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>> Hi, I'm Lauri Grunin, senior editor for CNET, and this is the Olympus EPL1. With this model, Olympus is trying lure step-up snap-shooters away from entry-level SLRs to interchangeable-lens micro four-thirds. This model has more consumer-friendly design and price than its nichier EP1 and EP2 siblings. The EPL1 takes its design cues from digital cameras like the Canon PowerShot G series and Panasonic Lumix LX models. The plastic and aluminum body doesn't feel quite as tank-like as the EP models, but it feels sturdy with a relatively large, comfortable grip. The control layout and operation will be familiar to anyone who's shot with one of the advanced Olympus cameras like the mega-zooms. It's got a few different interfaces, two of which are identical to its siblings. An info button cycles through a few display choices, including detailed current settings, selectable thumbnail previews of exposure or white balance compensation and a grid display. You can also pull up Olympus' typical super control panel: an over-stuffed display from which you can adjust most frequently needed shooting settings, plus some not-so-frequently used ones. There's a much more useful simplified version in which you cycle around the outer edge of the display to adjust things like shutter speed, aperture, drive mode, image stabilization mode, metering, auto focus mode and auto focus target. Since Olympus is more overtly targeting those who aren't quite ready to leave the comfort zone of a point-and-shoot, the company adds a third operational interface in iAUTO mode. Rather than simply disabling all the adjustments as many cameras do, you can use sliders to adjust background blur, brightness, motion, saturation and image warmth all with a live preview. It bolsters this feature with shooting tips, which provide general photographic advice. I like the idea of this interface, but the implementation is kind of annoying. And you can't have multiple settings adjusted simultaneously. For instance, in order to get into the saturation settings, you have to cancel the changes you've made to brightness. Despite its entry-level leanings, the camera does offer a complete manual, semi-manual and preset auto feature set, as well as the full set of capabilities you'd expect for the price. I've got no complaints about the photo quality.
The EPL1 delivers excellent noise performance on par with most similarly priced DSLRs, though it doesn't match the noise leader, the Pentax K-x. You can shoot pretty comfortably up through ISO 800. At ISO 1600, things start to soften and detail starts to degrade under color noise. Olympus' default noise reduction for its JPEGs is pretty good and tends to be a little sharper than its default settings for RAW, which err on the side of too much color noise. Like its line mates, the EPL1 has quite a good dynamic range and delivers excellent color accuracy. Though a bit overly saturated, there's little hue shift.
With sharpness set to normal, which is the default in natural picture mode, the EPL1 renders crisp but not over-sharpened details. The video quality and the shooting features in video are pretty typical for its class. You can't set shutter speed, but you can set aperture manually, which controls blur. But it's also got an easily confused auto focus and a loud lens, which makes shooting more of a project than most point-and-shooters will probably like. In fact, the EPL1's only significant flaw is its auto focus performance. But that's a biggie. It takes almost a second to focus and shoot under optimal conditions. Though the burst performance is quite class-competitive at 3.3 frames per second, the auto focus just can't keep up. And as with the EP2, it just isn't very good for shooting basic kids and pets-type action. And it's also got the same short battery life as its siblings. Olympus positions the EPL1 as an alternative to an entry-level SLR for people who want to step up from a point-and-shoot. But one of the main reasons those people wanna upgrade is because most snapshot cameras aren't speedy enough to photograph kids and pets. And if that's your reason, then this camera's sluggish performance precludes me from recommending it.
If, however, you're among those who just want the better image quality that comes from a larger sensor and/or the flexibility of interchangeable lenses in a relatively compact design, the EPL1 is certainly priced right compared with its siblings. Mostly it's a great alternative for people who want the EP2, but don't wanna spend the money. But it's also got two potentially strong competitors that we haven't tested yet: the Samsung NX10 and the Panasonic DMC-G10.
I'm Laurie Grunin and this is the Olympus EPL1.
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