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Olympus E-PL1 review: Olympus E-PL1

The E-PL1 isn't fast enough to accurately capture moving subjects, but as a cheap entry into the Micro Four Thirds format it's a pretty good camera indeed.

Lexy Savvides Principal Video Producer
Lexy is an on-air presenter and award-winning producer who covers consumer tech, including the latest smartphones, wearables and emerging trends like assistive robotics. She's won two Gold Telly Awards for her video series Beta Test. Prior to her career at CNET, she was a magazine editor, radio announcer and DJ. Lexy is based in San Francisco.
Expertise Wearables | Smartwatches | Mobile phones | Photography | Health tech | Assistive robotics Credentials
  • Webby Award honoree, 2x Gold Telly Award winner
Lexy Savvides
5 min read

Design and features

The E-PL1 is styled in a similar manner to the E-P1 and E-P2 before it, though it trades the heavy metal body for a slightly lighter plastic and aluminium construction. Available in a basic black or so-called gold (which looks more like a brushed silver to us), all the dials and controls have been simplified from the earlier cameras. And yes, the E-PL1 addresses one of the biggest bugbears reviewers and photographers had with the previous two Pen series cameras — it has a built-in flash.


Olympus E-PL1

The Good

Pop-up flash. Excellent SLR image quality for the price. Good noise control. HD video recording.

The Bad

Slow autofocus. Small, low-resolution LCD.

The Bottom Line

The E-PL1 isn't fast enough to accurately capture moving subjects, but as a cheap entry into the Micro Four Thirds format it's a pretty good camera indeed.

At AU$999, the E-PL1, which includes the kit 14-42mm lens, is the first Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera to hit the sub-AU$1000 mark. This is a price point usually reserved for entry-level dSLRs and has previously been a stumbling block for the uptake of the format. Panasonic, the other company involved in developing Micro Four Thirds, has also released a similarly priced camera aimed at the same market as the E-PL1, called the Lumix DMC-G10.

E-PL1 vs. Lumix G10
Olympus E-PL1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-G10
12.3-megapixel Live MOS 12.1-megapixel Live MOS
2.7-inch 230,000-dot LCD 3-inch 460,000-dot LCD
HD video (720p) HD video (720p)
Optional electronic viewfinder Electronic viewfinder
3fps continuous shooting speed 3.2fps continuous shooting speed
AU$999 (with 14-42mm lens) AU$999 (with 14-42mm lens)

Including the battery and memory card, the body of the E-PL1 is really light at just 344g. Add the kit 14-42mm lens onto this and that weight increases. In the hand though, the E-PL1 feels sturdy and easy to tote around from bag to beach and back again.

At the top alongside the flash (activated by a dedicated sliding switch just underneath) is a hotshoe, through which a user can attach an external flash or electronic viewfinder, as well as a simplified mode dial, shutter and power button.

Around the back, a 2.7-inch LCD at 230,000 dots is accompanied by an array of buttons and menu options. The LCD is the same low resolution as the E-P1 and E-P2, but because it's physically smaller, it's more noticeable.

Inside the camera, image stabilisation is a part of the body rather than the lens. In theory this means that any lens is stabilised when attached to the camera. The E-PL1 uses a 12.3 Live MOS sensor and accepts SDHC (though not SDXC) cards.

Art filters have been streamlined to six (Pop Art, Soft Focus, Grainy Film, Pin Hole, Diorama and Gentle Sepia) and picture modes include i-Enhance, Vivid, Natural, Portrait, Muted and Monotone. In a rather splendid move, Olympus has allowed photographers to shoot in JPEG+RAW in all scene and photo modes.

E-PL1 image sample

An example of the Grainy Film art filter on the E-PL1. (Credit: Alexandra Savvides/CNET Australia)

The Live Guide is an interactive instruction menu that is designed to help beginner photographers understand the finer aspects of photography in simple language and terminology. There is a depth of field slider (used to control aperture) that is used to blur or sharpen backgrounds in lieu of the photographer using aperture priority mode.

Olympus E-PL1 Live Guide

The Olympus E-PL1 Live Guide. (Credit: Olympus)

As is the case with most cameras appearing on the market today, the E-PL1 wouldn't be complete without HD video recording. There's a dedicated record button at the back which allows for instant one-touch filming at 720p, though rather curiously the maximum recording time is limited to seven minutes.


It's not surprising that the E-PL1 is slow; after all, its predecessors attempted to set new records in their autofocus and continuous shooting speed lags. However, it seems this camera may have beaten them at their own game. The E-PL1 takes an absolute age to find focus and lock on in anything less than the most well-lit situations.

From start-up to first shot it takes 1.8 seconds, which isn't altogether bad, but things take a turn for the worse when autofocus comes into play. In decent lighting it took 0.9 second to focus, and in dim lighting that extended to 1.4 seconds.

It's somewhat unfortunate that for the types of users Olympus is targeting the E-PL1 towards, the camera is just too slow for a lot of shooting situations (for example, sports photography, or capturing fast moving kids or pets). Olympus rates the battery of the E-PL1 at 290 shots, which is fairly low considering this camera's direct competitor, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G10, can take 380 shots on one charge.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Raw shot-to-shot time Typical shot-to-shot time Shutter lag (dim) Shutter lag (typical)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1
Canon PowerShot G11
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
Olympus E-P2
Olympus E-PL1
Olympus E-P1

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)


Image quality

Overall, it's hard not to be impressed by the image quality from the E-PL1. Using the kit 14-42mm lens, the E-PL1 is on par with digital SLRs around the same price bracket and delivers very similar images to the E-P1 and E-P2. It's good to see Olympus hasn't sacrificed image quality in light of the cheaper price.

E-PL1 image sample

An example of the Sepia art filter on the E-PL1. (Credit: Alexandra Savvides/CNET Australia)

Colour accuracy is very good, with the E-PL1 favouring punchy but not overly saturated hues. Noise control is also very good, with even ISO 1600 producing a perfectly acceptable, usable shot with only minimal noise. Detail becomes a little smeared but it's nothing at all to worry about unless making large prints with high ISO images is a prerequisite.

E-PL1 image sample

A 100 per cent crop of an image taken at ISO 1600. (Credit: Alexandra Savvides/CNET Australia)

Dynamic range is excellent, though in tricky lighting situations the best results are achieved by turning on the i-Enhance picture mode to help alleviate some of the issues with blown highlights and areas of sharp light and dark contrasts.

Video quality is great considering the limitations of the kit lens (ie, slow maximum aperture and autofocus speed). There's no full manual control in movie mode, but it is possible to set exposure compensation and aperture.

As with the E-P1 and E-P2, the included art filters are a lot of fun, with the E-PL1 previewing the effect on-screen before the photo is taken. For most of the filters (apart from Pop Art), the LCD does struggle to keep up with the action, which can be a bit frustrating. Regardless, we're glad the live preview is there and doubt that this camera's target market will be troubled by it.


Olympus attempts to address the biggest concern facing photographers who wish to step up from a compact camera to a more robust interchangeable lens system: price. At AU$999, the E-PL1 will be very tempting for many photographers looking at a digital SLR but are put off by the weight and size. Though it's not ideal for fast-moving subjects, the E-PL1 will satisfy many photographers.