Micro Four Thirds Camera Review: Olympus Pen E-PL2

The Olympus Pen E-PL2 micro four thirds camera. A lot of features in a small package. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

The Olympus Pen E-PL2 micro four thirds camera. A lot of features in a small package. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

I have been fascinated and interested in the new ‘Four Thirds’ cameras that have been popping up, first from Panasonic (the Lumix series of cameras) and Olympus and now from Samsung and Sony as well. The small, discreet size of the cameras, but packing decent megapixel quality and interchangeable lenses, has made me nostalgic for my old Leica M2 and M3 film cameras—we’re talking way, way ‘back in the day’ here, folks.

ULTIMATE RANGEFINDERS

Those cameras, which featured full 35mm film frames but with interchangeable Zeiss lenses on small rangefinder bodies, were great storytelling tools for a working photojournalist. (Eventually I sold them, when I found that the limited lens selection was hampering the way I wanted to shoot, and both Nikon and Canon had excellent cameras that were better all-around performers.)

THE OLYMPUS PEN E-PL2

Anyway, when my friends at Bennett’s Camera in New Orleans offered to let me ‘test drive’ Olympus’s new E-PL2 camera for a review, I jumped at the chance. They provided the camera with its standard 14-42mm kit lens, along with the VF-2 electronic viewfinder, which snaps into the hot shoe on top of the camera body. I got to spend several days playing around with this camera, shooting in a variety of situations. I then shot a bit of video as well, so we’ll be able to look at that too.

MY USUAL DISCLAIMER

As  usual with my reviews, this won’t be a quasi-scientific, ‘bench test’ review of this camera, but a hands-on, out-in-the-field look at a piece of gear by a guy that shoots for a living. I’ll give you my honest opinion about this hardware; it’ll be up to you to decide if you find the information helpful (I certainly hope you will!). So, let’s get started!

ORIENTATION

Once the battery was charged and an SD memory card was inserted, I was ready to go. I spent a bit of time looking over the ‘concise’ version of the manual. It comes with two: the ‘concise,’ which I found completely adequate, and a bigger, brick-like tome which I never cracked open. Anyway, I had no trouble getting oriented to the setup and basic controls on the camera. Actually, I found them logical and well laid-out. The menus all made sense and were simply put together. In fact, come to think of it, the manual was one of the best I’ve seen. It didn’t read like a translation of a Japanese engineer’s notes on the camera, a common problem with these things.

The manual…doesn’t read like a translation of a Japanese engineer’s notes on the camera, a common problem with these things.

A LOOK UNDER THE HOOD

Here are the basic specs for the machine:

  • 12.3  megapixel Four Thirds sensor
  • In-camera image stabilization
  • Nice, fast autofocus
  • 720p HD video (you can shoot SD as well)
  • Built-in flash
  • Big, 3” LCD back screen
  • Bayonet mount that takes an expanding list of lenses
  • One-button movie record button
  • Built-in pop-up flash
  • Hot shoe/accessory shoe, which can take a stereo microphone or the electronic viewfinder (but not both together, unfortunately)
It's a diminutive little camera, isn't it? (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

It’s a diminutive little camera, isn’t it? (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

A REAL LIGHTWEIGHT

If you’re used to lugging around a DSLR camera all the time, one of the nicest things about the PL2 is what’s NOT there: the weight! Putting this camera around your neck, you feel…almost nothing! At first this was disconcerting: did I lose it already? (Nope, still there!) It’s very, very small, and very, very light.

The VF2 viewfinder allows waist level, as well as eye level shooting, a nice bonus feature. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

The VF2 viewfinder allows waist level, as well as eye level shooting, a nice bonus feature. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

VIEWFINDER SHOOTING

Shooting with it on a bright, sunny morning in the New Orleans French Quarter, I was glad to have the VF-2 viewfinder. The 3” LCD screen is very nice on this camera, but I still prefer to look through an actual viewfinder when composing a shot. If you’re thinking about buying this camera, I would strongly suggest you consider laying out the additional bucks for the viewfinder.

It took me a while to locate and get rid of the default 5 second ‘review time’ that wants to pop up after every shot. This is a real pain, since until it goes off, you can’t see/compose another photo. Changing the review to ‘none’ solved this problem.

