Micro Four Thirds is a new breed of pocket-sized cameras that act more like digital SLR (single-lens reflex) cameras -- and experts say the Olympus PEN E-PL1 is the best of the bunch. It's also one of the least expensive. The E-PL1 shaves costs by paring away several features from the pricier Olympus PEN E-P2 (Discontinued) -- importantly, fewer shutter speed options (although they still range from 1/2,000 of a second to 60 seconds) and ISO settings (up to 3,200, instead of 6,400). But reviews say the E-PL1 still offers plenty of sophisticated features and manual control.
The E-PL1, like other Micro Four Thirds cameras, allows you to change lenses (the kit version comes with a 28 mm to 84 mm, 3x zoom lens). This sets the E-PL1 apart from the Canon PowerShot G12 (*Est. $420), which is likewise an advanced pocket camera but with a fixed, zoom lens. Both cameras offer robust manual controls, the ability to shoot in RAW format and 720p HD video. But unlike the Canon G12, the Olympus has no optical viewfinder. You can either use the 2.7-inch LCD screen to frame your shot, or slip an optional electronic viewfinder onto the hot shoe. Photos look great in a wide variety of situations, thanks in part to the E-PL1's big, 12.3-megapixel sensor. Testers find the camera generally easy to use, although battery life isn't particularly long at 290 shots per charge. Slow focusing is a common complaint in early tests; although experts point out that a firmware update has improved this, we still saw complaints that shot-to-shot times are slow, especially compared with a DSLR. As for size, testers say the Olympus PEN E-PL1 does fit nicely in a jacket pocket, at 4.5 inches by 2.8 inches by 1.6 inches.
Nearly every up-to-date expert source we consulted has reviewed the Olympus PEN E-PL1, and nearly all of them wind up making it a top pick. Tests at Imaging-Resource.com, DPReview.com, CNET, PhotographyBlog.com and TrustedReviews.com are all comprehensive and thoughtful, with reliable buying advice. Owner reviews at Amazon.com back up the experts' findings.
In some ways -- better handling and ease-of-use -- the cheaper Olympus PEN E-PL1 seems like an upgrade over its pricier siblings, editors at Imaging-Resource.com concludes after an incredibly thorough test. Advanced users may miss some of the omitted features, but it's still a good camera for enthusiasts and a top pick here.
Review: Olympus PEN E-PL1, Shawn Barnett, Mike Tomkins and Zig Weidelich, June 1, 2010
The Olympus E-PL1 is easier to use than other entry-level interchangeable lens cameras, Richard Butler says, making it a good choice for compact camera users looking for better image quality. It wins a Silver Award from DPReview.com.
Review: Olympus E-PL1 Review, Richard Butler, May 2010
Like DPReview.com, this review finds the Olympus PEN E-PL1 cheaper and easier to use than other Micro Four Thirds cameras, without sacrificing image quality, making it good for beginners who want to step up to a better camera. As in CNET's test, slow performance is an issue, but the Olympus still earns 4.5 stars out of 5 and a spot on PhotographyBlog.com's holiday gift guide.
Review: Olympus E-PL1 Review, Mark Goldstein, March 4, 2010
The Olympus PEN E-PL1 is a runner-up in TrustedReviews.com's 2010 awards. Less expensive than the Olympus PEN E-P2, it's actually a better "bridge camera" between DSLRs and compact cameras.
Review: Olympus PEN E-PL1 Review, Cliff Smith, Aug. 28, 2010
The Olympus PEN E-PL1 is one of the highest-rated cameras at Amazon.com, averaging 4.5 stars (out of 5) with nearly 70 owner reviews posted. Ninety percent give the camera 4 or 5 stars, although criticism is included.
Review: Olympus PEN E-PL1, Contributors to Amazon.com