The latest Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera provides a clip-on EVF and some improvements on the previous model.Olympus is hoping the improvements provided in the new Pen E-P2 will attract new buyers to its MFT System. However, there have been few major changes since the Pen E-P1. A stylish black finish differentiates the new model from its predecessor. The AF system has been tweaked with a firmware upgrade and enhanced with a new Continuous-Tracking AF function. A new accessory port is provided for the new super high-definition electronic Live Viewfinder (VF-2), which is supplied with the camera. . . [more]
Olympus is hoping the improvements provided in the new Pen E-P2 will attract new buyers to its MFT System. However, there have been few major changes since the Pen E-P1. A stylish black finish differentiates the new model from its predecessor. The AF system has been tweaked with a firmware upgrade and enhanced with a new Continuous-Tracking AF function. A new accessory port is provided for the new super high-definition electronic Live Viewfinder (VF-2), which is supplied with the camera.
The new black body has a shiny finish reminiscent of some of the latest Mju-series cameras, although the stainless steel chassis is retained. There's a generous leather-covered finger pad on the front panel and discrete moulding on the rear to provide grip. Otherwise, the control layout and menu system are essentially unchanged and the user interface is just as convoluted as on the E-P1.
The E-P2 also sports the same 4/3-inch, 12.3-megapixel high-speed Live MOS image sensor and the same TruePic V image processing engine. The 3-inch, 230,000-dot Hypercrystal LCD monitors are the same in both cameras and both have the same SSWF dust removal and built-in sensor-shift image-stabiliser (IS) systems.
The Pen-E-P2 will be offered as a kit with one or two lenses and the new VF-2 Live Viewfinder. (Source: Olympus.)
The VF-2 finder, which addresses a major criticism levied at the E-P1, boasts a resolution of 1.44 million dots and a refresh rate of 60 frames/second. It's the best EVF we've seen on any camera we've reviewed to date and provides a bright, detailed picture of the scene that responds quite quickly to changes in brightness as you move the lens to adjust shot composition.
Because the VF-2 and camera monitor display the same things, you can use them interchangeably, which means the finder can be used for viewing both menus and reviewing images and video clips. Despite the small size of the screen, the menus are easy to read and viewing displayed images and video clips is like watching them on an ultra-small TV screen.
The VF-2 provides dioptre adjustment (-3.0 to +1.0 dpt) for users with imperfect vision and has plenty of eye relief (18 mm at -1 dioptre) for wearers of glasses and sunglasses. Weighing only 32 grams, it covers the sensor's full field of view with 1.15x magnification and is adjustable through 90 degrees. However, it adds just over 38 mm to the overall height of the camera.
Attachment is straightforward; simply slide the mount into the hot shoe. Before it can be used, the VF-2 must be powered-up via a button on the back. Pressing this button switches the image signal from the LCD to the finder. (You can't have both on at once.) The camera ‘remembers' which one was used last and defaults to that mode the next time it is switched on.
The new VF-2 Live Viewfinder, which clips into the accessory port and provides a bright, high-resolution view of the subject with 100% field-of-view coverage. (Source: Olympus.)
The VF-2 is supplied in a soft carrying pouch with Velcro closure and a Velcro clip that allows it to be attached to the camera's neck strap. Both the finder and the accessory port have slide-off plastic covers to protect the electrical contact points when the finder isn't in use. The covers can be clipped together for storage.
Front view of the Pen E-P2, as reviewed with the 14-42mm lens. (Source: Olympus.)
Rear view with the VF-2 Live Viewfinder plugged into the accessory port above the LCD monitor. (Source: Olympus)
Side view showing the adjustment range for the VF-2 electronic viewfinder. (Source: Olympus.)
Top view of the camera body without a lens attached. (Source: Olympus.)
Like its ‘sister' model, the E-P1 (which remains in the Olympus line-up), the E-P2 is offered with the collapsible M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. We rather like this lens because it's only 43.5 mm long in its locked position and approximately 60mm long when the focal length is set at 14mm. However, many buyers could prefer the M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/2.8 ‘pancake' lens, which adds only 22mm to the depth of the camera and is noticeably faster. We included tests of both lenses in our review of the E-P1.
