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Customer Review

91 of 100 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Budget Admission into Micro-4/3, February 26, 2010
This review is from: Olympus PEN E-PL1 12.3MP Live MOS Micro Four Thirds Mirrorless Digital Camera with 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 Zuiko Digital Zoom Lens (Champagne Silver) (Electronics)
I just bought the Olympus E-PL1 so this review will be updated once I have truly learned to exploit the cameras ability a bit further. First of all - if I could give it 4.5 stars if this system allowed for it.

If you are looking into this camera, chances are you are like me: you already own a good compact (in my case, among others, the Canon S90, which has very positive reviews for its fast lens and image quality) but you always wonder if you will take better pictures with a bigger, more serious camera. The lure of the bigger sensor, since it promises better results, especially in low light conditions - all the experts say so, right? Then again, a full-blown DSLR seems too big and bulky, and you wonder if you'll really take that thing anywhere. Luckily, vendors came out with the micro-4/3s format, which packs a much larger sensor (5 to 9 times larger than a compact camera's!) into a typically stylish, sleek looking design. Panasonic and Olympus had been offering models that, with lens and all, would set you back around $1,000. A tad too pricey for an experiment. Obviously Olympus set out to truly makes the E-PL1 appeal to the masses with the price point for the E-PL1. I was like, "sure, at least this will not be the most expensive mistake I've ever made".

The camera feels solid. I love its Bauhaus style retro design that supposedly harks back to some very collectible Olympus classic model. Well, I'd never seen one, but I like the looks of the E-PL1. Side by side with its more expensive micro-4/3 competitors (in house from Olympus and the Panasonic) the E-PL1 seems more plasticky and lighter. But compared to a compact it feels like the proverbial metal brick. I picked the silver one (it's also offered in other colors, make sure to pick the one you like so you don't regret it later).

The package is the usual fare - charger for the battery, battery, camera body, the 14-42mm lens, and a few convenient covers for lens openings. Also included a USB cable. A proprietary one, of course, it annoys me that vendors keep doing it, there is absolutely no reason why Olympus should not have used a standard USB cable format. Also a cable to attach the Olympus to your TV. Finally, the usual software package (I own Photoshop, so I do not install the vendors' packaged software) as well as a suitably thick instruction book. Which I will make a point of reading thoroughly, probably more than once. Needless to say, no SDHC card included, and a fast one is recommended. Especially if you shoot RAW (which I admit I just do for 5% of my shots, if that).

The feature set is very impressive, and I shall not bore you cutting and pasting the many modes etc from other places. Everything you'd expect is there: full auto (come on, we don't but a camera like this to leave it in full auto, do we?), P mode (programmable auto, which is what I typically use on the Canon S90 for point and shoot), and aperture and shutter priority. See a list of the specs here (Olympus site, Amazon cuts off links).

But one set is something new and needs to be pointed out - the Art Filter. Very cool for playing around, I immediately played with the Soft Focus and the Diorama mode, very fun effects and very well done. Of course it's stuff you could do in Photoshop later with any picture, but it's also great to have the ability to capture a mood and differentiate your shot in real time. It's a great idea by Olympus so that people can feel like artistic photographers right away within minutes of buying the E-PL1.

The sensor in the camera's body is large, you can take a good look at it when you take the lens off. Which also means it is exposed, so be very aware you need to protect it like your own eye. Talking about the included kit lens, the 14-42mm needs to be multiplied by 2 to arrive at the equivalent 28-84mm range. Which means it is fairly wide at the low range, but a 3x zoom may be very limiting to those used to their 5x and higher in compacts, especially since it starts at 28mm. Focus enthusiasts should mentally factor in the $ for a more powerful lens. As well as its potential size.

