Olympus PEN E-PL7 First Impressions Review
Controls and customization
At first glance, the E-PL7 appears to have a more simplistic control scheme, with a single control dial and just one dedicated Fn button. The single dial design adds an extra step when adjusting exposure, compared with the company's twin-dial designs, but users can customize quite a few buttons to their heart's content.
|The Fn button is the only obvious customizable button.||The E-PL7's sole control dial is perfectly located, wrapped right around the shutter release.|
The E-PL7 also has three user interfaces, from simple to complex (and in-between), though accessing one of them is much harder than it needs to be.
There are three primary means of controlling the E-PL7. There's the Live Guide system that you encounter in the point-and-shoot-friendly iAuto mode and a choice of two other interfaces in the more user-controlled PASM modes. By default, these modes use the 'Live Control' interface.
|The Live Guide interface provides access to a series of camera settings, expressed in terms of their effect on the final image.
The options are: Color Saturation, Color Image, Brightness, Blur Background and Express Motions.
There's also a 'Shooting Tips' option that gives simple advice on how to shoot different subjects.
Live Guide can be controlled either using the touchscreen or the four-way controller on the back of the camera (or with a combination of the two). You can 'drag' a tab out from the right of the screen, which reveals sliders like the one shown above-left. Live Guide basically gives users an outcome-orientated way of adjusting more complex settings. For example, the color temperature component of white balance is called 'Color Image' and goes from warm to cool. 'Expressed motions' is shutter speed and appears as a scale with 'stop motion' on one end and 'blurred motion' at the other. You can use your finger to manipulate the various sliders. Unlike previous PEN Lite models, the E-PL7 can have more than one Live Guide option applied at a time.
|The Live Control interface is rather compact-camera-esque, ranging 14 settings down the right-hand-side of the screen, over two pages.
This interface can only be navigated using the four-way controller - it makes no use of the camera's touch screen.
When you switch to P/A/S/M mode, Live Control is the default shortcut menu, which appears when the center button on the four-way controller is pressed. The adjustable settings are displayed on the right, while the options for each are at the bottom of the screen. This menu is not touch-capable.
|The Super Control Panel. You can change most of the camera's major settings here (though oddly not the two movie settings included in the Live Control system).
Olympus has made turning on the SCP more awkward than necessary - it's burried three levels down in a menu that's hidden by default.
The most elaborate (and useful) interface is the Super Control Panel (SCP). This has been on Olympus cameras for a very long time, but in recent years it's become very hard to actually access. To access it, you have have to go to the Setup menu in order to make the Custom menu visible, then go to option D3 (Control Settings), select the P/A/S/M option and apply a tick next to 'Live SCP.'
Once it is activated, you can quickly navigate to a setting (using buttons or the touch screen) and then quickly adjust it with the control dial. Why this option isn't turned on by default, especially in P/A/S/M mode, is a mystery.
The main menu system is typical Olympus. It's reasonably well organized but rather oddly prioritised. As explained above, the 'Custom' section of the menu is hidden when you first turn the camera on. There's a good reason for this: it's densely packed and full of obscure options. However, some of thes options are potentially useful. On close examination, it's reasonably logically arranged and, to help you out, pressing the 'Info' button will display a little 'tool tip' box with a brief description of what that menu setting controls.
|The first level of the shooting menu (left) features some rarely used options. Most of the good stuff is buried in the Custom menu (right).|
The E-PL7's touch screen is well implemented in that it exists in addition to physical controls, rather than in their place. As we've seen, in the iAuto mode it can be used to adjust the Live Guide interface. In addition to this it can also be used to specify the focus position or to focus and take an image.
If you work out how to engage the Super Control Panel, it also lets you tap to select the setting you want to change - something we think works particularly well in
In playback mode the screen can be used to swipe between images, to pinch zoom on some fine detail or to press the on-screen 'button' that activates the camera's Wi-Fi sharing.
As mentioned above, the only dedicated customizable button is the 'Fn' button on its right shoulder. By default, this opens the Live Guide interface (described above), but there are a large number of other functions that can be assigned to it. These same functions can also be assigned to the magnify glass button to its right as well as the movie recording button below.
|Functions that can be applied to Fn / magnify / video buttons (defaults marked in Green)|
• Video record (REC)
• Depth-of-field preview
• One-touch White Balance
• AF area select
• 'Home' AF point (resets AF point)
• Manual focus
• Raw (changes shooting format, with dial)
• Test Picture (shoots image without saving)
• MySet 1
• MySet 2
• MySet 3
• MySet 4
|• Backlit LCD (turns display on/off)m
• Switches between underwater modes
• Exposure comp.
• Live Guide (Fn)
• Digital Tele-converter
• Magnify (Magnify)
• White balance
The four-way controller has four default functions, adjusting exposure compensation, flash mode, drive mode, and focus point. The center button also opens up the on-screen interface, whether that be Live Guide / Live Control or Super Control panel.
Naturally, several of these buttons can have their functions customized. The right and down directional buttons can do something else, and the whole four-way controller can be re-purposed to directly select the focus point. Note that you can also select the focus point by using the touchscreen, which is faster in most cases.
First, here are the functions that can be assigned to the right and down buttons on the four-way controller:
|Functions that can be applied to the down and right arrows
(if direct AF selection is disengaged)
|• Flash mode (Right)
• Drive mode/Self-timer (Down)
• White balance
• Lock touch operation
• Electronic zoom (when used with power zoom lens)
• Switch between underwater modes
• Exposure Comp
If you want more than one button configuration, you can use the MySet feature to store up to four groups of camera settings. You can quickly switch between them by customizing one of the buttons listed above or, better still, by applying one to the 'Photo Story' position on the camera's mode dial.
The PL7 has a reasonably sophisticated Auto ISO system but adjusting any of the settings requires a trip to the Custom menu. From here you can customize both the upper and lower ISO limits that it will use (Custom: E6: ISO-Auto Set), and, via the Flash Slow Limit setting (Custom: F2: Flash Slow Limit), can modify the minimum shutter speed the camera will use. The camera will use the Flash Slow Limit speed or 1/equivalent focal length - whichever is fastest.
Auto ISO can be enabled in Manual exposure mode (Custom: E7 'ISO-Auto': All), but exposure compensation is not available, so you can't control image brightness.