The Olympus E-PL2 is the latest Olympus PEN or E-P-series Compact System Camera, announced today at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2011 in Las Vegas. Although not technically a replacement for the E-PL1 model (which it will initially sell alongside), the E-PL2 offers a number of new updates and advances.
First and foremost is the new design that now features a larger 3in, 460k-dot resolution LCD screen that betters the E-PL1's 2.7in, 230k-dot version. Next to this is a redesigned set of controls that now feature a new rotational wheel around the d-pad for quicker, easier and a more DSLR-like controlling of various modes.
Next up is a brand new 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, now with a ‘MSC' (Movie & Stills Compatible) designation. What this means in real terms is near-silent internal focusing so the lens is of a permanent fixed size, and the focusing speed is almost twice as fast as the previous version. Keeping up with offering a fully modular system, the E-PL2 not only features interchangeable lenses but the brand new 14-42mm can also benefit from conversion lenses too.
Released in tandem with the E-PL2 will be a Macro Converter (0.68x true magnification on the Micro Four Thirds size sensor means this isn't a true 1:1 macro however), a Wideangle Converter that takes the 14mm wide end down to a super-wide 11mm (22mm in full-frame 35mm terms), and a Fisheye Converter with a 120° angle of view. These affordable add-ons will see yet more creative functions made possible and it doesn't just stop at lenses: a new Macro Arm Light has two adjustable arms for better lighting of close-up photography and can be added using the Accessory Port and camera's hotshoe.
There's also a new PenPal device that sits independently of the camera and can Bluetooth images to your Android-based Smartphone (it includes 2GB of buffer/storage memory, though it's not yet possible to send the actively-resized files larger than 1920x1440 pixels).
Elsewhere and the E-PL2's Face Detection autofocus sees an update with new Eye Detect AF that's capable of first locating a face and then the precise depth that the eyes sit of for far more accurate portraits - impressive if using a particularly wide aperture lens for extra automated precision.
The Art Filter options that are so closely associated with Olympus's releases also see some developments: there's the addition of the same Dramatic Tone setting as per the Olympus E-5 DSLR, though this is at the expense of the Sepia option which has been ditched in favour of this new setting.
Other settings see their ‘mk II' designations brought to the fore, with multiple settings for the likes of Pop Art, Pin Hole and Grainy Film in Art Filter II modes. There's even an Art Frame option to add a traditionally film-like frame to any of your images in-camera. And lastly there's some capacity to stack filters together, though this isn't user-customiseable at present, with only a handful of existing options such as Pin Hole + Soft Focus for example.
The E-PL2's interior operation is almost identical to the previous E-PL1. The same resolution 12.3MP Live MOS sensor operates with the same TruePic V image processing engine as employed in other E-P-system cameras. However, a top-end ISO 6400 option has been added and the shutter is now capable of a super-fast 1/4000th second exposure, both options offering an extra potential f/stop of speed over the E-PL1 model.
Olympus E-PL2 - First Impressions
What Digital Camera was able to get a hands-on preview of the E-PL2 in advance of the main CES release date, and what we've seen from our testing so far is generally very positive. On the one hand the E-PL2 does feel quite a lot like the E-PL1 should have upon its first release. It looks a whole lot better and much more ‘up to date' despite the relatively narrow release schedule between the two models.
The main reason for this is the larger 3in LCD on the rear that just sits so much better in the body design. It's more or less flush to camera the body, compared to the sunken 2.7in version on the E-PL1. The revised layout of the controls also continues to deliver the goods, with the newly featured rear rotational wheel that's well incorporated around the d-pad. And lastly the body colour has changed for the better: it's no longer available in ‘champagne' but comes in a choice of silver, black, red or white in the UK (there's also a gold version that will be seen in some parts of the world). The silver version we've seen matches up with the silver-finish buttons and looks like a much more refined and complete unit than the E-PL1 did.
But on the other hand there's the general lack of considerable upgrades. Yes, the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 MSC lens is an improvement, particularly for shooting movies, but without the camera seeing any changes in its focusing algorithm, the real world effect to faster focusing is difficult to judge. The E-PL2 won't have a greater ability to focus on a particular object or subject for example, it'll just potentially focus slightly more quickly and quietly. What we do really like is the focus-lock switch that is no longer fiddly to release like the previous version.
If anything it's the list of accessories that are the most exciting element of this release. The screw-on conversion lens attachments in particular are a great way to make this an even more modular system with enhanced cost-effectiveness. Although these only fit onto the new 14-42mm and not other Micro Four Thirds lenses, there's certainly going to be demand for them at the affordable price points we've been quoted. In the UK the Macro Converter should be £50, the Wideangle Converter £80 and the Fisheye Converter a little more at around £130.
All in all the E-PL2 isn't a massive upgrade option, but Olympus is certainly hard at work targeting the entry-level audience. Gone are the high-brow Kevin Spacey advertising campaigns, and in come the new entry models, colours and now accessories. It's a good look and a nod to a much fuller solution.
The E-PL2 will ship this January and retail for around £500-550 upon its launch.