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Olympus E-PM2

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Olympus E-PM2 Review

by Shawn Barnett,
Posted 09/17/2012

Shooter's Report by Eamon Hickey with additional material by William Brawley
Posted

Revamping their two smallest Pen cameras just fifteen months after their introduction, Olympus chose to give their least expensive model the combined look of the original E-PL1, with the fixed grip of the original E-P1. It's fun to see their designers playing with the digital Pen heritage already. The end result is better looking to our eye than the originals. What's better than appearances, though, is the E-PM2's inclusion of the same 16-megapixel sensor as the excellent OM-D E-M5, a sensor whose quality blew us away earlier this year. Neither the E-PM2 nor the E-PL5 introduced at the same time has the 5-way image stabilization of the OM-D, but the E-PM2's standard sensor-shift IS serves quite well.

When it began shipping in October 2012, the Olympus E-PM2 originally retailed for $550 body-only, and $600 with the 14-42mm kit lens, but the company has since dropped prices by $100. That's a great value given the technology packed into this small body.

Design. Simple and handsome from the front, the rubbery grip helps your hold reasonably well. An AF-assist/self-timer lamp shines out from the upper right corner, and a round lens release button is just right of the mount.

front

Like its predecessor, the Olympus E-PM2 has no physical Mode dial. While its predecessor used a striped screen menu to switch modes via the four-way navigator, the E-PM2 has the advantage of a touchscreen to make selections much more quickly. Note the stereo microphones and dual speaker holes, for a monaural speaker. A standard hot shoe and AP2 port adorns the top of the Olympus E-PM2. A simple power button turns it on, and the Shutter button is a smooth design also drawn from the past. A new Function button sits right of that.

First introduced on the Olympus E-P3, the touchscreen autofocus makes AF fast and quite specific. That, combined with the E-PM2's lack of a Mode dial makes the touchscreen a very important control. Compared to the E-PL5, the E-PM2 has the Playback and Delete buttons that were missing on the E-PM1, but still lacks the zoom in and out buttons, functions that again fall to the touchscreen in Playback mode.

back

Overall, the Olympus E-PM2 is another Micro Four Thirds winner from the manufacturer. It even includes the same 8 frames per second capability of the E-PL5 (note: focus locked only), making it one of the fastest interchangeable lens cameras at this price point. Between the E-PM2 and E-PL5, we find ourselves only missing the Mode dial and tilting LCD, and we really like the classic look of this less-expensive model.

 

Shooting with the Olympus E-PM2

by Eamon Hickey

I was lucky to try out the Olympus PEN E-PM2 side-by-side with its bigger brother, the E-PL5. (Bigger being only relative; they're both very small as compact system cameras go!) My initial expectation was that the E-PM2 would suffer greatly in comparison, but am happily surprised to report that this simply wasn't the case. While the E-PL5 is definitely the superior camera in terms of build and controls, the E-PM2 more than held its own -- especially in terms of image quality. The E-PM2 may appeal to photographers looking for a more simple point-and-shoot feel.

Size, feel, and handling. When I picked up the Olympus E-PM2 for the first time, it took me all of three seconds to figure out that, yes, this is a very small and lightweight camera. On my first outing with the E-PM2, I took it for a walk around the downtown area of the San Francisco Bay Area suburb where I was staying, and it felt essentially weightless on my shoulder and in my small messenger bag, where it sat alongside an iPad. On later shooting days, it was equally easy on my back and shoulder.

The M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R kit lens that I was using with it, though quite small for a zoom lens, is still a little bulky, which strained the capacity of my slim bag. If I owned this camera, I’d almost certainly get one of the Micro Four Thirds pancake lenses, and also the cool BCL-15mm f8.0 Body Cap Lens. With one of those optics, I’d really enjoy sliding the PEN E-PM2 into a spare pocket in my bag or coat and paying almost no weight penalty for it.

As we noted above, the small grip on the Olympus E-PM2 can’t be removed. That’s a shame, because I personally don’t love the grip. In the several days that I shot with the camera, it just didn’t feel to me like it was doing me all that much good. (I felt much the same way about the removable grip that’s included with the higher end E-PL5.) That said, it's not a deal breaker. While I think the grip mars the camera’s otherwise sleek profile, it didn’t detract from its portability.

The Olympus PEN E-PM2 does share one annoying quality with the E-PL5: the right side strap attachment was constantly interfering with my right hand as I tried to operate the camera’s controls. I’d rather use a single-point strap that attaches only to the left strap lug.

Bundled flash

Happily, I didn’t think the camera felt cramped in other ways. As I wandered around with it on several different days, shooting in the downtown areas of nearby towns, in cafes, and on hikes in local county parks, I had no real trouble reaching its controls. That’s partly because the E-PM2 doesn’t have all that many external controls -- in that respect it’s more like a top-of-the-line point-and-shoot than an advanced interchangeable lens camera (or the PEN E-PL5) -- but it’s also partly because the 3-inch touchscreen LCD doesn’t tilt or articulate. That means Olympus could build the display flush across the camera’s back where it doesn’t get in the way of buttons and dials. I prefer the tilting LCD screen of the E-PL5, and the flexibility it provides, but understand why they omitted on the E-PM2 to maximize its compactness.

