The idea behind the E-PL1 is that it's a Pen that is even easier to use than the E-P1 and E-P2. It doesn't matter that the latter two are painfully easy to navigate, Olympus don't seem to want to put all their eggs in one basket so the E-PL1 has simplistic features such as a built-in flash and a direct video recording button which is soft to press. I'm a little disappointed that it takes three or four seconds for the Dell precision m6400 Battery camera to actually start recording. I would have thought that the direct button would reduce the waiting time, but apparently not.
Interestingly, the screen is 2.7in, not 3in as I'd expect and can be found on the E-P1 and E-P2, which will most likely be in order to cut costs and keep the price down. There's also no spirit level gauge to indicate when the camera is straight but the camera does still record in 12-bit Raw on the 12.3Mp LiveMOS sensor. The lens mount is fully compatible with the Micro Four Thirds system so there's no problem interchanging with any existing lenses you have in that format which means the camera could be a decent cheaper back-up camera should you feel you need one.
However, I don't feel that the camera has been created to be a back-up, the easiness of the system along with the new Dell Latitude D830 Battery features suggests that it's squarely aimed at people who may be new to the Micro Four Thirds system or upgrading from a compact and still want the small size that they're used to but with the versatility of a DSLR.
It's a slightly quirkier camera that doesn't really fit with the other two models, possibly because the E-P2 is a clone of the E-P1. The E-PL1 looks more modern but not because it looks futuristic, it just looks non-vintage. The command dial sits on top of the camera instead of being sunken into the body like the other two cameras in the Pen range.
I like the Dell Vostro 1510 battery buttons on the E-PL1, they're bigger than the E-P1 and E-P2 which makes them easier to press. The controls on the buttons have been simplified, so you get access to flash and drive functions, exposure compensation and focus points instead of ISO, white-balance and AEL/AFL lock button that are on the higher models.
Two new Art modes have been added to the E-PL1 called Diorama and Gentle sepia. These are designed to add to the vintage side of the range and complement the Grainy film and Pinhole modes.
Olympus E-PL1: Performance
This is where the camera really shines. Again, in exchange for convenient, physical manual controls the Dell Studio 1535 battery camera offers some high-end imaging at a below-DSLR price. Luckily for us, Olympus has actually done a pretty good job at its consumer-friendly controls in one of those "you're dumb, let us make the picture pretty for you" sort of ways. This is most evident in iAUTO mode. Instead of selecting scene types, the camera presents an almost Photoshop-style set of manually controlled slider settings. The thing is, the sliders aren't working some sort of post-processing magic, but are instead just novel terms or groupings of traditional photographic controls like Dell Studio 1737 battery ISO, shutter speed, and aperture -- without resorting to saying those scary words. For instance, "blur background" lets the user bump their bokeh (out of focus parts of an image created by a shallow depth of field) without knowing that it's actually the aperture size that's doing it. Similarly, "brightness" seems to tweak ISO, but Olympus manages to even throw in individual tweaks to highlights and shadows if you want to dive deeper. Probably our favorite option is the simple "color image," which lets you set white balance with a dirt simple warm-to-cool slider, taking the guessing game out of choosing an appropriate mode for the lighting conditions. Unfortunately you can't mix and match iAUTO settings, so you'd better get what you want out of that particular slider.
The other big downfall of Dell 310-6321 battery iAUTO is that it has no bearing on the flash -- you'll have to leave things up to the whims of the camera's automatic settings, or go manual to tweak things when blasting the flash. At least there are a number of varieties of flash types to choose from in the menus, and it does a decent job of blowing out a scene, as long as that's what you're looking for.
Another thing that might seem like a gimmick is the "art" filters, and while they're much more gimmicky than iAUTO, the inclusion of a faked tilt-shift "diorama" mode is pretty great -- particularly due to the fact that it even works in video mode, creating a nice time lapse effect.
Speaking of video, let's speak of video. We're pretty happy with what we see here. These Micro Four Thirds cameras are turning out to be some of the best ways of capturing video on the cheap known to man, and the E-PL1 turns around quality 720p footage on a budget. The biggest drawback, as pointed out elsewhere, is the audible auto focus noise made by the Dell vostro 1014 Battery camera, which has dogged it since the E-P1, and is perhaps accentuated here by the plastic build of the camera and kit lens. Still, it's not so bad as to be annoying for a vacation video or other casual use, and anyone who's so concerned about audio as to make or break their production probably wouldn't want to be relying on the noisy, mono mic inside the E-PL1 anyway. Luckily there's that hot shoe for adding an external mic, though we'd really like it if Olympus just broke down and built a 3/4-inch jack standard into this thing. We like the image quality, speed of autofocus, and convenient recording of the E-PL1 to be too hung up on this, but it's still a bit of an issue despite Olympus' protestations otherwise.
Olympus E-PL1: Battery
The OLYMPUS Camera Battery that goes into the Olympus E-PL1 is a rechargeable lithium-ion type called the PS-BLS1 at ￡58 from Warehouse Express which is a little on the high side but it’s small and light. Despite being a simple rectangle shape, it’s designed to not fit into the bay at all if it’s the wrong way round which is good because some go half-way down and stop which is annoying.
Throughout the test, I didn’t use the electronic viewfinder, opting for the screen on the back. I played back all images I took and generally messed around with it. I also used the Art modes, some of which have a lengthy processing time. By the end of the test, the battery icon was flashing red because it was dangerously low.
Olympus E-PL1: Verdict
It’s another nice little camera from Olympus which will only aid to bolster the MFT (Micro Four Thirds) market and adds a budget model into the range. I like subtle parts of the camera such as the raised command dial and new Diorama Art mode but I’m unimpressed with the look of the camera. The Pen series has made a name as a retro model and Olympus have really pushed that ideology, but here they are with a modern looking camera which is partly down to the shape but I think mostly down to the materials used to build it.
For a budget model, it’s a good camera. Sure, I wasn’t happy with the colour reproduction and I think that has let the camera down the most but the features, ease of use and compact size are all positive notes.
Saying that, the Panasonic GF1 is an excellent camera and for the money that the Olympus costs: ￡534 with the 14-42mm lens from Warehouse Express, I would still spend an extra ￡40 and get the GF1 and same lens.
Olympus E-PL1: Pros
New Art modes are fun
It's only a small thing, but I really like the Olympus camera batteries door
Command dial on top of the camera
Video mode & direct button
Olympus E-PL1: Cons