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Box Photo
  • Camera with body cap
  • 14-140mm lens
  • Camera strap
  • PS-BLS1 Lithium ion battery
  • PS-BCS1 charger
  • USB cable
  • AV cable
  • Olympus Master 2 software CD-ROM
  • Instruction manuals (English, French and Spanish)

The kit lens is a modest 3x zoom ranging from 14-42mm (equivalent to a 28-84mm on a 35mm camera), with a maximum aperture of f/3.5-5.6. The ingenious touch here is the way the lens telescopes to make it more portable. When not shooting, sliding a switch on the lens barrel and rotating it collapses the depth of the lens to about half its original measurement (making it look about as deep as a pancake lens). When it's time to shoot again, simply turning in the opposite direction quickly restores the lens to full size. It's an exceptionally useful feature, saving roughly 1.25 inches in camera depth and enhancing portability in a bag or even a substantial jacket pocket. The E-P1 is still no point-and-shoot, but it's as close as an interchangeable lens camera has gotten so far.

The shots below demonstrate the zoom range at widest angle, maximum telephoto and smack dab in the middle. A digital shading compensation option attempts to brighten the outer edges of an image to correct for light drop-off that can occur, particularly with wide-angle lenses. This is an on/off control, without additional fine adjustment.

The Micro Four Thirds format takes a three-pronged approach to creating compact interchangeable-lens cameras: remove the SLR mirror system, use a smaller lens mount and a smaller sensor. The E-P1 sensor has a gross resolution of 13,060,000 pixels and an effective resolution of 12,300.000 pixels. It measures 17.3mm x 13.0mm, with a native 4:3 aspect ratio. Micro Four Thirds and standard Four Thirds format cameras use the same size sensor and, as the illustration below shows, this is considerably smaller than the typical APS-C format sensor used in digital SLRs.

Compactness does have its downsides. Cramming over 12 million pixels onto a small sensor has consistently produced higher image noise in our testing than in standard SLRs. It also increases the apparent lens magnification effect, from the 1.6x found on most digital SLRs to a full 2x. Mount a 14-42mm lens, like the one included in the E-P1 kit, on a digital SLR and it will shoot like a 22-67mm lens. The same lens on the E-P1 is a 28-84mm equivalent: you get more telephoto effect but less wide angle coverage.

The E-P1 uses a filter vibration system to automatically remove dust in front of the sensor every time you turn the camera on.

The E-P1 does not offer a built-in viewfinder, optical or electronic. There is an optical viewfinder accessory, the VF-1 ($100) that mounts on the hot shoe and displays the view seen through the 17mm pancake lens, but that's clearly a specialty item and cold comfort for camera-to-the-eyeball shooters.

The LCD is a 3-inch model with 230,000-dot resolution. It's not going to thrill anyone with beautiful image playback the way the 920,000-dot screens on higher-end Nikons and Canons might, but it does have an interesting advantage in the use of Olympus HyperCrystal technology. The screen lets some of the light through the outer colored layer and bounces it back from behind, leading to a brighter display in difficult sunny conditions. Even then, shooting on a bright August afternoon wasn't going well until I boosted the brightness all the way up in the setup menu. That did the trick, though: even direct sunlight on the camera back didn't leave me shooting blind.

Both the brightness and the color temperature of the LCD can be adjusted using the setup menu, each with values of ±7. There's also a Live View boost option which will automatically adjust the brightness to match the surroundings.

Secondary Display

The monochrome information LCD mounted on the top of many high-end SLRs is understandably missing from the slender E-P1.

One casualty of the compact E-P1 design: there's no built-in flash. Of course, point-and-shoots that make the E-P1 look like a behemoth by comparison somehow manage to shoehorn in some form of flash, pop-up or otherwise, but Olympus decided to go without. We think that's a mistake: sometimes a flash is the only way to grab a shot, plus even a small built-in unit can be valuable as a fill flash when shooting outdoors.

The camera is compatible with a number of Olympus flash units, including the newly introduced FL-14 ($200), a petite unit meant to complement the E-P1 design. It's very small, at 5.6 ounces, which is good news when it comes to portability. However, for $200 and the trouble of carrying an external flash, I'd far prefer a mount that lets me bounce the flash, a feature sadly lacking in the FL-14.

Flash sync speed can be set between 1/60 and 1/180 second, in 1/3 EV increments.

When you do mount an external flash, you get the same assortment of flash modes offered in Olympus SLRs. For compatible flash units, flash intensity can be adjusted manually, to one of seven levels. Flash bracketing is also available, shooting a three-shot sequence (the metered value, one lower and one higher) at increments of 0.3 EV, 0.7 EV and 1.0 EV.

Flash Photo

The optional FL-14 flash is small but lacks bounce capability.

The port for connecting provided USB and standard-def AV cables is proprietary, the HDMI port for connecting directly to a high-def TV is industry-standard, though like the rest of the camera world the hard-to-find mini HDMI cable is not included.

The E-P1 uses the small rectangular BLS-1 Lithium-ion rechargeable battery, which Olympus estimates will last approximately 300 shots. Charging time for a completely discharged battery is about 3 hours 30 minutes.

Battery Photo

The battery and SD memory card share a securely latched compartment.

