Olympus PEN E-PL9
The latest Olympus PEN camera is designed for social media bloggers who want 4K movie recording and plenty of built-in special effects.
The E-PL9 is targeted at younger photographers who normally shoot and connect via their smartphones but want a ‘proper’ camera that’s more versatile and better performing without being too technical. It’s also directed an people who shoot ‘selfies’.
While it ‘borrows’ a lot of features from the OM-D E-M10 models, the lack of a built-in EVF is likely to deter serious photographers.
The PEN E-PL9 is the seventh model in the series of cameras that began in 2009. Since we reviewed the E-PL8 in October 2016, little of significance has changed beyond the addition of 4K video capabilities and an updated processor. Like its precursors, the E-PL9 is a ‘selfie-orientated’ camera with the same 16-megapixel resolution as the E-PL8, E-PL7 and E-PL5 and tilting monitor screen. But it lacks an EVF or any way to attach one.
Front view of the PEN E-PL9, brown version, shown with the flash raised and the monitor flipped down for shooting selfies. (Source: Olympus.)
The built-in 3-axis sensor-shift stabilisation and SSWF dust-removal systems are largely unchanged since the E-PL7 and the E-PL9 features the same metering system and the same Picture modes. Exposure compensation and bracketing ranges are identical, and there have been no changes to the self-timer settings or focusing modes, although the AF system has been updated.
Time-lapse movie recording is the same as in the E-PL8, as is the multi-exposure mode and the new camera provides similar support for the proprietary Live Bulb, Live Time and Live Composite functions. Nothing much has changed with respect to shutter speed settings.
Like its predecessor, the E-PL9 is bundled with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 III EZ pancake zoom lens, which we reviewed in March 2014. Unlike the E-PL8, which had a leatherette cladding only on the front panel, the new model’s cladding wraps around the entire camera It is offered in four colours: black, white, brown and blue.
Who’s it For?
Like the PEN E-PL8, the E-PL9 is targeted at younger photographers who normally shoot and connect via their smartphones but want a ‘proper’ camera that’s more versatile and better performing without being too technical. It’s also directed an people who shoot ‘selfies’.
While it ‘borrows’ a lot of features from the OM-D E-M10 models, the lack of a built-in EVF is likely to deter serious photographers. No amount of stylish design, interesting features and effective Wi-Fi integration can adequately compensate for point-and-guess shooting in bright outdoor situations when you have to use the monitor to compose shots.
The highlight feature for the new camera is that it gains the ability to record 4K video clips, with the camera supporting a 102 Mbps bit rate and frame rates of 24, 25 or 30 fps. Full HD and HD recording are also available, with frame rates for the former at 60p, 50p, 30p, 25p and 24p. The HD setting adds a 120 fps capture mode for slow-motion playback with up to 5x reduction in speed.
Unfortunately, slow-motion doesn’t record audio. The lack of an audio jack for an external microphone will mean audio quality in normal clips won’t be as good as you could obtain from cameras with more sophisticated video capabilities.
Improvements to the autofocusing system see the expansion of the AF point array from 81 in the E-PL8 to the same 121-point array as in the OM-D E-M10 Mark III. Autofocusing remains contrast-based (which has a few downsides). Manual focusing is aided by a new 3x magnification option to the existing 5x, 7x, 10x and 14x zoom display levels.
Focus bracketing is provided through the Multi Focus Shot preset in the Scene Select AE modes, which uses the electronic shutter. With this setting, the camera records eight frames, varying the focus distance with each shot from a little in front of the main subject to somewhere behind it. Users can adjust how much the focused distance changes between shots. Shooting ends when the lens is focused on infinity.
Some minor changes have been made to the body design, which is slightly larger and six grams heavier than the previous model. Olympus doesn’t specify what the camera is made from; it looks like an aluminium alloy but is probably polycarbonate plastic. The lens mount is metal to match the metal mount on the M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 III EZ lens.
Angled front, back and top views of the PEN E-PL9. (Source: Olympus.)
