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...
Design & Performance
Olympus E-P1 review – Design
Olympus has a history of producing some distinctive-looking digital cameras, some more successful than others. The design for the E-P1 is fairly brave and a massive departure from any other mainstream interchangeable lens models. It looks closer to a rangefinder in styling; the body has been painstakingly sculptured to pay homage to its namesakes, while adding a modern twist.
The body is on the larger side of the old Pen range and certainly requires a two-handed grip to steady it. Compared to the smallest DSLR (currently the E-450), it’s significantly smaller. At 335g, it is a good 45g lighter, too.
The E-P1 is available in two colours: silver and white. The silver is the more traditional looking, while the white is distinctive but perhaps not to everyone’s taste, and the layout has been kept simple and uncluttered to keep the retro styling. A couple of nice touches include the flat mounted silver mode dial on the top and the small thumb wheel on the back panel that can be used in combination with the circular dial built into the four-way control for various shooting functions. Some of the buttons can also be customised to change their usage, though with so many options it can get a bit confusing.
The LCD screen is nice and large with a bright display and, despite its comparatively low resolution, is very usable with an almost flawless angle of view from all directions. For critical use, however, it is no substitute for a viewfinder and encourages you to hold the camera in a less steady manner.
Olympus E-P1 review – Performance
The E-P1’s design makes you use it in a very different way from a DSLR and so it feels more natural to compare it to a high-end compact. However, with the exception of a viewfinder, it still offers everything a DSLR should – for a similar price tag – so should really be judged in these terms. And while it easily outclasses most compacts, here it does have some shortcomings.
The contrast detect autofocus searches forward and backwards every time you half press the shutter, even if the focus point hasn’t changed. This combined with the lack of any AF illumination lamp, does make the process slow at times, and it often struggles to lock on in low light. In brighter conditions, though, the face detection works well to maintain focus.
The metering handles almost all conditions very well, giving a nice even tone graph. In high-contrast scenes it will choose to blow extreme highlights rather than underexpose, but will produce the most pleasing result in most cases by doing so.
The burst mode offers three frames per second continuous shooting, which is average at best. Write speeds are fairly standard, taking 2.5secs for a large JPEG, three secs for a Raw and 5.5secs for Raw+JPEG but, thanks presumably to a decent-sized buffer, it is capable of either 14 JPEG files, 13 Raw files, or nine Raw+JPEGs before slowing, using a SanDisk Extreme III 8GB SDHC card.
It’s worth noting that the E-P1’s range of Art Filters and other creative options do put a strain on the battery. With average usage you can expect about 300 shots (roughly a 4GB card).
Without making too much of a song and dance about it, the E-P1’s video mode is fairly impressive. Though it won’t tempt movie connoisseurs, as it offers only 720p high definition and no audio input, the results still look impressive, and can be output at 1080i if required. Plus, the ability to use the Art Filters, aperture priority and shutter priority for video means you can still get creative. Continuous focusing is available for video but the two current Olympus lens options will affect sound.
These two optics are the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 and the 17mm f/2.8, with either or both available as part of a kit with the camera. Though they certainly look the part, they don’t allow the camera to perform to its full potential – which is common for kit lenses. Though you can attach a range of Four Thirds, OM, and even Leica lenses, some faster lenses in this smaller format would be a welcome addition.