Objects of Desire: Olympus PEN E-PL1

July 1, 2010
By Dan Havlik

Objects: Olympus PEN

While we liked the design of Olympus's rangefinder-style EP-1 and EP-2 interchangeable lens cameras, we weren't so happy with the slow autofocusing speed nor the high price. Also, would it have killed Olympus to put a built-in flash on those models?

All of which makes the E-PL1 such a pleasant surprise. This 12-megapixel camera has some design similarities to those other models but is quite a bit cheaper, retailing for $600. Also, thank the stars, the EPL-1 adds a discrete pop-up flash. Though this won't likely be your go-to camera for important shoots, the E-PL1 is a nice, recreational shooter you can stuff into a small bag to capture photos just for the pleasure of it.

Image quality is decent and because the E-PL1, like its predecessors, uses a Micro Four Thirds sensor that's significantly larger in size than what's in a regular point-and-shoot model, the camera does a decent job keeping noise down when shooting in low light at high ISOs.

And while Olympus hasn't greatly improved the autofocus speed in the E-PL1 itself, its new lenses—including the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 9-18mm F4.0-5.6 (35mm equivalent 18–36mm) which we tested—use a faster internal focus system that locks in on your subject quickly and silently. We also liked its HD (720p) movie capabilities, particularly when you add Olympus' SEMA-1 microphone set to the hot shoe for recording crisp, stereo sound. On the downside, we aren't so crazy about the E-PL1's beginner-centric Live Guide mode which lets users select icons to change basic settings, such as brightness and contrast, via sliders. The changes are shown "live" on the cameras 2.7-inch LCD screen. Pros may find this tiresome. Another minor quibble: the camera's interface is outdated.

The E-PL1 has a polycarbonate body—as opposed to stainless steel as on the EP-1 and EP-2—and is available in silver, black and blue. We recommend the blue which is actually a rather sporty-looking grayish purple.

Cost: $600

Further information: www.olympusamerica.com

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