CNET First Look
Olympus E-PL2A 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.
Hi, I'm Lori Grunin, senior editor with CNET and this is the Olympus PEN E-PL2. For this model, 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. It delivers better photo quality and an improved shooting experience over its predecessor. The most obvious functional differences to this consumer-focused interchangeable lens model include a larger LCD, multiple variations for some of the art filters, support for the new accessory connector, and a redesign of the buttons. 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 highlights of its predecessor. It's still very well built and sturdy as well as comfortable to grip and shoot. There's one oddity, however. When equipped with the new 14-42 mm MSC lens, the body overbalances a little and wobbles in a "weebly" kind of way. It's not a problem but it is a little disconcerting the first time you put it down and see it. The fundamental layout remains unchanged. The top dial includes typical manual, semi-manual, and preset automatic modes as well as a dedicated movie mode and art filters. Olympus' Live Guide, which appears in automatic mode, provides a user-friendly adjustment interface and shooting tips, and now it works with video. The company has expanded its art filters to accommodate more variations on each filter. Real-time art filter preview processing can be burdensome for the camera. Display refresh slows down to a crawl with some of the filters so Olympus added a second display mode that provides a lower quality preview. That ratchets up the usefulness of those filters 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 really 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. The LCD's a nice upgrade from the previous model. It's bright and crisp and it's much nicer for manual focusing. There's also a ton of advanced features in the camera, but you do have to read the manual and you have to turn on the double secret menu system to know that some of them exist. For instance, it's now more flexible for HDR shooting. It supports up to a seven-frame bracket. There are also four slots for saving custom settings, but accessing them seems to be a pretty clunky process as far as I can tell. You can map one of the presets to the function button, but in order to use any of the others, you have to go into the menu system. The one feature that would be really nice to have is time lapse. In terms of image quality, the E-PL2 has a really nice noise profile. It's not quite as good as the Sony Alpha NEX 5, but that seems to be because the E-PL2's 12-megapixel images, which are lower resolution, tend to lose sharpness more quickly than the NEX 5. You can shoot pretty comfortably up to ISO 800. By ISO 1600, things start to soften and details start to degrade. And, frankly, overall, the E-PL2 offers very nice photo quality, in cases, noticeably better than the E-PL1. Olympus seems to have tweaked the default noise reduction parameters. You lose a little sharpness, but the results look a lot more natural. As long as you don't have small details in the images, photos shot, even at ISO 3200, can be quite usable. 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 it's got considerable rolling shutter wobble in all but stationary scenes. The kit comes bundled with a new version of the 14-42 mm lens. It's designed to operate more quietly when shooting video. It doesn't use any fancy new technologies, just internal focus, but it was quieter. The continuous autofocus, though, is only a bit less inconsistent than the previous system and lens combination, and it still has a tendency to continue hunting even on stationary subjects. One of the nicest surprises in the E-PL2 is its performance improvement, especially given how little the inner hardware has changed. Though I still wouldn't call it a really fast camera, 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 the passable but annoying territory. A notable update over the E-PL1, the E-PL2 delivers better photo quality and performance as well as a nice shooting experience, but while I definitely recommend it to people who want to upgrade from a point-and-shoot to get better overall and especially better low light photo quality, it still remains a little too sluggish to recommend for shooting active kids and pets. I'm Lori Grunin and this is the Olympus PEN E-PL2.