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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

USER'S EXPERIENCE

Friday, Nov 6, 2009 - Here's what I receive in the box:

  • E-P1 (Silver / Black). There's also a White / Tan version, pictured above.
  • No memory card [Olympus sent me a SanDisk Extreme 4GB SD memory card for the review]
  • Li-ion battery BLS-1 1080mAh, 7.8Wh, 8.4V
  • Battery charger BCS-1 with power cable
  • USB/Video Multi cable
  • Shoulder strap
  • Documentation: Instruction manual
  • Software CDs: OLYMPUS Master 2 CD-ROM, OLYMPUS Studio 2 Trial Version, ArcSoft Print Creations Trial Version
  • Macro Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lens
  • Macro Zuiko Digital 17mm f/2.8 lens
  • Optical Viewfinder VF-1
  • Electronic Flash FL-14

The Olympus E-P1 is certainly a beautiful camera and, if you are tired of the "high tech" design most digital camera models get lost in, you'll love the simple yet elegant retro look of the E-P1. It has a brushed silver metal front and shiny chrome all around.

Pick it up, and you'll notice that the Olympus E-P1 is not heavy; it has a nice heft to it and you'll need both hands to operate it, but it does not feel heavy. The heft means that you can trip the shutter release button without suffering too much from camera shake. The shutter has a satisfying clunk. The E-P1 is not compact enough to carry in your coat pocket (especially with the 14-42mm lens) and so you'll probably use the shoulder strap.

One small complaint I do have is that the strap, when attached, gets in the way of your right index finger. The strap eyelet should either be a little bit forward or backward to permit unimpeded access to the shutter release button. The best way I find to overcome this slight design flaw is to flatten the strap down against the side of the camera body.

The shutter sound is especially satisfying and not too loud. I believe it's mechanical so it means that you will not be able to turn shutter sound off.

The Mode Dial is on the left side (looking from the rear) and is recessed into the body so only a portion of the wheel is visible and available to scroll. The whole top plate is also inset from the back so you'll need to press your thumb in there to reach the Mode Dial. It's not a big deal and it probably prevents accidental scrolling of the Mode Dial. The latter does not easily rotate out of position, so that's a relief.

The 14-42mm lens takes some getting used to at first. It is "parked" into its retracted position and you need to rotate it out into picture taking position. If you don't and turn on the camera, you get a nasty error message [all error messages, however politely worded, are "nasty"] telling you to "Please check the status of a lens." Parked, the lens is about 45mm (1.7 in.) extended. Rotate it and it pops out into the correct position, extending a whopping 77mm (3.0 in.). Though the lens is threaded (40.5 mm), the front portion of the extended lens looks kind of fragile and I would not mess with trying to attach a filter on (and if you can find one that small). The lens cap is not tethered, so can be easily misplaced and/or lost.

Olympus E-P1

The Olympus E-P1 can accept other Four Thirds lenses, old OM Zuiko lenses and Leica M lenses -- with the use of the appropriate adaptor(s).

There is an external optical viewfinder that you can purchase and it slides into the hot shoe. It gives a very large and bright view and is used exclusively with the 17mm Pancake lens. Note that you cannot use the optical viewfinder and the external flash.

Olympus E-P1 with external flash FL-14 attached

You slide the external flash into the hot shoe and turn the wheel to lock it safely in place. The flash takes 2 AAA batteries, recharges quite fast and gives a powerful coverage. It turns on and off automatically as you turn on / off the camera. It also has an ON/OFF button so you can manually control its use. You can use it in Manual, Auto or TTL-Auto mode. Improvement suggestion is to add bounce functionality to the FL-14 flash.

Is the Olympus E-P1 a mirrorless DSLR or is it a compact digicam that uses a large sensor? In specs, it is closer to being a DSLR; in reality, it's pretty much a combination of both. It seems to encapsulate the best of what Olympus knows about compact digicams and DSLRs, with a dash of "classic" design thrown in. It is much smaller than the smallest DSLR, so this in itself is quite a feat. One thing for sure, though: the Olympus E-P1 has brought excitement back into digital camera design and is successfully pushing the envelope of how a DSLR should work. It is incredibly exciting that it chooses to do so with the introduction of a digital camera with a retro look. Hopefully, Olympus is aware of the winning design it has in the E-P1 and keeps it for a long time to come.

Autofocus

I read other early reviews complaining about the slow AF on the 14-42mm lens and I was prepared for a disaster. My review camera comes with firmware version 1.1 for both body and lens and I don't know if that makes a difference compared with the review cameras the early reviewers used.

In fact, the focus locks in about (less than) 1 sec. in both good and low light. That's pretty fast for most general photography. You wouldn't use the E-P1 for action photography (including children running around indoors in low light), but for landscape and street photography, the AF speed is a non-issue.

I agree that the E-P1's Contrast Detect AF is closer to that of a compact digicam than to a top-notch DSLR using Phase-detection AF (which is almost instantaneous on the higher DSLR models). But, if you go back through reviews of entry-level DSLRs, you'll notice that their AF can sometimes go past 1 sec. in low light, so we need to put all of this in proper perspective.

What about in low light? Some early reviews complained that AF could take as long as 3 sec. to lock as well as an inability to lock focus at times. I get focus lock under normal low light conditions (2 lightbulbs on the ceiling) with precise focus lock and no focus hunting. Our ISO shots are taken under 2 energy-saving fluorescent bulbs on the ceiling to simulate normal picture-taking conditions (who takes everyday pictures in a studio?). AF locks in under 1 sec.

