Olympus 'PEN' E-PL2 verdict
The newest and fourth addition to the PEN series of Micro Four Thirds camera bodies, the Olympus E-PL2 is a 12.3 megapixel mirroless interchangeable lens camera. An enhanced version of the E-PL1 launched a year previously, it sits above it in the PEN product line rather than replacing it.
The E-PL2 shares the same size sensor as the E-PL1 and other PEN bodies, but has a bigger 3 inch screen with 460 thousand pixels. It acquires an E-P2-style control dial on the rear panel, a revised ISO sensitivity range, new ART filters and compatibility with new accessories via the enhanced PEN accessory port, along with support for the optional remote USB shutter release.
Arguably, the biggest benefit in performance and handling of this new PEN is likely to come not from the body, but the new M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 II kit lens. Smaller (when extended) and lighter, not to mention sporting quicker and quieter focusing than the mark I 14-42mm kit lens, it not only provides the E-PL2 with a size advantage over the competition when fitted with equivalent kit zooms, it produces excellent quality images.
So now let's see how the latest Olympus PEN compares against its two key rivals from Panasonic and Sony.
Compared to Panasonic Lumix GF2
The Panasonic Lumix GF2 and Olympus E-PL2 have a lot in common. They're pretty much identically priced and are, therefore, key rivals. Both are based on the Micro Four Thirds standard jointly developed by the two companies, they share the same sensor size and lens mount and have the same size and resolution screens, though the Lumix GF2's is touch-sensitive.
So what sets them apart? In terms of handling, the Lumix GF2 body is significantly smaller than the E-PL2 and has fewer external controls with shooting mode and other settings devolved to the touch-screen. With 1080i HD video and a choice of either AVCHD or Motion JPEG encoding, the Lumix is a better option for video. It also has built-in stereo mics compared to the E-PL2's mono mic, though the latter can be equipped with the optional SEMA-1 accessory for connecting an external microphone.
Probably the most significant difference, though, is that the E-PL2 employs sensor-shift image stabilisation in the body that works with any lens you attach. Unless you have a stabilised lens attached to the GF2, like the 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 Mega O.I.S kit zoom we tested it with, you'll need to boost the ISO sensitivity by two or three stops to get similar low-light exposure settings. Paradoxically, this means you can fit the desirable new Lumix 14mm f2.5 pancake prime to the E-PL2 and take advantage of image stabilisation that's absent on the Lumix GF2.
In a similar way to previous generations, it'll be a personal case of weighing-up whether the GF2's size, screen, interface and movie
mode make up for its lack of built-in image stabilisation.
See our Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 review for more details.
Compared to Sony Alpha NEX-3 / NEX-5
With the launch of the Sony NEX3/5 in the middle of 2010 Olympus found itself competing with not just other Micro Four Thirds models but an entirely new breed of mirrorless interchangeable lens camera.
With a larger, higher resolution sensor, higher resolution articulated screen and extremely compact proportions, the NEX models look like a very attractive alternative not just to the E-PL2, but to Micro Four Thirds system cameras in general. This is particularly true of the NEX-3 which is priced appreciably lower than either the E-PL2 or Lumix GF2. The NEX models offer exceptionally good low light performance as well as fast continuous shooting that's exploited in modes that automatically composite multiple images to produce excellent results.
So what's not to like about the NEX models? They don't have the range of lenses available to the Micro Four Thirds system, but that will likely change in time and meanwhile there are third party adapters that will let you attach other lenses. Like the Lumix GF2, the NEX models rely on lens-based image stabilisation. They also lack a built in flash or hotshoe, though a small flash unit is included in the box which attaches to the accessory port.
Then there's the question of handling. Though firmware updates have added, among other things, revised menus, button customisation options, better manual focussing control, and aperture control in movie mode, the NEX menu system and software remains better suited to point-and-shoot operation than advanced manual control.
See our Sony Alpha NEX-3 / NEX-5 review for more details.
Olympus E-PL2 final verdict
Whereas the E-P1 and E-P2 PENS were aimed at those looking for a compact DSLR alternative without the compromises of fixed lens small-sensor compacts, the E-PL1 was designed to appeal more to compact owners with photographic aspirations who didn't, whether for reasons of size or compexity, think a DSLR was for them. The E-PL2 serves both. If you were thinking about buying an E-P2 the E-PL2 now looks like a very credible alternative with most of the more expensive model's features and control options - though not the second thumbwheel rear contoller. If you want to explore what photography has to offer beyond the confines of a fixed lens compact, the E-PL2 will allow you to do that whilst providing all the help you need in its point and shoot iAuto mode.
On the surface, the differences between the E-PL1 and E-PL2 may not look extensive, but they make a big difference in both handling and performance. The rear control dial makes the E-PL2 a much more comfortable camera to use in manual exposure modes while the change to the ISO sensitivity range combined, we suspect, with some tweaking of the image processing, has resulted in improved image quality. Finally, the new M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 II kit lens is light and compact, focuses quickly and quietly, and produces great quality images. The only gripes we'd make are the movie resolution and recording times are looking dated compared to the competition, and while the E-PL2 isn't short of customisation options, they're often hard to track down in the labyrinthine custom menu.
Aside from that, the broad appeal of the PEN E-PL2 and the excellent quality results it's capable of producing look set to make it one of the most successful Micro Four Thirds cameras yet.
Very good image quality.
Built-in Image Stabilisation.
Compact, light kit zoom with quick AF.
Hot Shoe and accessory port.
Screen hard to see in bright conditions.
Complex menu system.
Mono audio mic.
Disappointing sequential shooting.
Movie mode still stuck at 720p Motion JPEG.
(relative to 2011 EVIL cameras)
18 / 20
16 / 20
17 / 20
16 / 20
16 / 20