Cameras

Olympus E-PM1 Digital Camera Review

Read our full review to see if this so-called PEN Mini can match the flagship Olympus E-P3.

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Introduction

The Olympus E-PM1 is the entry point into the company's 2011 interchangeable lens PEN lineup, complementing the higher-end E-PL3 and E-P3 options. The E-PM1, also known as the PEN Mini, is the smallest and most affordable of the group, but it retains many of the same features and roughly the same innards of its companion models. That gives it performance similar to the more expensive PEN cameras, with some manual controls and features given up in the name of keeping the price down. The camera's available in silver, white, purple, brown, pink and black, and debuts with a 14-42mm kit lens at a MSRP of just $499. Read through our full review to see our final conclusions on one of the most intriguing compact system cameras of the year.

Front

Front Tour Image

Back

Back Tour Image

Sides

Sides Tour Image

Top

Top Tour Image

Bottom

Bottom Tour Image

In the Box

Box Photo

Lens & Sensor

The E-PM1 makes use of the same 14-42mm kit lens as the rest of the 2011 PEN lineup, which has undergone some cosmetic upgrades. It's "movie still capable," meaning that it benefits fully from the improved autofocus features on 2011 PEN cameras, operating at a very low volume. The lens is comfortable to use and locks into a more compact size when not in use. It features a zoom and focus ring, though only the optical zoom ring features a hard stop at either end.

The Olympus E-PM1 uses a 12.3-megapixel Live MOS image sensor that is practically identical to the one found in our compact system camera of the year, the Olympus E-P3. It's a slightly dated sensor compared to the ones found in competing mirrorless cameras, but Olympus works around many of the technical hurdles to produce high quality images that hold up in a variety of challenging conditions.

One area where this sensor does lag behind its competition is in its handling of noise at high ISO speeds, as it produces practically unusable images above ISO 3200 unless noise reduction is turned to its absolute maximum. As a result, the camera also struggles to produce as much dynamic range as other cameras, though in most lighting conditions this sensor acquits itself just fine.

Display(s)

The E-PM1 makes use of a 460k-dot resolution LCD with an anti-reflection coating. It still gets washed out in bright light, but it's a serviceable monitor for basic functionality, and it comes to life when using it to navigate through the camera's menu system. The LCD is sharp enough for some basic focus functionality, though it's difficulty to determine when a subject is tack sharp using the monitor alone.

Flash

The E-PM1 does not come with a built-in flash, though an external flash is bundled with the camera. The flash offers a small bit of bounce functionality, but it is not particularly powerful, with a guide number of 10 feet at the camera's minimum ISO speed of 200. It's a nice extra for those who like to have an on-board strobe, but it precludes using many other accessories with the E-PM1 and it's not particularly useful in most situations.

Flash Photo

The flash emitter pops up from the top of the body via a mechanical release.

Connectivity

A small plastic port on the right side of the camera flips open to reveal the camera's proprietary AV/USB port as well as a micro-HDMI output. Micro HDMI cables are less common than the mini-HDMI variant, but they're growing more functional with the advent of smartphones feature the port, so the prices aren't obscene. That being said, the E-PM1 does not include a micro-HDMI cable, merely an AV cable that plugs into the proprietary port.


Atop the E-PM1 is a standard-looking hot shoe that will work with a variety of Olympus products, including the bundled external flash. Compatibility with other products is spotty at best, so stick with the Olympus flashes with the E-PM1. The bundled flash also can be used to wireless control flashes that are within its vicinity, if you're up for setting up the whole contraption on the E-PM1.


Battery

The E-PM1 uses the PS-BLS1 removable, rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack. It's rated to 7.2V with a capacity of 1150mAh, charging through an external battery charger that plugs into a standard wall outlet. Olympus' website does not yet provide an accurate count of shots the battery is capable of under CIPA standards, but we found it more than fine for a day or two of heavy shooting (around 500 shots or so), as long as playback is kept to a minimum.

Battery Photo

Memory

Olympus makes use of standard SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards on the Olympus E-PM1. Memory cards slot into the bottom of the camera in the battery compartment, clicking solidly into place. There is no listed maximum for the cards, so we expect that (firmware updates included) basically any SDXC memory card on the market should be functional in the camera.

Memory Photo

The K2000 accepts inexpensive, easy to find SD cards.

