Olympus E-PL1 Review
Overall handling and operation
The user interface is the biggest change between this and the previous PENs - it loses both of the control dials that feature on the earlier models. The result is that you become much more aware of how modal the control system is - the first press of the four-way controller enters a mode, which remains engaged until you press the 'OK' button. (This was the case with many settings on the E-P1/EP-2 but, crucially, not the main shooting parameters, which were directly controlled with the dials).
There are nice additions, though. Adding a separate magnification button offers two great benefits: not only does it make it simple to jump into and out of magnified live view when using manual focus lenses, it also resolves an inconsistency in the Olympus user interface. Until now, magnified live view was one of the live view display modes and the only one in which the function of the controls changed. By making it a separate mode that is toggled on and off using its own button, it is much more apparent that you're in a different mode, meaning it's not so much of a surprise when the OK button zooms in, rather than bringing up the function menu or Super Control Panel.
And, although there are many beginner-friendly touches to the E-PL1's interface, it contains the frankly implausible level of customization that has become standard on Olympus DSLRs as far back as the top-end E-3. These options are hidden by default but can be accessed by switching on the custom settings menu from the setup menu. At this point you gain a 62-option menu separated into ten sections. It will take at least an evening with the manual, to find out all that's in there, but it allows an unbelievable level of customization.
Specific handling issues
In general we quite like the Live Guide - it gives a fairly straight-forward way of adjusting image parameters without having to learn too much about the camera. The inconsistency between the button behavior in Live Guide and the ArtFilter and Scene modes may trip a few people up but the E-PL1 works well as a point-and-shoot camera that you can interact with if you wish.
It's a little disappointing that the camera doesn't hint at what settings it's changing when you adjust a setting in Live Guide, as it means it provides no stepping-stone for users who want to take any more control over the camera. As a simple mode allowing a degree of interaction it does what it's supposed to do - provide access to much of the camera's capability without getting too complicated - and does it well.
Our other concern is the one we've had about Olympus DSLRs and PENs for some time - that some people will find the level of complexity outweighs the advantages of being able to define, in fine detail, almost every aspect of the camera's behavior. The ability to hide the distinctly intimidating settings menu certainly helps but we would highly recommend enthusiast users read the relevant section of the manual and discusses settings with other users to get the most out of their camera.
In general the E-PL1 is a pleasant and responsive camera. There are delays when working with some of the Art Filters (which can give a time-lapse/sped-up effect if used in movie mode), but it's unusual to find yourself waiting for the camera. However the modal, button-based interface does mean that the camera is considerably slower to operate than cameras with control dials, if you want to change shooting settings.
Its continuous shooting rate isn't exactly great, at what would now be considered a fairly modest 3 frames per second. This in itself isn't terrible but there are further problems if you combine continuous AF with continuous shooting - you either get lots of mis-focussed images or, if you set the camera to wait until it's in focus, you don't get many images at all.
Continuous Shooting and buffering
Shot-to-shot speed: in either RAW or the highest quality JPEG mode (SuperFine, accessed via Settings Menu G7), the camera will happily shoot a shot every 0.5 seconds, so long as you pulse your finger on the shutter, rather than releasing completely, which prompts the camera to refocus. This rhythm can usually be sustained for around six or seven shots, which is more than enough for grabbing a couple of shots when you didn't think you needed continuous shooting.
In continuous mode,
- JPEG (Superfine): around 3fps for 16 frames, then 2fps
- RAW: around 3fpd for 10 frames then around 0.9fps
- RAW + JPEG: around 3fps for 9 frames then about 0.5fps
- Recovery time: 9-20 seconds
One of the biggest criticisms aimed at the PEN series of cameras has been the speed of their autofocus. With its most recent firmware updates (version 1.1 in the case of the E-PL1), Olympus has tried to address the issue. Results of our testing were interesting - the E-PL1's speed was around 20% faster
The graphs below show the results of our focus test using the Olympus 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 lens on the E-PL1, the E-P2 and the Panasonic G1. For comparative purposes, the E-PL1 was also tested with the Panasonic 14-45 F3.5-5.6 OIS. Each camera was timed three times focusing from infinity focus to 10m, from infinity to 1m, then again from closest focus distance to 10m and 1m. These twelve measurements for each camera were combined to calculate an average focus time. The tests were conducted twice, at each extreme of the lenses' zoom range.
The E-PL1 was running firmware v1.1, the E-P2 was running version 1.0 and the G1 was running version 1.4. (We also tested the E-PL1 with firmware 1.0 and found it to be indistinguishable from the E-P2). Graph shows time taken to focus, in seconds.
As can be clearly seen, the E-PL1 can focus the Olympus lens just as fast as the Panasonic G1, and is significantly faster than the E-P2. However, this is still around 15% slower than when it's used with the Panasonic lens (with its lightweight internal focus element design).
There's a similar story at the long end of the zoom (45mm in the case of the Panasonic lens), with the E-PL1 matching the G1 for speed (the difference is likely to be within the error margin of the test), but some 20% quicker than the E-P2. Even so, there's another 20% to be gained by using the Panasonic 14-45mm lens, strongly suggesting the limiting factor for the PEN series is the kit zoom's design, rather than any flaw with the processing or AF logic.
