Olympus PEN E-PL2

    leadpic_E-PL2_angled

    Photo Review 8.5
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    Olympus PEN E-PL2

      In summary

      The latest entry-level PEN camera comes with a new kit lens, adjustable Art Filters and support for additional accessories.Announced in early January, the E-PL2 is a fourth-generation model in Olympus's PEN family of compact interchangeable lens cameras. Featuring the same 12.3-megapixel Live MOS Sensor as the E-PL1, the new model has a redesigned user interface and larger, higher-resolution LCD monitor. A built-in flash has been added, along with a new M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II MSC kit lens that is 25% lighter than its predecessor. . . [more]

      Full review

      leadpic_E-PL2_angled

      Announced in early January, the E-PL2 is a fourth-generation model in Olympus's PEN family of compact interchangeable lens cameras. Featuring the same 12.3-megapixel Live MOS Sensor as the E-PL1, the new model has a redesigned user interface and larger, higher-resolution LCD monitor. A built-in flash has been added, along with a new M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II MSC kit lens that is 25% lighter than its predecessor.

      Build and Ergonomics
      The E-PL2 is available in silver, black and red. Its body made of aluminium and plastic and is more solidly built than Olympus's digicams (but not in the same league as Fujifilm's X100). The front panel resembles the E-PL1, although the finger grip is a little wider but more closely integrated into the panel itself. The lens mount is the same with a prominent locking button at its side.

      E-PL2-SLK-Silver-High-Res%28Front%29

      Front view of the E-PL2, silver version. (Source: Olympus.)

      The rear panel is more like the back of the E-P2 and combines buttons with dial controls, whereas the E-PL1 used buttons for everything. The single control dial is a ridged ring surrounding the arrow pad. The E-PL1's direct movie recording button replaces the E-P2's second dial control near the top right corner of the panel.

      E-PL2_back-01

      Rear view of the E-PL2, black version. (Source: Olympus.)

      The 3-inch monitor discards the 4:3 aspect ratio of the E-PL1 in favour of a 3:2 format. It's slightly larger and has double the resolution (460,000 dots vs 230,000 dots) os the screen on the older model. Buttons for image magnification, Function/index playback, Playback and Erase are ranged down the right side of the LCD screen with Info and Menu buttons above and below the arrow pad.

      The directional controls on the arrow pad access exposure compensation, flash, drive/self-timer and AF target settings. As in the E-PL1, the latter covers multi-area and single-point selection. An 11-area array is displayed on the screen and you can move the selected focusing area around with the arrow pad buttons.

      The central OK button switches the Live Control on and off. This function provides quick access to key shooting controls. The remaining button slider near the top left corner raises the pop-up flash.

      E-PL2-top_no-lens

      The top panel of the E-PL2 without a lens. (Source: Olympus.)

      The top panel carries the shutter button, on/off switch and mode dial, as well as the hot-shoe (and associated accessory port) and pop-up flash. Eight modes are accessed via the mode dial: iAuto, P, A, S and M plus settings for Movie, Scene and Art Filter modes.

      The pop-up flash is the same as on the E-PL1, with a Guide Number of 10 (metres/ISO 200). It's raised with a slider switch and lowered by pressing down the top panel. This flash can act as a commander flash unit for wireless flash control of Olympus E-System FL-36R and FL-50R flash units.

      Solid, metal and plastic eyelets for the neck are strap located at the top of each side panel. USB and HDMI ports can be found beneath a lift-up hatch on the right hand side panel. Like the E-P2, the E-PL2 accepts the optional RM-UC1 remote controller, which plugs into the USB port.

      The battery and memory card slot share a compartment in the base of the camera, under the hand grip. A metal-lined tripod socket sits beside this compartment. It's a bit off the lens axis, which is less than ideal.

      The camera was supplied as a twin-lens kit with the new Olympus Digital 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II MSC and the Olympus Digital 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6 zoom lenses. The shorter zoom will be covered in this review. Click here for a separate review of the 40-150mm lens.

