Olympus PEN – E-PL2 Long Term Real World Review – Initial Impressions



The PEN, originally uploaded by bang*.

bang | Photography – Marks Olympus PEN – E-PL2 Long term review – Part 1- Initial Thoughts.

Now that I’m sure i’m hanging on to the PEN, here’s the first of a running real world review of the Olympus E-PL2. I figured the blog could do with some asides from the 365 project which seem to be commanding its posts. Plus my feelings for the micro 4/3 system cameras has changed now I’ve had chance to use one for a week or three.

As I say, this is real world review, no test charts, measuring devices or other dull stuff like that. People do those kinds of reviews in other corners of the web so if that’s what you want google is your friend.

Initial impressions –
As the latest incarnation of the digital Olympus PEN this camera has had effectively three younger siblings, the E-P1, E-PL1 & E-P2. Having never used any of the other models I can’t tell you how this one relates to those. I can however compare it to my Leica DLux4, the Leica DigiLux 2 and fairly or unfairly to my Canons.

Things I liked straight away –
Straight out the camera jpegs – The things just pop.

The screen – It’s big and it’s pretty darn bright.

Image quality – Super good for such a little camera.

Depth of Field control – With a larger (than usual compact sized cameras) sensor this is a huge plus to me. Not as good as full frame dslr but the camera is somewhat smaller and much more portable.

Noise control – Higher iso capability means I’m willing to push beyond where I used to with the DLux4. It isn’t a 5D mk ii though.

Hot Shoe – Well all my other cameras had one too but it’s still a huge plus for me (actually it’s a must).

Its looks – Hey to me how my cameras look plays a big part in my choice or purchase. The kit lens may be an okay lens but it spoils the look of the camera to me. Hence my instant purchase of the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 (well that and the fact I choose to mainly shoot with prime lenses)

It’s customisation ability – Sure the menus could cause some people problems, me however I just jumped right in and got it working how I wanted. Again to me this is a must, I have to have complete control over my camera otherwise It just doesn’t feel (or look) right.

Some things I’m not too keen on –
The kit lens – I know it’s a good lens and all image quality wise, and for most (actually probably all) the other users it will be a perfect companion. It just spoils the retro look of the time for me, the max aperture is kind of slow and the collapsable thing just bugs me too. When I’m out and about I like my camera ready for use but compact enough to sit by my side. Stick one of the pancake primes on and it’s perfect though.

The Strap – Again this is a personal thing. They could have gone for a more retro piece rather than the advertising. Needless to say mine never graced the camera.

ISO 200 as lowest ISO – Grrrrrrgh. Sure it’s only two stops from all my other cameras, but come on that’s two whole stops. If I’m using this thing with flash I’m going to be wanting lower iso some times to knock out some ambient light (again I’m of the minority users of this camera who will want this, most will be happy with the increased iso speed). Also combine this with the max shutter speed of 1/4000 of a second. I’m a fast prime lens shooter and as such like large apertures. On a number of occasions already I’ve been forced to stop down If I want to keep exposure correct, hence having to compromise my vision for the shot.

The Battery life – It pretty much sucks compared to everything but the Leica DigiLux2 (which was pretty old tech batterywise). I’m not sure if the battery warning comes on too early (although this can be tweaked in camera too) but I’m constantly aware of how quickly it seems to appear. Actually after further use I’ve found one battery struggles to power a full day shooting, this weekend I got about 290 shots to the battery and was left powerless at 10pm. I managed a few turn it back ons to grab a couple of extra shots but in todays world I do expect one battery to manage at least one full day. I’m not expecting the 1600+ shots I can get from one charged 1D or 5D battery but still 300 all out seems pretty weak.

As yet no “proper” RAW support – Adobe have candidate releases of LR3 and Camera RAW which support the Oly RAW files but as yet no stable support. Although with the quality of the jpegs this isn’t too much of a problem.

It’s noise – The Leicas I used were both very (read almost silent) quiet. My Canons make noise but aren’t really built for stealth anyway. I thought the PEN would be along the compact camera quiet lines. However it makes a “real” noise, sure it isn’t deafening but it is perceivable in quieter places. Just something to consider I guess. It’s sound is something akin to that of stepping on a big beetle, kind of squelchy.

So those are my initial thoughts after three weeks use. Some things I have figured out work arounds, others I’ve learned to live with. One thing is for certain though, I do love the thing and really love how it renders what I put before it. Compared to any other compact camera I’ve used this blows them away in this respect. I’ve compared it against the 5D mk ii / 35mm f2 and to tell you the truth they are pretty darn close under good “normal” lighting (actually quite frighteningly close). I’ll probably do a comparison post latter in the year so you can see what I mean. I’ve shot some studio portraits with the PEN and they came out beautifully (the jpegs were spot on).
People following my 365 project may have noticed I’ve shot most of my images over the last three weeks with the PEN (and the Panasonic 20mm, which is a very very good lens). It seems to just do what I want and expect it too pretty much all of the time. On that note if you wish to see more sample images from the PEN just browse through either here on the blog (I normally indicate which camera I’ve shot images with) or through my flickr stream (same with the camera details).
Only time will tell if it continues to impress as I push it further.

So far so good for the might small Olympus E-PL2.

I’ve heard internet rumblings about an E-P3 possible release this year. Judging by Olympus’ speedy model upgrades so far I’d expect this to be true. It’ll be interesting to see what they can do to improve this little camera. I am thinking someone needs to put out a fast wide angle prime for the micro 4/3 system though, the Panasonic 14mm f2.5 is good as it serves a good 28mm relative, but something like a 12mm f2 would just be peachy (24mm (relative) and fast, perfect landscape, interiors and for me travel lens when paired with the 20mm (40mm relative)).

More to follow in later updates through the year.

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