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Olympus E-P1 Digital Camera Review

Olympus step into the Micro Four Thirds world with the E-P1. Matt Grayson met with Olympus to give his thoughts.

|  Olympus PEN E-P1 in Compact Cameras
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It's been speculated about for a while now and with the announcement this morning, Olympus finally step into the Micro Four Thirds world with the Olympus Pen.

Olympus PEN E-P1: Specification

  • Resolution: 12Mp
  • Sensor size: 17.3x13.0mm
  • Sensor type: Hi-Speed LiveMOS Four Thirds
  • Image size: 4032x3024
  • Aspect ratio: 4:3
  • Focus system: Contrast detection AF system
  • Focus points: 11
  • Crop factor: 2x
  • Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds
  • File type: 12bit RAW, JPEG
  • Sensitivity: ISO100-6400
  • Storage: SD, SDHC
  • Focus types: Area, single, face detection
  • Metering system: TTL open aperture
  • Metering types: Digital ESP, centre-weighted, spot
  • Exposure compensation: +/- 3EV in 1, ½, 1/3 step increments
  • Shutter speed: 60sec-1/4000sec
  • Frames per second: Approx. 3fps
  • Flash: External only
  • Flash sync speed: 1/30sec-1/180sec
  • Image stabilisation: Sensor shift type, one or two dimensional movement to 4EV steps
  • Integrated cleaning: SSWF
  • Live view: Yes, Contrast detection system, 100% field of view
  • Viewfinder: Optional accessory
  • Monitor: 3in Hypercrystal LCD, 230,000dots (73,000px)
  • Interface: USB 2.0, HDMI
  • Power: Li-Ion battery
  • Size: 120.5x70.0x35.0mm
  • Weight: 335g (body only excl. battery and card)

Olympus EP1Olympus E-P1: Features
Based on the 35mm Pen released in 1959, the E-P1 follows the basic principles that challenged the designers 50 years ago to make a camera small enough for people to pocket but had interchangeable lenses. The new model is roughly the same size as its forefather but is a little squarer on the top plate. A command dial on the left shoulder is turned using a small black thumb dial just below on the back. It looks nice and works well enough but I found that the ledge housing the large 3in screen on the back got in the way. It's a firm dial which is in stark contrast to the easy-to-turn dial on the back of the camera used for scrolling through menus.

Akira Watanabe, SLR Planning Department Manager for Olympus Imaging, stated at PMA that he considered 12Mp to be a reasonable resolution that would cover the needs of most customers. This echoes what I said in the review of the Olympus E-620 and the E-P1 shares the same resolution but has an advantage of pushing the images through a brand-spanking new Trupic V processor. Exact specifications of this new processor and what it can do have bee kept relatively quiet however, Olympus are confident that it'll produce excellent images and full HD video at high speed and high ISO.

Olympus EP1The reasoning behind the Pen was principally a marketing one. In an interview, Mr Watanabe said that for a number of reasons, Micro Four Thirds was developed to meet the demands of those who wanted a DSLR but without the size problems that come with one. “More and more customers are female and don't want, require or need a larger camera.” He continued: “20% of compact camera users have thought about buying a DSLR at one stage but hesitated due to the size.”

He also said that the idea for the design was down to the fact that the same challenges had been set when designing the E-P1 as was set when designing the original Pen. It's certainly a good idea as the retro lines of the Pen work very well. It's a very pretty camera and cashes in nicely on the consumers new need for all things vintage.

Features that Olympus seem to be pretty proud of are the full HD video which, like the Panasonic GH1, also works with autofocus and after trying it, a few clicks can be heard but it's not overbearing. The Art filters have also been incorporated into video so anyone interested in making a film noir type video can set the Grainy Film setting and start filming.

Olympus EP1In camera image stabilisation has a maximum 4EV steps keeping your images sharp through the new 17mm f/2.8 pancake lens or the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens. These new lenses are of the Micro Four Thirds lens mount which means they're smaller than Four Thirds but with an adapter, they can be fitted to a Micro Four Thirds body. These new lenses can't be fitted to a normal Four Thirds camera though.

Dust reduction is available on the smaller camera and it's been redesigned especially to fit the smaller model. The Supersonic Wave Filter shakes up to 30,000 times a second to create a supersonic wave that, Olympus say, removes dust missed by conventional dust removal methods.

Take care on the menu system as it caught me out when I first started using the camera. They've still used the typical on screen display that superimposes over the image showing the usual options for ISO, white balance, file format, sharpness and white balance etc. Olympus have not prioritised the usual method and instead opted for a "side-of-the-screen" version similar to Casio or Canon. When you're in this menu, you can press Info and it'll switch to the more familiar method and from then on the camera will favour that style, but it's unusual nonetheless.

