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:
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:
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:
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:
If you're working with a RAW image, you can also edit the following properties:
- Exposure compensation
- White balance
- Picture Mode
- B&W filter
- Picture tone
- 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.
Look and Feel
The Olympus E-PL2 is a compact and fairly stylish interchangeable lens camera. The body has a metal front and plastic back and it feels quite solid, especially for its price. Olympus has improved the grip on the front and back of the E-PL2 (see comparison photos below), making the camera feel a lot more secure in your hands. The rear button layout is a bit cluttered, but not overwhelming.
|A pretty darn close-to-scale comparison of the E-PL1 and E-PL2
Images courtesy of Olympus
Above you can see the E-PL1 and E-PL2, side-by-side. The first thing you'll probably notice is the larger LCD on the E-PL2 (3" vs 2.7"). The grip on the E-PL2 is much more substantial now, and you can see there's now a spot for your right thumb on the back of the camera. Other changes on the E-PL2 include a new scroll wheel around the four-way controller, some button rearrangement, and a newer "Accessory Port 2" that supports the PENPAL.
Image courtesy of Olympus
Olympus is making the E-PL2 available in four colors: black, silver, red, and a nice glossy white.
Two competitors side-by-side: the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 and the Olympus E-PL2
Alright, now let's see how the E-PL2 compares against other interchangeable lens cameras (that includes D-SLRs) in terms of size and weight. As before, I'm only listing cameras with live view support.
The E-PL2 is the largest mirrorless interchangeable lens camera on the market. A traditional "compact" digital SLR is much larger, as it needs room for mirrors and optical viewfinders. The E-PL2 is too big to fit in your jeans pocket (especially with the kit lens attached), but it does travel well in a jacket pocket or small camera bag.
Let's start our tour of the E-PL2 now, shall we?
Here you can see the front of the E-PL2 with the lens removed. As I mentioned earlier, this is a Micro Four Thirds lens mount, which has a 2X crop factor. I've also already told you about the various lens adapters available, whether its for regular Four Thirds, vintage OM, or Leica M and R-mount lenses. To remove an attached lens, just press the button to the right of the mount.
Right at the center of the photo is the E-PL2's 12.3 effective Megapixel Live MOS sensor, which is the same one that was found on the E-PL1. The sensor is mounted on a moveable plate, which is then shifted to compensate for the "camera shake" that can blur your photos. Olympus says that you can get up to three stops of correction from their IS system. And, since IS is built right into the camera body, every lens you attach can take advantage of it. Here's an example of the IS system in action:
Image stabilization on
Image stabilization off
I took both of the above photos with the 14 - 42 mm kit lens at a shutter speed of 1/5 sec. As you can see, the one taken with shake reduction turned on is sharper than the one without. While it appears that you can use image stabilization in movie mode, it's actually just a digital effect. Take a look at this sample video -- you'll see that 1) the focal length is increased when IS is turned on and 2) it doesn't work very well anyway.
Interchangeable lens cameras essentially require a dust reduction system, since there's no mirror to protect the sensor. The E-PL2 uses the same Supersonic Wave Filter that Olympus pioneered several years ago. When the camera is turned on, ultrasonic waves are sent through the low-pass filter, which literally shakes dust off the sensor. I am yet to have a dust problem with any of the Micro Four Thirds cameras that I've tested (or owned).
To the upper-right of the lens mount is the E-PL2's pop-up flash, which is released manually. While this flash isn't very powerful (it has a guide number of 7 meters at ISO 100), but it's better than not having one at all, like Sony's NEX cameras. If you want more flash power, you can add an external flash to the hot shoe you'll see in a bit, and you can also go wireless if you've got an FL-36R or FL-50R flash.
The only other item of note on the front of the camera is the self-timer lamp, which can be found at the top-left of the above photo. The E-PL2 does not have an AF-assist lamp (and that includes using the flash for this purpose), unfortunately.
