Olympus PEN E-P1 review

Started May 1, 2010 | User reviews
ahaack Junior Member • Posts: 35
Olympus PEN E-P1 review

With the firmware update 1.4 Olympus manged the miracle to implement
the fastest state of the are contrast based focus and put th camera back to the top of it's class.

Find the complete review with samples on: ahaack.net/photography/e-p1/

With the upcoming of the PEN class cameras I was looking to improve :
1) Handling with more manual controls then compact cameras
2) Improved ISO performance (lower pixel density)
3) Being able to thought out background accentuate the subject (large sensor)

The complete review and sample image find on


== Focus ==
With the firmware update 1.4 Olympus manged the miracle to implement
the fastest state of the are contrast based focus. Even with the firmware
upgrade 1.1 you could not catch anything faster then a snail but now
focus speed is very close, if not equal, to my Nikon D90.
I could catch cars running at 27 m/s, that is 100 km/h,
as well as bicycles and motor bikes and sport shoots.

== Image quality ==
I like to take the final image as JPEG rather then raw formated images
and finalize it later.
The E-P1 certainly does, unlike the Panasonic - G-1, a good job catching JPEGs.
First I had some complains about some minor grain and artifacts left
with the large-fine settings compared to my D90. But then I discovered that
there is a Superfine setting which produces cutting edge quality JPEGs.

== Iso Performance ==
One of the reasons you want a camera with a large sensor is better Iso-performance due to the lower pixel density of only 5 MPix/cm2. Is does a good job so far with little chroma noise and you have good control over noise reduction. I have not finished testing ISO performance jet. So far HI ISO is slightly less good then on my Nikon D90.

== Lenses ==
The other advantage you get with a large sensor is a shallow death of field (DOF) and being able to thought out background accentuate the subject of your image.
For an enthusiast quality is everything. That is why she spends so much more money compared to a compact camera.
I would have certainly expect an bright lens with an minimum aperture of 2.8
for the 14-42mm lens even if it adds to size.

Now I have a lousy 3.5 to 5.6 aperture loosing 2 stops compared to my Panasonixc LX-3 with 2-2.8 aperture.
While high-Iso performance gets you short shutter speeds and thus sharp images in low light High-ISO is not a replacement for slow lenses as it always adds you some grain and noise. H
While the camera is perfect in bright conditions the zoom kit gets a real handicap in less bright environment. If you are not working in bright conditions you are loosing compared to the LX-3.

It is a big mistake of Olympus to release a number of slow lenses. Enthusiast need fast lenses.

Luckily Panasonic understood our needs by releasing the excellent Panasonic 20mm/1.7 prime lens.

My four Leica 14-50m and Olympus 50-200m third lens work very well withe
Olympus mmf-1 adepter


== Handling ==
With an barrel dial and a turn dial the camera and a number of buttons the camera has good ergonomics and I am able to change important settings quickly.

A user expect a consistent interface that she can operate blindly.
An image is TAKEN AND DISPLAYED. Now I decide I need more depth of field a turn on the upper barrel dial should change the aperture number.
If I want to change the with balance pressing the button should bring up the white balance menu.

This is however not the case and the actual behavior is very annoying.
If an image is displayed after shutter is pressed the buttons act unexpectedly as in review mode so when I press white balance the next picture is displayed.
This makes no sense at all.

The turning/screw motion of the lower turn dial is much more natural for zoomin in and out then the upper barrel dail. It is a constant annoyance to me.

The single focus followed by manual focus with the 10x focus assistant is an
an absolutely great invention that makes it possible to have sharp images.

When changing shutter speed or aperture a sliding scale, like the compition has done, would give a much better optical feedback.

Picture mode is not displayed and not in the quick menu. This would much more useful then have the aspect ration in the quick menu.

The fastest way to confirm a delete operation would be to press the delete button twice rather then using a menu like on other cameras.

The rule of third is an important rule in photo composition. Although there is a grid the is no true 1/3 grid which is a annoying.

After shooing the image it would be nice if the camera automatically zooms in shortly to see quality at 1:1, like the competition has done.

== Flash ==
One of the big criticism is that the E-P1, compared to GF-1, lakes a flash.
In contrary flash of the GF1 is very small and the same size as
on my LX3. In praxis this flash is absolutely useless for any purpose, even fill in.

However it could use a good flash even if the camera is gets slightly larger.
In line with the hype and feature set would be a flash like on my Panasonic L1 with also adds indirect 45° position.

== Image stabilization ==
I am missing a valid test on this topic at dpreview. While the Panasonic L1 was mentioned to have stabilized 1/3 of a second many stabilizations can not cope well with anything less then 1/60 s which renders image stabilization useless.

== Portability ==
LX-3: 265g
E-P1: 490g
D-90: 1190g (Tamron 16-50mm A 2.8)

While the Nikon D90 is certainly a portable camera that fits in a handbag or
my handle bar bicycle bag it needs a lot of enthusiasm to carry it and is with 1190 g it certainly does not fit into the "always-carry-with-you" category.

The E-P1 however with just 40% of my D90 just fits into the "always-carry-with-you" class.
Also the LX-3 would only fit in a coat pocket and is thus not much more portable
then the E-P1.

== No AF illuminator ==
Seems not to be such a big problem as I expected. Amyzinly I could even
auto-focus pin sharp in low light.

== Conclusion ==
With the lasted firmware update adding state of the art focus speed
the camera this excellent camea is certainly class-leading and delivers DLSP quality in a small package.
The only issues are kit lens with its slow aparture rendering many advantages useless and some handeling problems.


* Superb JPEG - Quality
* Ultra fast auto focus
* Single Focus - Manual Focus with 10x: Cool feature that does works well.
* Manual focus assistat: Zooms 10x in and you can focus pin sharp.
* Very clever collapsible kit lens that's small, but offers decent quality
* In-body IS
* Autofocus does work with all legacy Four Thirds lenses
* Quick menu on ok button for many settings are great.
* It is much smaller, due to collapsible lens, does superb JPEG quality and
has excellent handling
* Small size: Big cameras are often not allowed on like football events or concerts.
* Highlight an d shadow view
* No AF disturbing illuminator:Seems not to be such a big problem as I expected. I could even auto-focus pin sharp in low light.

Short comings
* No Flash: However the flash of the GF1 is very small and the same size as
on my LX3. In praxis this flash is absolutely useless for any pupose, even fill in.
* An important composition rule is the rule of the 1/3. Various grids are available but none true 1/3rd grid which would be important for 1/3. Panasonic has it for a long time.

* Autoreview zoom function: This shortly zooms during the auto review and is greatly missing
* On my Nikon the extended menus are labeled with letters and numbers like e.g. A2 would be AF-Area. This for better communication.
* Turns dial in review mode changes sound volume instead of zoom which is annying.
* No color correction in white balance.
* Delete confirm is cumbersome.

 ahaack's gear list:ahaack's gear list
Fujifilm X70 Fujifilm FinePix S2 Pro Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 Canon EOS-1D Mark IV Canon EOS 5D Mark III +7 more
Olympus PEN E-P1
12 megapixels • 3 screen • Four Thirds sensor
Announced: Jun 16, 2009
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