Olympus, developers and chief promoters of the antiquated xD memory card format, saw the light (fueled largely by the need to provide fast, high-capacity storage for 720p video) and support SD/SDHC memory cards for the E-P1. Let's hope this is a trend that extends to the rest of the Olympus camera line.

This was a particular strength of the E-P1, surpassing any of the comparison cameras, particularly the disappointing Nikon D5000 and Canon T1i results. The highest readings came in the center of the lens, shooting at 14mm, f/9, with the results around the edges at the same settings nearly as high. More on how we test sharpness.

The in-camera image stabilization system, which relies on movement of the image sensor rather than the lens-based stabilization used by Nikon and Canon, effectively counteracted the blurriness caused by shaking hands in certain situations, particularly when there was a substantial amount of movement while shooting. We test image stabilization by mounting the camera in a computer-controlled rig that produces repeatable movement patterns, both horizontally and vertically, and shoot a sloped-edge test chart at all available shutter speeds with image stabilization on and with it off. We use Imatest to determine the resolution scores for our test images, then compare the IS on and IS off results.

The Olympus E-P1 delivered exceptional color accuracy in our testing, outscoring all of the other cameras in our comparison group by a significant margin. We test color accuracy by shooting the X-Rite ColorChecker chart under controlled studio lighting and analyzing the resulting photos using Imatest software. We determine which color mode produces the lowest color error, and use those results for scoring purposes; for the E-P1, as with other Olympus SLRs we've tested, the most accurate mode is Muted. More on how we test color.

When shooting in Muted mode, the images are just slightly undersaturated, at 97.11%, while Natural mode is slightly oversaturated at 102.50%, with more color shift in the blues and purples. Portrait mode raises saturation another small increment to 103.30%, with a minor boost to reds and some color shift in light blue. Vivid lives up to its name at 116.90% saturation, with significant color shifts in blues and reds, though not much effect on the other shades.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

As shown in the comparison chart, the E-P1 improves on the color accuracy of its already excellent brand mate, the Olympus E-620, to lead the pack in this test.

The E-P1 offers a limited selection of 'film modes': Vivid, Natural, Muted, Portrait and Monotone. In addition to their effect on color, image parameters including contrast, sharpness and saturation can be adjusted for each film mode. These options are explained fully in the Picture Effects section.

The E-P1 achieved a high score in this section thanks to the standout performance of its automatic white balance system, particularly under daylight and fluorescent lighting, The custom white balance reading accuracy was good, but not exceptional.

We test both the camera's automatic and custom white balance systems by shooting the ColorChecker chart under the carefully controlled incandescent, fluorescent and daylight illumination provided by an X-Rite Judge II lightbox. The test photos are analyzed for color accuracy using Imatest, and the amount of color error from the known values of the chart patches determines the white balance results.

Automatic White Balance ()

Incandescent lighting (the type produced by standard tungsten household lightbulbs) always throws off automatic white balance systems, and the E-P1 was no exception. However, the results under fluorescent lights, which often produces greenish results, and daylight are exceptional.

Custom White Balance ()

Taking a custom white balance reading eliminated the visible color shift under incandescent lighting, and produced good results overall. Our accuracy standards are very high for custom white balance, though, since we expect any interchangeable-lens camera to produce excellent results after taking a manual reading. Note that while shorter bars still indicate superior results in the chart below, the scale of the chart is different from those above because the error values are smaller.

The E-P1 delivered the most accurate results in our test group under daylight illumination, with photos just a shade warmer than the original chart values.

Under incandescent illumination the E-P1 was more accurate than all but the GH1, though none of the cameras tested was free from the warm orange hue we know so well from looking at indoor family snapshots.

Fluorescent light can throw an auto white balance system for a loop, as it did with the Olympus E-620, but colors in photos taken with the E-P1 under compact white fluorescents were nearly flawless.

The E-P1 received an adequate but unexceptional score for custom white balance, though it did far surpass the disappointing result from the other Olympus camera included in our comparison set. And overall, it stands up well to the competition.

The E-P1 offers eight white balance presets (including a welcome three choices for different fluorescent lighting types) plus auto, manual setting and direct color temperature entry in degrees Kelvin.

Taking a manual white balance reading is relative simple, but there's a hitch. The camera has a single programmable function button which can be assigned to a variety of tasks, including such useful options as depth of field preview and choosing from My Mode camera settings. However, if you want to take a white balance reading, the Fn button has to be assigned to the task: you hold down Fn, point at a white or gray surface and press the shutter to take a reading. There's no menu-based workaround to this boondoggle.

The option to set a white balance directly in degrees Kelvin usually seems like a pretty esoteric professional procedure, but with settings changes displayed interactively on the Live View display, it becomes practical even for the light-meter impaired. You do need some manual dexterity to enter the reading, though: you have to bring up the quick menu, select custom white balance, then hold the exposure compensation button on top of the camera while turning one of the control dials. Not an undertaking for the fumble-fingered.

Whether you arrive at an initial white balance setting by choosing a preset, taking a manual reading or choosing a numerical value, the results can be tweaked along the amber-blue and green-magenta axes, with 15 settings available for each. Unfortunately, the effects of these changes aren't previewed live on-screen as you make them, which makes this capability much less useful than it could be. You can press the AEL/AFL button and take a test shot to preview the white balance result while adjusting the settings, but that's time-consuming and cumbersome.