Media Photo

Sharpness

We found the Olympus E-PM1 offered very good sharpness results with its 14-42mm kit lens. Unfortunately Olympus takes this a step further by adding a heavy dose of digital sharpening after the fact, as well. The result is a heavy haloing effect around most areas of contrast. This is exactly what we saw in the E-P3, so it wasn't unexpected, but it's really unnecessary as the camera produces serviceable results anyway. This sharpening can be toned down by going into the camera's setup menu and lowering sharpness from the default 0 to -2 in the picture mode menu option, but it has to be done for each color mode individually. More on how we test sharpness.

Color

We found the Olympus E-PM1 offered solid color accuracy for a camera of its type, with a color error that hovered around 3.29. This isn't superb for an interchangeable lens camera, but it's an acceptable result for a camera that clearly favors more vivid, saturated colors. The color score was brought down somewhat by blues and magentas, but skin tones remained natural and flush in the natural color mode, which we found to be the most accurate. More on how we test color.

Every color mode we tested on the Olympus E-PM1 oversaturated colors slightly, with its "muted" mode containing that to just 106% of the ideal. The portrait skin mode was also quite accurate, but lagged slightly behind the natural mode, which we used for the majority of our testing. The "iEnhance" and vivid color modes both ratcheted up saturation to over 125% of the ideal, with both modes pushing blues and magentas to the extreme to punch up photos.

The Olympus E-PM1 fell behind a pretty stellar group in terms of color accuracy, but it posted a respectable result. The Olympus E-P3 produced the best color score of any of the cameras in this comparison group, with the Panasonic GF3 just behind and the Nikon J1 in third. Curiously, the Olympus E-PM1 produced a more vivid (if less accurate) color profile despite reportedly sharing the same image sensor and processor as the E-P3. Despite retesting under identical conditions, the Olympus E-PM1 and E-P3 still produced different color accuracy results, suggesting the E-PM1 has had its color modes tuned to produce a more vivid picture, with less emphasis placed on color accuracy.

Color Modes

The color modes on the Olympus E-PM1 are controlled by bringing up the live view control panel, accessed by pressing the "OK" button on the back of the camera when in program, manual, or aperture/shutter priority shooting modes. This gives the user access to one of five color modes: iEnhance, vivid, natural, portrait, muted, and portrait. There are also options for monochrome, a custom color mode, as well as six art filter modes (pop art, soft focus, grainy film, pin hole, diorama, and dramatic tone). These modes are also available when shooting video, though you have to put the camera in one of these four shooting modes (not the dedicated video mode) and then use the dedicated video record button for the effect to appear on video.

White Balance

The E-PM1 is a nice compact little camera, meant to be taken with you everywhere you go. We found that its white balance handled various lighting conditions very easily, making corrections rapidly even when presented with wildly different ambient color temperature. Despite this, we did find the camera struggled to find a correct white balance when the user sets it manually.

Automatic White Balance ()

The E-PM1's automatic white balance was not the most accurate we've seen in compact white fluorescent and daylight testing, as it barely beat out most of its comparison cameras. The real source of the E-PM1's high score came in incandescent lighting, which is often so warm that cameras fail to even come close to adjusting properly on the fly. The E-PM1, however, managed to adjust for tungsten lighting with a color error of just 75 kelvin, far more accurate than almost every camera we've tested.

Custom White Balance ()

While the E-PM1 performed very well in automatic white balance testing, we found it struggled a bit in custom white balance accuracy. We found the camera produced a much cooler image than we like to see out of camera, even after testing multiple times. The camera struggled particularly in setting a custom white balance under fluorescent lighting, though it was still accurate under tungsten and daylight conditions.

The E-PM1 put up the second-best automatic white balance score of any of our comparison cameras, though we found that performance didn't hold up in custom white balance testing. As is to be expected, it performed very similarly to the Olympus E-P3, and both beat out the Nikon J1, which had relatively poor white balance accuracy. The Panasonic GF3 proved to be the best of the lot here, with very accurate custom and automatic white balance, winning both categories handily.

White Balance Options

The E-PM1 has seven white balance presets, as well as its automatic and custom settings. The camera also allows users to set the camera to adjust to a specific Kelvin temperature between 2000K and 14000K. To access the white balance setting, users can hit the "OK" button on the back of the camera in program, manual, and shutter/aperture priority modes, which allows users to set a custom white balance, custom color temperature, or access any of the preset settings.

