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Olympus E-P2 Overview

Reviewed by Shawn Barnett, Mike Tomkins, and Zig Weidelich
Review Posted: 04/19/2010

In the summer of 2009, Olympus announced the beginning of a new era of small, interchangeable-lens digital cameras, as the company debuted its first Micro Four Thirds-system camera, the Olympus E-P1. Less than five months later, the company introduced the P1's sibling -- the Olympus E-P2 -- retaining many of its predecessor's features, but with a variety of important differences. The company is continuing to align its Olympus E-P series cameras with the old PEN system of film cameras, dating back to 1959, and like the previous model , the E-P2's style reflects that heritage.

The Olympus E-P2 uses the same 12.3-megapixel sensor from the E-P1, capable of both still and HD video capture. Body styling is also largely unchanged, with the biggest difference being a change in body color and finish. Where the P1 was offered in either silver with black trim, or a white with tan trim limited edition, the P2 gets a new color scheme. The body itself is still stainless steel, but now has a thin layer of black paint under a clear coat, giving a translucent black finish, accompanied by black trim panels. Looking a little closer, the other main difference is the addition of a new accessory port reminiscent of that in Panasonic's Lumix DMC-GF1. As with the Panasonic GF1, the Olympus E-P2's accessory port allows use of a hot shoe-mounted external electronic viewfinder, the VF-2. Olympus's external EVF has a rather higher specification than that from Panasonic, though, and the company is also using the port to allow for external microphone use via an optional adapter.

E-P2 announced: Dave Etchells talks with Sally Smith Clemens of Olympus about the new E-P2.

The Olympus E-P2 also has tweaks in a number of other areas. The camera's autofocus system now has subject tracking capability in both still and movie modes, and the focus assist function has been changed to automatically center its 7x / 10x zoom around the selected AF point, useful for fine-tuning focus of an off-center subject manually.

There's also a new i-Enhance shooting mode that tweaks image color to emphasize the main subject, and two new Art filters on top of the six from the E-P1. Video enthusiasts will be pleased to find manual control of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO sensitivity during movie capture. There's also support for industry-standard remote control over the HDMI connection, when using compatible equipment in the Olympus E-P2's Playback mode.

As well as the existing 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 and 17mm f/2.8 lenses which shipped alongside the E-P1, Olympus has also announced two new lenses with the E-P2. Due in the first half of 2010, these are the 9-18mm f/4-5.6 and 14-150mm f/4-5.6. A small flash is also currently available for the Olympus E-P series cameras.

Shipping as of December 2009, the Olympus E-P2 is available in three configurations. With the ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens and VF-2 viewfinder, the price is US$1,099.99; and with the 17mm f/2.8 and the VF-2 electronic viewfinder, the price is US$1,099.99. Earlier this year, the VF-2 was removed from many kits, bringing the prices of both the 17mm and 14-42mm kit down to $899.99.

 

Olympus E-P2 Review

by Shawn Barnett and Mike Tomkins

Just a few short months after introducing the E-P1 "Digital Pen," Olympus launched another version of the small, interchangeable lens SLD digital camera. Most of the guts are the same, as are the body features. Much of what was added came from very early feedback from reviewers, including the black body, requested mostly by males, according to an Olympus representative. Others insisted on an electronic viewfinder.

The Olympus E-P2 user experience is very similar to that of the E-P1, except for the addition of the VF-2 electronic viewfinder -- which really does change the experience quite a bit.

Look and feel. The new black body still has some chrome accents, and the 17mm lens is still silver. Both silver and black 14-42mm lenses are available for the E-P1, with silver shipping on the white camera and black shipping with the silver camera. Only the black lens ships with the Olympus E-P2. Kits are available both with, and without the large electronic viewfinder. Naturally, when attached to the camera this adds to the overall size and weight. The good news is that you forget about the extra bulk when you put the viewfinder up to your eye and take in the big, bright 800 x 600 pixel image it gives you. Note also that the hot shoe is elevated by 0.18 inches (4.6mm) compared to the E-P1, whose top deck is almost flat.

One major feature I prefer over the Panasonic GF1 is the larger grip area that's offered by the Olympus E-P2 and E-P1. The large rubber pad helps get a better purchase on the camera, and the thumbgrip on the back also makes a more secure hold. Functionally the Olympus E-P2 is identical to the E-P1, so existing users will feel right at home.

Most of the remaining controls can be seen from this angle, starting from the left. The mode dial peeks out from its porthole on the top deck, and is set via the knurl on the back. The focal plane indicator is stamped between that and the flash hot shoe, which has the tilting VF-2 electronic viewfinder in place. As with the E-P1, there is no built-in flash on the Olympus E-P2. The blue Super Sonic Wave Filter lamp is next, followed by the power switch, whose outer ring glows green when the power is on. The shutter release button is now black instead of silver, ringed by a smooth bit of silver metal. The EV adjustment button is last. While it's easy to forget while you're shooting, it's well-placed for easy adjustment with your thumb on the back.

On the small shelf behind the Olympus E-P2's top deck, Olympus has engraved the words, "OLYMPUS PEN Since 1959 E-P2." It's a shame that they didn't just revive the name PEN and call it the PEN F1 or something, because E-P2 is hardly catchy, and also a pain to type.

The 3-inch LCD is still limited to 230,000 pixels, though it is large, vibrant, and good outdoors thanks to its HyperCrystal technology. The lower resolution makes Manual focus a little more difficult than it was on the recently-reviewed Panasonic GF1, even with the 7x or 10x zoom option.

