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
Build and Handling
Although the dimensions of the E-PL2 are roughly the same as that of the E-PL1, the new camera has been restyled to give it a sleek, understated look. Gone is the wide silver band that separates the aluminium front and plastic rear of the camera. Now the two materials are almost seamlessly joined. Also banished are the silver details across the front of the camera and the handgrip. Instead, the E-PL2 comes in a black, silver white or red finish, with silver around the metal lens mount and lens release button. Some may disagree but to my mind, and eye, the E-PL2 is the best-looking Olympus Pen to date.
However, it isn’t just the looks that have been improved on the E-PL2, as the handling is far better too. At the front of the camera there is a smoother, more contoured shape and a leather-effect plastic grip instead of the angular handgrip of the E-PL1.
The rear of the camera has also undergone a makeover. The E-PL2’s round buttons are smaller and in keeping with the camera’s black finish, in contrast to the large, silver, square buttons of its predecessor. Photographers concerned that the smaller buttons will be more difficult to press will be reassured to hear that the buttons are spaced well apart, so you shouldn’t accidentally press the wrong one. The functions of the E-PL2’s buttons remain the same, although they have been repositioned slightly. This improves the handling as the info and menu buttons now stand alone and can be accessed more quickly.
One handling difference is the addition to the E-PL2 of the live wheel (also found on the Pen E-P1). This control dial can be rotated to quickly navigate the different exposure and menu settings. In the centre of this wheel are the standard directional control buttons, which act as the EV compensation, flash, AF selection and shooting rate shortcuts. At the very centre of the directional control is the OK confirmation button. When shooting, this feature reveals all the shooting options, allowing them to be quickly accessed and changed.
For making easy adjustments, the iAuto mode features the Olympus Live Guide previously seen in the E-PL1. This allows the photographer to change settings, including colour saturation, colour image (white balance), brightness, blur background (aperture) and the rather curiously named express motions (shutter speed). Each of these settings is adjusted via a simple on-screen slider, with a preview of the effect live on screen.
Sadly, the main issue I had when I first tested it last year is still present: the Live Guide will only let you adjust one feature at a time. So while it is simple to use a slider to adjust the shutter speed and see the effects of changing this setting, you cannot adjust the white balance at the same time. I understand that changing more than one exposure setting at a time could potentially produce poor results, which will perhaps frustrate and discourage entry-level photographers, but surely it must be possible to adjust a non-exposure setting, such as white balance.
There is one other peculiarity in the operation of the E-PL2, and it is something we have raised in previous reviews of Olympus DSLR and Pen-series cameras. Tucked away in the camera’s menu is a super fine JPEG setting. This should really be available among the main image quality options, yet it only becomes activated once set in the main menu.
Olympus has tried to keep each of the main menus to a single screen, which at first makes it seem as if there aren’t actually many customisation settings. However, two menus are hidden by default: the accessory menu, which controls the Penpal accessory in-camera, and the customisation settings menu. Hiding these keeps the main menu screen neat and tidy, and also prevents the advanced settings being changed by those who don’t know what they are doing.
All things considered, the uncomplicated design of the E-PL2’s body, along with the straightforward handling, should appeal to those looking for their first system camera as much as it will experienced photographers.