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Olympus E-P1 review: Olympus E-P1

Olympus offers optional adapters for Four Thirds mount lenses (MMF-1) and for the older film OM lenses (MF-2). Surprisingly, shooting with the relatively big and heavy (and pricey) 12-60mm f2.8-4 lens via the adapter felt surprisngly well balanced--usually solutions like these feel clunky--though of course one-handed shooting is out.

Comparison: Similarly priced dSLRs Olympus E-P1 Canon EOS Rebel T1i Nikon D5000
Sensor (effective resolution)
Focal-length multiplier
Color depth
Sensitivity range
Continuous shooting

Video (max resolution at 30fps)
Battery life (CIPA rating)
Dimensions (WHD, inches)
Weight (ounces)
Mfr. Price

Unfortunately, the E-P1's performance, which seems to suffer from a sluggish AF system, cries out for a firmware upgrade. It powers on and shoots in about 2.2 seconds, a reasonable duration. But on CNET's performance tests, shot lag (the time it takes to focus and shoot) with the kit lens in good light runs about 1.3 seconds and rises to 1.6 seconds in dim light. While it doesn't feel quite that slow in practice--if it were, it'd be close to unusable for all but landscapes and still lifes--it still feels slower than it ought to. The lens even keeps moving briefly after the focus-lock beep and indicator signal that it's done. The continuous AF really is continuous; it never stops and locks, even when pointing at a stationary subject. And though it's typical JPEG shot-to-shot time isn't the slowest among the competition--the Canon PowerShot G10 retains that crown--it's still more than twice as slow as most, and its raw shooting is slowest.

While the continuous-shooting speed is pretty good at about 3.3 frames per second, like most LCD- and EVF-based cameras you can only see what you've shot, not what you'd like to shoot. The low-resolution LCD just passes muster. It seems good enough for manual focusing in conjunction with the automatic magnification, but not as useful for judging sharpness for photos you've shot. Plus the short rated battery life (which Olympus erroneously lists as calculated with 50 percent flash usage, though the camera doesn't have a built-in flash) doesn't include shooting any video, a notorious battery drainer and likely a frequently used feature on this camera. And it simply didn't seem to last very long. All together, it adds up to a pretty poor showing in performance.

That's too bad, because I was quite impressed with the photo quality. Metering and exposures are very good; right in the middle, rather than the typical overexposed consumer or underexposed pro defaults. Its dynamic range seems solid, capturing detail in both highlights and shadows without clipping overmuch. Colors render accurately, and the automatic white balance is a lot better than many models of any class, indoors and out. Olympus' TruePic V image processor delivers excellent noise performance for this price class, with clean photos up through ISO 400 and good, only slightly degraded photos at ISO 800 and ISO 1600. While its high ISO performance is better than compact competitors like the Canon PowerShot G10 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3, as well as Micro Four Thirds models like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 and GH1, it's still not up to dSLR competitors like the Canon EOS Rebel T1i or Nikon D5000.

The video isn't great, but it's pretty typical for this class, and it displays many of the same problems that we see with models like the T1i and D5000. It has serious moiré problems, haloing on edges, shimmering and noise in even the faintest of shadow areas, and JPEG compression artifacts from the use of the inefficient Motion JPEG codec. (File size on disk is about 250MB per minute of video, and the playback data rate runs about 34 megabits per second. Video requires a Class 6 SD card.) The continuous AF frequently got confused while shooting video as well, dropping focus and hunting unnecessarily, which complicates the issue. The video from the GH1 is better, though that's a far more expensive camera. The sound is good, as long as you're shooting indoors or on a calm day; as with most of these models, it lacks a wind filter.

Olympus is targeting 3 types of shooters with the E-P1: dSLR owners looking for a compact complement, enthusiast photographers who like that rangefinder feel of compact models like the G10 but who want interchangeable lenses, and snapshooters looking to step up from a point-and-shoot model but who are leery of the bulk of a dSLR. I can't really recommend the E-P1 to folks upgrading from a point-and-shoot, since the biggest motivation there, in addition to wanting better low-light photos, tends to be a desire for better performance to shoot kids, pets and sports. On the latter count, unfortunately, the E-P1 simply doesn't deliver. But, I think the first two groups would be more forgiving of the E-P1's performance--either because they have tricks to compensate or because they have a faster camera somewhere for shooting action--and most appreciative of the design and photo quality.

Shooting speed
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Canon EOS Rebel T1i
Nikon D5000
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1

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