The pen may be mightier than the sword, but this Pen is mini-er. The new Olympus Pen E-PM1, or Pen Mini, is the first of a new branch of the lens-swapping Pen range. It's one of the smallest interchangeable-lens cameras going, and one of the friendliest in a range of cheerful colours.
The 12-megapixel Pen Mini goes on sale in the autumn, with a versatile 14-42mm kit lens. Prices will be revealed nearer the time.
It's based on the Micro Four Thirds format and uses Micro Four Thirds lenses, a range of standard-sized glass that gives you different effects for different situations. Panasonic also makes cameras and lenses that use the Micro Four Thirds format, so there's plenty of choice when you're swapping in lenses.
Micro Four Thirds cameras aren't as big as traditional lens-swapping dSLRs. They miss out the mirror mechanism inside, but don't give up any of the features or flexibility, so they're suited to use both as a versatile back-up for seasoned photographers and a lightweight option for amateurs looking to get serious. The main drawback of Micro Four Thirds is that the sensor is smaller than in a dSLR, but it's still much larger than the sensor found in most compact cameras.
They're very friendly to use, designed for budding snappers who want to start off with everything in automatic mode and hopefully learn more about photography as they explore the settings and features on offer.
To help beginners achieve high-quality photos, the Pen Mini's Live Guide feature offers handy suggestions that appear on screen to explain your options. These explain different photo effects and techniques in simple terms, so you don't need to understand the complex photographic principles to still come up with professional images.
For example, when you want a pleasing blurry background to make your photo stand out, you don't need to understand aperture and depth of field, as a simple slider on the screen lets you adjust the background blur. Other options that can be adjusted quickly and easily include colour intensity, lighting mood and motion blur.
You can add special effects to your photos too, and you can see how they'll turn out before you even take the picture. Special effects include vibrant pop art, soft focus and vintage sepia tones. Effects can be added to both stills and video.
Video is 1080i high definition at 60 frames per second. There's a dedicated video button and HDMI output so you can watch your movies on your hi-def TV too.
The camera can snap up to 5 pictures per second for shooting fast-moving action. It has image stabilisation built in to cut down on blurred pictures from shaky hands.
Multi-coloured swap shop
The Pen Mini is about as small as the lens size will allow. The sleek frame comes in black, white, silver, dark brown, purple and pink. Each camera comes with a matching lens ring so you can decorate standard lenses to match your camera. That's probably the widest choice of colours for a lens-swapping snapper, which usually come in conservative black or one or two other colours.
Olympus has put style at the forefront of the Pen range with the kitsch retro styling of the Pen E-PL3 and E-P3, but the PM1 is much more modern-looking. Unfortunately, there's no grip for your right hand, which may be a problem if you've got a larger, heavier lens on the front.
At the top of the camera is a hotshoe to which you can attach a flash, viewfinder or other accessories, including a wireless unit that sends photos to a computer or the Web without needing a cable. The lack of viewfinder or flash built-in means you can only choose one or the other, although a tilting flash is included with the camera, so you don't have to fork out more money to shed more light on a subject.
The Olympus Pen Mini E-PM1's cuddly name and rainbow of colourful options make it perhaps the most beginner-friendly of the lens-swapping cameras on the market. The slimmed-down design is hobbled, however, by the fact you need to bolt on accessories such as a flash or viewfinder on the top.
Edited by Nick Hide