Olympus E-PL1 Review

Olympus E-PL1 Review: Olympus surprises with a mirrorless system camera Pen E-PL1 For beginners

It has been known for a long time that Olympus wants to expand the E-P1 pen up and down to reach “experts” and “beginners”. But now we’re going to have to take it one step at a time. After the upwardly oriented Pen E-P2 has recently been sold, the Pen E-PL1 will follow in March 2010 as a rounding off downwards. Finally Olympus also manages to integrate a flash unit into a pen, after all, this is something a “beginner’s camera” should not be missing. Savings are made on the operating wheels, the housing material (now plastic with metal surface) and the screen. Thus the price can be pushed down to around EUR 600.

Brief assessment


  • Integrated mini flash (first time for a pen camera)
  • Image processing directly in the camera incl. RAW development
  • Practical automatic functions with an above-average number of configuration options
  • Very good image quality (resolution, sharpness, noise)
  • Very compact, easily expandable camera system


  • Operation somewhat awkward
  • With set lens to slow autofocus (still)
  • Plastic housing that looks cheap

Take a digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR), leave out the oscillating mirror and instead focus entirely on an electronically generated viewfinder image. System cameras constructed according to this recipe are considerably smaller than a classic DSLR, but still offer their greatest advantages: the possibility of being able to attach the right lens for every shooting situation and a fairly large sensor. The Pen E-PL1, with which Olympus is now rounding off the still relatively young Pen family, also works according to this recipe. Although the Olympus E-PL1 Pen is unmistakably red pencilled, it has added some features that the larger Pens lack. Our test clarifies for whom the “beginner” Pen is suitable and what the inner values of the Pen are.

The integrated flash unit is set up in a professional manner. At the push of a button, it folds upwards by means of a pincer mechanism and can even control system flash units wirelessly. The accessory port below the system hot shoe is also built into the Pen E-PL1, although the matching electronic viewfinder (VF-2) is not included in the scope of delivery, unlike the Pen E-P2. An (optional) stereo microphone adapter can also be connected to the accessory port. The E-PL1 also records videos in HD quality. However, the internal microphone only provides mono sound. With 114.6 x 72.2 x 41.5 mm and just under 300 g (without battery and memory card), the E-PL1 turns out extremely compact and light.

The 12.3 megapixel LiveMOS sensor (13.1 megapixel physical) is movably mounted and thus compensates for camera shake, the exposure times can thus increase by up to 3 f-stops (factor 8). As befits a system camera (Micro Four Thirds), the lenses are interchangeable and the 4:3 sensor is relatively large at 17.3 x 13 mm. Other aspect ratios such as 16:9, 3:2 and 6:6 can be adjusted with loss of resolution and angle of view. The “Supersonic Wave Filter” uses ultrasonic vibrations to ensure that no dust or other dirt sticks to the sensor and impairs image quality. The fixed rear screen measures 2.7″ (6.9 cm) diagonally and has a resolution of 230,000 pixels. The memory card slot accepts SD/SDHC cards, and the battery compartment holds a BLS-1 lithium-ion battery as used in the E-4xx and E-6xx series and the other two pen models. In the E-PL1 it is sufficient for 280 exposures according to CIPA standard measurement procedures. A USB and HDMI interface are also on board.

The operating concept of the E-PL1 is slightly different. The two control wheels are missing, instead there is a rocker with which, for example, time, aperture or exposure correction can be set. The main focus, however, is on the automatic system. It automatically detects the appropriate scene mode, controls sensitivity, shadow lighting, face detection and AF tracking. In addition, an easy-to-understand “Live Guide” ensures that it is rarely necessary to look at the manual. It also explains how to adjust the camera for a shallow depth of field, for example. The photographer can get creative with six different Art Filters: Pop Art, Soft Focus, Grainy Film, Pinhole Camera, Diorama and Gentle Sepia; the e-portrait function, on the other hand, ensures smooth skin in portraits. The TruePic V image processor provides the necessary computing power.

In four different colours (black, white, red and champagne) the body alone is available for about 600 EUR or alternatively with the 14-42 mm (650 EUR) as well as in a set with the 14-42 and the Four Thirds 40-150mm incl. Four Thirds adapter for 800 EUR. The accessories range also includes an underwater housing (PT-EP01) for around 650 EUR.

