|Olympus E-PL1 system camera
Even more than the E-P1, the Olympus PEN E-PL1 is meant for the consumer that trades in the compact camera for a more versatile system. Compared with the E-P1, the amount of settings has decreased, without lacking anything. The Olympus PL1 is a fine camera with which to learn more about photography, and that can grow with you for a good while. In that sense, it’s a good investment. In the standard menu, you get to see few settings. That is done consciously, as most users will just get confused by all the options. Turn on the custom menu, and many more settings will become available.
Olympus E-PL1 deliverd with Windows RAW converter
Naturally you can shoot in JPEG with the Olympus PEN PL1, but also RAW format is possible. Although the sensor and processor are not different from the other PEN models, the RAW files do not (yet) open in Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom or Apple Aperture. For Windows users, Olympus includes a RAW converter, but not for Apple users. They have to figure out on their own that they can download the Olympus Master for free on the website. I find it careless that Olympus does not automatically include a Mac version with the camera and don’t even mention that you can download the Apple version in the user’s guide. There are, after all, enough consumers that work with an Apple computer; there are more and more each day. That has to be changed.
Olympus E-PL1 built-in dust reduction system
Luckily the image quality is good. Thanks to a much larger sensor compared with a compact camera and the better lenses, much can be gained in terms of noise and dynamic range. You must keep your lenses and certainly the rear glass, very clean. The lens is located very close to the sensor, which means that quickly each speck of dust on the lens is seen. The built-in dust reduction doesn’t help against that; it only removes dust from the sensor. And it does that well. Just like the built-in image stabilization. This is a bonus in comparison with the PEN's sister, Panasonic's GF-1.
Olympus E-PL1 camera sensor and noise
Olympus’ limit to the amount of pixels is 12 million. I completely agree, especially for a small sensor size. The maximum sensitivity of the Olympus PEN E-PL1 is ISO 3200 and that is one stop less than the E-P1 and E-P2. Up to ISO 800 the E-PL1’s results are fine. If you are very critical and if you look at photos at 100% on the computer screen, than you will always see some noise. But for normal photos printed in a normal format, it is fine. From ISO 1600 upwards, noise becomes more dominant, but for a normal format print there is no problem, and ISO 3200 is a real emergency. Luckily it’s not really color noise that the Olympus PL1 shows. In the graphs, different lines for the colors are close together. That is a good thing, as color noise is very bothersome.
|Olympus PEN E-PL1 color reproduction
The color reproduction is fine in all sensitivities. Colors fade a bit in the higher ISO values, but that is nothing to worry about. The Olympus E-PL1’s curves stay fairly flat and there are no major differences between the color channels which makes the shots look nice and natural. The dynamic range is also fine, it decreases a bit from ISO 800, but remains pretty good. Definitely better than a compact camera. Noticeable is that the E-PL1 itself has a bit of a defective sensitivity, as ISO 100 cannot be achieved. In the Olympus PEN E-PL1, ISO 100 is actually a value of about ISO 160.
Olympus E-PL1 art filters
A unique feature of the Olympus is the art filters and the Olympus E-PL1 has some built-in. They are smart filters that can give the photo a whole different effect. New is the Diorama filter, which makes it looks as if you photographed a diorama. ‘True’ photographers get this effect by changing all kinds of settings in a big, technical camera. With the E-PL1, you just have to push one button. And it looks pretty good, too! The grainy black and white filter is also pretty ingenious and I must admit that I have used it often. These two filters do require a lot of processing and you notice that the camera is running on full power in order to process the image. When you shoot video with such a filter, then you get a choppy recording. The other filters require less power. With the RAW software you can also apply or change the filters afterwards when you photograph in RAW. The art filters are sometimes laughed about, but that is not actually justified. It has happened to me before with the PEN-series cameras that once I started using the filters, it was hard to let go of this form of creative photography.
Olympus 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens
The Olympus E-PL1 comes with a 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 standard lens. It’s amazing how Olympus can deliver such a compact lens with such great performance. Only the wide angle is bit behind, but that’s also the most difficult to design. Especially for a zoom lens, you have to make compromises.
Olympus E-PL1 lens
The sharpness is good at all focal points with a full opening. Diffraction only plays a big role after f/11, when the image becomes less sharp, without it becoming really bad. This is only a problem in the furthest wide angle position, as the other focal points remain consistent. The lens does suffer chromatic aberration. On average it is not so bad, but the extremes are really extreme and very visible. Luckily you can mostly edit that away in Photoshop. Distortion is also more significant in the 14mm position, although it’s not so bad. Vignetting stays within the limits throughout the entire range.