Another interesting white balance feature is the four-thumbnail display available in Live View, displaying small preview versions of the current subject with different white balance choices. You can select the thumbnail that looks best and press OK to confirm the setting.

Finally, white balance bracketing is provided, storing three images with different white balance settings with a single press of the shutter. The bracketing values for amber-blue and green-magenta values can be set separately, with 2-, 4- or 6-step increments.

We typically find cameras with smaller sensors score lower in our long exposure testing, since it takes into account both color accuracy and image noise, always an issue with Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds cameras. The E-P1 is no exception, with results that are in line with the Olympus E-620 and better than the Panasonic GH1, but below the standard set by the APS-C format Canon T1i and Nikon D5000.

Our long exposure test involves shooting the ColorChecker chart with low 20 lux illumination at five shutter speeds ranging from 1 second to 30 seconds, once with long exposure noise reduction turned off and once with it on. The test shots are analyzed using Imatest software for color accuracy and image noise. More on how we test long exposure.

Color error remains relatively low and consistent until we get to the 30 second exposure, with the noise reduction filter not affecting results in a significant way. As for noise levels, they start out high and skyrocket with noise reduction off at the 30 second mark, though at least the noise reduction system finally shows some effect at that point.

The E-P1 score here is nearly identical to the Olympus E-620, and notably higher than the Panasonic GH1, which suffered from huge color errors in this test.

The noise levels at ISO 100 and 200 are about what we've seen with other Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds cameras, but the rapid escalation that starts at ISO 800 is more severe than competitive models we've tested.

We look at levels for each of the component parts of the overall noise: red, green, blue, yellow and luma (gray). If one of these components is significantly higher than the others it can create noticeable problems, but that's not the case here.

Turning noise reduction off provides the highest level of detail ordinarily, though with the E-P1 the level of noise this produces will obscure whatever detail lurks among the speckles anyway. More on how we test noise.

Available ISOs range from 100-6400, which can be to set 1/3 EV or 1 EV increments. ISO bracketing is available, an unusual feature and one that comes in handy when shooting with a relatively noisy camera and trying to see how much sensitivity you can get away with. ISO bracketing saves three versions of a single exposure, one below the set value, one above, with increments of 0.3 EV, 0,7 EV or 1 EV.

There is an Auto ISO system which can be set with a default value (to be used if it allows an acceptable exposure) and an upper limit, so you can avoid overly high settings when shooting with Auto ISO.

As with the Olympus E-620, the E-P1 has problems with dynamic range, meaning you can expect to lose details in the very bright and very dark areas of high-contrast images. The E-P1 did perform significantly better than the E-620, but compared to the other cameras in our test group, these results are disappointing. More on how we test dynamic range.

The Panasonic GH1 results proves that a Micro Four Thirds camera can deliver acceptable dynamic range, but Olympus hasn't gotten the hang of it yet, as the following score comparison illustrates.

The noise levels at ISO 100 and 200 are about what we've seen with other Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds cameras, but the rapid escalation that starts at ISO 800 is more severe than competitive models we've tested.

We look at levels for each of the component parts of the overall noise: red, green, blue, yellow and luma (gray). If one of these components is significantly higher than the others it can create noticeable problems, but that's not the case here.

Turning noise reduction off provides the highest level of detail ordinarily, though with the E-P1 the level of noise this produces will obscure whatever detail lurks among the speckles anyway. More on how we test noise.

Available ISOs range from 100-6400, which can be to set 1/3 EV or 1 EV increments. ISO bracketing is available, an unusual feature and one that comes in handy when shooting with a relatively noisy camera and trying to see how much sensitivity you can get away with. ISO bracketing saves three versions of a single exposure, one below the set value, one above, with increments of 0.3 EV, 0,7 EV or 1 EV.

There is an Auto ISO system which can be set with a default value (to be used if it allows an acceptable exposure) and an upper limit, so you can avoid overly high settings when shooting with Auto ISO.

Autofocus is a key area that separates the Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras from the Olympus E-P1. The Panasonics focus remarkably quickly, providing the first practical system for shooting moving subjects in Live View mode. The E-P1, like the Live View SLRs we've tested, takes its own sweet time achieving autofocus, and that's a big problem. Attempting to shoot sports or active children with this camera is an exercise in futility.

Another area where we expected difficulties, though, turned out to be a non-issue. There is no autofocus assist lamp on the E-P1, so we assumed the worst. When we started shooting in our lab under minimal illumination levels, though, we found that the camera focused successfully down to just a few lux of illumination. Unless you're planning to take pictures in pitch darkness, you should be just fine.

When shooting in All Target mode, the camera automatically chooses one of these 11 areas. When in Single Target AF mode, the user can position the one autofocus target to be used by moving an on-screen indicator with the four-way control (very simple) or combining the two control dials (one for horizontal movement, one for vertical and way too complicated). Changing the autofocus target is a pain , though, no matter how you approach the task. You can re-select single-target mode from one of the menus, then reposition the focus point, which is a slow procedure. Or you can turn off the direct-access function of the control dial (ISO, autofocus mode, white balance and drive mode) and use it solely to move the autofocus target, requiring you to muck around with menus every time you want to change a basic setting. On the Olympus E-620 and E-30 there's a dedicated autofocus target button, simple and effective. Leaving it off the E-P1 was a mistake.