Ergonomics and Workmanship

Even at the first contact, the E-PL1 Pen cannot conceal the fact that Olympus had expected a sharp Pen here: The housing is noticeably made of plastic and does not look very valuable – even the metal applications on top do not change this. If you take the camera courageously in your hand, it creaks audibly. The retro look of our champagne-coloured test model may not be to everyone’s taste.

But once lifted before the eye, the angular design is quickly forgotten. The Olympus Pen E-PL1 lies quite well and securely in the hand, which is also helped by the somewhat pronounced handle, which is covered with non-slip imitation leather. Thus, one is not afraid to take pictures “one-handed”, especially since the Pen E-PL1 is a true lightweight: The naked body does not weigh more than 300 grams; ready for use with battery, memory card and the M. Zuiko 14-42/1:3.5-5.6 tested by us, it just about breaks the 400-gram mark. This is certainly too much weight for the shirt pocket, but in the coat pocket or handbag, the Pen E-PL1 hardly takes up any space, especially since it (without lens) only needs a little more space than a pack of paper tissues.

Olympus has saved on the controls – the two thumbwheels known from the larger Pen E-P1 are missing from the cheaper Pen E-PL1. Thus, parameters such as aperture, exposure time or correction can only be laboriously adjusted using the control buttons. The dedicated main switch, which lights up blue when the camera is switched on, is practical. In keeping with the latest trend, Olympus has given the Pen E-PL1 its own trigger for video recording. Another good thing is that the E-PL1 pen has a mode dial that can be used to quickly call up the most important basic settings. A 2,7-inch display serves for the recording control that has a resolution of 230.000 pixels and is neither foldable nor pivotable. After all, the monitor shows a quite color stable and high-contrast image even under extreme viewing angles.

As an alternative to image control on the outstretched arm, the excellent VF-2 video viewfinder can be inserted into the accessory shoe. With 800 by 600 pixels, it provides a very detailed viewfinder image and can also be swivelled upwards. Unfortunately, this viewfinder – in contrast to the black E-P2 – is not included in the scope of delivery of the E-PL1, and it costs around 200 Euros extra. A tripod thread is on board the camera. Although it is made of solid metal, it does not lie on the optical axis. If a quick-release plate is screwed on, it blocks access to the battery and memory card compartment on the underside of the camera. This compartment houses an energy dispenser with a capacity of 1,150 mAh, which is just about good for almost 300 shots. The menu structure of the Pen E-PL1 is somewhat confusing and sometimes confuses with a crude mix of hard to understand names and not very catchy symbols. Therefore, it is often necessary to have a look at the operating instructions, the contents of which are unfortunately not immediately apparent.


A decisive advantage of the Pen Series from Olympus is the high-quality recording technology in a very compact housing for interchangeable lenses. But the compactness has had its price so far, the older pen cameras have no flash on board. With the E-PL1, Olympus engineers have now managed to integrate a flash into the very handy housing. And not only that, the small light dispenser jumps out neatly high thanks to a tricky folding mechanism. In this way it removes a nice piece from the optical axis, which avoids the danger of red flashing eyes. However, with a guide number of 6.3 (measured) the mini-flash is not very potent. However, as befits a true system camera, the Pen E-PL1 offers an accessory shoe for significantly more powerful flash units. And what’s more, the internal mini flash can even act as a wireless control unit for suitable system flash units. Regardless of whether the internal flash or an external device is used – the E-PL1 pen offers all conceivable flash modes, such as synchronisation to the second curtain or manual power control.

As professional as the flash control is – Olympus has, according to its own statements, the E-PL1 pen is primarily aimed at the “beginner”. So if you don’t want to worry so much about operating your camera, set the “iAUTO” mode on the E-PL1 Pen. The camera automatically selects the appropriate scene mode for the shooting situation. However, you are not at the mercy of the specifications of the Pen E-PL1, they can be adapted. So the exposure time can be set longer or shorter, as well as a smaller or larger aperture (to control the depth of field to the point), the color temperature and much more. Alternatively, the E-PL1 pen can be set to one of the 16 subject programs to suit the respective shooting situation, which can also be adjusted manually. Ambitious photographers, on the other hand, will be pleased that the Pen E-PL1 can also be operated as an aperture or timer and even offers fully manual exposure control. The program variety is rounded off by a classic automatic program with “shift” function.

