Olympus E-P1

Though it's rather expensive, we can't help adoring the E-P1. The pictures it takes with the included lenses are mostly great, just don't expect compact-like features such as a viewfinder and flash to be included.


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CNET Rating
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User Rating

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CNET Editor

Lexy spent her formative years taking a lot of photos and dreaming in technicolour. Nothing much has changed now she's covering all things photography related for CNET.


For want of a better term to describe the micro four thirds camera (the world's third production model), is that the E-P1 is exciting. Not so much in the technology sense, but it's the first time that we can remember a manufacturer taking such a risk with the design and marketing of a new camera.

The E-P1 is an interchangeable lens camera but has no mirror or pentaprism arrangement, which is characteristic of the micro four thirds specification. It certainly looks a lot different from cameras that have come before from Panasonic, the Lumix DMC-G1 and DMC-GH1. It's designed for the style-conscious consumer, someone who has considered upgrading to an SLR from a compact body but is not quite ready to sacrifice the lightweight and easy-to-use interface.

Design

The E-P1 with the 17mm lens attached, and the 14-42mm lens. (Credit: Olympus)

More so than any of the other cameras on the market that take inspiration from times of old, the E-P1 epitomises a classic design that has a distinctly nostalgic air to it. The clues are all there, from the brushed stainless steel exterior, faux-leather grip, and compact yet sturdy form factor. Weighing in at 335g it also feels like an old camera. The LCD at the back of the camera gives the game away, and though Olympus firmly has its feet in the present, it's still wistfully looking back at its heritage. Buttons, dials and the general configuration at the rear indicate this is very much a camera of 2009.

At the top, alongside the mode dial, which is nicely recessed into the top panel, sits a hotshoe for mounting the (optional) viewfinder or flash unit, as well as the power button outlined in a green glow, and the shutter and exposure compensation buttons. The company's heritage is again highlighted with the caption "Olympus Pen since 1959" inscribed next to the model name.

Features

Continuing on our tour of the E-P1, the 3-inch 230,000 dot LCD at the back is flanked by four buttons to the right, and further along sit the control wheel and directional pad with ISO, timer, auto focus and white balance settings. A nicely textured zoom control switch (for reviewing photos and changing aperture or shutter) is moulded gently into the slight bulbous curve to the far right, just along the edge of the camera.

Shooting modes are all standard (Program, Aperture/Shutter priority, Manual) along with intelligent automatic, scene modes (which includes e-Portrait, the reincarnation of Olympus' beauty mode), art filters (which we first saw on the E-30 and E-620) as well as movie mode (in 720p at 30fps). Aspect ratios allow for shooting in 3:2, widescreen 16:9, 4:3, and to complete the retro specs, 6:6 for square shots reminiscent of medium format film. The E-P1 also inherits the multiple exposure setting from other E-series cameras. As an aside, we also really like how the E-P1 has done away with the frustrating xD format and now offers full SDHC compatibility.

Adapters for the E-P1
(Credit: Olympus)

Any micro four thirds lens can be mounted on the camera body, and adapters are also available from Olympus to allow older OM lenses and E-series digital lenses to work as well, at AU$249 and AU$349 respectively. So if the 17mm or 14-42mm kit lenses don't appeal to you then there are plenty of other options. The add-on viewfinder (that comes with the dual-lens kit) is a quirky addition, making you feel like you're using a rangefinder or spy camera. It won't be exactly as the camera sees thanks to parallax error and it sitting a fair distance from the lens.

Affectionately known as the "pancake" lens, the 17mm that comes as part of the dual-lens kit is one of the cutest lenses we've come across, sitting at a diminutive 2cm deep, just protruding from the camera body. The 14-42mm is just as interesting, featuring a folding design that expands as the focal length changes, and retracts into itself as you move it below the 14mm marker to store the lens. Do be aware that the lens cap, at least on the 17mm, is very small and only just covers the glass itself rather than the entirety of the lens front, which means it's easy to lose.

