Olympus PEN E-P1 Review

Olympus PEN E-P1 Review


We knew it was coming but it still surprised many when Olympus threw away the last vestiges of a single lens reflex camera in a digital snapper that otherwise could have been called a DSLR.

Olympus E-P1+17mm_Front_Sl.jpg

Into the new PEN went the 4/3rds inch Micro Four Thirds Live MOS sensor. Out went the mirror box. Onto it went a large 7.6cm LCD screen. No optical viewfinder and no onboard flash. Quite a revolution.

You still get Program AE, shutter and aperture priority plus manual exposure modes, precise control of exposure and colour, as well as access to a rapidly increasingly range of interchangeable lenses from not only Olympus but Panasonic as well.

You can use the other Four Thirds system lenses as well as earlier Olympus OM lenses used by the company’s film SLRs, with adaptors for both.

The PEN is not a compact digicam. It’s not a DSLR. However, it does resemble the venerable film rangefinder style of camera — in digital form — with all its advantages.

Wynyard 17mm.jpg
Railway station, taken with 17mm lens.

Olympus PEN E-P1 Ergonomics

The camera has aluminium top and bottom surfaces, with stainless steel on the sides and back. It sure feels solid.
Pocketable? Yes — until you strap on a lens! Clean lines? Yes. The number of external controls is few — about 10 plus the four way jog wheel, which controls ISO setting, white balance, auto focus setting as well as single/continuous shooting.

Macro is accessed from the mode dial, along with 18 other scene modes like panorama, beach/snow shots, portraits etc. This also supports the various exposure modes (Program AE, etc), movie shooting (16:9 ratio/1280×720 pixels) and Olympus’ set of Art Filters that will either infuriate you or delight.

ISO 100 f5.6 1-30 sec.jpg

Test shot: ISO 100 f5.6 1/30 sec.

ISO 800 f5.6 1-250 sec.jpg

Test shot: ISO 800 f5.6 1/250 sec.

ISO 6400 f5.6 1-2000 sec.jpg

Test shot: ISO 6400 f5.6 1/2000 sec.

State Theatre zoom ISO 6400 f4.2 1-60.jpg

Detail from shot taken at ISO 6400 of Sydney’s State Theatre.

Olympus PEN E-P1 Features

The sensor can capture a maximum image size of 4032×3024 pixels or enough to make a 34x26cm print.

As an interchangeable lens camera, dust removal is crucial: you have only to detach a lens to see the sensor naked before your eyes, with not even the reflex mirror to protect it. Yu must rely on the camera’s Super-Sonic Wave filter to remove dust particles, using lateral supersonic vibrations to shake them off.

The camera uses an internal stabiliser in stills shooting. It compensates for up to four halving degrees of shutter speed; in other words, you can use 1/50 second when you should be using 1/800th.

Once you’ve started shooting movies stabilisation is an electronic process — the recorded image is enlarged slightly; face detection is out of play; the run time is limited to seven minutes at 720p; focus and zoom must be performed manually.

Some will enjoy Live Control, a screen display which indicates and gives access to functions like ISO, white balance, AF mode etc; there’s even a control point for the times when you’re using external flash.

The iAUTO function is a clever trick and could be useful when a know-all or a novice share the same camera; as a fuss-free point-and-shoot mode it tips the camera into the ideal shooting mode to capture the subject in front of the lens.

Another feature that will please the ambitious operator is the PEN’s ability to superimpose multiple RAW pictures onto each other: additional images can be overlaid onto an earlier image and varied in exposure, white balance etc. The PEN’s face detection function can ‘read’ detects up to eight faces, optimising focus and exposure.

A dual axis sensor provides a two direction level gauge to show vertical and horizontal alignment.

Startup Time

I was disappointed at the slow startup time: about three seconds to first shot; follow-on shots could be taken at one to two second intervals.


Both lenses (14-22mm and 17mm) performed extremely well, with the zoom showing very, very little barrel and pincushion distortion at the wide and tele ends respectively of the zoom; the wide angle was 100 per cent.


The brings all the advantages of digital capture without the baggage of a reflex camera. The camera body enjoyably small, the lenses are compact and lightweight.

I’m not so happy with the LCD screen as the sole viewfinder, unless you’re using the 17m lens with its associated optical finder: in bright sunlight the LCD screen is almost useless, with the focusing indicators near-illegible; the 230,000 pixel resolution is also poor.

I question the wisdom of the 17mm lens, with a focal length that sits within the range of the 14-42mm optic. Perhaps it should have been a 12 or 13mm.

