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Author Topic: Olympus E-PL1 mini-review  (Read 9134 times)

feppe

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Olympus E-PL1 mini-review
« on: March 23, 2010, 02:48:25 pm »

I received an Olympus E-PL1 yesterday along with the new 14-42mm kit lens, and a Panasonic 14-45mm for comparison. These are first impressions. Neither Lightroom nor Lightzone support its RAWs yet. I'll skip over points you can read on most full reviews.

Significantly cheaper than its big brothers E-P1 and E-P2 and the competing MFT from Panasonic, I was convinced there's nothing in the others which would justify their price. E-Px have slightly better stabilization (4 vs 3 stops) and there are some other minor differences. In return you get a built-in flash with the E-PL1. Panasonic doesn't have in-body stabilization so that was off of my shortlist for a compact camerea with interchangeable lenses.

The small form factor is perfect for me as I bought it for motorcycle trips. Like other identically sized PENs it won't fit in your pocket unless it's a large jacket and you use one of the pancake lenses. So you need a small carry case or at least a wrist strap. The grip is more pronounced than on the earlier PENs so you can hold on to it better. The form factor and lack of a viewfinder makes you look like just another tourist - this can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on if you want to blend in or look like a serious pro  The camera feels very solid, no creaks, and it feels like a real camera in your hand. The battery charger is small and light, and has a very short 15cm cord which is perfect for travel.

The PEN UI has received praise, and rightly so. E-PL1 has a ridiculously loaded feature set, better than most prosumer Canons. There are numerous features to help upgraders from compacts, but it does A/S/M modes very well for those who're used to manual controls. The lenses I have work with AF, or you can just grab the focusing ring at any time and do it yourself - and it even zooms in for you automatically to aid focusing on the LCD if you set the option! It does 720p video which looks gorgeous, but audio is mono although you can attach an external mic.

Bulb mode goes up to thirty minutes and you can set it up to 60 seconds without needing a remote. You can bracket not only exposures (3 brackets), but white balance, ISO and flash! I wonder who's the first one to put them all behind one button, taking all the 64 possible combinations in one go for mother-of-all-brackets...

And I'm sure Michael is thrilled to hear there's a built-in mirror-lockup feature which is permanent

The only thing I'm missing is auto-rotation and full RGB histogram in live view. RGB histogram is available only while reviewing photos so you can still rescue most cases if only one channel is blown - given the limitations of in-camera histograms.

I really like kit lens for its collapsible design and low weight. Nevertheless I ordered the Panasonic 14-45mm as DPReview's lens comparison suggested significant IQ improvement with it, even though their tests are done with different camera bodies. I was pleasantly surprised to see a thick canvas lens pouch and lens hood coming with the Panasonic lens, while the Olympus kit doesn't have either.

I put the E-PL1 on a tripod and shot at three focal lengths and 6 apertures. They all confirmed DPReview's findings: the Olympus kit lens has much poorer sharpness across the board, especially at the edges. The Panasonic is also quite a bit faster with AF which surprised me. Build quality for both lenses is very good, although the Oly is lighter due to more plastics used, and more compact.

Hopefully there will be a better selection of MFT primes, as at the moment there are just two (17mm Oly and 20mm Panny). There's an expensive wide angle Panasonic, and a wide angle Olympus lens is coming out in a month or so. There are also a few other zooms, and one can fit a wide variety of lenses with adapters - they are generally quite large and can result in rather amusing combinations.

JPEG picture quality promises excellent RAWs. They are clean and very sharp (not overly so) with default settings and the panny lens. I did a quick walk-around the city during lunch and took some shots. Attached a Lightzone processed full-res heavily cropped sample image taken with the Panasonic 14-45mm; 24mm (48mm FF equivalent), f/5.6, 1/60th, ISO 100, handheld, Image Stabilization on. Hopefully a proper RAW converter comes out soon - the camera comes with a CD for Olympus's own software which I haven't tried.

I'm very satisfied with the PEN. Despite its relatively low price it is built and feels like a premium product, and even overdelivers with its fully loaded feature set. If you want to squeeze everything out of the package, forgo the kit lens and get the Panasonic equivalent which works beautifully with the Olympus.

The format seems to be off to a good start with frequent camera body updates, and I feel confident in jumping in. The sensor is already "there" with quality, and lens selection is getting better. It's a good camera for someone like me who balks at the IQ of even the best true compacts, but who doesn't want to deal with the bulk and weight of a prosumer crop sensor dSLR, let alone their FF counterparts.

edit:

Two new RAWs converted with Lightzone 3.9. Both handheld, IS on.

First one is an ice carving artist, the 13x19" print looks quite good. Panasonic 14-45mm lens at 45mm, 1/125 sec at f/5.6, ISO 100.

The second is street performers. This one shows pretty severe magenta shift on the lady's white dress on her midsection. This is visible in the JPEG as well. What could be the reason - could it be moire? Panasonic 14-45mm lens at 45mm, 1/200 sec at f/5.6, ISO 100.

