Review Date: August 15, 2010
Category: Beginner to Serious Amateur
The Olympus E-PL1 is a Digital Interchangeable Lens (DIL, aka “mirrorless DSLR”) camera targeted to beginner and serious amateur photographers. It has 12.3MP resolution on a Four Thirds (17.3 x 13.0 mm) Live MOS image sensor, built-in Sensor-shift Image Stabilization, and accepts interchangeable lenses on the micro Four Thirds mount.
The Olympus E-PL1 has very good image quality including very good low-light performance at ISO 100 with good detail preserved. Image quality is very good up to ISO 800, and ISO 1600 is very usable; at higher ISOs, images suffer from noise and loss of detail.
|Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm
3x Optical Zoom
(28mm, 35mm equivalent)
(84mm, 35mm equivalent)
One of the many advantages of a DIL camera is the ability to use interchangeable lenses suited to specific jobs. The Olympus E-PL1 comes with a M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm [28-84mm equiv.] 3x zoom F3.5-5.6 retractable kit lens which has 7 circular blades, a minimum aperture of F22, and accepts 40.5mm diameter filters. In the above pictures, we show the coverage for 14mm [28mm equiv.] then 42mm [84mm equiv.].
The Olympus E-PL1 has full exposure flexibility with PASM modes, and Program Shift.
The camera also provides exposure compensation (with Auto Bracketing) and Custom (Manual) White Balance. A Histogram can be displayed in both Live and Playback modes.
Shutter speed ranges from 1/2,000-60 sec. in PASM, plus B (up to 30 minutes) in Manual Mode.
The actual macro capability is a function of the lens you use. The 14-42mm kit lens allows you to focus only as close as 25cm (10 in.) for a magnification of 0.48x (equiv.) and a minimum field size of 51.4 x 68.5 mm.
The AF Area can be manually moved to any of 11 focus areas by simply pressing the LEFT ARROW button and using the Directional Keys to select an AF area. AF is about 1 sec. in good light, up to 2 sec. in low light, and struggles to lock in extreme low-light. There is no AF-assist illuminator.
There are three metering modes: Digital ESP (Multi-Pattern), Center-Weighted Average and Spot (plus Spot Highlight and Spot Shadow). Digital ESP tends to blow the highlights, even with careful metering to reduce the incidence of this happening.
|Auto White Balance Indoors|
As the above two pictures show, the Auto White Balance (AWB) is not accurate indoors under artificial lighting [I have two energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs on the ceiling]. The Olympus E-PL1 allows WB to be easily set manually and this brings out the real colors. AWB works very well in natural light.
The only way to set WB manually is to customize the Fn button to One Touch WB. Once set, you select it from the Function Menu (press the OK button to invoke it).
|ISO 125||ISO 160|
|ISO 200||ISO 250|
|ISO 320||ISO 400|
|ISO 500||ISO 600|
|ISO 800||ISO 1000|
|ISO 1250||ISO 1600|
|ISO 2000||ISO 2500|
The Olympus E-PL1 has 6 or 16 ISO settings depending on whether you choose 1EV or 1/3 EV ISO step in Custom Menu [Menu – Custom Menu – Exp/Metering/ISO – ISO Step] going from ISO 100 to ISO 3200. [Note that in Auto mode, the lowest ISO is 200.] The 100% crops above (area delimited by the white square) demonstrate the noise at the available ISO Speeds (in 1/3 EV ISO steps). At ISO 100 to 400, noise is under control. Noise starts to be slightly visible at ISO 800 but is still very acceptable up to ISO 1600. Noise (with detail loss) is quite visible at higher ISOs. Overall, much improved and very good noise handling.
CA is present minimally in high contrast shots. The corner delimited by the red square at bottom left, and reproduced at 100% crop at bottom right, shows some slight purple fringing.
Our Long Shutter Speed test is a torture test for digital cameras. Here we test whether (and how well) a camera can lock focus, provide accurate WB and obtain a correct exposure in extreme low light situations. The E-PL1 struggles to obtain focus (there is no AF-assist Illuminator to help) and I resort to Manual Focus. Also, getting a correct exposure in Manual mode takes patient trial and error.
The Olympus E-PL1 allows the use of a long shutter speed of up to 60 sec. in PASM modes, therefore allowing nice night photography. Generally, with image sensors, noise usually becomes more prominent at slow shutter speeds.
To test this noise reduction algorithm, we take a low-light indoors shot. I experiment a bit to obtain the optimum exposure, eventually settling on 60 sec. at F13. Even at this long shutter speed, the Olympus E-PL1’s noise reduction seems to be working great, producing a nice smooth blurring effect of the background.
Overall, the Olympus E-PL1 has impressive image quality including very good low light capability — much better than that of many entry-level DSLRs. This, in itself, is reason enough for you to seriously consider the E-PL1 as an alternative to the traditional DSLR.
View the Olympus E-PL1 Photo Gallery [In the Photo Gallery, click on the picture of the camera to return here.]