Performance

You certainly won't want to be using the E-P1 for critical shooting situations. Starting up in just under two seconds was an acceptable time for a camera of its class, but it fell incredibly behind in the rest of the performance stakes. Shot-to-shot time was also just under two seconds, and the shutter lag was generally over one second, which put it distinctly behind a lot of the digital SLRs it's being pitted against.

Using art filters and e-Portrait mode also add significantly to image processing times, but this is to be expected. Also note that if you decide to use art filters during filming, the resulting videos will more than likely be jerky because of the extra effects.

Getting accustomed to the Olympus interface will take some time as well, as a lot of the controls and menu options will take some delving into or manual-reading before they become second nature. Fortunately, it's better than what we've seen on the company's dSLR range, instead looking more like Olympus' menu system on its compact line-up.

Shooting speed
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot Raw shot-to-shot time Typical shot-to-shot time Shutter lag (dim) Shutter lag (typical)
Canon EOS 500D
0.2
0.4
0.37
0.6
0.3
Nikon D5000
0.2
0.5
0.45
0.7
0.3
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1
0.8
0.9
0.9
0.6
0.4
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
1.8
0.9
0.9
0.6
0.4
Canon PowerShot G10
1.3
2.5
2.2
0.8
0.4
Olympus E-P1
3
2.7
1.9
1.6
1.3

Typical continuous-shooting speed
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Image quality

One of the big points that Panasonic and Olympus are marketing these micro four thirds cameras on is the SLR-like quality of the images. So, despite the E-P1 looking like a compact, the images it delivers should stand up, theoretically, to an equivalent-level SLR. The physical size of the sensor, however, is smaller on a micro four thirds camera than with most SLRs, which does play into image quality. How does the E-P1 fare then?

Generally, in standard shooting conditions we were incredibly pleased with the quality of images that the E-P1 turned out: bright, nicely saturated colours with a particular emphasis on greens and purples (a colour that Olympus cameras have been known to struggle with in the past). Automatic white balance is very good, and as we've experienced before with the E-30 and E-620, shooting in art filter mode is a lot of fun, but the E-P1 goes one better by allowing you to shoot HD videos while using the art filters (plus you also get program mode or aperture priority when filming, too).

Flicking between shooting modes is done by selecting the relevant option from the control dial at the top, but we found that the wheel was a little resistive and cumbersome to allow for quick changes to shooting settings.

One of the stumbling blocks a lot of users will face is the lack of on-board flash. This means the camera will be rendered mostly useless in dim or night-time situations without a tripod, despite Olympus claiming that its strong high-ISO performance will compensate.

However, we have to award points for the good noise control that the E-P1 demonstrates. Even at ISO 1600, which is where a lot of compact cameras and some entry-level dSLRs will stumble, proved acceptable. Any higher and noise does begin to get noticeable even in reduced magnifications. The maximum ISO level that the E-P1 can reach is 6400.

Click image to enlarge (Credit: CBSi)

Auto focusing with the 17mm in particular is not a quiet measure, as it makes quite audible focusing noises. On the topic of noise, the stereo microphones on the E-P1 picked up pretty much every sound that could be heard, and amplified much of it without muffling or becoming susceptible to much wind or actual camera body noise. We love how the E-P1 allows you to switch into program, aperture priority or art filter mode before filming.

The video mode is also fairly reasonable for a camera of its class, though in situations with glare and bright lights we found that the resulting movie had a slight blue cast and flaring in it. There are also the usual moire issues that plague many of these cameras with HD video.

Conclusion

Though it's rather expensive, we can't help our feelings of adoration towards the E-P1. This is the only current digital camera we can think of that will elicit extreme reactions from people wanting to hold it and use it, to see what it can do. Fortunately, it's not just all about looks, as the pictures it takes with the included lenses are mostly great, and the extra expandability with adapters is excellent. There's a small learning curve to get used to the interface but generally, those looking from a step up from a compact will love the E-P1. Just don't expect compact-like features such as a viewfinder and flash to be included.

