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)|
|Continuous shooting||3.0 fps |
|3.0 fps |
| 3.2fps |
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
10 JPEG/ 3 raw
|Optional plug-in articulating EVF |
|Optional plug-in articulating EVF |
|Optional Electronic |
|Optional plug-in EVF|
|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|
|LCD||2.7-inch fixed |
|3-inch fixed |
|3-inch fixed touch screen |
|3-inch fixed AMOLED|
|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.
Its fundamental layout remains unchanged. The top dial includes typical manual, semimanual, and preset automatic modes as well as a dedicated movie mode and Art Filters. Olympus' Live Guide, which appears in automatic, provides a user-friendly adjustment interface and shooting tips; it now works with video. I really like that you don't have to be in movie mode to record. The company has expanded its Art Filters to accommodate more variations on each filter. There's also a new Art Frame that you can add in-camera as well as overlay two filters. Real-time Art Filter preview processing can be burdensome for the camera--display refresh slows down to a crawl--so Olympus added a second display mode for Art Filters that provides a lower-quality preview. That ratchets up their usefulness quite a bit.
For shooting, Olympus changed the large buttons and four-way-navigation keys to smaller buttons and a dial for navigation. It looks a lot nicer and I like the dial, but the buttons may be small for some people. The movie record button is also recessed a bit more, to prevent accidental operation.
This newer generation model also supports the more recent version of the accessory connector for an add-on EVF, the new PEN Pal Bluetooth module, and the antenna-like macro light. There's also a ton of advanced features in the camera, but you have to read the manual, and you must turn on the double-secret menu system to know some of them exist. For instance, it's now more flexible for HDR shooting, with up to a seven-frame bracket. Every button on the camera can be redefined. You can hardwire in an exposure shift for each metering mode independently, specify how long many of the adjustment control displays persist, and add copyright information. There are also four slots for saving custom settings, but accessing them seems to be a fairly clunky process as far as I can tell; you can map one to the Fn button, but to use any other but the mapped default you have to go into the menu system. The one feature that would be nice to have is time lapse. (For a full account of the E-PL2's features and operation, download the PDF manual.)
A notable update over the E-PL1, the Olympus PEN E-PL2 delivers better photo quality and performance, as well as a nice shooting experience. But while I'd definitely recommend it to people who want to upgrade from a point-and-shoot to get better overall (and especially low-light) photo quality, it remains a little too sluggish to recommend for shooting active kids and pets.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)