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Conclusion - Pros

  • Excellent resolution with lots of detail in the shots
  • Point-and-shoot interface that also allows user interaction
  • Superb JPEG engine makes camera's full capability easily accessible
  • Reliable metering and white balance (in natural light)
  • Good AF performance (though kit lens holds it back)
  • Hints of retro styling and SLR quality in a compact body
  • Collapsible kit lens is small and offers decent quality
  • Superb optional viewfinder aids stable holding and shooting in bright light
  • Good high ISO performance and lots of control over noise reduction
  • Full photographic functions available to users who want them
  • Easy live view magnification good for using manual focus lenses
  • Comprehensive feature set and impressive level of customization
  • In-body image stabilization
  • Easy to use, high quality video mode

Conclusion - Cons

  • Some highlight clipping (and poor dynamic range at ISO 100)
  • Low resolution screen that's hard to see in bright light
  • No orientation sensor means having to rotate every portrait image manually
  • Exposure controls slow and awkward to use (by DSLR standards)
  • 1/2000th max shutter speed combined with base sensitivity of ISO 200 limits
    you to small apertures in bright light
  • i-Enhance picture mode can't be disengaged when using iAuto
  • Complicated menu at odds with camera's easy-to-use philosophy
  • Build quality and rear panel design a disappointment compared to more expensive PENs
  • Preview image brightness doesn't always match the captured image brightness
  • The most interesting Art Filters slow down operation (and make the movie mode virtually useless)

Overall conclusion

There are, perhaps, three types of potential users who might find themselves considering purchasing the E-PL1, all of who will find things to love and things to be frustrated by in the camera. The first is the compact camera user who wants better images, might be interested in taking some control over the camera but doesn't want to learn about apertures and exposure. The second is the owner of an enthusiast compact, more familiar with changing settings but not wanting the bulk of a DSLR. The third is a current DSLR owners looking for a smaller second camera.

It's this last type of user that are least likely to really enjoy the E-PL1 - the more compact-camera-like interface could and probably should encourage them to look up to the E-P2 (even if the PL1's images have a slight edge and its handling with manual focus lenses is arguably better). The enthusiast compact owners will be immediately at home, however, and are the group likely to get the most out of the E-PL1 - being happy to play with shooting settings and delve into the menus to tailor the camera to the way they want it to work.

So how does the E-PL1 perform in the hands of the user Olympus has targeted - those who want to worry more about pictures than learning to set up their camera? The answer is, 'rather well' - the automated mode ensures that you can point the camera at your subject, shoot away and be confident of the results. The Live Guide mode also offers the ability to easily get a little more creative (though misses the chance to teach users interested in learning to control the less automated modes).

The camera isn't without the odd hitch - the lack of orientation sensor is infuriating, regardless of your photographic background or level of experience. The 14-42mm lens most commonly bundled with the E-PL1 also ensures the autofocus performance is never quite on the same level as Panasonic's G series, though the gap is not likely to be problematic for most users. The continuous autofocus performance is much more of a problem, as the camera struggles to find or stay focused with moving subjects.

Image Quality

The most important aspect of any camera is its image quality and it is, without question, the E-PL1's strongest point. By just about any measure, the E-PL1's image quality is very good indeed and, thanks to one the most capable JPEG engines we've come across, is easily accessible to everybody. The camera's metering is dependable, meaning that in most circumstances you get bright, punchy images that make the most of the camera's capability.

The excellent JEPG engine, which can be used to re-process RAW files in-camera, means there are very few advantages to shooting RAW - which is a huge benefit for any camera but is a particular boon for a model aimed at users who are unlikely to want to get involved in post-processing.

Handling

What you make of the E-PL1's handling is likely to be defined by what you're used to - the compact camera user, whether they're used to pointing and shooting or taking some control, will find little to object about. DSLR users might find the amount of button pressing (and the need to change hand position to make most changes), frustrating, but will appreciate the ability to customize the camera's behavior to a high degree.

The final word

The E-PL1 is the first mirrorless camera to marry its size and image quality advantages to the accessibility of a compact camera. Olympus has simply slipped an easy-to-use interface on top of its PEN DSLR-in-a-smaller-box concept. That power is there if you want it, even if the pared back design means the operation isn't as quick as it can be with the other PENs. Point-and-shoot users won't get the very most out of the camera but, thanks to an excellent JPEG engine, it's likely they'll spend much of their time too delighted by their pictures to worry about it.

Olympus PEN E-PL1
Category: Entry Level Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Performance
Movie / video mode
Value
PoorExcellent
Good for
Compact camera users who want the image quality of a DSLR but with the additional level of control remaining optional.
Not so good for
Those wanting to regularly use manual control or supplement their DSLR. Continuous shooting of moving subjects.
Overall score
69%
Olympus adds point-and-shootability to its retro mirrorless PEN range. A vast array of custom options don't undermine its out-of-the-box capability. Only compact-camera-like controls and build prevent it being a PEN for everyone.

Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.

Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.

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Samples Galleries

There are 48 images in the samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.

Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution. A reduced size image (within 1024 x 1024 bounds) is provided to be more easily viewed in your browser. As always the original untouched image is available by clicking on this reduced image.

Olympus E-PL1 Review Samples

48 images • Posted 17 May 2010 • View album
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Preview Samples Galleries

There are also 25 images in the preview samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.

Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution. A reduced size image (within 1024 x 1024 bounds) is provided to be more easily viewed in your browser. As always the original untouched image is available by clicking on this reduced image.

Olympus E-PL1 Preview Samples

25 images • Posted 9 February 2010 • View album
Sample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photo
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