Olympus PEN E-PL1 review

Price when reviewed

The new-fangled Micro Four Thirds “semi-compact” digital camera system seems to be catching on, accounting for over 10% of interchangeable-lens camera sales in December last year, according to market-research firm Gfk. No surprise then that barely eight months after Olympus’s maiden Micro Four Thirds-based, retro-styled PEN E-P1 comes a new variant. The new model complements the existing EP-1 rather than replacing it, but it’s a very similar design indeed, albeit slightly lighter – 72g lighter, to be precise.

The single most useful change over the existing model is the addition of an integrated flash. While not hugely powerful, it pops up on a pleasingly constructed, double-jointed arm that moves it well away from the centre line of the lens to keep the dreaded red-eye at bay.

Remembering that a touch of fill-in flash can also work wonders for shots like outdoor portraits in strong sunlight, it’s a useful addition that should have been included in the first place.

A proper viewfinder hasn’t made it onto the feature list though: it’s still an option. The E-PL1 eschews the optical type in favour of an electronic LCD version, which plugs into its “accessory port”.

Olympus E-PL1 rear view

As with the Ricoh GXR’s LCD viewfinder though, it’s outrageously expensive: in this case £238 exc VAT. Fortunately, the 2.7in TFT has an excellent refresh rate so framing shots is a smooth process.

There’s a backward step in the design too: both the rear settings dial and the sub-dial have disappeared. That means, for instance, that in aperture priority mode, adjusting the aperture has to be done using the up/down buttons in the four-way cluster.

It’s a clumsy system: to increase aperture you need to press the up button to get the camera into aperture adjustment mode, and then the down button to actually make the adjustment. The legions of photographers accustomed for years to flicking a wheel on their DSLR for this kind of setting are unlikely to take this kindly.

The central issue around the performance of Micro Four Thirds cameras also remains: speed of operation. The fastest time we managed from switch-on to taking a shot was 2.5 seconds, which in comparison to a decent DSLR is positively treacly.

The contrast-detect autofocus is the main culprit, taking a second or so, and this also increases shot-to-shot time to about two seconds unless you switch to manual focus. For leisurely holiday landscapes it’s fine, but it does condemn the E-PL1 to a life playing of second fiddle to DSLRs.


Image quality 6

Basic specifications

Camera megapixel rating 12.3mp
Camera screen size 2.7in
Camera optical zoom range 3x
Camera maximum resolution 4032 x 3024

Weight and dimensions

Weight 478g
Dimensions 114 x 80 x 74mm (WDH)


Battery type included Lithium-ion
Battery life (CIPA standard) 500 shots
Charger included? yes

Other specifications

Built-in flash? yes
Aperture range f3.5 - f5.6
Camera minimum focus distance 0.25m
Shortest focal length (35mm equivalent) 28
Longest focal length (35mm equivalent) 84
Minimum (fastest) shutter speed 1/4,000
Maximum (slowest) shutter speed 1 mins
Bulb exposure mode? no
RAW recording mode? yes
Exposure compensation range +/- 3EV
ISO range 100 - 3200
Selectable white balance settings? yes
Manual/user preset white balane? yes
Progam auto mode? yes
Shutter priority mode? yes
Aperture priority mode? yes
Fully auto mode? yes
Burst frame rate 3.0fps
Exposure bracketing? yes
White-balance bracketing? yes
Memory-card type SD, SDHC
Viewfinder coverage N/A
LCD resolution 230k
Secondary LCD display? no
Video/TV output? yes
Body construction Plastic
Tripod mounting thread? yes
Data connector type Proprietary USB

Manual, software and accessories

Full printed manual? yes
Software supplied Olympus ib
Accessories supplied None

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