The first thing to see on the back of the E-PL2 is its new 3-inch LCD display. This screen has 460,000 pixels, so everything's nice and sharp. Olympus promises a 176 degree viewing angle, and I wouldn't doubt it -- it's quite easy to see the screen from most angles. I found outdoor visibility to be good, as well.
As with all Micro Four Thirds cameras, you'll be composing all of your photos on the camera's LCD or optional electronic viewfinder. The live view experience on the E-PL2 is better than on most digital SLRs, though it still lags a bit in the focusing department. Live view on the E-PL2 features contrast detect autofocus (with optional subject tracking), face detection, a live histogram, grid lines, and the ability to enlarge the center of the frame or focus point. The camera uses its Live MOS sensor to provide contrast detect autofocus, and while its not as fast as Panasonic and Sony's interchangeable lens cameras, Olympus' newer Micro Four Thirds lenses have helped to close that gap. In low light, the screen brightens automatically, and you can enhance that effect even more by turning on Live View Boost.
Zoomed in 7X in live view while manually focusing
When you're in manual focus mode, you can zoom in by 7X instantly by pressing the button with the magnifying glass on it (you can get even closer by using the scroll dial or the info button). You can also scroll around the enlarged area using the four-way controller.
The various things you can adjust with the Live Guide
The Live Guide feature has been enhanced on the E-PL2. When you're in iAuto mode you can press the OK button to bring up the guide. Here you can adjust color saturation, color image (AKA white balance), brightness, background blurring (AKA aperture), and "motions" (AKA shutter speed), using "sliders" on the LCD. The brightness option has an advanced setting, where you can adjust shadow and highlight areas separately. The whole point of the Live Guide is that it allows beginners to change fairly complex settings without having to know about the intricate details. Do note that only one of these sliders can be adjusted at a time. When you switch to another, the other one goes back to its default setting.
Tips for taking photos of children
Something else you'll find in the Live Guide is a Shooting Tips section. Here you'll find advice about taking better people, pet, flower, and food pictures, plus general guidelines about composition.
Multi View, formerly Perfect Shot Preview, previewing white balance
The old Perfect Shot Preview feature is still here, though you'll have to dive into the custom settings menu to turn it on. If you want to have a quick preview of exposure compensation or white balance, go to the custom menu section D, select thumbnail/info setting, LV-info, and turn on Multi View. You can then hit the info button until you get a screen like the one above.
Live Control menu
It the P/A/S/M shooting modes, pressing the OK button on the four-way controller will bring up the Live Control menu. This menu allows you to quickly adjust the following settings:
- Image stabilizer
- Picture mode
- White balance
- Aspect ratio
- Image size
- Movie quality
- Flash setting
- Flash exposure compensation
- Metering mode
- AF mode
- ISO sensitivity
- Face detection
- Movie sound recording
All of those are shortcuts to other menu items, so I'll describe them in detail elsewhere in the review.
Adjusting settings with the Super Control Panel
There's another way to adjust settings, and that's via the good ol' Super Control Panel (which also be turned on in the custom settings menu). This shows current camera settings, and you can change any of them by using the four-way controller.
Getting back to the tour now, here's a close-up look at the Accessory Port (version 2), which is how the PENPAL, external microphone, and macro arm light attach to the camera. A plastic cover protects both the hot shoe and the accessory port when they're not in use. To the left of the port is the release for the pop-up flash.
To the left of the accessory port is the release for the camera's pop-up flash. On the opposite side of things you'll find the Function / zoom out and zoom in / image protect buttons. The Function button can be customized, and by default it turns on face detection and auto shadow adjustment. I'll tell you what else it can do later in the review. Pressing the zoom in button allows you to enlarge the frame for manual focusing, which I described a bit earlier.
Now let's talk about all the controls on the right side of the LCD. At the top-right you'll find the dedicated movie recording button, which is also used to protect images in playback mode. Just to the left of that is the camera's speaker.
