The latest model in the vintage-flavoured PEN range, the Olympus E-PL2 is one of the most compact interchangeable lens cameras you can buy. So how does this 12.3MP snapper compare to recently launched rivals such as the Sony NEX-5 and Panasonic GF2? Read on and our full Olympus E-PL2 review will clue you in!
The Olympus E-PL2 is a Micro Four Thirds camera with access to a wide range of lenses made by Olympus and Panasonic. Our review sample came supplied with a 14-42mm kit zoom, and while it looks the same as that bundled with previous PENs, it’s actually a brand new design that feels more solid less plasticky – twist the zoom or focus ring and it’s much smoother.
In fact, the entire build quality of the Olympus E-PL2 feels a good notch or two above its predecessor the E-PL1. There’s more metal and less plastic in the construction, and the screen is noticeably sharper.
One thing we would have liked to see is a touchscreen – a Panasonic GF2-style ability to “touch to focus” would have been very useful indeed – but maybe Olympus will add that in the next PEN…
Usability and performance
Performance is much improved too. The general control layout is largely the same, but autofocus speed is far zippier, locking onto a subject without the sluggish hunting we’ve had to put up with on previous PENs. The Sony NEX-5 and Panasonic GF2 are faster, but the Olympus E-PL2 isn’t too far behind: something that could mean the difference between capturing a great shot and missing your opportunity.
The menu system will be familiar to users of past PENs, and there’s a Live Guide function aimed at newbies. This lets you change settings like aperture, white balance, shutter speed and exposure compensation by displaying an adjustable slider and explaining what effect moving it up and down will have on your image. Experiences shutter nutters won’t touch it – they’ll just use the aperture or shutter priority modes, or dip into the quick menu to tweak other settings – but it’s nice to see Olympus making an effort to be inclusive.
Photo and video quality
Images from the Olympus E-PL2 are gorgeous: its large sensor and high quality kit lens (we reckon it’s better on the optical front as well as the build quality front) producing punchy, vivid colours and stiletto sharp detail at low ISO settings. Keep the ISO towards the 200 minimum and you’ll have no complaints about noise and detail, and you can push it up to ISO 800 without too many ill effects. It will go all the way up to 6400 (double that of the E-PL1) if you do need to shoot flash-less in murky conditions, but the noise is predictably horrendous up there.
As with all the PENs so far, the Olympus E-PL2 comes with a selection of Art Filter modes, which let you quickly set it up for Lomo-style vignetting, tilt shift-esque miniature shots and grainy black and white photos. It’s a nice, handy feature that can produce some great atmospheric results if you don’t just want “normal” realistic shots.
Video isn’t really a highlight feature here: the format is Motion JPEG rather than the more popular AVCHD offered by the rival Panasonic and Sony cameras, and the built-in microphone can only capture sound in mono (you’ll need to buy Olympus’s external mic if you want stereo). That said, the 720p video quality is generally superb in terms of detail and smoothness, and far above anything you’d get from a standard point-and-shoot camera or a consumer camcorder.
While we don’t think the Olympus E-PL2 is quite up to the all-round standards of the Sony NEX-5 or Panasonic GF2, it’s definitely our favourite PEN camera so far, and a great premium snapper in its own right. If Olympus continues on this path, its next PEN could well find itself one of the leading compact system cameras on the market.