Olympus has also announced two new MFT lenses: the M.Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm f/4-5.6 and the M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-150mm f/4-5.6. They're due for release in the first half of 2010 but no precise release date is available yet. Measuring only 50 mm in length, the M.Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm f/4-5.6 covers a focal length range equivalent to 18-36mm in 35mm format, while the M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-150mm f/4-5.6 is equivalent to 28-300mm.
Most of the new functions offered by the E-P2 are targeted at point-and-press photographers. In the main, they simply add novelty features and functions that improve existing automated shooting modes. (This may be due to the popularity of the original camera in Japan, where there are probably more point-and-press buyers.)
The most useful addition for photo enthusiasts will be the improvements to the autofocusing system, which was one of our main gripes with the E-P1. The firmware update ‘fixing' the slow AF system was released after we had returned the camera on completion of our tests so we had no opportunity to evaluate it. The focus assist system will now centre its magnification (7x or 10x) on the selected AF point for greater focusing precision.
We feel many users will welcome the new Continuous-Tracking AF function that can automatically track subject movements within the frame and is usable in both still and movie capture modes. Users can 'lock-on' to a subject by pressing the AF dial as they half-press the shutter button and the focus will follow the subject's movement. The system can ‘memorise' selected subjects and will resume tracking when they reappear, after briefly vanishing from the frame.
Two new filters (Diorama and Cross Process) have been added to the six Art Filters provided on the E-P1. The Diorama filter reduces the plane of focus and boosts colour and contrast to simulate the appearance of a miniature three-dimensional model. Unfortunately, we couldn't think of any occasion where we'd want to use it in the course of our tests and we weren't particularly impressed with the test shots we took with it.
The Cross Process filter simulates the appearance of a colour slide film processed in colour negative chemistry. It can produce some interesting colour transpositions and contrast shifts but, again, we found it more of a novelty item than a tool we'd wish to use. But that's true of the entire Art Filter set, which includes the Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale & Light Colour, Light Tone, Grainy Film and Pinhole filters carried over from the E-P1. Examples of the new filters can be seen below with an unfiltered image for reference.
The straight image, captured with the P shooting mode.
The Diorama Art Filter.
The Cross Process Art Filter.
The new i-ENHANCE picture mode, which adjusts image colour to enhance the main subject, is potentially quite useful. This mode can be selected in the P, A, S and M shooting modes but operates automatically in the Intelligent-Auto (iAUTO) exposure mode (which is unchanged from the E-P1). It causes the camera to analyse the colours and brightness in the central area of the frame and adjust exposure to preserve maximum highlight and shadow detail, working in a similar way to the dynamic range expansion functions in other cameras.
For portrait photographers, a new e-Portrait scene mode processes the image to help make a subject's skin appear smoother. It only works for JPEG capture and the image size is limited to 2560 x 1920 pixels, which may not suit some users. When shooting in e-Portrait mode, both processed and unprocessed images are recorded. e-Portrait processing can also be applied after an image has been taken.
Finally, the new camera can be operated by a TV remote control when connected to a TV set that supports HDMI control. A separate HDMI cable (not supplied) is required.
The new camera offers the same Face Detect & Shadow Adjust Technology as the E-P1 along with the same MF Assist function, which automatically magnifies the centre of the frame by 7x or 10x whenever the focus ring is rotated. It also provides the same multi-exposure functions with in-camera automatic gain correction.
The Live Control function, which provides icons that correspond to the camera's buttons and dials, also carries over and, when shooting, a horizontal/vertical level gauge can be displayed on screen to aid composition. The autofocusing system from the E-P1 carries over into the new model - with the performance improvements provided by a firmware update that appeared after the E-P1 was released.
The sensor and image processor are also unchanged. The 13.1-megapixel Live MOS sensor is sourced from Panasonic and appears to be the same chip as in Olympus's E-30 and E620 DSLR models. It's partnered with Olympus's TruePic V image processing chip.
Like the E-P1, the E-P2 supports 12-bit image processing and enables users to capture ORF.RAW and JPEG files, with support for 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).
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. Approximate image sizes for images recorded with the 4:3 aspect ratio shown in the table below.
4032 x 3024
4032 x 3024
3200 x 2400
2560 x 1920
1600 x 1200
1280 x 960
1024 x 768
640 x 480
The Movie mode is largely unchanged, although full manual exposure control has been added to the existing P and A and Art Filters shooting modes. Autofocusing is possible when shooting video clips but only by pressing the AEL/AFL button - and focusing noise may be picked up on the soundtrack. The face detection function is blocked and electronic image stabilisation (which is less efficient than the camera's sensor-shift system) is the only option in Movie mode.