      The printed instruction manual provided with the camera is not indexed and it can be difficult to find the information you need to make full use of the camera's facilities. The digital version on the supplied software disk is indexed but doesn't provide much additional information, which is doubly frustrating.

      New Controls
      Four new settings have been added to the Scene mode sub-menu: Sunset plus three settings for use with the optional Fisheye, Wide-angle and Macro conversion lenses. Otherwise, the E-PL2 offers the same 19 pre-sets as the E-PL1.

      Olympus has expanded the capabilities of the Art Filter modes to include the Dramatic Tone filter introduced with the E-5 DSLR and introduced variations and enhancements for some effects. Six filter effects are available: Pop Art, Soft Focus, Grainy Film, Pin Hole, Diorama and Dramatic Tone. The table below shows the adjustments available for each effect.

      Effect

      Variations

      Additional Effects

      Pop Art

      2

      Soft Focus, Pin-hole, Frame

      Soft Focus

      None

      None

      Grainy Film

      2

      Frame

      Pin Hole

      3

      Frame

      Diorama

      None

      None

      Dramatic Tone

      None

      Frame

      Note: These effects can only be applied to JPEGs. If the camera is set for ORF.RAW file capture, it will default to Large/Normal+RAW and the art filter will be applied to the JPEG copy.

      E-PL2_ArtFilters

      Examples of some of the variations available within particular Art Filters; top row - Pop Art; second row - Pin Hole; third row - Dramatic Tone.
      Another expanded feature is the Live Guide, which was available only in the iAuto mode but is now accessible for previewing effects for HD video clips. Options provided in this guide are unchanged and cover the following camera functions: Change colour saturation, Change colour image, Change brightness, Blur background, Express motions and Shooting tips.

      E-PL2_rear-CD

      The Live Guide is adjusted with the control dial, shown in blue on this illustration. (Source: Olympus.)

      As in the E-PL1, the Live Guide makes it easy for novice users to adjust camera settings without knowing any of the technical terms used in photography. It also provides previews of the effects of different camera settings.

      A new AF algorithm has been introduced to improve focusing, particularly in Live View mode. Autofocusing is also supposed to be faster and quieter with the new 14-42mm kit lens.

      The Face Detection AF system has been enhanced with a new Eye Detect function, which automatically focuses on a subject's eye. The system can identify up to eight human subjects in a scene and will track moving subjects and optimise focus and exposure for sharp portraits.

      The Panorama setting in the Scene mode sub-menu lets you record up to 10 frames per sequence. The resulting images are combined with the supplied Olympus [ib] software. The camera's menu also contains a Multiple Exposure setting that allows users to overlay two or more images on an ORF.RAW file. The previous shot is superimposed on the view through the lens as a guide to composing the next shot.

      Sensor and Image Processing
      The sensor and TruePic V image processor in the E-PL2 are unchanged from the E-PL1 and users can choose from the same four aspect ratios for JPEG shooting: 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 and 6:6. Olympus has reduced the range of compression settings for JPEGs from four to two - and the Fine setting is only available for Large JPEGs.

      Like its siblings, the E-PL1 supports 12-bit image processing and enables users to capture ORF.RAW and JPEG files, with support for simultaneous RAW+JPEG recording. Raw files are only recorded in the 4:3 aspect ratio and losslessly compressed by 65% to yield files that are typically between 11MB and 13MB in size. Approximate image sizes are shown in the table below.