Users can also go into the camera's setup custom menu, where they can change the current white balance setting or apply a white balance shift +/-7 stops on either an Alpha-Beta or Green-Magenta scale. Users can also access options to perform a shift on all white balance settings simultaneously, or tell the camera to preserve warm colors in automatic white balance. The E-PM1 also features a white balance bracketing option, with the option to shoot three frames at 2, 4, or 6 steps in each A-B/G-M axis.

Long Exposure

The Olympus E-PM1 had the best long exposure results of any of the cameras in our comparison group, mostly due to its heavy standard noise reduction, which is more aggressive than many other cameras. Even without this activated, however, we found that the camera was not appreciably affected by extended exposures. More on how we test long exposure.

As is typical with cameras in this test, the E-PM1 saw its color accuracy dip from 3.29 in short exposures to around 4.3 on average through exposures as long as 30 seconds. Noise was a different story, however, as it spiked dramatically between 15-second and 30-second exposures, to as high as 2.4% of the total image. Olympus provides a temperature measurement of the sensor in their RAW data, though it actually falls somewhat in 30 seconds exposures. It seems Olympus has improved their ability to handle heat from the image sensor (a problem with earlier PEN models like the E-PL1), as they also now allow for bulb shooting as long as 30 minutes.

The E-PM1 produced the best score of any of our comparison cameras in the long exposure testing. We found it had slightly less accurate colors than the E-P3 (in keeping with our results in our standard color accuracy tests) but that noise followed the same profile, spiking appreciably only at the thirty second mark. The E-PM1 only barely edged ahead of the Panasonic GF3 in this test (another camera that offers somewhat aggressive noise reduction). The E-PM1 also beat out the Nikon J1, which relies less on noise reduction than most cameras.

Noise Reduction

In the custom menu, the Olympus E-PM1 allows users to select a noise filter rating of low, standard, and high, with the option to apply it constantly, when the camera deems necessary (auto), or not at all. We found that the noise reduction was very much a necessary evil on the E-PM1, as with no noise reduction applied noise began to spike dramatically as soon as ISO 800, registering a staggering 9% chroma and 11% luma noise measurement by ISO 12800. For comparison's sake, we would usually recommend users avoid any ISO speed that registers more than a 3% noise measurement, let alone three times that amount.

As you add ramp up noise reduction, another stop of sensitivity becomes useable, producing acceptable images at ISO 1600 with low NR, 3200 with standard NR, and 6400 with high NR. The higher options are, of course, available, but they all result in more than 2.5% noise in the image, which is far from ideal. Below you can see crops taken at 100% from four identical images of a US dollar bill, with noise reduction ramped up one setting between each shot.

OLYMPUS-EPM1-NR-COMP.jpg

Noise reduction takes away a great deal of noise in our test images, but in these samples it's easy to see how much fine detail is taken out at even the "low" setting. Alternatively, this also shows just how sharp this camera can be with noise reduction turned off, as the NR Off crop clearly shows differentiation in the subtle etching on President Washington's curly locks. More on how we test noise.

ISO Options

The E-PM1 allows users to select ISO speeds from 200-12800, in 1/3-stop increments, as well as an automatic ISO mode. Automatic takes over in most shooting modes, though a manually set ISO will be retained when moving from program, manual, or shutter/aperture priority mode to the art filter modes. Given that you can access all these art filters in those modes directly by bringing up the live view control panel (pressing the OK button), the art filter modes themselves are a little redundant save for its sample images.


Dynamic Range

The Olympus E-PM1 offered under five stops of clean dynamic range at its minimum ISO of 200, owing to the camera's inability to handle noise with noise reduction completely turned off. We test based on the camera's ability to keep noise below a certain threshold, which the smaller sensors tend to struggle with. The images themselves don't look poor at ISO 800 and below, but it's difficult to discern fine detail at any ISO higher than that as noise crops up in the darkest regions very quickly beyond that. More on how we test dynamic range.

As you'd expect the Olympus E-PM1 and E-P3 produced very similar results, though the E-P3 had a slight advantage as the camera seemed to handle noise slightly better. The Nikon J1 and E-PM1 had nearly identical scores in our dynamic range testing, with all our cameras lagging behind the Panasonic GF3. This is largely because the GF3 offers a noise reduction setting that works on a +/-2 scale, rather than utilizing a simple on/off setting. As a result the GF3 applies some in-camera noise reduction to JPEGs, which we use for testing. If you shoot in RAW with any of these cameras and process on a computer by hand you'll get substantially better results.

