by Ian Burley
Olympus makes the Pen E-PL1 even smaller and lighter, as well as cheaper and easier to use
The Pen E-PL1 is the third Micro Four Thirds camera to be launched by Olympus. We have been trying one out and discovering how the E-PL1 fits into the Pen range. Further down this page we have a gallery of our own unique pictures that explore the E-PL1's design. We also have a separate article with nearly 60 images of the E-PL1 provided by Olympus. Although already revealed before Christmas, the new 9-18mm, 14-150mm, and 40-150mm m.Zuiko Micro Four Thirds lenses have been formally announced.
The first thing that strikes you when picking up the E-PL1 for the first time is its relative lack of weight compared to an E-P1 or E-P2. It's also slightly smaller, despite the inclusion of a pop-up flash unit. The design is not as striking as an E-P1 or E-P2, which some may find a relief. The E-PL1 is clearly aimed at the mass market; users upgrading from a compact and it has more of a compact camera feel about it than a mini-DSLR, which most Micro Four Thirds cameras have tended to resemble.
There are no control wheels, dials, or knobs, apart from a mode selector knob on the top right of the camera. All adjustments are made using buttons. A new set of colourful menus has been introduced with the E-PL1 to enable the user to change and review image parameters in real time without resorting to technical terminology. There is also a help mode that offers technical tips for making use of the adjustment options.
The simplification of the controls does mean there are more steps required to reach and alter modes, like ISO settings, for example, compared to the E-P1 or E-P2. However, the familiar Super Control Panel matrix of accessible settings, which works so well on all the latest E-System cameras, has been retained.
You only get a 2.7 inch LCD screen compared to the E-P1 and E-P2, which benefit from a 3 inch panel. However, the difference in size is not a big deal. Good news is that the E-PL1 is fully compatible with the VF-2 high resolution electronic viewfinder that was introduced with the E-P2. The same 720HD 30p AVI video recording functionality as the other Pens is included with the E-PL1, but the camera only has a mono microphone. But at least you can use the same optional hot shoe stereo microphone port that is available for the E-P2. Olympus has followed Panasonic's example and provided a red video record button that works independently of the shutter release. There are some small revisions to the Art Filter options, while much of the other routine functionality is similar to the previous Pens, including a maximum ISO speed option of 6400. Oddly, the fastest shutter speed has been limited to 1/2000th second, compared to all other E-System models that have a top speed of !/4000th or 1/8000th. The most addition noticeable on the outside of the camera is the pop-up flash unit. I wondered if it was borrowed from Panasonic's Lumix DMC-GF1, but the pop-up mechanism is different. Thankfully, the inclusion of the built-in flash means that Olympus' wireless remote control flash system is supported by the E-PL1.
Price and availability
With a guide price of £549, with the 14-42mm kit lens, the Pen E-PL1 is significantly cheaper than either a Pen E-P1 or E-P2, though slightly above the price of the Panasonic DMC-G1. The E-PL1 is expected to ship in March, and will be available in a range of colours, including black, silver, red, and white.
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