Photos and a discussion of the design of the E-PL1, Olympus' latest Micro Four Thirds interchangeable-lens camera. It offers an aggressive price and newbie-friendly features designed to attract point-and-shoot upgraders.
Just a bit over 1.5 cubic inches larger than the E-P1 and E-P2, with a boxier design, the E-PL1's aluminum body nevertheless weighs slightly less than its more expensive siblings. Though I don't think the PL1's design is as elegant as the other two's, it's still attractive, and I like the overall look better than one of its potential competitors, the Canon PowerShot G11. Also, the PL1 includes a pop-up flash, one of the main shortcomings of the other two Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras.
Like the E-P2, the E-PL1 supports an electronic viewfinder (the same one) that plugs into this proprietary accessory port and slips into the hot shoe. Though part of the E-PL1's attraction is its lower price, the unfortunately expensive EVF does make a big difference when shooting in especially bright or dim light, or when you need to hold the camera extra steady. The connector supports different types of accessories, including an add-on microphone adapter (see next slide).
The control layout on the PL1 is quite different from that of the P1 and P2, but should look familiar to anyone who's used an Olympus point-and-shoot--one of the company's primary target markets for the camera. It also outdoes those models by adding a dedicated video record button, and there's also a movie mode on the dial.
For the most part, the PL1 has the same feature set as its siblings. It has six Art Filters like theirs, but replaces Pale and Light Color and Light Tone with Gentle Sepia and Diorama (which mimics the blur-and-miniaturize effect of a tilt/shift lens).
In one of the features intended to attract a less experienced photographer, Olympus includes a Shooting Tips online guide that provides general photographic advice. For instance, the tips for photographing pets include "Get closer to a pet and take a picture from its eye level or lower" and "Focus on pet's eyes. Get attention by food or toys."
To reduce the fear factor of playing with more advanced settings, Olympus' iAuto live guide mode lets you use sliders to adjust background blur (aperture), exposure compensation (brightness), express motions (shutter speed), saturation, and image warmth with live preview.
Though the concept is relatively solid, and one that other manufacturers have been playing with as well, I'm not crazy about the execution; it takes too many button presses. For instance, to change brightness, you must do the following: press Start/OK; arrow down to brightness; press OK; arrow up/down to adjust; press OK. And you can't have multiple settings adjusted simultaneously--in order to get into the saturation settings, for instance, you have to cancel the changes you've made to brightness. Nor does it work with the flash.