Olympus E-PL2 Review

 
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Olympus E-PL2 Optics

Olympus M.ZUIKO Lenses

The Olympus E-PL2 is compatible with any Micro Four Thirds lens, with Olympus and Panasonic together having shipped a total of seventeen lens models at the time of writing (February 2011), eighteen if you include Panasonic's 12.5mm f/12 3D lens. Olympus has designated their Micro Four Thirds lenses "M.ZUIKO," and so far seven M.ZUIKO lenses have been released.

The Olympus E-PL2 ships with a new, smaller kit lens than the E-PL1 shipped with. The new lens is dubbed M.ZUIKO 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II. Click on the link to see the full review of this lens on our sister site, SLRgear.com. Compared to the previous 14-42mm M.Zuiko, this new lens features an updated design for its optics, autofocus drive, and barrel. In our testing of the previous lens, we found that its collapsing design induced some issues with vertical blurring in images shot at shutter speeds of between around 1/100 and 1/200 second. We're happy to report the new lens seems to have solved this issue. (More on this when we post the full review.)

Focal range and maximum aperture are unchanged from the previous lens, but the previous model's collapsing mechanism has been replaced with a new two-stage design. A change in optical formula for the new lens allows a reduction in weight of some 25%, which falls from 150g in the old model to 112g in the new one. Where the previous lens had nine elements in eight groups, including two aspheric lenses, one extra-low dispersion lens, and one high refractive lens, the new model has an updated optical formula with one less element. With eight elements in seven groups, the new design has no ED or HR elements, but adds one additional aspheric element, for a total of three. The new lens also has a smaller barrel diameter of 56.5mm (down from 62mm), but increases the collapsed length from 43.5mm to 50mm. Filter size has been reduced from 40.5mm to 37mm, which should somewhat reduce the cost of filters.

Another significant change in the new lens design is the adoption of Olympus' MSC (Movie & Still Compatible) design, as seen previously in the M. Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm F4.0-5.6 and M. Zuiko Digital ED 14-150mm F4.0-5.6 lenses. Olympus MSC lenses have autofocus motors which are tuned to focus quickly and accurately, as well as silently, making them better-suited for high-definition movie recording. The new design also focuses internally, whereas the old 14-42mm lens design focused externally, with the last element moving in and out as well as rotating while focusing. All of these are encouraging improvements. Minimum focusing distance is unchanged at 25cm, but the maximum magnification is now 0.19x (equivalent to 0.38x on a 35mm camera), versus 0.24x (0.48x equivalent) in the previous design. As with the old design, the new lens has a seven-bladed circular aperture.

Another prominent feature of the new kit lens is the bayonet mount on the front, which sticks out noticeably even with the lens fully retracted. Here's where users can attach three newly announced accessory lenses: the Fisheye (FCON-P01), Wide-angle (WCON-P01), and Macro (MCON-P01) lens converters. The 14-150mm and 40-150mm lenses can also accept the Macro conversion lens, though there must be some kind of step-down adapter for the 14-42mm lens to work with it, as the bayonet mount on the latter two telephoto lenses are larger, at 58mm.

In addition, no less than nine different adapters make it possible to mount a wide selection of current and historic glass on a Micro Four Thirds camera. Lenses that can be adapted include certain standard Four Thirds, Olympus OM, Leica M / R, Voigtlander VM / Ai-S / PK-A/R / KA, and Carl Zeiss ZM / ZF / ZK types. These adapters generally have some limitations as to compatibility and available features, which will depend on the specific model being used.

Because the E-PL2 features in-body image stabilization, Olympus' M.ZUIKO lenses do not themselves incorporate optical image stabilization. Some Panasonic Micro Four Thirds lenses offer image stabilization and work with the Olympus E-PL2, but note that you have to disable one or the other image stabilization system.

Olympus E-PL2 Sensor Cleaning

The Olympus E-PL2 features an ultrasonic dust-reduction system, especially important since the E-PL2's shutter is normally open for full-time Live View. The system automatically runs at power-up, and unfortunately, there is no option to disable it or run it manually, as it does contribute to startup time.

We have found that in-camera dust-removal systems are less than perfectly effective. You're still going to need to use a sensor-cleaning kit fairly often, so the advantage of in-body dust removal is perhaps less than it might seem. If you've got dust specks on your sensor (and sooner or later you will), you're going to need to clean it. There are a lot of products out there intended to address this need, but a distressing number of them work poorly (if at all), and many are grossly overpriced. Advertising hype is rampant, with bogus pseudo-scientific jargon and absurd product claims. And prices -- Did I mention prices? How about $100 for a simple synthetic-bristle brush?

So how do you know what product to use?

We don't pretend to have used everything currently on the market, but we can tell you about one solution that worked very well for us. The "Copper Hill" cleaning method is straightforward and safe, and in our routine usage here at Imaging Resource, highly effective. Better yet, the products sold by Copper Hill Imaging are very reasonably priced. Best of all, Nicholas R (proprietor of Copper Hill) has put together an amazingly detailed tutorial on sensor cleaning, free for all.

Sensor cleaning is one of the last things people think about when buying a DSLR or SLD, but it's vital to capturing the best possible images. Take our advice and order a cleaning kit from Copper Hill right along with your DSLR/SLD, so you'll have it close at hand when you need it: You'll be glad you did!

(While they've advertised on our sister site SLRgear.com from time to time, we receive no promotional consideration from Copper Hill for this note. We just think their sensor cleaning products are among the best on the market, and like their way of doing business. -- We think you will too. Click here to check them out.)

 

Kit Lens Test Results

Zoom
Above average performance with the 14-42mm II kit lens.