      Aspect Ratio

      Image Size

      Pixels

      File size

      4:3

      Raw

      4032 x 3024

      12.5MB

      Large/Fine

      5.9MB

      Large/Normal

      2.9MB

      Middle/Normal

      2560 x 1920

      1.1MB

      Small/Normal

      1280 x 960

      0.3MB

      16:9

      Large/Fine

      4032 x 2272

      4.1MB

      Large/Normal

      2.1MB

      Middle/Normal

      2560 x 1440

      0.9MB

      Small/Normal

      1280 x 720

      0.2MB

      3:2

      Large/Fine

      4032 x 2688

      5.4MB

      Large/Normal

      2.5MB

      Middle/Normal

      2544 x 1696

      1.0MB

      Small/Normal

      1296 x 864

      0.3MB

      6:6

      Large/Fine

      3024 x 3024

      4.0MB

      Large/Normal

      2.0MB

      Middle/Normal

      1920 x 1920

      0.9MB

      Small/Normal

      960 x 960

      0.3MB

      E-PL2_aspect-ratios

      The illustration above shows the four aspect ratio settings and how they crop the 4:3 frame. Top row - 4:3 and 3:2; lower row - 16:9 and 6:6.
      The Movie mode is largely unchanged from the E-PL1. 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). The same 30 frames/second recording rate applies to both.

      Aperture and shutter speeds can be controlled in the A and M modes but settings are locked in at the start of each clip. The zoom lens can be used while recording but the camera's AF system found it difficult to keep up unless zooming was REALLY slow.

      It took a second or two to re-focus after a normal-speed zoom, even with a relatively fast SDHC card (8GB SanDisk Extreme III Class 6). This is probably why Class 6 SDHC cards are recommended for video capture. Up to 2GB (equivalent to approximately seven minutes of HD footage; 14 minutes of SD) can be recorded in a single shot.

      Playback and Software
      Essentially nothing has changed since the E-PL1 save for the fact that the bundled Olympus [ib] software is the latest version. It's still Windows-only., although the Olympus Viewer 2 uploading, browsing, editing and photo-organising is available for Windows and Mac platforms.

      The Kit Lens
      The Olympus Digital 14-42mm f3.5/5.6 II MSC zoom lens supplied with the camera is an update to the previous kit lens but retains the plastic mounting plate. Featuring redesigned optical and focusing systems it includes Olympus's new MSC focus drive technology that optimises autofocusing controls to provide fast and quiet focusing for both still and movie capture.

      E-PL2_MSC-drive

      The diagram above shows the key elements of the new MSC focus drive technology. (Source: Olympus.)
      Covering focal lengths equivalent to 28-84mm in 35mm format (or angles of view from 75 to 29 degrees), the new lens shares many design features with its predecessor, including the collapsing design that reduces the barrel length by almost 50%. A simpler optical design with eight elements in seven groups reduces its weight to 112 grams (without end caps).

      A new reinforced barrel design enables the use of small and lightweight optional front lens accessories that include a fisheye, a macro and a wide angle converter. An optional lens hood (LH-40) is available to minimise the effects of flare and ghosting.

      The overall diameter of the lens is reduced to 56.5 mm, requiring a change to 37 mm filters. The closed length of the lens is 50 mm and the closest focusing distance remains at 25 cm. Apertures range from a maximum of f/3.5 at 14mm or f/5.6 at 42mm to a minimum of f/22. Stabilisation and switching between auto and manual focusing are handled within the camera.

      The supplied 14-42mm lens delivered similar results to the lens we tested on the E-PL1 in our standard Imatest tests. Despite not reaching quite as high resolution, it maintained a higher level of resolution across more of the lens's aperture and focal length ranges. The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests.

      E-PL2_Res-vs-FL-graph

      Lateral chromatic aberration ranged between negligible and low with the lowest CA detected at the longer focal length settings. The graph below shows the results of our tests.

      E-PL2_CA-graph

      The lens was somewhat flare-prone and artefacts were easy to produce when shooting towards a bright light. Veiling flare reduced contrast in many backlit shots, even when the light was well out of the frame. Examples are shown in the Sample Images section below.

