Micro Four Thirds cameras sit comfortably in their own little niche, both in price and performance, between high-end point-and-shoots and beginner-level digital SLRs. They boast interchangeable lenses, large sensors and retro-cool styling, so they appeal to people who are serious about photography and can wax poetic about the compact lines of a vintage Leica.
They are also a great stepping stone for the point-and-shoot person who wants to become a better photographer. And their small form factors make them an excellent antidote for the SLR owner suffering from “heavy camera bag” syndrome.
The new E-PL2 joins the growing family of other Micro Four Thirds models from Olympus. It has a svelte metal-composite body, gorgeous high-resolution 3-inch LCD viewfinder and enhanced low-light performance. It’s a welcome upgrade to the E-PL1 and viable alternative the more expensive E-P2.
This fourth-generation Olympus Pen sports a 12.1-megapixel Live MOS sensor, which is roughly eight times larger than the sensor in your average point-and-shoot camera. The larger sensor provides better image quality and low-light performance, similar to that of a digital SLR.
The E-PL2 also pumps up the ISO to 6400, making it great for night photography. The fastest shutter speed has also been increased to 1/4000th of a second to help you freeze action and use fast lenses in bright light.
Other internal updates include eye-detection for more accurate focusing of portrait shots, a live-guide feature for viewing effects in real time, and an updated suite of artistic filters — in-camera effects that give your pictures that Lomo warmth, or an old-timey, grainy black-and-white vibe.
The live guide is intended to show you how altering the camera’s settings can change the picture, and it’s meant for those first learning photography. Unfortunately, it hides what is actually being changed. For example, it shows a slider to “change background focus” instead of explaining how f-stops work. The artistic filters are fun, but the plethora of desktop and online applications available to spruce up your images make them somewhat redundant.
The E-PL2 ships with a new M. Zuiko 14-42mm f3.5/5.6 zoom lens (28-84mm equivalent) that works during movie or still shooting and has a very snappy response time. The lens collapses for storage but must be extended to roughly double its stored size when in use.
The results from the supplied lens were better than expected for a kit lens. The beauty of the Micro Four Thirds standard is the wide variety of adapters, which allow other manufacturers’ lenses to be used. The Pen’s body is just screaming to be mated with a classic manual-focus Leica or Voitlanger lens. Old manual lenses still benefit from E-PL2’s image stabilization, which is internal and sensor-based.
One very welcome new feature is the redesigned case. The grip is more comfortable, and the E-PL2 feels solid in hand. Holding it evokes a feeling of nostalgia for a classic rangefinder film camera with its pleasant heft and balance. The front half of the camera and the lens mount are both constructed of metal, the body is cast and the mount is machined. The rear case material is a hard plastic, but it’s nearly indistinguishable from the metal of the front. It feels like a high-quality, professional camera.
The most striking difference between the E-PL2 and the older Pen models is the new LCD viewfinder. It’s larger than the E-PL1’s LCD and doubles the pixels of the E-PL1 and E-P2. Doubling the resolution providing readable text and menus, especially when you use the manual focus.
As to menus, the software user interface is good, but not intuitive, and the navigation wheel takes some getting used to.
Some interesting new Olympus accessories snap into the E-PL2’s hot shoe, including a dual-headed light for macro photography and a Bluetooth dongle for beaming photos directly to your mobile device. Dubbed the PENpal, the Bluetooth nub plugs into the camera’s hot shoe and AP2 accessory port, allowing the camera to send photos wirelessly and without a desktop computer.
Currently the PENpal can only transmit photos to Android and Windows 7 Mobile devices — no iOS devices yet.
All in all, the Olympus E-PL2 is a solid camera and a great addition to the Olympus Pen line. The large sensor captures beautiful photos, especially in low light. The 3-inch LCD viewfinder is bright and rich with detail. The camera’s construction just feels right, and it’s sheer pleasure to shoot with it. SLR owners will like the quality of images the E-PL2 captures and how light and compact it is.
If you’re in the market for a micro-four thirds camera, the E-PL2 is a smart buy, especially compared to its bigger, more expensive brothers.
get-gadget: Beautiful, high-resolution 3-inch LCD. Enhanced low-light performance (ISO 6400) and shutter speed (4000). Sturdy, solid construction with a pleasing feel in the hand. Just begs for classic, fast Leica glass. Good value for the price, especially compared to the E-P2.
Tired: Kit lens has a funky retractable barrel. PENPal only works on Android and Windows 7 mobiles, so iOS junkies are out of luck. Back of case is plastic, although it’s hard to tell.