Out of the menu, pressing the Info button will scroll through several options such as bracketing and focusing as well as display options such as histogram and targeting cross hairs. In the focusing mode, if you wish to use the naviagtion pad to select the continuous shooting mode, it's not possible without scrolling through the modes to a normal screen or the focus area will move around when you press up, down, left or right.

Olympus E-P1: Build and handling
With a metal construction the E-P1 feels nice and solid in the hands although when you first pick it up it feels far from correct. Maybe it's the retro design that made me think it would feel older (?) than it does and I think I expected it to smell like it had been sat in a canvas bag for the last thirty years. The wheel that moves the top command dial sits a little too close to the 3in LCD screen which projects out from the back of the camera and my finger got caught on it. To be fair to the camera I did get used to this and it only happened a couple of times.

A Micro Four Thirds adapter is available for fitting normal Four Thirds lenses onto and I took my 8mm Zuiko lens along to try and it works nicely.

Olympus EP1
Using the 8mm Zuiko lens is possible with the Micro Four Thirds adapter.

Possibly the most humorous area of the new releases is the 14-42mm lens. It's compacted down quite nicely but when it's fixed to the camera it makes the camera lean forward slightly. A small locking switch is sat next to the focal lengths and surprisingly this is because the lens isn't at 14mm when it's closed. Two small barrels telescope out around an inch which makes it look more like a bridge camera than a DSLR.

I appreciate that the camera isn't strictly a DSLR as the mirror box and prism have been removed to make the camera smaller but it's aimed at a DSLR more than a bridge compact.

Olympus EP1
In tricky light, this portrait image looks good.

Olympus E-P1: Performance
Taking a portrait has come out really nice. In a mixture of light from a large Halogen and Daylight from some huge windows at the top of the stairs, this close up of the German sixties model has a good skin tone and plenty of detail.

There are a selection of Art scenes available on the new cameras released this year including Pop Art which boosts the colours to a ridiculous level, Grainy Film whioch sends everything black and white with a grainy look, soft focus, pale and toy camera which emulates the look of a pin hole camera with black vignetting around the edges.

Olympus EP1
Pop Art mode bursts bold colours out of the screen.
Olympus EP1
Toy camera mode darkens the image and vignettes the borders.

These options generally take a while to process meaning I was sat around for a while waiting for the camera to show me the picture before I could move on. The brighter image of the model in the blue vintage bikini is using the Pop art while the darker one of her is using the toy camera.

Olympus EP1
Grainy Film mode gives the image a noir effect.

I threw the point of interest out of focus for the Grainy film effect giving it more of a sixties look, I think and this highlights probably the best use of the mode. These type of vintage or noir style images are fitted perfectly to this mode.

Once outside I managed to capture a few shots of Penny, the model who is fronting the Olympus Pen campaign, and after taking a shot at normal exposure, I found the arm to be extremely over exposed so I dropped down the exposure by 1/3 stop and it balanced the image out while deepening the blue of the sky.

Olympus EP1
Metering slightly under sorts out over exposure and deepens the sky.
Olympus EP1
At correct exposure, the arm is blown out slightly.


Olympus EP1
The Don with his girl and protection have a good amount of detail in shadow areas despite the large light directly infront of the camera.

Olympus E-P1: Focus and metering
Disappointment and elation abound in these two areas as I could explain about the decent metering system in the time it takes for the focus to lock. An 11 point AF system is used to find the subject and it wasn't always concise with what I wanted it to focus on. Face detection worked quite well but the main problem is the camera's incessant need to hunt through the complete range before settling on its selected subject. There's no speedy focusing system that we saw in the E-3 and E-30 which is a shame. Olympus want to turn the world on its head with this camera so they need everything to be bang on perfect.

Metering is headed up by a 324 area ESP mode which breaks down into an 18x18 grid. This is particularly noticeable on the image of the Don and his girl and bodyguard. A light was shining directly into the lens and the camera has managed to retain some detail in the areas which would normally be silhouette.

Olympus E-P1: Noise test
I was originally unimpressed with the noise performance when I reviewed the pictures back on the cameras screen but I think the relatively low resolution impeded my opinion because on reflection, they're not that bad.

I actually think that noise is to an acceptable standard up to ISO1600 where the sample image started to suffer noticeably in lack of detail and colour invasion. These are only sample images taken at the launch and while they're final production, keep looking back for the official ones when I get a model in for an update and to spend more time with it.

