Olympus E-PL1 Review
Olympus E-PL1 Flash
The Olympus E-PL1 is the first PEN series digital camera to feature a built-in, pop-up flash. Available flash modes are: Auto, Fill-in, Off, Red-eye reduction, Slow synchronization (1st curtain), Red-eye reduction slow synchronization (1st curtain), Slow synchronization (2nd curtain), and Manual. Flash control modes for the internal flash consist of TTL Auto (TTL pre-flash mode) and Manual (with full, 1/4, 1/16, 1/64 power output settings). To release the flash from its compartment, slide the flash switch on the rear panel behind the flash housing. Close it again by pushing the flash head back down. This flash does not auto-deploy.
The Olympus E-PL1's built-in flash has a Guide Number (GN) of 7 meters or 23 feet at ISO 100. That's pretty weak, but understandable given its miniscule size. Still, it's quite useful as a fill flash, or when ambient lighting is too low for near-by subjects. Maximum sync speed is 1/160s. Super FP shooting with shutter speeds up to 1/2,000s is available with Olympus FL-50R, FL-36R, FL-50, and FL-36 external flash units.
Surprisingly, the E-PL1's built-in flash can act as a wireless controller to remote slave flashes with wireless capability, specifically the Olympus FL-50R and FL-36R. Four separate control channels are available for wireless operation, to allow multiple photographers to work wirelessly in the same area without interfering with each other. There is also support for controlling three separate groups with individual control for flash mode and flash intensity per group.
The E-PL1 also has a dedicated hot shoe for mounting external flash units (shown to the left with the included cover installed), like Olympus's compact FL-14 flash. Other Olympus flash units such as the FL-50R, FL-36R and FL-20 also work, and non-dedicated units can also be used provided they have a compatible trigger voltage and polarity. (Olympus hasn't stated the trigger voltage or polarity, though.)
The advantages of a good external flash are many: more power for increased range, faster recycle times, longer battery life, reduced red-eye, auto zoom to match coverage to the current focal length, and the ability to adjust the tilt and swivel of the head to allow light from the flash to be bounced off nearby surfaces such as a ceiling, for a diffuse effect. (The FL-14 does not, however, tilt for bounce-flash operation.) Many external flash units have a powerful AF assist illuminator, and other useful features such as modeling flash and high-speed focal plane (FP) sync mode are common on higher end models.
The Olympus E-PL1 allows you to adjust flash and ambient exposure independently of each other, by providing flash exposure compensation between -1 and +1 EV in one-third EV increments. An option in the Custom menu also allows for flash exposure compensation to be independent or additive to ambient exposure compensation. Flash exposure bracketing is also supported, where three shots can be taken at one-third, two-thirds, or one EV of positive and negative flash exposure compensation.
Flash Test Results
Coverage and Range
A very weak flash, with somewhat narrow coverage. Our standard flash shots were underexposed despite using maximum flash exposure compensation.
+3 (+1.0 EV)
Coverage and Exposure. Flash coverage was uneven at wide-angle (14mm), but much more uniform at telephoto (42mm). In the Indoor test, the Olympus E-PL1's flash underexposed our subject even with maximum flash exposure compensation adjustment of +3 which we believe is +1.0 EV. The average amount of flash exposure compensation needed for this shot is +0.7 EV. The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode produced much better results, aided by the slow 0.3 second shutter speed, though with a stronger pinkish-orange cast from the room lighting.
ISO 100 Range. Flash exposure started out dim at 6 feet at wide-angle, and became dimmer as distance increased. At telephoto, flash exposures were even dimmer at 6 feet than they were at wide angle, and gradually became dimmer as distance increased.
|Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range|
Manufacturer Specified Flash Test. The Olympus E-PL1's built-in flash has a Guide Number (GN) of 7 meters at ISO 100. That works out to about 6.6 feet at f/3.5 and 4.1 feet at f/5.6, the maximum aperture of the kit zoom lens at wide-angle and telephoto respectively. In both the wide-angle and telephoto shots above, the E-PL1 did not perform as Olympus says it will, producing dim exposures at the rated distances. Our standard test method for flash range uses a fixed setting of ISO 100, to provide a fair basis of comparison between cameras. We've now also begun shooting two shots using the manufacturer-specified camera settings, at the range the company claims for the camera, to assess the validity of the specific claims.
Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.