Olympus Pen Mini E-PM1

Geared towards point-and-shoot upgrade users, the Olympus Pen Mini E-PM1 offers a great introduction to the world of interchangeable lens cameras. There are a few usability issues that we'd like to see resolved for the next version, though.


8.0
CNET Rating

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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.


What do you call a baby Pen? A Pen Mini, of course!

This little camera is the most basic of the 2011 crop of Olympus Pen interchangeable lens cameras. You can read our reviews of the cameras that sit above it, the Pen Lite E-PL3 and the Pen E-P3.

Design and features

In terms of the insides, the Mini has pretty much everything that its older siblings has, including the 12.3-megapixel live MOS sensor, fast autofocusing and HD video recording. On the outside, though, the Mini looks like it's well and truly the baby of the pack. For starters, it has a distinct lack of buttons and knobs on the back panel — things are very simple with a control wheel, playback and menu buttons, as well as a video-recording button.

Like the Lite, this camera comes with a clip-on flash in the box rather than a pop-up flash in the body. We like the idea of the flash being included, but, at the same time, not having a permanent on-board flash is annoying, especially if you forget to bring the clip-on unit everywhere with you. Considering the target market for this camera are step-up users from compact cameras, we daresay it's not just us who would miss the convenience.

In bright sunlight and outdoor situations, the 3-inch LCD, covered in a glossy finish, is really hard to see. There is an optional electronic viewfinder available (VF-3), but, at an average street price of AU$300 at the time of writing, that's a considerable investment when the camera body itself is almost worth that much.

The menu system is one of the big plus points of the Mini, being simple and easy to use for beginners, and especially those who have never stepped foot into the world of interchangeable lens cameras. After turning the camera on, you can happily start shooting right away in automatic mode. Press the menu button on the camera to bring up the main shooting options in a vertical arrangement across the screen, choosing between art filters, intelligent automatic mode, scene modes, video mode, PASM modes and the camera set-up options. The background also changes dynamically depending on the selection, which is a nice touch.

Pen Mini

The very nice menu system on the Pen Mini. Excuse the dust ...
(Credit: CBSi)

That said, if you want your manual options to be as easy to access as possible, then the Mini is probably not right for you. Full manual control is, of course, available, but using the scroll wheel to change aperture and shutter is not as easy as the configuration found on the E-P3.

Also, the kit configuration with the 14-42mm lens isn't exactly compact, even if the body on its own is, so do bear this in mind if you are counting on a truly pocket-sized camera.

Olympus E-P3Olympus E-P3Olympus E-P3Olympus E-P3Olympus E-P3Olympus E-P3Olympus E-P3Olympus E-P3

Click through for a complete photo gallery of the new Pen cameras.
(Credit: CBSi)

The Mini also comes with art filters, just like the other two cameras, though reduced to six. These include pop art, dramatic tone, pin hole, grainy film, soft focus and diorama. See examples of what they look like in our review of the E-P3.

Compared to

E-PL3 comparison
Panasonic GF3 Sony NEX-C3 Olympus E-PM1 Samsung NX100
12.1-megapixel Live MOS (Four Thirds type) 16.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS 12.3-megapixel Live MOS (Four Thirds type) 14.6-megapixel APS-C CMOS
3-inch, 460,000-dot touchscreen 3-inch, flip-down 921,600-dot screen 3-inch, 460,000-dot screen 3-inch, 610,000-dot AMOLED screen
Pop-up flash Optional flash attachment Optional flash attachment Optional hotshoe flash
Full HD video (1080i, AVCHD) HD video (720p, H.264) Full HD video (1080i, AVCHD) HD video (720p, H.264)
AU$899 AU$849 AU$599 AU$899

Performance

General shooting metrics (in seconds)

  • Time to first shot
  • RAW shot-to-shot time
  • JPEG shot-to-shot time
  • Shutter lag
  • Olympus E-PM120.70.70.2
  • Olympus E-PL330.80.60.2
  • Sony NEX-C31.21.10.90.5
  • Olympus E-P30.80.70.70.2
  • Panasonic Lumix GF30.91.50.90.2
  • Samsung NX1001.13.71.30.3

Continuous shooting speed (longer bars indicate better performance)

  • Olympus E-PM15
  • Olympus E-PL34.2
  • Panasonic GF33.8
  • Olympus E-P33.2
  • Samsung NX1002.5
  • Sony NEX-C32.5

Olympus rates the battery at 300 shots. The Mini has two continuous shooting modes, including sequential high (measured above, which takes images at full resolution) and sequential low. When shooting full-resolution JPEG images, the buffer is capable of taking approximately 29 images before slowing down, and takes three seconds to clear the buffer. When shooting RAW, it can take approximately six images in succession before slowing down, and takes four seconds to clear the buffer.

Image quality

As the internals of the Mini are essentially the same as those found in the E-P3 and the E-PL3, our comments in regards to image quality are consistent between the three cameras. Please consult the E-P3 review for further analysis of image quality and image samples.

Most users will be pleased with the colour rendition delivered from the Pen Mini on default JPEG settings, with good saturation. The kit 14-42mm lens doesn't make any inroads into the world of sharpness, as we found on the other two Pen cameras, but it's certainly fine for most purposes. It does, however, show some extreme distortion at the wide end, making straight lines quite curved, so bear this in mind should you plan on taking any architectural shots at the 14mm extreme. The Mini can hit a maximum ISO of 12,800 but it is best avoided. The Mini also struggles with suppressing noise over ISO 1600, just like the Lite E-PL3 does.

Again, like our quibbles with the E-P3 and the Lite E-PL3, the Mini suffers the same video recording issues. It's passable for a camera of this class, but not amazing.

Image samples

Exposure: 1/80, f/4, ISO 200

Exposure: 1/320, f/9, ISO 200

Exposure: 1/400, f/9, ISO 200

Exposure: 1/250, f/9, ISO 200

(Credit: CBSi)

Conclusion

Geared towards point-and-shoot upgrade users, the Olympus Pen Mini E-PM1 offers a great introduction to the world of interchangeable lens cameras. There are a few usability issues that we'd like to see resolved for the next version, though.

The Mini will be available in brown, pink, white, silver, purple and black, with a corresponding lens colour to match (either silver or black). The Mini is available as a single lens kit with the 14-42mm lens for AU$599.

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