Olympus's first Micro Four Thirds camera targets the gap between digicams and DSLRs for serious photographers and also supports HD video recording.The Olympus Pen E-P1 is the third Micro Four Thirds (MFT) camera to reach the market and is quite different from the Panasonic G-series models that preceded it. Capitalising on the heritage of the popular 'Pen' series cameras, which were launched 50 years ago, it comes with a Four Thirds format, 12.3-megapixel (effective) Live MOS image sensor that supports both still and HD video capture. . . [more]
The Olympus Pen E-P1 is the third Micro Four Thirds (MFT) camera to reach the market and is quite different from the Panasonic G-series models that preceded it. Capitalising on the heritage of the popular ‘Pen' series cameras, which were launched 50 years ago, it comes with a Four Thirds format, 12.3-megapixel (effective) Live MOS image sensor that supports both still and HD video capture.
Despite looking like a mix between an old rangefinder camera and a compact digicam, the E-P1 features a mirror-free design and has a much larger image sensor than you'd expect for its size. (Details are provided in the Sensor and Image Processor section below.)
Although Olympus claims the E-P1 is designed to be as easy to use as a compact digicam, it's a pity they didn't get some advice from Panasonic on designing the user interface on the new model. Unless you opt for full-auto shooting, adjusting some settings can be fraught with difficulties because key controls like the arrow pad buttons cover several functions. Frustration results when the function you want becomes inaccessible and you're forced to go into the menu and Reset the camera to its defaults to overcome function-related conflicts. (More on this below.)
A number of popular features from current Olympus cameras are included in the E-P1. Notable among them is the SSWF dust-removal system, which has been re-designed to suit the new body, providing dust-free images, regardless of how many times the lenses are changed. The image stabilisation unit is also re-designed to suit the smaller camera body and now claims up to 4EV of shutter speed advantage.
The E-P1's exposure metering system is a new 18 x 18 sensor array that samples 324 areas in the frame. The standard iESP multi-pattern, centre-weighted and spot metering modes are supported.
Contrast-detect autofocusing is standard with an 11-area sensor array. You can choose any one of them in single-area selection mode. The face detection mode covers 25 area sensors and can identify up to eight human faces in a scene.
Another feature to be redesigned is the shutter, which uses a new two-curtain mechanism and supports a standard range extending from 60 to1/4000 seconds. Bulb exposures are also supported to a maximum length of 30 minutes. Shadow Adjustment Technology (SAT) kicks in when the gradation is set to Auto. Four settings are available: High Key, Standard (default), Low Key, and Auto.
Design and Ergonomics
The stainless steel body of the Pen E-P1 is similar in size to Canon's PowerShot G10, although the G10 is slightly taller, thanks to the inclusion of a viewfinder and flash, while the E-P1, which has neither, is a little wider. Both are similar in weight, with the G10 being a little heavier. Both are jacket-pocketable, rather than shirt-pocketable.
Build quality in the E-P1 is very good, with no visible gaps where panels join and a generally solid feel. The front panel is dominated by the lens mounting, which has a release on its left side. The only additional item on this panel is a large, leather-covered grip, which is gently moulded and slightly wider on its outer edge.
Front view of the Olympus Pen E-P1 fitted with the 14-42mm kit lens. (Source: Olympus.)
Most of the rear panel is covered by the 3-inch LCD monitor, which has a disappointingly ordinary resolution of only 230,000 dots. Its viewing angle is relatively wide but it suffers from the standard lack of readability in bright outdoor lighting. Right of the monitor is a vertical line of buttons covering (from the top) AEL/AFL, Play, Delete and Menu functions.
The arrow pad lies to the right of these buttons. Consisting of a tilting disk with a surrounding ‘main dial' wheel, it accesses the ISO, white balance, drive and AF settings. In the P, A, S and M shooting modes, the main dial can be programmed to control aperture or shutter speed or exposure or flash compensation. Unfortunately, on the review camera it moved a little too freely and we often found the function had been re-set inadvertently.
Below the arrow pad is an Info button, while above it is a Fn button that can also be programmed to access a specific function. Any one of the following can be assigned to this button: face detection, electronic preview, manual white balance measurement, AF home position, manual focus, raw switch, test picture, My Mode and backlit LCD.
A little above the Fn button is a right on holes for the speaker. To its right lies a semi-recessed sub-dial. As with the main dial, different adjustments can be assigned to this dial, depending on which shooting mode is selected, making it easy to change aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation settings. This dial isn't as easily re-set as the main dial.
