Olympus PEN E-PM2 Review
Performance and Image Quality
Despite its entry-level billing the E-PM2 is a quick and responsive little camera. Startup time is under a second (unless you include the time it takes to unfold the collapsible 14-42mm kit zoom) and in its continuous (H) drive mode the E-PM2 can capture images at up to 8fps. In typical Olympus fashion this can be customized, and in fact you have control over both continuous L and H modes, allowing you to select anything from 1-8fps (1-3.5 in L and 4-8 in H). As far as focus is concerned, the E-PM2 boasts fast, highly accurate contrast-detection. Like the flagship OM-D, it can't really track focus all that well, but for static subjects, and 99% of everyday shooting situations, it's extremely capable, only being fooled very rarely when the sun or another bright light source intrudes into the frame (see image further down this page). We've also found 'touch to focus' using the rear touch-screen extremely handy in some situations.
On to image quality, and the E-PM2 borrows the highly capable 16MP sensor and TruePic VI image sensor introduced in the E-M5, and offers image quality that is to all practical extent identical. This is great news. As we've come to expect from Olympus the E-PM2 produces images at default JPEG settings that are pleasantly sharp, favoring somewhat saturated reds and greens even shooting in Natural processing mode. Other in-camera processing modes include Vivid, i-Enhance and Monotone options. Raw and Raw + JPEG modes are also available. In-camera Raw processing is included too, allowing for post-capture adjustments to white balance, exposure, noise reduction strength and aspect ratio.
Auto white balance is reliable, shooting predictably warm under incandescent lighting. In most cases, the incandescent white balance setting will provide the right correction. Overall we found the E-PM2's evaluative metering system to be reliable, and we didn't see any noticeable tendency to drastically over or under expose in everyday photography.
Users can set the default and the limit for ISO Auto mode - all the way up to the E-PM2's upper limit of ISO 25,600. As is usually the case in this class, images shot near the ISO 1250 mark and upward tend to fall victim to some noticeable color noise. Images shot up to ISO 1600 display some loss of detail, but are perfectly usable for small prints or web viewing. At ISO 3200, image quality takes a noticeable hit and continues to decline through the top of the range. For a detailed look at the E-PM2's image quality compared to its peers, check out the Image Quality Compared pages of this review.
One of the attractions of an interchangeable lens system versus a compact camera is the potential that a larger sensor provides to isolate a subject against a blurred background. E-PM2 shooters using the kit lens will find this is possible when shooting subjects somewhat close up, or zooming in tightly on subjects at the end of the focal range. Because of the smaller size of the Four Thirds sensor compared to that of a crop- or full-frame DSLR, it's harder to take control over depth of field with most everyday M43 zooms. If you're hankering for those smooth, soft backgrounds you'll do well to add a prime lens with a fast maximum aperture to your Olympus E-PM2.
The E-PM2 ships with a flash that snaps into the camera's hot shoe and smart accessory port. Naturally, the flash can't be used simultaneously with an electronic viewfinder or other accessory designed for the port. Because the flash is low to the top of the camera, lens shadow can be an issue when shooting at wide angles relatively close-up. If you don't plan on adding a viewfinder accessory and don't mind the small amount of added bulk, the flash could comfortably live on top of the E-PM2 for extra illumination in a pinch.
The E-PM2 comes equipped with a range of Art Filters - effectively color effects that are designed to give certain distinctive 'looks' to your pictures, from the aged appearance of an old Polaroid to more outrageous, technicolor treatment. This sort of thing is pretty common these days, but Olympus started the trend, and we enjoy the versatility that Art Filters offer.
Speaking of versatility, the ability to capture multiple different filtered versions of the same shot in a single exposure, shoot JPEG+Raw simultaneously and fun borders all make Olympus's Art Filters stand out from the crowd.