On the back you can see the speaker and the unique horizontal scroll wheel, used for zooming and changing menu items. Four buttons run down the right side of the LCD, and a Function and Info button flank the navigation disk/wheel. The disk and wheel combination is small, but works surprisingly well. The wheel works better than most manufacturers' designs, a pleasant surprise. I'm not crazy about the layout of the rest of the buttons, though. It might be that the Olympus E-P2 is so short that the controls are just harder to reach than I'm used to. Reaching the button on the VF-2 is not easy either, and I typically use my left hand instead of trying to stretch my thumb. In the lower right corner you can see the card write lamp.

Note also the camera strap loops, which unfortunately require the annoying D-rings to work with most strap systems. These have become more of a burden thanks to the Olympus E-P2's movie mode, as every motion of the D-rings is recorded as the sound travels dutifully down the camera's lovely metal skin, quickly arriving at the microphone openings. Perhaps you can sense my irritation with this unnecessary metal-to-metal connection when cloth-to-metal is mostly standard on modern digital cameras and even camcorders. Since I don't like neck straps, I solved the problem by simply keeping the camera strapless and ringless, save for a third party wrist strap with a toggle lock for security.

LCD. As I mentioned, the 3-inch LCD is big, but low-resolution, and its viewing angle is 176 degrees. Fortunately it's not the only way to frame images with the E-P2, thanks to the VF-2 electronic viewfinder, which has SVGA resolution.

The Olympus E-P2 has many display screens, which you select by pressing the Info button, but I'm afraid none of them meets my needs all on one screen. Though I like the leveling feature, that screen doesn't tell you what aperture or shutter speed you have set, which is pretty important on a camera like the Olympus E-P2. If you want the histogram or exposure info, you have to lose the leveling feature. I found myself hitting the Info button way too often when using the Olympus E-P2.

And if you shoot in the Art Filters mode and have the center-AF point screen up, you can't zoom in to focus, because the Set button both zooms and changes the Art Filter. Guess which wins?

Function. The Olympus E-P2 includes a Function menu that works a lot like the Function menu on Canon PowerShots, only the E-P2 has two unique dials at its disposal for easy navigation.

Press the OK button in the center, and it brings up a menu matrix that's identical to the translucent screens seen on recent Olympus digital SLRs. It's a good system either way, but I prefer the panel shown above, because it shows more of the available options in each category without having to go to a different screen.

Optical viewfinder. The VF-1 optical viewfinder, available for $99, is not included with the E-P2's 17mm f/2.8 kit, something that does come with the E-P1's 17mm kit. The one I have has a faint silver frame inside, but neither this line nor the viewfinder itself represents the actual image captured by the 17mm lens, which is noticeably wider; and naturally there's also some significant parallax error between this viewfinder lens and the capture lens.

For some reason I accidentally touch the front or rear optic too often, and I lament that the back of the viewfinder has no rubber guard to protect my glasses. Of course, with this big, square, nostalgic novelty mounted, we begin to approach the size and shape limitations found in the smaller SLRs, and the one place to mount a flash is occupied. The advantage, though, is that you get a third point of contact with your body (your face), offering inherently greater stability than you get while holding the Olympus E-P2 out in front of you to see the LCD.

Electronic viewfinder. The new VF-2 electronic viewfinder is noticeably larger than the one available for the Panasonic GF1, and it's also higher resolution. It attaches the same way, though, via the new Accessory port on the back beneath the hot shoe, which means that it won't work on the E-P1. It's a friction fit, unfortunately, which means that you can accidentally nudge it off if you're not careful. There's a springloaded pin that slips into the hot shoe's locking hole for some security, but it still manages to loosen a bit in a bag if I'm not careful. I'd prefer a more positive locking mechanism.

Functionally, though, it's really nice. The rubber ring around the viewfinder optic protects your glasses, unlike the back of the VF-1 with its hard plastic. Better yet, it doubles as the diopter adjustment mechanism, which you can turn to focus the viewfinder. It manages to accommodate my -3 vision just fine.

The view is really large, offering a 100% view of the scene, with 1.15x magnification. It's a nice view, to be sure. I can't tell you how many times I brought the E-P1 up to my eye before remembering there is no optical viewfinder built in. It just feels like an SLR. Now if you need to, you can shoot the E-P2 like it is one. I find myself shooting happily with the VF-2, especially out in sunlight, but I still pull the camera from my eye to see the playback. With the original firmware, this doesn't work, because the playback image appears in the electronic viewfinder until I turn it off. Thankfully, Olympus was listening, and has tweaked the firmware in a new version due in late April 2010, allowing the viewfinder and LCD to remain active at the same time. (This will of course come at the expense of battery life when enabled, since the camera must power both displays at once).

The only drawbacks are the fact that you can't use the EVF in combination with other accessories (such as a flash or the microphone jack adapter), and how much bigger it makes the E-P2 -- which is the same reason I generally leave the VF-1 off the E-P1. At least the VF-2 is more versatile, able to show the true image even with a zoom lens, or a nearby subject. It's also a little better for manual focusing, given the higher resolution.

The EVF's brightness and hue can also be adjusted independently via a menu item that shows the last image captured as a sample.

