Review: Olympus Gold With PEN E-PL1

By Branko Miletic

They say in the world of cameras that size is everything, and with its compact size and image quality, the Olympus PEN E-PL1 is tipped to be the next major technological breakthrough in photography.

OK, maybe that’s going too far—after all, it’s the prosumer range that most companies are aiming for today and the Olympus PEN E-PL1 is well within this category, albeit on the more compact side- so it is at the very least, in the right place at the right time. But this little camera also comes with a big pedigree.

Much like an Italian sports car, the first thing you notice is its sleek and compact body. The company says that its internal structure eliminates “the traditional digital-SLR quick-return mirror allowing a radical reduction in camera size without compromising the benefits of digital SLR photography”. Put in layman’s terms, this small size does not mean low quality pictures. And small it may be, but its 3-inch LCD display is certainly full-size. Add to that the ability to interchange a wide array of high-quality lenses and you have a digital camera well-worth taking notice of.

Using this digital camera was a breeze. Along with its better-known competitors in this compact prosumer category, like the much larger Sony A900 and almost as small Samsung TL500 or Canon S90, this Olympus model was as easy to use as any point and shoot camera, but with a whole heap of extra functionality thrown in.

For starters, the camera is equipped with the Intelligent Auto (also called the iAUTO) function popular on the Olympus range of compact digital cameras. This function automatically evaluates the scene and sets the optimum scene selection mode you need for your shot. In fact, in many ways, like most modern DSLRs, the PEN thinks for you, which is just as well if you are a hack photographer as myself.

The imaging system uses a 4/3-inch type, 12.3-megapixel high-speed Live MOS sensor and a newly developed TruePic image-processing engine to provide high-quality images. This was evident in my testing in what I call the ‘shopping mall test’—basically taking pictures in all the levels of a typical suburban shopping mall, where lighting, surfaces, reflections and movement of images varies greatly. I use this test because going from car park to rooftop, the lighting and other ambient conditions vary so much that they present a feast of challenges and even obstacles for any camera.

Suffice it to say, apart from my own over-exuberant photography, there was not a situation in my ‘mall test’ that phased the Olympus PEN, which in general terms means it can handle just about anything in a normal usage sense.

This camera also enables non-flash shooting up to ISO 6400—in other words, dodgy lighting at a children’s birthday along with jumping and moving children proved no obstacle for this little gem from Olympus – of all the DSLRs that I have used, the PEN proved to be the most versatile and best in a variety of urban and domestic situations.

I also tried using the video-cam function as the Olympus PEN E-PL1 has a 720p High-Definition movie recording capability. The best part of this was the playback – the stereo audio recorder gave out high-quality sound, which when coupled with the HD video, meant that the PEN is truly a multi-functional marvel. However, let’s face it, this is not the camera one would buy for making videos, so this part of the PEN was reviewed the least.

The PEN’s Art Filter effects (6 all up) encourage users to bring out their creative sides and as the creative filter effects can be used for both still shooting and movie capture modes, the photographic possibilities can be expanded almost exponentially. Effects include Pop Art, Soft Focus and even Grainy Film for the traditionalists out there.

All-in-all, after a couple of weeks of playing with the PEN E-PL1, I think this is the camera that just about everyone should have- especially those that have moved on from their point and shoot models, but don’t think forking out the big dollars for a high-end DSLR is justified.

Pros: compact, video making capability, lens flexibility, good price
Cons: not enough upgrade options

4.5 Shacks out of 5