The front grip has been enlarged slightly to improve handling, although the rear thumb rest remains relatively small. Some buttons are also small (although they’re a bit bigger than those on the E-PL8) but they are clearly labelled and the control layout on the rear panel is identical to the E-PL8’s.
A new Advanced Photo mode has been added to the mode dial. Introduced in the E-M10 III last year, this setting accesses the following functions: Live Composite, Live Time, Multi-Exposure, HDR mode, Silent Mode, Panorama, Keystone Compensation and AE Bracketing.
Sweep panorama is a new addition to PEN cameras but a familiar option in many similarly-targeted cameras. New additions to the Scene presets include Light Trails, Backlight HDR, Silent Mode and Multi-Focus, although the Digital Image Stabilisation, Fisheye Converter, Wide Converter, Macro Converter and 3D modes from the E-PL8 have been deleted.
Art Filters have been expanded with Bleach Bypass and Instant Film settings. Wi-Fi connectivity now includes a Bluetooth Ver.4.0 function, although it’s not fully compatible with the latest devices. 4K content can only be transferred directly to the latest Apple smartphones and tablets. When it’s transferred to Android devices it will be downsampled to 1080p resolution.
Whereas the previous PEN models came with a tiny external flash that clipped onto the hot-shoe, the E-PL9 has a built-in, pop-up flash that is slightly less powerful (GN 5.4 vs GN 7.0 in metres at ISO 100). The Accessory Port 2 interface for the add-on flash has been replaced by a standard flash hot shoe, which means you can’t fit accessories like the SEMA-1 Microphone Set or MAL-1 Macro Arm Light.
The pop-up flash supports full auto and manual modes and has a maximum synch speed of 1/250 second. Flash settings are the same as for the E-PL8.
Sensor and Image Processing
As mentioned, the E-PL9’s sensor and image processor are the same as in previous models and have been covered in detail in our review of the OM-D E-M10, which was published in May 2012. The maximum image size is 4608 x 3456 pixels in the camera’s native 4:3 aspect ratio. As in other Olympus cameras, 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1 aspect ratio settings are available and achieved by cropping the frame.
ISO sensitivity ranges from Low (ISO 100) to ISO 25600, with adjustments in increments of 1/3 or 1EV steps. The menu includes provisions for setting high and low sensitivity limits for the Auto ISO setting.
The upgrading of the processor chip from TruePic VII to TruePic VIII has enabled a minor increase in continuous shooting performance from 8.5 fps to 8.6 fps with focus and exposure locked on the first frame. But the buffer capacity for ORF.RAW files has been cut from 20 frames in the E-PL8 to around 14 in the E-PL9.
Movie mode is selected via the mode dial, a change from the E-PL8, where it was accessed via the menu. However, the new camera has the same red-dotted movie button as its predecessor and movie recordings are initiated and terminated by pressing this button, including when the camera isn’t in movie mode.
Like its predecessor, the E-PL9 uses the popular MOV (MPEG-4AVC/H.264) codec with soundtracks recorded in stereo via PCM at 48kHz. Aside from the addition of very basic 4K support, recording options are much the same as in previous PEN cameras, although the lowest resolution has been raised from VGA to HD (720p).
You need a UHS-1 Speed Class 3 memory card when shooting 4K movies and they can only be recorded when the camera is in movie mode. Even then, the frame rate is restricted to 25 fps and the bit rate (compression ratio) can’t be adjusted. The camera defaults to full auto shooting and the only effects available are the Picture Modes.
For the Full HD and HD frame sizes, recordings can be triggered and stopped in any shooting mode by pressing the movie button. You can choose between Super Fine, Fine and Normal bit rates. Full HD clips can be recorded at 50 fps or 25 fps for viewing on PAL system TV sets.
The Clips setting, which lets users shoot and link multiple short clips for sequential viewing, is still available and some of the Art Filters can be applied to movie clips. Movie effects include Art Fade, Old Film, Multi Echo, One-Shot Echo and Movie Tele-converter, which are largely self-explanatory.