Although the Pen E-PL1 is actually aimed at less experienced photographers, it does offer a range of functions that will make professional hearts beat faster. It takes exposure series on demand, knows five different methods of exposure metering and also records in raw data format. RAW files can be developed in the camera, and if you want, you can apply a variety of effects to the images. Even optimizing or cropping of images is possible directly in the E-PL1. An assistant for panoramic photos is also on board. There are also a number of image styles that can be used to create neutral colors and sharpness or to create bright, crisp photos.

From Pen E-P2, Pen E-PL1 has adopted the “iEnhance” mode, which enhances the dominant color in the image and thus allows particularly colorful shots of sunsets, autumn leaves or a red flower in a green meadow. The camera handles particularly high-contrast scenes with the “Gradation: Auto” setting, which brightens shadows and darkens highlights to get more drawing out of critical areas. However, the E-PL1 doesn’t have a special and in its strength adjustable shadow brightening function, such as the D-Lighting in Nikon or DRO in Sony. Unlike the large pen cameras, the Pen E-PL1 offers only a shortest shutter speed of 1/2,000 second and ISO 3,200 as the highest sensitivity. The artificial horizon also fell victim to the economy measures. The Pen E-PL1 is also not exactly a sprinter: its continuous shooting speed of a good three photos per second is just about up to date, more than a second passes from switching on to ready to shoot – whereby the set lens still has to be manually extended to the shooting position afterwards.

The E-PL1 pen can be configured very extensively (albeit somewhat awkwardly) for photo shooting. But it is also extremely adaptable for video recording. The E-PL1 pen films with the focus fixed at the first setting or adjusts the focus. However, when panning to a new subject, the AF pumps back and forth two or three times until the focus point is found. For this purpose, the focus can be adjusted semi-automatically or completely manually during video shooting with the shutter release button pressed halfway. Like a professional video camera, the Pen E-PL1 also allows the manual setting of an aperture for targeted depth of field control. The E-PL1 pen records the sound to the film in mono only, but the multifunctional accessory shoe records an optionally available stereo microphone for higher demands on sound quality. However, the film format of the E-PL1 is no longer quite up to date: it stores a maximum of 1,280 x 720 pixels at 30 frames per second in the somewhat dusty AVI Motion JPEG format.



For only 50 Euro extra you get the Pen E-PL1 together with the lens M. Zuiko Digital 14-42 mm /1:3.5-5.6 The very compact zoom lens offers a transport position in which it protrudes from the body only three fingers wide. The other side of the coin: After switching on, the lens must first be unlocked and brought into the shooting position by turning the zoom ring – this takes time. The fact that the housing, including the bayonet of the lens, is made entirely of plastic is understandable in view of the price – especially since the lens weighs less than 150 grams, which undoubtedly deserves the rating “suitable for travel”. The 14-42 delivered with the E-PL1 is identical in appearance and processing to the “normal” 14-42 mm, which has a metal bayonet. The handy ring for manual focus is practical, as the E-PL1 allows the autofocus to be overridden manually – a possibility that is often used in view of the still too long focus times of the E-PL1. The freely adjustable magnifying glass helps here, but there is no distance display either on the lens or on the screen.

It takes about 0.9 seconds for the camera to focus on 14-42 mm with the M. Zuiko Digital – even simple compact cameras are quicker today. However, the E-PL1 focuses about 25 percent faster than the E-P1 – obviously the engineers at Olympus have realised that there is still some catching up to do in terms of “AF speed” for pen cameras. (Note: The “old” pen models benefit from the higher AF speed by a firmware update) But there is nothing wrong with the accuracy of the autofocus: Once the AF confirmation signal lights up, you can be sure that the focus is correct. Even under the most adverse lighting conditions, it finds its target, pumping back and forth only occasionally and briefly. Thus it is usually understandable that the Pen E-PL1 does not have any AF auxiliary light, not even via “flash salvo”.

