DCRP

Olympus E-PL2 Review

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor

Originally Posted: February 23, 2011

Last Updated: February 23, 2011

The Olympus E-PL2 ($599 with lens) is a consumer-friendly interchangeable lens camera that uses the Micro Four Thirds standard. It's the successor the to E-PL1, and has a fairly modest list of improvements. They include a more ergonomic design, a larger/sharper LCD, refinements to the user interface, and a new kit lens. The E-PL2 retains the same sensor, image processor, movie mode, and overall design of the E-PL1.

I put together this chart so you can compare the old E-PL1 and new E-PL2:

Feature E-PL1 E-PL2
LCD size / resolution 2.7" / 230,000 pixel 3.0" / 460,000 pixel
ISO range 100 - 3200 200 - 6400
Shutter speed range 60 - 1/2000 sec 60 - 1/4000 sec
Flash x-sync speed 1/160 sec 1/180 sec
Control dial No Yes
Live guide: usable in movie mode No Yes
Art Filters: adjustable No Yes
Art Filters: in all shooting modes No Yes
Scene modes 19 22
Face detection w/eye detect AF No Yes
Supports PENPAL Bluetooth accessory No Yes
Remote shutter release None Wired
Memory card support SD/SDHC SD/SDHC/SDXC
Kit lens F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm F3.5-5.6 II, 14 - 42 mm MSC
Battery used BLS-1 BLS-5
Battery life (CIPA standard) 290 shots 290 shots
Dimensions (W x H x D) 4.5 x 2.8 x 1.6 in. 4.5 x 2.8 x 1.6 in.
Weight 296 g 296 g
Available colors Black, silver, blue Black, silver, red, white

So there you have it -- the differences between the E-PL1 and E-PL2. Some things about the new kit lens: the "MSC" moniker stands for "movie and still compatible", meaning that it can focus quickly and quietly while recording videos. This lens also supports fisheye, wide-angle, and macro conversion lenses, a feature not normally seen on interchangeable lens cameras.

Is the E-PL2 a top choice for those looking for an easy-to-use interchangeable lens camera? Find out now in our review!

Due to their similarities, I will be reusing portions of the E-PL1 review here.

What's in the Box?

The E-PL2 is available in two kits. You can get the body plus the new 14 - 42 mm MSC lens (in your choice of four colors) for $599, or the black body plus the 14-42 and 40-150 MSC lenses for $799. Here's what you'll find inside the box for each:

  • The 12.3 effective Megapixel Olympus E-PL2 camera body
  • F3.5-5.6 II, 14 - 42 mm MSC M.Zuiko zoom lens
  • F4.0-5.6, 40 - 150 mm MSC M.Zuiko zoom lens [dual lens kit only]
  • BLS-5 lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Body cap
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Olympus Viewer 2 and [ib] software
  • 99 page "concise" manual (printed) + full manual on CD-ROM

The E-PL2 comes with a new version of the F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm lens that was introduced with the original E-P1. This new lens is "MSC", which is Olympus-speak for Movie and Still compatible. What that means in the real world is that the lens can focus quickly and quietly when recording videos. This lens is is also quite unique in that it supports a trio of conversion lenses: wide-angle, fisheye, and macro (this one also works with the 40-150 and 75-300 mm lenses). The 40 - 150 mm lens that comes in the dual lens kit is also MSC rated. In terms of build quality, both of the kit lenses are average -- they're both very plasticky. Despite that, image quality is good. If you want to use other Micro Four Thirds lenses, there are plenty to choose from, made by Olympus and Panasonic.

The E-PL2 also works with "legacy" Four Thirds lenses, via the optional MMF-2 adapter. Do note that some older Four Thirds lenses may not support autofocus. 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-PL2, 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-PL2 never come with memory cards. So, if you don't have one already, you'll need to pick one up. The E-PL2 supports SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards, and I'd recommend starting with a 2GB or 4GB card (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.

The E-PL2 uses a new battery known as the BLS-5. This battery packs 8.3 Wh of energy (no pun intended), which is the same as the BLS-1 battery used on the E-PL1. Here's what kind of battery life you can expect from the E-PL2:

Camera Battery life w/live view
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon EOS Rebel T2i 170 shots LP-E8
Nikon D3100 N/A EN-EL14
Olympus E-PL2 * 290 shots BLS-5
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 * 300 shots DMW-BLD10
Pentax K-r N/A D-LI109, AA
Samsung NX100 * 420 shots BP1310
Sony Alpha NEX-5 * 330 shots NP-FW50

* Mirrorless interchangeable lens camera

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

The E-PL2 unfortunately has the lowest battery life of any mirrorless interchangeable lens camera out there right now (though it's the same as on the E-PL1). Traditional D-SLRs like the Canon, Nikon, and Pentax traditionally are even worse, though I only have numbers for the EOS Rebel T2i. While an extra battery isn't a necessity for E-PL2 buyers, buying one wouldn't hurt.

I should point out a few things about the proprietary batteries used by the E-PL2 and almost every other camera on the above list. For one, they're pretty expensive -- you'll spend around $60 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. The only exception is the Pentax K-r digital SLR, which supports a $35 accessory that lets you use AA batteries.

