Olympus Pen E-P2 at a glance:
- 12.3-million-pixel sensor
- Micro Four Thirds system
- New electronic viewfinder
- New AF tracking mode
- Street price around £895 with EVF and 14-42mm lens
When photographers invest in a new camera system, it is important that there is a full range of lenses, bodies and accessories to allow them to upgrade in the future. With this in mind it is no surprise that both Olympus and Panasonic are rapidly establishing the Micro Four Thirds system by releasing cameras in quick succession.
For example, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 was released in November 2008, and a version with video capture, the GH1, was released just five months later. Six months after this, in September 2009, the company released the GF1, also a Micro Four Thirds system camera but with a more compact body than the G1 and GH1.
Olympus has followed a similar pattern, with the E-P1 released in June 2009 and the E-P2 announced just five months later in November. In fact, as I was reviewing the E-P2, Olympus announced the new E-PL1 only three months after the release date of the E-P2. With such a small amount of time between the launches of the E-P1 and E-P2, there are only a few differences between the two cameras. I was curious to see exactly what the differences are and the advantages the new camera offers.
Like the Olympus Pen E-P1, the E-P2 has a Four Thirds-format, 12.3-million-pixel Live MOS sensor. It also uses the same TruePic V imaging sensor that is capable of capturing and saving images as both JPEGs and raw files, as well as 1280×720-pixel resolution HD video.
There is one major addition, though: the accessory port. This is a small electronic socket below the E-P2’s hotshoe, which allows electronic accessories to be attached to the camera. At its launch, there are two such items available. The first of these is the EMA-1 microphone adapter. This adds a stereo jack socket so that an external stereo microphone can be used. Olympus supplies the EMA-1 adapter in the SEMA-1 kit, which also includes the ME-51S stereo microphone. Although the E-P1 has the facility to record in stereo, the microphone is too close to the lens’s autofocus so it records the sound of the motor moving.
The second accessory, the VF-2 electronic viewfinder, should prove popular and in my opinion should have been a feature on the original E-P1. With a 1.4-million-dot screen, the VF-2 is on par with the EVF of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1. It is an improvement over the Olympus VF-1, which is an optical viewfinder designed for use with the Olympus M Zuiko 17mm f/2.8 pancake lens.
However, only one accessory can be used at a time, so you will have to choose between stereo recording and using the viewfinder. Of course, as the accessories fit onto the flash hotshoe, you won’t be able to use an external flashgun at the same time. Obviously, this isn’t a problem if you are shooting video as chances are you won’t be using the viewfinder or need flash. However, if you are shooting still images you must choose between having a viewfinder and flash capability. Sadly, the E-P2 does not feature an internal pop-up flash.
Build and handling
Being an upgrade of the Olympus Pen E-P1, the E-P2 shares a nearly identical body. The only difference is the addition of that accessory port under the hotshoe on the rear of the camera. Without the addition of an optical viewfinder and a mirror box, the E-P2 is small and sleek, being around the same size as the Canon PowerShot G11.
As small as it is, the E-P2 is a slightly awkward size. With the supplied M Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lens attached, it is still a little too big to fit in all but the largest coat pockets, yet it’s too small for most over-the-shoulder cases. It left a lot of space in my shoulder bag, and while it seemed excessive having just the camera and kit lens in a shoulder bag, it did leave enough room to carry a full complement of Micro Four Thirds lenses. This would require a much larger bag if it were an APS-C system, and would have been far heavier. Those who do want a very slim, pocketable camera should consider the Olympus M Zuiko 17mm f/2.8 pancake lens. This combination makes for a perfect travel companion.
The menu system is unchanged since the E-P1 and I found it straightforward to use. My only complaint is that while the camera is capable of taking Superfine JPEG images, to select this option in the shooting menu you must first set it to be made available via a setting in the custom menu. This was also true of the E-P1 which seems odd, because most users want the default setting to allow them to take the best possible images. Reducing image quality to save space shouldn’t be an issue.