Oh, and there's one autofocus-related option for that poor over-used programmable Fn button too. You can register a default autofocus position with a few clumsy button presses, which will be reset whenever you press Fn, if you've chosen that as the Fn button function.

Face detect adjusts focus and metering based on the subject the camera locks onto. There are several ways to access face detect mode, including the standard menu system, the Live Control menu, the Super Control panel and setting the programmable Fn button to face detect. The Fn option automatically changes additional settings when it launches face detect, setting metering to evaluative, gradation to auto, autofocus mode to single AF and autofocus area to multipoint.

We typically find cameras with smaller sensors score lower in our long exposure testing, since it takes into account both color accuracy and image noise, always an issue with Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds cameras. The E-P1 is no exception, with results that are in line with the Olympus E-620 and better than the Panasonic GH1, but below the standard set by the APS-C format Canon T1i and Nikon D5000.

Our long exposure test involves shooting the ColorChecker chart with low 20 lux illumination at five shutter speeds ranging from 1 second to 30 seconds, once with long exposure noise reduction turned off and once with it on. The test shots are analyzed using Imatest software for color accuracy and image noise. More on how we test long exposure.

Color error remains relatively low and consistent until we get to the 30 second exposure, with the noise reduction filter not affecting results in a significant way. As for noise levels, they start out high and skyrocket with noise reduction off at the 30 second mark, though at least the noise reduction system finally shows some effect at that point.

The E-P1 score here is nearly identical to the Olympus E-620, and notably higher than the Panasonic GH1, which suffered from huge color errors in this test.

The low light sensitivity on the Olympus E-P1 wasn't terrible, but its performance wasn't anything special. The camera needed 20 lux of light to reach 50 IRE on our waveform monitor—a light level that is similar to what the Panasonic GH1 and Canon T1i required in the same test. The E-P1's kit lens opens to a widest aperture setting of f/3.5, which isn't very wide. Using a faster lens that allows for wider aperture settings would likely increase the camera's low light sensitivity. This is one of the benefits of using a camera with an interchangeable lens system.

We found some color fringing problems at 14mm and 27mm, though they were localized around the midpoint between the center of the lens and the edges. Elsewhere chromatic aberration was less noticeable.

Shooting at the widest angle setting, the center remains very crisp until the lens is stopped all the way down, and the outer corners are also nicely sharp, with only a faint horizontal color edge visible.

Center sharpness at 27mm is not as high as at 14mm but still very good, and chromatic aberration is not a significant issue.

The center spot is still exceptionally sharp even at the highest telephoto setting, and the outer edges hold up very well except at the smallest apertures.

The kit lens was exceptionally free from distortion at the 27mm and 42mm lengths. Only at the widest angle was there a perceptible problem, with 1.86% barreling.

The Olympus E-P1 records HD video using a 30p frame rate and a 1280 x 720 resolution. The camera also has a standard definition, 640 x 480 option that records with a 30p frame rate as well. Numerous other video-capable DSLRs on the market are beginning to offer Full HD (1920 x 1080) recording with a variety of frame rate options. When viewing the videos below, remember that they have been heavily compressed during the YouTube upload process. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

The E-P1 captured decent motion that was smooth and had an average amount of blur. The camera did have a strong presence of artifacting around the edges of lines in our motion test. You could consistently see fuzz and pixelation on the lines in our two rotating pinwheels. The Nikon D5000 showed roughly the same amount of artifacting, but the E-P1 rendered a far smoother moving image.

The Panasonic GH1 has a lot of frame rate options for recording video. You can shoot Full HD using a 24p rate, or you can record 1280 x 720 video using either a 30p or 60p frame rate. The camera's Full HD mode captured choppy motion that didn't appear very smooth and had a lot of blur. The lower resolution modes produced much smoother video, so they are more desirable if you shooting a scene with a lot of motion. Unfortunately, these lower-res modes don't have the same level of sharpness as the 1920 x 1080 Full HD option.

The Nikon D5000 didn't do well with motion at all. It rendered motion that was extremely juddery and choppy, had significant artifacting, and captured a lot of frequency interference. Straight lines appeared jagged and crooked (almost like a lightning bolt) in our motion test, and there was significant amounts of pixelation and blocking in the RGB pinwheel. The camera captures video at a maximum resolution of 1280 x 720 and uses a 24p frame rate.

The Canon T1i does allow for 1920 x 1080 video recording, but it does so using an odd frame rate—20p. This frame rate is very unusual, as most cameras and camcorders don't offer anything lower than a 24p rate. Footage recorded in the 20p mode looked crisp and clean, but the motion had a very different look than 24p or 30p frame rates. You can shoot 30p video on the T1i, but only when using its lower-resolution 1280 x 720 mode.

Like the Nikon D5000, the Olympus E-P1 doesn't capture Full HD video. Its video resolution tops out at 1280 x 720—which is still high definition—it just doesn't have as many pixels as Full 1920 x 1080 HD video. Despite its lower resolution, however, the camera managed to put up decent numbers in our video sharpness test. The E-P1 measured a horizontal sharpness of 600 line widths per picture height (lw/ph) and a vertical sharpness of 650 lw/ph. These are slightly better numbers than the Nikon D5000 earned, but they are significantly lower than the Canon T1i and Panasonic GH1—both of which record Full HD video. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

The low light sensitivity on the Olympus E-P1 wasn't terrible, but its performance wasn't anything special. The camera needed 20 lux of light to reach 50 IRE on our waveform monitor—a light level that is similar to what the Panasonic GH1 and Canon T1i required in the same test. The E-P1's kit lens opens to a widest aperture setting of f/3.5, which isn't very wide. Using a faster lens that allows for wider aperture settings would likely increase the camera's low light sensitivity. This is one of the benefits of using a camera with an interchangeable lens system.

