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Flash

For some users at least one big advantage of the E-PL2 (and E-PL1) over the E-P1/2 is the built-in flash. It's not a very highly powered unit (just Guide Number 10 at ISO 200 or 7 at ISO 100 which is not available on the camera), but it is still very useful for fill-flash or if you're close to your subjects. There is also a standard hot shoe to allow more powerful flashes to be added on and, surprisingly for a camera at this level, there's the ability to use the internal flash to remotely control the output of compatible offboard flashguns (such as the Olympus FL-50R or FL-36R).

Metering / Highlight clipping

The E-PL2's metering system is generally reliable and we would find it hard to find any incorrectly exposed images amongst our several hundred real life samples. It's probably fair to say that in critical situations, with a lot of contrast in a scene, the E-PL2 tends to expose conservatively which protects highlights but can also lead to a loss of shadow detail. Having said that, slightly underexposed images are much easier to 'repair' in post-production than overexposed ones.

Despite the E-PL2's reliable metering there are situations in which the system is not capable of dealing with the high contrast in the scene. This is when the camera's Gradation feature comes in handy. Like we've seen on previous Olympus models with Gradation set to 'Auto' the camera underexposes a third of a stop to protect the highlights and then performs a context-sensitive adjustment, lifting mid-tones and shadows while maintaining local contrast.

As you can see in the samples below this works quite well and the overall dynamic range of the image increases noticeably. Detail is recovered on the white wooden planks of the boat and at the same time the shadow areas on the right have been lifted, revealing some more of the wooden textures. If you look closely you'll see that the downside to this is a slight increase in shadow noise. It's not much of an issue at base ISO but becomes more intrusive at higher sensitivities. Just keep that in mind before deciding to leave gradation set to 'Auto' at all times.

Gradation Norm Gradation Auto
100% crops
100% crops

Art filters

Like other recent Olympus cameras The E-PL2 offers Art Filters which can be applied either at the time of shooting or, to RAW files, via in-camera editing. The new model has lost the E-PL1's 'Gentle Sepia' mode but comes with 'Dramatic tone' instead. All six modes are available in movie mode, as well as stills shooting.

  • Pop Art
  • Soft Focus
  • Grainy Film
  • Pin Hole
  • Diorama
  • Dramatic Tone

Some of the filters can cause slight delays and require a couple of second pause before you can shoot again - these delays extend to creating a rather more laggy preview and a lower frame rate for movies. The Art Filters are certainly a very useful feature for people who don't have the time, knowledge or motivation to add special effects to their pictures in Photoshop and all of them are fun to play with. Our personal favorite was the Dramatic Tone filter which is often capable of converting a dull image taken on a gray day into something you'd quite happily show your friends.

JPEG - Natural Pop Art
Soft Focus Grainy Film
Pin Hole Diorama
 
Dramatic Tone  

Kit lens comparison

As we've mentioned previously in this review the E-PL2 also comes with a new kit lens. The collapsible M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II MSC was introduced late last year with the Japan-only E-PL1s and is is 25% lighter than the previous generation. It comes with three aspherical elements rather than two and has one extending barrel section rather than two. It also gains a bayonet fitting at the front which can accept not only a lens hood, but also a new series of add-on lens converters - fish-eye, wideangle and macro.

We've talked about the improved AF performance of the new lens in the performance section of this review. Here we want to have a quick look at the differences in image quality. For this purpose we've taken a few sample shots with both lenses at different apertures. At wide angle we found the differences to be very marginal and so decided to only show the telephoto samples here. As you can see at 42mm and F5.6 the new lens is slightly sharper in the corners but the advantage vanishes quickly as you stop down. All in all the difference is arguably not relevant for day-to-day photography. At this focal length both lenses are virtually free of any aberrations.

New kit lens - 42mm F5.6 100% crop
Old kit lens - 42mm F5.6 100% crop
New kit lens - 42mm F6.3 100% crop
Old kit lens - 42mm F6.3 100% crop

Overall Image Quality / Specifics

During our studio testing and shooting of real-life samples with the E-PL2 in various conditions we could not identify any specific image quality problems, and the camera delivers decent image quality for a camera in this class. Unsurprisingly the output is very similar to previous models such as the E-PL1 and E-P2, with good detail and vibrant but still natural colors. The metering is reliable and in high contrast conditions tends to expose conservatively. Dynamic range is slightly lower than most of the APS-C sensor competition but Auto Gradation can do a good job of expanding the highlight range. Just keep an eye on the shadow noise.

On high contrast edges you can occasionally find hints of purple fringing but but it's well within acceptable limits. In terms of lens aberrations the new kit lens actually appears to be a step forward from the previous model. The images were virtually free of any chromatic aberrations whereas on the old model they were clearly visible in certain circumstances. Also, while the kit lens cannot yield the same results as the prime lens we use for our studio tests it shows good overall sharpness across the frame.

At higher sensitivities the E-PL2 cannot quite keep up with the better APS-C cameras and shows some low contrast detail smearing above ISO400. There's also visibly more shadow noise in the Olympus output than for instance in the Sony NEX images. Having said that the E-PL2 generates more pleasant high ISO output than its Micro Four Thirds sibling, the Panasonic GF2, with a better balance of noise reduction and detail retention, and it isn't so far off many entry-level DSLRs.

All in all you don't really need to worry too much about image quality when shooting with the E-PL2. If you take a large proportion of your pictures in low light an APS-C camera might be the better alternative but for everyone else the Olympus offers unproblematic image quality in a very compact package.

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