In practice the “Kit-Zoom” proved to be quite suitable. The focal length range corresponds to that of a 28-84 millimeter on a 35 mm camera – so you are already well equipped for many photographic tasks. Another positive feature is the low close-up limit of 25 centimeters, which allows a respectable magnification for a lens in this price class. What’s annoying, though, is that the “kit lens” makes a creaky noise when zooming. This is not disturbing when taking pictures, but it is when recording a video, where the sound is clearly audible. It is good that the M. Zuiko Digital 14-42 mm has a filter thread, but the front element rotates when focusing. This makes the use of pole filters or gray graduated filters unnecessarily difficult. As with many wide-angle zooms, the M. Zuiko Digital 14-42 mm produces strong colour fringes at the edges of the image at the shortest focal length. Also an image stabilizer via “sensor shift”, i.e. independent of the lens used, is not missing. The latter can either compensate only for horizontal or vertical “shaking” (important for “dragging along”) or works in two planes.

Image quality

The elimination of the oscillating mirror shrinks the flange focal length of the Micro Four Thirds standard to just 21 millimetres – at least twice as large for a single-lens reflex camera. A smaller flange focal length can have a positive effect on the imaging properties of the lens, especially in the wide-angle range.

In fact, the “kit lens” on the Pen E-PL1 convinces with good to very good resolution values. Only in extreme wide-angle position the resolution drops towards the edges, but never falls below a critical limit. How much the sensor has been optimized for a good resolution is also proven by the excellent measuring values with the Olympus 50 mm 2 ED macro (with which we also tested the Pen E-PL1). In contrast to sensors that are often trimmed for resolution, the E-PL1 pen always shows good readings for the directional dependency of the resolution – the developers at Olympus obviously know their trade very well. In practice, the pictures taken with the Pen E-PL1 are richly detailed and beautifully drawn. The camera-internal sharpening certainly also contributes to this. It is slightly more pronounced in the E-PL1 pen than in the larger pens and shows slight overshoots on horizontal and vertical contrast edges in the laboratory. In practice, however, this also means that images can be printed immediately and without re-sharpening with the E-PL1 pen.

The Pen E-PL1 also has excellent control of image noise. This is all the more remarkable as their Four Thirds sensor offers about 50 percent less area than an APS-C sensor. Up to ISO 800, sensor noise does not play a role either metrologically or visually. It is noticeable, however, that our laboratory measured less noise at ISO 800 than at the next lower sensitivity levels – a clear indication that from ISO 800 on, the E-PL1 pen is able to deal with noise via software. In fact, the images start to look a little soft from this sensitivity level on, but in no way look waxy or unnaturally smooth. In practice, the Pen E-PL1 is definitely usable up to ISO 1,600, even the highest sensitivity level of ISO 3,200 produces just about usable photos. The fact that Olympus primarily eliminates color noise, but only moderately reduces the disturbing brightness noise, certainly contributes to this good impression.

However, the E-PL1 pen does not cut quite as good a figure in terms of “dynamic range”. Up to ISO 800, the input dynamic range reaches just over eight f-stops (EV) – very good cameras process brightness differences of a good nine EV. In terms of output dynamics, the E-PL1 – like so many cameras – does not achieve a decent black level, black is rather reproduced as dark grey. The tonal value reproduction is rather crisply tuned as standard, but can be adjusted to a very large extent to personal preferences on the E-PL1 pen. In practice, the Pen E-PL1 always exposes reliably with a slight tendency to underexpose. She is rather reserved in her rendering of colours and shows a slight preference for warm tones. However, this preference is too pronounced when taking photos under artificial light, photos taken under incandescent lighting will have an unnatural orange tint.


The inner values of the Olympus Pen E-PL1 are convincing, the outer ones less so. There is nothing to criticize about the image quality of the small system camera. This is especially true for the price-oriented set lens. The E-PL1 delivers detailed and low-noise photos up to high ISO levels. This makes the very compact system camera ideal for all occasions where the weight and dimensions of the equipment need to be kept as small as possible – especially since the Pen E-PL1 has a flash on board. The video function is also convincing, as is the good expandability of the E-PL1 pen. The reaction speed is still in need of improvement, especially the autofocus is still somewhat sluggish. Those who rely on the automatic functions will get along well with the camera, while ambitious photographers will want a better usability. The housing quality of the E-PL1 pen remains well below the overall level – Olympus has saved too much here.