There aren't many buttons on the E-P1, but thanks to the two well-designed Live View menus and the availability of two convenient control dials, that works out fine. The main control dial does double duty as a four way controller for direct access to key settings, which proved practical, without a lot of accidental turning. As for the ridged sub dial, it's well positioned for easy access with your thumb, clicks slightly as you turn it to help with fine adjustments, and has just enough resistance to prevent turning it accidentally.

The multiple exposure capabilities of the E-P1, which are available both while shooting and as an in-camera editing effect, are fun to use and can produce handsome results. While shooting, two consecutive shots can be combined to create a single image. You can also use a RAW file stored on the memory card as one of the two images to be combined, allowing you to keep a library of component parts available for your multiple exposure experiments. By default, each image is set to half brightness, but this can be overridden so each image is reproduced with its full brightness value. For getting a precise alignment of multiple exposure frames, shooting in Live View displays a semi-transparent view of the first frame while you line up the second. If two frames aren't enough to suit your needs, you can shoot in RAW mode and use the newly taken multiple exposure as one part of a new multiple exposure combination. Overall, though, there is more flexibility to the multiple exposure function in playback mode.

The E-P1 uses three menu systems: Live Control menu along the right and bottom edges of the Live View screen, a full-screen Super Control Panel superimposed on the Live View display and a traditional full-screen tabbed menu.

Pressing the OK button while shooting brings up the Live Control menu, a strip along the right side of the screen that displays common settings and a strip along the bottom that shows the options available for that setting. The main dial can be used for moving vertically through the menu (by spinning it or pressing up and down), the sub dial or pressing right and left on the main dial provides horizontal navigation. The available settings include white balance, drive mode, image stabilization, aspect ratio, image size, flash, ISO, metering, autofocus, face detect, and autofocus target.

With the Live Control menu displayed, pressing the Info button brings up the Super Control panel, a full-screen menu system with nearly all available shooting options available. Putting all your options on screen at once makes them easier to navigate than the Live Control menu strip, but there's a hitch: since there's no optical viewfinder, you can't leave this full-screen menu live while shooting, the way you can with an SLR or the electronic viewfinder-equipped Panasonic GH1.

The full-screen menu system is used for shooting settings not included in the Live View control schemes plus the host of infrequently changed options.

The 164-page instruction manual begins with a 24-page basic guide combining a reasonable explanation of how you set up the camera and squeeze off your first shots with mind-bogglingly dense diagrams of the Super Control panel and Live View screens that may sap newbies of the will to go on. For those hearty souls who do continue, the main manual does well with some topics, including an appropriate mix of illustrations, diagrams and dry but functional text, but leaves many important concepts very poorly explained. Art Filters, for example, are given a cursory listing on page 5, with no explanation of what any of them do, and never reappear in the manual. The gradation setting is an Olympus-only term for dynamic range adjustment, but we only learned that after calling our friends at Olympus and asking. Similar lapses crop up frequently, capped off by an index that's dangerously close to useless. Want to know about sound recording? The camera can do it, but the index doesn't include the words 'sound' or 'audio.' Want to find out what resolution settings are available? Don't look up 'resolution' or 'image size' -- it's listed under 'number of pixels.' Your best bet is to download a PDF version of the manual and use the software search function to find what you're seeking: it's available for download directly from Olympus by clicking here.

This is a well designed camera, not just for its distinctive retro look but also the way it feels in your hands. The body is relatively small compared to an SLR, but not insubstantial like so many little point-and-shoot models. There's a rounded, raised right edge on the camera back and a padded, textured grip with a slight angle to it on the front. Taken together, they make for a solid right-hand grip that feels perfectly secure. I just about never shoot one-handed, but I'm willing to make an exception with the E-P1. Of course, you're more likely to maneuver with two hands, and the nicely knurled zoom and focusing rings of the kit lens are easy to handle, with just the right amount of resistance to allow precise control.

Handling Photo 1

Users with a variety of hand sizes found the E-P1 very comfortable to hold.

Handling Photo 2

There aren't many buttons on the E-P1, but thanks to the two well-designed Live View menus and the availability of two convenient control dials, that works out fine. The main control dial does double duty as a four way controller for direct access to key settings, which proved practical, without a lot of accidental turning. As for the ridged sub dial, it's well positioned for easy access with your thumb, clicks slightly as you turn it to help with fine adjustments, and has just enough resistance to prevent turning it accidentally.

Buttons Photo 1

In addition to the Fn button, the left side of the four-way controller (set to autofocus mode by default) can also be reprogrammed to access metering mode, flash mode, image stabilizer settings and turning the LCD backlight off.