Noise Reduction

In the custom menu, the Olympus E-PM1 allows users to select a noise filter rating of low, standard, and high, with the option to apply it constantly, when the camera deems necessary (auto), or not at all. We found that the noise reduction was very much a necessary evil on the E-PM1, as with no noise reduction applied noise began to spike dramatically as soon as ISO 800, registering a staggering 9% chroma and 11% luma noise measurement by ISO 12800. For comparison's sake, we would usually recommend users avoid any ISO speed that registers more than a 3% noise measurement, let alone three times that amount.

As you add ramp up noise reduction, another stop of sensitivity becomes useable, producing acceptable images at ISO 1600 with low NR, 3200 with standard NR, and 6400 with high NR. The higher options are, of course, available, but they all result in more than 2.5% noise in the image, which is far from ideal. Below you can see crops taken at 100% from four identical images of a US dollar bill, with noise reduction ramped up one setting between each shot.

OLYMPUS-EPM1-NR-COMP.jpg

Noise reduction takes away a great deal of noise in our test images, but in these samples it's easy to see how much fine detail is taken out at even the "low" setting. Alternatively, this also shows just how sharp this camera can be with noise reduction turned off, as the NR Off crop clearly shows differentiation in the subtle etching on President Washington's curly locks. More on how we test noise.

ISO Options

The E-PM1 allows users to select ISO speeds from 200-12800, in 1/3-stop increments, as well as an automatic ISO mode. Automatic takes over in most shooting modes, though a manually set ISO will be retained when moving from program, manual, or shutter/aperture priority mode to the art filter modes. Given that you can access all these art filters in those modes directly by bringing up the live view control panel (pressing the OK button), the art filter modes themselves are a little redundant save for its sample images.

Focus Performance

The autofocus on the E-PM1 is as fast as we've come to expect from the 2011 PEN lineup, matching the speed we saw with the E-P3 earlier this year. This is possible by the camera's speedy processing and the use of the camera's MSC (movie still compatible) kit lens. Using other lenses should result in slower autofocus, but we didn't have any in-house at the time of this review to test that.

Autofocus is engaged by pressing the shutter button halfway down, with options available for single AF, continuous AF, manual focus, single AF with MF override, and AF tracking. The E-PM1 uses a contrast detection AF system with 35 individual areas selectable by the user. These can be selected individually, in one of up to nine groups, or automatically from all 35 areas.

Long Exposure

The Olympus E-PM1 had the best long exposure results of any of the cameras in our comparison group, mostly due to its heavy standard noise reduction, which is more aggressive than many other cameras. Even without this activated, however, we found that the camera was not appreciably affected by extended exposures. More on how we test long exposure.

As is typical with cameras in this test, the E-PM1 saw its color accuracy dip from 3.29 in short exposures to around 4.3 on average through exposures as long as 30 seconds. Noise was a different story, however, as it spiked dramatically between 15-second and 30-second exposures, to as high as 2.4% of the total image. Olympus provides a temperature measurement of the sensor in their RAW data, though it actually falls somewhat in 30 seconds exposures. It seems Olympus has improved their ability to handle heat from the image sensor (a problem with earlier PEN models like the E-PL1), as they also now allow for bulb shooting as long as 30 minutes.

The E-PM1 produced the best score of any of our comparison cameras in the long exposure testing. We found it had slightly less accurate colors than the E-P3 (in keeping with our results in our standard color accuracy tests) but that noise followed the same profile, spiking appreciably only at the thirty second mark. The E-PM1 only barely edged ahead of the Panasonic GF3 in this test (another camera that offers somewhat aggressive noise reduction). The E-PM1 also beat out the Nikon J1, which relies less on noise reduction than most cameras.

Video: Low Light Sensitivity

We found the E-PM1 struggled in low light using the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens at its maximum aperture, as it required 31 lux of light to produce an image that registered 50 IRE on a waveform monitor. This is pretty poor compared to most midrange camcorders, many of which need only around 10 lux of light to produce an image of similar brightness.

Chromatic Aberration

In our test shots chromatic aberration showed up mostly at the telephoto end, but remained mostly mild through the rest of the zoom range with the 14-42mm kit lens. However, in real life shooting samples we noticed is was quite apparent in areas of high contrast at the wide end as well. In our sample photos section the shot of the red bow on the bush shows rather severe blue lateral fringing along the branch in the bottom right corner and where the bush's needles contrast against the bright background.