First impressions: it starts up very fast, an SLR advantage in general. Ready to shoot right away. Of course, first you must have removed the hood lens and perhaps unlock the lens if you had collapsed it for easier transportation (most pictures you see of the 14-42 lens are in the collapsed compact position - it's quite a bit larger when you take pictures. That makes the speed advantage against a compact more relative. The E-PL1 also focuses and does it's scene evaluation faster than a compact. Not immediately as some larger SLRs, but quite quickly. Since it doesn't have an assisted AF beam, it remains to see how it performs in low light. But the camera's speed seems very good. The LCD is 2.7 inches, meaning it's smaller than the one on my 3 year old Canon G9, but it is a very nice one. And it better be, since you don't have an optical viewfinder (which I admittedly never use on my cameras which offer it).

I know what you are thinking - "Stop telling me the obvious, tell me how it compares against that Canon S90 you also claim to have!". Ok, impatient reader, I have a gallery for you:
[...] [again, Amazon does not allow external links, sorry]
A very important caveat as you look at these shots: I know how to use the Canon S90 and have it set up so it performs in ways I like. But as you can see, that is within limits, and while I could have further optimized the results... I decided not to, because for obvious reasons I do not yet know how to truly go about exploiting the E-PL1's capabilities, which I am sure reach significantly further than these shots reveal. Up to now, I have taken exactly a dozen shots with the E-PL1, so I would suggest you do like me, and take the shots as very inconclusive. The *one* thing that matters is that depth of field shot: the S90 is lauded for having the ability to create depth of field effects, as the f2.0 lens suggests, and as you can tell from that shot, great for a compact camera and all. The Olympus lens spec does not get anywhere near f2.0 because it doesn't have to - the lens and sensors are much bigger, and thus far more light makes it in anyhow. Check it out - the depth of field is much better defined on the E-PL1, it blows the S90 easily away in all aspects of that shot. But I have to admit I was a bit surprised the bigger dynamic range of the bigger sensor wasn't more visible in the contrast rich shots.

But I think one thing you should take away from this is that you probably should not expect to see a *huge* difference in everyday shots between a good compact like the S90, and a camera like the E-PL1 - or a $5,000 full blown DSLR kit, for that matter. What you do get is more flexibility and creative control - not necessarily far more detail and what not, not for your average snapshot. If you like to take difficult shots, different matter. So make sure you buy a camera for the right reasons.

I for one know I am going to like taking pictures with the E-PL1 a lot. I also am already considering buying other lenses, and have already ordered the external flash (the E-PL1 does include a pop-up flash, but it's small and as such probably limited). There it is, the trap of the modular kit - the camera price is just for admission. As I consider lenses, I find myself wondering whether to go for specifically built micro-4/3 lenses, or more generic 4/3... hmmm. If you buy this camera and start buying lenses (there isn't a lot of choice in lenses built specially for this camera, but supposedly a few are coming), you'll have to do the same, and I shall be interested in your thoughts.

The final question you may ask me is "hey you say you like it, why only 4.5 stars?" - like I said, I think it's 4.5 stars, very good. I may update that once I learn to further optimize results and they start to blow me away, which hasn't been the case yet. Probably it was a bit much to expect to be blown away by the difference without having learned the camera more.

PS on 3/20/10... a few weeks into ownership, I *LOVE* this camera and it entirely and totally deserves 5 stars. I changed the default settings, and now to my eye and the eye of people that look at the pictures results are fantastic. I am able to chose utterly sharp or utterly artistic pictures, and the quality of them right away out of the camera is fantastic. I ove the freedom it gives me in lower light situations - it will not challenge a top range Nikon, but it is amazing and far more portable.

I am *VERY* happy with this purchase, and have already bought several lenses to expand on my toolset.

Amazing little camera. I am a huge fan!

These are my preliminary impressions for the E-PL1. I hope to soon read others' too!
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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 26, 2010 6:17:49 PM PST
S. Core says:
Hey, I'd like to look at your gallery of pictures you took but it seems that Amazon automatically redacts any urls within a review. Can you upload the pictures via Amazon's customer images feature?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2010 6:26:47 PM PST
pablolie says:
maybe this will work as a comment...