 

I found the autofocus function on this camera to be surprisingly fast and accurate. This is a blowup shot with the 14-42mm zoom lens. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

I found the autofocus function on this camera to be surprisingly fast and accurate. This is a blowup shot with the 14-42mm zoom lens. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

 

AUTOFOCUS THAT WORKS

While I’m thinking about it, let me just say that the autofocus on this little camera is surprising nimble and accurate. It works! I was surprised at how well it picked up a moving object in the frame when I tested it with some birds at the Audubon Park rookery. Although underlensed with the 14-42mm zoom, the camera was great at locking in on swooping egrets and herons.

NO DEDICATED AUDIO MINI JACK

I wish this camera had a dedicated Audio ‘mini’ input jack. The external microphone plugs into an input jack that must mount into the accessory/hot shoe; this means that my awesome Sennheiser MKE 400 shotgun mic can’t be used with this kit, since it has a short coil cord with male audio mini jack. (I guess I could use it, but I’d have no place to mount the thing.) Oh, well…

The camera comes with several 'Art' options, some of which I actually found to be pretty nice. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

The camera comes with several 'Art' options, some of which I actually found to be pretty nice. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

 

ARTSY CHOICES

Although I’m usually not a fan of this type of thing, I found that the ‘Art’ setting was fun. You can choose between several artsy-fartsy choices, my favorite being ‘Pinhole,’ which place a bit of good old plastic-camera-type vignette on each image for you, right at the time of exposure. This works in both still and movie mode.

Your choices are: Pop Art, Soft Focus, Grainy Film, Pin Hole, Diorama and Dramatic Tone.

This lizard was shot using the 'Pinhole' art option. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

This lizard was shot using the 'Pinhole' art option. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

 

VIDEO

Speaking of Movie Mode, I really liked how easy this camera makes it to switch from stills to video. Right on the back of the camera, upper right, is a dedicated button that immediately starts shooting video. What a great feature!

Switching from stills to video shooting could not be easier. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

Switching from stills to video shooting could not be easier. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

Video resolution is limited to only two choices, one SD (standard definition) and one 720p HD (high definition). It would be nice to see 1080p video offered here, but you can’t have everything. Below is a bit of fun I had with a couple of unsuspecting members of the family in Movie mode:

Olympus Pen E-PL2 Micro Four Thirds Camera Review from Andrew Boyd on Vimeo.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS

I like this little camera. I think it offers a lot of punch in a very small package. I think it makes a great, high-quality casual camera, for those that can’t bring themselves to shoot an actual point-and-shoot, and don’t want to always lug around their big hulking DSLR.  Also, the range of accessories, from viewfinders to microphones to lenses, speaks to Olympus’s dedication to this format. There’s a lot here to like.

Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog

Related articles on the web:

Olympus Pen E-PL2 review at DPR Review.com--excellent, technical review of this camera

Olympus Pen E-PL2 Reveiw at Digital Trends

Posted in: Equipment

About the Author:

Photographer, videographer and photo editor. Host and creator of The Discerning Photographer web site. Currently a Canon shooter.

6 Comments on "Micro Four Thirds Camera Review: Olympus Pen E-PL2"

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  1. Sally Platt says:

    Really useful review, I’ve just ordered the Pen PL2 with viewfinder and came across your review by chance.It
    has confirmed my decision on the purchase. I had bird and small animal photography in mind when I chose this
    model, cant wait to get started. Thanks for the useful tips. I will look out for the web site in future.
    All the best Sally.

  2. Good luck, Sally. This is a nice camera, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

  3. Jon Andrews says:

    Good review and I like the hands on approach. But what is missing is a comparison to other cameras. Which is better?

  4. Jon,
    The oher brand that I wanted to review, but haven’t been able to get my hands on, is the Panasonic Lumix line. They make some very nice 4/3 cameras. Check them out as well if this is the format you’re interested in.

  5. joe chan says:

    I have friends that own either the Oly or Pana and both like their choices. Noise level on the Pana may be a bit better, up to 1600, though. My friends bought theirs for the compact and indiscreet size, as they do a lot of candid streets. And with the articulating LCD they can “hide” easier.

    GEZZZZ, do I need another toy!! MAYBE!!!!

  6. katrina says:

    My friend has that camera. Realy enjoyed using it.

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