Olympus E-P1 review: Olympus E-P1

For such a compact model, the 14-42mm (28mm-84mm equivalent) kit lens can be pretty sharp. It does a lot better at macro distances--and can focus pretty close--than at traditional ones, however. Overall, it delivers about the same shooting experience as the 18-55mm lenses from Canon and Nikon, with the exception of manual focus. Though the manual focus rings on those lenses don't feel particularly fluid, they at least use a traditional geared mechanical operation. Like its Micro Four Thirds counterparts from Panasonic, the Olympus uses a servoelectronic ring, resulting in the infinite rotation experience; it's not bad, just relatively loose and imprecise and takes some getting used to. The way you can retract the lens into itself when not in use is quite ingenious, however, and makes the difference between being able to slip the camera into a large jacket pocket and requiring a carrying case. Of course, if you're looking for the most compact solution, you'll have to opt for the aforementioned 17mm lens, which also has the advantage of a wider maximum aperture.

Olympus offers optional adapters for Four Thirds mount lenses (MMF-1) and for the older film OM lenses (MF-2). Surprisingly, shooting with the relatively big and heavy (and pricey) 12-60mm f2.8-4 lens via the adapter felt surprisngly well balanced--usually solutions like these feel clunky--though of course one-handed shooting is out.

Comparison: Similarly priced dSLRs Olympus E-P1 Canon EOS Rebel T1i Nikon D5000
Sensor (effective resolution) 17.3mm x 13mm 12.3-megapixel Live MOS 14.9mm x 22.3mm 15.1-megapixel CMOS 15.8mm x 23.6mm 12.3-megapixel CCD
Focal-length multiplier 2x 1.6x 1.5x
Color depth 12 bits 14 bits 12 bits
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 6,400 ISO 100 - ISO 3,200/ISO 12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 (expanded)/ISO 200 - ISO 3,200/ISO 6,400 (expanded)
Continuous shooting 3.0 fps
n/a JPEG/10 raw
3.4fps
170 JPEG/9 raw
4 fps
9 raw/100 JPEG (medium/fine)
Viewfinder None Optical Optical
Autofocus 11-area contrast AF 9-area phase detect AF (contrast AF in Live View) 11-area phase detect AF (contrast AF in Live View)
Metering 324 zone 35 zone 420 pixel RGB sensor 3D Color Matrix Metering II
Shutter 60-1/4000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes 1/4000 sec. to 30 sec.; bulb 1/4000 sec. to 30 sec; bulb
LCD 230,000 dots, 3-inch fixed 920,000 dots, 3-inch fixed 230,000 dots, 2.7-inch articulated
Video (max resolution at 30fps) 1280x720 Motion JPEG AVI 1280x720 H.264 MOV No 30fps mode; 1280x720 24fps Motion JPEG AVI
Battery life (CIPA rating) 300 shots 400 shots 400 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches) 4.7 x 2.8 x 1.4 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.4 5.0 x 4.1 x 3.1
Weight (ounces) 13.9 18.6 21.6
Mfr. Price $749.99 (body)
$799.99 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens)
$899.99 (with 17mm f2.8 lens and optical viewfinder)
$799.99 (body est.)
$899.99 (with 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens)
$729.95 (body)
$849.99 (est. with 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens)

Unfortunately, the E-P1's performance, which seems to suffer from a sluggish AF system, cries out for a firmware upgrade. It powers on and shoots in about 2.2 seconds, a reasonable duration. But on CNET's performance tests, shot lag (the time it takes to focus and shoot) with the kit lens in good light runs about 1.3 seconds and rises to 1.6 seconds in dim light. While it doesn't feel quite that slow in practice--if it were, it'd be close to unusable for all but landscapes and still lifes--it still feels slower than it ought to. The lens even keeps moving briefly after the focus-lock beep and indicator signal that it's done. The continuous AF really is continuous; it never stops and locks, even when pointing at a stationary subject. And though it's typical JPEG shot-to-shot time isn't the slowest among the competition--the Canon PowerShot G10 retains that crown--it's still more than twice as slow as most, and its raw shooting is slowest.

While the continuous-shooting speed is pretty good at about 3.3 frames per second, like most LCD- and EVF-based cameras you can only see what you've shot, not what you'd like to shoot. The low-resolution LCD just passes muster. It seems good enough for manual focusing in conjunction with the automatic magnification, but not as useful for judging sharpness for photos you've shot. Plus the short rated battery life (which Olympus erroneously lists as calculated with 50 percent flash usage, though the camera doesn't have a built-in flash) doesn't include shooting any video, a notorious battery drainer and likely a frequently used feature on this camera. And it simply didn't seem to last very long. All together, it adds up to a pretty poor showing in performance.

That's too bad, because I was quite impressed with the photo quality. Metering and exposures are very good; right in the middle, rather than the typical overexposed consumer or underexposed pro defaults. Its dynamic range seems solid, capturing detail in both highlights and shadows without clipping overmuch. Colors render accurately, and the automatic white balance is a lot better than many models of any class, indoors and out. Olympus' TruePic V image processor delivers excellent noise performance for this price class, with clean photos up through ISO 400 and good, only slightly degraded photos at ISO 800 and ISO 1600. While its high ISO performance is better than compact competitors like the Canon PowerShot G10 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3, as well as Micro Four Thirds models like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 and GH1, it's still not up to dSLR competitors like the Canon EOS Rebel T1i or Nikon D5000.

The video isn't great, but it's pretty typical for this class, and it displays many of the same problems that we see with models like the T1i and D5000. It has serious moiré problems, haloing on edges, shimmering and noise in even the faintest of shadow areas, and JPEG compression artifacts from the use of the inefficient Motion JPEG codec. (File size on disk is about 250MB per minute of video, and the playback data rate runs about 34 megabits per second. Video requires a Class 6 SD card.) The continuous AF frequently got confused while shooting video as well, dropping focus and hunting unnecessarily, which complicates the issue. The video from the GH1 is better, though that's a far more expensive camera. The sound is good, as long as you're shooting indoors or on a calm day; as with most of these models, it lacks a wind filter.

Olympus is targeting 3 types of shooters with the E-P1: dSLR owners looking for a compact complement, enthusiast photographers who like that rangefinder feel of compact models like the G10 but who want interchangeable lenses, and snapshooters looking to step up from a point-and-shoot model but who are leery of the bulk of a dSLR. I can't really recommend the E-P1 to folks upgrading from a point-and-shoot, since the biggest motivation there, in addition to wanting better low-light photos, tends to be a desire for better performance to shoot kids, pets and sports. On the latter count, unfortunately, the E-P1 simply doesn't deliver. But, I think the first two groups would be more forgiving of the E-P1's performance--either because they have tricks to compensate or because they have a faster camera somewhere for shooting action--and most appreciative of the design and photo quality.

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 Rebel T1i
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 

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Jul 1, 2009
  • Optical Zoom 3 x
  • Optical Sensor Type High speed Live MOS
  • Sensor Resolution 12.3 Megapixel
  • Image Stabilizer optical (image sensor shift mechanism)
  • Optical Sensor Size 13.0 x 17.3mm