50 Days With The Olympus E-PL1

Time flies when you’re having fun. And have I ever been having fun with the Olympus. So after 50 days of use, with hundreds of photos up and displaying on Flickr, it’s time to report back on how good the camera is, its plus points and the few minus points.

First of all, the biggest pro, the most important plus point, dare I say the be all and end all of camera usage – it is great fun. It’s a joy to use, and the results exceed expectations. Photography should be fun. It should be about capturing moments that you’ll want to remembers. And, if you’re a little more adventurous, creating moments that you’ll never forget.

A camera should be easy to use, should know what you’re thinking in auto mode, and respond well to instructions when you play with settings. It should be quick to react, and reliable when recording those moments. The Olympus, for the most part anyway, does all of this with aplomb.

It’s a nice camera to hold as well. It’s a little too big to pocket unless you fit a pancake lens and have baggy jeans with sizeable pockets. But it’s not so big that it is in any way awkward. It has a pleasant heft to it as far as weight goes, and feels very solid. All the dials, buttons and flaps open, close and click with a reassuring amount of solidity. Made to last is the thought that springs to mind.

Pinhole Pew

This camera is aimed at new users and experienced users alike, and served both well. The auto setting has a menu that allows you to tell the camera what effect you’re looking for, and it will apply the settings. Want a blurred background? Want to freeze an action shot? A little more colour? A little less light? No need to study the million different aperture, exposure and shutter speed combos.

You tell it what the desired end result is, and it will comply. The Art Modes are fun as well, producing great looking shots, providing you’ve matched the right sort of filter for the subject at hand. The photo above was taken with an Art Filter. And of course, if you want to manually adjust the settings, then no problem – the full range of manual options are there on the dial. And there is the manual focus ring on the lens too.

I’ve always wanted to create some cool bokeh images. Although the photo below is a practise shot, rather than a proper photo with an onject focussed in the foreground and bokeh in the background, it shows how capable it is, capturing the headlights of moving road traffic quite nicely.

Bokeh

I’ve been equally impressed with its ability to take decent video too, although I’ve yet to take the time to get the camera mounted on a tripod and shoot something decent. But the image detail, image stabilisation and colour reproduction have all been good. The audio captured by internal mics is positively outstanding in comparison to other cameras I’ve had. A positive revelation in fact.

But by far and away the biggest plus point of the E-PL1 from a photographers perspective is image quality. You expect it, given the price and the fact it has a nice big sensor in there. And it delivers. Low light, high ISO shooting has become a pleasure instead of a noise ridden pain. I’ve captured shots at ISOs 800 and even 1600 which are more than just usuable.

At the former setting, they are as sharp as images I got at ISO100 with some of my old compact cameras. At the latter setting, the quality beats by a big margin images shot at ISO 400 with those compacts. ISO 1600 needs perhaps just a little extra contrast to produce a fine image, visually free of noise when viewed on a PC monitor. The photo below was taken at night, without flash, at ISO 1250.

The Confession

So are there any black marks on this otherwise sterling review? One or two. Perhaps the most irritating is the cameras occasional inability to focus quickly. It is only occasional though, and happens most often when shooting in low light, or shooting macro. In fact, for real close ups, I’ve taken to using the manual focus ring.

Which brings me to minus point two. The rear LCD (the camera has no viewfinder) is a fairly low resolution unit. As a result, it isn’t always brilliant in bright lights, and it doesn’t always show as much detail as you’d like to see when manually focusing. But it does generally do the job well enough. It is also possible to buy an EVF that plugs into the hot shoe – it’s reported to be an excellent, quality addition to the camera, one that I will eventually make.

If I wanted to be picky, I could also mention the battery. The recharger has a cable to plug it into the mains. I do prefer the rechargers that plug straight into the wall. And the battery itself  can confuse you as to which way it should be inserted into the camera – although it won’t quite go all the way in if you’re doing it wrong.

But none of these flaws are deal breakers. Mild and occasional irritants is all. I couldn’t recommend this camera highly enough. It’s a gem. A keeper. And coming from me, given that this is the fourth camera I’ve had this year, that is perhaps saying something! I do wonder where this leaves some of the top end compacts such as the Canon G12 and Panasonic Lumix LX5.

Both of those cost nearly as much as the E-PL1, both have their good points, neither of them, however, comes close to matching the image quality you can get from this Olympus. If I had about 500 bucks to splash on a camera today, it’s a no brainer, and the G12 and LX5 will stay on the shop shelves. I will finish this post off though with a gallery that I’ve curated on Flickr – click here. This is what the camera is capable of.

3 thoughts on “50 Days With The Olympus E-PL1

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