Questions About Pen Jr.

February 3, 2010

Hints and rumors had been swirling that Olympus was about to add another “digital pen” to its micro Four Thirds lineup. And today Olympus finally took the wraps off the new E-PL1.

DP Review has a preview which runs down all the features, controls, and how it compares to other µ4/3 models.

Econo-µ4/3 from Olympus, the E-PL1

Econo-µ4/3 from Olympus, the E-PL1

(DP Review seems to be conspicuously boycotting the term “EVIL”—electronic viewfinder, interchangeable lens—which the rest of the camera world has jokingly embraced.)

With Olympus already fielding an E-P1 and an E-P2, you might overlook that letter “L” in the new model’s name. But it’s a significant letter. It means “less expensive.”

The E-PL1 comes in at a couple hundred dollars cheaper than the E-P1. So for a street price not that much higher than “serious” compacts like the Canon G11 or the Panasonic LX3, now a shopper can buy a true interchangeable-lens camera, with a much larger sensor chip.

The pixel size in the E-PL1 is dramatically larger than other compact cameras: about 4.3 microns wide. Each pixel covers more than 4 times the area of those in “enthusiast” compacts. And compared to today’s silliest point & shoots, they’re 9 times larger. Theoretically at least, this should reduce image noise, and boost high-ISO range.

And Petavoxel says, that’s A Good Thing.

The E-PL1 apparently shares the same sensor as the E-P1 and E-P2 (even their anti-shake feature). What remains unknown is whether any of Olympus’s cost-cutting has compromised signal processing, or read-out noise. Remember that Panasonic’s most compact µ4/3 model, the GF1, has some trouble matching the noise performance of its larger-bodied siblings.

Since the whole justification for micro Four Thirds is the promise of better image quality in a small camera, it would be rather lame if Olympus blew this one. I’ll be waiting to see.

The controls of the E-PL1 are very much in the style of a point & shoot—not a DSLR. Despite the “PASM” options on the mode dial, there are no control wheels to adjust settings. I suspect it will be a rather aggravating experience to burrow into the menu system and make several button presses, just to change the f/stop.

That’s a disappointment, especially compared to the nifty control ring of the Canon S90. Or let’s not even mention the breathtaking clarity of the Leica X1.

But here’s hoping Olympus sells a billion E-PL1’s. It does offer frustrated point & shooters a real promise of much-improved picture quality.

And frankly, micro Four Thirds cameras have been overpriced so far. So if price competition has finally arrived in µ4/3 cameras, that’s good for everyone.


One Response to “Questions About Pen Jr.”

  1. […] April 1, 2010 DxO Labs have released their sensor test results for Olympus’s “econo” Pen model, the E-PL1. […]

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