I'm unfamiliar with LZ and I oversharpened them a bit, otherwise very minor tweaks - toned down the shadows on the ice carver, added some contrast to highlights on the street performers. Grey balance from neutral tones in the photos.
« Last Edit: April 03, 2010, 08:08:32 am by feppe »
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fredjeang

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Olympus E-PL1 mini-review
« Reply #1 on: March 23, 2010, 03:17:11 pm »

Thanks for this hands-on-review Feppe.
I'd just like to add that Olympus has always deliver excelent jpeg files. But also that the differences in Raw are not as big as in other brands,
maybe because of their outstanding jpegs.

Fred.

Ps: Could you give a crop of one part at 100% ?
« Last Edit: March 23, 2010, 03:19:45 pm by fredjeang »
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feppe

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Olympus E-PL1 mini-review
« Reply #2 on: March 23, 2010, 03:37:50 pm »

Quote from: fredjeang
Thanks for this hands-on-review Feppe.
I'd just like to add that Olympus has always deliver excelent jpeg files. But also that the differences in Raw are not as big as in other brands,
maybe because of their outstanding jpegs.

Fred.

Ps: Could you give a crop of one part at 100% ?

This is the first Olympus I've owned and I almost never use JPEGs out of camera so I don't have a point of comparison, but the JPEGs are quite nice.

The sample posted is a 100% full-resolution image, cropped roughly from the center of a 12 megapixel original.
« Last Edit: March 23, 2010, 03:38:45 pm by feppe »
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Paulo Bizarro

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Olympus E-PL1 mini-review
« Reply #3 on: March 24, 2010, 05:24:46 am »

Thanks for the mini review, very interesting. I have been following these micro 4/3 cameras very closely, as I am always looking for good image quality in a small format. I have discarded the GF-1 for the lack of image stabilisation in the body, and I have discarde the previous Pens for the lack of built in flash. It looks like the EPL-1 is what I was waiting for, something of a Leica CM digital (the Leica X1 is just too expensive, as always...).

I have my mind set on the EPL-1 plus the Panasonic 20mm prime; this lens is faster than the 17mm from Olympus, which is important to me. I am not in a hurry, I prefer to let the whole micro 4/3 thing mature a bit further. In the meantime, I make do with my LX-3, great little camera too.

jake21

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Olympus E-PL1 mini-review
« Reply #4 on: March 24, 2010, 11:24:56 am »

While there has been some complaints about the olympus cameras specifically (and 4:3 in general) jpeg is one thing they seem to do right (nearly every comment I've seen suggest they are significantly above the competition  with regards to resolution, colours and over all look). On the downside don't expect a lot of headroom if you expect to be able to improve certain aspects via manipulation of the raw (there does tend to be a bit of room with regards to dynamic range; though not as much as other vendors).

I really liked this aspect of the olympus camera I owned along with their better lenses (50-200, 12-60, 14-54, ...) but the camera quickly made me dump the system (I made a mistake of starting with  an early e-3).

If they produce a G/Gh like camera with a high quality lens I might bite again (just expressing my personal preference which might be a minority here).

Quote from: feppe
This is the first Olympus I've owned and I almost never use JPEGs out of camera so I don't have a point of comparison, but the JPEGs are quite nice.

The sample posted is a 100% full-resolution image, cropped roughly from the center of a 12 megapixel original.
« Last Edit: March 24, 2010, 11:26:06 am by jake21 »
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feppe

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Olympus E-PL1 mini-review
« Reply #5 on: March 24, 2010, 01:23:52 pm »

Quote from: jake21
If they produce a G/Gh like camera with a high quality lens I might bite again (just expressing my personal preference which might be a minority here).

Not sure what exactly you mean by G/Gh like camera, but the E-PL1 has similar feature set, and adds in-body stabilization and flash. As pointed out, the Olympus lens is inferior to the Panasonic - but the panny is significantly more expensive as well. The option would be to buy the Olympus body with a Panasonic lens, like I did.

Jeremy Payne

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Olympus E-PL1 mini-review
« Reply #6 on: March 24, 2010, 02:09:36 pm »

Thanks, Harri ... I'm thinking I will build my next underwater camera around a m4/3 camera like the PEN.

This was helpful.
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jake21

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« Reply #7 on: March 25, 2010, 04:58:01 pm »

Well it is the shape of the camera along with the evf combined with olympus is and jpeg engine.

Well - i much rather have olympus produce a u4/3 lens in  the 14-60 range with similar optical quality of the 14-54/12-60. Perhaps drop an fstop and ssm to reduce size.

Panny has the 14-140 but it is very expensive and rumored to be sour optically (where as the 14-150 is said to be exceptional).  Anyways that's what I mean by g/gh1 and quality lens.

Naturally I rather go with a kit where there is significant discount than mixing vendors.

