Olympus E-P1 review

Review Date : Fri, 24 Jul 2009

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Olympus E-P1 product image back rear
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The Olympus E-P1 - the company's first Micro Four Thirds camera, with its design based on the original Olympus PEN. But does the EP1 have the potential to become as popular as the 1959 classic? The What Digital Camera Olympus E-P1 review lifts the lid to bring you the verdict...

The Olympus E-P1 (Olympus Pen) is the company’s first Micro Four Thirds camera. When the Micro Four Thirds format was first announced both Panasonic and Olympus spoke of smaller-bodied cameras, and with the Panasonic Lumix G1 we saw just what was possible with this mount. The G1 looked very much like a miniature SLR camera, but without the mirror system that defines them. For Olympus’s answer to this new mount the company took a look back to a camera concept that it created in 1959 – the half-frame Olympus PEN. This classic design became the basis of its new Micro Four Thirds camera and so, in June of this year, the Pen Digital was announced, otherwise known as the Olympus E-P1. Is the EP1 as groundbreaking as the original? The What Digital Camera Olympus EP1 review lifts the lid...

Olympus E-P1 review - Features

In keeping the Olympus E-P1 true to its history, some features you may expect on a modern digital camera have been sacrificed. Most of the original Pen cameras featured a fixed lens and had a basic viewfinder. The Pen F did allow for interchangeable lenses, and used a sidewards mounted pentaprism to allow a through-the-lens (TTL) optical viewfinder. For the EP1, Olympus has chosen to remove the viewfinder altogether and offers just a rear LCD screen on the back for composition, as is the case on many compact cameras. Presumably for space reasons, and a little nostalgia, there is an optional viewfinder available that sits on the camera’s hotshoe, and while the camera lacks a built-in flash, this too is available as an optional extra that sits on the hotshoe.


Olympus E-P1 test sample image


Despite its size the Olympus E-P1 offers the same Four Thirds (17.3 x 13mm) size sensor as used in the Olympus E-series DSLR cameras. Here it is a 12.3-megapixel Live MOS sensor, with images output in the standard 4:3 format (4032 x 3024 pixels), and also in a choice of 3:2, widescreen 16:9, and square 6:6 formats. To reduce dust build-up it uses Olympus’s Supersonic Wave Filter (SSWF) and features a built-in sensor shift image-stabilisation system that claims to offer up to four EV stops of compensation.

Though there’s every chance the E-P1’s sensor is the same as featured in the Olympus E-620, the processor is brand new. The TruePic V is said to enhance colour reproduction and picture sharpness, provide faster processing speeds to support the built-in Art Filters and movie modes, and allow higher ISO capability. This ISO range, with a maximum ISO of 6400, is a step up from even the Olympus E-30 model, and is certainly impressive for a camera of this level.

Metering is catered for with a TTL 324-zone multi-pattern sensing system, offering Digital ESP, centreweighted, and spot options, while exposure compensation can be adjusted up to +/- 3EV in each direction. As well as the full manual and aperture/shutter priority exposure controls, you have the option of 19 scene modes and an i-Auto setting, which selects the most appropriate settings for you. The Art Filters, as featured on recent E-series models, offer six creative effects for your images in the form of Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale & Light colour, Light Tone, Grainy Film, and Pin Hole, which can be applied to JPEG files during capture or to Raw files afterwards.

The design of the Micro Four Thirds system, and principally the lack of a mirror, means the autofocus uses a contrast detect system from the sensor. This allows an 11-point selection that is extended to 25-points with face detection, and a 225-point manual selection when in the magnified view.

The rear screen is a large 3in HyperCrystal LCD display with a fairly basic 230,000-dot resolution. For composition however, it offers 100% field of view, exposure and white balance adjustment previews, as well as grid line and histogram display.

The E-P1 is capable of high-definition video capture. It records in AVI motion JPEG format at a choice of 1280 x 720 pixels (720p) or 640 x 480 pixels, at 30 frames per second. The audio is recorded in 16-bit stereo PCM, from microphones built into the front.

What are micro system cameras?


Though not aimed at the budget buyer, the Olympus E-P1 is not overly expensive. It is pitched as a premium product and will undoubtedly attract attention due to its looks, but considering it costs £699 with the 14-42mm, it is nearly half the price of the Panasonic Lumix GH1, and just over £200 more than the Lumix G1. Though, in retro terms, it is a relative bargain when placed alongside the £3,000 Leica M8. Put on a broader comparison, it is £130 more than the Canon's G10 creative compact, and £100 cheaper than the Nikon D5000, based on recommended prices, though both of these can now be found on the high street much cheaper. So, the Olympus E-P1 is not the cheapest option on the market but its unique looks and retro appeal will no doubt bring it a decent audience willing to pay the price. However, considering its current asking price it is unlikely to gain the mass-market sales of the original Olympus Pen.

Digital SLR Reviews

Price as reviewed



Features 16/20
Design 19/20
Image Quality 18/20
Performance 17/20
Value 18/20
Overall Score 88%