Rear view of the Pen E-P1, showing the large LCD panel and main controls. (Source: Olympus.)
The mode dial is recessed into the left hand end of the top panel, with a large ridged wheel protruding towards the back of the camera. This is a very nice arrangement than makes it easy to swap modes on-the-fly but goes a long way towards preventing accidental re-sets from occurring.
To its right is a hot shoe that accepts an add-on optical viewfinder or accessory flash - but not both at once. A tiny LED is set into the top panel to the right of the hot-shoe to indicate the SSWF dust removal system's activity. Right of it lies a small on/off button and beyond that a larger shutter release button. The remaining button accesses exposure compensation settings.
Top view of the Pen E-P1, showing the semi-recessed mode dial, hot-shoe mounting and and button controls. (Source: Olympus.)
The memory card and battery share a compartment in the base of the camera that has a lift-up plastic door and is the least solid part of the camera body. Most photographers will welcome the swap from the more expensive and lower-capacity xD-Picture cards favoured by Olympus in its digicams to SD and SDHC memory cards, required by the inclusion of video recording. The rechargeable battery takes between two and three hours to charge.
Beside the battery/card compartment is the tripod mounting, which is metal-lined and centrally located on the base panel - although not on the lens axis. Located at the top of each side panel is a strap lug for the supplied camera strap, which is nicely made from grosgrain fabric and more comfortable to wear then the plastic straps supplied with some rival cameras. It is attached in a similar manner to straps for DSLR cameras.
Although the control system on the E-P1 is based on Olympus's DSLR cameras, US-based writer, Thom Hogan, has described the menu system on the E-P1 as the ‘messiest .. of any serious camera'. We agree and feel it's a real pity because much of the rest of the camera is genuinely likeable - although we were unimpressed by the supplied user manual. However, once you've done battle with both and set up the controls the way you want them, the E-P1 can be a pleasure to shoot with.
The main problem is that Olympus has tried to pack in too many choices, some of them strange in a camera designed for enthusiasts. One satisfactory system for accessing and adjusting key controls would have been simpler than three or four options - particularly as some only work when other controls are set up in a particular way. Owners of the Pen E-P1 will find they have a lot of toggling before they can make some adjustments.
The easiest way to change camera settings is via the Super Control Panel, which resembles the controls on Olympus's DSLRs. Unfortunately, instead of appearing immediately as it does in the DSLRs, the live control is the first screen you see. This displays a smaller suite of controls arranged vertically down each side of the LCD screen. To swap to the Super Control Panel, you must press the OK button in the centre of the arrow pad.
Occasionally we found neither control panel appeared when we powered-up the review camera and pressed the OK button. No explanation was provided in the user manual to help restore the Super Control Panel but we found pressing the Info button then OK button worked at times; at other times we had to go into the menu and reset the camera to its defaults.
The Info and OK buttons normally toggle between the live control, the Super Control Panel and the current adjustment selected. Screen grabs are shown below.
The live control display.
The Super Control Panel.
Current control setting.
This can involve up to three button presses before you even start making adjustments. Changing settings via the menu requires much more toggling. First you have to locate the correct page on the menu; then locate the setting and finally make the required adjustment. Twelve button presses were required to change the ISO setting from 125 to 160 via this route. The screen grabs below show these steps.
Left to right from the top left corner: the first page of the menu; toggling down to the Custom menu where the exposure controls are located; clicking on the exposure sub-menu; locating the ISO settings; toggling down to change the selection from ISO 125 to 160.
For future Pen-series model Olympus should look to Panasonic whose menus are models of clarity and easy to use. In terms of camera design and providing quick and straightforward access to key functions, the control layout on Canon's PowerShot G10 is a far better option for serious photo enthusiasts and professional photographers. (Hence the popularity of this camera - despite its small sensor and excessive resolution - with these groups.)
On the plus side, the semi-recessed mode dial is well-designed and straightforward, with eight settings covering iAuto, P, A, S, M, Movie, Art Filters and Scene modes. The iAuto mode is targeted at snapshooters and includes automatic focus, exposure, white balance and ISO setting. The camera will determine the relevant scene mode from the Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Sport and Macro options. (Although, actually, we feel many snapshooters will be put off by the high asking price and complexity of this camera and opt for a small-sensor digicam instead.)
The mode dial settings. (Source: Olympus.)