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 28, 2010 10:35:56 AM PST
Wow, thanks for posting your first thoughts, and especially this comment linking to your gallery. Very informative comparison shots. And seems like you were having fun on your first outing with the new toy!

The comparison that seemed most damning to me was the simple "this one was oversaturated" followed by "I did a quick color correction in Photoshop." I'd want a nice camera to just get color correction right out of the box, for an outdoors, bright-overcast color test! Have you discovered whether there's some default mode you were using, like iEnhance, that "automatically engages when using iAuto to enrich color in any subject." Seems like I'd leave that off if it meant having to color correct a perfect-lighting outdoors shot!

The rest seems really promising. I look forward to any other thoughts you post!

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 1, 2010 11:13:08 AM PST
pablolie says:
Hi Joseph - I have taken more pictures and have not experienced the same issue. My assumption is that it was my mistake, since it was one of the first few pictures I took. I still use the iEnhance mode in P mode for now, and switch to neutral in Aperture and Shutter priority; and in part it is to decide which color cast I prefer. Next up will be to define my sharpness, contrast and shade correction degree with this camera. The more I learn it the more I wish I'd given it 5 starts right away.

Posted on Mar 3, 2010 1:02:36 PM PST
Paul thanks for a good review albeit a bit early. We live in fantastic scenic country up here in the Rockies. However we also take and depend on macro's and extreme close ups and blow ups. Really quite small particles as small as dust at times and all the way up to lima bean sized. What I'm interested in is do you have any experience with THAT DEPTH OF FIELD you refer to in your review with macro or micro pic's. And also would the macro lense improve this or lower the depth of field. I guess I'm a tad nervous about AUTO everything. I can gain some better depth via the digital cameras by taking control manually. We are approaching an upgrade again from the better Digital world with big Optical Zooms and so very interested in this camera's possiblities. It's those dust particles that seem to prevent us from getting the pic's we truly need. Under our scopes they look great but photography via the scope seems to crack when it comes to reality. Software or cameras both do not get us there and I can sometimes do pretty well via digital camera work for the larger sized itty bits but as they go smaller and smaller that is lost due to their size and camera's lack of not being a microscope. What do you think and where did you buy your camera because so far Amazon shows this gold model not available yet. Any insight is appreciated. LAS in Libby MT

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 3, 2010 1:39:19 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 3, 2010 1:45:18 PM PST
pablolie says:
There are online tools to exactly calculate the depth of field effect you will get. As you know, it depends on a number of factors. One thing to keep in mind is that the standard kit lens does not have a real macro functionality (like a compact would). In general, the lower the aperture number, the more of a DOF effect you will get. The kit lens does not have a very impressive capability in that respect, but on the other hand I have to admit at 3.5 performs quite well for the effect (as evidenced by one or two of the shots I posted). The 17mm lens with f2.8 of course allows for far more separation if that is what you seek for. And that's all the m4.3 lenses Olympus sells these days... keep that in mind. The regular 4.3 lenses look *very* bulky on this camera.

And definitely forget auto for DOF effects, the auto modes will try to present the entire pic quite sharply as a rule. You must take manual control - and you can with the E-PL1. I typically pick A mode though when I go for the DOF effect.

Check this new product out (I am not endorsing) if you want to research the discussion on DOF further:
Then again, over $700, yikes...

Posted on Mar 12, 2010 3:35:07 PM PST
iDiotgear says:
So is it any faster to take a pic vs a point n shoot? I have a dlsr because of the speed on demand.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2010 3:40:24 PM PST
pablolie says:
The DSLR is faster than the E-PL1. Well, most of them should be.

Coming from a DSLR focus speed may be bothersome on occasion. Coming from a P&S it will not.

Posted on May 9, 2010 8:24:14 AM PDT
Kami says:
Thanks for your review. I want to know how you compare the quality and sharpness of the kit lens vs S90 lens? Can you take good pictures similar to S90, if you only use the kit lens?
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