Behind its simple looks and clean lines, the Olympus Pen E-PL2 compact system camera hides a number of DSLR-worthy features. Richard Sibley tests the 12.3MP, micro four thirds camera
Like Olympus’s other micro four thirds cameras, the E-PL2 uses a 12.3-million-pixel, four thirds-sized Live MOS sensor. This sensor has been around in one form or another for about two years now, and the resolution is starting to look a little dated when compared to the current crop of APS-C-sized DSLR sensors that have 14, 16 and even 18-million-pixel resolutions.
Processing the information delivered by the sensor is the Olympus TruPic V image-processing system. This is also the same as that used in all other Olympus Pen cameras, but it is not as powerful as the TruPic V+ system used in the Olympus E-5 DSLR. Again like the other Pen-series cameras, the E-PL2 features in-camera sensor-shift image stabilisation, as well as a Supersonic Wave dust-reduction feature. Olympus has a long history in this field, being the first manufacturer to introduce dust reduction with the E-1 in 2003.
A more recent addition to the Olympus range is art filters. This applies dramatic image styles to photographs and has featured in the three previous Pen cameras, although they have been given a slight makeover for the E-PL2.The new camera is more than a cosmetic makeover of its predecessor, though, because while the core of the camera remains largely the same, there have been a number of significant improvements. A prime example is the slightly larger 3in LCD screen (only 2.7in on the E-PL1). Plus, macro and still-life photographers will be pleased with the addition of a USB socket, which allows the optional Olympus RM-UC1 cable release to be used.
The most interesting new features, however, are based around the E-PL2’s second-generation accessory port, positioned just below the flash hotshoe. On previous cameras the port has been used solely for the use of the VF-2 electronic viewfinder and the SEMA-1 microphone. But now joining these are two new items: the MAL-1 Macro Arm Light and the Penpal PP-1.
Of these two new devices the MAL-1 is probably of most interest, and again will be of particular appeal to still-life and macro photographers. The device consists of two flexible 17cm LED lamps that can be positioned to illuminate macro and close-up subjects. One of the best things about it is that the accessory port allows the device to be powered by the camera’s battery, so no additional power is required. It also helps to keep the Macro Arm Light small and lightweight.
The Penpal is a Bluetooth transmitter that allows you to send low-resolution images between a camera and a mobile phone or computer. The pictures, up to 2,600 of which can be stored on the Penpal’s internal memory, are automatically resized so they don’t take too long to send. The idea is that images can be quickly sent to a mobile phone or computer to be uploaded to a social networking site, or emailed. The Penpal is a nice idea, but I wonder how many people will really demand this immediacy when it is already possible to take five-million-pixel images on a mobile phone and upload it in seconds. Sadly, neither of the two new accessory port devices were available during our test of the camera.
Other improvements over the E-PL1 include an increased maximum shutter speed from 1/2000sec to 1/4000sec, and a raising of the maximum sensitivity by 1EV to ISO 6400. The lower end of the sensitivity range has also been adjusted, with the lowest setting now ISO 200 rather than ISO 100.
Features in use: Art filters
Olympus recently updated its in-camera art filters by introducing version II, previously found only in the Olympus E-5 DSLR. There are six in-camera art filters: pop art, soft focus, grainy film, pin hole, diorama and dramatic tone. Each of these applies a very different artistic style, which is previewed live on the rear LCD screen while the image is being taken.
If you are saving images as raw files, then art filters can be applied after the image has been captured, or using the Olympus editing software that comes bundled with the camera. Some of the filters also now have a few different variations. For example, there are two contrast settings for the grainy filter, and three different pin hole camera effects. A few of the effects even allow you to combine art filters: the pop art filter can be combined with the soft focus or pin hole filters.
Alternatively, a simple jagged white frame can be added around the images. Unfortunately, there is just the one type of frame available; it would have been nice to see a few variations, such as a jagged black border or a simple white border with a few different edge sizes. Hopefully, Olympus can include these in future art filters updates.
Whether the art filters are actually useful or not is open to debate. Some very interesting effects can be achieved, and it is certainly far quicker than applying them in editing software, but I doubt many of them will appeal to enthusiast photographers. The market for these types of effects is the same as those who use the Hipstamatic software on the Apple iPhone’s camera, namely people wanting a quick, interesting and quirky image. For this type of snapshot photographer, the art filters will certainly appeal, but there is still a lot of scope for mprovement.