The four buttons to the immediate right of the LCD are for:
- Zoom in (works in record and playback mode)
- Function (custom button) + zoom out (in playback mode)
- Playback mode
- Delete photo
To the right of those we have the info (toggles what's shown on the LCD) and menu buttons, plus the redesigned four-way controller / scroll wheel combo. The scroll wheel can adjust the exposure compensation, aperture, and shutter speed (depending on the shooting mode), along with navigating through menus and photos you've taken. You may want to turn on the "lock" feature in the custom settings menu in order to avoid inadvertently changing something with the wheel. The four-way controller can also do many of those things, and it also handles a number of other tasks, including:
- Up - Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV) + Program Shift
- Down - Drive (Single-frame, sequential, 2 or 12 sec self-timer)
- Left - AF target selection (Multi-area, single-point) - select one of eleven points yourself, or let the camera do it
- Right - Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, fill flash, flash off, slow sync w/redeye reduction, slow sync, 2nd-curtain slow sync, full strength, 1/4, 1/16, 1/64 strength) - note the manual control there
- Center - Live Guide / Live Control menu + OK
It's time to tell you about the E-PL2's continuous shooting mode, which is the same as the E-P1 and E-P2. Here's how it performed in my tests:
This shouldn't come as a surprise, but the E-PL2's continuous shooting performance is nearly identical to that of the E-PL1. And it should be, as the internals of the camera are the same. The numbers above are about average for an entry-level camera, and shooting doesn't stop when you reach those limits -- things just slow down considerably. The LCD lags a bit behind the action when shooting continuously, though you still should be able to track a moving subject.
And that'll do it for the back of the E-PL2!
Let's move on to the top of the E-PL2 now. While there's plenty of room for your left hand fingers when the flash is down, that's not the case when it's popped up, though you can still use the small ridge above the LCD for support.
At the center of the photo is the E-PL2's hot shoe, with its monaural microphone to its upper-right. You'll have the best experience if you pair the E-PL2 with an Olympus-branded flash, as the two can share metering information. The FL-36R and FL-50R also support Super FP (high speed flash sync) and be used wirelessly, with the built-in flash being the controller. If you're not using an Olympus flash, you'll probably have to set the exposure manually. The camera can sync as fast as 1/180 sec with an external flash (unless you're using the aforementioned high-end Olympus models).
Continuing to the right, we find the camera's mode dial, which has the following options:
Want a point-and-shoot experience? Then just set the mode dial to the iAuto position, and the camera will do the rest. It'll pick a scene mode for you, enhance colors (more than in other modes), and detect any faces in the scene. This is also how you'll get to the Live Guide interface that I showed you earlier.
Scene mode menu
If you want to pick a scene mode yourself, you'll find plenty to choose from in the SCN menu. Most of the scenes are self-explanatory, but I should mention a few of them. The e-Portrait feature removes wrinkles and other skin blemishes from your subject, right as the photo is taken. The camera actually saves two images -- one retouched, the other untouched. Do note that the retouched image is saved at the medium size. The panorama feature helps you line up photos side-by-side, for later stitching into a single image. There are also three new scene modes that are meant to be used with the optional conversion lenses.
|Pop art filter||Pop art and pin hole at the same time!|
Naturally, the E-PL2 has Olympus' famous Art Filters, which you can use for both stills and movies. The Filters on the E-PL2 include pop art, soft focus, grainy film, pin hole, diorama, and dramatic tone. New to the E-PL2 is the ability to tweak the Art Filters, and to combine two of them. For example, there are three pop art options to choose from, and you can combine that with the soft focus or pin hole filter, or add a virtual picture frame. You can only do this for certain filters, though. Something else new is that you no longer are restricted to using Art Filters in the dedicated (point-and-shoot) mode -- look for them in the Picture Mode menu in the manual shooting modes.