Olympus EP1
The ISO100 test.
Olympus EP1
The ISO200 test.
Olympus EP1
The ISO400 test.
Olympus EP1
The ISO800 test.
Olympus EP1
The ISO1600 test.
Olympus EP1
The ISO3200 test.
Olympus EP1
The ISO6400 test.

Olympus E-P1: Verdict
During my time with the Olympus E-P1 I really enjoyed what it could do for me. It certainly has some issues such as no viewfinder and a slow focusing system. Noise is still good which shows my initial reservations were due to viewing the images on the camera's screen.

The screen is also inferior as Olympus are now the only company not to add a 307,000pixel screen to a camera. I'm not too keen on the design idea of the 14-42mm lens but it's not encroaching on performance so it's a matter of opinion.

If you like the retro design and the idea of a smaller lens system then this is the camera for you. I'm into vintage chic so I'll probably end up with one although it won't do much for my bank balance sitting at £700 with the 14-42mm f/3.5/5.6 lens.

Blessedly it's under a grand unlike the Panasonic GH1 so seems a more appropriate choice in the MFT (Micro Four Thirds) system. It does video with autofocus and has stereo sound so it's not too dissimilar.

Olympus E-P1: Plus points
Good build
Lovely design
Good noise performance

Olympus E-P1: Minus points
No built-in viewfinder
Focusing is slow
Slow processing on Art modes






The Olympus E-P1 standard kit is priced at £699.99 with the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lens and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Olympus E-P1 & 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lens

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Photographs taken using the Olympus PEN E-P1

Cycle WalkYellow Flowers.Nespresso.The Last Drop!Tilly.Garden of Machines.Faint Stirrings in the EastGrass.Blue Skyjust like a dreamRustington Shopping Centre, West Sussex.Wet Feet.At the Seaside.russiansUntitled

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User_Removed 16 17.9k 8 Norway
16 Jun 2009 10:22AM
Watching with interest... I used to love my original PEN.

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16 Jun 2009 10:40AM
Also watching while dusting off my old OM lenses! - any idea on pricing?
User_Removed 16 17.9k 8 Norway
16 Jun 2009 11:08AM
Based on that Eye Cup price there Ian, I would say a tad on the pricey-side! Wink
16 Jun 2009 11:47AM
Well Mike, I could always dust of the OM-1 too and go completely retro with that film stuff
User_Removed 16 17.9k 8 Norway
16 Jun 2009 12:07PM
Based on that Eye Cup price there Ian, I would say a tad on the pricey-side! Wink
User_Removed 16 17.9k 8 Norway
16 Jun 2009 12:08PM
Way to go!! Wink
16 Jun 2009 12:28PM
Found these (recommended prices) elsewhere:
Body only £599.00
Body with 14-42mm zoom £699.00
Body with 17mm pancake plus the viewfinder thingy £749.00

User_Removed 16 17.9k 8 Norway
16 Jun 2009 3:15PM
'Ouch' indeed!!
MattGrayson 13 622 3 England
16 Jun 2009 8:24PM
The viewfinder only works at 17mm as well so you may find it unworthy. I'm on my way back from the trip right now so ill be updating this in a bit. Smile
User_Removed 16 17.9k 8 Norway
16 Jun 2009 8:48PM
Looking forward to it Matt.
16 Jun 2009 9:32PM
Thanks Matt. I'll check back tomorrow.
mcgovernjon 11 138 United Kingdom
16 Jun 2009 9:41PM
If Olympus could put a viewfinder and a flash into one device that slots into the hotshoe, that would be really great. Swapping them would be a pain in the backside
timbo 17 596 United Kingdom
17 Jun 2009 11:17AM
One step nearer to a retro digital OM? I hope so.
MattGrayson 13 622 3 England
17 Jun 2009 4:24PM
Sorry I didn't get the update done, the laptop died and the train had no plug socket. I'm working on the images now so should be up shortly. Smile
17 Jun 2009 5:08PM
and there was me thinking that was a spare battery in your pocket.. Smile
User_Removed 16 17.9k 8 Norway
17 Jun 2009 6:19PM
Tut tut..!

Paul Morgan 19 19.5k 6 England
17 Jun 2009 8:40PM
The kit with the 17mm and VF1 looks like a cracking combination.

Nice to see they have fitted two dials and adapters will be available for both 4/3 and older Zuiko lenses.
Coleslaw 15 13.4k 28 Wales
18 Jun 2009 1:17PM
Shame it is so expensive.
Otherwise, it would be a really fun camera to use.
User_Removed 16 17.9k 8 Norway
18 Jun 2009 4:12PM
Noise levels look good...
User_Removed 16 17.9k 8 Norway
18 Jun 2009 7:36PM
The more I look at this, the more I recall that saying...