Manufacturer Olympus
Model Pen E-PL1
Price approx. EUR 650** at market launch
Sensor Resolution 12.3 megapixels
Max. Image resolution 4.032 x 3.024
(aspect ratio) (4:3)
Lens M.Zuiko Digital 14-42/1:3.5-5.6 ED
Filter thread 40.5 mm
Viewfinder electronic (optional)
Field of view 100%
Resolution 1.44 million (800 x 600 pixels)
Dioptre compensation yes
LCD monitor 2,7″
Resolution 230.000
as viewfinder yes
Video output AV and HDMI
, each PAL and NTSC
as viewfinder yes
Automatic programming yes
Automatic aperture control yes
Automatic timer yes
manual exposure yes
BULB long time exposure yes
Scene modes
Portrait yes
Children/baby yes
Landscape yes
Macro yes
Sports/action yes
further 14 additional scene modes available
Exposure metering Multi-field, centre-weighted Integral, Spot
Flash yes
Guide number 6.3 (measured)
Flash connection System hot shoe
Remote release
Interval recording
Storage medium SD/SDHC
Video mode
Format AVI
Codec Motion-JPEG
Resolution (max.) 1.280 x 720
Frame rate (max.) 30
automatically 200-1.600
(upper limit adjustable)
manually ISO 100-3,200
White balance
Automatic yes
Sun yes
Clouds yes
Fluorescent lamp yes
Incandescent lamp yes
Miscellaneous Shadow, flash, manual color temperature selection
Manually yes
Number of measurement fields 11/225
AF auxiliary light
Speed > 0,84 s
Languages English
Additional languages 33 languages
Switch-on time ~ 1,3 s
One-hand operation
(zoom and shutter release)
(Ready for operation)
334 g (body only
)460 g (with lens**)
Continuous shooting function*
Number of serial images 9 (JPEG
)10 (RAW)
3.4 (JPEG
)3.4 (RAW)
Continuous run
1.9 (JPEG
)1.0 (RAW)
with lightning
Zoom adjustment at the lens
Zoom levels infinitely variable
Time WW to Tele
Memory speeds*
JPEG 1.6 s (4.6 MByte)
RAW 2.7 s (12.7 MByte)
Trip during
.Saving possible.
Battery life about 290 pictures
– = “not applicable
“* with SanDisk 4 GB Extreme III SDHC memory card**
with M.Zuiko Digital 14-42/1:3.5-5.6 ED lens

Brief assessment


  • Integrated mini flash (first time for a Pen camera)
  • Image processing directly in the camera incl. RAW development
  • Practical automatic functions with an above-average number of configuration options
  • Very good image quality (resolution, sharpness, noise)
  • Very compact, easily expandable camera system


  • Operation somewhat awkward
  • With set lens to slow autofocus (still)
  • Plastic housing

Olympus Pen E-PL1 Data Sheet


Sensor CMOS sensor 4/3″ 17.3 x 13.0 mm (crop factor 2.0
)13.1 megapixels (physical) and 12.3 megapixels (effective)
Pixelpitch 4.3 µm
Photo resolution
4.032 x 3.024 pixels (4:3)
2.560 x 1.440 pixels (16:9)
1.024 x 768 pixels (4:3)
Image formats JPG, RAW
Color depth 24 bits (8 bits per color channel), 36 bits (12 bits per color channel)
Metadata Exif (version 2.2), DCF standard
Video resolution
1.280 x 720 (16:9) 30 p
640 x 480 (4:3) 30 p
Maximum recording time 14 min
Video format
AVI (codec n.a.)
Audio format (video) WAV


Lens mount
Micro Four Thirds


Autofocus functions Single AF, Continuous AF, Tracking AF, Manual
Sharpness control Live view

Viewfinder and monitor

SLR viewfinder Grille can be faded in
Monitor 2.7″ TFT LCD monitor with 230,000 pixels


