DCRP

Olympus E-PL2 Review

How Does it Compare?

The Olympus E-PL2 is a compact, entry-level interchangeable lens camera. It's a relatively minor upgrade to the E-PL1 that it replaces, with the larger and sharper LCD and new control wheel being the biggest changes. While not without its flaws, the E-PL2 remains a capable camera, with consumer-friendly features, full manual controls, built-in image stabilization, HD video recording, and plenty of optional extras. Photo quality is generally good, though highlight clipping can be an issue, as it redeye (though you can fix that in playback mode). The camera also has a weak flash (though that's better than none at all), some movie mode annoyances, and focusing difficulties when light levels get low. Despite those issues (and a few more), the E-PL2 still offers good bang for the buck, and is definitely worth your consideration.

The E-PL2 is a compact interchangeable lens camera that uses the Micro Four Thirds standard. The body is made of a mix of plastic and metal, and feels pretty solid for the price (the lenses, on the other hand, are a bit too plasticky). The camera, which is available in four colors, is easy to hold, thanks to its newly redesigned grip. Controls are well placed, and I didn't have any issues with the new control wheel, save for the fact that it's easy to turn accidentally (use the lock feature to take care of that) and kind of cramped. As I mentioned, this is a Micro Four Thirds cameras, which means that it supports a growing collection of MFT lenses from Olympus and Panasonic, with a 2X crop factor. It's also backward compatible with legacy Four Thirds lenses, though they won't focus as quickly. The E-PL2 has sensor-shift image stabilization built right into the body, so every lens you attach will have shake reduction available. On the back of the camera is the E-PL2's larger and sharper 3-inch LCD display. This screen has 460,000 pixels, a wide viewing angle, and very good outdoor visibility. Unlike the original PEN cameras, the E-PL2 has a built-in flash, though it's on the weak side. You can add an external flash, either via the hot shoe or wirelessly, if you need more power. The camera supports an optional electronic viewfinder, as well as new Bluetooth and Macro Arm Light accessories, among other things.

The E-PL2 has features that will appeal to both beginners who are using their first interchangeable lens camera, as well as enthusiasts who want a "portable D-SLR". Being a mirrorless camera, all of your pictures will be composed on the camera's LCD (or optional EVF). In live view mode you'll get a preview of the image you're composing, along with a live histogram, guide lines, face detection, and contrast detect autofocus. Beginners will like the camera's iAuto mode, which will pick a scene mode for you. It's here where you'll also encounter the Live Guide feature, which lets you use sliders to adjust things like aperture, shutter speed, and white balance, without knowing what any of those things are. There are also shooting tips that help you learn how to take better photos. More advanced users will find full manual exposure controls. white balance fine-tuning, four types of bracketing, and RAW support. There are also a ton of custom functions, almost to the point of overkill on this $599 camera. I think everyone will have fun with the E-PL2's Art Filters, some of which can now be adjusted or even combined with one another. As with the E-PL1 before it, the E-PL2 can record movies at 1280 x 720 (30 fps) with monaural sound and continuous autofocus. Recording time is limited to 7 minutes per clip, file sizes are huge, and you can't use the sensor-shift image stabilizer.

Camera performance was very good. The E-PL2 starts up in about 1.2 seconds, and that includes time for its dust reduction cycle to run. Autofocus performance has steadily been getting better on each new "PEN" camera, and the E-PL2 with its new kit lens are closing the gap with the likes of the Panasonic Lumix G and Sony NEX cameras. With the kit lens, you'll lock focus in about 0.3 - 0.5 seconds at wide-angle, with telephoto times ranging from 0.5 - 0.8 seconds. In dim light the camera still does okay, but in darker rooms, the camera struggles to focus, and usually fails. Here's where an AF-assist lamp would've really helped. Shutter lag wasn't an issue, and shot-to-shot delays are minimal. The E-PL2's continuous shooting mode hasn't changed, and is able to take 11 RAW or 17 JPEGs in a row at 3 frames/second, which is about average for this class. Battery life is decent, though I'd probably pick up a spare BLS-5 battery if I were you.

Photo quality was good in most situations. The E-PL1 has generally accurate exposure though, like all Four Thirds-based cameras, it clips highlights easily. Color seemed a bit flat at the default setting, and much more pleasing if you use the i-Enhance (and presumably the vivid) Picture Mode. Sharpness was typical for a camera in this class, though noise reduction can smudge fine details, even at low ISOs (turn down the noise filter to reduce that effect). Speaking of noise, it is generally not a problem until you pass ISO 800 in low light and ISO 1600 in good light. If you shoot RAW and do some easy post-processing, even the two highest sensitivities (ISO 3200 and 6400) become usable for small prints. As with its predecessor, the E-PL2 has issues with redeye, though at least there's a tool in playback mode to remove it. Purple fringing levels were low, at least on the lenses that I used.

There are a few other things that I wanted to mention before wrapping things up. First, the camera doesn't rotate images taken in the portrait orientation automatically, unlike nearly every other camera on the market. The memory card compartment is inaccessible when using a tripod. There's no AC adapter available for the E-PL2, and the included charger is quite slow. And finally, while the starter manual is decent, you'll have to load up a PDF file to read the full E-PL2 user's guide.

Even with a few annoyances (mostly minor, or typical for a camera in this class), the Olympus E-PL2 is a well-designed interchangeable lens that'll appeal to beginners and enthusiasts. It's packed with easy-to-use features, tons of manual controls, HD movie recording with decent continuous AF, and lots of optional accessories. And you can take one home with a kit lens for under $600. If all this sounds appealing to you, then I can definitely recommend checking out the E-PL2.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality (though see issues below)
  • Good value for the money
  • Compact, well designed body; comes in four colors
  • Sensor-shift image stabilization
  • 3-inch LCD display with 460,000 pixels, good outdoor visibility, and wide viewing angle
  • Full manual controls, with lots of white balance options, four kinds of bracketing, and tons of custom functions
  • RAW format supported, good editor included
  • iAuto mode picks a scene mode for you, finds and tracks faces, and enhances colors; Live Guide makes changing complex settings simple
  • Generally snappy performance, with autofocus speeds approaching the best cameras in this class
  • Built-in wireless flash support
  • Creativity-inspiring Art Filters
  • Records HD video at 1280 x 720 (30 fps) with sound
  • Lots of optional accessories, including: PENPAL (Bluetooth transmitter), Macro Arm Light, conversion lenses, electronic viewfinder

What I didn't care for:

  • Frequent highlight clipping; colors a bit dull at default settings
  • Noise reduction can smudge fine details, even at base ISO (turn down the noise filter to reduce that)
  • Redeye a problem, though it can be removed in playback mode
  • Poor low light focusing (this camera needs an AF-assist lamp)
  • Flash is on the weak side (though it's better than not having one)
  • No auto photo rotation
  • Movie mode issues: limited recording time, huge file sizes, no sensor-shift image stabilization, no editing tools
  • Can't access memory card slot while camera is on a tripod
  • No AC adapter available; slow battery charger included
  • Full manual on CD-ROM (though printed basic manual isn't bad)

The closest competitors to the Olympus E-PL2 include the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2, Samsung NX100, and Sony Alpha NEX-5. You may also want to consider these compact D-SLRs: Canon EOS Rebel T2i, Nikon D3100, and Pentax K-r.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Olympus E-PL2 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Check out our photo gallery to see how the E-PL2's image quality looks!

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If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.