Review: Olympus PEN E-PL1

For those who may have missed the review in the January edition of PhotoComment Magazine, here it is in post form for you.

The PEN is Mightier than…


For those who know me, they will know how of late I’ve been complaining that conventional DSLR cameras are to bulky, heavy, inconvenient to carry every where, every day. For this reason I have been a great advocate of the new developments in mirrorless cameras.

This said, the war has become rather fierce among the the combatants in this new photographic world. Having tested Panasonic’s GF1 as well as Sony’s NEX-5, I was rather anxious to get my hands on the Olympus PEN E-PL1.

Handling

The Olympus E-PL1 sticks out a bit when its hanging out with its bigger siblings, the E-P1 and E-P2. Its taller yet not as long. Made with more plastics and yet all of this makes it – to my mind at least, more attractive and easier to hold.

All in all my only complaint would be the lack of a scroll dial. While many have heavily criticised the Sony NEX-5 for being too menu driven, the E-PL1 is in my opinion a little too button driven when it comes to having to set the aperture, shutter speed etc.

Performance

This area is an interesting one. I would love to wax eloquent in a Clarkson, Top Gear style regarding marvelous Autofocus Acceleration and how mind blowing its top shutter speed is, but we don’t have a Stig and I’m not quite so eloquent. What I can tell you is that this camera is like Chalk and Cheese when you compare it to version 1 firmware and the newer 1.1 firmware.

Before I did the upgrade the E-PL1 autofocus was slow, uncertain of itself, generally as responsive as an ox wagon. With the upgrade done it was like a new camera. While it was not quite a Ferrari or top end DSLR, it was certainly able to hold its own and I am fairly sure it was better in the autofocus department than I remember the Panasonic GF-1 being, bearing in mind that has also had a firmware upgrade subsequently.

My one bug bare is that the camera can take its time to process images shot using the ‘Art Filters’.

Image Quality

(Images by Olympus PEN E-PL1 straight from Camera, no editing, cropping etc.)

I sometimes wonder how critical having this section of the review is these days. In a lab testing environment it is easy to have a shoot out between cameras and find their faults. In the field, as a general shooters camera like this Olympus is intended to be, I just cant help think its a little pointless.

I found that the images were great in most situations. Sure the noise levels are not on par with cameras double its price and more, but even then there would only be half a handful that are significantly better in those general circumstances.

The inclusion of the art filters is what puts the Olympus cameras in a league of their own. I love the pinhole filter and even the pop art one ads some great punch, all in camera. Its the closet thing I can think of to a digital Lomography camera.

Conclusion

What then can I say to conclude this review? How does the E-PL1 compare to the competition. If we exclude the new Panasonic GF-2 which we have yet to review, the E-PL1 is sure to find favour with many looking for a mirrorless camera. Sure its not the smallest, but it is better proportioned than some of the others. It has a built in flash which none of the direct comparisons have and its got access to a great range of lenses.

Let me put it this way, I thought I had made up my mind on which I was going to buy before this camera came along.

Author Bio

Tristan - Founder

Founder of PhotoComment. In a relatively short space of time he has experienced the photography industry almost full circle. From camera repairs, to photographic retail, wholesale, marketing for one of the large camera brands, part time photographer and of course blogger there is hardly a moment when he is not eating, drinking and occasionally getting some sleep where photography is not involved.