Olympus E-PL1 Review

 
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Olympus E-PL1 Performance


Timing and Performance

The Olympus E-PL1 is somewhat slower than average compared to consumer SLRs and many point & shoot cameras.

Startup/Shutdown

Power on
to first shot

2.2 seconds

Time it takes to turn on and capture a shot.

Shutdown

~0.4 second

How long it takes camera to turn off before you can remove the memory card.

Buffer clearing time
7 seconds after 15 large/superfine JPEGs*
Worst case buffer clearing time. -- This is the delay after a set of shots before you can remove the card.
12 seconds after 10 RAW files*
20 seconds after 9 RAW+ LSF JPEG files*
*Note: Buffer clearing times measured with a SanDisk Extreme III 30MB/sec 8GB SDHC card. Slower cards will produce correspondingly slower clearing times. Slow cards may also limit length of bursts in continuous mode. ISO sensitivity and noise reduction settings can also affect cycle times and burst mode performance.

Startup and shut-down times are slower than those for most SLRs. The long startup time is likely due to the SSWF cleaning that takes place on power-up. Unfortunately, there is no way to shut that off with firmware V1.0. (We'd prefer to have control over when sensor cleaning takes place, or at least have the camera abort cleaning when the shutter release is pressed.)


Mode Switching

Play to Record,
first shot

1.1 seconds

Time until first shot is captured.

Record to Play

3.7 seconds

Time to display a large/superfine JPEG file immediately after capture.

Display
recorded image

~0.2 second

Time to display a large/superfine JPEG file already on the memory card.

Mode switching is also slow, especially Record to Play. Displaying recorded JPEGs is pretty fast though.


Shutter Response (Lag Time)
Full Autofocus,
Single-area AF mode
Wide Angle
Firmware 1.0:
0.950 second
Time from fully pressing shutter button to image capture, with the lens already at the proper focal distance setting. (Timed with Olympus 14-42mm L kit lens at 14mm.)
Beta Firmware:
0.820 second
Full Autofocus,
Single-area AF mode
Telephoto
Firmware 1.0:
0.886 second

Time from fully pressing shutter button to image capture, with the lens already at the proper focal distance setting. (Timed with Olympus 14-42mm L kit lens at 42mm.)

Beta Firmware:
0.786 second
Full Autofocus,
Single-area AF mode
Firmware 1.0:
0.858 second
Time from fully pressing shutter button to image capture, with the lens already at the proper focal distance setting. (Timed with Olympus 17mm f/2.8 "Pancake" lens.)
Beta Firmware:
0.752 second
Full Autofocus,
Single-area AF mode
Firmware 1.0:
0.546 second
Time from fully pressing shutter button to image capture, with the lens already at the proper focal distance setting. (Timed with Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6 lens at 18mm.)
Beta Firmware:
0.467 second
Full Autofocus,
Multi-area AF mode
0.938 second
Time from fully pressing shutter button to image capture, with the lens already at the proper focal distance setting. (Timed with Olympus 14-42mm L kit lens. This measurement done at an intermediate focal length.)
Full Autofocus,
Single-area AF mode
Wide Angle
Auto Flash Enabled
1.129 seconds

Time from fully pressing shutter button to image capture, with the lens already at the proper focal distance setting, TTL Auto flash enabled. (Timed with Olympus 14-42mm L kit lens at 14mm.)

Prefocused

0.070 second

Time to capture, after half-pressing and holding shutter button. There was about 7% variation between iterations on this particular measurement.

Continuous AF
0.293 second
This mode usually shows no speed increase with our static subject; we have no way to measure performance with moving subjects.
Manual Focus
0.202 second
For most cameras, shutter lag is less in manual focus than autofocus, but usually not as fast as when the camera is "prefocused". There was about 15% variation between iterations on this measurement.

The Olympus E-PL1 showed full-autofocus shutter lag (with the subject at a fixed distance) that ranged from 0.950 second at wide angle to 0.886 second at full telephoto when using the 14-42mm L kit lens in Single-area AF mode. This is similar to the E-P2 which ranged from 0.956s to 0.909s , but still slower than most digicams and much slower than SLRs. We also tested AF lag on the E-PL1 with a couple of other M.Zuiko lenses, as the lens can make a big difference in contrast-detect AF speeds. With the 17mm f/2.8 pancake lens, full AF lag improved slightly to 0.858 second, but that's still pretty slow. The good news is that the new 9-18mm lens is much faster than the kit lens, with a full AF lag time of 0.546 second at 18mm. (That lens is too wide for our AF lag test setup at 9mm.) While still slower than most SLRs, the new lens really made quite an improvement in AF speed, making the camera feel much more responsive.