Accessory port. The new port can also be used for an External Microphone Jack, into which you can plug a microphone like the Olympus ME51S, ME31, or many other third party microphones, a feature missing from the E-P1. Unfortunately, the microphone jack adapter lacks a dummy hot shoe or mounting point on which to attach small microphones, necessitating a bracket attached to the tripod mount, should one want camera and microphone together.

Lenses. The primary kit lens designed for the Olympus E-P2 is the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6. It's a shortened version of the standard kit lens shipped with so many digital cameras, equivalent to a 28-84mm zoom in this case. It does a neat trick, though, when you twist it from its resting position: it pops out to its full operating length.


There's an unlock switch on the left of the barrel, but this actually unlocks the mechanism that keeps the lens from retracting back to its stowed position, so opening the lens is just a simple twist to the right. See the video at left for a visual demonstration using the E-P1. What the locking mechanism doesn't do is prevent the lens from extending. I occasionally noticed that I'd already partially extended the lens while removing the camera from its bag, causing me some worry that I might possibly damage the mechanism over time.

Though I appreciated the effort Olympus made to keep this lens from being a gigantic nuisance, making this small camera a lot larger, it took me some time to like this lens; and in the end, I don't like it at all. While slightly faster than on the P1, our sample was still unbearably slow to focus on the P2, and is a little too big for me even when tucked away. According to our tests, the 14-42mm took 0.96 seconds to focus and fire at wide-angle, and 0.91 seconds at telephoto. That's very slow, and when one adds the motion blur introduced at certain shutter speeds (see below), the picture is complete. Olympus has announced a new firmware update due in late April 2010 aimed at reducing autofocus delay, but we can't be sure by how much this will improve until we can test an updated P2.

My favorite of the two lenses is the 17mm f/2.8, the only other Olympus lens available specifically for Micro Four Thirds as of this writing. Its low barrel distortion made shooting with this pancake design a sincere pleasure, and its faster autofocus made me return to it again and again. Chromatic aberration is a little high, unfortunately, but that can be dealt with. While out shooting with the Olympus E-P2, I had to remind myself a few times to get the 14-42mm lens mounted for a few shots; and after I got too frustrated with the autofocus, I returned to the 17.

Tiny caps. The two kit lenses have very small caps, both of which seem about the same size. The problem is, they're not. The 17mm's cap measures 37mm, and the 14-42's measures 40.5mm. They're easy to lose, if inexpensive to replace, but serve their purpose just fine.

Lenses and adapters. With only moments before they were due to ship back, we took the liberty of trying the Olympus E-P2 with the rather elite lenses that came with our Panasonic GH1, the second Micro Four Thirds digital camera. They both fit and worked well. Most impressive was Panasonic's 7-14mm on such a small body.

The Lumix Four Thirds lens adapter also allowed us to attach some of the more interesting Four Thirds lenses in house, including the 150mm f/2.0 monster lens. Olympus's equivalent is the MMF-1, a silver Four Thirds adapter. Focusing is a lot slower with this adapter for most of the lenses we tried, so though it's possible, it's not entirely desirable to use Four Thirds lenses with the Olympus E-P2.

Sweetening the deal for OM-system lens owners like me is the MF-2 OM Adapter, which allows attachment of some really fine lenses. We tested my 50mm f/1.8 lens and posted the results on SLRgear.com. It's not good enough that I recommend everyone go out and snap up OM lenses to use with the E-P2, but it's still usable if you have the time to focus manually, and don't mind limiting yourself to f/4 or higher. Focusing is a little more difficult to do on the E-P2 than on the OM-1, because you have to press the Info button to navigate to the MF screen, then the OK button to zoom in on the scene, and if you're hand-holding the Olympus E-P2, the zoomed view can be shaky.

The Micro Four Thirds lens system is continuing to grow, thanks to Panasonic's introduction of another new lens, the 14-42mm f/.5-5.6. Olympus also has two new Micro Four Thirds zooms nearing the market -- the 9-18mm f/4-5.6 and 14-150mm f/4-5.6. The first third-party Micro Four Thirds lens has also been announced by a new startup, albeit a repurposed fully manual CCTV lens design. A wide range of available adapters further broaden the possibilities. Below are photos of the lenses, with links to their respective pages on SLRgear.com, where we have already reviewed many of these lenses.

Micro Four Thirds lenses
Olympus M.Zuiko 14-42mm
f/3.5-5.6
Panasonic Lumix G 14-42mm
f/3.5-5.6
Olympus M. Zuiko 17mm f/2.8 Panasonic Lumix G 20mm f/1.7
Olympus M.Zuiko 9-18mm
f/4-5.6
Panasonic Lumix G 7-14mm
f/4
Olympus M.Zuiko 14-150mm
f/4-5.6
Panasonic Lumix G 14-140mm
f/4-5.8
Panasonic Lumix G 45-200mm
f/4-5.6
Panasonic Lumix G 14-45mm
f/3.5-5.6
Panasonic 45mm f/2.8 DG Macro Noktor 50mm f/0.95
Micro Four Thirds Adapters
Olympus Four Thirds MMF-1 Panasonic Four Thirds DMW-MA1
Olympus Four Thirds MMF-2 Panasonic M-Mount DMW-MA2M
Olympus OM Adapter MF-2 Panasonic R-Mount DMW-MA3R
Cosina Voigtlander VM mount Cosina Voigtlander F mount
Cosina Voigtlander K mount  

With the 17mm f/2.8 attached, the Olympus E-P2 does indeed fit into the front pocket of my slacks, and with some effort I managed to get it into my back jeans pocket when I didn't want to leave it in the car on a hot day. It's an easy fit into a sportcoat pocket, if you can handle a pound of camera gently tugging at your shoulder. Olympus materials even show someone putting the E-P1 into a cargo pocket on some shorts. That actually works well if the pocket is mounted higher on the hip, but the lower pockets allow the camera to swing a little too much, causing bruising at best, camera damage at worst.

