Olympus Pen E-PL1 review: Olympus Pen E-PL1

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Typical Price: £550.00

Olympus Pen E-PL1

(Part #: CNETOlympus Pen E-PL1)
4.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

5 stars 1 user review

The Good Impressive design and handling; excellent image quality; smashing video-recording features.

The Bad Buttons feel rather cheap; shonky contracting-lens mechanism.

The Bottom Line The Olympus Pen E-PL1 is cheaper and more plasticky than the Pen E-P1 and Pen E-P2, and ought to be worse -- but it's not. It handles better and does more, thanks to its built-in flash. It's a Micro Four Thirds camera for the masses, and about time too

8.8 Overall
CNET Editors' Choice May '10

Olympus launched its Micro Four Thirds  range with the prestigious Pen E-P1 and Pen E-P2 models, which traded heavily on the company's film-camera heritage. The new, 12.3-megapixel Pen E-PL1, however, is the version for the man and woman on the street. It's more cheaply made, so it's less expensive, at around £550 with the 14-42mm kit lens. It's also more basic -- or is it?

Cheaper but more cheerful
You might imagine that Olympus would have dropped a few features with its lower-cost Micro Four Thirds camera. A quick check of the exterior reveals fewer controls and a more plasticky finish.

But, when you actually look at what the camera has and what it does, a different picture emerges. In fact, the E-PL1 does everything the others do, as well as offering a built-in flash. The flash isn't that powerful compared to a digital SLR's, but it's as good as anything you'll find on a compact camera, and it's always good to have one for emergencies, even if you don't use it that much.

With rich, dense colours and great definition, the E-PL1 matches any digital SLR for image quality, even at high ISOs. The quality drops slightly at ISO 3,200, but it's excellent at ISO 1,600 (click image to enlarge)

The E-PL1 really does feel quite different to the E-P1 and E-P2. The plastic construction is initially rather disappointing, but the camera is lighter, narrower and taller, and handles rather better than the other two.

It's the same story with the controls. They're more basic and more cheaply made, but they're actually much more efficient. Olympus has ditched the two rather awkward rotary controllers seen on the E-P1 and E-P2 and used straightforward, four-way navigation buttons instead. They're clear and simple, and work better. Changing the shutter speed and aperture in manual mode, for example, means pressing buttons instead of spinning dials, but that's no great hardship.

The E-PL1 has a built-in flash, unlike its predecessors

The 720p high-definition movie mode is rather good too, because it offers full manual control over shutter speed, aperture and focusing. You have to remember to set the autofocus to continuous mode before you start shooting if you want to use it, and you have to dip into the menus to choose the exposure mode, but all that's quickly learned. The result is an excellent stills camera that's also an HD camcorder suitable for seasoned video enthusiasts. You can shoot full-resolution stills in the middle of a clip, too.

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