Olympus E-PL1s Overview
by Michael R. Tomkins
November 16, 2010
Nine months after announcing the Olympus Pen E-PL1, their first consumer Micro Four Thirds digital camera model, Olympus has followed up with the Olympus Pen Lite E-PL1s. Available only in the Japanese market, the Olympus E-PL1s is near-identical to its predecessor externally, with the only visible change being an increase in the number of body-colored panels. The top, bottom, and sides of the camera -- previously silver, regardless of body color -- all now match the coloring of the front and rear panels. The same is true of the battery and connectivity compartment doors, and the trim piece at the top of the hand grip. Only the thin silver trim piece that spans the camera's width adjacent to the top of the hand grip has been retained as an accent that matches the E-PL1s' silver main controls on the front, top, and rear panels.
Under the skin, there are only two significant differences between the Olympus E-PL1s and its predecessor. Where the E-PL1 offered up a maximum sensitivity of ISO 3,200 equivalent, the E-PL1s reaches a maximum of ISO 6,400 equivalent from the same combination of a 12-megapixel Live MOS image sensor and TruePic 5 image processor. This erases a disparity between Olympus' entry-level Micro Four Thirds digital camera, and its more expensive siblings the E-P1 and E-P2, both of which are also limited to a maximum ISO 6,400 equivalent.
The Olympus PL1s also uses a new BLS-5 lithium ion battery pack, although it can also accept the same BLS-1 pack as Olympus' other Pen-series cameras, as well as certain of the company's digital SLRs. The new pack is intended to ready the PL1s for compliance with Japan's Electrical Appliance and Material Safety law, which will require more stringent safety standards for lithium ion batteries from November 2011 onwards. A new BCS-5 battery charger is included in the E-PL1s product bundle, an update required because the new BLS-5 pack can't be charged with the previous BCS-1 charger. Precisely what's been changed in the new battery pack and charger design isn't clear -- the key specifications are all unchanged. The BLS-5 pack is still rated at 1,150mAh capacity with a lifetime of 500 charge cycles, and the BCS-5 charger is likewise unaltered in its ability to charge the pack in 3.5 hours, on a 100 - 240V power supply.
The final change in the Olympus Pen Lite E-PL1s is perhaps the most significant, from the point of view of potential owners. The original E-PL1 shipped in kit-form with the Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens, a 3x zoom optic that features a collapsing design which keeps it fairly compact when not in use, but unfortunately also has some issues with vertical blurring in images shot at shutter speeds of between around 1/100 and 1/200 second. Instead of this lens, the Olympus E-PL1s kits ship with a new Olympus M. ZUIKO Digital 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II optic that offers the same focal range and maximum apertures, but sports several other important changes.
Most notably, the new lens replaces the previous model's collapsing mechanism with a new two-stage design. This, as well as a change in optical formula, allows a reduction in weight of some 25%, from 150g in the old model to 112g in the new one. The new lens also has a smaller barrel diameter of 56.5mm (down from 62mm), but increases the collapsed length from 43.5mm to 50mm. Filter size has also been reduced from 40.5mm to 37mm, which should make the cost of filters slightly less. Where the previous lens had nine elements in eight groups, including two aspheric lenses, one extra-low dispersion lens, and one high refractive lens, the new model has an updated optical formula with one less element. With eight elements in seven groups, the new design has no ED or HR elements, but adds one additional aspheric element, for a total of three.
Another significant change in the new lens design is the adoption of Olympus' MSC (Movie & Still Compatible) design, as seen previously in the M. Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm F4.0-5.6 and M. Zuiko Digital ED 14-150mm F4.0-5.6 lenses. Olympus MSC lenses have autofocus motors which are tuned to focus quickly and accurately, as well as silently, making them better-suited for high-definition movie recording. Minimum focusing distance is unchanged at 25cm, but the maximum magnification is now 0.19x (equivalent to 0.38x on a 35mm camera), versus 0.24x (0.48x equivalent) in the previous design. As with the old design, the new lens has a seven-bladed circular aperture.
In other respects, the Olympus E-PL1s is essentially unchanged from its predecessor. Other features of note include a pop-up flash, dedicated Movie Record button, Live Guide mode, support for both the VF-2 electronic viewfinder and EMA-1 Microphone adapter accessories, and SD/SDHC card storage.
The Olympus E-PL1s has only been announced in the Japanese market, where it is available in three body colors -- black, white, or red. List pricing hasn't been announced, but street pricing in Olympus' web store is set at ¥64,800 (US$780) for a single-lens kit with the Olympus M. ZUIKO Digital 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II lens, or ¥84,800 (US$1,020) in a dual-lens kit that also bundles the M. ZUIKO Digital ED 40-150mm F4.0-5.6 lens. The Olympus M. ZUIKO Digital 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II lens is also available separately in Japan, with pre-tax list pricing set at ¥35,000 (US$420), and web store pricing of ¥29,400 (US$350).
Note: All US prices in this article are approximate values based on conversion of Japanese pricing at current (11-16-2010) market rates, and ignore exchange rate fluctuations, taxes, and duties.