One more thing that’s missing on the E-PM2 is a built-in flash, but like the E-PL5, the camera comes bundled with an accessory flash (FL-LM1) that can be attached to the E-PM2 via the accessory port/hotshoe.

Controls. If the first thing I noticed about the Olympus E-PM2 was its small size, the second was the limited number of external controls -- no mode dial, in particular. I was worried that meant the camera lacked some important advanced features, but for the most part that turned out not to be true.

Even before my first outing with the E-PM2, I set it up to focus using the movie record button and to allow instant manual focus override. I also set the rear control dial for direct adjustment of the aperture or shutter speed, depending on what exposure mode I was in. With that setup, it only takes a click on the top button of the four-way controller to enable exposure compensation. I also set the camera to show me whether highlights or shadows were clipping as I framed pictures on the LCD -- this is a really nice live exposure aid. Together, these settings gave me extremely quick and flexible control of focus and exposure. If you’re any good at composition -- a non-trivial factor, admittedly -- you really don’t need very much else.

I’m so used to navigating camera menus with four-way controllers that it took me two full days of shooting with the Olympus E-PM2 to realize that, in fact, the camera’s touchscreen is a better, faster way to make adjustments. (It took awhile for this old dog to learn a new tricks, as they say.) The touchscreen, together with the Super Control Panel (SCP) makes the camera’s lack of a mode dial and its relatively minimal number of external controls much less painful.

Super Control Panel

Super Control Panel. Once I got used to them, I found the E-PM2's touchscreen and Super Control Panel make the camera easy to use -- even though there's no physical mode dial.

Shooting in downtown Palo Alto one night, I could easily change ISO from shot to shot using the Olympus E-PM2’s SCP, as I moved from a restaurant interior out to the sidewalk and then back inside to a dessert cafe. On a different day, I was walking in another nearby town, moving in and out of shadow and sunlight, and my shutter speeds were shifting rapidly from very safe handholding speeds such as 1/250 down to much riskier speeds in the 1/30 range. The SCP let me turn Image Stabilization on and off in just a second or two. I don’t tend to change the exposure mode very much, but that, too, can be done by touch.

In short, Olympus has done a good job of using the capabilities of a touchscreen to make the E-PM2 a capable and usable camera, even for an enthusiast photographer, while still keeping the number of external buttons and controls to a minimum.

I was thankful that the useful control system I just described kept me mostly out of the main menu system on the Olympus E-PM2 because the menus are complex and sometimes hard to figure out (the same was true on the E-PL5). But the upside to the complexity is that the camera is very customizable, and that was a big part of why I could set it up to shoot in a way that pleased me. I’ll take that tradeoff.

Performance. My first shots with the Olympus E-PM2 were in downtown Menlo Park, and within the first 30 or so pictures I could see both the strengths and weaknesses of the camera’s autofocus system. Shooting flowers, storefronts and a few pictures at the town’s train station, I was impressed with how fast and accurate the AF system is for stationary subjects (in S-AF mode). All the Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras introduced since the OM-D E-M5 share this excellent S-AF performance. But as I was shooting storefronts, I spotted some teenage boys riding their bikes up and down the sidewalk. I switched the camera into Continuous AF (C-AF) and tried to track them. I got some sharp pictures, but also many that weren’t -- almost all of those were backfocused. But that's a problem that even higher-end cameras can have.

A couple of days later, I took the Olympus PEN E-PM2 with me when I went out for dinner in Palo Alto. I shot a series of pictures inside both a restaurant and a cafe, and then outside in the very dark streets. The camera’s S-AF system maintained its excellent speed and accuracy in relatively bright indoor light. In the much lower light on the street, the AF slowed down, but not by very much. For anything but moving subjects, the E-PM2’s autofocus never let me down. Later, I tried C-AF again on some bicyclists and cars, but my results were no better than with the bike-riding boys. The PEN E-PM2 just can’t autofocus very well on moving subjects.

The rest of the Olympus PEN E-PM2’s functions proved to be pleasingly fast. I didn’t have any practical use for the 8 frames-per-second burst rate, but I tried it a couple of times just to hear it work. (It sounds great!) In normal use, I never overran the PEN E-PM2’s image buffer, and I never felt myself waiting for buttons and controls to respond to inputs. I like responsive cameras -- and at this point in the evolution of digital photography, I expect them. The PEN E-PM2 didn’t disappoint me.