Where's the Flash? The Olympus E-P2 is the second non-pro camera to ship without some kind of built-in flash (the first was the E-P1). It's either a courageous or a crazy move, but given the poor performance of most built-in flashes on small cameras, I don't think an available-light photographer like me will miss it. Those who do can opt for the Olympus FL-14 flash, available for $199.99. The FL-14 lacks a bounce feature, though, and mounts quite low and close to the lens, so its usefulness is limited. FL-36R and FL-50R flashes are also compatible with the Olympus E-P2, but the flashes are not capable of remote controlling other strobes via the camera's TTL flash exposure system. Of course you also can't use the VF-2 with the flash mounted, so there's that limitation as well.

The Olympus FL-14 slips into a soft bag for storage and mounts in a snap. It's also pretty simple to use, defaulting to TTL-Auto mode, which allows the E-P2 to have full through-the-lens exposure control. It has a tendency to overexpose, though, and doesn't back off of exposures when specular highlights are detected, something I'm used to from other flash systems. Hence faces can be a little too bright and shiny in photos, and near objects are too often overexposed. I prefer using the Olympus E-P2 without flash. The Olympus E-P2 does quite well at high ISO, so the lack of a built-in flash is a message from Olympus that you won't need it.

Movie modes. The Olympus E-P2 records AVI movies at 1,280 x 720 or 640 x 480 pixels, both at 30 frames per second. Maximum file size is 2GB, and the maximum recording time is 7 minutes in HD mode, or 14 minutes in Standard Def (VGA). You can also use the ART filters to limited effect. Some of the filters slow the frame rate so much that I doubt most would want to use them. These include the Pinhole and Grainy Film modes. The Diorama filter goes as far as to disable audio recording and plays back at roughly 15x realtime speed. See our Video tab for more.

New to the E-P2 is complete Manual control over exposure while recording, including ISO sensitivity, while the E-P1 only offered Program or Aperture priority control modes. Shutter speed ranges from 1/30 to 1/4,000 second.

A new autofocus mode also applies to Movie mode, called C-AF+TR, which means continuous AF and tracking. Lock the autofocus system on the main subject and the autofocus target will follow the subject as it moves around the frame.

HDMI plus CEC. The HDMI port is not new to the Olympus E-P2, but CEC control is. That's where you can remote control the camera through your television remote control, provided it offers CEC compatibility. Usually there are four colored buttons on the bottom of the remote.

Audio technology. Olympus is also touting the audio technology they've built into the Olympus E-P2's Movie mode, which they say is as good as their best audio recorders. It's described as Wave Format Base Stereo PCM/ 16-bit at 44.1kHz. Unfortunately, that's only for movie recording or for attaching audio to a photograph; there is no audio-only recording mode, as we've seen on some other cameras. That's a shame, because I'd love to take advantage of that kind of high-end audio capability. As with the E-P1, the only way to record audio with the E-P2 is with the stereo mic on the front of the camera, just left and right of the Olympus logo. That is, unless you purchase the new external microphone jack mentioned above, and a microphone.

Music built in. Also built into the Olympus E-P2 are five ambient tunes to use with slideshows and videos, created by Daishi Dance, a famous Japanese musician.

Leveling indicators. The Olympus E-P2 has leveling indicators that show whether you're tilting the camera left or right (roll), and they also help tilt the camera up or down (pitch) to split the horizon evenly, helpful when the horizon is not visible. See Olympus's diagram at right. The leveling system can be recalibrated by the user if it loses accuracy.

Metering. Olympus's older ESP metering system has been updated with a new 18 x 18 matrix metering system, sampling 324 separate areas. You can also choose center-weighted and spot metering modes.

Many other features have become so common it's a little much to go on about. Face detection for example: The Olympus E-P2 can recognize up to eight faces in a scene, even when people are moving; it then sets exposure to ensure sharp, well-exposed pictures. There's also sensor-shift image stabilization, a good feature for a camera without an onboard flash; and Olympus's SuperSonic Wave Filter for dust reduction.

Accessorized. Cameras like the E-P2 are made for the enthusiast who likes to accessorize, with one of those accessories included in the bundle. Shawn thought his Gordy's Camera Strap completed the look. See his gallery for an example of the trend toward gadgety goodness.

Sensor and processor. Olympus hasn't told us much about the 12.3-megapixel LIVE-MOS sensor, except that it's similar to the ones in the E-30 and E-620, and identical to the sensor in the E-P1.

Multiple exposures. You can also overlay images right in the Olympus E-P2 with the Multiple Exposure tools, first seen on the Olympus E-30 digital SLR.

Aspect ratios. You can choose multiple aspect ratios to shoot with the E-P2, including the sensor's 4:3, but also 3:2 (more common among SLRs), 16:9 (better for HD television display), and 6:6 (which is of course the same as 1:1 -- a square image).