The E-P2 can record both HD and standard definition video clips at 30 frames/second with stereo sound. There's only one resolution available for each format: HD clips are recorded at 1280 x 720-pixel resolution, while SD clips are VGA (640 x 480 pixels). Class 6 SDHC cards are recommended for video capture and up to 2GB (equivalent to approximately seven minutes of HD footage; 14 minutes of SD) can be recorded in a single shot.
Video clips are recorded in the widely supported AVI/Motion JPEG format, which is cheap to implement and produces good-quality clips that can be viewed on most devices and are easy to upload to sites like YouTube or shared via emails. They're less suitable for storing on DVDs, which are the preferred archiving and sharing option for many camcorder users.
This has led most competing manufacturers to switch to more efficient video formats like AVCHD and MPEG-4 with H.264 compression). In comparison, Motion JPEG creates relatively large video files, which impacts on recording times, regardless of whether users shoot in HD or SD formats.
Because the shutter button is used to start and end video recording, you can't capture still shots while recording video clips. However, Page 2 of the Menu contains a Movie+Still setting that can be switched on to make the camera automatically record a still shot at the end of each video clip.
Like the E-P1, the new camera has a stereo microphone aperture on either side of the Olympus brand label, supporting stereo sound recording. A new EMA-1 External Microphone Adapter can be plugged into the camera's accessory port - but you'll have to use the LCD monitor for shot composition.
The E-P2 with the EMA-1 external microphone adapter attached. (Source: Olympus.)
Overall performance for the review camera was similar to the E-P1 unit we tested, which isn't surprising since the ‘guts' of both cameras are essentially the same. While the provision of the VF-2 EVF addresses the main criticism levelled at the E-P1, the other areas in which we felt improvements were merited remain largely unchanged. And you still can't use flash when the EVF is fitted.
Autofocus lag appears to have been improved with the new firmware but it's still not as fast as we'd like with a camera at this price point - and significantly slower than most DSLRs we've tested in the past 6-8 months. Total capture lag has been reduced from 1.1 seconds on the E-P1 to 0.7 seconds in the E-P2, making the AF system still too slow for photographing moving subjects.
Although pre-focusing eliminated capture lag in the new camera, nothing has been done to make manual focusing easier and the continuous shooting mode isn't fast enough to ensure a high percentage of ‘keepers' when shooting moving subjects. The user interface is still complex and the LCD monitor's resolution is disappointingly low for a camera at this price point.
The test camera's Digital ESP metering was slightly more biased to recording shadow detail than the E-P1 we reviewed and delivered slight over-exposures in some situations (an example is reproduced in the Sample Images section below). We obtained our best outdoor shots with the exposure compensation set to -0.3EV in this mode. But, even then, the dynamic range in outdoor JPEG shots was less than we're accustomed to in the entry-level DSLRs we've reviewed, even when spot metering was used.
Raw files provided more scope for recovering highlight details - provided it was recorded. However, setting the exposure compensation to -0.3EV (or even -0.7EV in bright sunlight) was necessary to record sufficient highlight details. Some shadow noise could be seen in processed TIFF files extracted from raw files captured at -0.7EV.
Contrast and saturation appeared to be as high as they were in our test shots taken with the E-P1 - although, as with the E-P1, Imatest showed saturation to be relatively modest. It also revealed slight warming in skin hues and marginally greater shifts in reds and cyan. Both were confirmed in our test shots. Other hues were close to the mark.
The lens delivered its highest resolution at wider angles and a stop or two down from maximum aperture. Imatest resolution was at or just above expectations, with converted ORF.RAW files delivering slightly higher figures than JPEG files. But there wasn't much difference between them. The graph below shows the results of our resolution tests.
Low-light performance was generally good for ISO settings up to 800, where image noise started to become apparent. However, low ISO exposures longer than about eight seconds were liberally sprinkled with white specks indicating stuck pixels. An example is reproduced below from a 60-second shot taken at ISO 100.
A 60-second exposure at ISO 100; 25mm focal length, f/3.5; self-timer used to trigger exposure.
A 100% enlargement of a section of the above image showing stuck pixels.