In iAuto mode, users can adjust the image size, quality settings and aspect ratio and choose from four focusing modes and three image stabilisation modes. They can also select the various flash, drive and self-timer modes. But other adjustments are blocked.
ISO and white balance become adjustable in the Art Filters mode, the latter allowing users to fine-tune colours along amber/blue or magenta/green axes. No other tweaking of settings is supported.
The Scene mode accesses a sub-menu containing 19 pre-sets: Portrait, e-Portrait, Landscape, Landscape + Portrait, Sport, Night Scene, Night + Portrait, Children, High Key, Low Key, DIS Mode, Macro, Nature Macro, Candle, Sunset, Documents, Panorama, Fireworks and Beach & Snow. As in Olympus's digicams, each scene mode is illustrated and each offers a specific range of adjustments.
A new addition in the E-P1 is a special ‘e-Portrait' mode that includes ‘soft skin' processing. When e-Portrait is set before shooting, the camera saves two images as both before and after compensation shots. The e-Portrait effect can be applied to images in the camera's edit mode after the picture is taken.
The Pen E-P1‘s Face Detection function detects up to 8 faces and optimises focus and exposure accordingly. Shadow Adjust Technology (SAT) combines with Face Detection to optimise exposure of human faces and background scenery. Face Detection can also be applied in playback mode.
Multi-exposure compositing is supported for both image capture and post-capture editing of raw files in the camera. In the former mode, users can superimpose two sequential frames and the camera will adjust brightness and contrast levels accordingly and save the result as a new image file. Post capture processing allows two stored raw files to be superimposed and re-saved. Users can build up additional exposures by overlaying another shot and re-saving.
The E-P1 also offers the standard Olympus Picture mode settings, comprising Vivid, Natural, Muted, Portrait, Monotone and Custom. You can tweak contrast, sharpness and saturation in each of these modes and apply a number of filter simulations to monochrome images. The latter can also be colour-toned in sepia, blue, purple or green.
Focusing with the E-P1 can be tricky. For starters you have to decide which AF mode to use: S-AF, C-AF, S-AF + MF or MF. The next step is AF target selection, where you can choose between a single-target or the entire 11-point array. Single-AF and all-target-AF are the defaults. In single-target AF mode you can move the AF point selection with the arrow pad. However you must half-press the shutter button to engage this capability, which means the functions linked to the arrow pad buttons can't be used.
Unfortunately, AF tracking is not provided and allowing the camera to select the focus position is hit-and-miss because it tends to focus on the subject closest to the camera. Exposure is linked to autofocusing and for both sequential bursts and movie clips, both are fixed at the first frame. Consequently, if you shoot a burst of shots or movie clip of a subject moving from darker to brighter situations (or vice versa), the result can be out-of-focus, incorrectly-exposed pictures, as shown below.
The first and last frames from a sequence of 10 shots taken in the sequential shooting mode. Note the differences in focus and exposure. (ISO 400, 1/80 second at f/5.6.)
Manual focusing (S-AF + MF and MF) can be difficult because, the default setting is for MF-assist, which magnifies the central part of the frame by between 7x and 10x. Although this magnification is only supposed to occur when you turn the focus ring in MF mode, the camera often steps in and changes your view of the subject before you've finished composing the shot. (We suspect many photographers will switch this function off - or stick with autofocusing.)
Plenty of interface display options are provided to help photographers who compose shots with the LCD screen. Among them are the standard data overlay, a small brightness histogram, two grid options and the ability to compose shots without interference on the screen. (No overlays are possible with the clip-on optical viewfinder.)
The live histogram display is small but includes indicators to show when brightness levels fall outside the sensor's range.
Sensor and Image Processing
The 13.1-megapixel Live MOS sensor in the Pen E-P1 comes from Panasonic, which has partnered Olympus in developing and producing the Four Thirds System format. Offering an effective resolution of 12.3 megapixels, it appears to be the same chip as in Olympus's E-30 and E620 DSLR models. (We can't say whether it's the same chip as used in Panasonic's G1 and GH1 models although the specs. appear similar.)
Like the DSLRs, the E-P1 supports 12-bit image processing and enables users to capture ORF.RAW and JPEG files, along with simultaneous RAW+JPEG recording. Users can choose from four aspect ratios for JPEG shooting: 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 and 6:6, each with three image sizes (Large, Middle and Small). By default, two compression levels are provided for Large images: Fine (1/4 compression) and Normal (1/8 compression). However, only the Normal compression is available for the Middle and Small sizes.
