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You are hereHome > Digital Camera Reviews > Olympus E-P1


Olympus E-P1 Review

Review Date: Nov 23, 2009

Category: Beginner to Serious Amateur

Olympus E-P1

Photoxels Editor's Choice 2009 - Digital Interchangeable Lens
Photoxels Editor's Choice 2009 - Digital Interchangeable Lens


There's no denying the charms of the Olympus E-P1 with its unabashedly retro look that harks back to the PEN era. It's not until you have it in your hands that you can fully appreciate the simplicity and timeless elegance of its design. This is a beautiful camera, period.

They put the right person in charge of the E-P1 design. Buttons are pretty much where you'd expect them and they do what they are supposed to. The design is clean and straightforward, and though there are decidedly improvements that can be made to the Menu, there is nothing really major to fault as far as the design is concerned. Construction and build are excellent and the camera feels solid and sure in its metallic body. The finish is superb.

The little hole on each side of the "OLYMPUS"label together form the stereo microphone. The little hole lower to the right is the self-timer lamp. Note that, strangely enough, there is no AF-assist Illuminator; not sure why one could not have been included.

Also missing is a built-in flash. It does not need to necessarily be a very powerful flash, but something to use as fill-in would have been nice.

There is also no built-in viewfinder, optical or electronic. If you are used to using the LCD, that's not a problem. But there are still some who prefer a viewfinder, especially in bright sunlight when the LCD image may get washed out. I personally prefer to use the LCD and uses a viewfinder only when necessary and only if the latter is large, bright and high resolution.

Olympus E-P1 with optical viewfinder attached

There is an optional external optical viewfinder that can be slid into the hotshoe for the 17mm pancake lens. It's large and bright.

The Olympus E-P1 uses the SD/SDHC memory card.

Camera W
Olympus E-450 129.5 91 53 380
Leica M9 139 80 37 585
Olympus E-P1 120.5 70 35 335
Panasonic GF1 119 71 36.3 285
Leica X1 124 59.5 32 286

Canon G11
(with 5x lens)

112.1 76.2 48.3 355

As you can see from the table above, the Olympus E-P1 is smaller than the Olympus E-450, smaller than the Leica M9, and basically the same size as the Panasonic GF1.

Can Olympus (and Panasonic) make an even smaller micro Four Thirds (mFT) camera? Because of the requirements dictated by the mFT mount, there is probably no gain possible in depth, and probably just a few mm in height. As far as the width is concerned, it allows a large 3.0-in. LCD and enough space to hold the camera comfortably. It's not pocketable and is best carried using the shoulder strap.

Overall performance is very good, though closer to that of a compact digicam than to a DSLR. Startup time is about 1 sec. (from Power ON to LCD ready for capture, i.e. time-to-first-shot) which includes the SSWF doing its job cleaning the sensor of dust at power on. Olympus should have given the option to do the sensor clean at shut down, reducing the startup time even more. Shot to shot time for JPEG is approx. 1.5 sec. (10 shots in 15 sec. in M mode, 1/125sec.) for about as many shots as you want. Write time for JPEG is about 2 sec. but thanks to an internal buffer, you do not need to wait for the image to finish writing before taking the next shot.

Continuous Shooting allows you to take 15 JPEG, 15 RAW or 9 LF+RAW at 3fps, which is quite good. You can specify resolution for the JPEG [MENU - Shooting Menu 1 - Image Resolution - Still Picture - select LF+RAW, LN+RAW, MN+RAW or SN+RAW]. Write time for RAW + JPEG LF is about 4 sec. but the internal buffer allows you to take the next shot in about 1.7 sec. (9 shots in 15 sec. in M mode, 1/125sec.) and file size for a RAW file is about 12MB.

Autofocus speed is also closer to a compact digicam than to a DSLR. It is about (less than) 1 sec. and precise in both good light and low light, and there is no practical shutter lag. There is no AF-assist illuminator so the camera may not lock focus in extreme low light.

[ Read our experience with the E-P1's autofocus in User's Experience. ]

Included in the box is a rechargeable Li-ion battery PS-BLS1 that can take about 300 shots (CIPA standard) on a fresh charge. A battery charger BCS-1 recharges a depleted battery in [a long] 3 hours 30 min.

Olympus E-P1 Top View with the 17mm Pancake lens

Olympus E-P1 Top View with the 17mm Pancake lens

- Exposure Compensation
- Shutter release button
- Power Button
- Hot Shoe
- Mode Dial (iAUTO, PASM, Movie, SCN, ART)
- Press Exp. Comp. button. Then rotate the Sub Dial or use the LEFT and RIGHT Arrows.
- Range: -3 EV to +3 EV (in 1/3 EV increments)
- Once set, the Exposure Compensation Indicator conveniently stays displayed on screen until it is reset to "0"
- If you display the Live Histogram (press INFO button until it displays), the graph will change as you dial in an Exposure Compensation.
- The screen brightness will increase or decrease to reflect the value you dial in.
- Note: the exposure compensation value selected is retained even when mode is changed or camera is turned off (so remember to reset to "0" after using it or the next time you turn the camera on, your shots may be over- or under-exposed.)

