Olympus E-PL2 Review

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.

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon EOS Rebel T2i 5.1 x 3.8 x 3.0 in. 58.1 cu in. 475 g
Nikon D3100 4.9 x 3.8 x 2.9 in. 54 cu in. 455 g
Olympus E-PL2 4.5 x 2.9 x 1.7 in. 22.2 cu in. 317 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 4.4 x 2.7 x 1.3 in. 15.4 cu in. 265 g
Pentax K-r 4.9 x 3.8 x 2.7 in. 50.3 cu in. 544 g
Samsung NX100 4.7 x 2.8 x 1.4 in. 18.4 cu in. 282 g
Sony Alpha NEX-5 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.6 in. 16.9 cu in. 229 g

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?

Front of the Olympus E-PL2

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.

Back of the Olympus E-PL2

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
  • Drive
  • 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.

The accessory port on the E-PL1

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:

Quality setting Frame rate
RAW + Large/Superfine JPEG 9 shots @ 3.0 fps
RAW 11 shots @ 3.0 fps
Large/Superfine JPEG 17 shots @ 3.0 fps
Tested using a Lexar Class 6 SDHC card

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!

Top of the Olympus 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:

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 the four-way controller to select from various shutter speed/aperture 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. For the 14 - 42 mm kit lens, the range is F3.5 - F22.
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 You can take movies in any mode using the red button, but this is a dedicated mode for video recording.
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, fisheye lens, wide-angle lens, macro lens.
Art filter mode Shoot photos with unique effects, including pop art, soft focus, grainy film, pin hole, diorama (miniature), and dramatic tone.

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.

Side of the Olympus E-PL2

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.

Side of the Olympus E-P2

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!

Bottom of the Olympus E-PL2

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.