In fact, the E-P1 supports four JPEG compression levels: Super Fine (1/2.7 compression), Fine Normal and Basic (1/12 compression). But the only way you can use the Super Fine and Basic settings is to go into the Custom menu, find page G (resolution/colour/white balance) and toggle down to the resolution Set function. This lets you register four combinations of image size and compression ratio - but you can't access the full array of image size and quality options at once.
Raw files are only recorded in the 4:3 aspect ratio and losslessly compressed by 65% to yield files that are typically around 13.9MB in size. Typical image sizes for the options available through the main menu are shown in the table below.
4032 x 3024
4032 x 3024
4032 x 2688
4032 x 2272
3024 x 3024
2560 x 1920
2544 x 1696
2560 x 1440
1920 x 1920
1280 x 960
1296 x 864
1280 x 720
960 x 960
The new TruePic V image processing chip, introduced with the E-P1, appears to be an advance on the TruePic III+ image processing engine that was introduced with the E-30 and continued in the E-620. Designed to support sensitivities up to ISO 6400, it claims to deliver ‘cleaner and clearer, higher-resolution images and maximises the imaging performance of the lens'. It also underpins the camera's video capabilities.
The Movie mode is used for recording video clips, which can only be captured in the live viewing mode. The E-P1 can capture both HD and standard definition video clips at 30 frames/second with stereo sound using the widely supported AVI/Motion JPEG format. Only one resolution is supported in each format; HD clips are recorded at 1280 x 720-pixel resolution, while SD clips are VGA (640 x 480 pixels).
A maximum clip size of 2GB (equivalent to approximately 20 minutes) applies to HD video files. The Super Control Panel is inaccessible but you can use the live control and menu system to change certain settings, although many functions are either blocked or restricted when you shoot movies. Most video shooters will be disappointed they can't adjust lens apertures while shooting a video clip since this limits the creative shooting opportunities provided by the camera.
Although autofocusing is possible while clips are being recorded, it must be initiated by pressing the AEL/AFL button (and focusing noise may be recorded on the soundtrack). However, the face detection function is blocked and only electronic image stabilisation is available for shooting video.
You can choose between three shooting modes for movies: P, A and Art Filters. However, these selections can only be accessed by toggling Menu > Camera 2 > Movie AE Mode, which opens a sub-menu with all the Art Filter options. Be wary about using filters that take a long while to process images, such as the grainy Film and Pin Hole settings, particularly if you're not using a Class 6 memory card. These effects slow capture frame rates to the point where shooting almost becomes impractical and the video is unusable.
The Camera 2 menu also carries a setting that lets you enable the camera to shoot still pictures while movie clips are recorded. The only way we could achieve this was by pressing the shutter button, which stopped the video recording. Once again, we could find no satisfactory explanation to overcome this problem in the user manual.
Olympus claims to have used the audio technology developed for their sound recorders in the E-P1. Known as Wave Format Base Stereo it uses PCM to record 16-bit sound at 44.1 kHz and can be also used for adding sound bites to still pictures. Up to 30 seconds of audio can be added to JPEG images in playback mode.
Playback and Software
Playback modes are similar to those on Olympus's DSLR cameras and include single and index views, the latter with options for four, nine, 16, 25 or 100 thumbnails on the screen. The Info display provides shooting data overlays, histogram and highlight/shadow alert displays plus the standard comprehensive display combining them all.
Calendar and Slideshow playback are also supported and the E-P1 comes with five ‘ambient' tunes in its memory for using as backgrounds to slideshows and videos. They were composed by Japanese musician, Daishi Dance, and have themes titled Melancholy, Nostalgic, Love, Joy and Cool.
Post-capture editing adjustments include the ability to ‘develop' raw images into JPEGs in-camera and users can apply Art Filters as part of this process. JPEGs can have red-eye fixes, trimming, shadow adjustment, resizing operations, B&W and sepia conversion and saturation adjustments applied. Details can be found in Photo Review's review of the E-30.
The software disk supplied with the E-620 contains multi-lingual versions of Olympus Master 2 for Windows and Macintosh plus a user registration interface and a 30-day trial version of the more sophisticated Olympus Studio 2 image editor/raw file converter, which sells for $119.95. We've covered both applications in the review of the E-410.