Just how fast is the Olympus E-PM2? Find out by clicking here to see our full battery
of rigorous, objective speed and operation tests conducted in the IR Lab.

back

LCD and touchscreen operation. When I finally figured out to use the touch functionality of the Olympus E-PM2’s LCD screen, it worked really well. It’s sensitive, precise and easy to operate quickly and without mistakes. The SCP, for example, clusters 21 adjustable functions in a window that measures roughly 2 x 1 inches on screen, but I had no trouble pressing the correct “button” when I needed to change a setting. I tested the touch-to-shoot function, where you touch a spot on the LCD’s live view display and the camera focuses on that spot and shoots. It worked quite well (and very fast), but I doubt I’d use it much. I found it awkward to hold the camera in one hand and poke at it with the other, but maybe that’s another old dog thing.

VF-3: One of the three optional electronic viewfinders available for the E-PM2.

I had bright sunshine for four out of my five daytime shoots with the Olympus PEN E-PM2, and I sometimes had a little trouble seeing the LCD well enough to frame effectively -- mostly when I was looking into the sun, trying to make backlit shots. I’ve also used cameras with sharper LCDs, but the E-PM2’s is easily good enough for me. I had no trouble composing images (when the sun wasn’t a problem) or judging the sharpness of shots I’d already taken. If this becomes a frequent problem, you could always purchase one of three different compatible electronic viewfinders that Olympus makes.

Lens. I don’t get too excited about most kit lenses, and although the M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R that comes with the Olympus PEN E-PM2 is better than average, it wasn’t really an exception. Still, for my kind of shooting, it covers a useful range of focal lengths, and I immediately liked its light weight and the fact that it can retract into a fairly compact package. For my knockaround shooting in and around town, and out hiking, it was fine. And even though the lens is made mostly of plastic, I liked the smooth feel of the zoom action. On some macro shots of flowers, I focused manually and the focus ring, while somewhat under-damped, gave me precise control of the focus point. In any case, it's definitely worth it to get the E-PM2 kitted with this 14-42mm lens, because it's just $50 extra compared to the $300 list price of the lens itself.

Image quality. Like its up-market sibling, the E-PL5, the Olympus E-PM2 produced images that distinctly impressed me. My test shots were quite sharp and detailed -- I have no doubt I could make sharp prints up to large print sizes such as 24 x 36 inches (a feeling that's supported by our Print Quality analysis, below). I've used many, many Olympus digital cameras over the years, and I've always liked the pleasing and saturated, but not over-the-top, colors of their JPEG images; the PEN E-PM2 was no exception.

I shot test images with the Olympus E-PM2 at ISO settings as high as 3,200, and they retain good detail with relatively low noise. Like other recent Olympus Micro Four-Thirds cameras with 16-megapixel sensors, the E-PM2 is a definite step-up in high ISO image quality -- eliminating one of the few reservations I had about using these small cameras for the kind of knockabout street shooting where I want to use them.

You can view the IR Lab's in-depth Olympus E-PM2 image quality test results by clicking here,
and read further on in the review for side-by-side comparisons against the E-PM2's top competitors.

Movies. Among the few external controls on the Olympus E-PM2 is a dedicated movie recording button. It makes recording movies a snap at any time, and I used it to spontaneously capture short clips of people walking and drinking coffee at outdoor cafes when I was otherwise engaged in shooting still images. It’s handy to be able to switch seamlessly back and forth. I didn’t do an in-depth analysis of the PEN E-PM2’s video image quality, but I did notice that, like the E-PL5, the camera picks up a lot of internal focusing and zoom noise from its own lens and from even the slightest touches on the body or lens. See below for more on the E-PM2's video recording capabilities, including a sample.

Summary. Despite a few quibbles that it shares in common with the E-PL5, the Olympus E-PM2 exceeded my expectations. Though it's smaller, cheaper and may lack some physical controls, it's no dumbed-down piece of equipment. The E-PM2 shoots fast, takes beautiful pictures and boasts advanced photographic capabilities found on much higher-end models. I'd strongly recommend the E-PM2 to those stepping up from a point-and-shoot because it offers a relatively easy, intuitive transition into interchangeable lens systems and plenty of room to grow. I'd also recommend the PEN E-PM2 to enthusiasts looking for a second camera to stand in for a more bulky or expensive system -- as long as they're comfortable using touchscreen controls.

 

Olympus E-PM2 Additional Shooting Modes and Options

by William Brawley

To demonstrate more of what the Olympus E-M2 has to offer, we shot additional images using a variety of the camera's built-in creative filters and recorded a Full HD 1080p video to illustrate its video chops.

Olympus E-PM2 Art filter modes
Pop Art
Pale Light
Grainy Film
Pin Hole
Diorama
Sepia
The Olympus E-PM2's "Art Mode" offers a nice range of filters and creative effects that are tastefully done, and most come with adjustment settings that let you vary the amount of creative processing applied or add additional effects.