When it's time to charge the battery, just pop it into the included charger. Then go out and grab dinner, as it'll take 3.5 hours to fully charge the battery. This charger doesn't plug directly into the wall (darn) -- you need to use a power cord.


The E-PL2 with its kit lens plus the optional fisheye adapter
Image courtesy of Olympus


The E-PL2 with the optional MAL-1 macro arm light

Olympus introduced several new accessories along with the E-PL2, including the macro arm light you see pictured above. It also works with all of the accessories that you could use with the E-PL1. Here's the full list:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Lenses Varies Varies The E-PL2 supports all Micro Four Thirds lenses, with a 2X focal length conversion ratio.
Wide-angle converter WCON-P01 $99 Attaches to the front of the 14 - 42 mm II lens and reduces the focal length to 11 mm (20.8 mm equivalent) at the wide end of the range.
Macro converter MCON-P01 $59 Attaches to the front of the 14 - 42 mm II, 14-150, or 40-150 mm lens, and reduces the minimum focus distance to 24, 35, and 42 cm respectively.
Fisheye converter FCON-P01 $169 Attaches to the front of the 14 - 42 mm II lens and lowers the focal range to 10.4 mm (20.8 mm equivalent), with a 120 degree field-of-view.
Four Thirds Adapter MMF-2 From $199 Lets you use "regular" Four Thirds lenses on the E-PL2. 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 $155 Lets you use vintage Olympus OM lenses, which will be manual focus only.
Electronic viewfinder VF-2 From $279 An articulating 1.44 million pixel EVF that attaches to the E-PL2's hot shoe and accessory port.
External flash

FL-14
FL-36R
FL-50R

From $158
From $210
From $399
The first flash is a compact model that was designed to match the E-P1. The other two are much larger, support high-speed flash sync, and can be used wirelessly
Macro Arm Light MAL-1 $60 Two LED lamps on flexible metal arms, which can be positioned in almost any fashion. Lamps operate independently of each other, with two brightness settings to choose from. Powered by the camera.
PENPAL PP-1 $90 Allows you to wirelessly transmit photos over Bluetooth to a mobile phone or laptop. Internal memory holds 2600 photos. More details later in review.
Remote shutter release RM-UC1 From $43 Take photos without touching the camera. 34-inch cable length.
External mic adapter SEMA-1 From $64 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-EP03 $599 Lets you take the camera and certain lenses up to 40 meters underwater
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

Not a bad list for a relatively inexpensive camera! I didn't list is the old VF-1 optical viewfinder, which was designed for use with the F2.8, 17 mm pancake lens that came with the E-P1. The E-PL2 also works with the rather pricey macro lights that Olympus sells.

One thing you is not supported on the E-PL2 is an AC adapter.


Olympus Viewer 2 in Mac OS X

After a brief period of not including any Mac-compatible software with their cameras, Olympus is back with their Viewer 2 product. This is the main image viewer for both Mac and Windows, and it's capable of handling a lot of tasks. The main screen looks like every other image viewer on the market: file browser on the left, resizable thumbnails in the middle, and shooting info on the right (as well as a "box" in which to put photos you want to work on.

Other options here include an image lightbox (for side-by-side comparisons), slideshows, printing, batch processing, and easy skin retouching. You can also update the firmware of both the camera and lenses using Viewer 2.


Editing in Olympus Viewer 2

Olympus Viewer 2 is fully-loaded in the editing department, as well. In addition to a quick "auto tone" fix, you can also adjust the following:

  • Tone curve
  • Gamma
  • Color balance
  • Brightness/contrast
  • Hue/saturation
  • Color filter
  • Monochrome/sepia
  • Sharpness/blur
  • Unsharp mask
  • Shading (vignetting) compensation
  • Distortion correction
  • Noise reduction
  • Crop
  • Resize
  • Rotate/flip
  • Redeye reduction
  • Fisheye correction
  • Tilt adjustment (this one's pretty clunky)

If you're working with a RAW image, you can also edit the following properties:

  • Exposure compensation
  • White balance
  • Picture Mode
  • Sharpness
  • Saturation
  • B&W filter
  • Picture tone
  • Gradation
  • Noise filter
  • Color space
  • Art filter
  • False color suppression
  • Aberration compensation

Pretty impressive for free software!


Olympus [ib] software in Windows

Also included is Olympus' strangely named [ib] software, which is for Windows only. This software, complete with an overly flashy interface, is aimed more toward consumers than the Viewer product described above.

The photo import process involves naming events (just like iPhoto), tagging any faces, and selecting the location in which a photo was taken. You can't choose individual photos to import -- it's either everything in an event or all of the photos on the camera. 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.

You can also print photos, stitch together panoramas, and update the firmware on your camera from the main page. If you register the [ib] software, Olympus also gives you 2GB of online photo storage.


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. 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.

If you want to use Photoshop CS5 to edit the E-PL2's RAW images, just make sure that you're using the most recent version of the Camera Raw plug-in.

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.

The documentation for the E-PL2 comes in two parts. In the box you'll find a 99 page printed "concise manual", which is enough to get you started. If you want more details, you'll have to open up the full manual, which is in PDF format on an included CD-ROM. In terms of user-friendliness, both manuals are about average... meaning, not great. Documentation for the software bundle is installed onto your Mac or PC.

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