The top of the camera has, from right to left, the exposure compensation button, the Shutter Release Button, the Power Button, the SSWF indicator, the Hot Shoe and the recessed Mode Dial. The hot shoe allows the use of an external flash unit, such as the FL-14.

The Power Button has a green light indicator shining around it when ON. Nice touch! The light stays on even when the camera goes into sleep mode. Touch the shutter release button to immediately go back into shooting mode.

The dust reduction function is automatically activated when the camera is turned on, and the Super Sonic Wave Filter (SSWF) indicator flashes blue briefly.

You'd use your left thumb to rotate the Mode Dial and select a Shooting Mode: iAUTO, PASM (Programmed Auto, Aperture-Priority, Shutter-Priority and Manual) modes, Movie, Scene Mode, and Art Filter.

The Mode Dial requires a rather [too?] strong handling to get it rotated; it locks positively and won't budge out of place. You'll be glad to know that it rotates freely both clockwise and anti-clockwise.

You can record movies with stereo sound at 1280 x 720 pixels @ 30fps. Since the zoom (using the 14-42mm lens) is manual, you can zoom during recording and without any annoying zoom motor noise. You can zoom in and out as slow or as fast as you want, as well as control exactly where you want to stop. If you have never used manual zoom before, you're in for a treat! There is no zoom creep.

Olympus E-P1 Back View
Olympus E-P1 Back View


- Sub Dial
- Speaker holes
- Fn Button is customizable and can be set to: Face Detect, Preview, One touch WB, AF Area Home, MF mode, RAW+JPEG, Test Picture, My Mode, or Backlit LCD.

Arrow Pad:
DOWN = Drive / Self-timer
LEFT = AF mode

- Main Dial
- OK

The large 3.0 in. LCD monitor has a standard 230,000 pixels resolution and 100% coverage. The LCD has a fast refresh rate for a smooth display. The center of the screen enlarges in Manual Focus mode or Single Focus + MF. The brightness can be adjusted but the LCD unfortunately does not gain up in low light.

The Fn button can be customized, but if you believe you'll need to set Custom WB, you'd be smart to set Fn to One touch WB. There is no other way to set Custom WB otherwise. The RIGHT ARROW [WB] only allows you to select a WB, not set Custom WB. Why doesn't Olympus just add an option to set Custom WB in this option? [Perhaps because it would then not be "One touch" WB?]

How is Custom WB set? Once you've set the Fn button to One touch WB, press and hold it down, point to a white sheet of paper and, still holding the Fn button down [which can be a bit arkward], press the shutter release button.

Repeteadly pressing the INFO button allows you to display exposure information on the LCD screen, a Live Histogram, Zoom display, 3 different Scale displays, Multi view display, and a very useful Digital level gauge. You can select what type of display you want to enable or disable [MENU - Custom Menu - Disp - Info Setting - LV Info - turn whichever display option ON/OFF ].

If you press the OK button, a sort of "Quick Menu" (Olympus calls it "Live Control") comes up and allows fast access to exposure settings using the Arrow Pad, Main Dial and/or Sub Dial. If you press the INFO button while Live Control is displayed, the Super Control Panel displays. Use the Arrow Pad, Main Dial and/or Sub Dial to select a function and change a setting.

The ERASE button allows single deletion or deletion of selected images. For single deletion, you can either get a confirmation before deleting the image or delete the image immediately if you enable Quick Erase [MENU - Custom Menu - Record/Erase - Quick Erase = ON]. To delete selected images, rotate the Sub Dial to go into Index Display, use the Arrow Pad to select an image, press the OK button to mark the image, then press the ERASE button to delete the marked images.

To delete all images, you need to go into [MENU - Shooting Menu 1 - Card Setup - All Erase - Yes]. It would have been nice if this Delete All functionality were added to the ERASE button. To format the memory card: [MENU - Shooting Menu 1 - Card Setup - Format - Yes].

Olympus E-P1 with external Flash FL-14

There are a number of external flash units that you can purchase to use on the E-P1. The FL-14, pictured above does not have a rotating head for free bounce lighting, and synch at a shutter speed of 1/180 sec. or less. If you want an external flash, consider the FL-36R or FL-50R instead. They are more powerful units with a swivel head and have an FP TTL AUTO mode that repeatedly emits high-speed FP flashes to make it possible to use the flash even at fast shutter speeds greater than 1/180 sec. The FP TTL AUTO mode is important for outdoors portrait photography as it allows you to use a large aperture (and fast shutter speed) in bright sunlight, together with the flash used as fill-in; the large aperture gives a shallow depth-of-field to isolate your main subject from a nicely blurred background. Note: I have not tested these flash units and am just parroting the marketing specs here, so try before you buy.

The Olympus E-P1 is not only beautiful, it handles like a charm. Its handling and design allow quick changes to settings and its size makes it a very unobstrusive digital camera. Build is superb. A camera you'll actually enjoy using. Top marks to the designer!

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