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Olympus PL6 Preview

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Announced in Asia and Europe only, the Olympus PEN E-PL6 is extremely closely related to the existing Olympus PL5, with only one notable hardware difference, and four changes in firmware. Just like its predecessor, it packs the same image sensor and processor combination from the OM-D E-M5 into a much smaller, all-metal body.

Sensor resolution is 16.1 megapixels from a Sony-supplied Live MOS chip, and this paired with the TruePic VI image processor allows burst shooting at a pretty swift eight frames per second, although this plunges to a more sedate 3.5 frames per second if autofocus and exposure metering are active between frames, and image stabilization is active. As you'd expect, the sensor sits behind a standard Micro Four Thirds lens mount, while on the rear is a three-inch, tilting, touch-screen LCD panel with a relatively modest resolution of 460,000 dots. The E-PL6 also accepts an optional electronic viewfinder accessory and flash strobe.

Connectivity includes the Accessory Port 2 beneath the hot shoe, used for the electronic viewfinder and some other accessories, as well as USB 2.0 High Speed data, and both HDMI / composite video outputs. Images are stored on SD cards, and power comes from the same BLS-5 lithium-ion battery pack as before, manufacturer-rated for 360 shots on a charge.

So... what's new? Well in terms of hardware features, almost nothing -- but the one new function added is rather handy. There's now a dual-axis electronic level that will help you ensure your horizons aren't crooked, and vertical lines don't converge. (Well, unless you want them to.)

The remaining new features are all in firmware. There's now a new Short Release Time Lag mode that cuts prefocused shutter lag to just 0.044 seconds, although Olympus doesn't say what the tradeoff of this mode is. (We're guessing more calculations like metering and white balance have been moved to lock at the shutter half-press, although it's hard to be sure.)

There's also a new ISO 100-equivalent "ISO LOW" sensitivity setting, which captures images at half the actual sensor base sensitivity of ISO 200 equivalent. Like any camera with an extended low setting, this is achieved simply by overexposing the image (losing around a stop of highlight information), then adjusting the remaining image data to correct for this. Essentially, you trade off dynamic range against the ability to use a wider aperture (for better background blur) or to use a longer shutter speed.

The two remaining new features are closely related to each other, and were seen previously in the Olympus E-P5. You can now shoot with an interval timer function which will capture up to 99 frames with an interval anywhere between one second and 24 hours. This is also used to provide for in-camera generated time-lapse movies, which simply take images from the interval timer function, and stitch them into a single 720p, AVI MotionJPEG movie file played back at a rate of 10 frames per second.

And that, in a nutshell, is the Olympus E-PL6. If you live in a market where you can purchase this camera, you'll want to read our in-depth Olympus PL5 review for a lot more info on both cameras, since they're near-identical. In the United States market, there are currently no plans for the Olympus PL6 to go on sale, and so we have no information on pricing and availability. (In Japan, pricing hasn't been officially disclosed, but the camera goes on sale from June 2013.)