Concurrent with the launch of the Pen E-P1, Olympus has released two new lenses: the M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/2.8 and the M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6. Both were provided for our review and both will be included - along with the optical viewfinder - in the twin-lens kit. The camera body will also be sold as a single-lens kit with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 but no viewfinder is included. The body may be offered alone later in the year.
The new kit lenses for the E-P1: the M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/2.8 is on the left and the M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 (shown in closed position) on the right. (Source: Olympus.)
The M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/2.8 is a slim, pancake-type prime lens with a design based on the classic double-Gauss formula. It has a minimum focus of 15 cm and weighs only 71 grams. Consisting of six elements in four groups it covers a field of view of 64.9 degrees and has a minimum focusing distance of 20 cm. Overall length is 22mm with a diameter of 57mm and it accepts 37mm filters.
Small enough to fit into a shirt pocket, this lens has a metal body and mounting plate plus a 10mm-wide ribbed focusing ring. Build quality is very good. At the closest focusing distance, the inner barrel protrudes by approximately 5mm. The focusing ring moves unrestricted through 360 degrees.
Autofocusing relies on power from the camera, which means rotating the ring has little effect in AF mode. In manual focusing mode, the movement remains pretty loose and despite the magnifying assistance in MF mode, it's difficult to focus precisely with this lens because of the low resolution of the monitor.
The M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 is a compact standard zoom with double-sided aspherical elements. Consisting of nine elements in eight groups, it features a collapsing design that reduces the barrel length by almost 50%. A slider on the plastic lens barrel acts as a lock that must be released before the lens can be used. You push it outwards and turn the lens barrel to the left to position the engraved focal length settings on the zoom ring opposite the marker on the inner barrel.
This lens is 43.5 mm long in its locked position and approximately 60mm long when the focal length is set at 14mm. Two inner barrels protrude approximately 36mm to achieve this extension but only the innermost barrel moves ( but doesn't rotate) when focal lengths are changed. The diameter of the outermost barrel is 62 mm and this lens accepts 40 mm diameter filters.
Although having a mainly plastic casing, the interior body of this lens appears to be made of metal and it has a stainless steel mounting plate. Build quality is up to Olympus's standard for kit lenses. Closest focusing distance is 25 cm.
The zoom ring, which carries a series of narrow ridges, is approximately 21 mm wide and located nearest to the camera body. Just in front of it is a 5 mm wide focusing ring, which is ridged for a secure grip. The focusing ring is similar to the ring on the 17mm lens, with 360-degree rotation and a loose feel that can make precise focusing tricky.
The non-moving section of the lens barrel between the two rings carries an engraved index mark and engraved focal length settings - 14mm, 18mm, 25mm, 35mm and 42mm - on the front of the zoom ring are lined up against it. Both lenses are multi-coated and both feature circular iris diaphragms for smooth bokeh (some examples can be seen in the Sample Images section below).
The VF-1 optical viewfinder clips onto the hot-shoe and provides a bright view of the scene. Unlike built-in finders, it doesn't display any camera settings and suffers from the parallax error that is unavoidable with such finders. (Close focusing is problematic because the finder doesn't ‘see' the same view of the subject as the lens.) At best, it's useful in bright conditions when the LCD screen becomes difficult to see. It also enhances the camera's retro style.
The Pen E-P1 with the VF-1 optical viewfinder attached. (Source: Olympus.)
We weren't given the new FL-14 external flash unit to review so we can't comment on its performance. It's a slim, lightweight design and operates with two AAA batteries, offering a GN of 20 at ISO 200. It is also compatible with all lenses the new camera can use - including those designed for the E-series DSLRs.
The Pen E-P1 with the FL-14 external flash attached. (Source: Olympus.)
Adapters will be available for mounting Four Thirds System lenses (MMF-1) and OM system lenses (MF-2) on the new camera's body. Finally, body jackets in white (CS-10BWT) and brown (CS-10BBR) and matching shoulder straps will be offered to complement the camera body.
Slow autofocusing was one of the most noticeable features of the review camera in use. this was confirmed by our timing measurements, which showed a consistent average capture lag of 1.1 seconds, reducing to an average of 0.1 seconds with pre-focusing. Both lag times are slow for most DSLR cameras we test - and the average capture lag is positively glacial (and slower than most digicams we've tested).
Outdoor shots in bright sunlight were generally handled well by the review camera, particularly in the P, A, and S modes. However, both contrast and saturation appeared high in test shots - although Imatest showed saturation to be relatively modest. Going by some of the shots posted on overseas reviewers' websites, it seems the camera has been set up for the gentler northern hemisphere lighting, where it appears to provide adequate dynamic range coverage.