Slow-motion movies can be recorded at 120 fps with 1280 x 720 pixel resolution for playing back at 30 fps. Focus and exposure are fixed at the start of each recording, which can run for up to 20 seconds. No sound is recorded.
The E-PL9 also includes a silent shooting mode for subduing noises made by the camera while shooting. Options vary with different shooting modes but electronic zoom is only available with power-zoom lenses.
Playback and Software
The PEN-E-PL9 provides the standard range of playback settings, including in-camera raw to JPEG conversion plus cropping, rotating and resizing as well as B&W and sepia conversion and e-Portrait processing. Voice annotation (up to 30 seconds) and image overlay (up to 3 images) are also available.
Software must be downloaded from the Olympus Support pages, where you’ll find the proprietary Olympus Viewer 3 application for organising and editing images and processing ORF.RAW files as well as Olympus Capture for connecting the camera to a computer and Olympus Digital Camera Updater, which you’ll need for installing firmware updates.. A copy of the full user manual in PDF format can be downloaded from the Manuals and Brochures link on the site.
Since we’ve previously reviewed the EZ-M1442 lens in March 2014, we only ran our Imatest tests to evaluate performance across the review camera’s sensitivity range, using a focal length and aperture setting similar to the best results from our previous tests.
Unlike the E-PL8, ORF.RAW files from the E-PL9 were supported in the latest version of Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) so we didn’t have to use inferior software to convert raw files into editable 16-bit TIFF format. Our tests showed the EPL9 produced slightly higher resolution across the board than its predecessor. Colour accuracy was also better in the newer camera, both for JPEGs and ORF.RAW images.
The more recent TruePic VIII processor may have played a role in these improvements. The graph below shows resolution performance for both JPEGs and ORF.RAW files across the camera’s sensitivity range.
Long exposures at night showed the review camera to be susceptible to image noise, which was visible in JPEG files from about ISO 800 on, even with noise reduction at the default auto setting and the noise filter on Standard. By ISO 6400 noise had become evident in the form of softening. Granularity and blotchiness were both noticeable in shots taken at the two highest ISO settings.
Flash performance was much as you’d expect from the low GN 5.4 (ISO100/m) built-in flash, which struggled to provide correct exposures at sensitivities lower than about ISO 800 with the lens at the 42mm position. In the P shooting mode, the camera maintained a constant shutter speed of 1/60 second at f/5.6 (the maximum aperture available) up to ISO 3200, where the exposure changed to 1/80 second.
At ISO 6400 the aperture was stopped down from f/5.6 to f/7.1 and the shutter speed increased to 1/125 second. At ISO 12800, the settings were f/8 and 1/160 second, respectively, while at ISO 25600 they changed to f/10 and 1/250 second. Slight over-exposure occurred at ISO 25600, although this was compounded by the flattening of contrast and general softening of the image due to noise-reduction processing.
Little noise was evident in flash shots up to ISO 6400, although the images were a little softer than those taken at ISO 3200. However, shots taken at the two highest sensitivity settings were visibly softened but otherwise not seriously noise-affected.
White balance performance was similar to other Olympus cameras we’ve reviewed. A slight warm cast remained in shots taken under incandescent lighting and warm-toned LED light with the auto setting, even when the ‘Keep Warm Colour’ setting was switched off. In fact, there was no evident difference between shots taken with the warm bias on or off with either type of lighting, which is strange.
The fluorescent and flash settings produced very close to neutral colours. The pre-sets over-corrected. with the Tungsten setting adding a strong blue cast. Fortunately, the camera provides plenty of adjustments to overcome biases and manual measurement delivered cast-free shots with all three types of lighting.
Autofocusing performance was similar to that of the E-PL8 and acceptably fast and accurate for most still shots. However, we noticed a couple of instances of slight hesitation as the camera found focus when shooting at night and the touchscreen was used to focus upon the subject.
Video quality was with the Full HD and HD formats was similar to the recordings we obtained with the E-PL8. The 4K clips had higher resolution but, otherwise their colour reproduction was similar to the Full HD clips and unremarkable. As with the E-PL8, clips recorded in the SF and F modes were mostly sharp and smooth, but there was a noticeable reduction in sharpness when the N modes were used.