Quote from: feppe
Not sure what exactly you mean by G/Gh like camera, but the E-PL1 has similar feature set, and adds in-body stabilization and flash. As pointed out, the Olympus lens is inferior to the Panasonic - but the panny is significantly more expensive as well. The option would be to buy the Olympus body with a Panasonic lens, like I did.
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fredjeang

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Olympus E-PL1 mini-review
« Reply #8 on: March 29, 2010, 06:13:26 am »

I have to say that I'm surprised to see Oly lenses not performing as good as Pana. Oly digital lenses have always been regarded as the best lenses in digital and many comments have been written so far about if these lenses would have been served by a bigger sensor, Oly would have beaten CaNikon.
These were just speculations of course, but Oly has always been on the top in lens quality, and it's strange to see that they did not do that well with their MFT series.

Fred.
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BJL

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Olympus E-PL1 mini-review
« Reply #9 on: March 29, 2010, 10:48:58 am »

Quote from: fredjeang
I have to say that I'm surprised to see Oly lenses not performing as good as Pana. Oly digital lenses have always been regarded as the best lenses in digital ... Oly has always been on the top in lens quality, and it's strange to see that they did not do that well with their MFT series.
My guess is that with m4/3, Olympus is emphasizing the low size and weight aspect more than Panasonic, targeting the "step up from digicam" part of the m4/3 market, leaving the higher quality and heavier stuff to its 4/3 SLR line for now, whereas Panasonic is also offering somewhat higher level m4/3 products aimed more directly at replacing SLRs, now that Panasonic has abandoned SLRs. The collapsible design of the Olympus 14-42 standard zoom and the slower f/2.8 of the 17mm normal prime hint at this, and might lead to compromises on image quality.

The lack of any Olympus model with integrated EVF or articulated LCD or 1080p video also point to this "narrower, lower" targeting of m4/3 products by Olympus.
« Last Edit: March 29, 2010, 10:51:50 am by BJL »
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feppe

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« Reply #10 on: March 29, 2010, 12:06:25 pm »

Quote from: BJL
My guess is that with m4/3, Olympus is emphasizing the low size and weight aspect more than Panasonic, targeting the "step up from digicam" part of the m4/3 market, leaving the higher quality and heavier stuff to its 4/3 SLR line for now, whereas Panasonic is also offering somewhat higher level m4/3 products aimed more directly at replacing SLRs, now that Panasonic has abandoned SLRs. The collapsible design of the Olympus 14-42 standard zoom and the slower f/2.8 of the 17mm normal prime hint at this, and might lead to compromises on image quality.

The lack of any Olympus model with integrated EVF or articulated LCD or 1080p video also point to this "narrower, lower" targeting of m4/3 products by Olympus.

I think that's a sensible analysis. Olympus promised almost a year ago a "pro-level" MFT camera which is not out yet (doubt E-P2 was supposed to be it), so there's hope Olympus will enter the higher-end market as well. I just hope they start producing better lenses so Panasonic would have more incentive to take down their quite high MFT lens prices.
« Last Edit: March 29, 2010, 12:06:39 pm by feppe »
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Chairman Bill

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Olympus E-PL1 mini-review
« Reply #11 on: March 29, 2010, 12:24:12 pm »

I want a full-frame digital Rollei 35! I expect something like this is as close as I'll get.

BJL

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« Reply #12 on: March 29, 2010, 01:11:12 pm »

Quote from: feppe
Olympus promised almost a year ago a "pro-level" MFT camera which is not out yet (doubt E-P2 was supposed to be it)
Actually, after releasing the E-P1, the words from Olympus were a promise of future models at "higher and lower level": it never used words like"pro-level", but that idea was quickly read into its comment by some people.

The E-P2 and E-PL1 fit the actual "higher" and "lower" descriptions, so I think that promise has already been fulfilled. I am hoping for a further hint of Olympus' plans from the 4/3 SLR announcement rumored for early April. If it is a body about the size and price of the E-620 but with video, I would take that as a sign that Olympus still wants to sell SLR's, not m4/3, at that size and price level, to make better use of its investment 4/3 SLR lenses, and wants to at least postpone the need to invest in developing higher level m4/3 lenses.

Then again, I overall prefer the approach of a detachable, pivoting EVF as with the E-P2 and E-LP1 to a built-in non-pivoting one as in the more "SLR-like" Panasonic models.
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feppe

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« Reply #13 on: March 29, 2010, 01:24:48 pm »

Quote from: BJL
Actually, after releasing the E-P1, the words from Olympus were a promise of future models at "higher and lower level": it never used words like"pro-level", but that idea was quickly read into its comment by some people.

That's probably what happened - I don't recall seeing an actual quote of pro-level.

Then again, as implied in my enthusiasm for the E-PL1 I don't see much need for a pro-level MFT right now for me. Built-in EVF and/or fully articulated LCD would make me consider an upgrade - I'd love to have a WLF like on my Mamiya C220.
« Last Edit: March 29, 2010, 01:27:27 pm by feppe »
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feppe

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« Reply #14 on: April 03, 2010, 08:09:22 am »

Lightzone 3.9 added RAW support, and I've uploaded two RAWs edited with LZ in the top post!
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