Distortion

We found very little distortion in the E-PM1's test images when using the 14-42mm kit lens. The worst distortion came at the wide end, which is common with kit lenses of this focal range. The lens produced a mild barrel distortion of 1.78% at the wide focal length of 14mm. This became a very slight pincushion distortion of 0.22% at the middle focal length of 28mm, which became a practically nonexistent 0.05% pincushion distortion at the 42mm focal length.

Motion

Motion was rendered quite smoothly on the E-PM1, though ghosting and signal interference was apparent on the RGB and monochrome pinwheels in our motion test. We did not notice a great difference in the motion results between the E-PM1 and the E-P3, so those looking for video functionality only may want to opt for the cheaper E-PM1. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

The Full HD Fine 1080/60i shooting mode proved the best on the E-PM1, but we did notice artifacting throughout our motion test. There was some signal interference, but it was right in line with the rest of our comparison cameras. The E-P3 produced similar video, while the GF3 lagged just behind. The Nikon J1's video was perhaps the best of the lot here, with solid motion and minimal artifacting to go with great sharpness. The main letdown of the J1, E-P3, and E-PM1, however, is their work in low light, which is not up to the same standard as the Panasonic GF3.


Video Sharpness

The E-PM1 produced video that was quite sharp for an interchangeable lens camera, registering a sharpness of 625 lw/ph horizontally, and 675 lw/ph vertically. For the price of the E-PM1 you can certainly find better options purely for video, but as an added benefit, it's quite useful. We found its sharpness very comparable to the E-P3, with both Olympus models (and their 14-42mm kit lens) outdoing the Panasonic GF3. The Nikon J1 also proved very sharp, though we saw some issues with aliasing and artifacting in select scenes (specifically low light). More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

Low Light Sensitivity

We found the E-PM1 struggled in low light using the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens at its maximum aperture, as it required 31 lux of light to produce an image that registered 50 IRE on a waveform monitor. This is pretty poor compared to most midrange camcorders, many of which need only around 10 lux of light to produce an image of similar brightness.

Usability

Buttons & Dials

The buttons on the E-PM1 are the same gel bubble design we saw on the E-P3. We find them to be very functional and all the keys (especially the shutter release) offer a very good tactile response, most providing an audible click when depressed. The gel design also allows the labels to be placed underneath the actual button, meaning they shouldn't rub off after several months of use. The four-way control pad and control dial use a more conventional style of labeling, but they're similarly well designed. The dial could be a little thicker to allow the thumb to better operate the control, but it's a very small complaint in an otherwise elegant design.

The main menu design itself isn't difficult to decipher, which has been a complaint we've held about the menus in many other Olympus cameras. The main shooting modes are all available right on the first menu screen, with more in-depth options in the setup menu. For most users looking at this level of camera, the simple default menu design will keep them from accidentally changing things too drastically, and as a result there's very little learning curve for those stepping up from a point-and-shoot experience.

Frustratingly for more advanced users, many of the camera's important functions are located rather deep in the "custom" menu, which can be a bit of a headache as you have to first find the option that will make this custom menu visible. This option is located in the last page of the setup menu, in a symbol that looks like two cogs with the text "menu display."

Instruction Manual

The E-PM1 features only a very basic printed manual in the box itself, with a more in-depth operating book located on the included CD-ROM. There are no advanced shooting tips or functions discussed in the menu, as it very simply takes first-time users through charging the battery, loading the memory card, taking and reviewing photos, and making use of the live guide and art filters to spruce up images.

Handling

While we can appreciate the aesthetic motivations in going with a minimalist front to camera bodies in 2011, we're continually perplexed why camera manufacturers like Nikon (the J1) and Olympus (the E-PM1) can decide to eschew any form of front grip on their cameras. Olympus made the grip optional on the E-P3, utilizing a neat screw functionality that allows users to attach and detach custom grips at will. The E-PM1 does not have such a feature, with just a barren, brushed metal front that is too slippery to grip alone. A long vertical strip of rubber is included on the back of the camera, but it doesn't do nearly enough to provide secure handling of the camera.

Handling Photo 1

The E-PM1 otherwise feels very solidly built, with a mostly metal body, solid buttons, organized control scheme, and enough weight that the camera feels balanced, but not heavy. There aren't the same luxury touches that we loved about the E-P3, but I'm sure if you buy the E-PM1 over the E-P3 the extra few hundred dollars in your pocket will assuage your agony over that loss.

