The Micro Four Thirds camera system has been a tough sell to some, so the designers of the Olympus E-P1 have looked to the past to explain things: a simpler, happier time, perhaps? But under the retro surface the E-P1 is looking to the future.
Our colleagues at CNET UK took the E-P1 out on a shooting tour of Berlin (lucky things) to get a feel for the company's first entry to the Micro Four Thirds range. It's a very different beast to Panasonic's Lumix G1 and GH1 — the GH1 especially is a bleeding-edge behemoth packing everything in, while the E-P1 is a stripped-down, simple-to-use snapper aimed at the family market.
In theory, anyway. So does the E-P1 hark back to an altogether more innocent age of happy snapping? That's the idea of the retro styling, with its leather-effect grip in black or champagne colours. It won't be for everyone, but if we're honest we think the E-P1's kitsch look edges the Panasonic cameras' blocky, mute-toned stormtrooper looks.
For low-light shooting, sensitivity goes up to ISO 6400. This is important because there's no built-in flash, so when you're in the dark you'll need to make the most of higher ISO speeds. In-body optical image stabilisation keeps the shakes to a minimum, and being built in it will work with any lens — although not for video.
Click through our gallery for our thoughts on the E-P1's usability, and see the camera from all angles.
Under the surface, the E-P1 packs a 12.3-megapixel Live MOS sensor and TruePic V image processor. This makes it capable of shooting 3 frames per second in JPEG or raw format, up to 14 raw shots. In burst modes and video, the camera can preview art filters such as pop art or stylised black and white, but the increased processing limits the shooting rate, or clip length. Video is 720p high definition, with up to five minutes of 30fps HD footage in each clip, and the option to capture stills while shooting.
The 3-inch screen is gloriously clear and sharp. You can preview art filters and effects on-screen when shooting both stills and video. We struggled without a viewfinder, but manual focus is aided by a feature that magnifies the centre of the screen, so you can check your image is crisp. We found the two scroll wheels took some getting used to, but the menu systems are straightforward.
The mode wheel offers access to manual, program, aperture and shutter priorities, automatic, scene, art filter and video modes.
The 14-42mm kit lens has a switch on the side to fold it up small for transport. It makes the camera more portable, but it also means that when you switch the camera on you have to remember to extend the lens by hand, or you get an annoying error message.
Here's the camera with the white casing. The E-P1 is also available in silver and black.
Here's the HDMI connection for outputting video.
The E-P1 records to SD and SDHC cards.
This is the M. Zuiko 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 lens that comes in the first kit. You can also get an adapter to mount any full-sized Four Thirds lens.
This is the 17mm 1:2.8 pancake lens that comes in a kit with an external viewfinder, for mounting in the hotshoe.
With the pancake lens in use the E-P1, and the Micro Four Thirds system, comes into its own. It's ridiculously small.
This is the flash accessory. The E-P1 doesn't include a built-in flash or even a focus-assist light.
The flash accessory offers many more options than a built-in flash. It's rather plastic-y though.
Given overseas pricing of US$749 (body only) and US$799 for the single lens kit, it's certainly pricey for a camera aimed at the family user rather than the serious enthusiast. Stay tuned for local pricing.