Art Filter: The E-PM2 features both an Art and Scene modes for enhanced creative effects. The Art mode features a wide variety of filter effects, some of which are shown in the table above, that can really alter your photos to fit your creative style. All of the Art modes feature additional subsets of effects and the ability to add additional effects, such as frames around the image.

Scene modes are similar to many other digital cameras and includes standard presets such as a Landscape, Portrait, Night and Macro modes. The E-PM2 also features other Scene modes like "Nature Macro" for small objects like insects, "Candle" for warm-toned scenes shot by candlelight, and "Beach & Snow" for bright, white snow or white sandy beach scenes. Other Scene modes are available for use with optional lens converters or specialized lenses like a 3D lens.

1,920 x 1,080
MOV, Progressive, 30 fps, Fine
Download Original (25.1MB MOV)

Video: The Olympus E-PM2 provides Full HD 1080p video recording capabilities, including full-time autofocus and PASM support when in movie mode. However, the camera is somewhat limited by providing a fixed frame rate of 30 fps and electronic IS.

I took the E-PM2 out by a local pond to shoot a few short videos of some ducks and geese walking around. If the subjects were still, the videos look pretty good. However when ducks started to walk around, and I had to pan and move the camera to follow them, I noticed pretty severe visual artifacting in the video, particularly on complex scenes (i.e. blades of grass) and around the edges of objects. While motion JPEG capture was a little better, moiré and compression artifacts were still visible and its highest resolution in this mode is just 720p. Overall, while it's nice to be able to quickly flip over to shooting some quick videos with the E-PM2, we found the video image quality to be average at best.

Click here for our detailed Olympus E-PM2 video analysis page for more sample videos
along with insight on how the camera handles a variety of recording situations,
ranging from night-time shooting to rolling shutter tests.

 

Olympus E-PM2 Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops comparing the Olympus E-PM2 with the Nikon J3, Olympus E-PL5, Panasonic G5, Olympus OM-D E-M5, and the Sony NEX-F3. We're starting with the base ISO to show the best each camera can do, then moving onto ISO 1600, 3200, and then more details with ISO 6400 below.

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction.

Olympus E-PM2 versus Nikon J3 at base ISO

Olympus E-PM2 at ISO 200
Nikon J3 at ISO 160

The Nikon J3 has a smaller 1-inch-type 14-megapixel sensor, but is in a similar price category as the E-PM2. As you can see, the increased sensor size and resolution helped the PEN clearly out-resolve the Nikon in all three images, especially the mosaic. However, the Nikon did do a better job in the last crop regarding details in the red fabric.


Olympus E-PM2 versus Olympus E-M5 at base ISO

Olympus E-PM2 at ISO 200
Olympus OM-D E-M5 at ISO 200

Despite having the same 16-megapixel sensor and image processor, the flagship OM-D E-M5 manages to beat the E-PM2 in all three crops. You can really see a difference in the mosaic, as well as in the pink fabric swatch.


Olympus E-PM2 versus Olympus E-PL5 at base ISO

Olympus E-PM2 at ISO 200
Olympus E-PL5 at ISO 200

The E-PM2 and E-PL5 are pretty much identical in terms of technical specifications, and with these three crops you can see that the images reflect this.


Olympus E-PM2 versus Panasonic G5 at base ISO

Olympus E-PM2 at ISO 200
Panasonic G5 at ISO 160

The first two crops compare very similarly between the E-PM2 and the G5, however on the fabric swatches in the third image, the Panasonic clearly wins in the red leaf fabric area and shows a hint more detail in the pink area.


Olympus E-PM2 versus Sony NEX-F3 at base ISO

Olympus E-PM2 at ISO 200
Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 200

The NEX-F3 is Sony's direct price competitor with the E-PM2, and the larger APS-C sensor of the Sony makes a clear difference in the last two crops, particularly with the fabric swatches. The first crops look very similar with perhaps just a fraction more detail from the Sony camera.


Most digital SLRs and CSCs will produce an excellent ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do compared to other cameras at ISO 1,600, 3,200, and 6,400. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1,600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. We also choose 1,600 because we like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.

Olympus E-PM2 versus Nikon J3 at ISO 1,600

Olympus E-PM2 at ISO 1,600
Nikon J3 at ISO 1,600

It's quite obvious from these comparisons that the larger sensor of the Olympus camera makes a world of difference. Even with the default level of noise reduction enabled on the E-PM2, the camera heavily out-resolved the Nikon in all three crops.


Olympus E-PM2 versus Olympus E-M5 at ISO 1,600

Olympus E-PM2 at ISO 1,600
Olympus OM-D E-M5 at ISO 1,600

Both the E-PM2 and E-M5 produced similar images at ISO 1600, although there may be slightly more detail in the mosaic image from the E-M5. Still, the quality of the much lower-priced E-PM2 is clearly on display here.


Olympus E-PM2 versus Olympus E-PL5 at ISO 1,600

Olympus E-PM2 at ISO 1,600
Olympus E-PL5 at ISO 1,600

Like the previous comparison, these two cameras -- boasting the same sensor and more -- produce almost identical images, as we would expect.