Handling Photo 2

In the end our problems with the E-PM1's handling are the same that we had with the Nikon J1: the smooth front facade looks great, but as a functional part of the shooting experience, it's a deficiency that shouldn't be overlooked. It's not like it's hard to put a grip on the front of a compact camera. There are already accessory and custom grips to solve this problem, but they're not without their drawbacks (not to mention they solve a problem that Olympus and Nikon both could have solved in the development process).

Handling Photo 3

Buttons & Dials

The buttons on the E-PM1 are the same gel bubble design we saw on the E-P3. We find them to be very functional and all the keys (especially the shutter release) offer a very good tactile response, most providing an audible click when depressed. The gel design also allows the labels to be placed underneath the actual button, meaning they shouldn't rub off after several months of use. The four-way control pad and control dial use a more conventional style of labeling, but they're similarly well designed. The dial could be a little thicker to allow the thumb to better operate the control, but it's a very small complaint in an otherwise elegant design.

Buttons Photo 1

The E-PM1 does not feature a dedicated customizable function button, instead allowing users to redefine the functionality of the dedicated video record button as well as the right and down directional keys on the rear control pad. This is a fine compromise (at least it's better than no customization at all), but with the right and down keys having clear labeling for their default functionality, it's easy to forget what functions you've assigned to each.

Buttons Photo 2

Display(s)

The E-PM1 makes use of a 460k-dot resolution LCD with an anti-reflection coating. It still gets washed out in bright light, but it's a serviceable monitor for basic functionality, and it comes to life when using it to navigate through the camera's menu system. The LCD is sharp enough for some basic focus functionality, though it's difficulty to determine when a subject is tack sharp using the monitor alone.

Shooting Modes

The E-PM1 does not have a traditional physical mode dial, as it forces users to select the shooting mode through its menu. Pressing the menu key on the rear of the camera brings up a main menu with all of the shooting modes organized horizontally, with options for selecting an art filter, full automatic mode, a scene mode, or one of the traditional program auto, manual, or aperture/shutter priority shooting modes. The last option on the main menu screen allows you to enter the setup menu, which offers a variety of system and shooting settings to choose from.

Focus

The autofocus on the E-PM1 is as fast as we've come to expect from the 2011 PEN lineup, matching the speed we saw with the E-P3 earlier this year. This is possible by the camera's speedy processing and the use of the camera's MSC (movie still compatible) kit lens. Using other lenses should result in slower autofocus, but we didn't have any in-house at the time of this review to test that.

Autofocus is engaged by pressing the shutter button halfway down, with options available for single AF, continuous AF, manual focus, single AF with MF override, and AF tracking. The E-PM1 uses a contrast detection AF system with 35 individual areas selectable by the user. These can be selected individually, in one of up to nine groups, or automatically from all 35 areas.

The 14-42mm MSC kit lens on the Olympus E-PM1 includes a focus ring, making manual focus adjustments a breeze. The ring has no effect when the camera is in single or continuous autofocus modes, unless the specific manual focus override mode is selected. The button normally reserved for dedicated video recording can also be used as a quick switch to manual focus, but it will lose its video functionality in the process.

A digital zoom is available for users looking for a more accurate manual focus judgement, with the option activated through the custom setup menu on the E-PM1. When the option is turned on and manual focus is activated any turn of the focus ring will bring subjects in closer for fine focus judgements.

Recording Options

The E-PM1 offers JPEG, RAW, and RAW+JPEG shooting at a maximum resolution of 12.3 megapixels. The camera offers users the option to select from fine or normal JPEG compression at the maximum resolution, or normal compression for medium and small JPEG images. The E-PM1 also offers in-camera RAW developing, which will produce a JPEG image that you can then edit in-camera.

Speed and Timing

The Olympus E-PM1 is a speedy shooter for an entry-level camera, with options for high speed burst, low speed continuous, two- and ten-second self-timer delay, and single shot release modes. All these options are included in the drive menu, accessible by pressing down on the rear four-way control pad/dial.

There is a limit on the amount of shots that can be taken at the maximum speed, with our tests showing it was able to fire around 14 continuous shots at the 5.5fps speed, slowing down to about half that from then on, with no signs of further slowdown. There are no low resolution burst modes available, and lowering the resolution manually does not result in any speed gains.

