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Olympus PEN E-P1
DSLR - Digital Camera Review
Olympus have this
to say about the camera:
"When Yoshihisa Maitani originally designed the first of many Pen cameras, he could not have suspected that he was starting a revolution. Selling over 17 million units, the Pen became one of the most trusted, popular, and successful camera series ever. The removal of the mirror box in the 21st century has brought the legendary series back. Mirror-less construction is the foundation for both the Olympus Pen E-P1s stunning new design and its remarkably compact size. Everyone will fall in love with the cameras irresistible retro-look. It is reminiscent of the classic Olympus Pens, which were cherished for their compactness, usability, and affordable price.
Five decades later,
the E-P1 promises to honour the memory of its famous forefathers. It hails
the beginning of the next generation of the digital era. In addition to
all the advantages of Olympus imaging technology, the new ultra-compact
hybrid device can even record HD quality movies with sound and stunning
creative effects familiar from still photography. In addition to the application
of Art Filters, it includes the ability to vary depth of field, angle
of view, and autofocus during recording."
You can find more information on their website.
The Camera: a
visual tour - click any of the images to enlarge in a new window: (Photos
of the camera taken with the Casio
Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax PC-550 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera (with no zoom).
Box Contents: (Camera + Zoom lens Kit)
Good box contents - it's good to see the full manual has been printed rather than being solely on a CD. A large memory card and a case is recommended - if you don't want to buy the Olympus leather case (priced at around £60), then the Lowepro Apex 100 AW is a good choice and is under £20. Also - there is no flash - so you will need to buy an Olympus flash if you want one. The Olympus FL-14 is designed specifically for this camera, and costs £159 in the UK, or $100 on special offer in the US.
Menu system: After reading the manual (which is highly recommended!) the menus are split into various levels of access, starting at the most basic level using the "Live Control" (accessed by pressing the OK button - and controlled using the main dial and sub dial - easy when you get to grips with it), the next level up is the "Super Control Panel" (accessed by pressing the OK button and then the INFO button - and controlled using the direction pad and either dial - could be confusing if you switch between Live control and the Super Control Panel but is identical to other Olympus DSLRs), you have further options available by pressing the Menu button (to access: Camera menu 1, 2, Playback menu, and Setup menu), and finally you can access the "Custom Menu" to change a further 9 menu options (each one with further settings, giving you another 63 menu items!).
The menu system is thankfully easy to read thanks to the large 3" screen. You can change settings quickly using the Live control - this gives you quick access to all the most commonly used options whilst taking photos (such as WB, shooting mode, IS, aspect, image size/compression, flash, ISO, exposure mode, focus mode, face detection, focus area). The Super Control Panel lets you change further imaging options (Picture mode: Vivid, Normal etc, Sharpness, Contrast, Saturation, Gradation, Colour Space, AWB +/- etc). Then the Menu can be accessed when additional more advanced settings need changing. The playback menu gives all the usual options such as a slideshow, print, and lets you add 30 seconds of audio to the photo, or edit the image - the options available are: Shadow adjust, Redeye fix, crop, aspect, black and white, sepia, saturation, resize, and e-portrait. You can also edit RAW files, to alter them to the current camera settings - for example setting the camera to Art Filter Pin Hole and then editing a previously taken RAW image with turn the RAW image into a Pin Hole JPEG. An explanation of the scene modes is shown when you press the info button.
Picture Size / Quality: The camera lets you choose the image size, (Large 12mp, Middle 5mp, Small 1.2mp), aspect ratio (4:3, 16:9, 3:2, 6:6), and gives you several choices regarding how much compression is applied to the images (RAW, RAW + Fine, RAW + Normal, Super Fine / Fine / Normal / Basic JPEG). Higher quality images take a large amount of memory, so a high capacity memory card is definitely recommended, unless you're prepared to sacrifice image size to fit more pictures in memory. There is a very good choice of image sizes, aspect ratios, and compression options, however a few more choices for the image size might be useful for some.
Battery usage: Battery life is rated as 300 shots taken with 100% live view. I was able to take around 405 shots before the batteries went flat, this is slightly better than average, for a compact camera, but lower than your average DSLR.
Memory cards: A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 2gb memory card, if you intend to take RAW and Fine JPEG images, and preferably a 4gb memory card, or larger (especially if you want to use the HD video modes). The larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't always know when you will next be at a computer. You can use SD or SDHC memory cards - I tend to use Sandisk Ultra II Plus USB SD memory cards as these let you plug the memory card straight into a USB socket making it easy to transfer images onto any computer, they are available as 1GB SD, or 2GB SD cards and 4GB SDHC cards. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Olympus PEN E-P1 (Nb. Class 6 cards are recommended for HD Video):
Find the latest
prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 1gb (1000mb): £3,
2gb (2000mb): £5,
4gb (4000mb SDHC): £6,
8gb (8000mb SDHC): £12,
16gb (16000mb SDHC): £38,
32gb (32000mb SDHC): £72.
