Olympus E-PL7 Technical Info

by Mike Tomkins | Posted: 08/28/2014

The heart and soul of the PL7

Although the 16.05 megapixel Live MOS image sensor that sits at the heart of the Olympus E-PL7 would appear to be the same as that used in the PL5 and PL6, the processor isn't. Olympus has stepped its new model up from the earlier TruePic VI processor to a next-gen TruePic VII chip.

With that said, the pairing of new processor and current sensor appear -- on paper at least -- to yield similar performance, with the exact same manufacturer-rated burst capture rate of eight frames per second at full resolution, with focus and exposure locked from the first frame. (In the lab, the E-PL7 managed 8.7 fps. See the Performance page for details.) However, performance with focus and exposure adjustment between frames is up slightly to 3.7 fps, from 3.6 fps in the earlier cameras.

The PL7's sensitivity range of ISO 200 to 25,600 equivalents, extendable to ISO 100 on the lower end, is likewise unchanged from the PL6. (The PL5, though, lacked the extended lower limit, so compared to that camera, Olympus' latest has a broader range.)

And of course, this camera sports the exact same Micro Four Thirds lens mount as featured in all of Olympus' compact system cameras, be they part of the PEN or OM-D lines.

It's down with the selfie

The most immediately obvious difference when comparing the Olympus E-PL7 with its predecessors is the updated LCD articulation mechanism. Where the PL5 and PL6 shared a 3.0-inch, 460k-dot touch-screen that tilted upwards 180 degrees for selfie capture, the PL7's screen tilts downwards.

That might seem a curious change to make, but Olympus has its reasons. Firstly, as the company pointed out in press briefings, the earlier design meant that you had to reach past the lens to access the touch-screen, blocking the camera's view of you in the process. Secondly, flash exposure wasn't possible for selfies, simply because the hot shoe placement meant that the strobe blocked the screen. And thirdly, even without a strobe attached, the top-of-camera controls and hot shoe just slightly obscured the bottom of the display.

The Olympus PL7's screen now tilts 180 degrees downwards, or 80 degrees upwards. This means it isn't obscured by either the camera body or flash strobe, and you don't have to reach past the lens to use the touch screen. The screen itself also has higher resolution, with a total of 1,037k-dots, and still uses a capacitive overlay to detect touches.

The new screen and articulation mechanism are coupled with an improved graphical user interface, and as soon as you flip the screen down, soft buttons are shown for shutter, e-Portrait function and a customizable self-timer, making it quick to set up and get the shot.

Sadly, the new articulation mechanism also means that the tilting display is really useful only for arm's length selfies of the kind so popular on Facebook. Place the camera on a convenient surface or use a tripod, and the LCD will be obscured, if there's even room to tilt it all the way downwards in the first place. For that reason, we'd have preferred a much more versatile, side-mounted tilt/swivel screen, which would also allow viewing from difficult angles in portrait-orientation shooting, and allow the LCD to be closed facing inwards to keep it clean and safe from minor bumps and scrapes.

Redesigned body

The Olympus E-PL7's body has also been completely rethought. It's just a little bigger and heavier than before, at around 0.2 inches (4.4mm) wider, 0.1 inches (3.3mm) higher, and an essentially undetectable 0.2mm deeper. Weight has climbed some 1.1 ounces (32g), loaded and ready without lens, of which 0.1 ounces (2g) is down to a new battery pack.

(This new pack, incidentally, increases charge density from 1,150mAh to 1,210mAh, and takes battery life from 320 to 350 shots, to CIPA testing standards.)

For this increase in size, you get an improved control layout. The total number of controls is unchanged, but Olympus has replaced the small, fiddly ring around the four-way controller on the camera's rear with a larger, metal dial that surrounds the shutter button. This is perfectly positioned for either your index finger or thumb to reach. At the same time, all rear-panel controls have been moved to the right of the LCD monitor, leaving the area above the LCD smooth and clean. (This change will likely make the PL7 easier to shoot single-handed, too.)

A couple more changes of note: The body is now wrapped with a leatherette finish, where before it was smooth other than the grip. The grip itself is no longer removable, and the E-PL7 now sports Olympus PEN branding, proudly displayed atop the front deck.

Improved stabilization

The Olympus PL7 sports an upgraded image stabilization system that puts it somewhere in between the earlier PL5, PL6 and PM2, and the top-end P5. The latter camera has a five-axis stabilization system, while the other earlier models all have dual-axis stabilization.

For the PL7, though, Olympus has chosen a three-axis system that now stabilizes not only yaw and pitch, but also roll. And for bonus points, the company now specs the PL7's stabilization system as good for a 3.5EV correction, up from a 3EV correction in the PL5 and PL6.

