While the E-PL1 has been designed with a degree of familial consistency with the preceding PENs, it's simply not as attractive as the more expensive E-P1 / E-P2 cameras - its rather boxy shape and slightly cluttered layout making it appear conventional, rather than classic. The prominent black hand grip on the front of the camera, with its thick silver cap looks a little bit like an aftermarket addition on everything but the black version of the camera, though the stability it brings can't be faulted.
Build quality is good, though not up to the standards of the other PENs - we've used examples on which the front panel of the camera has developed some flex around the hand grip after extensive use. Generally, though, it's as well-built as you'd expect of a camera costing this much - it's solid and weighty with no creaks or rattles, but doesn't quite give the same impression of quality as the E-P1 or 2.
In your hand
That little grip on the front makes a huge difference to handling, when combined with the raised thumb support around the movie record button. The PL1 sits easily in the hand, with the shutter button in easy reach. The magnify button is also easily accessible, making it quick and easy to work with manual focus lenses. However, the lack of control dials means you have to drop out of your shooting position in order to change any settings - not a problem for someone coming from a compact camera background but slightly disconcerting if you're used to making small changes with the flick of a DSLR thumb wheel.
The E-PL1 has an accessory port, so can mount the same optional VF-2 electronic viewfinder as used by the E-P2. It's probably the best EVF we've used, offering a large, bright, detailed preview with an excellent 60hz refresh rate.
If you find yourself needing a more stable shooting position or regularly can't see the rear screen in bright light, the VF-2 makes a great addition to the PL1.
|The most significant feature of the E-PL1's body is probably the new built-in flash. It's not terrifically powerful, with a Guide Number of 10 at ISO 200 (7 at ISO 100), but it'll work to add a bit of fill-flash or can remotely trigger and control the optional Olympus FL36R or FL50R external flashguns.|
|Most interaction with the camera is via the four-way controller. Each direction is assigned a function and, once selected, act as cursor keys to select the settings of that function. Pressing the central 'OK' button (or half-pressing the shutter button), accepts the change and returns to the normal shooting mode.|
|In addition there are two buttons just above the thumb rest. In record mode, the left acts as a configurable function button while the right cycles through the magnification area selection and magnified live view display modes.
In playback mode they zoom out and in, respectively.
|The E-PL1 also gains a direct movie recording button. It's becoming an increasingly popular feature on compact cameras and makes it much easier to spontaneously shoot video, rather than stills if something interesting happens.
Stills-only shooters will be pleased to learn it can be re-assigned to perform a number of other functions.
|Just below the flash hot shoe is the accessory port that allows the addition of peripherals such as the VF-2 external viewfinder or EMA-1 external microphone adapter.|