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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

Distortion

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.

Comment

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
Barrie Smith

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

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