When you're shooting in program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority or manual mode, you can change the default operations of the two dials in several ways. For example, while shooting in program mode both dials are used to adjust program shift by default. If you prefer, though, you can leave the sub dial to handle program shift and use the main dial for exposure compensation instead. We found that particular combination uncomfortable (the main dial moves too easily, leading to accidental exposure adjustments), but you might love shooting that way, and the E-P1 offers lots of customization flexibility. You can even swap the effect of rotating the dials, if right-left makes more sense to you than left-right for a particular function.

Buttons Photo 2

The LCD is a 3-inch model with 230,000-dot resolution. It's not going to thrill anyone with beautiful image playback the way the 920,000-dot screens on higher-end Nikons and Canons might, but it does have an interesting advantage in the use of Olympus HyperCrystal technology. The screen lets some of the light through the outer colored layer and bounces it back from behind, leading to a brighter display in difficult sunny conditions. Even then, shooting on a bright August afternoon wasn't going well until I boosted the brightness all the way up in the setup menu. That did the trick, though: even direct sunlight on the camera back didn't leave me shooting blind.

Both the brightness and the color temperature of the LCD can be adjusted using the setup menu, each with values of ±7. There's also a Live View boost option which will automatically adjust the brightness to match the surroundings.

Secondary Display

The monochrome information LCD mounted on the top of many high-end SLRs is understandably missing from the slender E-P1.

The E-P1 does not offer a built-in viewfinder, optical or electronic. There is an optical viewfinder accessory, the VF-1 ($100) that mounts on the hot shoe and displays the view seen through the 17mm pancake lens, but that's clearly a specialty item and cold comfort for camera-to-the-eyeball shooters.

The in-camera image stabilization system, which relies on movement of the image sensor rather than the lens-based stabilization used by Nikon and Canon, effectively counteracted the blurriness caused by shaking hands in certain situations, particularly when there was a substantial amount of movement while shooting. We test image stabilization by mounting the camera in a computer-controlled rig that produces repeatable movement patterns, both horizontally and vertically, and shoot a sloped-edge test chart at all available shutter speeds with image stabilization on and with it off. We use Imatest to determine the resolution scores for our test images, then compare the IS on and IS off results.

The E-P1 sticks with the basics, including the scene recognition-enabled auto mode that's becoming increasingly popular in consumer SLRs. Having two control dials is useful here. In program mode, either dial can be used for program shift. In aperture-priority or shutter-priority mode, either dial changes the selected parameter and, in full manual mode, the main dial controls shutter speed, the sub dial adjusts aperture value.

The camera can be reset to factory defaults via the first shooting menu, but it can also be set to one of two stored configurations (called Reset 1 and Reset 2). It's a useful way to quickly tailor the camera to your preferences for a particular type of shooting, though the way it's handled is confusing: why not call these Custom Settings or Custom Modes and give them an appropriate menu slot, instead of burying them in the Reset section.

Equally bizarre is the My Mode function, which allows you to store two groups of settings as My Mode 1 and My Mode 2. To access these, you must first store the current camera settings as either My Mode 1 or My Mode 2, then choose whether you want to have My Mode 1 or My Mode 2 available, then have the Fn programmed to My Mode, and finally hold down the Fn button while pressing the shutter to invoke the settings. A good concept, but a baffling, overly complex implementation.

A more straightforward shooting option is anti-shock, which adds a delay of between 1/8 and 30 seconds between the moment you press the shutter and the time a photo is taken. This is valuable in shooting situations which demand an absolutely steady camera, such as microphotography or astronomical imaging.

Autofocus is a key area that separates the Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras from the Olympus E-P1. The Panasonics focus remarkably quickly, providing the first practical system for shooting moving subjects in Live View mode. The E-P1, like the Live View SLRs we've tested, takes its own sweet time achieving autofocus, and that's a big problem. Attempting to shoot sports or active children with this camera is an exercise in futility.

Another area where we expected difficulties, though, turned out to be a non-issue. There is no autofocus assist lamp on the E-P1, so we assumed the worst. When we started shooting in our lab under minimal illumination levels, though, we found that the camera focused successfully down to just a few lux of illumination. Unless you're planning to take pictures in pitch darkness, you should be just fine.

When shooting in All Target mode, the camera automatically chooses one of these 11 areas. When in Single Target AF mode, the user can position the one autofocus target to be used by moving an on-screen indicator with the four-way control (very simple) or combining the two control dials (one for horizontal movement, one for vertical and way too complicated). Changing the autofocus target is a pain , though, no matter how you approach the task. You can re-select single-target mode from one of the menus, then reposition the focus point, which is a slow procedure. Or you can turn off the direct-access function of the control dial (ISO, autofocus mode, white balance and drive mode) and use it solely to move the autofocus target, requiring you to muck around with menus every time you want to change a basic setting. On the Olympus E-620 and E-30 there's a dedicated autofocus target button, simple and effective. Leaving it off the E-P1 was a mistake.

Oh, and there's one autofocus-related option for that poor over-used programmable Fn button too. You can register a default autofocus position with a few clumsy button presses, which will be reset whenever you press Fn, if you've chosen that as the Fn button function.

Face detect adjusts focus and metering based on the subject the camera locks onto. There are several ways to access face detect mode, including the standard menu system, the Live Control menu, the Super Control panel and setting the programmable Fn button to face detect. The Fn option automatically changes additional settings when it launches face detect, setting metering to evaluative, gradation to auto, autofocus mode to single AF and autofocus area to multipoint.