Photo Review's Imatest tests on the 17mm prime lens showed it to be a competent - although not stellar - performer. Best resolution figures came from shots taken with apertures between f/5.0 and f8.0. Slight edge softening was observed at all aperture settings, although it became more noticeable from f/11 onwards, where diffraction reduced resolution gradually affecting edges more than the centre of the field. The graph below shows the results of our tests.
Overall performance for the 14-42mm zoom lens was slightly better than the 17mm lens with the best resolution figures in all our tests coming from the 14mm focal length at maximum aperture. ORF.RAW files converted into 16-bit TIFF files for analysis with the supplied Olympus Studio 2 software showed resolution to be close to expectations for this aperture/focal length combination. JPEG files produced slightly lower figures but were close enough to expectations to be considered satisfactory.
Other focal length settings failed to match this performance in our Imatest tests, although they produced acceptable resolution figures, albeit with a steady decline in resolution at most focal length settings as the lens aperture was closed down. The drop in resolution from f/11 to f/22 was much steeper for the 14mm focal length setting than for the other focal lengths, which also showed slightly less edge softening than we found in our tests of the 17mm prime lens. The graph below shows the results of our tests.
Imatest showed lateral chromatic aberration to be at a moderate to serious level for the 17mm prime lens but low to moderate with the zoom lens. The lowest CA figures came from the 42mm focal length, where CA was consistently negligible for all aperture settings we tested. This was confirmed by coloured fringing in test shots taken with both lenses. The graph below shows combined Imatest results for both lenses.
In the above graph, the red line marks the border between 'negligible' and 'low' CA, the green line separates 'low' from 'moderate' CA and the blue line indicates 'serious' CA.
Although low-light performance was generally good for ISO settings up to 800, where image noise started to become apparent, shots taken at higher ISO settings showed noticeable image noise. At ISO 6400, noise was quite obvious and colour reproduction was visibly affected. Imatest showed a steady decline in resolution as ISO sensitivity was increased, with a drop between ISO 1600 and ISO 3200. The graph below shows the results of our tests.
Interestingly, shots taken with long exposure times were more noise-affected than shorter exposures but definitely a cut above similar shots taken with cameras that have smaller sensors, although few of them have ISO settings above 1600. We took some test shots in the Australian Night Life building at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, using ISO 6400 in near total darkness. These images were on a par with shots taken with the Pentax K7, which has a slightly larger sensor. Two examples are shown below.
42mm focal length, ISO 6400, 1/20 second at f/5.6.
38mm focal length, ISO 6400, 1/20 second at f/5.4.
White balance performance was similar to the E-620. The auto setting failed to completely correct the inherent cast in incandescent lighting, while the pre-set over-corrected slightly. With fluorescent lighting, the auto setting produced close-to-neutral colours and one of the pre-sets matched the light source we used. It was possible to achieve neutral colour rendition under both types of lighting with both the manual white balance measurements (Custom and One Touch) and the in-camera adjustments provided.
It was difficult to eliminate background details with the 17mm lens, even at the f/2.8 setting. Bokeh was, therefore, compromised and somewhat blocky. We obtained some excellent results with the 14-42mm lens at the 42mm setting, which produces smooth and attractive bokeh at wide aperture settings. Examples can be seen in the Sample Images section below.
As well as being slow to focus, the test camera proved to be pedestrian in our other speed tests. It took just over three seconds to power-up ready for shooting and shot-to-shot times averaged 2.9 seconds (without flash). On average, it took 2.2 seconds to process each JPEG image, 6.1 seconds for each ORF.RAW file and 6.2 seconds for each RAW+JPEG combo. In each case, the captured image didn't appear on the monitor for approximately six seconds after the shot was taken.
In the sequential shooting mode, we recorded 10 frames in 2.9 seconds. It took 8.7 seconds from the final frame to process this burst. Shooting ORF.RAW files, we captured 10 frames in 2.8 seconds but it took almost 22 seconds to process the burst. Only nine RAW+JPEG pairs could be recorded in the burst mode, covering a time frame of 2.6 seconds. Processing this burst took more than 40 seconds.
With the Pen E-P1, Olympus has stated a clear intention to establish the first product in what we hope will be a profitable niche between top-end advanced digicams and compact DSLRs. Serious photographers have been crying out for years for a capable small camera with P, A, S and M shooting modes, interchangeable lenses and a larger sensor than any digicam has yet provided.
