Olympus PEN E-PL7 review: Olympus E-PL7 proves itself a quite likeable camera

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The Good With its flexible display, great set of controls and generally streamlined design, the Olympus PEN E-PL7 hits quite a few high notes.

The Bad It might be a little too complicated for newbies, and the grip could be bigger.

The Bottom Line A likeable interchangeable-lens model, the Olympus PEN E-PL7's overall package makes an attractive alternative to an advanced compact and has quite a bit to offer as a first ILC.

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

Olympus' replacement for the 2-year-old PEN E-PL5 may look similar to its predecessor, but Olympus made a lot of significant changes for the E-PL7, mostly to incorporate newer technology that's since debuted in its OM-D line of interchangeable-lens cameras. (Asia and the UK got a very minor update a year ago, the E-PL6.) And though I may quibble with some of the individual parts, I like the whole camera in general, and enjoy shooting stills with it for all but action.

Enhancements include an updated autofocus system and imaging engine, a better LCD that flips down, broader remote control options, two new art filter effects and a tweaked design.

Note that the available kits differ depending upon region: the US gets the old 14-42mm collapsible lens (28-84mm equivalent), while the UK gets both that and a kit with the newer 14-42mm power zoom lens, which makes it a more compact overall camera. Olympus Australia still hasn't posted official price on its website, but it's available for preorder in a kit with the power zoom lens for AU$800. Also, the US only has the black or black and silver models, while white is an option in some other locations, including the UK.

In the US, the kit runs $700 and $600 for the body. In the UK, it's £500 for the pancake zoom kit, £400 for the larger lens kit and £350 for the body.

Image quality

There are really no surprises in the E-PL7's photo quality; it uses the same sensor and image processing as the E-M10. As you'd expect, the photos are noticeably better than a 1-inch sensor, like that of the Canon PowerShot G7 X , but not quite as good as ones from a comparably priced APS-C ILC like the Sony A6000 . (Caveat: I haven't got any directly comparable test photos yet for the latter, but I've seen enough photos from them all to make an educated extrapolation.)

If you peer really closely at the images, you can start to see some mushiness set in at ISO 400, but for the most part the JPEGs look clean up and sharp through ISO 800. That said, they stay reasonably good through ISO 1600; after that out-of-focus detail looks degraded rather than blurry. Processing the raw version only really changes the look of the artifacts -- grainy instead of smeary.

In addition, the E-PL7 seems to clip highlights much more than expected. For instance, drops of water completely blew out to white in many of my test photos, in conditions where you wouldn't expect that to happen (moderate, even lighting at several low ISO sensitivities).

On the other hand, the rendered color and white balance of JPEGs is quite good -- almost dead-on neutral -- in part because the camera defaults to a neutral color profile. If you want more saturation, pop and contrast, those options are available as well.

The video quality is just OK, however. It's fine for short vacation clips and other casual movies, but overall it's got more artifacts than I like.

Analysis samples

(Unless you view the samples at their full 770-pixel width they won't look right.)
Low ISO sensitivity JPEGs look fine, though you can see just a little detail start to degrade starting at ISO 400. Lori Grunin/CNET
Depending upon the subject, lighting, and how large you're viewing it the photo, you can still get away with using ISO 25600. Lori Grunin/CNET
The E-PL7 defaults to a neutral color profile, and the automatic white balance is very good. Lori Grunin/CNET


Note: We recently changed our testing methodology so the results aren't comparable with previous testing. Until we have more cameras tested under the new system in this category, we won't be posting performance charts.

Overall, E-PL7 turned in some pretty good performance scores, although it didn't seem quite as fast in practice. It takes 0.8 second to power on, focus and shoot, and that is how it feels in normal use. In good light, it takes 0.3 second to focus and shoot and 0.4 second in dim. The focus lock didn't feel quite as zippy when latching on to a moving target, however. Two sequential shots, either raw or JPEG, run 0.3 second, though that rises by 2 seconds with the slow flash recycle.

With autofocus, the camera manages about 3.6fps in burst mode, for a solid depth of 37 shots. The tracking AF isn't really up to quickly moving subjects, however.

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