Olympus E-PL2 Back in September of 2008, Olympus and Panasonic announced the Micro Four Thirds standard. The companies promised to produce interchangeable-lens cameras that would deliver D-SLR-quality speed and images, but in smaller-than-D-SLR bodies. Panasonic’s products, most recently the Lumix DMC-GF2 ($699.95, 4 stars), have so far been superior to Olympus’s three attempts: the Olympus E-PL1 (3.5 stars, $599.99), E-P1 and E-P2, all of which were hampered mostly by slow autofocus. On its fourth try, though, Olympus got it right with the 12.3-megapixel, $599.99 (direct) Olympus E-PL2, which includes a new (M.Zuiko ED 28-84mm f3.5-5.6 II) lens that delivers fast autofocus, which is even silent during video recording.
Olympus E-PL2 Design
The lure of an E-PL2 over a high-end compact camera like the Canon PowerShot G12 ($499.99, 2.5 stars) or the Olympus XZ-1 ($499.99, 3.5 stars) is its image sensor. Compared with compact cameras’ CMOS sensors, Micro Four Thirds models sport comparatively giant sensors. The only way to get a bigger sensor without a true D-SLR is a camera like the Editors’ Choice Sony Alpha NEX-3, a competitor to Micro Four Thirds models, it houses an image sensor the same size as what you’ll find in a D-SLR.
Olympus E-PL2 View SlideshowSee all (10) slides
The E-PL2 has interchangeable lenses, and looks a lot like a mini D-SLR, but it’s not. SLRs use a mirror box to send the image to the optical viewfinder, and employ a secondary smaller image sensor specifically for autofocusing. Micro Four Thirds or Sony NEX series cameras cut down on bulk by removing the mirror box, optical viewfinder and secondary image sensor; they use the main large image sensor to autofocus, and use an electronic viewfinder on the LCD. Micro Four Thirds lenses are also a little smaller than lenses for the Sony NEX cameras and SLRs, because the lenses are proportional to the size of the image sensors.
With the lens attached, the E-PL2 weighs 1.03 pounds—much lighter than a traditional SLR with a comparable lens. (The Editors’ Choice Canon EOS Rebel T2i, with the 18-55mm kit lens weighs 1.60 pounds.) The camera’s 2.86-by- 5.54-by-1.65 inch (HWD) body is mostly rectangular with a small grip on the right side.
Olympus E-PL2 Specifications
- Compact Interchangeable Lens
- Olympus E-PL2 Megapixels
- 12.3 MP
- Media Format
- Secure Digital Extended Capacity
- 35-mm Equivalent (Wide)
- 28 mm
- Olympus E-PL2 35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto)
- 84 mm
- Optical Zoom
- 3 x
- LCD size
- 3 inches
- Olympus E-PL2 Video Resolution
Olympus limits the buttons and dials on the E-PL2 to only the essentials. The control layout looks just like a compact point and shooter: dedicated buttons for playback and video recording, and a dial for automatic, manual, scene modes, and more. There’s a ring on the back of the camera that lets you spin through shutter speed or aperture in manual modes. Cleverly, Olympus offers two different menu structures: one for experienced shooters, and one for beginners. The beginner mode replaces terms like “aperture” with “background sharp” or “soft.” This is a nice feature if you want to experiment, but aren’t well-versed in photography lingo.
The 3-inch LCD on the back of the E-PL2 is by far the best LCD on any Micro Four Thirds camera from Olympus—it’s filled with 460,000 dots, and is incredibly sharp (most cameras fill the screen with 230,000 dots). But it pales in comparison with the Sony NEX Series—its articulating display has 921,600 dots, and to my eye, has much higher contrast than the E-PL2.
Olympus E-PL2 Performance
Autofocus on previous-generation Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras was a mess. Bringing an object into focus on the E-P2 took nearly a full second, and the whole time you could feel the lens struggling to focus. The revamped E-PL2 cuts that time in half. The breakthrough, it seems, is solely because of the lens included with the E-PL2: I snapped it onto the E-P2′s body, and it was just as fast as the E-PL2.
With the autofocus problem solved, the E-PL2 feels much faster than its predecessors, but Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony’s mirrorless cameras move still handle shutter lag more effectively. Those cameras can snap with barely 0.1 seconds of shutter lag, while the E-PL2 is closer to 0.4—more like a really fast point-and-shoot camera. The E-PL2 can capture three images per second, and averages 2.47 seconds to power up and shoot—both good scores.
In the PC Labs we use Imatest to objectively evaluate image quality. At ISO 200, the E-PL2 averaged a center-weighted average of 1,983 lines per picture height. The NEX-3 edged it out slightly, averaging 2,248 lines per picture height, but both scores are quite good. In terms of image noise, the E-PL2 was able to keep levels below the 1.5-percent acceptability threshold up to and including ISO 1600. This means it will perform nicely in subpar lighting. Once again, though, the NEX-3 does better, shooting up to ISO 3200 without significant image noise.
Video recorded on the camera looks great; it’s captured in high-definition 720p30 as .AVI files, which can be natively uploaded to YouTube and Facebook. A few models from Panasonic and Sony allow you to use multiple codecs (for higher bit rates) and variable frame rate captures like 24, 30, and 60 frames per second. And some models, like the less-expensive Canon PowerShot Elph HS 300 ($249.99, 4 stars) offer 1080p video capture, but that’s not commonplace.
The new lens on the E-PL2 has a silent iris, so you can refocus while recording and not hear any noise—no D-SLR can do that. If you zoom in and out slowly, it’s similarly silent, though fast zooms will result in audible noise. When set to manual mode, you can control aperture and shutter speed, so you can control the depth-of-field and level of blur in your videos. There are also plenty of effects available—grainy film, soft focus, pinhole, and more.
Olympus includes a digital accessories port, allowing you to use nifty add-ons like a Bluetooth adapter for wirelessly sending images to other Bluetooth devices, or an optical-style viewfinder. The camera also offers a hot shoe for external bounce flashes. There’s a mini-HDMI port for connecting the E-PL2 to your HDTV, and a proprietary USB port for connecting the camera to your computer. Don’t lose your USB cable, because you’ll need to go to Olympus to replace it, but that might not be a problem if you have an SDHC card reader. (The camera writes to SDHC media as well as the new, faster, higher-capacity, more-expensive SDXC cards.)
Overall, the Olympus E-PL2 is the least-expensive Micro Four Thirds camera I’d recommend. It’s like a poor man’s Panasonic GF2; just a little larger and a $100 less expensive. Still, the E-PL2 is a very solid option given its good performance and large selection of lenses, along with its hot shoe and accessory port. But if you want maximum image quality for the price, go with our Editors’ Choice for mirrorless cameras—the Sony NEX Series.