Olympus E-PM2 versus Panasonic G5 at ISO 1,600

Olympus E-PM2 at ISO 1,600
Panasonic G5 at ISO 1,600

Compared to the G5 at ISO 1600, the E-PM2 produced much sharper, more detailed images with better color. The mosaic pattern, for example, from the E-PM2 has much more fine detail as do the threads in the pink fabric swatch.


Olympus E-PM2 versus Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 1,600

Olympus E-PM2 at ISO 1,600
Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 1,600

At ISO 1600, the images from these two cameras compare quite similarly, although the winner is still the Sony NEX-F3 as evidenced by the mosaic and fabric images, both of which retain more fine detail. The NEX-F3 does however show some odd JPEG artifacting in the pink fabric swatch.


Today's ISO 3,200 is yesterday's ISO 1,600, so below are the same crops at ISO 3,200.

Olympus E-PM2 versus Nikon J3 at ISO 3,200

Olympus E-PM2 at ISO 3,200
Nikon J3 at ISO 3,200

At ISO 3200, the Nikon J3 is having clear difficulties producing any fine details. The E-PM2 is the obvious winner here in this comparison, still being able to resolve some detail in the mosaic image.


Olympus E-PM2 versus Olympus E-M5 at ISO 3,200

Olympus E-PM2 at ISO 3,200
Olympus OM-D E-M5 at ISO 3,200

As we've seen in the previous comparison of these two cameras, both manage to produce very similar images. The OM-D E-M5 may have a slight advantage in fine details in the mosaic image, but otherwise the E-PM2 stacks up nicely.


Olympus E-PM2 versus Olympus E-PL5 at ISO 3,200

Olympus E-PM2 at ISO 3,200
Olympus E-PL5 at ISO 3,200

Not surprisingly, these two cameras produced practically identical shots yet again.


Olympus E-PM2 versus Panasonic G5 at ISO 3,200

Olympus E-PM2 at ISO 3,200
Panasonic G5 at ISO 3,200

The winner here is the E-PM2. The default noise reduction on the Panasonic G5 has a significant impact on the level of fine details at ISO 3200. Noise reduction artifacts are much more noticeable on the Panasonic images, as shown in the first crop on the bottle, and the mosaic and fabric patterns are almost non-existent from the G5.


Olympus E-PM2 versus Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 3,200

Olympus E-PM2 at ISO 3,200
Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 3,200

The Sony NEX-F3 clearly takes the cake in this comparison, with much more detail in the fabric shot particularly. The first pair of images look fairly similar as do the mosaic images, although there is a bit more fine detail in the person's robe and hair in the NEX-F3 image.


Detail: Olympus E-PM2 versus Nikon J3, Olympus E-PL5, Panasonic G5, Olympus E-M5, and Sony NEX-F3

Olympus
E-PM2

ISO 200
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Nikon
J3

ISO 160
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Olympus
E-PL5

ISO 200
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Olympus
OM-D E-M5

ISO 200
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Panasonic
G5

ISO 160
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Sony
NEX-F3

ISO 200
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Detail comparison. High-contrast detail is also important, pushing the camera in different ways. So they're worth a look as well by making comparisons at the base ISO and then ISO 3200 and 6400. It's no surprise here that all three Olympus cameras look fairly similar, although the E-PL5 and E-M5 appear just a bit sharper. The Nikon J3 is clearly out of its element here, not coming close to the sharpness and detail from the other cameras with larger sensors. On the other side of things, it's interesting to note that even with a larger APS-C size sensor, compared to the Micro Four Thirds sensors of the Olympus and Panasonic cameras, the Sony NEX-F3 doesn't produce sharper, more detailed images here. In fact, at all ISO levels, the Olympus cameras do a much better job, most notably at ISO 6400.

 

Olympus E-PM2 Print Quality

Prints a nice 24 x 36 at ISO 200; ISO 1600 capable of a good 13 x 19 inch print; with a good 4 x 6 at ISO 12,800.

ISO 200 prints look very good at 24 x 36 inches, and yields a suitable wall display print up to 36 x 48. 

ISO 400 prints are nice and crisp at 20 x 30, with minor softening in the red swatch of our test target (which is typical for many cameras); capable of a nice wall display print up to 30 x 40.

ISO 800 yields a good 16 x 20 inch print with the exception of a loss in contrast in our red swatch, but is otherwise sharp with vibrant colors.

ISO 1600 prints look good at 13 x 19 inches, with minor noise in the shadows and minor previously mentioned softness; suitable for less critical applications at 16 x 20 inches.

ISO 3200 yields prints that we consider good at 11 x 14, but a lot of people will find 13 x 19 perfectly acceptable.

ISO 6400 prints a nice 8 x 10 for this ISO, with only minor grain in the shadows of our target.

