The classically-styled PEN series of Micro Four Thirds interchangeable lens cameras has given Olympus the opportunity to draw attention to the small, popular half-frame models that it produced in its film heyday. But it wasn't just the size and style of the PEN and Trip cameras that lay behind their success - it was also their simplicity. And it's this ethos that explains the E-PM1, or PEN Mini as it is likely to be promoted to its target audience.

The Pen Mini really does live up to its name. With a prime or collapsible kit zoom lens mounted, it is very small indeed. It isn't quite pocketable, but it's undeniably more convenient to carry around than any DSLR.

To go with the user-friendly size, Olympus has opted for a beginner-orientated design and interface, with the bare minimum of buttons and dials. Hidden underneath, though, the E-PM1 retains much the same feature set as the enthusiast-targeted E-P3. The more-advanced functions aren't quite as easy to get at, but they're almost all there.

A such, the PEN Mini's appeal is potentially two-pronged. To novice photographers or compact camera upgraders its appeal lies in the fact that it is a small, lightweight and inexpensive (especially in the US, where Olympus's pricing is particularly aggressive) interchangeable lens camera which offers plenty of features without being intimidating. For enthusiasts, however, it is appealing because it offers a lot of the 'guts' of much more expensive models like the E-P3 and indeed the E-5, but at a bargain price and in a more portable package.

For $200 more, the PEN-E-PL3 offers slightly more direct control, a mode dial and a tilting LCD screen, but that is pretty much the extent of the headline differences between the two bodies. The E-PM1 can be used as a purely 'point-and-shoot' camera, but its specification does allow room for a novice photographer to develop. We can't see E-PM1 users leaving the comfort of their kit zooms to experiment with Olympus and Panasonic's wider range of Micro Four Thirds lenses quite as much as E-PL3 or E-P3 owners might, but the option is there. As such, despite its similar size and pricing, the E-PM1 stands apart from high-end compact cameras like the Canon Powershot G12 and Nikon P7100 by virtue of its position within a system.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1 key specifications:

  • Updated 12MP Live MOS sensor
  • 120 Hz 'Fast AF' focus system
  • Clip-on flash (included)
  • Built-in autofocus illuminator light
  • 460,000 dot LCD screen (16:9 aspect ratio)
  • Dual-core TruePic VI processor
  • 1080i60 movies in AVCHD format
  • In-body (sensor-shift) image stabilization system
The Mini borrows the PL3's slimmed-down look. There's no built-in flash (a clip-on unit is included in the box, instead), and it shares the distinctly Sony-esque protruding lens mount. Despite being the least expensive model in the range, Olympus still includes stereo microphones for movie recording.

Differences between the PEN Mini (E-PM1) and PEN E-PL3

  • LCD is fixed, rather than E-PL3's tilting version
  • PEN Mini has no mode dial and fewer external controls
  • PEN Mini is slimmer, due to fixed LCD, slightly smaller and lighter.

Compared to Sony NEX-C3

The PEN Mini ends up being a very similar size to Sony's NEX-C3, but its collapsible zoom lens makes the overall package smaller and closer to being pocketable.