DCRP

Olympus E-PL1 Review

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor

Originally Posted: February 2, 2010

Last Updated: April 7, 2010

Olympus caused quite a stir in the digital camera world when they introduced their E-P1 Micro Four Thirds interchangeable lens camera in 2009. It featured all the bells and whistles of a digital SLR in a small, retro-styled body. Olympus says that the E-P1 (and its slightly more upscale sibling, the E-P2) were aimed toward enthusiasts.

Enter the E-PL1 ($599 with lens), which Olympus is targeting toward everyday consumers, rather than enthusiasts. To make it more consumer friendly, Olympus designed a lighter, more conventional body that's easier to use -- and there's finally a built-in flash, too. They've improved the autofocus speeds, added a new "live guide" feature, an additional art filter, and a dedicated movie recording button. That's on top of the features that are the same as the E-P1 and E-P2, including a 12 Megapixel Live MOS sensor, sensor-shift image stabilization, full manual controls, support for an electronic viewfinder, and more. Why do I think that current E-P1 owners are a little envious right now?

This chart summarizes the similarities and differences between the E-P1, E-P2, and the new E-PL1:

Feature E-P1 E-P2 E-PL1
List price (with one lens) $799 $1099 * $599
LCD size 3.0" 3.0" 2.7"
Amount of image stabiliztion correction 4 stops 4 stops 3 stops
Maximum shutter speed 1/4000 sec 1/4000 sec 1/2000 sec
Built-in flash No No Yes
Max flash sync speed 1/180 sec 1/180 sec 1/160 sec
Control (sub) dial Yes Yes No
Dedicated movie recording button No No Yes
AF tracking No Yes Yes
Electronic level Yes Yes No
Live Guide feature No No Yes
No. of art filters 6 8 5
iEnhance Picture Mode No Yes Yes
Sound in movie mode Stereo Stereo Mono
Manual controls in movie mode No Yes Yes
Accessory port
(for EVF/mic adapter)
No Yes Yes
Wired remote supported Yes Yes No
Underwater case supported No No Yes
Battery life (CIPA standard) 300 shots 300 shots 290 shots
Dimensions (W x H x D) 4.7 x 2.8 x 1.4 in. 4.7 x 2.8 x 1.4 in. 4.5 x 2.8 x 1.6 in.
Weight 335 g 335 g 296 g
* Includes an electronic viewfinder

The E-PL1 certainly sounds like a good buy, at least based on that chart! How does it perform? Find out now in our review!

The review originally stated that the E-PL1's continuous shooting mode was faster than it is on the E-P1 and E-P2. That is incorrect; all three cameras shoot at 3 frames/second.

What's in the Box?

The E-PL1 will be available in just one kit, which includes the body and a 14 - 42 mm lens. Here's what you'll find in the box:

  • The 12.3 effective Megapixel Olympus E-PL1 camera body
  • F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm M. Zuiko zoom lens
  • BLS-1 lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Body cap
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Olympus [ib] software
  • 121 page camera manual (printed)

The E-PL1 comes with an F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm lens, similar to the one that was introduced with the E-P1. The difference between that lens (which you can also buy in stores) and the E-PL1's kit lens is that the lens mont is plastic, instead of metal. This lens can collapse into a travel position, making the camera a bit easier to transport. The lens is pretty much all plastic (save for the lens elements themselves, of course), which makes it light, but not terribly rugged. In terms of image quality, the 14-42 is pretty good, with corner blurring being the only real issue that stands out.

In addition to the kit lens, there's a growing collection of Micro Four Thirds lenses available from Olympus and Panasonic. Lenses from Olympus include the "old" 17mm pancake lens (which has an available optical viewfinder), plus two new models: an F4.0-5.6, 9 - 18 mm wide zoom, and an F4.0-5.6, 14 - 150 mm lens that'll cover nearly any shooting scenario you can imagine (they focus a lot faster than Olympus' other lenses, too). Panasonic has an even better collection of lenses, which you can view here. Since the E-PL1 has built-in image stabilization, every lens you attach will have shake reduction built in.

The E-PL1 also works with "legacy" Four Thirds lenses, via the optional MMF-1 or MMF-2 adapters (the former is discontinued, but it still works). Some older Four Thirds lenses may not support autofocus, though. You can also use classic Olympus OM lenses via another optional adapter (MF-2), though all of these lenses will be manual focus only. If that's still not enough, I don't see any reason why you can't use Panasonic's Leica R and M-mount adapters, as well.

Regardless of what lens you have attached to the E-PL1, there will be a 2X focal length conversion ratio. Therefore, the 14 - 42 mm kit lens has a field-of-view of 28 - 84 mm.

Digital SLRs and interchangeable lens cameras like the E-PL1 never come with memory cards. So, if you don't have an SD or SDHC card already, you'll need to pick one up. I'd recommend a 2GB or 4GB card as a good place to start, though avid movie mode users may want something larger. Spending a little extra for a fast card (Class 6) is probably a good idea, especially if you'll be recording a lot of movies.