As mentioned further up the page, continuous AF is a bit of a weak spot for the E-PL1 (as it is for all the mirrorless cameras). Unlike the phase-detection AF method that DSLRs can take advantage of, the contrast-detection AF method used in mirrorless cameras cannot establish which direction it need to focus in - instead it has to scan through different focus distances to find the point giving the highest contrast. The result is lots of jiggling about, even if the camera isn't moved in relation to the subject.
Whether for size or cost reasons, the E-PL1 features a simplified IS mechanism, compared to the EP-1 and 2. Olympus claims the camera is able to produce stable shots at shutter speeds 3 stops lower than without it (rather than the four claimed for the other PENs). In use, shake was rarely a problem and the E-PL1 with the stabilization system allowing shots to be taken at least a stop lower than you'd usually expect to be possible.
It's not the most effective system we've come across but is not significantly less effective than the E-P1 and, of course, it's effective whatever lens you choose to put on the cameras.
|Waffles with fruits by Coolinarka|
from Food photography (desserts)
|Vestrahorn Frozen Reflection by Will B Milner|
from Ice cold
Canon's new EF-S 35mm F2.8 Macro lens is not only compact and affordable, but it is a pretty good performer as well. We put it to the test with eyeballs, flowers and even some antique cameras. Read more
Google has updated its Photos mobile apps to support the recently announced service for creating and printing physical photo books.
Europeana Photography is a new online image archive that includes more than 2 million historical photographs from European collections in 34 countries, covering the first 100 years of photography. Read more
Manufacturers love to state CRI (color rendering index) numbers to prove that their LED lights will provide great color, but a single CRI score doesn't tell the whole story.
NASA's Juno spacecraft is sending back its first images from Jovean orbit, and they're beautiful. Read more
We got our hands on the first zoom lens available for Fujifim's new digital medium format system. Check out the samples
As summer really gets going over here in the Northern hemisphere, the team at Imaging Resource has put together a list of the best cameras for backpacking.
The Ukrainian Parliament banned statues of Lenin in 2015. Two years later, the monuments no longer adorn public buildings or stand watch over town squares, but they're still there.
If you had to choose one camera to bring along for the ultimate West coast road trip, what would it be? DPR's Sam Spencer choose the X100F. Read more
The a9 boasts impressive capability. As more examples of it in practice pour in, Sony's claims hold up. Watch the a9 track and maintain focus on a rapidly approaching basketball.
Last week, more than a million tonnes of Californian coastline slid into the ocean, taking part of Highway 1 with it. Check out the remodeling in photos taken before and after the landslide.
Even after eighteen months of reviewing the latest, greatest, shiniest and must-buy-me-est new gear, DPReview staffer Carey Rose has continued to use older DSLR cameras for his freelance work. But now, that might be changing. Read more
Sony is the world's leading mirrorless camera brand but remains third for ILCs overall, it's said in a presentation to investors. A focus on high value cameras and lenses should boost operating income, it says. Read more
It's nicknamed the 'Cycloptic Mustard Monster,' and is a 3D printed medium format camera. Read more
The new NanGuang LED lights are battery powered and come with accessories including filters and diffusers.
Have you been telling yourself, "Hey, I really need one of those 8K displays?" A video about Dell's new 8K monitor shows you what to expect. Is it really that much better?
Tamara Lackey, a Nikon ambassador USA and pro shooter, discusses embracing self-consciousness as a means of connecting with subjects.
There's a new Spiderman movie coming out and the poster been generating a lot of online chatter. Mostly about how it looks like the creation of a fevered teenager that just discovered Photoshop.
An honest defense of the system's merits, with photos as proof.
Copyright disputes are no fun at all. 'Binded' is a new startup that aims to simplify the process of registering - and enforcing - copyright for photographers. Read more
Not everyone wants to pay a premium for a long zoom camera. Thankfully, there are many reasonably priced cameras available, though they won't offer the same image quality as enthusiast models. In this updated roundup we look at big zoom cameras with more consumer-friendly price tags. Read more
Think Tank Photo has updated two of its popular bag lines with improvements to functionality. Read more
We’ve all seen Bob Jackson’s Pulitzer Prize winning photo, but there's another.
The sample footage looks good.
It will automatically pick the best camera settings depending on shooting conditions. It even promises enhanced functionality for your camera, like exposure and focus stacking. It already supports many cameras from Canon, Fuji, Nikon and Sony. Read more
As if $13,950 wasn’t enough to pay for a special edition lens, the Leica Store in San Francisco is offering a prototype of said lens for $24,995. Read more
Make those old photos disappear without deleting them forever.
Firmware updates enable 10 fps shooting with adapted A-mount lenses, and faster startup times and better compatibility for 20 fps shooting when using native lenses on the a9.
Fujifilm has released firmware updates for its camera models X-T2, X-Pro2, GFX 50s, X-T20, X100F and X-T1 and updates to three of its software products.
A 22 year-old Romanian photographer uses his DJI Phantom 4 drone to capture unique perspectives of the city where he now lives.