Olympus announces entry level Micro Four Thirds camera – the E-PL1 – not only for dummies!

Written by Gary on February 3rd, 2010

The Micro Four Thirds system gets yet another camera body – this time Olympus is targeting the point and shoot users who may not yet understand aperture, f stops, etc but want better image quality than their point and shoots can deliver but still have a relatively compact kit.

E-PL1 with 17mm pancake lens

The new E-PL1 takes many of the features of the E-P2 including image stabiliser, the excellent optional external viewfinder, HD video, 12mp sensor, 3fps burst rate, face detection AF, subject tracking AF, iEnhance, multi-aspect shooting, the art filters and multiple exposure functionality, and adds a few more very important features while setting it at a $US599 price point including 3x zoom kit lens (this compares with $US799 for E-P1 and $US1099 for E-P2 with EVF):

  • dedicated button to start recording video – at last Olympus has added the Panasonic feature.
  • in-built flash which can wirelessly control FL36R or FL50R flashes and provide Super FP HSS flash – this will give users the ability to expand their creativity by adding external flashes and still retain auto exposure.
  • new soft sepia art filter – could be a very useful effect
  • new Live Guide interface for dummies – allows inexperienced users to scroll through various adjustments and see the effect live, including shallow depth of field, action stopping, etc, without having to understand the confusing concepts of f stops and shutter speed – this interface will finally make a powerful dSLR level camera easy to use for non-photographers who still want the ability to be creative rather than use it as a point and shoot. Changing aperture on a small sensor point and shoot didn’t really do much as the DOF was so great, but on a large sensor M43 camera, it makes a massive difference and new users to dSLRs are going to love this capability. I have tried mentioning aperture and f stop to my friends before and their eyes just glaze over – this feature will really make it usable for them.
  • underwater housing – the PT-EP01
  • apparently faster AF – although seems it is still not quite as fast as Panasonic’s G cameras
  • weaker anti-aliasing filter for more image detail plus revised TruePix V image engine
  • dedicated manual focus live magnification button – perfect for those who want to use legacy lenses

These features at last complete the feature set that most photographers need to learn photography and take great photos and videos while they are learning.

YouTube promo video

It seems that it has lost the following features of the E-P2 to allow the price reduction:

  • controls simplified – eg. the rear control wheel is no longer present – which will mean experienced users may get frustrated with more button pressing – but for a much cheaper camera this may be acceptable
  • appears to have the older E620 / E30 sensor, so perhaps a touch more noise than on the E-P2 or GH-1
  • image stabiliser only 3EV not 4EV effectiveness as on the other models
  • mono mic – but you can fit a stereo external mic as with the E-P2
  • fastest shutter speed only 1/2000th sec not 1/4000th sec
  • no orientation sensor
  • no AF/AEL button – this is a more significant issue to me, but will not worry the target group
  • no optional wireless remote control
  • less sturdy build
  • flash sync 1/160th not 1/180th sec – not really a big deal
  • no virtual level display to show if camera is level or not

Buy this affordable E-PL1 with its M. ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 14-42mm f3.5/5.6 3x Zoom which covers 28-84mm in 35mm terms, add a Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens, and you have a superb little outfit which can be cheaply expanded by getting adapters for legacy lenses, or for more money, buy dedicated Micro Four Thirds lens such as the forthcoming Olympus 14-150mm f/4-5.6 and 9-18mm f/4-5.6 ultra wide angle zoom.

This is now the BEST affordable, high image quality compact digital camera for non-photographers and also for candid street photographers using legacy lenses.

This camera fits my criteria of not spending too much on the camera body because digital camera bodies depreciate so rapidly and are now essentially disposable commodities with a life span of only 3-5 years due to rapid advances in technology. For this reason I think it will be a big hit for many people who just want great image quality in a small package.

Sure, you can get budget dSLRs for not much more money (Nikon D5000, Canon 1000D or Olympus E420) but their lenses are much bigger and heavier, and their user interfaces are much more confusing for non-photographers, and if you can’t afford more autofocus lenses (these tend to be very expensive items for decent ones), this camera makes using cheap, old legacy manual focus lenses EASIER than any other camera with its built-in image stabiliser and dedicated button for instant magnified manual focus, plus they give you an aperture ring to adjust background blurriness with its effect being seen live as with all M43 cameras which makes it perfect for candid street photographers and photo journalists too –

Street photographers and photo journalists have a wide range of “street” lens options including:

  • Olympus M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 – collapsible 3x zoom kit lens with AF but no focus distance display or aperture ring
  • Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/2.8 – very compact pancake lens with AF but no focus distance display or aperture ring.
  • Panasonic 14mm f/2.8 M43 – as above but wider angle of view – not yet available
  • Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 M43 – as for above but wider aperture for low light and shallower DOF/background blurring
  • Olympus 9-18mm f/4.0-5.6 M43 – collapsible AF zoom lens covering 18-36mm – perfect for travel, due mid-year?
  • Panasonic 7-14mm f/4 M43 – expensive super wide angle – great for travel but a bit wide for people photography
  • Panasonic Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 FT + FT adapter – as for 20mm f/1.7 but MUCH bigger, heavier, more expensive lens but it has focus distance indicator for zone focusing and it works on Four Thirds dSLRs but unfortunately, the aperture ring is ignored on Olympus models – please Olympus activate this feature as Panasonic have done!
  • Olympus OM 21mm f/3.5 lens and an OM adapter – manual focus only but you get the focus distance and aperture ring
  • Nikon 20mm f/2.8 and a Nikon adapter – as for OM 21mm but more easily obtainable on Ebay, although it is bigger.
  • almost any other lens ever made in the 17-25mm focal length range.

For those who want something special but can’t afford AF lenses, try adding these old lenses from Ebay:

  • Olympus OM 50mm f/1.4 or f/1.8 for portraits – a bit of ghosting at wide aperture but this can be useful in portraits.
  • Olympus OM 50mm f/3.5 macro for macro work
  • Olympus OM 100mm f/2.8 or 135mm f/2.8 for awesome telephoto at wide aperture – the latter gives 270mm focal length reach at f/2.8 image stabilised for a very affordable price – can’t do that with a Canon or Nikon dSLR!
  • Olympus OM 200mm f/4 for super telephoto hand held – 400mm reach at f/4 image stabilised – again, – can’t do that with a Canon or Nikon dSLR at such an affordable price in a small package!
  • Canon FD or Nikon 85mm f/1.4 – for really shallow DOF
  • Voigtlander 35mm f/1.4 or 50mm f/1.1 Leica M rangefinder lenses – more expensive but beautiful images for fanatics.

More information at:

 

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