Olympus E-PL1 Review

 
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Olympus E-PL1 External Electronic Viewfinder

One of the main design changes in the Olympus E-PL1 as compared to the original PEN E-P1 model is the addition of an accessory port, much like that featured in Panasonic's Lumix DMC-GF1. The Olympus E-PL1's accessory port allows use of either an external electronic viewfinder, or an adapter for an external microphone jack -- both of which must be purchased separately. Either accessory mounts in the flash hot shoe, so their use precludes that of an external flash strobe, or simultaneous use of both accessories.

When slotted into the hot shoe, the viewfinder mates to a small female connector that's ordinarily concealed behind a cover that doubles as a hot shoe cap. The viewfinder itself also includes a cap to protect its corresponding male connector, and when the caps are removed, they can be slotted together for safe keeping. The connector provides electronic connections with which to provide a live view signal that's similar to that of the LCD display, although with a significantly higher resolution. The viewfinder assembly includes a mechanism to provide smooth articulation through a 90-degree arc, allowing viewing anywhere from directly behind to directly above the camera body.

The LCD panel used in the E-PL1's external viewfinder yields the same 1.15x magnification as the pentaprism viewfinder of the Olympus E-3 digital SLR, although with a slightly lower eyepoint of 18mm. It offers the same 1,440,000 dot resolution as the built-in electronic viewfinders found in the Panasonic G1 and GH1. That's particularly impressive, because it's significantly higher than either the resolution of the Panasonic GF1's external viewfinder, or for that matter the Olympus E-PL1's own LCD panel. The generous magnification and high resolution are complemented by a 100% field of view, refresh rate of 60 frames per second, 400cd brightness (double that of the average EVF, according to Olympus), and a 300:1 contrast ratio (said to be triple the norm). Subjectively we found the display included with our E-PL1 provided a high refresh rate, and showed very little tearing or ghosting. Thanks to individual pixels for red, green, and blue colors there are also no RGB shifts or artifacts, something which can be a problem on LCOS-based electronic viewfinders which alternate colors from each specific pixel location.

The Olympus E-PL1's removable viewfinder also includes two built-in controls. There's an LVF/LCD button to select which display should be active, and the bezel of the eyepiece acts as a diopter correction knob providing -3 to +1 diopters of adjustment.

Olympus E-PL1 Full-time Live View

By its nature, the Olympus E-PL1 is always in "Live View" mode: In that respect, it's like any point & shoot digicam with a rear-panel LCD that works as its viewfinder. The differences with this camera are that it has interchangeable lenses, and has a larger sensor to provide better low-light performance than typical pocket cameras.

The Olympus E-PL1's electronic viewfinder essentially mirrors the output of the main LCD display, but with a significantly higher resolution. As you change exposure settings, the display changes to reflect what the captured image will look like, also known as "exposure simulation." Much like the E-PL1's main LCD display, Olympus has provided both brightness and hue adjustments for the electronic viewfinder, which can be found on page two of the Custom Menu Options, Tab D.

Several display modes are available, allowing for information overlays including a live histogram. The information display in record mode can include shutter speed and aperture, exposure mode, flash mode, ISO sensitivity setting, metering mode, AF mode, number of available images, resolution, aspect ratio, image stabilizer mode, drive mode, white balance, focus confirmation, battery status, etc. Through the Custom menu, you can also enable one of four styles of grid displays. See our Operation page for information callouts in record mode, and see below for LCD accuracy test results.

 

Viewfinder Test Results

Accuracy
Excellent accuracy from the LCD monitor.

50mm, LCD

The Olympus E-PL1's LCD monitor proved very accurate, showing just over 100% coverage with our Olympus Zuiko Digital 50mm f/2.0 low distortion prime. Excellent results here. Since the electronic viewfinder is optional, we didn't test its accuracy with the E-PL1. However, it tested just as accurate as the LCD on the E-P2.

 

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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.

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