Of course, the E-PL2 has full manual exposure control, on top of the point-and-shoot features I just mentioned. You can adjust the aperture, shutter speed (now with a wider range), or both. There's also a bulb mode, and I'd recommend picking up the optional wired remote if you plan on using that. That said, a "bulb timer" lets you select how long the exposure will last, so you could probably pass on the remote release if you're not too picky about exposure times.
The last two things to see on the top of the E-PL2 include the shutter release and power buttons.
There's nothing of note on the body of the E-PL2 in this photo. I do want to point out that the 14 - 42 mm lens is in its "closed" position here.
On the other side of the camera you'll find it's I/O ports, which are protected by a rubber cover. The ports here include USB + A/V output, as well as mini-HDMI.
The 14 - 42 mm lens is at the telephoto position in this shot. I had to brace the lens in both of the side views because the camera always tips over with the 14-42 attached!
On the bottom of the E-PL2 you'll find an off-center metal tripod mount, plus the battery and memory card compartment. The plastic door over the memory card slot is of average quality and, as you can see, you won't be able to access the card when the camera is on a tripod.
The all-new BLS-5 lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.
Using the Olympus E-PL2
You'll wait for about 1.2 seconds while the E-PL2 runs through its dust reduction cycle and prepares for shooting. That's about the same as the E-PL1.
Olympus has steadily been improving the autofocus performance on their Micro Four Thirds cameras, and the E-PL2 (combined with its new kit lens) is the fastest yet. While not as fast as the Panasonic G-series cameras (especially the GH2) or the Sony NEX models, it's close. When lighting is good, the camera will lock focus in about 0.3 - 0.5 seconds at wide-angle, and 0.5 - 0.8 seconds (and sometimes a bit longer) at the telephoto end of the 14 - 42 mm kit lens. In dim lighting conditions, focus times typically hover around a full second. If things get darker, the camera does really struggles -- it'll try to focus for several seconds before giving up entirely. Here's where an AF-assist lamp of some kind would've really helped.
Shutter lag wasn't an issue, and shot-to-shot delays were minimal, even when shooting RAW+JPEG. Even when you're using the flash, you won't wait more than 2 seconds before you can take another photo.
There is no quick way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken -- you'll have to enter playback mode for that. To save you a button press, you can set Auto Review to "Auto Playback" and the camera will go there after a photo is taken.
Now, here's a look at the numerous image size and quality options that are available on the E-PL2:
Whew, that's a very long list... and that's only at the default 4:3 aspect ratio, too (there are three more to choose from). Do note that you choose which resolution and quality setting to use for the middle and small settings, so changing resolutions isn't quite as overwhelming as it looks.
You can take a RAW image alone, or with a JPEG at the size of your choosing. I explained the benefits of the RAW format earlier in the review.
The E-PL2 has the same menu system as the E-PL1 that came before it, save for one new "tab". It's a pretty standard looking menu system, and could be a bit more user-friendly (there are no help screens to be found here). It's divided into several tabs, covering shooting, playback, custom, accessory port, and setup options. Do note that the custom and AP tabs must be turned on via the setup menu before they'll appear, which is good, as they can overwhelm the beginner (which is Olympus' target audience, after all).
Keeping in mind that not all of these options are available in every shooting mode, here's the full list of menu options on the Olympus E-PL2:
|Shooting Menu 1
|Shooting menu 2
|Custom Menu - must be turned on via the
Accessory Port Menu
While I described as many of the options as I could up there, some of the options require more than a sentence. So, here's some further explanation for some of the more important settings on the E-PL2:
|Picture Mode menu||Editing the Natural picture mode|
Let's start with the Picture Mode feature, which is mostly the same as it was on the E-PL1. A Picture Mode contains contrast, sharpness, saturation, and gradation (shadow brightening) settings. There are several presets, including vivid, natural (the default), or muted colors, portrait for smooth skin tones, and monotone for black and white shooting. There's also the i-Enhance option (which is the default in iAuto mode), which finds the primary color in a photo and boosts the saturation and contrast of just that color. You can tweak the aforementioned settings for each of the presets, with the monotone option also letting you add a filter or tint to the image. There's also a custom option lets you select a Picture Mode as a starting point, and you can then adjust the settings I just mentioned, plus gradation. Something new to the Picture Mode menu are Art Filters, which means that you can now use them in any shooting mode that you wish.
