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Olympus E-PL1 Digital Camera Review

olympus20100715.jpgDigital Camera Review by: Katrina Putker

The Olympus E-PL1 put simply is a photographer’s dream. Whether you’re a DSLR user looking for a capable and affordable compact unit to add to your kit or an amateur photographer looking for a user-friendly unit to intuitively help you capture the best happy snaps possible, chances are you’ll struggle to find a better camera in this price range for the job.

In fact the E-PL1 is the first of the Olympus Micro Four Thirds units to drop below $1,000 – an obvious positive for consumers - and in truth, there isn’t all that much on the negative side to say about it.

Thanks to its combination plastic and aluminium construction the E-PL1 is a tidy but fairly hardy little unit weighing a decent but portable 344g when equipped with memory card and battery.

It has a decent 12.3megapixels and is simply yet smartly designed both in terms of its interface and the internal menu system. The 2.7-inch LCD has some 230k dots of resolution and while it could afford to be slightly larger in future models, it more than suffices both in terms of its proportion in relation to the E-PL1 body and in the quality of preview it offers.

The triple-tiered 14-42mm kit lens offers a generous wide angle enabling users to easily photograph large groups of people and vast landscapes etc. While at full extension the lens protrudes some 8cm out from the E-PL1 body, it cleverly offers an unlock function that allows the lens to pack neatly back into itself for storage and travel etc. at little more than half of that original distance (approximately 4.4cm without lens cap.)

High definition video with sound in 720x1280 format (and a dedicated record button) is supported (although capped to a maximum of seven minutes) along with an array of art modes (including soft focus, grainy film, pin hole, pop art, diorama and gentle sepia.)

An extensive list of 19 preset scene modes ranging from portrait, landscape and sport through to high and low key, panorama, sunset and macro (to name but a few) are also available.

The art modes in particular are a very welcomed addition that easily enable users to apply a chosen creative style to an image to enhance its overall effect: use pinhole to create a moody vignette to draw focus in on your subject, apply diorama mode to achieve a miniature look usually associated with a tilt shift lens and apply either grainy film or gentle sepia to add an sense of nostalgia and timelessness to your images.

Plus, users get a live preview of the effect prior to the photo being taken so the end result need not be part of a guessing game as it often is when using similar features on other manufacturers cameras.

A live guide has been made available for those less experienced with the technical side of photography and helps users quickly and easily adjust things like shutter speed and aperture (under the guise of ‘express motion’ and ‘blur background’) and exposure compensation, contrast and white balance (under the aliases ‘brightness,’ ‘saturation’ and ‘colour’) using simple and easily accessible electronic sliders.

This way, amateur photographers are able to use and control certain technical aspects of photography without the intimidation factor of unfamiliar terms and controls. Once they have mastered these, they will have more understanding of and confidence to use other available settings such as aperture and shutter priority and eventually, full manual mode.

A fairly extensive set of shooting tips are also available through the live guide and include notes for photographing children, pets, flowers and cuisine as well as some general tips for framing and composition. Along with the written tips, visual examples are offered to help further demonstrate the positive effects of applying said shooting tips.

Image quality is quite impressive overall, particularly in terms of noise control, dynamic range and colour reproduction. There aren’t many, if any, cameras that have come by the Buy-n-Shoot desk that can withstand ISOs on the upper spectrum (1250, 1600 etc.) and produce not only acceptable but often perfectly appealing images.

In fact, more often than not, images shot with competing cameras at ISOs of and above 800 are written off as unacceptable and virtually unusable whereas the E-PL1 handles noise extraordinarily effectively on the whole. Minor smudging of detail does occur up at ISOs 2000, 2500 and 3200 but still, the images remain surprisingly good overall. Well done Olympus. Well done indeed.

Users have the option to shoot in JPEG, RAW or both formats simultaneously and are able to do so in all of the modes available on the E-PL1.

An electronic viewfinder is available as an optional accessory for those who prefer to operate using one although it does add some extra bulk to the body.

Unlike its predecessors, the E-PL1 conveniently hosts a built-in flash (external flash units can still be attached) which is released only as the users requires it and by the flick of a small dedicated switch.

The release of the flash unit is delightfully springy although its design, which sees it extend some 3cm up and out of the camera body, does make it somewhat vulnerable to being broken or indeed snapped right off should the unit be dropped or mishandled while the flash is extended.

While the E-PL1 has been accused of having some issues relating to speed, or indeed a lack thereof, the reality is this camera isn’t slow.  Sure, it may be fractionally slower than competing models but what it lacks in lighting pace it more than makes up for in image quality and ease-of-use.

Start-up time is approximately 1.8 seconds, which certainly isn’t slow, and shot-to-shot time is about the same (depending on what users set image playback time to be: anything between off and 20 seconds.)

Processing of images taken in art mode does take a good few seconds due to the effect being applied in-camera but more often than not, the results are well and truly worth the wait.