Exposure modes. The Olympus E-P2 includes the four standard modes, Program, Aperture, Shutter, and Manual exposure modes, but also includes an Intelligent Auto mode that analyses the scene and chooses among Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Sport and Macro modes. Movie mode is of course for movies, and Scene mode avails you of 19 Scene modes, including Portrait, e-Portrait, Landscape, Landscape + Portrait, Sport, Night Scene, Night + Portrait, Children, High Key, Low Key, DIS Mode, Macro, Nature Macro, Candle, Sunset, Documents, Panorama, Fireworks, and Beach & Snow.

iEnhance. A new picture mode called iEnhance picks out a dominant color in a scene, and boosts that one color so it stands out more, enhancing scenes like sunsets, fall foliage, etc.

In-camera editing. Also carried over to the Olympus E-P2 is the ability to develop RAW images in-camera, including the ability to apply Art Filters to RAW images. JPEGs can have Red-eye fixes, trimming, shadow adjustment, resizing operations, and even sepia and saturation adjustments applied.

Storage and battery. Like the P1 before it, the Olympus E-P2 uses SD cards exclusively for storage, with nary an xD-Picture Card in sight. This was important for the company's Micro Four Thirds camera line to gain widespread acceptance, so it was a good move. As with most digital cameras capable of recording in HD, the Olympus E-P2 requires a Class 6 or better SDHC card to capture 1,280 x 720p video.

For a battery, Olympus chose the BLS-1 lithium-ion battery, also used in the Olympus E-620. It's rated at 300 shots per charge in the E-P2. That's not a lot for an SLD, and we were only able to shoot for about a day while on vacation at that rate, so consider a spare.

 

Shooting with the Olympus E-P2

by Mike Tomkins

With Micro Four Thirds still being a relatively young format, I found myself rather caught between a rock and a hard place shooting with the E-P2. I didn't have the opportunity to try any of Panasonic's lenses in my time with the P2, and while I appreciated the quality of Olympus' 17mm f/2.8 lens, I generally don't find myself reaching for prime lenses very often. My personal style is to shoot with a zoom, framing with the lens rather than my feet -- and my only option was hence Olympus' 14-42mm lens, whose issues with blurring we covered in-depth in our Olympus P1 review. The problem still remains when used in concert with the P2. The good news is that Olympus will be shipping two more Micro Four Thirds lenses within the next few months, and Panasonic is also continuing to increase its Micro Four Thirds offerings. In the meantime, I just had to try and remember to shoot around the shortcomings of the 14-42mm lens, avoiding shutter speeds between 1/100 and 1/200 second.

Wandering around downtown Knoxville shooting gallery photos, I definitely appreciated the compact size of the E-P2's body. Much like Shawn, I preferred to use the P2 without the neck strap that I'd ordinarily consider a must when shooting with an SLR. With the prime lens attached I could easily slip the camera in my coat pocket between shots, and even with the 14-42mm lens attached it was fairly comfortable to just carry the P2 in one hand for extended periods, using a wrist strap for a feeling of security. With my large hands -- I'm over six feet tall -- I didn't find the P2's body wildly comfortable to hold for single-handed shooting, however. I've been reviewing the PL1 alongside the P2, and found its rather more prominent grip made it much less tiring to shoot with, and noticeably easier to hold steady.

The P2's bundled electronic viewfinder was a pleasure to shoot with, with its high resolution, generous 1.15x magnification and 100% field of view. I found myself using it a lot more than I'd thought I would. Given that it's relatively bulky, I initially thought I'd end up leaving it in the camera bag (or at home), but instead I frequently ended up using it when shooting with the PL1 as well. That said, if the P2's LCD display offered higher resolution, I'd probably have used the electronic viewfinder rather less often -- if only to save a little bulk and weight. The LCD proved easy to see in a good range of conditions, even on a sunny spring afternoon in Tennessee. I've just grown somewhat spoiled by higher-res displays, and find it a little uncomfortable returning to a lower-res type.

I did find Olympus' menu design a little clumsy, although by and large I was able to avoid it thanks to the comprehensive Super Control Panel display. Most of the common adjustments I wanted to make could be found and adjusted in this one display. When I wanted something that couldn't be found in the Super Control Panel though, it sometimes took a little digging, thanks to some counterintuitive design choices. For example, the option to enable or disable face detection -- which affects the camera's focusing and metering systems -- is nowhere to be found in the tabs related to focus or exposure. Instead, it's rather bizarrely located in a tab related to Display, Sound and PC settings, none of which seem to have anything to do with face detection.

I was also caught out by the fact that the P2's Exposure Shift function (which allows one to fine-tune the different metering modes to their tastes in terms of exposure level) isn't reset by the Custom Reset function. This caused me to have to discard much of a day's gallery shooting solely because all of the shots were underexposed by a setting I'd accidentally left behind while transcribing the P2's menu layout. (The shots could fairly easily have been salvaged, but our gallery shots are always published just as created by the camera, so this wasn't an option for me). Exposure Shift is a very useful function if one sets it intentionally, and as something that is omitted even by many semi-pro DSLRs, its presence in the P2 is impressive. It's just a shame that nowhere does the camera or manual warn one that a Custom Reset leaves certain settings like this one untouched. Perhaps a more complete reset function is called for as an extended option, safely positioned behind a warning. At the least, the manual should clearly state which functions aren't reset.

I also found that I frequently jumped around in the menus unintentionally, thanks to the fact that one control doubles both as the camera's main dial and four-way arrow pad. I didn't find the main dial particularly comfortable to use with my large hands (and with the dial partially recessed in the thumb rest towards the right-hand end of the camera). Hence I seldom used it as a dial, but found that when using it as an arrow pad it was far too easy to turn the dial slightly at the same time, and jump up or down an option or tab beyond the one I'd wanted. There's no way to set the P2 to disable the main dial in menus and use only the arrow buttons, or vice versa.