ISO 12,800 yields a decent 4 x 6 inch print, with nice color for such a high ISO.

ISO 25,600 prints are a bit too grainy to be called good at 4 x 6.

The Olympus E-PM2 is capable of producing nice large prints at low ISOs, outstanding for its price. It demonstrates excellent high ISO performance up to ISO 1600, and makes surprisingly nice-looking 8 x 10s at ISO 6400. Please note that we shoot these test shots with our sharp reference lenses in order to show what the camera body is capable of, and results with the kit lenses may vary somewhat.

 

Olympus E-PM2 Technical Info

by Mike Tomkins

At its heart, the Olympus E-PM2 includes much of the DNA of the popular Micro Four Thirds flagship model, the OM-D E-M5. Both cameras share the exact same pairing of image sensor and processor, but the PM2 places them in what Olympus says is the smallest and lightest PEN-series body.

The Olympus PM2's image sensor is a 4:3-aspect, 16.1-megapixel Live MOS sensor supplied by Sony. It's capable of providing images at a maximum resolution of 4,608 x 3,456 pixels. Sensitivity from the chip ranges as high as ISO 25,600 equivalent, the same upper limit as found in the OM-D E-M5.

Output from the imager is handled by a TruePic VI image processor, a designation first seen in last year's E-P3 mirrorless camera.

Although it's the same processor used in the E-M5, the Olympus PM2's burst performance isn't quite as swift as that camera. With focus locked, the E-PM2 can deliver a full eight frames per second, swift by mirrorless standards but still one less than the E-M5 provides.

Enable tracking autofocus though, and this falls to a more sedate 3.5 frames per second, about 0.7 fps slower than the E-M5.

Like all PEN-series models, the Olympus E-PM2 sports a Micro Four Thirds lens mount that can accept a wide selection of over 30 dedicated lenses from Olympus, Panasonic, and Voigtländer. (Admittedly, several of these are very similar to each other in specification; there's still a little over 20 models that are reasonably distinct, however.) Courtesy of various first- and third-party adapters, the Micro Four Thirds mount can also accept a huge variety of older glass including lenses made for Olympus and Panasonic's full-sized Four Thirds cameras, albeit often with limitations regarding autofocus, exposure, etc.

There were several new lenses announced alongside the Olympus PM2. These include the unusual BCL-15 Body Cap Lens (a 9mm-thick, three element f/8, manual focus pancake which sells for ~US$50), the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 60mm f2.8 (US$500), and a limited-edition black version of the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12mm f2.0 (US$1,100). The latter two lenses started shipping in October 2012. The new M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 17mm f1.8 (US$500) prime also started shipping December 2012, and the revised M.ZUIKO 75-300mm f4.8-6.7 II ED (US$550) telephoto zoom started shipping March 2013.

Although the Olympus PEN PM2 does include in-body image stabilization, it's not the same system used in the E-M5. Hence, it corrects only for pitch and yaw like most other stabilization systems. It lacks the E-M5's ability to correct for roll, or for up/down and left/right translational motions.

Another thing that does make it across intact from the popular E-M5 is the PEN E-PM2's contrast detection autofocus system. Branded as "Frequency Acceleration Sensor Technology," or "FAST" AF for short, it's a system that's claimed to offer the world's fastest autofocusing when coupled with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 EZ lens. That comes thanks to a stunning readout speed of 240 frames per second (but with reduced accuracy) for continuous autofocus, and a more typical 120 fps readout rate (with maximum accuracy) for single autofocus.

Like that in the M5, the Olympus PM2's contrast detection AF system still has 35 fixed autofocus point locations, with the points arranged in a 7 x 5 array that covers most of the image frame. You can switch to a small single-point focus point that you can position where you need it simply by tapping on the camera's touchscreen, however. And to help out with focusing on nearby subjects in low light, the PM2 retains its predecessor's autofocus assist lamp.

As you'd expect, Olympus' dust removal system is included in the E-PM2. This vibrates the cover glass over the sensor with a dedicated piezoelectric element to shake dust free, then captures it on an adhesive strip beneath the sensor.

There's no built-in viewfinder, but the Olympus E-PM2 retains the company's proprietary Accessory Port 2 just beneath its flash hot shoe, which allows the camera to accept a number of accessories. These include the same two electronic viewfinders used with past Olympus cameras (VF-2 and VF-3), the new VF-4 (with firmware upgrade), along with the SEMA-1 external microphone adapter, MAL-1 Macro Arm Light, and PENPAL Bluetooth Communication Unit accessories.

The PM1's 3.0-inch, 460,000 dot, 16:9 aspect LCD panel is retained in the PEN PM2, but with an important change. The panel itself now has a gapless design which places a capacitive touch sensitive layer in between the LCD itself and the protective cover glass. The removal of the air gap should translate to reduced glare and better contrast. There's also now an anti-smudge coating that should reduce the likelihood of fingerprints on the display. You can now opt for Vivid or Natural display modes, as well.