There are three different image stabilizer modes to choose from on the E-PL2. Mode 1 is for everyday shooting. Mode 2 is for horizontal panning, while mode 3 is for vertical panning. You can also turn the IS system off entirely, which is a good idea if you have the camera on a tripod.
Like to bracket? Then you'll like the E-PL2
There are a whopping four types of bracketing on the E-PL2. You can bracket for exposure (taking 2 to 7 shots per sequence), white balance (in both the amber-blue and green-magenta directions), flash exposure (3 shots), and ISO (also 3 shots). If you're seeking the perfect photo, the E-PL2's bracketing features will certainly help you reach it.
The E-PL2 has the same multiple exposure feature as the other members of the PEN family. This lets you take two exposures and combine them into a single image. You can also overlay new images onto an existing one. You can leave the brightness of each image untouched, or you can turn on the "auto gain" feature to make things blend in better. In playback mode, you can use the image overlay feature to combine up to three RAW photos that you've already taken into one, in much the same way.
The E-PL2 has a ton of white balance options, including the bracketing feature that I mentioned above. You have the usual presets like sunlight and cloudy, and you can also use a white or gray card to get accurate color in more unusual lighting. If any of those need further tweaking, you can fine-tune things in the amber-blue and/or green-magenta directions (for one WB setting or all of them at once, if you wish). You can also set the white balance by color temperature, with a wide range of 2000 - 14000 Kelvin.
The PENPAL atop the E-PL2
Now I want to take a moment to tell you more about the PENPAL, an optional accessory. The PENPAL is a Bluetooth receiver that attaches via the hot shoe, and plugs into the Accessory Port. Once attached, your first mission is to get the PENPAL paired up with another Bluetooth device. Doing this is harder than it should be, due to the clunky interface on the camera. While I was able to pair the camera with my mobile phone, I could never get it to work properly with my Bluetooth-equipped Mac Pro. Once you've transferred your photos to your phone, you need to figure out what to do with them, since there's no app on the other end to handle the incoming file. Oh, and one more thing -- the PENPAL holds up to 2600 photos, so you can use it to store images if you need space on your SD card.
Let's move on to our photo tests now, shall we? With the exception of the night shots, all of these were taken with the F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm MSC lens. The night shots were taken with the F4.0-5.6, 40 - 150 mm MSC lens.
The macro test turned out nicely. The subject has the "smooth" look that is a common trait of interchangeable lens and D-SLR cameras. Colors look good, with the reds being especially saturated. I don't see any noise or other artifacting, nor would I expect to.
The 14 - 42 mm kit lens has a minimum focus distance of 25 cm at the wide end of the lens. If you want to get closer without having to buy another lens, try out the new macro conversion lens that I mentioned way back in the accessory section of the review. This will reduce the minimum distance to 14 cm. More serious macro shooters may want the Panasonic/Leica F2.8, 45 mm macro lens, though it's not cheap (over $700). Another option is to pick up the Four Thirds adapter and use one of the classic Olympus macro lenses, such as the F3.5, 35 mm or F2.0, 50 mm.
The night shot, taken with the Olympus 14 - 150 mm lens, turned out quite well. Really, the only issues here are highlight clipping (which is something you have to deal with on all Four Thirds cameras) and some blurring on the left side of the frame. Otherwise, the camera took in plenty of light, as you'd expect from a camera with manual control over shutter speed. The buildings are nice and sharp, save for the far left side. While noise isn't an issue here, you will see some purple fringing in places.