Imatest showed similar results to the E-P1 tests for ISO settings up to ISO 800 with a slight decline in resolution for ISO 1600 and ISO 3200 and a sizeable fall at ISO 6400. At ISO 6400, noise was quite obvious in test shots and colour reproduction was noticeably affected. The graph below shows the results of our tests.
Imatest showed lateral chromatic aberration to be consistently low, with most results falling into the ‘negligible' category. The lowest CA figures came from the 35mm and 42mm focal lengths, where CA was consistently negligible for all aperture settings we tested. This was confirmed by an absence of coloured fringing in test shots. In the graph below, which plots the results of our tests, the red line separated ‘negligible' from ‘low' CA, while the green line marks the boundary between ‘low' and ‘moderate' CA.
White balance performance was similar to the E-P1. The auto setting failed to completely correct the inherent cast in incandescent lighting and over-corrected very slightly with fluorescent lighting. Both pre-sets over-corrected slightly, although the second of the Fluorescent light pre-sets came close to neutral colour rendition. Neutral colours were obtained lighting with both the manual white balance measurements (Custom and One Touch) and plenty of in-camera adjustments provided for tweaking colour balance, if required.
The review camera remained slow to power-up, largely because it had to check the zoom lens as part of the process and post a warning on the screen if it wasn't extended enough for shooting. The three-second average start-up time we measured still applied to the new model. However, shot-to-shot times averaged 2.0 seconds without flash, an improvement on the 2.9-second shot-to-shot intervals for the E-P1. (No flash was provided for our review.)
Image processing times were also shorter, with Large/Super Fine JPEGs taking 1.6 seconds, ORF.RAW files 2 seconds and RAW+JPEG pairs 3.2 seconds. Nevertheless, regardless of which file format still shots were taken in (JPEG, ORF.RAW or RAW+JPEG), it took 6.1 seconds for the monitor to return to displaying the live image after each shot was taken. (Note: using the art filters extends these processing times, often by several seconds.)
In the sequential shooting (burst) mode, we recorded bursts of 10 Large/Super Fine JPEGs and also ORF.RAW files in 2.9 seconds; the same frame rate as the E-P1. However, while it took 3.3 seconds to process the JPEG burst, we had to wait 10.6 seconds for the raw burst to be processed. Only nine RAW+JPEG pairs could be recorded before capture slowed noticeably. This sequence was captured in 2.5 seconds but took 21.8 seconds to process.
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 comfortable with Olympus's convoluted user interface.
Don't buy this camera if:
- You require fast autofocusing. (Long capture lag times and slow burst capture make shooting moving subjects tricky.)
- You require a wide dynamic range in JPEG shots.
- 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.
14-42mm lens at 14mm; ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/7.1; spot metering.
14-42mm lens at 42mm; ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/8; spot metering.
Slight over-exposure with Digital ESP (multi-pattern) metering. 14-42mm lens at 42mm; ISO 100, 1/50 second at f/5.6;.
The same subject photographed by shifting the photographer's shooting position. 14-42mm lens at 14mm; ISO 100, 1/60 second at f/5.6; Digital ESP (multi-pattern) metering.
Nature Macro Scene mode; 14-42mm lens at 42mm; ISO 200, 1/160 second at f/8.
Program AE mode; 14-42mm lens at 42mm; ISO 100, 1/60 second at f/5.6.
60-second exposure at ISO 100; 18mm focal length, f/3.8.
20-second exposure at ISO 800; 18mm focal length, f/4.
100% enlargement of the above image showing noise and stuck pixels.
10-second exposure at ISO 6400; 18mm focal length, f/5.
100% enlargement of the above image.
A portrait shot taken in open shade, showing the slight warming of skin hues and drop-out of highlights in the JPEG file. Spot metering was used. Portrait Scene mode, 38mm focal length, ISO 1250, 1/80 second at f/5.4; spot metering.
Taken with the Sports scene mode and the camera set for continuous shooting. This is the only image in a 6-shot burst that was sharp. 42mm focal length; ISO 800, 1/250 second at f/5.6; Digital ESP metering.
26mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/50 second at f/9; Aperture-priority AE shooting mode, spot metering.