Shutter lag was much better in continuous mode AF, at about 0.293 second, though your subject may not be in focus in this mode. (Release Priority is on by default in this mode.) When manually focused, the E-PL1's lag time drops to 0.202 second, still a bit on the slow side, but fast enough that it won't likely cause you to miss any shots. Oddly, Manual focus lag also varied a lot more that autofocus lag (15% versus 4%). The E-PL1's prefocused lag time of 0.070s is quite fast though, besting some SLRs in its general price range. That's partially because there is no mirror to move out of the way first.

Although full AF shutter lag with the kit lens has improved slightly over the E-P2, it's still one of the weakest points of the Olympus E-PL1 value proposition. However, the new 9-18mm f/4-5.6 lens, which has been optimized for high-speed contrast-AF, focuses much faster. Focus speeds with that lens are only slightly slower than the Panasonic GF1, which managed 0.402 to 0.473 second with its kit lens. That bodes well for future M.Zuiko lenses. Despite the sluggish AF speed with the kit lens, if you can prefocus by half-pressing and holding down the shutter button prior to the shot itself, you'll have no problem capturing critical moments. That's not possible with every subject, but for those that it does work with, the E-PL1 will respond quickly enough.

April 15 Update: We did all of our intial testing with firmware 1.0, however Olympus has just announced firmware updates which the company claims improves AF speed on all PEN series cameras. We were able to rerun some of our E-PL1 AF lag tests with the new beta firmware, so that we could compare the performance to the initial 1.0 firmware. The new results have been added to the table above. As you can see, the new firmware resulted in an 11-14% increase in speed over firmware 1.0 in our tests. That's not a huge difference, but it is always good to speed things up. The new firmware is expected to be available April 22. You can read more about it here.

To minimize the effect of different lens' focusing speed, we test AF-active shutter lag with the lens already set to the correct focal distance. We also use the same Sigma 70mm f/2.8 macro with every camera (on all platforms except Four Thirds/Micro Four Thirds and Nikon consumer models lacking an in-body focus motor), to further reduce variation, and because our tests showed that focus-determination time with this lens was close to the fastest, across multiple camera bodies from different manufacturers. Being an older design with a non-ultrasonic motor, it wouldn't be the fastest at slewing from one focus setting to another, but that's exactly the reason we measure focus determination speed, which is primarily a function of the camera body, vs focus adjustment speed, which is primarily a function of the lens.


Cycle Time (shot to shot)

Single Shot mode
Large/SuperFine JPEG

1.60 seconds

Time per shot, averaged over 20 shots, 2 seconds to clear*.

Single Shot mode
RAW

1.60 seconds

Time per shot, averaged over 20 shots, 3 seconds to clear*.

Single Shot mode
RAW + LSF JPEG
1.60 seconds

Time per shot, averaged over 13 shots, 20 seconds to clear*.

Early shutter
penalty?

No

Some cameras don't snap another shot if you release and press the shutter too quickly in Single Shot mode, making "No" the preferred answer.

Continuous Mode
Large/SuperFine JPEG

0.33 second (3.04 frames per second);
15 frames total;
7 seconds to clear*

Time per shot, averaged over 15 shots, then slows to an average of about 0.51s or 1.97 fps when buffer is full.

Continuous Mode
RAW

0.33 second (3.04 frames per second);
10 frames total;
12 seconds to clear*

Time per shot, averaged over buffer length of 10 frames, then slows to an average of about 1.27s or 0.79 fps when buffer is full.

Continuous Mode
RAW + LSF JPEG

0.33 second (3.07 frames per second);
9 frames total;
20 seconds to clear*

Time per shot, averaged over buffer length of 9 frames, then slows to 2.26s or 0.44 fps when buffer is full.

Flash Recycling

4.2 seconds

Flash at maximum output.

*Note: Buffer clearing times measured with a SanDisk Extreme III 30 MB/sec 8GB SDHC card. Slower cards will produce correspondingly slower clearing times. Slow cards may also limit length of bursts in continuous mode. ISO sensitivity and noise reduction settings can also affect cycle times and burst mode performance.