Now, let's use that same scene to see how the E-PL2 performed across its sensitivity range in low light. Everything moved up a full stop on the E-PL2: the ISO range is 200 - 6400, compared to 100 - 3200 on the E-PL1.
The ISO 200 and 400 photos are both free and clear of noise. At ISO 800 we start to see a bit of detail loss, though it shouldn't prevent you from making a midsize or large print at that setting. Noise becomes more visible at ISO 1600, and this is my recommended "stop or switch to RAW" point on the E-PL2. At ISO 3200 there's quite a bit of detail loss, so I'd avoid it. The ISO 6400 is especially unpleasant, with some banding in addition to all the noise.
Can we improve on the ISO 1600 and 3200 shots by shooting RAW and doing some basic post-processing? You bet! In this situation I used Olympus Viewer 2 for the conversions, setting the noise filter to "off". After that, photos took a trip through NeatImage and then had some Unsharp Mask applied. Here are the results:
While you're probably not saying "wow!", both of our test photos look better (at least to me) with a little bit of post-processing. If you're going to be using high sensitivities in low light, then I'd spend the extra time shooting RAW and cleaning things up in software.
We'll see how the E-PL2 performs at high sensitivities in normal lighting in a bit.
Straight out of the camera
After using Redeye Fix in playback mode
As with its predecessor, the E-PL2 has a bit of a redeye problem, even with the flash set to redeye reduction. The good news is that there's a tool in playback mode which does an effective job of ridding your photos of this annoyance. If you want to take pictures without redeye (or having to remove it digitally), then you might want to consider attaching an external flash to the E-PL2's hot shoe.
There's mild-to-moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the camera's 14 - 42 mm kit lens. You can see what this looks like in the real world by looking at the building on the right side of this photo. Otherwise, the kit lens is pretty sound, with minimal corner blurring and no vignetting to speak of.
Now it's time for our standard studio test photo. Since the lighting is always the same, these photos can be compared with others that I've taken over the years. Those of you comparing the E-PL2 to the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 will want to open up the GF2 review at this point. Keeping in mind that the crops below only show a portion of the total image (in other words, view the full size images too), here's how the E-PL2 performed, from ISO 200 to 6400:
Everything looks very good through ISO 800, with just some slight softening when you reach ISO 1600. Things start to get a bit noisy at ISO 3200, and there's a drop in color saturation as well, so switching over to RAW is probably a good idea at this point. That trend continues at ISO 6400, but still, not too bad. The E-PL2 is definitely cleaner than its Panasonic counterpart at these sensitivities.
Let's do another "why shooting RAW at high sensitivities is a good idea" comparison, this time using the ISO 3200 and 6400 photos.
There are definitely improvements to be had by shooting RAW and spending 30 seconds in Photoshop at ISO 3200 and 6400. The ISO 3200 photo is quite a bit cleaner and, while not perfect, even the ISO 6400 photo is now usable for small or midsize prints.
Overall, I was pretty happy with the photos produced by the Olympus E-PL2, though there's room for improvement. Exposure was generally solid, though like all Four Thirds cameras, the E-PL2 likes to clip highlights. Shadow detail could've been better, as well, and you can change the Gradation setting (in the Picture Mode menu) to "auto" to improve that, though noise levels will increase). Colors seemed a bit dull to me at the default "natural" setting -- I actually like the i-Enhance Picture Mode (the default in iAuto mode) better. The E-PL2 handles noise well in most cases, keeping things clean through ISO 800 in low light, and ISO 1600 in good light. I did notice that the noise reduction system really likes to smudge certain details (and gives images a slightly soft appearance). See my example below for more on this topic. Purple fringing was not a major problem with either of the two lenses I tested with the E-PL2.
|Noise filter standard (default)
View Full Size Image
|Noise filter off
View Full Size Image
Now, about that noise filter setting. As you can see in the above crop of the purple fringing tunnel of doom (a photo which, unfortunately, I can no longer take), the details on the wall are really smudged. And that's at the base ISO of 200! Since I used RAW+JPEG to take the photo, I was curious to see the effect of turning the noise filter off entirely. As you can see, the image looks a lot better without the noise filter. Thus, if you're noticing a lot of detail smudging in your photos, you may want to visit the noise filter setting in the menu and turn it to low or off.
