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This gorgeous little camera is not technically a compact model. Compacts, by general agreement, have fixed lenses. And the new Olympus E-P1 is a 12.3MP Micro Four Thirds camera that accepts interchangeable lenses, just like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 and GH1.

But put the new Olympus next to one of those and you’d never guess that they came from the same era, let alone that they share the same system standards. The E-P1 forgoes both an electronic viewfinder and built-in flash to maintain a rangefinder look. Still, despite its size- just 4.74×2.75×1.37 inches-the E-P1 is loaded. Here’s a rundown:

Still imaging: The new TruePic V processing engine promises both more sharpness and better noise suppression in images from the Live MOS sensor. Sensitivity goes up to ISO 6400, versus ISO 3200 on current Olympus DSLRs. The six Art Filters from the E-620 (Grainy Film, Pinhole Camera, etc.) are carried over, as is multiple exposure (up to three frames). An in-camera fix, e-Portrait, automatically smoothes over skin wrinkles and flaws, reducing file size to 5MP in the process.

Video: High-definition video of 1280×720 pixels at 30 frames per second, with digital image stabilization and continuous autofocus, can be recorded with CD-quality stereo audio via two builtin mics. You can apply Art Filters, plus any of five preset selections of background music, which can also be combined with live sound. And it plays video directly on an HDTV via an HDMI cable.

Controls: The 324-zone evaluative metering has the most zones yet in an Olympus. A “normally open” shutter reduces lag to a stated 70ms, comparable to a DSLR rather than a pokey compact. Olympus says that the contrast-detection autofocus works twice as fast as the live-view AF in the E-620. An electronic level gauge can be superimposed on the LCD. As with Olympus DSLRs, the E-P1 has both sensor dust removal and sensor-shift image stabilization systems. Early production samples of the E-P1 were very impressive in fit and finish. Front and back panels are stainless steel; top and bottom plates are aluminum alloy. The camera’s 11.8-ounce heft is startling but also satisfying in this lightweight plastic era.

Olympus showed us two lenses: a 17mm f/2.8 pancake lens (which scales up to a 34mm equivalent with the Four Thirds System’s 2X lens factor), and a 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom (28-84mm equivalent) that can be collapsed to protrude about two inches from the body. An accessory bright-frame finder for the 17mm lens allows fast eye-level shooting.

A very compact shoe-mount flash will be available, and the E-P1 will work with current Olympus TTL flash units. Adapters for both standard Four Thirds and Olympus OM-system lenses will be made.

No pricing had been set as of press time, but Olympus believes that it will retail for less than $1,000 with an unspecified lens. Stay tuned.

Penning The Style:

While it’s tempting to call the Olympus E-P1 a rangefinderstyle camera, it references an unconventional film-era SLR, the Olympus Pen F.

Introduced in 1963, it was the world’s first half-frame (18x24mm on 35mm film) singlelens reflex. Its unique viewfinder system employed a tiny porroprism rather than a pentaprism, creating an SLR with no prism bump. The “P” in E-P1 is a nod to the Pen F, and Olympus informally calls the new camera the digital Pen.

New & Noteworthy:

  • Tiniest Micro Four Thirds camera yet.

  • 1280×720 HD video recording with stereo sound.

  • In-camera fixes include electronic Botox.

Consider This If…

You want to fall in love all over again-don’t say we didn’t warn you.