Single-shot cycle times are a bit slow, at 1.60 seconds for any quality, however this is an improvement compared to the E-P2's approximately 2 seconds. Continuous mode was similar to the E-P2, at about 3 frames per second no matter what image size or quality before the buffer filled. Buffer depth was also quite good for its class, at 15 frames for large/superfine JPEGs, 10 for RAW and 9 for RAW + large/superfine JPEG, again, about the same as the E-P2. Note that our test target for this was designed to be difficult to compress, so JPEG burst lengths may be longer with simpler subjects. (Particularly in the case of buffer depths, we're careful to test under worst-case conditions.) Flash recycle time isn't bad, but not surprising considering how weak the flash is.


Download Speed

Windows Computer, USB 2.0

8,491 KBytes/sec

Typical Values:
Less than 600=USB 1.1;
600-769=USB 2.0 Low;
Above 770=USB 2.0 High

Download speeds were fast, quick enough that you probably won't feel the need for a separate card reader, even with large memory cards. (Note that this test was performed with a SanDisk Extreme III 30 MB/sec SD card: Slower cards would likely show slower transfer times.)


Bottom line, just like the E-P1 and E-P2, the Olympus E-PL1 is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to performance.  Despite a small improvements over the E-P1 and E-P2, startup time and full autofocus with the kit lens is quite slow, though prefocused shutter lag is very good. Burst speed remains about average, and buffer size is pretty good. If you prefocus, you can capture some action shots, but the E-PL1 is best suited for relatively static subjects.

Battery and Storage Capacity

Battery
Below average battery life, but not atypical of SLR-style cameras operating in Live View mode.

Operating Mode Number of Shots
Still Capture,
(CIPA standard)
290

The Olympus E-PL1 uses a custom rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack for power, and comes with both a single battery and charger. The rated 290 shots per charge is a bit lower than the E-P2's 300 shots, and below the capacity of most SLRs and Point & Shoots. But this relatively short battery life isn't atypical of SLR-style cameras being used in Live View mode: Live View operation burns a fair bit of power. We do recommend getting a second battery for your E-PL1 if you plan any extended outings.

The table above shows the number of shots the camera is capable of (on a fully-charged rechargeable battery), based on CIPA battery-life and/or manufacturer standard test conditions.

(Interested readers can find an English translation of the CIPA DC-002 standards document here. (180K PDF document))

Storage
The Olympus E-PL1 accepts SD/SDHC memory cards, and does not ship with a card.

Image Capacity with
1GB Memory Card
Super
Fine
Fine Normal Basic RAW RAW +
SF JPEG
4,032
x
3,024
Images
(Avg Size)
103
9.9 MB
148
6.9 MB
327
3.1 MB
487
2.1 MB
56
18.3 MB
33
31 MB
Approx.
Comp.
4:1
5:1
12:1
17:1
1:1
-
3,200
x
2,400
Images
(Avg Size)
158
6.5 MB
261
3.9 MB
516
1.9 MB
765
1.4 MB
-
-
Approx.
Comp.
4:1
6:1
12:1
17:1
-
-
2,560
x
1,920
Images
(Avg Size)
275
3.7 MB
405
2.5 MB
794
1.3 MB
1,169
876 KB
-
-
Approx.
Comp.
4:1
6:1
11:1
17:1
-
-
1,600
x
1,200
Images
(Avg Size)
688
1.5 MB
1,015
1.0 MB
1,963
522 KB
2,816
364 KB
-
-
Approx.
Comp.
4:1
6:1
11:1
16:1
-
-
1,280
x
960
Images
(Avg Size)
1,511
678 KB
2,136
479 KB
3,873
264 KB
5,633
182 KB
-
-
Approx.
Comp.
5:1
8:1
14:1
20:1
-
-
1,024
x
768
Images
(Avg Size)
1,630
628 KB
2,295
446 KB
4,131
248 KB
5,633
182 KB
-
-
Approx.
Comp.
4:1
5:1
10:1
13:1
-
-
640
x
480
Images
(Avg Size)
3,645
281 KB
5,164
198 KB
8,852
116 KB
10,096
101 KB
-
-
Approx.
Comp.
3:1
5:1
8:1
9:1
-
-

We strongly recommend buying a large capacity SD/SDHC memory card at least a 2GB card, preferably a 4 or 8GB one, to give yourself extra space for extended outings, or when shooting RAW or video files. -- If you're going to shoot much video, you'll definitely want a large, fast card; look for a card with "class 6" speed or better. (Check the shopping link above, memory cards are really cheap these days, so no reason to skimp.)

 

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