We found the E-PM1 met its advertised speed of 5.5fps with image stabilization deactivated. This can be voluntarily limited in the custom setup menu, with options for slowing the shot-to-shot time of both high and low speed burst modes. That amount of speed made the E-PM1 the fastest of any of the cameras in our comparison group in terms of shot-to-shot speed with autofocus enabled. It should be notes that the Nikon J1 blows all comers out of the water in pure full resolution bust shooting however, with its 40-60fps capabilities.

The E-PM1 includes two- and twelve-second delays by way of a self-timer option located in the drive mode menu. This menu is accessed by either pressing down on the rear four-way control pad or by going through the live guide menu (accessed by pressing the OK button in shooting modes where it is available). The self-timer countdown is indicated using the AF illuminator lamp on the front of the camera, which lights up and then blinks as the countdown winds to zero.

Focus Speed

The autofocus on the E-PM1 is as fast as we've come to expect from the 2011 PEN lineup, matching the speed we saw with the E-P3 earlier this year. This is possible by the camera's speedy processing and the use of the camera's MSC (movie still compatible) kit lens. Using other lenses should result in slower autofocus, but we didn't have any in-house at the time of this review to test that.

Autofocus is engaged by pressing the shutter button halfway down, with options available for single AF, continuous AF, manual focus, single AF with MF override, and AF tracking. The E-PM1 uses a contrast detection AF system with 35 individual areas selectable by the user. These can be selected individually, in one of up to nine groups, or automatically from all 35 areas.

The 14-42mm MSC kit lens on the Olympus E-PM1 includes a focus ring, making manual focus adjustments a breeze. The ring has no effect when the camera is in single or continuous autofocus modes, unless the specific manual focus override mode is selected. The button normally reserved for dedicated video recording can also be used as a quick switch to manual focus, but it will lose its video functionality in the process.

A digital zoom is available for users looking for a more accurate manual focus judgement, with the option activated through the custom setup menu on the E-PM1. When the option is turned on and manual focus is activated any turn of the focus ring will bring subjects in closer for fine focus judgements.

Recording Options

The E-PM1 records in AVCH or AVI Motion JPEG, depending on the user's preference. The highest quality setting (Full HD Fine) records in 1080/60i at a bitrate of 20 Mbps. Bumping that compression down to normal results in a bitrate of only 17Mbps, with the same frame rate and resolution. There are also option for 720/60p recording, but bitrate at fine and normal settings are just 17Mbps and 13Mbps respectively. Motion JPEG allows for a maximum resolution/framerate of 720/30p, though some recording video with some art filters brings that frame rate down.

The maximum file size in AVCHD recording is 4GB, while Motion JPEGs are limited to half that maximum. Motion JPEG also only allows for a 7 minute HD recording, compared to 22 minutes with AVCHD at the highest setting (this maxes out at 29 minutes if you bump compression quality to Full HD normal or lower). Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Video Controls

When shooting in the dedicated video mode, manual controls are limited mainly to minimal ISO control, white balance type, focus mode, and exposure mode.

The art filters are also selectable when in the dedicated video mode, but the standard color modes (iEnhance, vivid, portrait, natural, landscape, monochrome, and custom) can only be applied if you begin a recording using the customizable REC button while shooting stills in a program auto, manual, aperture, and shutter-priority still photography modes. It's a ridiculous workaround just to apply a simple effect like color balance.

Auto Controls

The video recording mode in the main menu takes care of most settings automatically, allowing users to let the camera decide ISO, white balance, and exposure in program auto exposure. The live guide (brought up by pressing OK on the back of the camera) offers manual overrides of most of these settings, except when recording video in the full auto mode.

Zoom

Zoom on the E-PM1 is controlled manually by adjusting the focal ring on the lens barrel. The camera provides a digital teleconverter that can bring subjects up to twice as close, however. The basic kit lens has a focal range of 14-42mm, which has a 35mm equivalent of approximately 28-84mm.

Focus

The focus on the E-PM1 is the same system as the more expensive E-P3, which we found to be very fast. In video mode single AF, continuous AF, manual AF, and single/continuous AF with manual override are all available. Manual focus is initiated (when the mode is active) by turning the kit lens' focus ring.

Exposure Controls

When shooting in the video mode of in the dedicated program auto, manual, and shutter/aperture priority modes, the camera allows for some manual exposure control over video. In modes that allow shutter speed control (shutter-priority mode and manual), any shutter speed can be set as long as it's faster than 1/30 of a second. Full aperture control is also available, depending on the attached lens, but only in manual and aperture-priority modes.