One final improvement is that this new model now has an additional image stabilization mode on top of the existing three choices founds in its PL-series siblings. This fourth mode will simply choose one of the other three modes for you automatically, based on the motion it detects as you're panning (or not panning, as the case may be.)

Better autofocus

Autofocus, too, has been uprated. It's still branded as an Olympus FAST ("Frequency Acceleration Sensor Technology") AF system operating on information from the image sensor, but there are now 81 addressable focus points provided, up from 35 points in earlier models. There's also now a Super Spot AF mode that works on a small area of just 0.02 to 0.16% of the image frame.

Tweaks to exposure, too

We already noted the expanded sensitivity range -- compared to the PL5 -- of everything from a low of ISO 100 to a high of ISO 25,600 equivalents. The E-PL7 can also now meter in lower light down to -2EV, where previously the working range started at 0EV. There's a wider exposure compensation range of +/-5EV for still images, too, up from +/-3EV. And finally, there are now four custom white balance settings, instead of two.

What are selfies without sharing?

Another pretty significant change is that the Olympus E-PL7 now has in-camera Wi-Fi wireless networking, supporting 802.11b/g/n networks.

This works hand-in-hand with the company's OI Share app for Android and iOS, which has been updated so that it no longer disconnects 3G/4G data when enabling Wi-Fi. That means you can share immediately as you're offloading photos, without needing to disconnect and reconnect, over and over. The app also now shoots bursts of sequential images, and supports Live Bulb mode. And this new version now allows you to transfer or shoot movies, too, albeit you're limited to just a seven-minute clip length.

Although the Olympus PL7 lacks an NFC radio or tag for one-touch connection to Android devices, you can connect almost as quickly using a QR code that's shown on the camera's own LCD monitor, just as in past Olympus models. (And unlike NFC, this approach works with Apple, who still stubbornly refuse to support the NFC standard in their devices.)

New creative tools

The E-PL7 includes quite a few new creative tools and functions. There are two new Scene modes: Panning Shot (which does what it says on the can), and Hand-held Starlight (which merges eight shots into one with reduced noise and a fast shutter speed).

We already mentioned the new e-Portrait picture mode and the sequential self-timer, handy when shooting self-portraits as it lets you adjust interval and number of shots, then capture several selfies in a row with time to change pose in between, a bit like a photo booth. This has been updated, though, and now lets you choose whether to autofocus between shots.

The Olympus PL7 also has in-camera HDR for the first time, as well as the existing bracketing function that's handy for making your own HDRs, merged on a PC or Mac. With the new in-camera version, four images are combined into one. All four images have a fixed sensitivity of ISO 200 equivalent, an exposure time of one second max., and can be combined with one of two renderings -- one more realistic, the other more artistic and painting-like.

There are also two new Art Filters: Vintage and Partial Color. Each has three different effect types. For Partial Color, there's an interesting interface that lets you select 18 different hues with the control dial on the top deck. For any hue, you can opt to keep just a very narrow range of similar hues, a broader range, or a broader range as well as retaining a very slight saturation for all other colors outside the range.

Finally, Olympus' Photo Story function now has a hold mode, which lets you pause an underway story, and then return to finish it later.

Movie capture has also been honed a little

The Olympus E-PL7 still shoots Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixel; 1080p) movies at a rate of 30 frames per second, but Olympus is now listing the maximum bitrate for video capture as 24Mbps, up from 20Mbps in earlier models.

The new camera also has an additional Old Film movie effect, and it uses its three-axis sensor shift stabilization system in movie mode too, instead of electronic stabilization.

And if you want, you can also shoot 720p time-lapse movies, a feature that was added in the E-PL6, and hence is new for the US market. The PL7 also has a microphone volume limiter function, which we believe is new.

But storage is little-changed...

Like its predecessors, the Olympus E-PL7 stores images on Secure Digital cards, including SDHC, SDXC, UHS-I and Eye-Fi types -- although given the in-camera Wi-Fi wireless networking, we're not quite sure why you'd want to use the latter. There's no longer any mention of Toshiba's FlashAir, a rival to Eye-Fi, but again there's little reason to use these in a Wi-Fi enabled camera anyway.

Images are saved in either JPEG or 12-bit RAW formats, with a maximum resolution of 4,608 x 3,456 pixels, just as in the PL5. While the maximum resolution is unchanged, though, Olympus has increased resolution of Medium and Small image sizes to 3,200 x 2,400 and 1,280 x 960 pixels, respectively.

...and connectivity is identical to the PL5

Connectivity options in the Olympus E-PL7 -- in addition to its new in-camera Wi-Fi radio -- include USB 2.0 High Speed data, composite standard-definition video output, Micro (Type-D) HDMI high-def video output, a flash hot shoe, and Olympus' proprietary Accessory Port 2. These are all unchanged from previous models.


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