Shooting with the kit lens, we found manual focus works very smoothly, with the ring sensitive enough to move quickly but geared well enough to maintain accuracy. And with the Live View display, the option to have a zoomed display pop up automatically when you move the focus dial in manual mode allows true precision.

The E-P1 supports several variations for medium and small image size settings when shooting in the native 4:3 aspect ratio.

There are four JPEG compression settings: Super Fine (compressed at 1/2.7), Fine (1/4), Normal (1/8) and Basic (1/12). RAW files are recorded at full 4032 x 3024 resolution no matter what the aspect ratio setting, with the aspect ratio selection saved along with the image.

There is a single burst mode, at a promised 3 shots per second. While there is no hard limit to how many photos you can take in a row, the speed slows drastically after about a dozen shots, both for JPEGs and RAW images.

Olympus promises a continuous shooting rate of approximately 3 frames per second, and our testing proved them right on the money at 2.98 fps. Unfortunately, we score on performance rather than honesty, and 3 frames per second is nothing to brag about in today's SLR market, as shown in the comparison chart below.

There are two self-timer modes: 2 second and 12 second. Strangely, both are silent, without the comforting 'beep, beep, beep' that lets you know the shutter's been pressed and the camera's on the job. Also missing: the option to use a wireless remote control with the E-P1 (there is a compatible cabled USB remote, priced at $57).

Autofocus is a key area that separates the Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras from the Olympus E-P1. The Panasonics focus remarkably quickly, providing the first practical system for shooting moving subjects in Live View mode. The E-P1, like the Live View SLRs we've tested, takes its own sweet time achieving autofocus, and that's a big problem. Attempting to shoot sports or active children with this camera is an exercise in futility.

Another area where we expected difficulties, though, turned out to be a non-issue. There is no autofocus assist lamp on the E-P1, so we assumed the worst. When we started shooting in our lab under minimal illumination levels, though, we found that the camera focused successfully down to just a few lux of illumination. Unless you're planning to take pictures in pitch darkness, you should be just fine.

When shooting in All Target mode, the camera automatically chooses one of these 11 areas. When in Single Target AF mode, the user can position the one autofocus target to be used by moving an on-screen indicator with the four-way control (very simple) or combining the two control dials (one for horizontal movement, one for vertical and way too complicated). Changing the autofocus target is a pain , though, no matter how you approach the task. You can re-select single-target mode from one of the menus, then reposition the focus point, which is a slow procedure. Or you can turn off the direct-access function of the control dial (ISO, autofocus mode, white balance and drive mode) and use it solely to move the autofocus target, requiring you to muck around with menus every time you want to change a basic setting. On the Olympus E-620 and E-30 there's a dedicated autofocus target button, simple and effective. Leaving it off the E-P1 was a mistake.

Oh, and there's one autofocus-related option for that poor over-used programmable Fn button too. You can register a default autofocus position with a few clumsy button presses, which will be reset whenever you press Fn, if you've chosen that as the Fn button function.

Face detect adjusts focus and metering based on the subject the camera locks onto. There are several ways to access face detect mode, including the standard menu system, the Live Control menu, the Super Control panel and setting the programmable Fn button to face detect. The Fn option automatically changes additional settings when it launches face detect, setting metering to evaluative, gradation to auto, autofocus mode to single AF and autofocus area to multipoint.

Shooting with the kit lens, we found manual focus works very smoothly, with the ring sensitive enough to move quickly but geared well enough to maintain accuracy. And with the Live View display, the option to have a zoomed display pop up automatically when you move the focus dial in manual mode allows true precision.

The multiple exposure capabilities of the E-P1, which are available both while shooting and as an in-camera editing effect, are fun to use and can produce handsome results. While shooting, two consecutive shots can be combined to create a single image. You can also use a RAW file stored on the memory card as one of the two images to be combined, allowing you to keep a library of component parts available for your multiple exposure experiments. By default, each image is set to half brightness, but this can be overridden so each image is reproduced with its full brightness value. For getting a precise alignment of multiple exposure frames, shooting in Live View displays a semi-transparent view of the first frame while you line up the second. If two frames aren't enough to suit your needs, you can shoot in RAW mode and use the newly taken multiple exposure as one part of a new multiple exposure combination. Overall, though, there is more flexibility to the multiple exposure function in playback mode.

The Olympus E-P1 uses Motion JPEG (MJPEG) compression to record video. This is the same compression system used by Nikon with the D5000 and D90, and it is also a compression option available on the Panasonic GH1 (the GH1 can do AVCHD recording as well). MJPEG is a bit outdated for a video compression codec, but it does have its benefits. The files are compatible with almost any media player or editing program, and playing MJPEG videos is less taxing for a computer than AVCHD files (which is the most common compression system for HD camcorders).

The E-P1 records HD video at a 1280 x 720 resolution and standard definition video at 640 x 480. While 1280 x 720 is technically high definition, it isn't Full HD, which is defined as 1920 x 1080 recording. The Canon 5D Mark II, Panasonic GH1, and Canon Rebel T1i all offer some sort of Full HD recording option. The Nikon D5000, as with the Olympus E-P1, does not.