The camera was also quite slow to re-focus when zooming or panning while shooting movie clips, which is surprising given the slow zooming speed of the power-zoom lens. Soundtracks were recorded with acceptable quality and the Standard setting for the wind noise reduction filter was enough to suppress low-level wind noise.
Our timing tests were carried out with a 128GB Panasonic SDXC U1 memory card, one of the fastest in our collection. The review camera took just under a second to power-up and extend the lens for the first shot.
We measured an average capture lag of less than 0.1 seconds, which was eliminated by pre-focusing. Shot-to-shot times averaged 0.55 seconds without flash and 4.0 seconds with. The camera provides no indicator to show image processing is taking place so we were unable to confirm processing speeds.
In the high-speed sequential shooting mode and Program AE selected on the mode dial, we recorded a burst of 41 Large/ Fine JPEGs in 9.5 seconds, without the camera showing any sign of slowing down. This equates to roughly 4.3 frames/second, which is well below the specified value.
We obtained a similar frame rate with ORF.RAW files, where the capture rate slowed after 17 frames, which were recorded in four seconds. Thirteen RAW+JPEG pairs were recorded in three seconds before the frame rate slowed. With the same settings but the low-speed sequential mode selected, we recorded 20 Large/ Fine JPEG frames in 6.5 seconds, which equates to a frame rate of just over three frames/second.
The only way we could come close to the claimed 8.6 frames/second frame rate was with the camera in AP (Advanced Photo) mode, when we were able to record 12 Large/ Fine JPEG frames in 1.2 seconds before the capture rate began to slow. This equates to 10 frames/second, which is faster than specified.
If you’re enamoured with the PEN styling and prefer shooting with the monitor screen, there’s nothing to deter you from purchasing the latest PEN. The newer TruePic VIII processor should result in more accurate colour reproduction, better low-light performance and lower noise at high ISO settings.
However, if you’re after a camera with a viewfinder, the RRP of the OM-D E-M10 III camera is AU$100 less than the PEN E-PL9. For most Photo Review readers, we’d consider it a better buy because of its built-in 2,360,000-dot OLED EVF, which is easy to use and shows you exactly what you’re shooting whatever the conditions you’re working in.
Despite competition from other manufacturers, PEN cameras seem to have retained their appeal, particularly in some Asian markets. However, recent models from Canon and Fujifilm are presenting challenges with similarly-featured cameras at similar price tags but larger sensors.
Canon’s EOS M100 can match most of the specifications of the E-PL9, although it doesn’t support 4K video recording. However, its larger, higher-resolution sensor and lower price tag, coupled with its smaller size and lighter weight will make it more attractive to some potential buyers.
The Fujifilm X-A5, which we haven’t yet reviewed, provides similar specifications (including 4K recording) but with a larger 24-megapixel APS-C sized sensor. It has a similar-sized body and is available with a powered zoom lens for an RRP of AU$899 (although you might find it for less than AU$850 if you shop around).
It’s early days for the E-PL9 in the Australian marketplace and most local re-sellers are only taking pre-orders. The same is true for off-shore resellers. The E-PL8 is still available for less than AU$800 in most online stores and is quite a bargain if you find PEN cameras attractive. Personnally, we’d much prefer the E-M10 III.