White balance and colour
On the whole, the white balance and colours produced by the E-P2 are very good. My only concern is that when set to daylight white balance, skies are slightly cyan. Obviously, this can be easily corrected when capturing images as raw files.
There are a few new colour features included in the E-P2. The most useful one is i-Enhance. This intelligent image-adjustment feature automatically alters the contrast and saturation of an image. It can be selected in the image settings menu, along with the standard Natural, Vivid, Muted, Portrait, Monotone and custom styles. However, i-Enhance is also the default colour style when in the i-Auto exposure mode.
The E-P2 has the full complement of Olympus Art Filters, including Grainy Film mode. It also has two new Art Filters in the form of the Diorama filter, which replicates the effect of using a tilt-and-shift lens, and the Cross Process filter, which does a good job of mimicking cross-processed film and some interesting colour effects can also be achieved by changing the white balance settings.
For those who want great-looking JPEG files straight from the camera, the E-P2 has plenty of in-camera colour and enhancement options. Of course, those shooting raw images still have the freedom to shoot JPEG and raw files and edit the raw files in post-capture editing software.
One of the most useful features on Olympus cameras is the highlight and shadow spot metering options. Their purpose is to spot meter specifically to ensure highlights and shadows are correctly exposed.
There is no difference in the metering system of the E-P1 and E-P2. ESP evaluative metering produces good results when I simply wanted to point and shoot. Similarly, the spot metering modes made it easy to select a point from which to take a reading for use with the entire image.
Where I did feel the exposure could be slightly improved, it was easy to use the EV compensation button and rear control wheel to make adjustments for a better result. For example, when photographing some pelicans I used the highlight spot metering mode and then set the exposure compensation to -0.7EV to make sure the birds were bright but not completely white.
It is the flexibility of having a variety of different exposure modes and the ability to use the EV compensation quickly that makes it easy to get well-exposed images from the E-P2, as it is with the E-P1.
To improve the focusing capabilities of the E-P2, in comparison to the E-P1, a few new modes and features have been added, the most important of which is perhaps AF tracking. When activated, this allows you to press the shutter button lightly to lock focus on a particular subject. As the subject moves around the scene, the camera will adjust the focus accordingly. Think of it working in the same way as face-detection technology, except on an object of your choice.
I found the tracking to be surprisingly fast for a contrast-detection AF system. You can hear and feel the AF moving, and when it stops you know the subject is in focus. While the system won’t be fast enough for certain types of photography, it is adequate for tracking moving vehicles from a distance or children playing. Manual focus has also been tweaked. Now, when in manual-focus mode, turning the focusing ring of the lens activates a full-screen magnification of the centre of the frame. Once you have finished focusing, the view reverts to the full-screen preview, allowing reframing to take place. This is a great way to focus the lens, particularly when used with the electronic viewfinder, as it replicates quite well the feel of focusing when using an SLR camera and lens.
I found the Single AF+Manual setting useful for automatically focusing, and then making any slight adjustments by quickly turning the focusing ring of the lens.
For precise automatic focusing, any one of 225 points can be manually selected when in magnified view mode. This will prove useful when taking landscape or still-life images.
Resolution, noise and sensitivity
These images show 72ppi sections of images of a resolution chart, still-life scene and a grey card. We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.
With the same sensor as the E-P1, the resolution and noise levels of the E-P2 remain similar. At ISO 100 it can reach nearly 24 on our resolution test chart.
There is a big drop in quality when it reaches it reaches ISO 800. This is clearly the point at which high ISO noise reduction kicks in, as there is no visible noise but detail is lost due to smudging.
Results from raw files are much the same, with noise well controlled up to around ISO 400. By ISO 800, luminance noise is visible but still unobtrusive.
At ISO 1600 and above, both colour and luminance noise are present, although it is beneficial to keep luminance noise reduction to a minimum to avoid the slight blurring that is seen is JPEG files.
