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Olympus E-P2 hands-on preview

 

Olympus evolves Pen E-P1 into E-P2

Less than five months after Olympus launched its first Micro Four Thirds camera, the Pen E-P1, today marks the unveiling of the Pen E-P2. It looks almost identical to the E-P1, but the dearer Pen E-P2 has some subtle internal enhancements and, above all, a clip-on high resolution electronic viewfinder. An optional adapter will also enable stereo audio recording for movies via an external microphone as an alternative to the camera's built-in stereo microphones. There are also additional Art Filters, improved autofocus, and some tweaks to the intelligent Auto exposure system.

Olympus has also announced that more compact Micro Four Thirds, or m.Zuiko, versions of the its 9-18mm ultra wide zoom, and 14-150mm wide andgle to telephoto superzoom lenses are scheduled for release in the first half of next year. The E-P2 itself is apparently not going to ship until the new year 2010, although samples we have tried look pretty much ready to go.

We have been fortunate enough to have had some hands-on time with the new E-P2 and at the bottom of this page you will find a gallery of unique images we've taken exploring the E-P2 close up.

What's new?

For a start, the E-P2 will only be manufactured in black or white finishes. Only black is likely to be imported officially to the UK and, I would guess, the rest of Europe. Black finish is not an option for the E-P1, so E-P2s will be easy to identify.

High resolution clip-on electronic viewfinder

At the back of the camera, just behind the flash hot shoe is a small accessory port. A cover that doubles as a hot shoe cover protects the port when it is not being used. The port provides a high bandwidth data bus for the E-P2's party trick, the 1.4 million dot VF-2 Live Finder. The VF-2 is similar in style to the clip-on electronic viewfinder of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 Micro Four Thirds camera, however, the E-P2's VF-2 unit is slightly bigger and the Panasonic unit is much lower in resolution, with only 200,000 dots to play with - seven times fewer than the VF-2.

Panasonic's first two Micro Four Thirds Lumix models, the DMC-G1 and GH1, have integrated electronic viewfinders with a similar number of dots to the E-P2's VF-2 finder, but Olympus suggests that the VF-2 performs better, delivering a higher contrast and sharper view, and better colour performance in low light. I haven't yet had a chance to compare the two viewfinders back to back, but the VF-2 certainly offers a viewing experience that is very reminiscent of the G1 and GH1 viewfinders, and that's a big compliment. Like the GF1, the VF-2 finder can be tilted upwards, all the way to 90 degrees, or vertical orientation. A button on the VF-2 lets you toggle between VF-2 and the main LCD screen for viewing. Eyesight correction adjustment is built in to the VF-2, which offers a viewing magnification equivalent to that of an E-3 DSLR viewfinder - that means the view is generously large. 100% of the image frame is displayed.

External stereo sound option

One of my few niggles about the Panasonic Lumix GF1 was the omission of any possibility of being able to record a stereo sound track when making movies. The E-P1 at least had an integrated stereo microphone, but its close proximity to the lens meant if autofocus was employed during movie recording, a lot of nasty AF motor noise was picked up. Now, with the optional EMA-1 adapter, which also fits on the hot shoe and plugs into the accessory port, you can use a standard external stereo microphone. You can't, however, use the VF-2 finder and the EMA-1 together; it's one or the other.

iAuto enhancements and new Art filters

Intelligent Auto mode, with scene mode recognition and selection, was first introduced by Olympus in the E-P1. The E-P2 has an evolved iAuto system that now features something called i-enhance. This intelligently identifies and selects the main subject in an image and boosts gradation, saturation, and contrast. It's a smarter and more subtle alternative to using the more familiar Vivid mode.

(Above) An example of the Diorama, or Tilt Shift, Art filter mode which is new with the Pen E-P2.

There is a pair of new Art filters: Diorama and Cross Process. Diorama is an in-camera implementation of the fascinating technique, known as Tilt Shift, of blurring the foreground and background of an image to trick the viewer into believing they are viewing a scaled model of reality. Diorama mode even works in movie mode, though the frame rate is much lower than real time, so the playback appears speeded up, and this actually adds to the magic. Cross Process is another unusual colour mode that Olympus likens developing a slide film in a negative film process.

More focus features

Although Olympus has been a pioneer in DSLR live view, and one of the first to offer face detection AF, for some reason a tracking AF option has not been featured by Olympus on an E-system camera until now. The E-P2's new tracking AF system lets you select a subject to maintain focus on no matter where that subject wanders around the frame. However, this mode is only available when a Micro Four Thirds lens is fitted. Even Imager AF compatible Four Thirds lenses fitted to the E-P2 using the MMF-1 Four Thirds lens to Micro Four Thirds body adapter, cannot operate under tracking AF mode, or basic continuous AF mode.

Another puzzle with E-System live view autofocus until now has been the inability to select, precisely, where you would like the AF point to be. Instead, you have had to make do with eleven fixed AF points. Now with the E-P2, using the magnified focus check Info mode, you can navigate the green focus box around the frame and focus will be directed to its position. Previously you needed to press 'OK' and to be in magnified view to force the AF to that point.

Another E-P2 refinement is that automatic manual focus magnification mode, which is triggered when the focus ring is moved, reverts automatically to full frame view after a pre-set time. On the E-P1 you had to press the shutter release to return the view to the full frame area.

Left to right: m.Zuiko 14-150mm* f4-5.6,m.Zuiko 9-18mm* f/4-5.6, m.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6, and the m.Zuiko 17mm f/2.8 pancake.

*-Denotes scheduled to ship in the first half of 2010.

Movies and slide shows

Slide shows can now be composed of stills and movies, complete with a selection of built in background music tracks. Movie shooting can now be done in manual exposure mode, with user-selectable shutter speeds, apertures and ISO settings. When connecting your E-P2 to an up to date HDMI TV with CEC compatibility, you can control picture viewing using the TV's remote. Movie recording format remains simplistic Motion JPEG and AVI file format, so the 7 minute maximum clip length (2GB file limit) of the E-P1 remains in 720HD 30p mode for the E-P2.

So there you have it; Olympus has rather cleverly implemented a high resolution EVF Micro Four Thirds offering without resorting to a mini DSLR-style form factor like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 and GH1. The E-P2 is a genuine evolution of the E-P , while retaining the E-P1's core attractions; the compact, light, and fun blend of modern and retro design, in-camera sensor shift image stabiliser, three dimensional digital level, and good quality high ISO performance for its class.

Pen E-P2 photo gallery

If you're tempted to take a closer look, here's our E-P2 photo gallery:

 

Click on a thumbnail image below to see a larger view:



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