Image sensor: 17.3 x 13.0 mm Live MOS Sensor with 4:3 aspect ratio, approx. 17.2 million photosites (16.1 megapixels effective)
Image processor: TruePic VIII
A/D processing: 12-bit
Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds
Focal length crop factor: 2x
Image formats: Stills: JPEG (Exif 2.3), ORF.RAW, RAW+JPEG; Movies: MOV (MPEG-4AVC/H.264)
Image Sizes: Stills ““ 4608 x 3456 only for raw files; 4608 x 3456 pixels – 1280 x 960 pixels for JPEGs; Movies: 3840 x 2160 (4K) at 30p, 25p, 24p / IPB (approx. 102 Mbps); 1920 x 1080 (FHD) /at 60p, 50p, 30p, 25p, 24p / IPB (SF, F, N), 1280 x 720 (HD) at 60p, 50p, 30p, 25p, 24p / IPB (SF, F, N); FHD IPB (SF: Super Fine / approx. 52 Mbps, F: Fine / approx. 30 Mbps, N: Normal / approx. 18 Mbps); HD IPB(SF: Super Fine / approx. 26Mbps, F: Fine / approx.14Mbpsã€N: Normal / approx.10Mbps)
Image Stabilisation: Built-in 3-axis sensor-shift type; 3.5 stops correction
Dust removal: Supersonic Wave Filter
Shutter / speed range: Focal-plane shutter (mechanical and electronic shutter) / 1/4000 – 60 sec., with 1/3 EV adjustment steps; Bulb/Live Time: Max. 30 min. (8-min. default setting); Live composite: Max. 3 hours; Electronic first curtain shutter (Anti-shock mode) : 1/320 – 60 sec.; Electronic shutter (Silent mode): 1/16000 – 60 sec.
Exposure Compensation: +/- 5EV in 1/3EV (+/-3EV for movies)
Exposure bracketing: 3 frames in 1.0 EV steps, 5 frames in 0.7 EV steps.
Other bracketing options: Focus bracketing, HDR (Auto composite)
Intervalometer: Yes, for Time Lapse Movie
Self-timer: 2 or 12 seconds delay plus Custom (Wait time: 1-30sec., Shot interval: 0.5/1/2/3sec., Number of shots: 1-10)
Focus system: High-speed imager AF with 121-point contrast AF; All target, group target (9-area), single target AF point selection
Focus modes: S-AF, C-AF, MF, S-AF + MF / AF tracking (C-AF + TR), Eye priority AF mode and focus peaking display available
Exposure metering: Digital ESP (324-area multi pattern metering), centre-weighted average, spot metering, spot metering with highlight/shadow control
Shooting modes: Auto (Live Guide can be used), P: Program AE (program shift available), A: Aperture Priority AE, S: Shutter Priority AE, M: Manual (Live Bulb, Live Time and Live Composite available), Scene Select AE, Advanced Photo AE, Art Filter
Picture modes: i-Enhance, Vivid, Natural, Muted, Portrait, Monotone, Custom, e-Portrait, colour creator, Art Filters with 4 gradation settings (Auto, Normal, High Key, Low Key)
Advanced Photo AE modes: Live Composite, Live Time, Multiple Exposure, HDR Backlight, Silent, Panorama, Keystone Compensation, AE Bracketing, Focus Bracketing
Scene Select AE modes: Portrait, e-Portrait, Landscape + Portrait, Night + Portrait, Children, Night scene, Hand-held Starlight, Fireworks, Light trails, Sport, Panning, Landscape, Sunset, Beach & Snow, Backlight HDR, Panorama, Candlelight, Silent, Macro, Nature Macro, Documents, Multi Focus Shot
Art Filter modes: Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale & Light Colour, Light Tone, Grainy Film, Pin Hole, Diorama, Cross Process, Gentle Sepia, Dramatic Tone, Key Line, Watercolour, Vintage, Partial Colour, Bleach Bypass, Instant Film
Colour space options: sRGB, Adobe RGB
ISO range: Auto, ISO 200 – 25600 in 1/3EV steps plus Low (approx.100)
White balance: Auto WB, 6 Preset WBs, 4 Capture WBs, Custom WB (Kelvin setting)
Flash: Built-in TTL auto flash; GN=5.4 (ISO100.m) / GN= 7.6 (ISO200.m)
Flash modes: Redeye, Slow Sync.(1st curtain), Slow Sync.(2nd curtain), Red-eye Slow Sync.(1st curtain), Fill-in, Manual(1/1(FULL) ~1/64), Flash Off.
Flash exposure adjustment: +/-3 EV in 0.3 EV steps
Sequence shooting: Max. 8.6 frames/sec.
