Olympus E-PL9 Review

 
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Basic Specifications
Full model name: Olympus PEN E-PL9
Resolution: 16.10 Megapixels
Sensor size: 4/3
(17.3mm x 13.0mm)
Kit Lens: 3.00x zoom
14-42mm
(28-84mm eq.)
Viewfinder: No / LCD
Native ISO: 200 - 25,600
Extended ISO: 100 - 25,600
Shutter: 1/16000 - 60 seconds
Max Aperture: 3.5 (kit lens)
Dimensions: 4.6 x 2.7 x 1.5 in.
(117 x 68 x 39 mm)
Weight: 16.7 oz (473 g)
includes batteries, kit lens
MSRP:
Availability: TBD
Manufacturer: Olympus
Full specs: Olympus E-PL9 specifications

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16.10
Megapixels
Micro Four Thirds 4/3
size sensor
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Olympus E-PL9 Review -- First Impressions

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Preview posted

Special Note:
The Olympus E-PL9 has yet to be announced in the US market. If and when that changes, we'll obviously update this preview with more information. You may want to bookmark this page so that you can easily return now and then, if you're interested in buying this camera. And with that note out of the way, let's return to your regularly scheduled preview!

An affordable, selfie-friendly mirrorless camera

The Olympus PL9 follows in the footsteps of the 2016-model year Olympus PL8, which was itself the seventh-generation model in a line which traces its heritage back to the PL1, back in April 2010. (Wondering why the disparity between generation and model number? Olympus skipped the fourth generation, likely because of the unlucky association for that particular digit in some Asian cultures.)

So who's the PL9 for? Like every preceding model in the line, the Olympus PL9 is an extremely affordable camera aimed at the budget-minded photographer who nevertheless wants interchangeable-lens, mirrorless camera versatility, from bloggers and Instagram-lovers to artists and selfie fans. Priced at just £580 or thereabouts when sold body-only in the UK market (that's roughly US$670 before tax, at current exchange rates), the PL9 is also available with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 EZ pancake zoom lens for £650 (US$750 before tax).

For your hard-earned cash, you net yourself a 16.1-megapixel Micro Four Thirds mount mirrorless camera with an articulated, tilting LCD monitor, but no electronic viewfinder nor any ability to add one. If you don't mind shooting at arm's length -- and for the selfie set, that probably feels more natural than shooting through a viewfinder -- then the PL9 gives you quite a bit for your money.

A brand-new body with a familiar control layout

So how does it differ from its immediate predecessor? Well for one thing, there's a brand-new body -- we don't currently know the construction material -- which is indistinguishably larger and heavier than before.

Total weight has increased by a scant 0.2 ounces (6g), to 13.4 oz (380g) including battery and memory card, and dimensions are 4.6 x 2.7 x 1.5 inches (117.1 x 68 x 39mm). Body thickness has increased by a couple of hundredths of an inch (0.6mm) due to new, slightly more generous front and rear grips, while half as much has been shaved off the top of the camera.

A popup flash strobe and hot shoe, but no more accessory port

As well as the new handgrips, Olympus has added a new built-in, popup flash strobe which replaces the bundled (but separate) flash strobe accessory of the preceding camera. While you can never accidentally leave the new PL9's strobe at home, though, its guide number of just 7.6 meters at ISO 200 is a good bit less generous than the 10 meter guide number of the PL8's bundled strobe.

The addition of an internal strobe comes accompanied by a switch to a standard flash hot shoe, rather than one equipped with Olympus' Accessory Port 2 interface, a change that was likely made to free up space inside the camera for the new flash. The control layout of the camera is almost unchanged, though, with the addition of just one button that's used to raise the flash. (This new button can be found directly above the tilting LCD monitor.) The other two buttons atop the right-hand side of the rear panel are also now angled almost directly upwards, where previously they were on a beveled portion of the camera body and pointed both upwards and backwards in equal degrees.)

Wrap-around leatherette trim and new color-keyed controls

But while the controls are otherwise largely unchanged in their locations, those to the right of the LCD monitor diverge from the earlier design aesthetic by featuring trim rings around each button. The reason for this change is that the leatherette trim piece which lines the front and sides of the camera body now also wraps around to the right hand side of the rear deck, but a more durable material was clearly needed alongside the controls. Interestingly, the buttons are now color-matched to the leatherette material, be it white, brown or black. The trim rings match too on the brown version, but not the black and white ones.

The autofocus assist / self-timer lamp has jumped across the lens mount and now sits much closer to the lens itself, while rather curiously, the LCD monitor now no longer sits quite centered within its articulated housing, even though the panel and articulation mechanisms would seem to be the same types used previously. (Or perhaps the press images we've seen are renderings, and the LCD images have not been overlaid accurately.)

The tilting LCD flips down for handheld selfies

As before, the articulation mechanism allows you to tilt the LCD upwards by only 80 degrees but it can flip downwards by 180 degrees for viewing from in front of the camera. This remains our least-favorite articulation style, for the simple reason that it prevents you from shooting selfies with the camera on a tripod or nestled on a convenient surface, and could interfere with visibility when used with selfie sticks too. We far prefer side-mounted tilt/swivels, or failing that, screens which can tilt both up and down by 180 degrees.

The rearranged Mode dial sports an Advanced Photo mode

The only other changes of note are that the top-deck speaker is gone, its location now occupied by the popup flash strobe, while at the same time the Mode dial has been rearranged, with modes both removed and added. New to the list is the same Advanced Photo mode we've seen previously in the E-M10 III, which is great at surfacing more arcane features for beginners, but can feel a bit limiting to more advanced photographers. This new mode replaces the frankly, rather bewildering photo story mode of the earlier PL8, while the PL9 also renames the iAuto mode of the earlier camera to just plain old Auto once more.