The autofocus function takes but a moment and constantly proves to be accurate. It does have some trouble in especially low light conditions but most compact cameras unfortunately do. ‘Tis but the nature of the beast.medal-platinum-r.jpg

Expected features such as face detection, in-camera slideshow, a HDMI connection and image stabilisation are also included.

The E-PL1 is an excellent compact camera that nestles neatly into the chasm between point-and-shoot compacts and semi-professional DSLRs. It offers some of the better features of both including intelligent auto mode, live guide, HD movie mode, an interchangeable lens system, great noise control, RAW capture, an array of automated scene and art modes and full manual control along with aperture and shutter priority etc.

It delivers on all of the promises made by Olympus and is undeniably worth the sub $1,000 investment. The E-PL1 is very impressive overall and thoroughly recommended.


Appearance rating 4 stars
Functionality rating 4.5 stars
Image quality
4.5 stars
Lens quality
4 stars
View finder / LCD screen 4 stars
Value for money 5 stars
RRP (AUD) $999
Effective Pixels 12.3 Mega pixels
Sensor Type
High speed Live MOS Sensor
Image Sizes 8 Sizes
Lenses 14-150mm f4.0-5.6 Ultra Zoom (M.Zuiko)
9-18mm f4.0-5.6 Ultra Wide-Angle Zoom (M.Zuiko)
17mm f2.8 Wide-angle lens (M.Zuiko)
14-42mm f3.5-5.6 Standard Wide Zoom (M.Zuiko)
Resolution Settings [RAW] 4032 x 3024 pixels
[JPEG] 4032 x 3024 pixels - 640 x 480 pixels
Shooting Modes 14 Scene options
Face Detection Yes
Manual Focus Yes
Auto Focus Yes
Aperture Priority No
Shutter Speeds Computerized focal-plane shutter
60 - 1/2000 sec.
Bulb: up to 30 min. (selectable longest time in the menu. Default: 8 min)
1/3, 1/2, or 1EV steps selectable.
Shutter Priority Yes
ISO ISO 200 - 3200 (customizable, Default 200-1600)
ISO 100 - 3200, 1/3 or 1 EV steps, Movie ISO 160-1600
LCD Monitor Yes
LCD Size 2.7" LCD Screen, 230,000 / VF-2 (1,440,000)
Viewfinder No
Flash No, Add-on flash models: FL-14, FL 36R, FL-50R
Hot Shoe Yes
White balance 8 settings (3000K - 7500K)
Lamp (3000K), Fluorescent 1 (4000K), Fluorescent 2 (4500K), Fluorescent 3 (6600K), Daylight (5300K), Flash (5500K), Cloudy (6000K), Shade (7500K)
Self Timer Yes, 12 sec., 2 sec. (cancel available)
Movie Options Yes. AVI Motion JPEG (30fps)
HD: 1280 (H) x 720 (V) Aspect 16:9
SD: 640 (H) x 480 (V) Aspect 4:3 (VGA)
Video Out Yes
Storage Type SD Memory Card (SDHC compatible) Class 6 is recommended for Movie shooting
Image / Audio Formats DCF, DPOF compatible/Exif, PRINT Image Matching III
RAW (12-bit lossless compression), JPEG, RAW+JPEG
AVI Motion JPEG (30fps)
Connectivity USB 2.0 High Speed for storage and camera control through Multi-connector (MTP mode is available
HDMI (HD/Mono or Stereo Sound), VIDEO-OUT (SD/Mono Sound)
Power Source Li-ion battery charger BCS-1
Battery Options BLS-1 Li-ion battery (included). Approx. 290 shots (IS ON, CIPA test standard) (with BLS-1 and Toshiba Class 6 SDHC 4GB card under CIPA testing standard)
Dimensions 114.6 mm (W) x 72.2mm (H) x 41.5mm (D)
Weight 296g (body only), 344g (including Battery & Memory card)




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In Greek mythology, Mt.Olympus is the home of the twelve supreme gods and goddesses. Olympus was named after this mountain to reflect its strong aspiration to create high quality, world famous products.

"Olympus" has been used as a trademark since the time of Takachiho Seisakusho, the predecessor of Olympus Corporation.

In Japanese mythology, it is said that eight million gods and goddesses live in Takamagahara, the peak of Mt.Takachiho. The name "Olympus" was selected as the trademark because Mt.Olympus, like Mt.Takachiho, was the home of gods and goddesses. This trademark is also imbued with the aspiration of Olympus to illuminate the world with its optical devices, just like Takamagahara brought light to the world.

Takachiho Seisakusho was renamed Takachiho Optical Co., Ltd. in 1942 when optical products became the mainstay of the company. In 1947, the name was changed again to Olympus Optical Co., Ltd. in an attempt to enhance its corporate image.

And in 2003, the company made a fresh start as Olympus Corporation, to show its willingness to establish a dynamic corporate brand by unifying the corporate name and the well-known brand.

In recent years, Olympus Corporation has focused on "Opto-Digital Technology" as its core competence, technological strengths that competitors cannot easily imitate, to maximize corporate value and to become one of the top optical instrument manufactures.

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