Olympus E-PL7 Walkaround

Initial first impressions of this complete body overhaul

by Dave Pardue | Posted 08/28/2014

I've been a big fan of the Olympus Pen line since long before the digital era came about, and cut most of my photography teeth decades ago with one from the film era, so I've been heavily drawn to the digital versions since first picking up an E-P3, and later falling completely in love with the E-PM1. This has continued as the line has progressed, and I've welcomed many of the changes Olympus has brought about, like the tilting LCD and improved image quality found in both the E-PL5 and E-PM2 from 2012.

The E-PL line has represented the middle tier that sits between the larger E-P and compact E-PM series, with the "L" standing for "Lite". I say all of that because this middle tier has always seemed to have a greater kinship to the E-PM version than the flagship E-P's, at least until this model. Now, this series bears the "Olympus Pen" logo for the first time, sporting the same font as the original film cameras, similar to the E-P5 released last year. This combined with the black and silver version like our sample model brings this line into a greater kinship with the higher level E-P line than ever before, as seen in the image below.

Family resemblance: The E-PL7 (top) is the first E-PL series model to carry the storied "PEN" logo, as seen here with the E-P5 released last year, and it's the first of its line to bear such a striking resemblance to the flagship line as well.

From the front face, the most noticeable difference is that the leatherette material is now on all black surfaces, and even on the lens release button. The E-PL5 has a smooth body finish like the E-P5, so this marks a break from both it and the E-PL5 and is a really nice touch for my tastes, both aesthetically and in the handling aspect (summer in the south means a greater need for grip-friendly surfaces).

Let's move now to side-by-side images with the E-PL5 and take a closer look at all the additional changes Olympus has made to the line. The removable grip from the E-PL5 has been changed to the permanent grip as found on the E-P5, but all other front view changes are cosmetic ones other than the control dial being visible on the E-PL7.

E-PL7 shown here with its predecessor the E-PL5: Sporting a plethora of physical changes, the E-PL7 offers alternatives to the way a user interacts with the camera.

Moving onto the top deck, the most striking difference that stands out on the E-PL7 is the addition of a control dial, and it's a very precise feeling dial at that. In fact, it feels a lot like the E-P5's twin dials, although they are inset, but the construction and quality feel similar. This dial actually surrounds the shutter button, which to me seems like a nice ergonomic touch. The mode dial looks and feels identical to the E-P5's as well, although again the E-P5's is inset somewhat into the body. The dial on the older E-PL5 feels fairly solid, but this is a big step up in terms of the overall professional feel.

Moving now to the rear, much has changed as well. The most notable are moving the play and erase (trash) buttons from the top left to the lower right, where they are much more conveniently located. The menu button moves up to join the info button, creating a quad around the 4-way rear control (which was a dial on the E-PL5). The four functions available here: exposure compensation, metering, drive and flash are unchanged, as well as the center OK button. The function, zoom and movie buttons have all migrated slightly from their former positions as well, while the thumb rest is virtually identical.

Now let's move to the biggest change of all, namely that downward tilting "selfie" screen.

Good news for the selfie crowd

Selfies certainly do seem popular these days. I'd love to make fun of this craze, but I recently stumbled upon a selfie I made of my uncle and I with my film PEN back in 1989, so I'm in no position to do that. Olympus is betting that having the screen flip 180 degrees down will be more popular than the more common upwards version. I enlisted my colleague William Brawley to give us all a demonstration (he's a lot younger than me, so he's naturally better at it) and this is the result.

I was made for loving you: Having the LCD tilt 180 degrees down instead of up is indeed a new step for all the aspiring selfie photographers out there.

Swinging the display downward puts the camera into "selfie mode" and allows for one-touch selfies by tapping the screen and effectively hitting the "shutter" button. There's also a convenient (and fun!) selfie interval function, which allows for 3 shots to fire over one second intervals, giving the subject (or subjects) time to artfully or comically recompose themselves during each selfie "burst".

Taking a look under the hood things become more familiar, starting with the basic menu configuration that Olympus has employed for some time now. Depending on how you set up your preferences and which mode you're in, hitting the OK button will either bring up the Super Control Panel (shown below) where you have instant access to the most common settings, or the Live Guide panel, which accesses more consumer oriented settings like saturation. This can be easily toggled as well in order to go back and forth between the two.

Super Control Panel: A familiar site to Olympus shooters, the Super Control Panel was the first of its kind among enthusiast cameras.

Hop on over to our Olympus E-PL7 Field Test for more detailed operational and handling information.


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