Image sensor: 17.3 x 13.0 mm High-speed Live MOS Sensor with 13.1 million photosites (12.3 megapixels effective)
A/D processing: 12-bit
Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds
Focal length crop factor: 2x
Image formats: Stills- JPEG (Exif 2.2), ORF.RAW; Movies - AVI Motion JPEG/WAV (30 fps)
Image Sizes: Stills (4:3 aspect ratio) - 4032 x 3024, 3200 x 2400, 2560 x 1920, 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 1024 x 768, 640 x 480 (3:2, 16:9 and 6:6 aspect ratios also available); Movies - 1280 x 720, 640 x 480
Image Stabilisation: Imager shift; approx.4EV steps compensation with 50mm lens; 3 modes plus OFF; electronic stabilisation for movie capture
Dust removal: Supersonic Wave Filter
Shutter speed range: 60 to 1/4000 seconds; Bulb (up to 30 minutes selectable); X-synch at 1/30-1/180 sec.
Exposure Compensation: +/-3 EV in 1/3, 1/2, 1 EV steps
Exposure bracketing: 3 frames in 0.3, 0.5, 0.7, 1EV steps
Self-timer: 2 or 12 seconds delay
Focus system: Imager Contrast Detection AF with 11 focus areas; single AF point selection; manual focus (with enlarged area focusing aid)
Focus modes: Single AF (S-AF) / Continuous AF (C-AF) / Manual Focus (MF) / S-AF + MF / AF tracking (C-AF + TR)
Exposure metering: TTL Image Sensor metering with Digital ESP metering (324-area multi pattern metering), Centre-weighted average and Spot (approx. 1% of the viewfinder screen) modes; Highlight / shadow bias spot metering are available
Shooting modes: Auto, Program AE (with program shift), Aperture priority AE, Shutter priority AE, Manual, Scene select AE (Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sport, Night + Portrait, Children, High Key, Low Key, DIS mode, Nature Macro, Candle, Documents, Panorama, Beach & Snow), Art Filters (Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale & Light Colour, Light Tone, Grainy Film, Pinhole, Diorama, Cross Process)
Picture Style/Control settings: Vivid, Natural, Portrait, Muted, Monotone
Colour space options: sRGB, Adobe RGB
Special effects: Monotone effects (Yellow, Orange, Red or Green filter), Picture tones (Sepia, Blue, Purple or Green tone available for Monotone); 4 Gradation levels (Auto, High key, Normal, Low key)
ISO range: Auto (ISO 200-1600), Manual (ISO 100-6400 in 1/3 or 1 EV steps; Movie ISO 160-1600
White balance: Auto, Lamp (3000K), Fluorescent 1 (4000K), Fluorescent 2 (4500K), Fluorescent 3 (6600K), Daylight (5300K), Flash (5500K), Cloudy (6000K), Shade (7500K), Custom (1 setting can be registered at Kelvin temperature (2000-14000K); WB compensation of +/- 7 steps in each A-B/G-M axis
Sequence shooting: Approx. 3 frames/sec. for up to 10 ORF.RAW or approx. 12 high-resolution JPEGs
Storage Media: SD/SDHC memory cards
Viewfinder: VF-2 Detachable Live Viewfinder, 1,440,000 dots
LCD monitor: 3-inch Hypercrystal LCD with 176 degree viewing angle, 230,000 dots; 100% field of view
Video Capture: Yes, HD at 720p, 30 fps
Live View Modes: Normal, Grid lines, Histogram (3 types), Magnified view, Comparable view, Off (for EVF use)
Playback functions: Single-frame, Information Display, Histogram (luminance/RGB), Highlight / Shadow warnings, AF frame, Index Display(4/9/16/25/49/100 frames, Calendar), Zoom (2-14x), Movie (w/sound, FF/REW/Pause), Picture rotation (auto mode available), Slideshow (Still/Movie/Still+Movie, Slide show with background music and/or Sound)
In-camera editing: RAW development based on camera settings (including Art Filter), Shadow adjustment, Red-eye fix, Trimming, Monotone, Sepia, Saturation, Resize (1280 x 960, 640 x 480, 320 x 240), e-portrait
Interface terminals: USB 2.0 High Speed, HDMI
Power supply: BLS-1 Li-ion battery (CIPA rated for approx. 300 shots/charge)
Dimensions (wxhxd): 120.5 x 70 x 35 mm (body only, excluding protrusions)
Weight: 335 grams (body only)
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RRP: $1,549 (body only); $1,799 (as reviewed with 14-42mm lens)
Rating (out of 10):
- Build: 9.0
- Ease of use: 7.0
- Image quality: Stills - 8.5; Video - 8.5
- OVERALL: 8.5