The Olympus Pen E-P2 is NOT a DSLR. The E-P2 is about the same size and has the same look and feel as the classic Olympus Pen F, but the E-P2 also calls to mind the classic 35mm Leica rangefinder cameras of an earlier era when street photographers haunted the fashionable avenues, narrow alleyways, and busy boulevards of the world’s great cities with small inconspicuous cameras like the Leica IIIG, the Olympus Pen FT, and the Rollei 35S to document and define urban culture of the twentieth century. Small, versatile, and unobtrusive jacket pocket cameras (with superb optics) designed to capture the decisive moment with as little fuss as possible were used to shoot many of the iconic images of the twentieth century. The EP-2 does a pretty good job of updating that genre’s primary tool for the twenty-first century.
Some E-P1 purchasers complained that the AF was not as fast as Micro Four Thirds offerings from Panasonic. The E-P2 has essentially the same AF system as the E-P1, but Olympus says they’ve added a new AF mode (continuous AF with focus tracking) that should make it easier to keep up with rapidly evolving action – like photographing active children at play.
The E-P2 comes in right in the middle of the pack in terms of timing – pretty much equivalent to its competition in every area except AF. As regards AF, the E-P2 is the slowest camera in the group. This is due primarily to the lack of phase detection auto focus. Slower contrast detection AF (and the need to supply a video feed to the LCD/EVF to provide a TTL live view) cause the E-P2 to behave more like a Point and Shoot than a dSLR. The E-P2 is quick enough to capture most general action (in good light), but not quick enough for truly rapid action like extreme sports.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1||0.02|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1||0.32|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1||10||3.14|
* Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera’s fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). “Frames” notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
Personally, I didn’t have any problems with the E-P2’s AF outdoors and in decently lit indoor venues – especially those with some window light in the mix. I did experience some difficulties in one indoor setting – a local coffee shop with dark (wood paneling) walls and incandescent lighting challenged the both the E-P2’s AF speed/accuracy and the precision of its auto white balance mode.
So what’s the deal here? Realistically, camera users shouldn’t expect to capture consistently excellent pictures in problematic lighting. The demo photo below was taken just after dusk on an overcast winter day – yet the E-P2 did a pretty good job of freezing my exuberant model in mid leap. The E-P2 wasn’t designed to replace either a DSLR like the Nikon D90 or an advanced compact like the Canon G11 – it was designed as a third option – an imaging tool that combines many of the best features of both.
Image stabilization is almost ubiquitous these days. The E-P2 features an internal (body) sensor shift mechanism to ameliorate camera shake. The E-P2 provides three standard IS options plus IS off and two panning IS options. The EP-2 doesn’t feature a built-in flash although the very similar and soon to be released E- PL1 does. Olympus provides a small retro look hot shoe mounted external TTL flash unit, the FL-14, for use with the E-P2 and E- P1. Olympus’ other current external flash units can also be used.
It appears that Olympus has finally jumped off the proprietary memory media bandwagon. No more SM or xD cards – the E-P2 stores images/video to industry standard SD/SDHC memory media. The EP-2 draws its juice from the same relatively compact 1150 mAh lithium-ion BLS-1 battery that powers the Olympus E-420 and E-620 DSLRs. Olympus says that a fully charged BLS-1 is good for about 300 exposures – I only needed to charge the battery twice during three weeks of relatively heavy use, so I’d say that figure was fairly accurate.
The EP-2 features an 11 point contrast detection auto focus system which utilizes the image sensor to determine auto focus (like point and shoots) instead of the phase detection AF systems used on most DSLRs. Contrast detection AF system are usually reliably accurate, especially in good light or in low light on subjects with good contrast, but certainly not as fast as phase detection AF systems. The EP-2’s AF performance is faster than most point and shoots, but not as fast as most DSLRs, which seems reasonable since the EP-2 is neither a Point and Shoot nor a DSLR. The E-P2 also provides single point AF and manual focus with an enlarged area focusing aid. Focus modes – Single AF (S-AF), Continuous AF (C-AF), Manual Focus (MF), S-AF + MF, and AF tracking (C-AF + TR).
