Olympus PEN E-PL1 review

£539
Price when reviewed

Away from the negative side, the standout aspect of the E-PL1 is the quality you get for its size. With its large sensor – about ten times the surface area of a typical compact model’s – photos are excellent. Dynamic range is impressive, and high-ISO shots seem even better than the already fine performance of the E-P1. In fact when we first looked at our ISO 3200 test shots we had to double check the image-file metadata to make sure we hadn’t made a settings mistake.

At high ISO a fair amount of detail does get lost and tonal gradation is coarse, but noise levels are remarkably well controlled and way beyond what any standard compact camera can manage. We’d go so far as to say ISO 3200 is genuinely usable, which has never yet been the case with any digital compact.

As a stand-in camcorder the E-PL1 has a fair bit going for it too. At its maximum 720p/30fps video is a little soft but still excellent, and in video mode you have the option of single-shot, continuous or manual focus, although because the focus is electronically linked, it isn’t quiet enough to be inaudible on the soundtrack. The shutter button remains active too, so you can take full-resolution stills while recording.

Olympus E-PL1

The lens range has improved of late: we reviewed the E-PL1 with the standard 28-84mm equivalent kit lens, which manually retracts to a fairly compact depth of 45mm when not in use. But for aftermarket add-ons, the very compact (22mm deep) 34mm equivalent fixed “pancake” lens has now been joined by superzoom 28-300mm and wide 18-36mm equivalents.

Quality from the 28-84mm isn’t perfect, with noticeable edge softness at wide angle and some fringing in the test shots we took in bright sunlight, but it’s far from ruinous.

A final big point in its favour is the more realistic price. The E-P1 was £700 at launch, but the E-PL1 undercuts that by £150. Camera prices tend to come down a fair way after a couple of months on sale too, at which point the PEN range will finally be at the point where we’d consider it good value.

Even at the lower price point it’s unlikely to be anyone’s first choice when higher quality, easier to use DSLRs – the A-Listed Nikon D5000, for instance – can be had for a lot less cash.

As a luxury second or holiday camera for an enthusiast, however, the E-PL1 has a lot going for it. If you were previously considering one of the higher-end compacts, particularly a Canon Powershot G series, you should be thinking about paying the extra for one of these instead.

Details

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

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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