Olympus E-PL1 Performance, Times and Image Quality

April 14, 2010 by Adam Crawford Reads (9,399)
Editor's Rating

Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 8
    • Features
    • 9
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 9
    • Performance
    • 8
    • Total Score:
    • 8.50
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

The E-PL1 is probably among the most mobile cameras I have come across in a while, simply because it is small, lightweight and doesn’t call attention to the photographer. This is a boon when considering you are getting the efficiency of a point-and-shoot with a somewhat larger sensor. The E-PL1 is a good street camera, making it an accessible shooter that’s on par with stronger point-and-shoots that have manual controls.

Shooting Performance
Shooting with the E-PL1 proved to be a pleasurable experience, and there were no major issues while field testing. But in a more controlled environment like our studio, the limits of the camera became clear. Although the E-PL1 is the lowest-end model of the Digital PEN series, it has the same AF system as the E-P2, along with Continuous AF with Tracking. Some differences include a slower shutter speed: it goes up to 1/2000th while the E-P1 and E-P2 max out at 1/4000th. ISO speed held to 3200 max, while the other two go up to 6400.

It seems like cameras that use a contrast-based AF are inherently slower achieving focus. Although the Olympus E-PL1 is slower than a DSLR, the MFT cameras can achieve focus as quickly as the higher-end point-and-shoot models. That said, the E-PL1 has some average marks in our studio testing.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 0.02
Canon PowerShot G11 0.03
Pentax K-x 0.03
Olympus E-PL1 0.03

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Pentax K-x 0.25
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 0.32
Canon PowerShot G11 0.38
Olympus E-PL1 0.84

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Pentax K-x 17 4.4 fps
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 10 3.1 fps
Olympus E-PL1 14 3.1 fps
Canon PowerShot G11 1.1 fps

During our tests, the E-PL1 came in at the middle of the pack, including shutter lag, AF Acquisition and continuous shooting. With a shutter lag of 0.03 seconds, the E-PL1 tied the point-and-shoot Canon G11, while the higher-end MFT Panasonic GF1 beat it by a slight margin. For AF acquisition, it’s the slowest; ringing in at 0.84 seconds. And for continuous shooting, the E-PL1 finished second to last. With a maximum of 3.1 fps for 14 frames, the E-PL1 falls in the middle with burst shooting, matching the GF1, and beating the Canon G11.

While shooting outdoors, so long as you are in a brightly lit area, the AF works great. But in low light, even with the supplied 17mm f/2.8 lens, the AF is slow. Finding contrast in a darkly lit scene is hard for a contrast-based AF, and it’s a slight setback for the E-PL1 user. But then again, this isn’t a professional camera, so shooting in low light may not be an issue.

If you are shooting in low light, some of the slow AF pain can be alleviated with the pop-up flash, which is only found on the Olympus E-PL1. There are seven different fill options with the flash, including Fill In, Red-Eye + Fill In, 2nd Curtain, Full, 1/4, 1/16 and 1/64. After testing all the settings, the pop-up flash seemed very capable. The Full is the most powerful setting and part of the manual flash settings, which also include 1/4, 1/16 and 1/64. The flash can also trigger a set of external flashes optically, which is a professional feature found on the E-3 and other Olympus DSLRs.

The E-PL1 uses internal sensor-shift image stabilization technology that works great. There are two panning options: IS off and the general IS on that works for most situations. You can gain a stop of light if you enact the IS at night, allowing you to use a faster shutter speed.

The E-PL1’s battery life is good and has a CIPA rating of 290 shots. I used the camera for more than two weeks and only had to change the battery after one day of heavy use. As long as you’re not shooting with flash and capturing video, you should be able to shoot more than 290.

Lens Mount/Kit Lens
The E-PL1 comes standard with the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 variable aperture lens. It is a zoom lens that is collapsible when not in use. By twisting the zoom wheel, you can either pop it out or push it back down, making it a very small lens that’s easily portable. We were also provided with a 17mm prime f/2.8 lens, which is small and good in low light. The E-PL1 has a 2x crop factor, so the 14-42mm is more like 28-84mm, and the 17mm is 34mm.

The 17mm offers a nice wide angle and was sharp throughout the entire frame. Corners were softer when using the 14-42mm, but there weren’t any pincushioning, barrel distortion or chromatic aberrations. In some high contrast images that I captured, there was some purple fringing. Though overall, both lenses worked great.

Video Quality
The E-PL1 captures HD video at 1280 x 720 at 30 fps, and also SD video at 640 x 480, also at 30 fps. The video quality was great, capturing solid video and sound with the monaural microphone. I shot video in low light with the 17mm lens at the golden hour and got some really good video with the sound of waves crashing. I also shot video in good lighting with great results. Overall, video quality was above average.

Image Quality
The strength of the Olympus E-PL1 is its image quality. The default processing setting is Natural. Other options are i-Enhance, Vivid, Muted, Portrait, Monotone and Custom. Natural provides realism to pictures, but if you are looking for more punchy color, jump to Vivid for subtle saturation. I like the different color modes because they aren’t overbearing; they each capture a great image that isn’t too strong, with subtle differences. The settings can be adjusted by using the sliders in the i-Auto mode, which allows you to “punch up” color when needed.

Olympus E-PL1 Test Image
Olympus E-PL1 Test Image
Olympus E-PL1 Test Image
Olympus E-PL1 Test Image
Olympus E-PL1 Test Image
Olympus E-PL1 Test Image
Olympus E-PL1 Test Image

Default images are strong and crisp, with great detail and edge-to-edge sharpness. In great light, the image quality is top notch. In low light images, which I tested at dusk at the beach, detail was still above average.

White Balance is also very manageable because of the amount of options available: Auto, Sunny, Shadow, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent 1, Fluorescent 2, Fluorescent 3, WB Flash, Capture WB and Kelvin 5400. They work well depending on lighting situations and whether you are indoors or outdoors.

Olympus E-PL1
Auto White Balance, 3200k incandescent light

With indoor shooting, the E-PL1 performed well in our studio incandescent test, producing an image without too much warmth. The image’s colors were mostly accurate, including the contrast of white from the teddy bear to the white background. Auto white balance works well for most situations, and the E-PL1 does a good job of finding the right exposure with its metering system.

The ISO sensitivity studio test is where the Olympus E-PL1 really shines, with workable images all the way from 100-800. At 800, it’s a pretty grain-free image, but once the ISO is bumped to 1250, 1600 and the maximum of 3200, noise starts to creep in.

Olympus E-PL1
ISO 100

ISO 100, 100% crop
Olympus E-PL1
ISO 200
Olympus E-PL1
ISO 200, 100% crop
Olympus E-PL1
ISO 400
Olympus E-PL1
ISO 400, 100% crop
Olympus E-PL1
ISO 640
Olympus E-PL1
ISO 640, 100% crop
Olympus E-PL1
ISO 800
Olympus E-PL1
ISO 800, 100% crop
Olympus E-PL1
ISO 1600
Olympus E-PL1
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Olympus E-PL1
ISO 2500
Olympus E-PL1
ISO 2500, 100% crop
Olympus E-PL1
ISO 3200
Olympus E-PL1
ISO 3200, 100% crop

Even at 3200, you’ll get a workable image that is fine for email or for the Web, but 800 is the magic number on the ISO chart for the E-PL1.

Additional Sample Images

Olympus E-PL1 Test Image Olympus E-PL1 Test Image
Olympus E-PL1 Test Image Olympus E-PL1 Test Image
Olympus E-PL1 Test Image Olympus E-PL1 Test Image
Olympus E-PL1 Test Image Olympus E-PL1 Test Image

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