Camera Reviews
by Brad Soo on February 8 2010

In the latest of their ‘new generation system cameras’, the compact PEN E-PL1, Olympus is aiming for ease of use and portability while offering good image quality of a large image sensor. The Olympus E-PL1 was announced internationally last Wednesday and we have a preview of this latest camera which joins in the growing array of Micro Four Thirds cameras. Hit the link for all the juicy details about the camera.

*Note from Brad: A big thank you to the folks at Olympus who made previewing of the PEN E-PL1 on DPInterface possible.

DPInterface Olympus PEN E-PL1 Preview

Brad Soo – February 8th, 2010

The Olympus PEN E-PL1 is Olympus’ third Micro Four Thirds/PEN camera. This time they’re catering to the masses; compact camera users and beginners, with the new E-PL1. The Olympus PEN E-PL1 isn’t just a E-P2 with a new skin and lower price tag, it sports several new features, some of which are specifically tailored for beginners.

Before we move on, here’s what the Olympus E-PL1 has in store for you:

  • 12 effective megapixels
  • Micro Four Thirds lens mount (Also takes full-size Four Thirds and some Leica lenses via their respective adapters)
  • 2.7 inch LCD (230,000 pixels) with live view
  • 3 frames per second burst mode
  • ISO range of 100 – 3200
  • Point-and-shoot functions and Art Filters
  • Full manual controls
  • New Live Guide feature for easy adjustment of various camera settings
  • Accessory port for external EVF and dedicated stereo microphone
  • 720p HD movie mode, records at 30 FPS with sound
  • New built-in flash and improved ergonomics
  • HDMI output port

And here’s my usual disclaimer for camera previews: the Olympus PEN E-PL1 unit previewed here is a pre-production model. That means things here are subject to change and you should NOT judge the Olympus PEN E-P2 until our final review comes out. All product shots will be retaken once I get my hands on a 100% finalized, retail version of the Olympus PEN E-PL1 in the future.

Now, let’s take a closer at the Olympus PEN E-PL1!

Size and Weight

(226.9) 120.6 x 69.9 x 36.4 mm (335 g) – Olympus E-P1
(226.9) 120.5 x 70.0 x 36.4 mm (335 g) – Olympus E-P2
(228.3) 114.6 x 72.2 x 41.5 mm (296 g) – Olympus E-PL1
(258.8) 124.0 x 89.6 x 45.2 mm (385 g) – Panasonic Lumix G1/GH1
(226.3) 119.0 x 71.0 x 36.3 mm (285 g) – Panasonic Lumix GF1
All the weight figures above show when the camera is empty without any lens, battery or memory card

The Olympus PEN E-PL1 is a small camera – closer in size to some ‘prosumer’ compact cameras rather than digital SLRs that it competes with. The PEN E-PL1 is slightly narrower but taller than its higher end PEN siblings; it also measures slightly thicker thanks to the more prominent right hand grip.

Here’s the Olympus PEN E-PL1 compared to the Panasonic Lumix GF1. The Olympus E-PL1 is a less boxy camera!

Olympus PEN E-PL1 in hand… for a camera with a 2X crop sensor, it’s pretty small

Not sure what happened to the color of my hand up there (my hand normally looks like this) when I took the picture using a compact camera I had with me… but anyway, as you can see, the Olympus PEN E-PL1 is a relatively compact little camera.

I have been using the similarly-sized Panasonic GF1 for quite a while and when I don’t want to bring a conspicuous looking camera bag with me, I can easily take it apart and stuff it in my pants pocket; body only in one pocket, kit lens in the other. I’m sure you can do the same with the PEN E-PL1, albeit with a slight bulge – a camera bag or carrying case is definitely recommended if you prefer comfort!

Box packaging

The Olympus E-P2 PEN will come with your standard interchangeable lens camera bundle along with Olympus’ newly launched iB (I’m guessing it stands for ‘image browser’?) photo organizing/processing software:

  • Olympus PEN E-P2 camera body
  • BLS-1 rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Neck strap
  • USB and A/V cables
  • Camera software CD (includes new iB photo organizing software)
  • User’s manual
  • Olympus Micro Zuiko 14 – 42 mm f3.5 – f5.6 kit lens

As of launch, the Olympus PEN E-PL1 is currently only available with one ‘kit’, and that’s the one with the 14-42 mm kit lens bundled with the camera. Olympus is targeting users stepping up from the compact camera market with the PEN E-PL1 so it’s great they will have just one kit as so not to confuse beginners with too many choices.

The Olympus PEN E-PL1 doesn’t include any internal memory or memory card, so you need to use your own. Like the other two existing Olympus PEN cameras, the PEN E-PL1 takes just SD/SDHC cards (no support for xD-Picture cards here!) and a 4 to 8 GB card will be good to start with. The PEN E-P2 is able to perform faster when using a high-speed memory card (90X to 150X speed will do) so consider picking up one with the camera.

500 shots – Canon Digital Rebel T1i aka 500D
190 shots – Canon Digital Rebel T1i aka 500D (LCD live view)
510 shots – Nikon D5000
210 shots – Nikon D5000 (LCD live view)*
500 shots – Olympus E620
200 shots – Olympus E620 (LCD live view)*
300 shots – Olympus PEN E-P1 (LCD live view)
300 shots – Olympus PEN E-P2 (LCD live view)
290 shots – Olympus PEN E-PL1 (LCD live view)
330 shots – Panasonic Lumix G1 (LCD live view)
300 shots – Panasonic Lumix GH1 (LCD live view)
380 shots – Panasonic Lumix GF1 (LCD live view)
640 shots – Pentax K-x
500 shots – Sony Alpha A380
230 shots – Sony Alpha A380 (LCD live view)
*In-house testing done by DPInterface. Our tests were conducted as close as possible to CIPA’s procedures
All the cameras above are rated with rechargeable batteries according to CIPA Standard; when using the viewfinder, unless noted otherwise

The Olympus PEN E-PL1 shares the same BLS-1 type rechargeable lithium-ion battery as its siblings. I find it puzzling how the camera managed to get a slightly lower battery life estimate (290 shots) than the other two PENs, seeing it’s a more basic model, and it uses a smaller LCD too! But remember this is a preview, things are subject to change anytime.

Accessories

The Olympus PEN E-P2 is a Micro Four Thirds camera that natively supports Micro Four Thirds lenses but can also take full-size Four Thirds, Leica and Olympus OM lenses via their respective adapters. The catch if you wanna use those non-native lenses are their pricey adapters and the fact that not all lenses will autofocus with the camera.

Unless you have a couple of other lenses lying around, I would recommend getting only Micro Four Thirds lenses if you’re starting ‘fresh’ to save the hassle. Olympus currently offers the 14-42 mm retractable kit lens and 17 mm f2.8 pancake lens for Micro Four Thirds, though they will be adding their new 9-18 mm ultra-wide angle and 14-150 mm super-zoom lenses into the mix in 2010. Panasonic, a member in the Four Thirds/Micro Four Thirds system, also makes four lenses which are fully compatible with the Olympus E-P2. They cover: 7-14 mm, 14 – 45 mm, 45-200 mm and 14-140 mm.

As the Micro Four Thirds standard is relatively new, expect a variety of new lenses to be introduced in the future. All lenses mounted on the camera will be subjected to