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Olympus E-PL1 review: Olympus E-PL1

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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.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

8.0 Overall

Review Sections

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.

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
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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
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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
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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.

Performance

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.

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