Speed: The camera is a little slow to switch on and take photos, from off, to taking a photo in 2.7 seconds (the camera cleans the sensor every time the camera is switched on). Focusing seemed a little slow, taking just under a second (0.8 seconds) to focus with the 14-42mm kit lens. The camera shutter response seemed instant when pre-focused responding in 0.1 seconds or less. Shot to shot time was a little slow, with a delay of around 2.0 seconds between shots (without flash). Continuous shooting is very good offering 3fps for 9 shots using RAW, and 3fps for about 15 shots before any noticeable slowdown when shooting JPEG Large Fine with a 16gb Class 6 SDHC card. The playback mode is quick. The cameras menus seemed quick. The screen updates quickly especially when pre-focused allowing you to track your subject easily.
Ease of use: The camera is fairly easy to use, with a fairly logical menu system, and easy to access features. The camera can be used by beginners especially when using the intelligent Auto mode, Scene modes and Art filters, as it should just be a case of pointing and shooting. However, stepping up from a compact camera could cause a little concern as people new to interchangeable lenses now need to be aware of sensor dirt and dust, and potentially sensor cleaning. The system also needs an optional flash if one is needed which adds further complexity to the system. Getting a live demonstration in a shop could be useful for beginners or perhaps Olympus could provide a training DVD like they have with other DSLRs. But apart from these differences (and the huge variety of options) the camera is useable as a point and shoot, and the live view provides an experience very much like a compact camera. It's only when you start delving deep into the menus that you begin to explore the complexities and full depth of the camera, and it's at this point that you would want to refer to the manual.
Face detection focus can help capture photos of people and will automatically expose the photo so they subjects face is correctly exposed. The controls on the back of the camera are quite straightforward, and it's fairly easy to switch modes using the clear mode dial, and various buttons. The menus are responsive and are easy to use (when you stick to the basics), and the options are big enough and easy to see clearly. The modes are easy to access, and a lot of the options can be accessed using the buttons on the back and top. It's also easy to see when photos are in focus using the zoomed record / playback mode. The screen is very clear, and works fairly well outdoors, however in very bright sunlight it's sometimes difficult to see.
Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The layout of the buttons and controls are good, with all button and controls reachable with your right hand (apart from the main mode dial). The playback zoom control and shutter release are good. The mode dial is positioned well making it easy to switch modes, and the buttons give quick access to common settings. I thought the camera felt very good with a good hand grip at the front, and a good thumb grip on the back. The camera feels very well made, with a solid and robust metal body with a high quality finish. The camera is easy to hold, is quite chunky, and looks a lot like an SLR from the 70s, with a neatly styled body available in black or white. The lenses are available in silver or black. The on / off switch feels good, and the buttons are very clearly labelled, and do what you expect. The tripod mount is made out of metal, and is positioned near the middle of the camera which is good.
Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Outside, Macro, to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Olympus PEN E-P1 Sample Photo Gallery!
Inside: The camera has very good colour - It took a number of pleasing images with very good skin tones, and excellent detail, and Auto White Balance (AWB) did a very good job even in poor indoor light. The camera doesn't come with a flash as standard, meaning the camera automatically increased the ISO in these photos, however results were still good even at ISO1600 - so you may be able to get away without having a flash depending on how dark the room or situation is. The camera did a good job at focusing most of the time in low-light, although the lack of LED illuminator could cause some concern, but didn't actually seem to matter in practise.
ISO Noise Test: Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels (ranging from ISO 200 - ISO6400), manual ISO settings (ISO: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400), and further ISO settings in between (as shown in the gallery).
Below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops, viewable at 100%, from the image taken at different ISO settings, compared with the 12 megapixel Fujifilm FinePix F100fd (a compact with fairly low noise) and the 12mp Canon EOS 450D.
ISO Noise Test Photos - Flash is off. Fujifilm FinePix F100fd on the left, Olympus PEN E-P1 in the middle, Canon EOS 450D on the right. Any tonal difference is due to white balance or lighting / metering differences.
Noise results: Noise is very acceptable up to ISO800 - with ISO1600 images also usable - which is a good improvement over previous Olympus DSLRs as ISO1600 has often been a little too noisy. Compared to the Fuji, it's easy to see how much more detail is in the E-P1 images, and the camera has more colourful images, even at ISO3200. ISO3200 images may be useful when resized, and ISO6400 images would probably be best avoided as image quality deteriorates quite significantly. The Canon, with the kit lens, has very soft images in comparison, and ISO1600 on the Canon shows more noise - with more unwanted splotches of red and green.