Not surprisingly, the E-PL1 uses the same BLS-1 lithium-ion battery as the E-P1 and E-P2. This battery packs 8.3 Wh of energy into its plastic shell, which is pretty good for a camera this size. Here's how that translates into battery life -- live view only, of course:

Camera Battery life w/live view
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon EOS Rebel T2i 170 shots LP-E8
Nikon D5000 N/A EN-EL9a
Olympus E-P1 / EP-2 300 shots BLS-1
Olympus E-PL1 290 shots BLS-1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 350 shots DMW-BLB13
Pentax K-x N/A 4 x AA
Samsung NX10 400 shots BP1310
Sony Alpha DSLR-A380 230 shots NP-FH50

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

For whatever reason, the E-PL1's battery life is just a tiny bit below that of the E-P1/P2. Not all manufacturers publish live view battery life numbers, but for the data I do have, the E-PL1 is right on the middle.

I should point out a few things about the proprietary batteries used by the E-PL1 and every other camera on the above list, except for the Pentax. For one, they're pretty expensive -- you'll spend at least $43 for a spare battery. Also, should your rechargeable battery run out of juice, you can't use an off-the-shelf battery to get you through the day.

When it's time to charge the BLS-1 battery, just pop it into the included charger. This is one of the slower chargers out there, taking 3.5 hours to power up the battery. This isn't one of those chargers that plugs directly into the wall, either - you must use a power cable.


The E-PL1 with the optional VF-2 electronic viewfinder
Image courtesy of Olympus

The E-PL1 can use the same accessories as the E-P2, including the electronic viewfinder and external microphone adapter (both described here). Here's a list of the most interesting accessories:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Lenses Varies Varies The E-PL1 supports all Micro Four Thirds lenses, with a 2X focal length conversion ratio.
Four Thirds Adapter MMF-2 $199 Lets you use "regular" Four Thirds lenses on the E-PL1. Do note that not all lenses will support autofocus. This model replaces the original MMF-1 adapter, which will work just fine.
OM Adapter MF-2 From $150 Lets you use vintage Olympus OM lenses, which will be manual focus only
Optical viewfinder VF-1 $100 Same one that was available for the E-P1. Only compatible with the 17 mm pancake lens.
Electronic viewfinder VF-2 From $279 An articulating 1.44 million pixel EVF that attaches to the E-PL1's hot shoe and accessory port.
External flash

FL-14
FL-36R
FL-50R

From $180
From $207
From $369
The first flash is a compact model that was designed to match the E-P1. The other two are much larger and support wireless flash control
External mic adapter SEMA-1 $90 Includes a stereo mic adapter that attaches to the hot shoe (and plugs into the accessory port), a clip-on stereo mic, and an extension cable.
Underwater case PT-EP01 $599 Lets you take the camera and certain lenses up to 40 meters underwater
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

There are a few other accessories available, mostly camera bags and straps. One accessory that Olympus doesn't seem to ever offer for their interchangeable lens cameras (including D-SLRs) is an AC adapter. There are no remote controls (wired or wireless) available for the E-PL1, either.


Olympus [ib] software in Windows

Olympus includes their brand new (not to mention strangely named) [ib] software with the E-PL1. This software is for Windows only, so Mac users will want to use iPhoto, or download Olympus Master, which is still available (though I wonder if it will continue to be updated).

Anyhow, the [ib] software has a very flashy interface, with nearly everything animated (to the point where it was a bit annoying). The photo import process involves naming events (just like iPhoto), tagging any faces, and selecting the location in which a photo was taken. One thing I couldn't figure out how to do is select which photos were imported!

Once you get to the main screen, you'll find the usual thumbnail view, which is broken down by event. Over on the right side of the frame are windows for faces the software has identified, as well as a map showing the locations you've tagged (I have to wonder if an GPS-equipped Olympus camera isn't far away). You can also print photos, stitch together panoramas, and update the firmware on your camera from the main page.


Editing JPEGs in Olympus [ib]

The [ib] software has a nice set of image editing tools. You can rotate or level images, correct for distortion and redeye, smooth skin tones and remove blemishes, or add special effects to your photos. Of course, basics like brightness, contrast, saturation, and sharpness can be adjusted as well.


Editing a RAW image in Olympus [ib]

In addition to its JPEG editing duties, the [ib] software can also edit and export RAW images. RAW properties that can be adjusted include exposure, white balance, Picture Mode, contrast, sharpness, saturation, gradation, and the noise filter.


Edit screen in Olympus Studio 2

If you want more advanced RAW editing tools then you might want to consider buying Olympus Studio ($100). This adds tone curve adjustment, false color suppression, aberration compensation, distortion correction, batch processing, and much more.

At some point, Adobe will update their Camera Raw plug-in to support the E-PL1, giving you another option for editing RAW images from the camera.

And what is this RAW thing all about, anyway? RAW files contain unprocessed image data direct from the camera's sensor. You'll need to process it on your computer first (or on the camera -- more on this later), but this allows you to adjust things like white balance, exposure, and noise reduction without reducing the quality of the original image. It's almost like taking the photo again. Be warned that RAW images are considerably larger than JPEGs, which means that they take up more space on your memory card and decrease camera performance.

Olympus includes a fairly thick manual with the E-PL1. While I appreciate the large font size, the manual is not what I'd call user-friendly, with lots of confusing tables and a generally cluttered layout. It's not quite as detailed as I would've liked, either, though answers to most questions can be found inside its pages. Documentation for the included software is installed onto your computer's hard disk.

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