Those slight quirks aside though, I must admit I found the P2 rather fun to shoot with, and would definitely consider one as an accompaniment to a full-sized DSLR, rather than opting for a fixed-lens compact with a much smaller sensor (and the image quality issues that would bring). Even when one has the time and energy to bring a DSLR, it's not always an option. I'm sure I'm not alone in having been refused entry to public events when carrying my DSLR, even when seeing others gain admission unhindered while carrying bridge cameras with similar telephoto reach and resolution. Equally, a DSLR can attract your subject's attention -- and rob the scene of spontaneity -- in a way that doesn't happen with a smaller and less obtrusive camera. There's also something to be said for the theory that no matter how good the camera, it's essentially useless if one ends up leaving it at home because it's too much hassle to take everywhere you go.

The Olympus E-P2 definitely avoided many of those pitfalls for me, and I was able to find plenty of enjoyment shooting with it. It's a relatively compact camera that forgoes the limitations of fixed lens models with postage-stamp sized sensors. For that, I found myself relatively happy to live with its few quirks.

 

Olympus E-P2 Image Quality

Olympus E-P2 versus E-P1 at ISO 1,600

Olympus E-P2 at ISO 1,600

Olympus E-P1 at ISO 1,600
Looks like there's slightly different framing between these two cameras, making the E-P2's image elements seem larger than the E-P1's, but the performance seems about the same between the E-P1 and E-P2, cameras separated by mere months. The leaf pattern is the one place where perhaps the E-P2 shows slightly more aggressive anti-noise processing, obliterating some of the leaf pattern detail more so than you can see at right in the E-P1's image.

Olympus E-P2 versus Panasonic GH1 at ISO 1,600

Olympus E-P2 at ISO 1,600

Panasonic GH1 at ISO 1,600

Though I suspect that the Panasonic LiveMOS sensor is the same in both the E-P2 and the GH1, the two companies have taken a very different approach to image processing. Olympus's TruePic V may have a little special sauce after all. It's hard to compare these two images because of the exposure difference, but you can get the general idea. The Olympus leaves a little more chroma noise in place and sharpens a little more in low-contrast areas. The GH1 captures the Mosaic image a little better. And the red leaf fabric has a little less detail, but more vibrant color. Both are 12.3-megapixel sensors.


Olympus E-P2 versus Canon T1i at ISO 1,600

Olympus E-P2 at ISO 1,600

Canon T1i at ISO 1,600

Canon, too, has come a long way with their noise suppression technology, and their 15.1-megapixel images are remarkably noise free at ISO 1,600. But remember this is a smaller Micro Four Thirds sensor at 12.3-megapixels going up against Canon's 15-megapixel APS-C sensor. Both sensors have smaller pixel sizes than normal, but the T1i theoretically has more resolving power. Yet the E-P2 looks quite good against the T1i.


Olympus E-P2 versus Nikon D5000 at ISO 1,600

Olympus E-P2 at ISO 1,600

Nikon D5000 at ISO 1,600

Chroma noise of various sizes is visible in both images, but the Nikon D5000 handles the Mosaic image a little better, as well as the leaf crop. But the bottle image is harder to call. There's a mixture of luminance noise and chroma noise in the E-P2 image that doesn't look quite as smooth as the D5000 shot, but the E-P2 will likely look more film-like when it's printed large. The exception is the sharpening applied to the label, which is quite dramatic, making it pop from the background a little too much. Still, the point here is that the Olympus E-P2 virtually eliminates the advantage that APS-C has had over Four Thirds. I could go back and forth with quite a few more cameras, but these really are the best performers under $1,200.


Detail: Olympus E-P2 vs E-P1, Panasonic GH1, Canon T1i, and Nikon D5000

Olympus E-P2
ISO 100
ISO 3,200

Olympus E-P1
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
GH1
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
Canon T1i
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
Nikon D5000
ISO 100
ISO 3,200

Detail comparison. An ISO 1,600 comparison is only so helpful. A camera's ISO 100 performance is also of value, so I've pitted the same set of cameras against each other in the high-contrast detail department. The 12.3-megapixel Olympus E-P1, E-P2, and the 15.1-megapixel Canon T1i come out on top, with the slight edge overall to the Canon T1i. All three show evidence of edge enhancement around the letters, but also have more detail to work with overall. I also give the slight edge to the T1i at ISO 3,200. Though the image is hazier, it retains more of the color of the letters, and more salvageable separation between the lines inside the letters, like inside the L in Lager. Bear in mind that the T1i also beat out the 12.1-megapixel full-frame Nikon D700, plus the APS-C Nikon D90, and Canon XSi at this test as well. Also consider that this test is not independent of lens quality, focus errors, and other variables, so again take this mostly as a comparison of what each camera was able to do with the best standardized optics we can muster. The Olympus E-P1 and E-P2 used the rather excellent Olympus Digital Zuiko 50mm f/2 Macro. The GH1 used its excellent14-140mm kit lens. The others used our laboratory-standard Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro lenses, which are very sharp.

 

Olympus E-P2 Print Quality

ISO 100 JPEG shots look great printed at 16x20 inches, and detail even holds together quite well at 20x30 inches, especially for wall display.