In extreme low light, if you can't see it on the LCD, you can't lock focus. Because there is no AF-assist illuminator, getting focus to lock in extreme low light is impossible unless you resort to other means. In our extreme low light picture of Bamm-Bamm (basically, we turned off all the lights and left the room pretty much in darkness), we briefly shone a flashlight on Bamm-Bamm's face to simulate AF-assist and obtain focus lock.

So to tell the truth, we are as much puzzled about our experience with the E-P1's AF (S-AF) performance compared with that of early reviewers. It does not seem to be the disaster they reported. Maybe it's a case of their over expectations and my under expectations? I would very much like to hear from other reviewers and users about their experience with the E-P1 using the version 1.1 firmware.

Upon further reading of more reviews, it seems that the autofocus woes apply primarily to C-AF, i.e. Continuous AF. I rarely, if ever, use C-AF, so can't really comment on this.

Is a one second AF too slow as far as street photography is concerned? I wonder how long it takes to manually focus the Leica M9 using its rangefinder. And don't we all pre-focus so we can catch candid moments? That said, a faster AF is always welcomed.

The 3.0-in. LCD looks positively large on this camera. It has 230K-dot resolution, so gives a clear enough image with fast refresh rate. We are however a bit disappointed the resolution is not at least twice as much, if not the 920K-dot resolution that is quickly becoming the standard in the higher end DSLRs. Since the E-P1 does not have a viewfinder and the user has to rely on the LCD, it makes sense to give this as much resolution as possible. In low light, the LCD does not gain up [much, if any], so gives a dark image.

The E-P1 does not have a viewfinder. There is an external optical viewfinder that is usable with the 17mm pancake lens only. If you absolutely want a viewfinder, then get the Olympus E-P2 which comes standard with a very high resolution (1440K dot) electronic viewfinder that is usable with all lenses.

There are two control dials on the E-P1. The Main Dial combines the functionality of a traditional Main Dial with the traditional Four-way controller (called the Arrow Pad). Press the central OK button to bring up the most common function settings, rotate the Main Dial to select a function, then rotate the Sub Dial to make a selection. You can also use the Arrow Pad (UP, DOWN, RIGHT, LEFT) to do your selection. One complaint I have is that it is too easy to press the Arrow Pad while you're rotating the Main Dial.

There is a manual focus ring that uses fly-by-wire focusing and, even though I am not a great fan of this type of manual focus, it works quite well here, enlarging the screen up to 10x for a closer look at what you are trying to focus on -- though manual focus screams for a LCD screen with higher resolution. Image Stabilization is by Sensor-shift; all lenses attached can therefore take advantage of image stabilization. However, it also means that you cannot view a stabilized image on the screen as you can using optical image stabilization. If you are hand holding the camera, trying to manual focus by fly-by-wire without a stabilized image is quite painful.

There is a Depth of Field Preview function that can be assigned to the Fn button. It works in good light but is not of much use in low light (too grainy). However, if you like this feature, note that the Fn button is usually defaulted to One Touch WB since there is no other way to set WB otherwise. The menu structure remains, by far, the weakest design element on this camera. It's different from the painfully hierarchical structure of past models but this one does not work too well either. It should not be so difficult to fix this because there are so many good menu examples out there.

One thing I really like, and that indicates the professional nature of the E-P1, is that the whole range of shutter speeds is available in all PASM modes, so taking pictures in all lighting conditions, including in low light, is a breeze.

Olympus Master 2

The Olympus Master 2 software is very user-friendly. It displays all info on one screen, including very complete EXIF info. You can do image editing, resize, crop, insert text, brightness & contrast, color balance, tone curve, gamma, auto tone correction, hue & saturation, monochrome & sepia, sharpness & blur, distortion correction and red-eye reduction. It also processes RAW files: exposure compensation, white balance, picture mode, contrast, sharpness, saturation, B&W filter, picture tone, gradation, noise filter and color space. Notice the YouTube icon that allows you to easily upload a video (limited to 10 min and 100MB) to your YouTube account.

The Instruction Manual is adequate but, even with an index, is not organized to allow fast finding of information. The manual is organized for a reading from first page to last, but try to search for something and it's a frustrating exercise. This criticism goes hand in hand with the Menu display where there are icons that you need to decipher (you won't get any help from the manual) and pressing the INFO button does not give any help.

Improvement suggestions:

  • Faster AF [beg, borrow, steal from Panasonic] so E-P1 can be used for all types of photography.
  • Higher resolution LCD for even easier and more precise manual AF.
  • Built-in flash.
  • AF-assit Illuminator.
  • LCD that gains up in low light.

More improvement suggestions:

  • AF Area with Spot AF metering.
  • Add Set Custom WB under WB option (RIGHT on Arrow Pad).
  • Better menu structure.
  • Help info on indecipherable Menu icons.
  • Articulated LCD (just up and down is enough).
  • Bounce functionality on FL-14.

Olympus E-P1 with optional case and strap

Olympus E-P1 with optional case and strap

Buy the Olympus E-P1 if you want the image quality of a DSLR in a relatively compact and easy to use package and if you principally shoot landscape photography. The performance does not match that of a DSLR. If you like the E-P1 but are still undecided due to all the negative press you read, take my advice and check it out for yourself. Forget about 0.3 second vs. 1 second AF. Forget about what you read. Just go try it. But, beware, you might want to leave your credit card at home or you might very well walk out of the store with a brand new E-P1 and a large grin on your face!

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