      We could see no obvious vignetting in shots taken at wide aperture settings and rectilinear distortions were minimal. Slight barrel distortion could be seen at 14mm and minor pincushioning at 42mm; but the in-between focal lengths were effectively distortion-free.

      Performance
      Overall performance for the review camera was similar to the E-PL1 we reviewed just over a year ago. The review camera's metering was still biased to favour shadows over highlights. Highlight clipping wasn't as bad as we found with the E-PL1, although it was quite important to meter on a mid-tone area in subjects to avoid over- or under-exposure.

      E-PL2_P4090095_metering

      The examples above show how the metering pattern and area can affect overall exposure. The left image was taken with centre-weighted average metering (1/125 second at f/6.3), while the right hand image was taken with spot metering on the white boat in the centre of the frame (1/200 second at f/10). More than 2EV separates the two exposures.

      Autofocusing was noticeably faster than we found with the E-PL1 and accurate in most conditions, although it slowed markedly in very low light levels. The built-in image stabilisation system enabled us to use the camera hand-held at shutter speeds as slow as 1/6 second with the 14mm focal length.

      Imatest showed saturation to be relatively modest but slightly higher than we'd like from files straight out of the camera. It also revealed moderate warming in skin hues plus significant increases in saturation for reds and decreases in greens and yellows.

      These occurred in both JPEG and raw files but were slightly less with the latter. Both were confirmed in test shots and video clips, many of which showed a distinct reddish bias.

      At the lowest sensitivity setting (ISO 200), Imatest showed JPEG files to be slightly below the resolution expected from a 12.2-megapixel camera, while ORF.RAW files converted with the supplied software were very close to expectations. Interestingly, High ISO performance reflects the contribution of the TruePic V image processor.

      Although raw files produced higher resolution than JPEGs, the differences between them were relatively small throughout the camera's sensitivity range. Resolution remained relatively high at the top ISO settings, as shown in the graph below.

      E-PL2_Res-vs-ISO-graph

      Image noise was visible in shots taken at ISO 6400 for both long exposures and flash shots, although noise was barely evident at ISO 1600. We estimate the new camera produced roughly one EV less noise than we found with the E-PL1, although images were slightly softer at high ISO settings, suggesting the default noise reduction may be slightly stronger than required. We also found a few stuck pixels at the two highest ISO settings but long exposures at lower sensitivities were largely artefact-free.

      The flash was slightly under-powered at ISO 200 for shooting with the 42mm focal length but by ISO 6400 the influence of ambient lighting overwhelmed the flash exposure, producing a distinct warm cast. Flash exposures were well balanced between these extremes and flash recycling times were faster than average for a compact camera.

      White balance performance was similar to the E-PL1 (and also the E-P1 and E-P2). The auto setting failed to correct the inherent cast in incandescent lighting and over-corrected very slightly with fluorescent lighting. Both pre-sets over-corrected slightly, but plenty of in-camera adjustments provided for tweaking colour balance to obtain neutral colour rendition.

      Video performance was similar to E-PL1 (and most other 720p-capable cameras). There was a noticeable improvement in autofocusing speeds as well as with subject tracking AF.

      For our timing tests we used an 8GB SanDisk Extreme III Class 6 memory card. The review camera powered up in a little over a second and shot-to-shot times averaged 1.15 seconds.

      Capture lag averaged 0.4 seconds but was eliminated by pre-focusing. It took just under two seconds to process each JPEG file, 2.1 seconds for each ORF.RAW file and 3.4 seconds for each RAW+JPEG pair.

      With the continuous shooting mode, the review camera captured 10 frames in 2.9 seconds, which is marginally faster than the specified three frames/second. It took 4.2 seconds to complete the processing of a burst of 10 Large/Fine JPEGs, 7.5 seconds for a burst of 10 ORF.RAW files and 15.4 seconds for a burst of eight RAW+JPEG pairs.

