To be sure, Olympus’ micro 4/3s cameras, the E-PL1 and the E-PL2, are changing the way we think about removable lens cameras. However, I worry that high price coupled with potentially limiting features will cause some shooters to shy away from this line. While that may be the case, I encourage anyone thinking about a point and shoot or ultrazoom camera to look into these clever and high-quality shooters.
I’ve been a micro 4/3s convert for about a year now and for a long while carried only an E-PL1 to various events and trips, thanking my lucky stars that I no longer had to lug a huge DSLR around. Most of the videos I personally shot in the field were taken on the E-PL1 (this is one of my favorites and you’ll notice quite a bit of focusing noise) and I found the shoots to be acceptable at best but highly convenient.
With the release of the E-PL2, a few of the problems associated with the E-PL1 have been ironed out. First, the kit lenses are much quieter and quicker, thereby allowing on the fly focusing so you don’t have that horrible “kachunk” sound every few seconds. The video UI has been streamlined slightly, as well, and the larger screen offers more real-estate for framing the shot.
This 12-megapixel camera has a thinner, easier to grasp body and is much lighter than the E-PL1. The various improvements are mostly cosmetic including an improved power button that sits flush with the body of the camera rather than sticking out like a mini shutter release, a problem with which the E-PL1 suffered. The camera also has a number of special shooting modes and “art filters,” all powered by Olympus’ TruePic V sensor. The camera has a small pop-up flash and supports the E-PL1′s hot shoe mic as well as Olympus’ unique PenPal wireless device.
The $79 PenPal aka the PP-1 is a Bluetooth add-on that can ship pictures to a phone or laptop on the fly. Sadly, it does not yet support iPhone data transfers nor does it support the Nexus S.
Shooting is quite simple. In auto mode, the E-PL2 has eye-detection as well as on-screen tips and Live Guide II support that allows you to improve and tweak photos on the fly. It also supports up to 6400 ISO, although you’re going to get results from a mid-level ISO.
I enjoy the E-PL2′s improved size and shape as well as the improved lenses. As a small and light m4/3s, it works beautifully in most situations and in plenty of sunlight you’re going to get excellent results.
Here is a NSFW sample video shot with the E-PL2.
Is this camera for everyone? Probably not. Fans of the Canon G12 or similar Nikon models will appreciate the power and interchangeable lenses that the E-PL2 offers in a size that is quite similar to those vaunted pro point and shoots. However, it’s still a bit bigger than most people expect and multiple lenses will, in the end, still require a camera bag (albeit a considerably smaller one).
Owners of the E-PL1 will note that little has changed in the E-PL2, at least on the inside. The sensors are the same and the slight improvement to the kit lens is excellent but may not be worth the upgrade if you don’t shoot video.
I’d also worry that the $599 price tag is a bit much for entry-level users as well as for DSLR fans. If this was a bit cheaper, I suspect more DSLR fans would use this as a second PnS camera. As it stands, however, for many a DSLR vs. E-PL2 is an either/or situation.
Again, I’m a big fan of what Olympus has done here and if you’re in the market for a mid-level portable camera with some great features, the E-PL2 is waiting for your call. Even with the caveats I mention above, the move towards micro 4/3s is exciting and potentially game-changing, especially when it comes to more casual prosumer shooting.