Olympus E-PL2 review: Olympus E-PL2

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The Good The E-PL2 delivers excellent photo quality, with an extremely customizable interface.

The Bad Performance has improved, but the E-PL2 still couldn't be classified as fast overall.

The Bottom Line A great interchangeable-lens model if you're looking for better photo quality and/or a more advanced feature set than your current point-and-shoot offers, the Olympus PEN E-PL2 still doesn't satisfy for photographing active kids and pets.

7.7 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 8

For its E-PL2, Olympus makes some design and feature enhancements, as well as performance tweaks, to its PEN E-PL1 Micro Four Thirds camera. The result is a noticeably better camera, delivering better photo quality and an improved shooting experience than its predecessor. The most obvious functional differences to this consumer-focused interchangeable-lens camera (ILC) include a larger LCD, multiple variations for some of the Art Filters, support for the new accessory connector, and redesign of the buttons. It also supports an extra stop of sensitivity, up to ISO 6400.

While ISO 6400 may be mostly unusable--typical of most consumer cameras, the top ISO sensitivity is more of a marketing feature than a real tool--the E-PL2 has a very nice noise profile. It's not quite as good as the Sony Alpha NEX-5, but that seems to be because the lower-resolution images lose sharpness more quickly rather than higher noise incidence. You can shoot pretty comfortably up through ISO 800. At ISO 1600 things start to soften and detail starts to degrade, and color artifacts become readily apparent at ISO 3200. Nor does it clip the shadows as much as a lot of other cameras at higher ISO sensitivities.

Overall, the E-PL2 delivers very nice photo quality, in cases noticeably better than the E-PL1. Olympus seems to have tweaked its default noise reduction parameters: you lose a little sharpness, but the results look more natural. As long as you don't have small details in the image, photos shot even at ISO 3200 can be quite usable. The color rendition remains excellent--what little color I could find in the February New York City landscape--and it seems as if the metering has been improved to produce slightly brighter exposures under similar lighting conditions.

The video quality remains satisfactory, but not great; there are a decent set of manual controls for shooting movies, as well as Art Filter support, but there's considerable rolling shutter wobble in all but stationary scenes. The kit comes bundled with a new version of the 14-42mm lens, dubbed MSC, which is designed to operate more quietly when shooting video--it doesn't use any fancy new technologies, just internal focus. And it is quieter. But the continuous autofocus is only a bit less inconsistent than the system of older lens and PEN cameras, with a tendency to continue hunting even on stationary subjects. The lens has a bayonet mount on the front as well for filters and add-ons; Olympus will be adding a line of these types of accessories.

The performance improvement was one of the E-PL2's nicest surprises, especially given how little the inner hardware has changed. Though I still wouldn't say the camera's fast, Olympus has brought its autofocus speed up to where it should be; unfortunately, the image processing still bogs it down somewhat, keeping shot-to-shot times in passable-but-annoying territory. It's relatively zippy on start-up--0.8 second to power on, focus, and shoot--and its shot lag of 0.4 second in bright light and 0.7 second in dim brings it right into line with the faster cameras in its class. But while it's faster than previous PEN models at firing two sequential shots, its 1.3-second shot-to-shot time (1.7 seconds with flash) is still on the high side. And despite a respectable 3.1fps burst rate, the autofocus system hasn't improved enough to keep up satisfactorily with a moving subject.

The LCD is a nice upgrade from the earlier models, bright and crisp, and better for manual focusing.

Olympus E-PL1 Olympus E-PL2 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 Samsung NX100
Sensor (effective resolution) 12.3-megapixel Live MOS 12.3-megapixel Live MOS 12.1-megapixel Live MOS 14.6-megapixel CMOS
17.3mm x 13mm 17.3mm x 13mm 17.3mm x 13mm 23.4mm x 15.6mm
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 3200 ISO 100 - ISO 6400 ISO 100 - ISO 6400 ISO 100 - ISO 3200/6400 (expanded)
Focal-length multiplier 2x 2x 2x 1.5x
Continuous shooting 3.0 fps
3.0 fps
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
3.0 fps
10 JPEG/ 3 raw
(effective magnification)
Optional plug-in articulating EVF
1,440,000 dots
Optional plug-in articulating EVF
1,440,000 dots
Optional Electronic
Optional plug-in EVF
201,000 dots
Autofocus 11-area contrast AF 11-area contrast AF 23-area contrast AF 15-point contrast AF
Metering 324 area 324 area 144 zone 247 segment
Shutter 60-1/2000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes 60-1/2000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes 60-1/4000 sec; bulb to 4 minutes 30-1/4000 sec.; bulb to 8 minutes
Flash Yes Yes Yes Add-on only
LCD 2.7-inch fixed
230,000 dots
3-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed touch screen
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed AMOLED
921,000 dots
Image stabilization Sensor shift Sensor shift Optical Optical
Video (max resolution at 30fps) 720p Motion JPEG AVI 720p Motion JPEG AVI 1080/60i/50i @ 17, 13 Mbps
720/60p @17, 13 Mbps AVCHD or Motion JPEG QuickTime MOV
720p H.264 MPEG-4
Audio Mono; Mic input Mono; Mic input Stereo Mono
Battery life (CIPA rating) 290 shots n/a 300 shots 420 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches) 4.5 x 2.8 x 1.6 4.5 x 2.8 x 1.6 4.4 x 2.7 x 1.3 4.7 x 2.8 x 1.4
Weight (ounces) 12.4 12.4 11 11 (est)
Mfr. Price $449.99 (body only) n/a $499.95 (body only, est) n/a
$499.99 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens) $599.99 (with 14-42mm II lens) $599.95 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens) $499.99 (est, with 20-50mm f3.5-5.6 i-Function lens)
$699.00 (with 14-42mm and 40-150mm lenses) $799.99 (with 14-42mm and 40-150mm lenses) n/a $599.00 (with 50-200mm lens)
$899.99 (with 14-150mm lens) n/a $699.95 (with 14mm f2.5 lens) n/a
Ship date March 2010 January 2011 January 2011 October 2010

The body design and shape is fundamentally the same as the E-PL1, but I like the E-PL2's all black a little better than the black with silver of its predecessor. It's still very well built and sturdy, and it managed to survive an accidental fall off my desk. There's one oddity, however; equipped with the 14-42mm msc kit lens, the body overbalances and wobbles in a Weebles kind of way. Not a problem, but a little disconcerting when you put it down.

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