We've mentioned the touch screen, by the way, and it's worth noting that this is a new addition since the E-PM1. The Olympus PM2's touch screen not only allows you to set focus and make adjustments; you can even trip the shutter with a tap on the LCD panel. And since it's a capacitive design like higher-end smartphones, it should be sensitive enough to do so with very little camera shake. There's also a vertical touch navigation menu called up by pressing the Menu button, which makes light work of mode changes.

There's no built-in flash, but the Olympus PM2 does come with the same FL-LM1 accessory flash that was included with the PM1.

This flash has a guide number of 10 meters at ISO 200 equivalent. The E-PM2's hot shoe can also accept a variety of other, more powerful strobes. Flash sync is possible up to 1/250 second depending on the flash, and the E-PM2 also allows Super FP flash between 1/125 and 1/4,000 second, if supported by the attached flash.

The E-PM2 also supports four-channel wireless flash with the bundled strobe acting as a master, and off-camera flash strobes configured in up to 3 groups

Olympus has made a number of changes to the creative options in the PEN PM2. These include a new high dynamic range bracketing mode, and an additional six Art Filters.

Unfortunately, the new HDR bracketing mode does not automatically combine multiple shots like some cameras, but is still useful for post processing an image with greater dynamic range than is possible in a single exposure. This is because exposure steps are larger than what's available with standard exposure bracketing. Options are: 3 or 5 frames in 2 or 3 EV steps, or 7 frames in 2 EV steps. The additional Art Filters are Pale & Light Color, Light Tone, Cross Process, Gentle Sepia, Key Line and Watercolor, which are added to the six filter types found in the PM1 (Pop Art, Soft Focus, Grainy Film, Pin Hole, Diorama, and Dramatic Tone).

You can still record high definition (1,920 x 1,080 pixel) movies with the Olympus PL5, but there are a few changes and additions in this area, too.

The E-PM1 shot Full HD (1080i) at 60i and HD (720p) at 60p while the E-PM2 shoots both at 30p. File format has also changed from MTS to more widely supported MOV (MPEG-4AVC/H.264). Both cameras also offer 720p and VGA resolutions in AVI Motion JPEG format, also at 30p.

Like its predecessor, image stabilization in movie mode is electronic only.

Thanks to the new touchscreen, you can now simply tap to select a new focus point during video capture, making it easy to guide your viewers' attention to a different subject.

You can also now switch between different art filters during recording, something we've not seen before from any manufacturer.

So that the change isn't jarring, one filter effect will fade out and the other will fade in. It's a neat idea that could be fun if you're the type who enjoys these effects.

You can also now enable what Olympus calls Movie Teleconverter, which is essentially a variable focal length crop.

Since there's no mechanical adjustment being made, this is silent. It also shouldn't significantly degrade image quality, since you're not using interpolation. (Beyond that inherent in all Bayer-filtered cameras, anyway.)

Connectivity includes the Accessory Port 2, USB 2.0 data, Micro HDMI (Type D), and an analog audio/video output via the combined USB/AV port. The USB port also supports the RM-UC1 remote cable.

The Olympus E-PM2 doesn't include built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, but the company has built support for Toshiba's FlashAir WiFi-capable flash cards into the PM2's firmware.

An Olympus application for Android and iOS operating systems allows sharing of photos from the camera via your smartphone, as well as application of filters to the photos before sharing. You can also use the existing PenPal accessory to transfer images to your phone via Bluetooth.

There's a Secure Digital card slot, and it supports both the higher-capacity SDHC or SDXC card types, plus the higher-speed UHS-I types. Eye-Fi cards are also supported, though not Endless Memory.

Secure Digital cards with a Speed Class of 6 or above are recommended for HD movie recording.

Power comes courtesy of a proprietary BLS-5 lithium-ion battery pack, and a BCS-5 charger is included in the product bundle. The BLS-5 lithium-ion battery pack is CIPA-rated for 360 shots per charge, though we don't know if that includes 50% flash shots with the bundled FL-LM1 flash.

Olympus does not appear to offer an AC adapter for the PM2.

Available since October 2012, the Olympus PEN E-PM2 was originally priced at about US$550 body-only. Four body colors are available: black, red, silver, or white. A kit bundling the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 II R zoom lens originally retailed for US$600. Since then, Olympus has reduced MSRP of both the body and kits by $100 to about US$450 and US$500 respectively.

A couple of new accessories are also offered alongside the PEN E-PM2 camera body. These include the CS-38B leather body jacket in four different colors and the CBG-8 camera bag.