Other Controls

When recording video the basic art filters are available, including dramatic tone, pop art, grainy film, soft focus, pin hole, and diorama. Users can also use any of the white balance presets or the custom white balances that have been previously set, though a new manual white balance can not be taken in this mode (it has to be set in another mode, and then it will carry over).

Audio Features

The E-PM1 offers the option to record Stereo PCM/16bit, 48kHz audio alongside pictures (up to 30 seconds) or videos (for the length of the video). The camera comes with a built-in stereo microphone that sits on either side of the hot shoe on top of the camera body. The mic is good at capturing ambient noise, but for any remotely serious video work we suggest grabbing an external microphone.

Mic Photo

Conclusion

Ever since Olympus unveiled their 2011 PEN camera lineup, eyes have been on the so-called “PEN Mini,” the E-PM1. It’s the cheapest, most compact PEN yet, but still comes with an image sensor that is nearly identical to Olympus’ top of the line E-P3. When you add in all that for a debut price (with lens) just south of $500, you’ve got a very enticing package.

We found that the E-PM1 doesn’t quite perform up to the same standard as the flagship E-P3, but with a substantially lower price point, that’s to be expected. We think the lack of a grip is a serious design oversight on Olympus’ part, but the E-PM1’s menu system is far better than older PEN cameras. In general, the E-PM1 offers enough automatic, creative, and manual shooting options to appeal to any level of shooter, with a control scheme that shouldn’t intimidate even novice shooters.

In terms of image quality, the E-PM1 struggles the most in low light when it has to rely on higher ISO settings. Having a maximum ISO speed of 12800 looks great on a spec sheet, but without noise reduction anything above ISO 800 is practically useless. Noise reduction will allow users to shoot at ISO settings as high as 3200, but that will result in the loss of some fine detail.

In our select awards we named the flagship model of this line, the Olympus E-P3, the mirrorless camera of the year. If you’re looking to save some cash and don’t mind compromising on color accuracy, the quality of the LCD, and the lack of an included grip (or if you simply want a smaller camera), then the E-PM1 is an acceptable alternative. The PEN Mini has many tricks similar to the more expensive E-P3, but many of the things that made us overlook areas of middling performance on the E-P3 are gone. The result is a package that underwhelms compared to the rest of the PEN lineup, but still provides fair value for its entry-level price.

Performance
The E-PM1 put up one of the worst noise scores we’ve ever seen at its maximum ISO of 12800, but its noise reduction settings reined that in significantly. That poor noise performance hindered the camera’s dynamic range scores, however, as even at its best the camera lagged behind some of its competition. We found the E-PM1 to be a very fast shooter, however, with serviceable white balance accuracy and great long exposure performance. You can definitely get some great images out of the E-PM1, but only if ISO is absolutely kept as low as possible.

Video
The video on the E-PM1 was quite good for a compact system camera, with decent sharpness with the 14-42mm kit lens. The camera reproduced motion very well but it struggled in terms of color accuracy in video mode. The camera also suffered from a nasty rolling shutter effect when panned sharply from side to side. The result is a camera that can produce some attractive video in the right conditions, but in handheld scenarios the E-PM1 is rarely going to produce great results. By far the most frustrating part about the E-PM1’s video mode is the control layout and odd

Hardware
The E-PM1 offers quite a bit for its entry level price, with a metal body, included hot shoe, bundled external flash, 14-42mm kit lens, and Micro Four Thirds sensor/lens mount providing a great array of options for novice and advanced shooters alike. The Micro Four Thirds lens family has grown to be quite substantial now, with many options from Olympus, Panasonic, and third-party manufacturers (not to mention adapters to other lens mounts). The camera itself has a high build quality, with a durable feel to it, though it lacks the higher quality LCD monitors of the Olympus E-P3 and E-PL3.

Controls
With a single control dial, moderate customization options, and a useful (if at times confusing) live guide mode, the E-PM1 does a good job of offering the kind of control that will appeal to enthusiasts without intimidating beginners. The lack of a physical mode dial is unfortunate, but the improved menu system makes up for it. If you’ve shot with any advanced point-and-shoots, the E-PM1 shouldn’t be beyond your abilities; those with a desire for complete manual control aren’t forgotten either, as the camera features a full manual mode and a wealth of custom options if you have the patience to find them.

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