      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 require a built-in flash that can be used to trigger wireless flash units remotely.
      Don't buy this camera if:
      - You require an informative user manual.
      - You would like a built-in viewfinder.
      - You require a wide dynamic range in JPEG shots.
      - You have limited manual dexterity (the buttons and dial are small and close together).
      IMATEST GRAPHS
      JPEG image files

      E-PL2_P4090077_colorerror_JPG
      E-PL2_P4090077_colors_JPG
      E-PL2_P4090077_YBL71_ca_JPG
      E-PL2_P4090077_YAR43_cpp_JPG
      E-PL2_P4090077_YBL71_cpp_JPG

      Raw image files converted into 16-bit TIFF format with Olympus ib software.

      E-PL2_P4090077_colorerror_RAW
      E-PL2_P4090077_colors_RAW
      E-PL2_P4090077_YBL71_ca_RAW
      E-PL2_P4090077_YAR43_cpp_RAW
      E-PL2_P4090077_YBL71_cpp_RAW

      SAMPLE IMAGES

      E-PL2_P4120185_AWB_tung

      Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.

      E-PL2_P4120189_AWB_fluoro

      Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.

      E-PL2_P4080007_night-ISO200

      50-second exposure at ISO 200; 18mm focal length, f/4.5.

      E-PL2_P4080009_night-ISO800

      15-second exposure at ISO 800; 18mm focal length, f/4.5.

      E-PL2_P4080012_night-ISO6400

      10-second exposure at ISO 6400; 18mm focal length, f/13.

      E-PL2_P4080001_flash-ISO200

      Flash exposure at ISO 200; 42mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6.

      E-PL2_P4080003_flash_ISO800

      Flash exposure at ISO 800; 42mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6.

      E-PL2_P4080006_flash_ISO6400

      Flash exposure at ISO 6400; 42mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6.

      E-PL2_P4090106_14mm

      14mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/500 second at f/10.

      E-PL2_P4090110_42mm

      42mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/400 second at f/11.

      E-PL2_P4090111-40mm

      40mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/500 second at f/9.

      E-PL2_P4090115_150mm

      150mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/640 second at f/10.

      E-PL2_P4090155-close

      Close-up; 42mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/500 second at f/8.

      E-PL2_P4090151-flare

      Veiling flare due to contre-jour lighting: 14mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/160 second at f/5.6.

      E-PL2_P4090157_ISO400

      Stabiliser test; hand-held at 1/6 second; ISO 400, f/3.5; 14mm focal length.

      E-PL2_P4090162_ISO6400

      Hand-held at 1/60 second; ISO 6400, f/4; 14mm focal length.

      E-PL2_P4090089

      Dynamic range; 42mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/250 second at f/9.

      E-PL2_P4090098

      17mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/50 second at f/8.

      E-PL2_P4090137

      42mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/1250 second at f/11.

      E-PL2_P4090138

      24mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/320 second at f/16.

      E-PL2_P4090144.AVI_snapshot_HD

      Still frame from 720p HD video clip recorded with the review camera.

      E--PL2_P4090143.AVI_snapshot_SD

      Still frame from VGA SD video clip recorded with the review camera.

       

       

