Olympus E-P2 Preview

Look and Feel

The E-P2 looks nearly identical to the original E-P1, with two exceptions. The most obvious change is the color: while the E-P1 came in silver or white, the E-P2 is available in translucent black only. The other change is the addition of the accessory port, which you'll see in a moment. Adding this port makes the E-P2 very slightly taller than the E-P1 -- we're talking 0.1 mm here. Aside from those two things, they're the same beast. That means that you get a mostly metal, retro-styled body (based on Olympus' classic "Pen" film cameras), a small, faux leather grip, and easy one hand operation.

The controls on the E-P2 haven't changed a bit on the E-P2. On the back of the camera is a four-way controller with a scroll wheel around it, plus a unique vertically oriented main dial. You'll use both of these dials for menu navigation, adjusting manual settings, and more. I found the four-way controller to be too small, and the wheel around it way too easy to accidentally turn. The mode dial on the E-P2 is set into the top of the body, and you access it with a plastic dial that sticks out of the back. I found that dial to be a bit small for my large fingers.

Now let's do some comparisons, starting with the E-P2 and its closest competitor (the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1) side-by-side:

As you can see, they're very close in terms of size. The E-P2 definitely wins in terms of looks, but looks aren't everything when it comes to cameras.

I also like the comparison shot above, which shows you just how close the GF1 and E-P2 are to a fixed-lens prosumer camera which, in this case, is a Canon PowerShot G11.

Alright, now let's see how the E-P2 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.

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon EOS Rebel T1i 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.4 in. 46.5 cu in. 480 g
Nikon D5000 5.0 x 4.1 x 3.1 in. 63.6 cu in. 560 g
Olympus E-P1 / E-P2 4.7 x 2.8 x 1.4 in. 18.4 cu in. 335 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 4.7 x 2.8 x 1.4 in. 18.4 cu in. 285 g
Pentax K-x 4.8 x 3.6 x 2.7 in. 46.7 cu in. 516 g
Sony Alpha DSLR-A380 5.0 x 3.8 x 2.8 in. 53.2 cu in. 489 g

A few paragraphs ago I said that the E-P2 was a bit taller than the E-P1, which is true. But the difference is so minute that it doesn't make a difference when you're using inches as a measurement unit. The E-P2 ties with the Panasonic GF1 for the title of smallest interchangeable lens camera, though the Panasonic is a bit lighter.

Alright, let's start our tour of the camera now!

Front of the Olympus E-P2

Here you can see the front of the E-P2 with the lens removed. As I mentioned, 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 or vintage OM lenses. To remove an attached lens, just press the button to the right of the mount.

Inside the lens mount is the E-P2's 12.3 effective Megapixel Live MOS sensor (the same one as in the E-P1). Unlike Panasonic's three Micro Four Thirds cameras, the E-P2 has sensor-shift image stabilization built in, so every lens you attach will have shake reduction. The IS system detects the tiny movements of your hands that can blur your photos, and it shifts the sensor to compensate for it. Olympus says that you can get up to four stops of correction from their IS system. Do note that you cannot use the IS system while recording videos, though a digital shake reduction system is available.

Interchangeable lens cameras almost require a dust reduction systems, since there's no mirror to protect the sensor. The E-P2 uses a more compact version of the 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.

Like the E-P1, the E-P2 does not have a built-in flash. Therefore, if you want to take any flash photos, you'll need to pony up for an external one, which you'll attach to the hot shoe. Of course, that means that you cannot use the electronic viewfinder, so don't say I didn't warn you. The E-P2 also lacks an AF-assist lamp, which will likely affect its low light focusing abilities.

The other things to see on the front of the camera include the self-timer lamp (top right) and the stereo microphone (straddling the Olympus logo).

Back of the Olympus E-P2

The first item of note on the back of the E-P2 is its 3-inch LCD display. This is the exact same screen as on the E-P1, which means that it has 230,000 pixels and decent outdoor visibility. I was hoping that the next revision of the Digital Pen would have a higher resolution screen, but I guess that's another thing to save for the E-P3.

As you've probably know, the E-P2 is a live view only camera. The live view experience is better than on most digital SLRs, but not as good as I've seen. Live view on the E-P2 features contrast detect AF (now with subject tracking), a live histogram, grid lines, face detection, and the ability to enlarge the center of the frame or focus point. The camera uses its Live MOS sensor to focus using contrast detection, and while it's twice as fast as Olympus' regular D-SLRs, the Panasonic G1/GF1/GH1 and some Sony models are noticeably faster. In low light, the screen brightens automatically, and you can enhance that effect even more by turning on Live View Boost.