ISO 200 and 400 shots are also usable at 20x30 inches, but ISO 400 shots tighten up a bit more to what we'd call tack sharp at 16x20.

ISO 800 shots are still reasonably good at 16x20, with only minor luminance noise.

ISO 1,600 shots are usable at 13x19 inches, but come back to what we'd call sharp at 11x14 inches.

ISO 3,200 shots are grainy at 11x14, though still usable for wall display; for greater sharpness, though, stick to letter size or 8x10. Color does fade a bit at this size as well.

ISO 6,400 shots are a little too soft for 8x10, but look quite good at 5x7.

Overall, a very impressive performance from the Olympus E-P2.


Analysis. Olympus has once again produced a nice little SLD (Single Lens Direct-view) digital camera, one with personality and pretty darn good image quality. It's impressive that Olympus was able to respond so quickly to the desires of the press and its early users, adding a few key features that make a difference to the user experience and the Olympus E-P2's utility. To me the most important of those features is the new Accessory port, which allows attachment of the EVF and the external mic jack. The addition of full Manual exposure control to the Movie mode is also great for aspiring movie makers who don't want a stray flashlight beam to upset their exposure while making an X-Files fan film.

Initially, the Olympus E-P2 was only available in bundles with a lens and the VF-2 electronic viewfinder, making its price a little high. While it's still not available as a body-only package for those who've already purchased an E-P1 and want the extra functionality, the P2 can now be purchased without the viewfinder for those who want to save a little expense. Despite the EVF's excellent quality, I'm not sure it's a must-have accessory; and so it was a smart move on Olympus' part to recognize this and create additional choices for the product bundle.

 

In the Box

The Olympus E-P2 ships with the following items in the box:

 

Olympus E-P2 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Small, inspiring design
  • Mirrorless design allows smaller optics, smaller body
  • Very compact lens designs
  • Compatibility with a wide range of existing lens designs using adapters, albeit with limitations
  • Good heft, but reasonably light at only one pound
  • Accessory port allows use of bundled external viewfinder, optional external microphone jack adapter
  • Electronic viewfinder accessory is high-res, bright, and has generous magnification
  • Good LCD performance in bright sunlight
  • Excellent coverage with both LCD and accessory EVF
  • Built-in image stabilization helps stabilize all lenses
  • SuperSonic wave filter for dust reduction
  • Dual control wheels
  • Dual-axis leveling feature with calibration function
  • 324-zone metering system
  • Histogram display
  • AF tracking available for stills and movies in continuous mode
  • Up to 10x zoom centered on selected AF point for manual focus -- even with off-center subjects
  • Face detection can handle 8 faces
  • Face Detection works very well to improve exposure in harsh lighting
  • 720p movie recording with fully manual exposure available, including ISO sensitivity
  • Six picture styles and eight Art filters for creative shooting in both still and movie modes
  • Four aspect ratio options, including square
  • Twenty scene modes cater to amateurs
  • Two custom setting modes
  • Very customizable; quite a few of the controls are programmable
  • Function button
  • In-camera editing, includes RAW development
  • Red-eye fix
  • Multiple exposure tool
  • High-quality audio mode
  • HDMI high-def video output allows playback control with compatible TV remotes
  • Built-in slideshow music
  • Uses SD cards
  • Choice of Super Control Panel and Live Control for easy access to frequently changed settings
  • AE, WB, Flash or ISO bracketing
  • Camera corrects for geometric distortion and corner shading in JPEGs
  • Saturation adjustment doesn't affect contrast (a good thing)
  • Very good color rendition
  • Very high resolution
  • Excellent high-ISO performance, especially for a smaller Four Thirds sensor
  • Better than average detail, even in tough subjects like hair
  • Adjustable noise reduction (Off, Low, Standard, High)
  • Fast download speed
  • Exposure Shift allows you to fine-tune each metering mode
  • All 34 menu languages now included in-camera, no need to download and install the majority
  • Impressive prints which look good even at 20x30
  • Relatively limited Micro Four Thirds lens selection from Olympus (as of April, 2010)
  • Short battery life (especially compared to an SLR)
  • No built-in flash
  • New accessory port devices hijack flash hot shoe, and don't daisy-chain -- so accessories can't be used together or with a flash strobe
  • Nowhere to store easy-to-lose hot shoe / accessory mount covers while you're using the EVF or mic adapter
  • External viewfinder is fairly bulky, doesn't lock in place when mounted
  • Shallow handgrip means single-handed shooting is uncomfortable for those with large hands
  • Awkward button placement (especially for accessory EVF button) makes single-handed shooting awkward for those with small hands
  • Camera doesn't detect when accessory EVF is brought to your eye
  • Menu system is clumsy and occasionally counterintuitive
  • Battery and flash card can't be changed while tripod-mounted
  • Low-res LCD screen
  • Too easy to turn main dial while trying to press arrow buttons, causing incorrect menu settings
  • External mic jack accessory lacks any dummy hot shoe or mount on which to attach an external mic
  • D-ring straps require metal-to-metal coupling rather than quieter metal-to-cloth, introducing rattle into audio tracks of movies
  • Internal mic fairly prone to picking up noise from behind camera and from user handling; also found some background hissing in recorded audio
  • No control over audio levels / amplification
  • Fly-by-wire focusing means even focusing manually adds noise to movie audio
  • Contrast-detect AF means hunting around point of focus in continuous AF mode
  • Some Art filters reduce frame rate so much as to be barely usable, especially in movie mode
  • Leveling screen doesn't offer basic aperture and shutter speed information or histogram
  • Although slightly faster than P1, lenses are still very slow to focus relative to SLRs and competing designs from Panasonic. New firmware should improve this, but we don't yet know by how much.
  • AF system appears to be programmed to cycle through a broad focal range with each focusing operation, particularly troublesome when autofocusing while recording video
  • 14-42mm kit lens is sensitive to shutter vibration when handheld between ~1/100 - 1/200 second
  • Clipped highlights in video mode
  • More motion blur than expected in video mode
  • Video mode stabilization seems not to use sensor shift, and subjectively feels less effective than still-image stabilization
  • Video stabilization increases crop factor significantly, making wide-angle video hard to achieve
  • Auto white balance leaves tungsten lighting a little warm
  • Slight oversharpening leaves halo artifacts
  • Aperture-priority AE didn't do well in our low-light test, though the camera could have chosen slower shutter speeds and done fine
  • Very low dynamic range scores in JPEG images
  • Slow power-on time
  • User manual often vague or simply doesn't mention features or caveats (eg. which items aren't returned to default with a Custom Reset)