      Specifications

      leadpic_E-PL2_angled

      Image sensor: 17.3 X 13.0 mm High speed Live MOS Sensor with 13.1 million photosites (12.3 megapixels effective)
      Image processor: TruePic V
      A/D processing:12-bit
      Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds
      Focal length crop factor: 2x
      Image formats: Stills - ORF.RAW, JPEG (Exif 2.3), RAW+JPEG; Movies - AVI Motion JPEG; Compression Ratio 1/12, PCM/16bit, 44.1kHz audio
      Image Sizes: Stills - 4032 x 3042, 2560 x 1920, 1024 x 768; Movies: 1280 x 720 and 640 x 480 at 30 fps (Max. 2GB)
      Image Stabilisation: Stills - built in imager shift (3EV compensation range); Movies - shifting electronic stabilisation
      Dust removal: SSWF (vibration)
      Shutter speed range: 60 to 1/4000 seconds plus Bulb: up to 30 min. (selectable longest time in the menu. Default: 8 min); x-synch at 1/60-1/180 sec.
      Exposure Compensation: +/-3 EV in 1/3, 1/2, 1 EV steps
      Exposure bracketing: 2, 3, 5 frames in 0.3, 0.7, 1EV steps or 7 frames in 0.3, 0.5, 0.7EV steps
      Self-timer: 2 or 12 seconds delay
      Focus system: 11-area Imager Contrast Detection AF
      Focus modes: Single (S-AF), Continuous(C-AF), Manual Focus (with enlarged area focusing aid), S-AF + MF, AF tracking (C-AF + TR)
      Exposure metering: TTL Image Sensor metering with Digital ESP (324-area multi pattern), Centre-weighted average and Spot (approx. 1% for the viewfinder screen. Highlight / shadow bases are available) modes
      Shooting modes: iAuto, P (Program shift supported), A, S, M, Scene select AE (Portrait, e-Portrait, Landscape, Landscape + Portrait, Macro, Sport, Night Scene, Night + Portrait, Children, High Key, Low Key, DIS mode, Nature Macro, Candle, Sunset, Document, Panorama, Fireworks, Beach & Snow, Fisheye Conv., Wide Conv., Macro Conv.) and Art Filter
      Picture Style/Control settings: i-Enhance, Vivid, Natural, Portrait, Muted, Monotone
      Colour space options: sRGB, Adobe RGB
      ISO range: Auto (Default: ISO 200-1600); ISO 200 to 6400, 1/3 or 1 EV steps
      White balance: Auto, Lamp (3000K), Fluorescent 1 (4000K), Fluorescent 2 (4500K), Fluorescent 3 (6600K), Daylight (5300K), Flash (5500K), Cloudy (6000K), Shade (7500K), Custom; WB adjustment of +/-7 steps in each A-B/G-M axis
      Flash: Built-in pop-up flash; GN 10(F-no/m) at ISO 200; TTL-Auto, Manual (Full, 1/4, 1/16, 1/64) modes, wireless control over 4 channels, 3 flash groups
      Flash exposure adjustment: Up to +/-3 EV in 0.3, 0.5, 1 EV steps
      Sequence shooting: Approx. 3 frames/sec. Max 10 RAW; 9 RAW+JPEG; 17 JPEG (with Class 6 card)
      Storage Media: SD/SDHC
      Viewfinder: Optional VF-2 EVF with 1,440,000 dots
      LCD monitor: 3.0-inch HyperCrystal LCD with 460,000 dots
      Live View modes: Normal, Grid Line overlay (4 types), Histogram, Magnified View (x7, x10, x14), Comparable View
      Playback functions: Single-frame, Index (4, 9, 25 or 100 frames), Enlarge (2x to 14x), Slideshow (Still/Movie/Still+Movie, Slide show w/BGM/BGM+Sound/Sound), Picture rotation (auto mode available), Histogram (independent luminance/RGB available), Highlight / Shadow point warning, AF frame, Shooting information
      Interface terminals: USO 2.0, HDMI (Type C Mini)
      Power supply: BLS-5 Li-ion rechargeable lithium-ion battery; CIPA rated for approx. 280 shots
      Dimensions (wxhxd): 115.4 x 72.7 x 42.0 mm
      Weight: 317grams (body only), 362 grams (with battery and card)

       

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      Rating

       

      RRP: $699 (body only); $799 with 14-42mm lens; $999 as reviewed with 14-42mm and 40-150mm lenses

      Rating (out of 10):

      • Build: 8.5
      • Ease of use: 8.5
      • Autofocusing: 8.5
      • Image quality: Stills 8.0; Raw 8.5
      • Video quality 8.0
      • OVERALL: 8.5

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