Perfect Shot Preview for white balance

The E-P2 uses the same Perfect Shot Preview feature that's been on Olympus cameras for a year or two now. This allows you to see the effects of different exposure compensation or white balance settings in real time. The previews are kind of small, but I still think it's a handy feature to have.

The levels turn green when you hit the magic spot

Another neat feature on the E-P2 is an electronic level, which was inherited from the Olympus E-30. If you're like me and can't take a level shot to save your life, then you'll love this option. The level works both horizontally and for pitch (forward/backward), as well.

Accessory port on the Olympus E-P2

Above the LCD (and normally protected by the hot shoe cover) is the E-P2's biggest new feature: an accessory port. This is where the included electronic viewfinder and the optional external microphone adapter plug in.

The EVF can tilt up to 90 degrees
Image courtesy of Olympus

One of the biggest complaints folks had about the E-P1 was the lack of an EVF, and I was very pleased to see Olympus not only offer one on the EP-2, but include it in the box with the camera. I gave you its specs back on the first page of this article.

Getting back to the tour, now. At the top-left of the photo is the plastic dial that's used to operate the mode dial, which you'll have a better view of in a moment. Over on the right side of the LCD is where you'll find the rest of the E-P2's controls. Let's start with the four buttons to the immediate right of the screen:

  • AE/AF lock
  • Playback
  • Delete photo
  • Menu

The next two buttons are Function and Info. The function button is customizable, and by default turns on face detection, multi-point AF, and shadow adjustment (you may want to disable this one, since it can affect photo quality and camera performance). I'll tell you what else this button can do later in the review. The info button moves through the various display modes on the LCD and EVF.

In between the Function and Info buttons is the very small four-way controller, which has a scroll wheel surrounding it. The four-way controller is used for menu navigation, reviewing photos, and also:

  • Up - ISO (Auto, 100 - 6400)
  • Down - Drive (Single-shot, sequential, 2 or 12 sec self-timer)
  • Left - AF (Single AF, continuous AF, manual focus, single AF + manual, continuous + tracking) - this button is customizable
  • Right - White balance (Auto, sunny, shade, cloudy, incandescent, white fluorescent, neutral white fluorescent, daylight fluorescent, flash, one-touch, color temperature)
  • Center - Live control menu + OK

As you can see, the E-P2 has a pretty expansive ISO range, going all the way up to ISO 6400. You can set how high it goes in Auto mode in the menu system.

The E-P2 has the same continuous shooting performance as the E-P1. That means that you can take photos at frame rates up to 3 frames/second (see the E-P1 review for specifics).

One of the new features on the E-P2 can be found in the AF mode menu. That option is continuous AF with subject tracking. When this feature is on, just lock focus on your subject, and the camera will follow them as they move around the frame. The other focus modes are unchanged. Single AF locks the focus when you halfway-press the shutter release button. Continuous AF keeps focusing, even when the shutter is halfway-pressed, which comes in handy if you're shooting a moving subject. Manual focus allows you to set the focus distance yourself, though that can be difficult, since there are no distance markings on the lens, nor are any displayed on the LCD. I already mentioned that you can enlarge the frame when you're focusing manually, so you can ensure that your subject is sharp.

There are plenty of white balance to choose from on the camera. You've got the usual presets, plus you can use a white or gray card as a reference, for accurate color in mixed or unusual lighting. You can also set the white balance by color temperature, with a range of 2000K - 14000K. If that's still not enough, you can fine-tune the WB (in the amber-blue and/or green-magenta directions) and you can bracket for it, as well.

Live Control Menu

Pressing the center button in the four-way controller opens up the E-P2's new Live Control Menu. This allows you to get at the camera's most commonly used settings without having to enter the regular menu system. You use the scroll wheel to go up and down and the silver thumb dial to go left and right. By the way, you can use the four-way controller for all of this. Functions that can be set in the Live Control Menu include:

  • Scene mode (SCN mode only)
  • Art filter mode (art filter mode only)
  • Record mode (movie mode only)
  • White balance
  • Drive
  • Image stabilizer
  • Aspect ratio
  • ISO sensitivity
  • Flash mode
  • Metering mode
  • AF mode
  • Face detection
  • AF target selection
  • Movie sound record (movie mode only)

I'll give you more details about many of those options later on.

The Super Control Panel is alive and well

By the way, fans of the Super Control Panel need not worry -- it's still here. To get to it, press the OK button to show the Live Control Menu, then hit Info, and viola -- the Super Control Panel appears. You can adjust settings here in the same way that you can on Olympus' D-SLRs.