Alright, enough about my opinions about photo quality. Now it's your turn -- visit our E-PL2 photo gallery, and decide for yourself if the camera's image quality meets your needs!
The E-PL2's movie mode is exactly the same as the one on its predecessor, save for the ability to use the Live Guide. You can record video at 1280 x 720 (30 frames/second) with monaural sound until you hit the 2GB file size limit. You'll reach that limit in just 7 minutes, thanks the inefficient codec the camera uses. For longer movies, you can lower the resolution to 640 x 480, which allows for continuous video recording of up to 14 minutes. Olympus recommends a Class 6 or faster SD/SDHC card for recording movies.
The E-PL2 has the ability to focus continuously while recording a movie, including tracking a designated subject as they move around the frame (face detection is not available, however). This also means that you can zoom in and out with your heart's content. The new 14 - 42 mm MSC lens focuses quietly and relatively quickly compared to the original model. One thing you cannot use in movie mode is the sensor-shift image stabilization system. Instead, there's a digital SR system, which increases the focal length, and doesn't work very well, either (see earlier example).
As was the case with the E-PL1, there are full manual controls available in the movie mode. You can adjust the shutter speed, aperture, or ISO manually. You can also apply any of the six art filters to a movie, though some of them will significantly reduce the frame rate. The Movie+Still image option will save a full resolution still image of the last frame of your movie, automatically. You can take a still photo as you're recording, but the current clip will stop and a new one will begin after the image is saved.
Here's a sample movie for you, taken at the 720p setting. I had to trim some footage off the beginning of the clip and re-save the file as a QuickTime movie, though the quality (which is average) should not have been affected.
Nothing's changed in the E-PL2's playback menu, either. Basic features include slideshows, DPOF print marking, image rotation (which is useful, since the camera doesn't rotate photos automatically), image protection, voice captions, and zoom & scroll (playback zoom). The slideshow feature has background music (with the default being "melancholy", of all things) and transitions.
Photos can be viewing one-at-a-time or as thumbnails of varying sizes (some of which are tiny). You can also navigate to photos that were taken on a certain date by using the calendar view (see above). There seems to be some kind of side-by-side comparison tool (called lightbox here), but I could never seem to activate it.
|JPEG edit menu||Shadow adjustment technology in action|
The E-PL2 has the ability to edit both JPEG and RAW images, though the former is a lot easier to use than the latter. The JPEG editing feature lets you resize an image, apply shadow adjustment technology (see above right), remove redeye, crop a photo, change the aspect ratio, apply the e-Portrait skin smoothing filter, adjust saturation, or convert it to black and white or sepia.
The RAW data edit feature is handy, but not as easy to use as it could be. Instead of just adjusting the RAW properties right there in playback mode (as you can on Nikon's cameras), you first need to set the desired settings in the record menu, and then return to playback mode to use the RAW edit function. The resulting image is saved as a JPEG.
Something else you can do in playback mode is overlay RAW images. You can select two or three images and combine them into one photo. You can adjust the gain for each of the photos.
One thing that's sorely missing from the E-PL2's playback mode is any sort of movie editing feature. You can't even trim unwanted footage off the beginning or end of a clip, which sure comes in handy.
By default, the camera doesn't show you much information about your photos, but press the info button a few times and you'll get a lot more, including histograms and a display of over and underexposed areas.
The E-PL2 between photos instantly in playback mode.
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!
Check out our photo gallery to see how the E-PL2's image quality looks!