The dynamic range of the E-P2 is on a par with that of the Olympus E-P1, which has a range of around 11.5EV.This allows a good selection of tones to be reproduced by the camera. Saving images as raw files provides the most information to be recovered from highlight and shadows.
I found that the shadow areas were quite dense, suggesting a fairly smooth curve in the shadow areas. These dark areas can be brightened when shooting raw, though noise did become marginally more visible.
Viewfinder, live view, LCD and video
Olympus has used the same 3in, 230,000-dot screen in the E-P2 as is found in the E-P1. Although it is bright and clear, I tended to use the screen only when shooting images at around waist height. I much preferred using the 1.4-million-dot EVF.
The VF-2 electronic viewfinder is included with the E-P2 if you buy it as a kit with the 14-42mm lens or the 17mm pancake lens. Like other electronic viewfinders of its type, the VF-2 is hinged to allow it to be used as an angle finder. Despite its plastic structure, the VF-2 is fairly sturdy and it would take a drop on a hard surface or a lot of deliberate force to break the viewfinder’s hinge.
The viewfinder is one of the best I’ve used. I found it doesn’t suffer from the RGB flicker/fringing we have noted on other cameras. There is also very little delay/lag between moving the camera and what is displayed in the viewfinder. It is only when moving very quickly that a slight flicker is noticeable.
Obviously, it still looks like you are staring at an LCD screen, but as we’ve noted with other recent electronic viewfinders, the latest models show far more detail and a more natural view.
Should you wish to use the rear screen instead of the VF-2, there is a small button that switches between the two. There is, in fact, no difference between what can be viewed on the two screens, and there are two display modes in particular that I found useful. One of these is the live histogram, which is a useful tool to have in the viewfinder for checking that highlight and shadow areas are correctly exposed. Similarly, the white balance mode can be displayed on the rear screen or through the viewfinder, allowing it to be previewed and quickly selected. However, it is best shown on the rear display as it is too small to be of much use when viewed in the EVF.
Video capture is possible either by viewing the scene on the rear screen or through the viewfinder. There have been a few changes to the video-capture options since the E-P1. Although the 30fps, 1280×720-pixel resolution remains, you can now shoot video in manual-exposure mode, which allows the aperture and shutter speed to be selected.
Contrast-detection AF can be used in video mode. However, when in continuous-focus mode it seeks back and forth, causing the subject to be thrown constantly in and out of focus before settling on a focus point. Manual focus is by far the best option for those wishing to shoot video.
There are many things to like about the Pen E-P2, and most of these are the same features that appear in the E-P1. This is because, besides the EVF, there is little in the way of a ‘giant leap forward’.
The EVF is impressive, and when combined with the Micro Four Thirds interchangeable lenses it starts to handle like an SLR. Of course, those without the need for an EVF can opt for the cheaper E-P1.
You would expect that the second camera in a range would have more improvements and features, instead of the refinements than have been added to the EP-2. The addition of the accessory port allows those who want to hold the camera up to the eye, or those requiring better sound quality, a suitable camera. However, making this relatively small upgrade so soon after the original camera was released may infuriate a lot of photographers who bought the E-P1.
I see the E-P2 as a discreet camera for when you don’t want the added weight of a DSLR. However, the lack of a built-in flash is frustrating, though this issue has been addressed with the recent launch of the E-PL1. Look out for our review in a forthcoming issue of AP.
Olympus Pen E-P2 – Key features
Software – The Olympus Pen E-P2 comes supplied with Olympus Master 2 software suite. Raw files can also be opened and edited with Adobe Camera raw 5.6 and Lightroom 2.6.
Image stabilisation – To help keep images blur-free, the Olympus Pen E-P2 has sensor-shift image stabilisation. Olympus claims that this stabilisation allows exposure times to be increased by up to 4EV.
Level gauge – A built-in image level can be displayed on the rear LCD screen to help make sure all your images are level with the horizon.