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Tim
8
Rating
 

Tim posted a review   

The Good:compact & sturdy, stylish, pinhole and other art filters.

The Bad:No built in viewfinder... quite good in low light, but still improvement possible.

I don't shoot with flash, so I bought this camera partly for that reason, but also to use my old OM lenses, doubling their focual length whilst not reducing speed or depth of field. Some beautiful results with the old OM lenses, but i want to buy a panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake and use that full time on the EP-1, and buy a 2nd camera to use at the same time as the EP-1. Probably will wait till there are more good MFT lenses on the market, and Olympus makes a MFT body with built in viewfinder.

PeterB666
10
Rating
 

PeterB666 posted a review   

Forgot to choose a rating. Despite the minor flaws prevsioulsy mentioned, all cameras involve compromise and overall this is as about as good as it gets. 10 out of 10.

 

PeterB666 posted a comment   

The Good:Size, weight, exposure and general image quality, versatility, good kit zoom lens.

The Bad:Low light LCD image, autofocus in poor light, manual focus on MFT lenses in poor light.

I have had the camera now for a couple of weeks. I am really impressed by the picture quality and the size and versatility is great. I use it with the 14-42 kit zoom which I am really impressed with (other than poor autofocus in low light). The manual focus is quite good but the LCD gets too dim too early. Surprising on a camera with no viewfinder.

I have also used the camera with a collection of OM lenses via an adapter and this helps the poor low light autofocus, especially with the near-mint 50mm f/1.4 Olympus lens which cost me all of $130 including airmail from the US.

A great camera with a lot of versatility.

Pelangi
10
Rating
 

Pelangi posted a review   

The Good:Image quality, body quality.

The Bad:No adapter yet available for my Contax G2 lenses.

I owned Contax G2 with 4 Carl Zeiss lenses, Nikon D3X with various lenses (F and D). Now I stick to this camera, bring it everywhere I go. This is the camera which will accompany me for the years to come. Love it !

Indy
10
Rating
 

Indy posted a review   

The Good:Image Quality, ISO performance, HD Video, Brilliant sharp lenses, Art Filters and Multiple exposure, the list oges on.

The Bad:pop up flash would be useful, however the ISO performance somehow overcomes the need for a flash

I love the Pen E-P1. I have had it now for a couple of weeks and love it. I own several DSLR's and love the image quality. I own a Nikon D700 and 24-70 lens and use the Pen as my second body. What I have found is that the image quality is so good in the Pen, I haven't picked up my D700 much at all. The size is amazing as well, I now take it everywhere and often used to not carry a camera due to the size. I didn't think I would use video either, however there are times when I have flicked over to video to capture something quickly. I love the Art Filters, thought they were somewhat of a gimmock, however have found myself addicted to them, particularly as I can shoot in RAW and JPEG at the same time. The light tone filter also gives me a similar output to the Nikon DLighting option in the D700, difference is the Nikon you do after the shot and it takes several menu and button pushes. The Pen shows the effect in Live View.
If you are considering this camera and may have thought it was too expensive, try it you will work out pretty quickly it is very well priced for the specifications.
Buy one you wont regret it.




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User Reviews / Comments  Olympus E-P1

  • Tim

    Tim

    Rating8

    "I don't shoot with flash, so I bought this camera partly for that reason, but also to use my old OM lenses, doubling their focual length whilst not reducing speed or depth of field. Some beautiful..."

  • PeterB666

    PeterB666

    Rating10

    "Forgot to choose a rating. Despite the minor flaws prevsioulsy mentioned, all cameras involve compromise and overall this is as about as good as it gets. 10 out of 10."

  • PeterB666

    PeterB666

    "I have had the camera now for a couple of weeks. I am really impressed by the picture quality and the size and versatility is great. I use it with the 14-42 kit zoom which I am really impressed wit..."

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