Olympus PEN E-P1 Picture quality:

The PEN E-P1 could be a camera for all the family: the knowledgeable would have a ball with the mass of features, while raw novices could use the iAUTO feature and not miss a shot.

However, I cannot help wondering how terrific version number two of the PEN will be!

Olympus PEN E-P1 Specifications

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Barrie Smith is an experienced writer/photographer currently published in Australian Macworld, Auscam and other magazines in Australia and overseas.

Some Older Comments

  • canon-5d-shooter November 10, 2009 01:56 am

    I have been interested in the PEN format because of the similarity to a classic rangefinder. I would like to see panasonic leverage their relationship with Leica to create some high speed pancake styles lenses. Based on the Oly pancakes that have been released so far Oy seems to be interested in the cheaper side of the market (F2.8 max aperture for example).

  • Jennifer M. November 1, 2009 06:41 am

    I love the photo of the train station! I never would've thought to take a picture of something like that, but the lines in the scene are really cool. Great composition!

  • Joey Dryer November 1, 2009 03:39 am

    I use my voigtlander 40mm, which is 1.4. It's pretty shallow. You can google "leica olympus E-P1" and see tons of examples with very shallow DOF.

  • Alejandro October 31, 2009 11:50 pm

    The problem with that prime lens doesn't seem to be the focal length - I believe that's the normal perspective for 4:3 sensors. The problem is that the biggest point of a normal prime is using fast apertures, and 2.8 isn't enough. I believe Panasonic has a micro 4:3 20mm f/1.7 - that's seems like a much better option on paper.

  • Kate October 31, 2009 02:01 am

    The one thing i never see mentioned in reviews of these compact / slr hybrids is whether they have much (any) capability for shallow depth of field. The major reason i wanted an SLR over a compact was because it's impossible to get shallow DOF with a compact, i forget exactly why but to do with the sensor size i think?
    So from that point of view, does the PEN work like a compact or like an SLR?

  • jaideep mukherjee October 30, 2009 10:07 pm

    i have a canon 1000 d can i use the lens of this camera to my camera pls. suggest me...

  • Pigon October 30, 2009 03:02 am

    Well, something went wrong with the pictures I tried to add... I wish there was a post preview functionality in the comments section :-) Here's another try for 3 of my Flickr street photography shots:


  • Pigon October 30, 2009 02:59 am

    I'm a happy owner of E-P1 - I love it's portability. It's also great for street photography. The built in "film grain" art filter is great. See a few examples below:


    or you can also see some of my E-P1 shots here:

    And what's even more stunning - this little camera is capable of handling Leica M lenses. Great stuff for those more demanding shooters. You have to know the cameras limitations (slow autofocus, slow startup time) and just get used to it. And then - you'll love that camera :)

  • Joey Dryer October 30, 2009 01:27 am

    What I love about my E-P1 is that it can take all of the old style manual focus lenses, such as my Leica 40mm Summicron, Voigtlander, or even all of my Nikon lenses. The image stabilization is in the body, so you get that advantage, while still having the fun of using the manual lenses. I even added a leatherette skin to it to make it even more retro. I am in love with it. There is something amazing about having a camera that you have to take your time to use, compose, and very carefully adjust, while not having the weight and bulk of an SLR. However, like any good camera, it has its flaws as well. It's something to get used to, rather than avoid. I consider it part of its character (at least until the E-P2 comes out!).

  • Mario October 30, 2009 12:45 am

    I'm newly converted from Olympus to Nikon when I bought last summer my D300, but I can say for sure that I miss the four third format. I mainly print on 8X10 and I had less cropping to do with that format. For sure the quality is not the same, since I had a E-500, but the recent ones are much better. I like Cristoph photos, particularly the second one!

  • Christoph October 29, 2009 03:57 pm

    I'm happy to see a number of Olympus reviews on DPS lately. I'm interested in the Micro Four Thirds system as well, but right now my E-620 will have to suffice. That said, as far as I know the E-620 and E-P1 feature the same sensor. That's why I'll throw in two pictures (both with E-620 and 14-54mm I):

    [img]http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3510/4029039672_f0cfbf5b4d_m.jpg[/img] [img]http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3492/4021633479_128896d06c_m.jpg[/img]

    I'd love to hear from someone who owns both.

  • Khürt Williams October 29, 2009 11:20 am

    Do you see the micro 4/3 format catching on? I love having the control and interchange lenses that I get with a DSLR but love that the camera is smaller and lighter.

  • Andreas Herss October 29, 2009 07:53 am

    except from the photos only coming up when you click the links.. it's a good review