Buffer capacity: JPEG – ‘unlimited’; ORF.RAW – 13 frames
Storage Media: SD, SDHC, SDXC cards (Compatible with UHS-I and Eye-Fi standards)
LCD monitor: Tilting (up to 80 degrees, down through 180 degrees), 3-inch LCD with electrostatic capacitance touch panel, 3:2 aspect ratio, approx. 1,040,000 dots
Live View modes: Live View preview, Face detection preview (up to 8 faces), Magnification display (x3 / x5 / x7 / x10 / x14)
Interface terminals: USB Micro-B, Micro HDMI (Type-D), Hot shoe,
Wi-Fi function: Built-in (IEEE 802.11b/g/n) plus Bluetooth Ver.4.0
Power supply: BLS-50 rechargeable Li-ion Battery Pack; CIPA rated for approx. 3500 shots/charge
Dimensions (wxhxd): 117.1 x 68.0 x 39.0 mm
Weight: Approx. 380 grams (with BLS-50 battery and memory card)
Distributor: Olympus Imaging Australia; 1300 659 678, www.olympus.com.au
Based on JPEG files captured with the M.Zuiko Digital 25mm f/1.8 lens.
Based on ORF.RAW files captured at the same time and converted with Adobe Camera Raw.
All test shots taken with the M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ ED MSC lens.
Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.
Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.
Auto white balance with flash lighting.
Auto white balance with warm-toned LED lighting.
30-second exposure at ISO 100, 27mm focal length, f/5.6.
15-second exposure at ISO 200, 27mm focal length, f/5.6.
8-second exposure at ISO 800, 27mm focal length, f/5.6.
5-second exposure at ISO 3200, 27mm focal length, f/6.3.
2-second exposure at ISO 6400, 27mm focal length, f/6.3.
1-second exposure at ISO 12800, 27mm focal length, f/6.3.
1-second exposure at ISO 25600, 27mm focal length, f/9.
Flash exposure at ISO 100, 42mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6.
Flash exposure at ISO 200, 42mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6.
Flash exposure at ISO 800, 42mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6.
Flash exposure at ISO 3200, 42mm focal length, 1/80 second at f/5.6.
Flash exposure at ISO 6400, 42mm focal length, 1/125 second at f/7.1
Flash exposure at ISO 12800, 42mm focal length, 1/160 second at f/8.
Flash exposure at ISO 25600, 42mm focal length, 1/250 second at f/10.
14mm focal length; ISO 200, 1/320 second at f/8.
42mm focal length; ISO 200, 1/200 second at f/9.
2x digital teleconverter on; 42mm focal length; ISO 200, 1/200 second at f/9.
Close-up at 42mm; ISO 200, 1/1600 second at f/5.6.
Backlit subject; 42mm focal length, ISO 250, 1/100 second at f/5.6.
Wide brightness range subject; 14mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/100 second at f/4.5
14mm focal length, ISO 320, 1/100 second at f/5.
Selfie; 14mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/80 second at f/4.
14mm focal length, ISO 1600, 1/60 second at f/3.5.
3:2 aspect ratio; 42mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/8 second at f/8.
3:2 aspect ratio; 42mm focal length, ISO 320, 1/60 second at f/8
Contre-jour lighting; 14mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/100 second at f/8.
42mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/7.1.
Equipment makes little difference when you’re in the right place at the right time; 25mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/100 second at f/6.3.
Still frame from 4K (3840 x 2160) video clip recorded at 25 fps.
Still frame from Full HD (1920 x 1080) video clip recorded at 50 fps.
Still frame from Full HD video clip recorded at 25 fps.
Still frame from HD (1280 x 720) video clip recorded at 25 fps.
Still frame from HD video clip recorded at 120 fps.
RRP: AU$1099; US$649 (with EZ14-42 mm lens)
- Build: 8.8
- Ease of use: 8.5
- Autofocusing: 8.5
- Still image quality JPEG: 8.5
- Still image quality RAW: 8.7
- Video quality: 8.5