The E-PL1 was, arguably, a fairly ugly camera. Lacking the smoother lines of the E-P1 and E-P2, it looked squat and boxy, an impression magnified by the rectangular buttons that covered its rear. The E-PL2 is a considerably more elegant beast, inheriting many of its design cues and lines from its more expensive siblings. It's not just better than the E-PL1 to look at, though, it's also better to use, thanks to the more pleasantly sculpted hand grip and the addition of an E-P2-inspired rear control dial.
Build quality is excellent, exactly as we'd expect from a camera in the PEN range (and any camera at this price). The E-PL2 is solid and well-built, and most of its control points have a positive, high-quality feel. The only exception, sadly, is the rear dial, which (like the E-P2's) is rather small and fiddly. Despite its lower-end billing E-P2 users interested in the E-PL2 as a second body certainly won't feel like they've taken a step downwards.
In your hand
The E-PL1 wasn't bad, but the E-PL2 definitely feels nicer to use. The rear control dial makes a lot of difference to the camera's operational efficiency, and the remodeled hand grip makes it more comfortable to hold, especially single-handed. The E-PL1's slightly-too-small shutter release has also been replaced by a larger button. All of the major controls fall easily to hand, just like the E-PL1, and the direct video shooting button is very well placed for grabbing quick movie clips, or - once reassigned - for accessing other key functions.
Unlike the E-P2, the E-PL1 offers a built-in flash, which is released using a mechanical catch on the rear of the camera. Whilst not terrifically powerful, it's good enough for close-range snapshots, and it can also remotely trigger and control the optional Olympus FL36R or FL50R external flashguns.
Most interaction with the camera is via the four-way controller / dial, which is used to select and change functions. Pressing the central 'OK' button accepts the change and returns to the normal shooting mode. The 'right' and 'down' keys can also be customized to access ISO or white balance directly, if you prefer.
The dial serves to change exposure settings as well as navigate the E-PL2's various on-screen options and menus.
Something else that the E-PL2 has which the E-P2 lacks is a direct video shooting button. Positioned on the rear of the camera, just to the right of the thumb grip, this button is well-placed for quick video 'grab shots'.
If video isn't a priority, this button can be reassigned to various other functions, including AE/AF lock and face detection.
As well as the VF-2 external viewfinder, the E-PL2's AP2 (Accessory Port 2) is also compatible with Olympus' new 'Penpal' PP-1 bluetooth device. This features 2GB of built-in memory and can transmit low-resolution images to compatible smartphones or other Penpal devices.
As well as the all-singing, all-dancing accessory port, the E-PL2 also offers a good old-fashioned hotshoe. The E-PL2 is compatible with all of Olympus' current range of flashguns, including the tiny FL-14, which was released alongside the original PEN E-PL1.