 

As an evolution of the E-P1, the Olympus E-P2 retains much of what is great about its predecessor, while building on feedback from the E-P1 to offer some important new features. Key among these features is the accessory port, whose design bears more than a passing resemblance to that of the Panasonic GF1. Impressively, this has been added without any increase to the Olympus E-P2's weight versus that of the E-P1, and with a negligible difference in size. As with the GF1, the accessory port has an important disadvantage, though, in that prevents you from using a flash in the camera's hot shoe. This is even more of an issue for the Olympus E-P2 than for Panasonic's camera, given that the E-P2 lacks a built-in flash strobe, or any other form of external flash connectivity beyond the hot shoe itself. The Olympus E-P2's accessory port does have a couple of distinct advantages over that of the Panasonic GF1, able to accept not only an electronic viewfinder, but also an external stereo microphone adapter -- something which could prove useful to videographers shooting with the Olympus E-P2.

The Olympus E-P2's viewfinder is a delight to use, with a very high resolution, clear image that makes manual focusing so much easier. It also makes it somewhat easier to hold the camera steady -- I definitely find it easier to get a sharp shot with the camera at my eye, rather than held at a distance from my body. The only significant downside to the EVF was its bulk. It's similar in size to Panasonic's equivalent, but truth be told they're neither things of great beauty. When connected to the camera, the EVF adds significantly to its size, and since it doesn't lock in place I found myself nervous about leaving it attached to the camera as I strolled between shooting locations. I found myself wishing that the Olympus E-P2's LCD offered the same high resolution instead. The PEN series cameras are largely about their compactness, after all, and the EVF detracted from that for me.

Unsurprisingly given its close relationship to the P1, the Olympus E-P2 offered similar image quality. There was perhaps a touch more noise processing, but the differences were by and large quite subtle. Like the E-P1 before it, I found the E-P2 offered great color and saturation, and surprisingly good high ISO performance given its smaller sensor relative to most APS-C DSLRs. Unfortunately, when using the 14-42mm kit lens I did experience the same vibration blur issues Shawn previously discovered with the E-P1. These can be worked around by using another lens, or avoiding certain shutter speeds, but the affected shutter speeds are ones the camera will commonly pick by itself -- and I did find a frustrating number of photos I'd shot in Program mode ended up having slight blur issues. The E-P2 also has somewhat lesser dynamic range than most DSLRs, and defaults to a fairly contrasty look. I further noticed in my own shooting that I often needed to dial in just a touch of negative exposure compensation.

The Olympus E-P2 is still rather inconsistent when it comes to speed. Sometimes it feels quite swift -- for example, in terms of prefocused shutter lag, or in continuous mode burst shooting. Unfortunately, power-on and autofocus both still felt rather sluggish compared to current DSLRs. That said, AF speed has improved somewhat since the E-P1. Olympus has also announced -- but not yet shipped, as of this writing -- firmware which promises to further improve autofocus speed, for all current PEN-series cameras. It remains to be seen how much of an improvement this will bring for the E-P2, and whether this will have the side-effect of erasing the E-P2's slight speed edge over the E-P1.

A few other changes of note were in the addition of further scene modes and art filters. I'm not entirely sure that beginners really take advantage of scene modes -- I get the distinct impression that "set and forget" to Auto mode is probably a prevalent choice -- but if you're the kind to take advantage of them, then an increased selection is likely a good thing. The new Cross Process filter did yield some unusual, retro images, but I found the Diorama filter to be rather frustrating. In still image mode it reduced the live view framerate to the point where framing became awkward. In movie mode, it disabled sound recording altogether, and caused playback speeds so greatly accelerated as to make Diorama movies largely useless in most situations.

Quibbles aside though, I really did enjoy my time with the Olympus E-P2. In my own personal shooting, I've largely forgone compact cameras these days, being greatly disheartened by the ill effects of the megapixel war on image quality. My daily shooter is a digital SLR, but I must admit I've too often found myself leaving it at home because of its size. Shooting with the Olympus E-P2 reinforced for me the most important attribute of any camera -- that it's not left sitting at home when you need it most. Olympus' design goal for the PEN series was to create a truly compact camera with much of the versatility of a DSLR, and I think the E-P2 fulfils that request pretty admirably, making it an easy Dave's Pick.

 

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