'Get thee behind me Satan!'


(I came so close to getting the Sigma DP1 but was frustrated by the fixed focal length (I still LOVE the Foveon sensor though))
Coleslaw 15 13.4k 28 Wales
18 Jun 2009 8:11PM
Go on, Mike, you know you want to...Smile
MattGrayson 13 622 3 England
19 Jun 2009 9:14AM
I'll be getting one on Monday or Tuesday so I'll be able to post better images of the unit up and do a video review as well. Smile
BOB S 18 2.6k
19 Jun 2009 4:05PM
My word that is a bit pricey !

oneill 12 155 Ireland
20 Jun 2009 10:26AM
good review matt,,,
Rob_Taylor 16 661 5 Wales
20 Jun 2009 12:14PM
Blimey, theres some real nasty chromatic abberation in those sample shots. Have a look at the ISO800 shot and the edge of the guy's white shirt!!
User_Removed 16 17.9k 8 Norway
20 Jun 2009 1:32PM
I noticed that too Rob but it's no worse than some of the CA that one gets from high-contrast edges using OEM WA lenses on a dSLR frankly... Easily corrected.
Paul Morgan 19 19.5k 6 England
21 Jun 2009 1:56AM

Quote:My word that is a bit pricey

The camera is really not as expensive as I first thought Smile

For example look at the Leica M8 the only other camera this small with inter changeable lenses.

There`s no auto focus, no IS or live view and no video, the body and lenses cost serious bucks.
Paul Morgan 19 19.5k 6 England
21 Jun 2009 10:12PM
Matt, any news on a future viewfinder for the zoom lenses.

I`m guessing its not out of the question.
MattGrayson 13 622 3 England
22 Jun 2009 9:01AM

Quote:Blimey, theres some real nasty chromatic abberation in those sample shots. Have a look at the ISO800 shot and the edge of the guy's white shirt!!

This was using the 8mm Zuiko lens.
alancuc 13 4 United Kingdom
25 Jun 2009 5:44PM
Now we need some MFT wide angles. My E410 has a flange to film distance almost the same as my Nikon F, yet the chip is smaller than half frame. This means the wide angles are compromised by being severely retrofocus.
nickh158 11 19 England
26 Jun 2009 6:33PM
Well, I want one. Now. Wink
The only thing that`s stopping me flashing the credit card immediately is the lack of a built in flash. Now, I realise many of the "real" photographers may think a pathetically small built-in flash would be next to useless, but I would say that for me, this camera would be my carry everywhere, snapshot/general purpose camera, replacing a compact. If I end up carrying your camera in one pocket and a fairly bulky flash in the other, well, it kind of loses it`s portability doesn`t it?
By the way, I notice that you can pre-order the Pen. How is this possible? You either order it or you don`t. "Pre-order" indeed; Whatever`s happening to our language?
jrfoto 13 8 2 United Kingdom
27 Jun 2009 12:50AM
Well, I also want one. Probably.
As is often the way, the camera is not *quite* what I am after. I've been waiting for ages a for a compact camera with a decent sized sensor, to use for general carrying around when my big SLR is not convenient. The E-P1 is so nearly there, but I would like a viewfinder. I'd rather have an add-on one that gives a good view than a built-in one that's like a peep hole. So now I'm torn between the fixed 17mm, which is nice and compact and has a matching viewfinder, or the 14-42 zoom which is more versatile but bigger and without a viewfinder.
nytecam 14
5 Jul 2009 10:33AM
Looks nice to me for starters and I've sure the flash and optical & digital viewfinder[s] will be incorporated seemlessly into later versions. And it's nice to see a digicam that doesn't pander to the sausage-fingered with their massive zooms dropping from their hips. Bet they wouldn't be seen dead with a pancake lens!
StrayCat 16 19.1k 3 Canada
8 Jul 2009 8:24PM
I'm sure the price will drop a bit in a couple months, nice bit of kit. Here's what B&H in NY had to say.
17 Jul 2010 3:48AM
We can use iFunia Video Converter convert Olympus E-P1 recorded AVI movies to ipad and iphone for Mac. it's designed especially for apple fans, iFunia Video Converter for Mac is a simple conversion solution that helps you converts AVI that supported by Olympus E-P1(The Olympus E-P1 records AVI movies at 1280 x 720 and 640 x 480 both at 30 frames per second) to iPod, iPhone 4, iPad, Apple TV and other portable devices. It also provides a series of practical editing tools: trim, crop, add watermark and effects. Itís a stable, mature application.

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