Minor changes to performance and sensitivity range

On the inside, the Olympus PL9 is based around a next-generation, double quad-core TruePic VIII image processor, the same type used in the flagship OM-D E-M1 Mark II, and a healthy step forwards from the previous-gen TruePic VII. However, burst capture performance has increased only negligibly by 0.1 frames per second, to a maximum of 8.6 fps according to Olympus' own testing. And that slight increase in performance comes accompanied by a significant decrease in buffer depth, now down to just 14 raw frames, versus 20 in the PL8. The reduced-rate continuous burst mode option, meanwhile, has been given a healthy boost from 3.7 to 4.8 fps.

Also essentially unchanged from the previous generation is the Olympus E-PL9's sensitivity range of 100 to 25,600 equivalents, exactly the same as in the previous camera. And as before, the lowest sensitivity is badged "Low", denoting it as potentially having reduced image quality compared to the camera's native sensitivity. (Specifically, dynamic range is likely reduced in the highlights.)

The only real difference from the PL8 in this respect is that Olympus now includes the ISO 100 (Low) option within the default sensitivity range, where previously it was an expanded sensitivity. At the upper end of the range, the maximum sensitivity by default is ISO 6400.

Contrast-detect autofocus, but now with more AF points

Like its predecessor, the Olympus PL9 achieves its affordable pricetag in part by foregoing a more sophisticated hybrid autofocus system in favor of a more traditional contrast detection-based system. The PL9's AF system does, however, offer a whopping 121 autofocus points covering most of the image frame, a significant step up from the 81 points of its predecessor. You can, of course, focus manually, and you'll now find that in addition to the manual focus-friendly live view magnification function's existing 5x, 7x, 10x and 14x zoom levels, there's now a 3x zoom level.

Just as in the earlier camera, the PL9 includes a five-axis sensor shift image stabilization system which banishes blur from shaky hands. And also just as before, the movie mode allows sensor-shift stabilization to be supplemented with electronic stabilization.

4K video, a choice of frame-rate and even slow-mo / time-lapse

Speaking of movies, you may have found yourself wondering earlier, "If resolution and capture rate are basically unchanged, what's Olympus doing with the faster processor? Well, for one thing, it's providing support for ultra high-definitiion 4K video capture. A choice of 24, 25 or 30 frames per second capture rates are offered, a nice improvement from the fixed 30 fps video of the PL8. 4K footage is recorded with a 102Mbps bitrate, and you can still opt for lower-res Full HD and HD resolutions as well, with the same frame rate options as for 4K footage.

While there's sadly no 60 frames per second option for Full HD or HD footage, the latter does support a swift 120 fps capture mode which allows for up to a 5x slow-motion effect while retaining a movie-like 24 frames per second. You can also shoot time-lapse movies for a quick-motion effect, although we don't have specifics on interval times, etc. Movie mode battery life has decreased by some 10 minutes to 80 minutes with zoom and other adjustments, or as long as 140 minutes without.

Advanced Photo: Great for newbies, but may be limiting for experienced shooters

We mentioned the Olympus E-PL9's new Advanced Photo mode earlier, by the way, but it bears a little more discussion since it's a relatively new feature for the company's cameras. Introduced with the E-M10 III last year, this new mode aims to surface and provide quick access to some of the features less experienced photographers would otherwise miss in the menu system.

If you're a less experienced photographer then you'll very likely appreciate the feature, which makes it easier to locate tools like live compositing and bulb modes, sweep panoramic capture (a new addition for the PL9), silent shooting, multiple exposures, exposure and focus bracketing, high dynamic range capture and keystoning compensation. Each tool is shown alongside pictures illustrating its function and why you might want to use it.

Presuming it's been implemented similarly to its E-M10 III equivalent, though, more knowledgeable shooters may find it frustrating as artificial limits such as an inability to shoot with exposure bracketing and priority-mode capture together, or to use less than full stop-sized bracketing steps. Fingers tightly crossed some of these limitations which we described in our E-M10 III review have been addressed.

New scene modes and art filters for the PL9

Also new to the Olympus PL9 are a couple of additional scene modes and art filters. The new scene modes, which can easily be applied through a new touchscreen interface, include Light Trails, Backlight HDR, Silent Mode and Multi-Focus. To make way for these, the earlier High / Low Key, Digital Image Stabilization, Fisheye Converter, Wide Converter, Macro Converter and 3D modes of the PL8 have all been removed from the new model.

Meanwhile, there are now a total of 16 Art filters, with two new additions: Bleach Bypass and Instant Film.

Wi-Fi connectivity is joined by Bluetooth for always-on sharing

The earlier PL8 already included Wi-Fi wireless networking connectivity, but it's supplemented by a Bluetooth radio in the Olympus PL9 for a low power, always on connection. You smartphone and camera remain connected, even when they're on standby. When you want to transfer images, you can do so near-instantly, since there's no need to manually reconnect devices each time.

A couple of important provisos, though: 4K content can only be transferred wirelessly to recent iOS devices. Phones including the iPhone 5 and 5c or earlier will not be able to transfer 4K content at all, while Android devices will do so only after first downsampling the footage to Full HD resolution.

Olympus E-PL9 price and availability

As we noted at the outset, the Olympus PL9 has thus far been announced only outside of the US market. Pricing in the UK market is set at £580 or thereabouts when sold body-only (that's roughly US$670 before tax, at current exchange rates). The PL9 is also available with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 EZ pancake zoom lens for £650 (US$750 before tax).

 

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