 

In the Box

The Olympus PEN E-PM2 retail kit package (as reviewed) contains the following items:

 

Recommended Accessories

 

 

Olympus E-PM2 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Excellent image quality (especially for the price!), with good color and dynamic range, thanks to the 16-megapixel sensor borrowed from the acclaimed Olympus OM-D E-M5
  • Great high ISO performance for its class
  • Sensor-shift image stabilization for stills
  • Extremely compact and lightweight design, with well-thought-out ergonomics and control layout
  • Overall speedy performance, including start-up, AF, shutter lag and shot-to-shot times that bests its predecessor, the E-PM1
  • Immensely customizable controls, especially using Olympus Mysets to create different presets which you quickly can toggle among
  • 3-inch LCD flush with body to maximize compactness
  • Responsive LCD touchscreen controls that include touch focus and shutter for both stills and videos
  • Super Control Panel makes changing settings and mode easy, once you figure out how to activate it
  • iAuto mode for simple, automatic scene-detecting shooting
  • Full HD video recording at 30p, with stereo sound
  • Dedicated Movie Record button
  • 12 in-camera Art Filters, including Diorama and Pop Art, and 7 Art filter effects for both stills and videos
  • Live Guide system that permits you to preview how settings and effects will look before you capture images
  • Standard hotshoe with compact flash unit included
  • Wi-Fi sharing via FlashAir memory card and Olympus Image Share app
  • Fast 8 frames-per-second Continuous shooting, when pre-focused
  • Good battery life, at CIPA-rated 360 shots per charge
  • Excellent print quality, with nice prints delivered up to 24 x 36 at ISO 200
  • A great value at $500 MSRP with the 14-42mm kit lens, though we found the kit as cheap as $380 already
  • Menus are confusing, frustrating and can take hours to figure out
  • Camera may be too small for some
  • No physical Mode dial; controls and menus are primarily accessed and operated by touchscreen
  • Autofocus isn't as fast and accurate as we'd like for shooting fast-motion action
  • Continuous shooting falls to a mediocre 3.5 frames per second when tracking AF is enabled
  • No built-in flash (but small external flash is bundled)
  • Lowest available ISO sensitivity is 200
  • Though the 14-42mm is quite good for a kit lens, we recommend seeking out better Micro Four Thirds glass from Olympus and others
  • No in-camera chromatic aberration suppression
  • Warm cast to images while using Auto White Balance
  • Mediocre HD video quality
  • Only one framerate (30p) offered for movies
  • Movie image stabilization is electronic only
  • Slow buffer clearing for RAW+JPEGS

 

The Olympus E-PM2 is an exceptional upgrade of the company's entry-level offering. And that's saying a lot, since we've been very pleased with the image quality and overall speedy performance of the Olympus PEN compact system camera line over the past couple of years.

Like the stepup PEN E-PL5, the PEN E-PM2 inherits the excellent 16-megapixel sensor from the groundbreaking OM-D E-M5, one of our all-time favorite cameras. Bolstered by this sensor and the TruePic VI image processor (also borrowed from the E-M5), the image quality we saw from the E-PM2 proved to be nothing less than stellar -- demonstrating accurate colors, an impressive dynamic range and tons of detail. When you consider the camera's entry-level status and price, such image quality is an outright amazing feat and rivals that of much higher-end CSCs and DSLRs.

The E-PM2 also improves upon the quick operation of its predecessor, the E-PM1, providing blazing speed in terms of start up, mode switching, autofocus, single-shot cycle times and more. The camera's Continuous mode averaged 8 frames per second -- not too shabby -- but falls to a more pedestrian 3.5 fps when tracking AF is enabled. Overall, we found the FAST (Frequency Acceleration Sensor Technology) AF to be responsive and accurate in most situations, though it's not as great when tracking motion action or shooting video.

The E-PM2 is slightly smaller and lighter, and features a less robust build than the stepup E-PL5. It also lacks a physical Mode dial, a couple buttons and a tilting LCD, instead relying more heavily on the touchscreen controls of its fixed 3-inch LCD monitor. In that regard, it reminded us a lot of a point-and-shoot (which could be a pro or con, depending on your needs). And after all, there's always the Olympus E-PL5 for about $100 more if these features are must-haves. For those who like fixed touchscreens, however, the E-PM2's won't disappoint -- it's responsive and convenient, and even offers touch focus and shutter on both stills and video.

The Olympus E-PM2 suffers from the same maze-like menu system of the E-PL5, which most of us here at IR had significant difficulties figuring out. However, once you study the system you can tweak it so it's much more user friendly to operate, especially when you (can figure out how to) activate the camera's Super Control Panel and create a bunch of presets (Olympus Mysets). Within the menus, you'll find a ton of advanced functions plus the E-PM2's immense customizability. We were impressed by how sophisticated this small, entry-level camera could be for a patient and motivated photographer.

For all these reasons and more, the Olympus E-PM2 should be seriously considered by photographers looking to step up from their point-and-shoots, and may appeal to enthusiasts looking for an inexpensive but sophisticated second camera. Overall, the E-PM2 offers a tremendous mix of image quality, speed and flexibility at an entry-level price. For all these reasons, we gave it a Dave's Pick.

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