By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
Olympus is known to photo enthusiasts as being a company that makes excellent lenses and superb bodies, usually offering features in low end models that are only included in their competitor's high-end cameras (built-in stabilization, remote flash control are among these). Its latest Digital PEN is less expensive but just as capable as other interchangeable lens non DSLR cameras.
Olympus seems to have poured all its efforts and research into developing its Micro-Four Thirds line of Digital PEN cameras. These smaller bodies and lenses have all the features of DSLRs except for smaller processors and the lack of a mirror and pentaprism. They released the EP1 Digital PEN and followed it up with the EP2. Both were steel-encased luxury cameras that offered a good set of features plus 720P HD video but at prices over US$1000. Clearly, not cameras for regular consumers.
Then Olympus released the Digital PEN E-PL1, a sub US $650 (with 14-42mm kit lens) camera that has most of the features of its predecessors but also the added versatility of a built-in flash. Granted, the E-PL1 feels a bit cheaper since only the front half of the camera is aluminum (the rear is polycarbonate), it feels a lot lighter. The rear LCD screen has the same high resolution as the earlier Digital PENs but is slightly smaller (2'7 inches compared to 3' inches on the EP1 and EP2.)
The E-PL1, however, is no slouch, A 12-Megapixel camera with access to a growing range of lenses from Olympus and Panasonic plus the capability of using adaptors to use (albeit in manual mode) everything from old Leica M-Mount lenses, OM lenses and even the best that Nikon and Canon has to offer.
We tested the E-PL1 with the included kit lens as well as with Olympus' diminutive 17mm pancake lens and were very pleased with the results. For a camera this size to be able to offer simplicity and complexity and manual control in one package plus the ability to record HD video is quite impressive, specially given the lower cost of ownership.
Will it replace a DSLR? Well that's a good question. We tried to incorporate the E-PL1 into our own workflow in photographing food from restaurants we reviewed. While it worked admirably, we felt the slower shutter-speed, the smaller sensor and maybe our inexperience with the camera produced grainy and unbalanced photos. With our Canon DLSRs we can confidently dial-up the ISO and expect consistenly good results but then, that's comparing apples to oranges. Olympus also provided a recent firmware update that makes autofocus quicker and the camera more reliable.
Give the Olympus E-Pl1 a lot of light and you can really get creative. Olympus offers some in-camera processing. "art filters" which can emulate the look of a plastic Lomo camera, produce a hazy yet dreamy image, replicate a pinhole camera and the best one is. "Diorama" mode that allows you to take aerial photos and make them look like a diorama similar to how some tilt-shift lenses work. Aside from this you get a gamut of "scene" modes, that make it easy for anyone to take well exposed and good looking photos.
Serious amateurs who like cameras with interchangeable lenses but who dread the weight and hassle of carrying their gear on trips now have a viable and lightweight option. For one thing, the E-PL1 looks like a point-and-shoot camera, not a professional DLSR, which means you can sneak it in to more events or places that would otherwise refuse cameras. It is also an ideal backup camera since it can manage reasonably high-quality photos despite its small size..
The third time's the charm for Olympus and its Digital PEN initiative. Priced for consumers but with most of the big-time features of its earlier models, the E-PL1 is a dependable, versatile and fun to use camera for novices and even more experienced shooters. The best camera is the one you have with you and the small yet capable E-PL1 is a camera you'll want to carry all the time.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Black's Photography has a three day sale offering $50.00 off the E-PL1 which makes it available for $599.99 until Friday April 30, 2010.