I've touched on it already, but the last thing to see on the back of the E-P2 is that silver thumb wheel. It's used to navigate through the regular and Live Control menus, and it also lets you operate the playback zoom feature.

Top of the Olympus E-P2

First up on the top of the E-P2 is its mode dial, which is actually recessed into the body a little bit (which is why you turn it with that black plastic dial below it). Here are the eight options available on the mode dial:

Option Function
Intelligent Auto mode Point-and-shoot, with automatic scene selection
Program mode Automatic, but with full menu access; a Program Shift option lets you use either of the dials to move through various sets of aperture/shutter speed combos
Aperture Priority mode You set the aperture, and the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed. The available apertures will depend on what lens is attached.
Shutter Priority mode You pick the shutter speed, and the camera selects the aperture. The shutter speed range is 60 - 1/4000 sec.
Full manual (M) mode You select both the aperture and the shutter speed. Same ranges as above. A bulb mode is also available, which keeps the shutter open for as long as the shutter release is pressed
Movie mode More on this later
Scene mode You pick the scene, and the camera uses the appropriate settings. Select from portrait, e-portrait, landscape, landscape+portrait, sport, night scene, night+portrait, children, high key, low key, digital image stabilization, macro, nature macro, candle, sunset, documents, panorama, fireworks, beach & snow
Art filter mode Shoot photos with unique effects, including pop art, soft focus, pale & light color, light tone, grainy film, pin hole, diorama, and cross process.

The E-P2 has a pretty typical set of mode dial options. If you want a point-and-shoot experience, just set the dial to the iAuto position. The camera will take care of everything for you, including picking a scene mode (selecting from portrait, landscape, night scene, sport, or macro). It's worth pointing out that the camera uses a base ISO of 200 in this mode, or anytime Auto ISO is being used. It also defaults to the new iEnhance Picture Mode, which I'll tell you about a bit later in this article.

One of the scene modes on the E-P2

If you want to pick a scene mode yourself, you'll find plenty to choose from in the SCN menu. Two of the notable scene modes include e-Portrait and panorama. The e-Portrait feature is a new one, and similar to the "beauty" mode on some other Olympus models. In a nutshell, e-Portrait removes wrinkles and other skin blemishes from your subject, right the photo is taken. The camera actually saves two images -- one retouched, the other untouched. You can also apply this feature in playback mode, if you want. The panorama feature helps you line up photos side-by-side, for later stitching into a single image.

Art Filter menu

The E-P2 has two new "art filters" as well. They include diorama (miniature effect) and cross process (a relic from the film days which gives you unusual color and a retro look), in addition to classics like grainy film and pin hole. You can use all of these in movie mode as well, though the frame rate will be far less than 30 fps in most cases.

Naturally, the E-P2 has the full suite of manual exposure controls. There's also a bulb mode, which keeps the shutter open for as long as you'd like (though I think it will stop after 30 minutes). It's probably a good idea to use the optional remote shutter release cable for bulb shooting.

Getting back to the tour, let's talk about the E-P2's hot shoe. Here you'll attach an external flash, the electronic viewfinder (or the optical one, if you have it), or the microphone adapter. The E-P2 works best with recent Olympus flashes (including its own matching flash, the FL-14), which will sync with the cameras TTL metering system. The FL-36R and FL-50R can also take advantage of the "Super FP" function, which lets you use them at any shutter speed. Otherwise, the fastest shutter speed you can use is 1/180 sec. You can use third party external flashes with the E-P2, though you'll probably need to adjust their settings manually.

Continuing to the right. we find the indicator light for the Supersonic Wave Filter (dust reduction system), and the power, shutter release, and exposure compensation buttons. The exposure compensation range is -3EV to +3EV, in 1/3EV increments.

Side of the Olympus E-P2, lens closed

There's nothing to see on this side of the camera. In this photo, the 14 - 42 mm lens is in its "travel" position. Let's open up this bad boy now:

Side of the Olympus E-P2

And here's the lens at the wide-angle position. As you can see, it nearly doubles in size when you open it up.

Side of the Olympus E-P2

On the other side of the camera you'll find its two I/O ports. The top one is for both USB and A/V output (and is also where the optional remote control plugs in), while the one on the bottom is a mini HDMI port (cable not included). A plastic door of average quality protects these two ports.

The 14 - 42 mm lens is at the telephoto position in this shot.

Bottom of the Olympus E-P2

On the bottom of the E-P2 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 included BLS-1 battery can be seen on the right side of the photo.