14mm @ f/8 25mm @ f/8 42mm @ f/8

As mentioned previously, the Olympus E-PL2 is available bundled with a redesigned "II" version of the Olympus 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 Micro Four Thirds lens. See above for details on the changes over the prior model. The kit lens possesses a very typical optical zoom range of 3x, and the 35mm equivalent focal range is about 28-84mm, because of the E-PL2's 2x "crop factor." Results were very good at 14mm, with only some slight softness in the corners and strong detail throughout the rest of the frame. Coma distortion in the trees was low, and chromatic aberration well controlled, though a hint of flare is visible around some of the white trim. At 25mm, results were also very good, just slightly softer than our reference OLYMPUS 14-54mm F2.8-3.5 II lens which is a much more expensive optic (~$550). Results were again very good at the 42mm setting, with just a hint of corner softness and flare, and very little chromatic aberration. Overall, well above average performance here for an inexpensive kit lens.

Macro
An average sized minium area, with very good detail. Flash did a good job throttling down.

Macro with 14-42mm II kit lens
42mm @ f/5.6
Macro with Flash
42mm @ f/5.6

As with zoom performance, the Olympus E-PL2's macro performance will depend entirely on the lens in use. However, with the 14-42mm II kit lens set to 42mm, the Olympus E-PL2 captured a fairly average minimum area measuring 2.78 x 2.09 inches (71 x 53 millimeters). Resolution and detail were very good, with only a hint of softening in the extreme corners. (Most lenses have some softening in the corners at macro distances, the Olympus E-PL2's kit lens has much less than most.) Extreme corners showed some light falloff, though that's not unusual. The built-in flash did a good job throttling down at such a close distance, resulting in a well-exposed image, though its narrow coverage left the corners a bit darker. Still, very good performance here as well.

Geometric Distortion
Low to moderate geometric distortion with the 14-42mm II kit lens in JPEGs, much higher than average distortion in uncorrected RAW files.

In-Camera JPEG: Barrel distortion at 14mm is 0.7 percent
In-Camera JPEG: Barrel distortion at 42mm is practically nonexistent
Uncorrected RAW: Barrel distortion at 14mm is 2.7 percent
Uncorrected RAW: Barrel distortion at 42mm is is practically nonexistent

When shooting JPEGs, the Olympus E-PL2's 14-42mm kit lens produced about 0.7 percent barrel distortion at wide-angle, which is just slightly better than average and noticeable in some of its images. At the telephoto end, there was almost no distortion, practically imperceptible. This is the tendency for the lens to bend straight lines outward (like a barrel -- usually at wide-angle) or inward (like a pincushion -- usually at telephoto).

To see how much correction is taking place in the camera, we converted RAW files from the above shots with dcraw, which does not correct for distortion. As you can see, at wide-angle, the barrel distortion is very high at about 2.7%, though pincushion distortion at telephoto is very low, at less than 0.1%. We expect this for smaller interchangeable lenses though, so it's nothing to be concerned about unless you are using a RAW converter which does not understand the embedded "opcodes" to perform distortion corrections automatically. Most RAW converters these days are capable of applying distortion correction automatically, as specified by the manufacturer. (There's going to be some loss of resolution as a result of such correction, because pixels in the corners of the frame are being "stretched" to correct for the distortion. Obviously, a lens that doesn't require such correction, and is also sharp in the corners to begin with would be preferable, but relaxing constraints on barrel and pincushion distortion likely brings other benefits in the lens design, such as cost, size and weight.)

Chromatic Aberration and Corner Sharpness
Moderately low chromatic aberration at wide-angle with the 14-42mm II kit lens; lower levels at full telephoto. Some minor corner softening at full telephoto.

14mm @ f/3.5: Upper right
C.A.: Moderately low
Softness: Mild blurring
14mm @ f/3.5: Center
C.A.: Very low
Softness: Very Sharp
42mm @ f/5.6: Lower left
C.A.: Low
Softness: Moderate blurring
42mm @ f/5.6:Center
C.A.: Very low
Softness: Slightly soft

Chromatic Aberration. Chromatic aberration in the corners with the E-PL2's 14-42mm II kit lens was moderately low and just slightly noticeable at wide-angle (14mm) when wide-open. At full telephoto (42mm), C.A. was even lower, and not as noticeable.  In both cases, the color fringing gradually reduces in brightness and width as it approaches the center of the image, where it is practically nonexistent. The Olympus E-PL2 does not appear to be correcting for C.A., as similar amounts are found in uncorrected RAW files, so this is very good performance.

Corner Softness. The Olympus E-PL2's 14-42mm kit lens produced some soft corners at full telephoto. At full wide-angle corners were reasonably sharp, with the top corners being just slightly soft, though they are pretty sharp for corners wide-open. The bottom corners and the center of the image were very sharp. At full telephoto the left corners showed some moderate blurring, but corners on the right were sharper. The center was not as sharp as wide-angle, with slightly lower contrast as well. There was very little noticeable corner shading ("vignetting"), which is better than average, and that was with the E-PL2's Shading Compensation feature turned off. Again, very good performance for a kit lens here, especially considering the lens was wide-open for these shots. (Corner sharpness generally improves when a lens is "stopped-down" a couple of f-stops below full aperture.)

 


OlympusE-PL2 Viewfinder

 

Viewfinder Test Results

Accuracy
Very good accuracy from the LCD monitor.

50mm, LCD

The Olympus E-PL2's LCD monitor proved very accurate, showing about 101% coverage with our Olympus Zuiko Digital 50mm f/2.0 low distortion prime. Very good results here. Since the electronic viewfinder is optional, we didn't test its accuracy with the E-PL2. However, it tested just as accurate as the LCD on the E-P2, so we'd expect the same on the E-PL2.

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Olympus PEN E-PL2 Photo Gallery.

Olympus E-PL2

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