Sigma was first entrant into this space but failed to meet photographers' needs because of an almost unusable menu system, mediocre JPEG performance and use of non-interchangeable prime lenses. But we still hold hopes of them getting it right with future products that use the Foveon chips; there's certainly plenty of potential for development.
In many respects, Olympus has done a better job with the Pen E-P and we can hope to see additional lenses for the new Pen cameras - plus additional bodies in the foreseeable future. However, in its attempt to create a camera that offers something for everyone, Olympus has produced something of a ‘curate's egg' (only excellent in parts). For the next model, a clearer, narrower focus should predominate.
We can see little value in the Art Filters for serious photographers because most (if not all) of the effects can be achieved much more successfully in editing software. Being pre-set and non-adjustable, they also produce a ‘sameness' in the resulting pictures, particularly when over-used. The Scene pre-sets may be a little more useful but, again, they're quick fix for snapshooters and few serious photographers are likely to use them
Sadly, the E-P1 also fails to meet its promise in critical areas like interface design, autofocusing performance and failure to include important items most photographers require (viewfinder, flash) in the camera body. Features of the camera we like include:
- the basic camera body, which combines comfortable handling with very good built quality and stylish appearance;
- the mode dial, which is easy to use and well protected against accidental re-setting;
- the fact that the camera has two control dials - even though they're not well implemented;
- the interchangeable lenses, particularly the 14-42mm zoom with its twist-and-pack size reduction;
- the ability to shoot raw and RAW+JPEG files;
- plenty of white balance options.
Features where we feel improvements are required include:
- the slow autofocusing and the complex manual focusing system;
- the lack of built-in viewfinder and flash;
- the low-resolution LCD monitor;
- the messy menu system and user interface which puts frequently-used settings like resolution, ISO, exposure compensation at least two toggles away from the user;
- the easily-re-set control dials;
- the inability to access all the JPEG resolution and compression settings from a single sub-menu.
Buy this camera if:
- You want a compact digital camera with interchangeable lenses, raw file capture plus in-camera image stabilisation and effective dust reduction technology.
- You're prepared to use the LCD screen for shot composition (or happy to shell out extra for the viewfinder, despite its limitations).
- You want good low-light performance.
- You're comfortable with Olympus's convoluted user interface.
Don't buy this camera if:
- You require fast autofocusing. (Long capture lag times make shooting moving subjects tricky.)
- You shoot close-ups in bright outdoor lighting. (Photographers who take close-ups of flowers and insects will find the LCD screen and viewfinder almost unusable.)
- You require longer focal lengths than the system currently offers and don't want to use the larger Four Thirds System lenses, which require an optional adapter and may upset the overall shooting balance on the small E-P1 body.
JPEG image files
Raw image files converted into 16-bit TIFF format with Olympus Studio 2.
Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.
Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.
14mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/9.
42mm focal length. ISO 100, 1/320 second at f//10.
Blown-out highlights can be seen in this crop from the above image.
Another example showing blown-out highlights (circled in red);
Bokeh with the 14-42mm lens at 42mm focal length:
Available light exposure at night: 17mm focal length, ISO 100, 30 seconds at f/6.3.
Available light exposure at night: 17mm focal length, ISO 1600, 10 seconds at f/13.
Available light exposure at night: 17mm focal length, ISO 6400, 5 seconds at f/18.
42mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/30 second at f/7.1.
40mm focal length, ISO 320, 1/80 second at f/5.6.
14mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/7.1.
25mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/400 second at f/9.
Backlighting with the 14-42mm lens at 14mm; ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/7.1.
Flare with the 14-42mm lens at 14mm; ISO 100, 1/640 second at f/8.
Skin tones; 42mm focal length, ISO 320, 1/80 second at f/5.6.
14mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/100 second at f/8.
100% crop from the above image showing coloured fringing.
17mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/7.1.
17mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/400 second at f/7.1.
14mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/6.3.
17mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/6.3.
100% crop from the above image showing coloured fringing.
Bokeh with the 17mm lens at f/2.8, ISO 200, 1/250 second.
Still frame from video recorded at 1280 x 720 pixels.
Still frame from video recorded at 640 x 480 pixels.