There is a 2GB file size limit on the E-P1, which means no single video file can exceed 2GB in size. If you're planning on filming long, continuous shots with the camera, this size limit may be a problem. A 2GB file is roughly 10 minutes of video shot with the E-P1, although the length of a 2GB file can vary greatly depending on what you're shooting. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

The Olympus E-P1 doesn't have the range of manual controls that are available on some video-capable DSLRs. In video mode, only direct control over exposure, aperture, and white balance are available. There are also Picture Modes and Art Filters that can be used in video mode, some of which we discussed earlier in the Video: Color section of this review. This means there is no manual control for shutter speed or ISO in video mode.

Auto Controls

The camera's scene modes aren't available in video mode, but there are a few auto features worth mentioning. Most important is the E-P1's continuous autofocus function, which is something many video-DSLRs lack. With autofocus set to continuous, the camera will maintain focus while video recording is taking place. You don't have to press a button or rotate a lens ring to refocus—the camera will do it for you (like a regular camcorder).

The problem is, this autofocus mechanism is loud and isn't very smooth. You can hear the internal focus motor move every time you point the lens at a new subject. It isn't quite as good as the continual autofocus on the Panasonic GH1 (the only other video-DSLR to include this feature), and it doesn't come close to matching the ease at which a regular camcorder provides a live autofocus. Still, it is an extremely useful feature for any video-recording device to have, so we applaud Olympus for including it on the E-P1.

The E-P1's image stabilization can be used in video mode, but only the I.S.1 setting is functional (even if you set it to I.S.2 or I.S.3).

Zoom

The kit lens for the E-P1 is an M. Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm lens, and it offers a 3x optical zoom. The zoom is controlled by rotating the inner lens ring on the camera's lens. Of course, if you want more zoom you can always mount a different Micro Four Third lens onto the E-P1.

Focus

As we mentioned earlier, the E-P1 is outfitted with a continuous autofocus feature in video mode. You can also set the camera to manual focus (controlled using the lens ring) or a single push focus. To focus with a single push, you press the camera's shutter button half-way down just as you would to focus a still photo. Face detection does not work with video mode.

Exposure Controls

Exposure and aperture can both be set manually on the E-P1, but neither can be controlled while video recording is taking place. You can set exposure in any shooting mode, while aperture can only be controlled manually in Aperture-priority mode. It's good that Olympus allows for aperture adjustment as it is probably the most useful feature for shooting video because it allows you to control depth of field. The aperture range on the E-P1's kit lens is f/3.5 - f/22. Exposure can be adjusted from -3 to +3 in 1/3, 1/2, or 1 EV increments.

Shutter speed cannot be controlled manually on the E-P1. Some of the Art Filters do alter the camera's shutter speed to produce slow shutter effects and the like, but nowhere on the camera can you manually set a shutter speed for video recording.

Other Controls

You cannot manually control ISO or gain in video mode on the E-P1, but there are plenty of Picture Modes that can be used to adjust color. Here is a link to sample images taken with the available Picture Modes on the camera—Natural, Vivid, Muted, and Portrait. You can also make a customized Picture Mode by directly setting color tone, sharpness, saturation level, etc.

In addition to the Picture Modes there are a number of Art Filters that can be used in video mode. These Art Filters not only make changes to color, but also adjust things like shutter speed and sharpness in order to create a unique effect. The Art Filters available are Pop Art, Pale & Light Color, Soft Focus, Light Tone, Grainy Film, and Pin Hole. Soft Focus and Grainy Film appears to lower the E-P1's shutter speed to roughly 1/4 of a second, while Pin Hole lowers the shutter even more (to around 1/2 or even 1 second).

Setting a manual white balance on the E-P1 is possible, but the process is not intuitive. You must first choose custom white balance from the camera's menu, then hold down the Fn button and snap a photo of a white or neutral image. This image is then used to calibrate the camera's white balance settings. The camera also offers a number of auto white balance presets, all of which can be used in video mode.

You can capture still photos while shooting video on the E-P1, but the photo will be whatever size your video resolution is set at. The camera's Noise Filter setting did a good job lowering noise levels in video mode and it can be set to low, standard, and high. Strangely, the Noise Reduction feature didn't do anything to improve the E-P1's noise levels in video mode.

The E-P1 has a built-in stereo microphone that is mounted on the front of the camera, just above the lens. Even though this isn't much in the way of audio features, it is actually more than some video-capable DSLRs offer. The Nikon D5000 and Canon T1i can only record monaural audio with their built-in mics. The E-P1 only has one audio control—the microphone can be turned on and off.

The built-in mic on the E-P1 may be difficult to find if you don't already know where it is. The mic is positioned as two small holes on either side of the 'Olympus' logo on the front of the camera. This placement is actually quite good: it's out of the way from wandering fingers, and it isn't that close to buttons or switches. Still, as with all DSLRs, the mic is going to pick up mechanical noises associated with the camera's function—there's no question about it. So, if you truly care about having good sound, we recommend using an entirely separate audio recording device when shooting with the E-P1.

Mic Photo

Yup, those two dots next to the 'Olympus' logo represent the camera's built-in mic.

Box Photo
  • Camera with body cap
  • 14-140mm lens
  • Camera strap
  • PS-BLS1 Lithium ion battery
  • PS-BCS1 charger
  • USB cable
  • AV cable
  • Olympus Master 2 software CD-ROM
  • Instruction manuals (English, French and Spanish)

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Steve Morgenstern

Steve Morgenstern

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