A camera that delivers DSLR-quality imaging and still able to fit in your jacket pocket.
Like more and more cameras these days, the E-PL1 largely relies on menus to change settings, and Olympus has designed a nice way to do so: Press the OK button in the middle of the four navigation keys, and a list of settings pops up on the 2.7-inch LCD.
You can then move up and down to find what you want to change—options appear across the bottom of the screen. Simply use the left and right keys to select. Those four nav keys also let you access exposure compensation, flash mode, drive mode, and AF-zone selection.
In our field tests, we found the system quite intuitive and didn’t have trouble changing settings quickly. But since the camera has no built-in viewfinder, and the settings are overlaid on the scene you’re framing, it’s more distracting than when you change settings on an SLR while framing through the optical finder.
The E-PL1’s body design marks a departure from the first two Olympus models. To accommodate its pop-up flash, the mode dial had to move to the right side of the camera top.
The vertical scroll wheel on the upper right of the older camera back was eliminated, as was the wheel surrounding the navigation pad on the E-P2.
We miss both those wheels, because they allowed faster setting changes. But considering the difference in price, we don’t mind all that much—and we very much appreciate the fl ash.
Since Olympus is targeting point-and-shooters who are eager to gain more control over their photos, the PL1 put its new Live Guide within the iAuto shooting mode.
This lets you adjust one of a handful of settings at any given time, and, more important, uses very nontechnical language. For example, instead of a setting called white balance, it says Change Color Image and gives you a slider from warm to cool within that option. Similarly, you can set Color Saturation, Brightness, or Blur Background (i.e., adjust aperture), or Express Motions (adjust shutter speed).
As long as you understand what Change Color Image means, or at least click to find out, we think this could be a good step into a higher level of photography. More seasoned photographers will most likely want to be able to control more than one setting at a time.
Another addition to the E-PL1 is a dedicated video button. At any point, regardless of shooting mode, you can press it to start recording AVI Motion JPEG video at up to 1280x720p and 30 frames per second.
Sound is mono, and you’ll have to use the SEMA-1 kit ($90, street) if you want to add an external stereo mic.
We found the footage impressive for such a small device, though AF remains too slow to be of much use even when set to continuous mode. Despite that, we like the idea of Oly’s new continuous-tracking AF, which will lock on any object and keep it in focus as it moves around the frame or as you recompose. Once AF speed increases, this should prove helpful.
One Sweet Deal
Overall, we were very pleased with the Pen E-PL1. It matches a lot of what you get with the Panasonic GF1, but knocks off a quarter of that camera’s price. That will almost cover the cost of the optional VF-2 electronic viewfinder ($280, street).
If you want a camera that can deliver DSLR-quality imaging and still fit in a jacket pocket or medium-sized purse, the E-PL1 makes a lot of sense.