Image sensor: 4/3-inch (17.3 x 13.0mm) Live MOS sensor with 13.1 million photosites (12.3 megapixels effective)
A/D processing: 12-bit
Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds system (Four Thirds lenses via adaptor)
Focal length crop factor: 2x
Image formats: Stills - ORF.RAW, JPEG, RAW+JPEG; Movies - AVI (Motion JPEG/WAV) with PCM stereo audio
Image Sizes: Stills - 4032 x 3024, 3200 x 2400, 2560 x 1920, 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 1024 x 768, 640 x 480; Movies - 1280 x 720 at 30 fps (16:9), VGA at 30 fps
Image Stabilisation: Yes, in camera body (3 modes); electronic IS for movie capture
Dust removal: SSWF
Shutter speed range: 60-1/4000 second plus Bulb (max. 30 mins)
Exposure Compensation: +/- 3 EV in 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV steps
Exposure bracketing: 3 frames in 0.3, 0.7 or 1.0 EV increments
Self-timer: 2 or 12 second delay
Focus system: Contrast-based, high-speed imager AF with 11 AF zones (auto/manual select); AF-assist lamp only via external flash
Focus modes: Single AF (S-AF), Continuous AF (C-AF), Manual Focus (MF) with image magnification, S-AF + MF; face detection AF/AE
Exposure metering: 18 x 18 multi-zone metering with iESP, centre-weighted average and spot metering selectable plus spot with highlight/shadow bias
Shooting modes: iAuto, P, A, S, M, Scene program AE (Portrait, Soft skin, Landscape, Landscape with people, Sports, Night scene, Night scene with people, Children, High key, Low key, DIS mode, Macro, Natural macro, Candle light, Sunset, Document, Panorama, Fireworks, Beach and snow), Art Filters, Movie; multiple exposure (2 frames at a time)
Picture Style/Control settings: Vivid, Natural, Muted, Portrait, Monotone and Custom Picture Modes plus six Art filters (non-adjustable)
Colour space options: sRGB, Adobe RGB
ISO range: Auto - ISO 200-3200; Manual - ISO 100-6400 (1/3EV increments)
White balance: Auto, sunlight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent (x3), flash, one-touch, colour temperature; White balance adjustment (Blue/Amber bias, Magenta/Green bias)
Flash: External flash only
Sequence shooting: 3 frames/second for approximately 14 raw files (JPEG dictated by compression ratio and image size)
Storage Media: SD/SDHC
Viewfinder: Optional external finder
LCD monitor: 3-inch HyperCrystal III LCD with 230,000 dots
Video Capture: Yes, AVI (Motion JPEG/WAV) with PCM stereo audio
Data LCD: No
Playback functions: Single frame, index (4/9/16/25/49/100 thumbnails), image data (histogram, brightness, RGB, highlight/shadow, AF area, EXIF), calendar display, zoom (2-14x), rotate, slideshow, movie (with sound, fast forward, backward, pause)
Interface terminals: USB 2.0 High Speed; Video: NTSC/PAL, HDMI
Power supply: BLS-1 rechargeable Li-ion battery (CIPA rated at approx. 350 frames/charge)
Dimensions (wxhxd): 120.5 x 70 x 35mm (body only)
Weight: 335 grams (body only, without lens, battery and card)
Digital cameras, lenses and accessories with 100% genuine Australian manufacturer's warranties.
Ph: (02) 9029 2219
Ph: 133 686
The largest speciality photographic retail chain in Australia.
CameraPro Pty Ltd
Suite 607, 180 Queen St, Brisbane 4000
Tel: 07 3333 2900
Australian owned and run company based in Brisbane.
Retailer of digital camera equipment and more.
Secure online shopping and delivery across Australia.
Ph: 1300 727 056
Ph: 1800 155 067
Digital Camera Warehouse
174 Canterbury Road 367 High Street
NSW 2193 VIC 3070
Ph: 1300 365 220
1300 801 885
Australian retailer of Vapex rechargeable batteries offering factory direct prices and fast, free shipping Australia wide.
Greg Smith's Photo Accessories
1800 50 80 82
Big range of photographic accessories, Australia-wide shipping.
285 George St
Sydney NSW 2000
Ph: (02) 9299 2999
Photographic Equipment & Supplies - Retail & Repairs. Click here for list of stores.
1800 186 895
Big range of cameras and photographic products with stores in most states and online.
RRP: $1399 with 14-42mm lens; $1799 for twin lens kit with 14-42mm and 17mm lenses plus Optical View Finder
Rating (out of 10):
- Build: 9.5
- Ease of use: 7.0
- Image quality: 8.5
- OVERALL: 8.5