then display a warning if the selected settings will create a problematic exposure.

  • White Balance: Auto, 8 presets, plus custom setting and Kelvin adjustment
  • Dioptre Adjustment: -3 to +1
  • Built-in Flash: Yes
  • Viewfinder Type: VF-2 EVF with 1.4 million dots
  • Shutter Type: Computerised focal-plane shutter
  • Memory Card: SD/SDHC
  • Output Size: 4032x3042 pixels
  • LCD: 3in with 230,000 dots
  • Field of View: Approx 100%
  • AF Points: 11 points, auto or manual selection possible, plus face detection
  • Max Flash Sync: 1/180sec or 1/2000sec in Super FP mode
  • White Balance Bracket: Yes, over 3 frames in steps of 2, 4 or 6 mired
  • Sensor: Live-MOS with 12.3 million effective pixels
  • Focal Length Mag: 2x
  • Weight: 300g (without battery or card/s)
  • Exposure Modes: iAuto, program, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual, plus 19 scene presets and 6 Art Filters
  • Power: Rechargeable Li-Ion battery BLS-1 supplied
  • File Format: Raw, JPEG, raw+JPEG simultaneously
  • Shutter Speeds: 60-1/2000sec in 1⁄2 or 1/3EV steps plus bulb
  • Drive Mode: Max 3fps for approx 13 JPEGs or 10 raw files
  • Dimensions: 120.6x69.9x36.4mm
  • Colour Space: Adobe RGB, sRGB
  • Metering System: 324 zone Multi-Pattern, Digital ESP, centreweighted and spot, plus highlight/shadow spot metering
  • Connectivity / Interface: USB 2.0 Hi-Speed
  • Compression: Three-stage JPEG
  • Exposure Comp: ±3EV in 1⁄3, 1⁄2EV or 1EV steps
  • RRP: £499.99 (body-only street price) £549.99 (with 14-42mm kit lens, street price)
  • Lens Mount: Micro Four Thirds
  • ISO: 100-3200
  • Focusing Modes: Manual (with focus assist magnification), AF-S, AF-C, AF tracking
  • DoF Preview: No
  • Tested as: Entry-level hybrid

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