Image Stabilisation: The features sensor shift image stabilisation. This feature helps reduce image blur due to low light or long zoom photography. With image stabilisation switched on the images are much sharper and clearer, and are much more likely to come out blur free, especially in low light, when using the zoom or when using slow shutter speeds. The good thing about the Olympus E-P1 system is that it works with any lens that's attached to the camera.
Outside: The camera has rich saturated colours - colourful and nicely saturated (more so using the Vivid setting). There was excellent detail, and the camera took a number of excellent images outside, with very good contrast, and very little chromatic aberrations or purple fringing in areas of high contrast. Using the 'Fine' JPEG quality setting, artefacts are not easily seen, however areas with strong contrasts benefit from use of the highest quality setting. JPEG images come out of the camera looking very good, with very little noise, and are quite sharp especially when using the kit lens.
Zoom: This kit lens provides a 3x optical zoom starting at 28mm equivalent which is great for wide angle shots (useful indoors, and at parties etc), and the camera zooms to 84mm equivalent allowing photos of more distant objects. I've included examples below to show what the zoom is capable of. The camera does not feature digital zoom.
Exposure: The photos of the clock tower are exposed well with detail in the dark areas - and sky - exposure in other photos was generally very good. Vignetting was not noticed in these photos. It can be useful to under expose images with bright backgrounds (eg; sky) with use of exposure compensation.
Lens noise and zoom: The lens makes very little noise, and gives you precise control over how you frame your subject.
Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing / Chromatic aberration was very rarely seen, and only really noticed when viewing images at 100% and deliberately looking for signs of purple fringing - there is some visible on edges in the clock tower photos for example.
Macro Lens Performance: (14-42mm kit lens)
The camera can take macro photos where the subject is roughly 8cm away from the front of the lens when fully zoomed in. Colour and detail are excellent, and the camera features manual white balance which is very useful for better shots in artificial lighting. The camera also does a very nice job of keeping background objects out of focus.
Video mode: The camera features a very good video mode - it records 16:9 Aspect Ratio: 1280 x 720 (HD720p) 30fps videos with stereo sound as AVI files and has good compression allowing you to record long videos. The video mode does let you use the optical zoom whilst recording. The video modes available are: Program Auto, Aperture priority, Pop art, Soft focus, Pale and light colour, Light tone, Grainy film, Pin hole, WB, Timer, Image stabilisation (Electronic), Focus (Single, Continuous, Manual, Single and Manual), HD or SD, Focus target (all or single), Audio on or off. Class 6 or higher SD cards are recommended.
Video quality is excellent - as you would expect with a camera that takes Digital SLR quality photos - the video quality is equally impressive. The only problems experienced were that the camera picks up the sound of the lens focusing, especially when using continuous focusing, and the microphones pick up a lot of wind noise (when it's windy obviously). The strap loops can also create noise if they end up hitting the side of the camera - however these can be removed if needed.
Summary: When announced the Olympus PEN E-P1 caused quite a lot of interest - here is a camera promising Digital SLR quality from a stylish metal body that is similar in size to a serious compact camera, and can fit in your pocket! Now that the camera is available and has been tested, the camera not only delivers the results, but exceeds expectations. The E-P1's large sensor is the heart of the camera and combined with excellent Olympus digital lenses it provides simply stunning image quality.
Even at a pixel level images look excellent, with low noise, useable ISO1600 and above, excellent detail, excellent colour, and the 14-42mm kit lens provides impressive macro performance, and gives sharp crisp images - unlike kit lenses from other manufacturers which tend to be overly soft. The results are consistent as well, with excellent auto white balance, exposure, dynamic range, and good focus, helped in part by the sensor-shift based image stabilisation, and dust reduction.
The camera doesn't stop there; it also offers 16:9 720p HD Video at 30fps with stereo sound, which looks great. It features a level gauge, art filters, multiple exposures, multiple aspect ratios, 3fps shooting, RAW support, and a whole host of other features that makes this accessible and suitable for all levels of photographer. If you're a beginner who want greats image quality then you can simply pick this up, put it in i-Auto and start using it, or if you're an advanced photographer then you can delve deep into the cameras numerous manual controls and get results as good as professional (and bulky) Digital SLRs.
One aspect of the camera's design that could put buyers off, is the lack of built in flash, and particularly in the UK, the price of the camera and optional flash could seem a little steep. However, the camera provides excellent results even at high ISO settings, so it's possible that you could, shock horror, start taking more natural looking photos of people without flash!
So to summarise - The Olympus PEN E-P1 really is a ground breaking, genius product, with a gorgeous metal body that fits in your pocket, compact lenses that retract inside themselves, and image quality and features to rival some of the best Digital SLRs. It not only lives up to the hype surrounding the product, but in my opinion, exceeds expectations, and is well worth the seemingly expensive outlay. Highly Recommended!
What I like:
What I don't like:
Images are viewable in the Olympus
PEN E-P1 Sample Photo Gallery.