Lens Mount/Kit Lens
Currently, dedicated Olympus Micro Four Thirds lens options are pretty slim – The E-P2 kit comes with a Zuiko f/3.5-5.6 14mm-42mm (equivalent to 28-84mm) zoom. There’s also a Zuiko f/2.8 17mm “pancake” prime lens. New lenses (an f/4.0-5.6 9-14mm zoom and an f/4.0-5.6 14-150mm zoom) are in the works and should be available around April/May 2010. Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras can also (with an adaptor) use Panasonic/Leica Micro Four Third lenses. Adaptors are also available to mount full-size Four Thirds Olympus lenses (most supporting AF) and OM (Olympus 35mm) mount lenses.
The E-P2 kit comes with a very good quality Zuiko f/3.5-5.6 14-42mm (equivalent to 28mm-84mm) zoom. The E-P2’s kit lens is collapsible (like some old school Leica lenses) – when you’ve finished shooting, simply push the lock button on the lens barrel and twist – the zoom becomes noticeably shorter making is easier to drop the camera in a jacket pocket. The E-P2’s kit zoom is fairly slow – the f/3.5 maximum aperture may cause a little heartburn for some shooters in dim/low light situations.
Zooming is fairly smooth and lens operation is very quiet. The Zuiko f/3.5-5.6 14-42mm zoom does show some very minor corner softness, but center sharpness is surprisingly good, especially so for a kit zoom. Barrel distortion (at the wide-angle end of the zoom range) is well controlled and Pincushion distortion (at the telephoto end of the zoom range) is essentially invisible.
The E-P2 records 720p HD video at 30 fps. Our sample video has a decidedly warm cast, though the video itself is fluid and the quality is nice. The E-P2 offers manual exposure control in movie mode as well as the use of the camera’s art filters. The E-P2 records AVI motion JPEGs.
Default images show very good color, contrast, and sharpness. Overall image quality (with the kit zoom) is dependably very good to excellent – outdoors in good light. Shadow detail is decent, but there is a slight tendency to clip highlights and some noticeable chromatic aberration (purple fringing).
The E-P2’s auto exposure system is a bit better than average and the Program and Auto modes make taking very good to excellent images simple, even for beginners, but there is a tendency toward minor underexposure. More experienced shooters can manually tweak image parameters including saturation, contrast, and sharpness via the super control panel.
The camera provides a more than adequate selection of White Balance options, including: Auto, Lamp (3000K), Fluorescent 1 (4000K), Fluorescent 2 (4500K), Fluorescent 3 (6600K), Daylight (5300K), Flash (5500K), Cloudy (6000K), Shade (7500K), Custom (one setting can be registered at Kelvin temperature (2000-14000K); WB compensation of +/- 7 steps in each A-B/G-M axis.
The E-P2’s auto white balance setting does a reliably good job outdoors. Indoors, the E-P2 (in Auto WB mode) sometimes struggles to get difficult hues (like purple) just right. Default colors are bold and bright and just barely cooler than real world colors. The EP-2’s auto WB mode doesn’t do very well under incandescent/tungsten light, but it does a pretty decent job under fluorescent light.
Olympus provides an impressive range of sensitivity options including Auto: ISO 200-3200 customizable (default 200-800), Manual: ISO 100-6400 in 1/3 or 1 EV steps, Movie: ISO 160-1600.
Image noise levels are below average at all ISO settings. Images shot at lower ISOs show very low noise levels, vibrant color, sharp resolution, slightly hard contrast, acceptable highlight detail, and decent shadow detail. Visible (but very negligible) noise/graininess (at full size) begins to show at the ISO 400 setting.
Above ISO 400 noise is more noticeable and there’s a barely perceptible loss of fine detail. Shutterbugs with realistic expectations should encounter few problems with the E-P2 in auto ISO mode – even when shooting indoors.
Additional Sample Images