Exposure metering Center-weighted integral measurement, matrix/multi-field measurement over 324 fields, spot measurement
Exposure times 1/2,000 to 60 s (Automatic
) Bulb function
Exposure control Programmed automatic, Shutter priority, Aperture priority, Manual
Exposure bracketing function Bracketing function with a maximum of 3 shots, 1/3 to 1 EV increments
Exposure Compensation -3.0 to +3.0 EV
Photosensitivity ISO 200 to ISO 3,200 (automatic
)ISO 100 to ISO 3,200 (manual)
Scene modes various motif programs, documents, fireworks, candlelight, children, landscape, macro, night scene, night portrait, panorama, portrait, sunset, sports, beach/snow, 0 further scene mode programs
Picture effects Pinhole camera, soft focus, various tint and filter effects in the parameterizable B/W mode, Gentle Sepia, High Key, Grainy Film, Low Key, Modeling, Pop Art, B/W Filter (yellow, orange, red, green)
White balance Automatic, Clouds, Sun, Fine Tuning, Shadow, Fluorescent lamp with 3 presets, Incandescent light, Manual
Colour space Adobe RGB, sRGB
Continuous shooting Continuous shooting function max. 3.0 fps at highest resolution and max. 10 stored photos
Self-timer Self-timer with 2 or 12 s interval
Recording functions Live histogram


Flash built-in flash (hinged
)Flash shoe: Olympus/Panasonic (also Leica compact camera), standard center contact
Flash functions Auto, fill-in flash, flash on, flash off, slow sync, manual flash power, red-eye reduction


Image stabilizer Sensor shift (optical)
Microphone Mono
Power supply 1 x PIXO BLS-1 (Lithium ion (Li-Ion), 7.2 V, 1,150 mAh)
Playback functions Red eye retouching, image index, slide show function with music
Voice memo Voice memo (WAV format)
Face recognition Face recognition
Image parameters Sharpness, contrast, color saturation
Special functions Orientation sensor, Live View
Connections Data interfaces: USBUSB type
:USB 2.0 High Speed
AV Connections AV output: HDMI output Micro (Type D)
Supported direct printing methods PictBridge
Tripod thread 1/4″
Special features and miscellaneous Orientation sensor for automatic image rotationAdditional
aspect ratios of 3:2, 16:9 and 6:6Dust filter
with ultrasonic self-cleaning functionFace recognitionAF working area:0-18 EVManual
focus with 225 measuring points and magnifying glass (magnification factor 7x or 10x)
Tracking autofocus (also when recording video)
Built-in mono-microphone Adjustable
exposure parameters in the program automatic (shift function)
AE lock (exposure meter memory)
AF lock (focus lock)5-step adjustment of color saturation5-step
adjustment of camera internal sharpness5-step adjustment


image contrast3-step
adjustment of graduation (high-key,

Normal, low-key)
Playback zoom (2X to 14X)
Calendar view image playbackLight panel viewSimultaneous

RAW and digital recording

JPEG format possibleDisplay of
the lightsTruePic turbo signal processing processor
(type V)
subsequent image size change (resolution)
subsequent saturation correctionRAW processing functionmechanical

image stabilizer (CCD shift) up to 3EV compensationAdditional
menu languages can be loadedHyperCrystal
II LCD with brightness


and colour matchingWhite balance bracketing
and ISO bracketing functioniAuto mode
automatically selects from one of 6 scene modes-portrait function
for skin retouching colour enhancement
i-Enhance functionManual
mode also for video recording

Size and weight

Dimensions W x H x D 115 x 72 x 42 mm
Weight 350 g (ready for operation)


standard accessory PIXO BLS-1 Special battery
BCS-1USB connection cableAV-cableRiserBeltCamera softwareOlympus Master
additional accessories Olympus FC-WR (Radio Control Unit) Flash AccessoriesOlympus
FL-700WR Flash with Swivel ReflectorOlympus
RM-UC1 Cable Remote ReleasePanasonic
Leica DG Vario-Summilux 10-25 mm 1.7 (H-X1025) Zoom LensPIXO
BLS-1 Special Battery Point
of Sale Publisher Olympus E-System (Printed Book)
Removable Memory CardMicro
FourThirds Standard Interchangeable LensesCamera Bag


Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *