Olympus E-PM1: Build and Design

by Jim Keenan Reads (955)
Editor's Rating
7.00

TG Ratings Breakdown

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 7
    • Features
    • 7
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 5
    • Performance
    • 8
    • Expandability
    • 8
    • Total Score:
    • 7.00
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

BUILD AND DESIGN
Absent a lens and any attachments in the accessory port, the PM1 body is basically rectangular with rounded edges measuring approximately 4.31 x 2.5 x 1.33 inches. The 14-42 zoom adds about 3.0-inches to that 1.33-inch figure with the lens fully extended, but the overall package is still quite compact, and weighs in at about 9.34 ounces with battery, lens and memory card on board.

Olympus E-PM1

The body is metal and available in six colors: purple, pink, brown, black, silver and white – designed to appeal to the “fashion-sensitive younger generation.” Our review model was the black variation and its lightly textured black matte paint was nicely offset by brushed silver accents along the camera top and lens mount. Build quality, fit and finish looked good, and appropriate for the price point.

Ergonomics and Controls
While that matte black paint was attractive it also offered nothing to help improve the grip on the body. The PM1 has a thin strip of rubberized material along the right edge of the camera back, but it’s fairly slick and too small to be of help. The right front of the camera body is an empty expanse of paint that would benefit from a patch of tacky rubberized stuff.

Olympus E-PM1

The Olympus website trumpets ease-of-use as a major PM1 feature, and in keeping with this philosophy external controls are at an absolute minimum: on/off and shutter buttons on the camera top; on the back dedicated movie capture, info, menu and playback buttons along with a an arrow pad/control dial incorporating exposure compensation, flash, sequential shooting/self-timer and AF target buttons.

Olympus E-PM1

All three of the new PEN cameras offer “live guide,” but the target audience of the PM1 is apt to benefit most from its use: “Designed for users who do not have expert knowledge of photography but want to have creative control over their pictures, live guide lets users shoot the pictures they want by selecting an icon and operating a slide bar to control the major factors for the SLR photography including color vividness, color balance, image brightness, depth of field (blur background) and subject in motion.” Live guide is available in iAuto mode and can preview the changes created by the inputs prior to image capture. Here’s a quick tour of the live guide interface, starting with the iAuto shooting screen:

Olympus E-PM1

Pushing the “OK” in the arrow pad/control dial gives us the live guide menu, which in this case happens to be set on “change brightness.”

Olympus E-PM1

Users can scroll to the icon of their choice (top to bottom: color saturation, color image, change brightness, blur background, express motions, shooting tips), but we’ll stay with brightness and push “OK” again.

Olympus E-PM1

Live guide has given us a slider on screen that we can scroll up or down to lighten or darken the image. We choose to scroll to the brightest setting and can see the results.

Olympus E-PM1

Going the other way darkens the image.

Olympus E-PM1 Sample Image

Automatic shooting modes typically allow little in the way of user inputs, but live guide pushes that generally narrow performance envelope quite a bit further.

Folks shooting in P, A, S, M or movie mode have access to “live control” to adjust settings and preview the effect of the changes as well. Pushing the “OK” button in the manual or movie modes brings up a number of shooting setting icons on the screen and you can then scroll to items like stabilization mode, picture mode, white balance, single or continuous shooting, image aspect ratio, image size, movie capture mode, flash setting and compensation, exposure metering mode, autofocus mode, ISO and face/eye priority AF.

That image aspect ratio setting is pretty cool – the PM1 can capture still images in the following aspect ratios: 4:3 (default), 3:4, 6:6, 3:2 or 16:9. Here’s a look at those choices, which can come in handy trying to capture subjects of unusual shape or size.

Olympus E-PM1 Sample Image
4 X 3
Olympus E-PM1 Sample Image
3 X 2
Olympus E-PM1 Sample Image
3 X 4
Olympus E-PM1 Sample Image
6 X 6
Olympus E-PM1 Sample Image
16 X 9

Menus and Modes
“Ease of use,” “simplified control,” “excellent shots – effortlessly”- anyone see a pattern developing here? Despite sharing the basic sensor, processor, lens, and many of the features of its higher-priced siblings, Olympus has chosen to emphasize the easy factor with the PM1. Go to the Olympus website and bring up the E-PL3 and “professional image quality” is the headline for that camera (with “ease-of-use” relegated to fourth place behind “blazing speed” and “creative freedom”). I haven’t been hands-on with the E-PL3 or E-P3, but since all three of the newly introduced PEN cameras feature redesigned user interfaces it’s probably safe to assume that the menu structure of the PM1 will not be totally alien to folks shooting a PL3 or P3. Here’s a quick look at portions of the new menu interface.

Push the menu button on the PM1 and you’re taken to this screen, which shows the camera happens to be set in aperture priority shooting mode. The user can then scroll to the other shooting modes or the setup menu as needed.

Olympus E-PM1

Scrolling to “set up” and pushing the OK button in the control dial brings up this screen which provides access to shooting, playback, custom, accessory port and setup menus. The custom and accessory port menus may be disabled so they do not appear.

Olympus E-PM1

From the original screen, let’s say we scroll to the scene menu.

Olympus E-PM1

Pushing the okay button produces our scene shooting options and shows in this case the camera happens to be set in portrait mode.

Olympus E-PM1

The PM1 menus are relatively simple and intuitive, and probably my chief complaint would center on the size of the typeface used in the setup menu – in bright light the relatively fine print can be difficult to see on the monitor. The other menus offer icons and explanations of the various settings and these are a little easier to see.

Shooting modes are typical for cameras in this class: automatic and scene shooting options along with full manual controls and HD video. Olympus divides these options into two groups – easy shooting consisting of the automatic, scene, and art filter modes and advanced shooting which incorporates the manual exposure modes.

  • iAuto: An automatic shooting mode with the camera handling most settings; in addition to the minimal user inputs typically offered with automatic shooting, the PM1 provides live guide which allows inputs into color saturation, color image, brightness, blurring the background, express motion and shooting tips.
  • Art: An automatic shooting mode that offers the user a choice of six types of art filters to apply during image capture: pop art, soft focus, grainy film, pinhole, diorama, or dramatic tone.
  • Scene: Choose from 23 automatic shooting modes tailored to specific scenes such is portraits, sunset, fireworks, etc. There are fisheye, wide-angle and macro shooting modes which require optional converter lenses.
  • Program auto: Shooting mode with the camera setting aperture and shutter speed while the user retains a wide variety of inputs, including program shift to set different combinations of aperture and shutter speed while retaining the same exposure.
  • Aperture priority: User sets the aperture, camera sets the shutter speed and the user has a wide variety of inputs.
  • Shutter priority: User sets the shutter speed, camera sets the aperture and the user has a wide variety of inputs.
  • Manual: User sets shutter speed and aperture and has a wide variety of inputs.
  • Movie: AVCHD format, capture 1920 x 1080 full HD video in either fine or normal quality 60i recording; 1280 x 720 HD in either fine or normal quality 60p recording; image sensor output is at 30 fps. Motion-JPEG format, capture HD 1280 x 724 or SD 640 x 480 video at 30 fps. Clip length for AVCHD is 29 minutes except for full HD fine quality, which is 22 minutes. Clip length for Motion-JPEG is 7 minutes for HD and 14 minutes for SD.

Here’s a peek at the six art filter shooting options:

Olympus E-PM1 Sample Image
Pop Art
Olympus E-PM1 Sample Image
Soft Focus
Olympus E-PM1 Sample Image
Grainy Film
Olympus E-PM1 Sample Image
Pinhole
Olympus E-PM1 Sample Image
Diorama
Olympus E-PM1 Sample Image
Dramatic Tone

Display
The 3.0-inch LCD monitor has an antireflective coating and 460,000 dot composition. Area of coverage looks to be approximately 100% for image capture and 100% for playback. The monitor is adjustable for 15 levels of brightness. In our studio measurements the monitor recorded a 508 nit peak brightness level and a 1016:1 contrast ratio. The 508 peak brightness level is above the 500 nit threshold that we like to see for this value, and the contrast ratio is well above the 500 to 800:1 optimal range for contrast.

Olympus E-PM1

In practice, the PM1 monitor proved fairly useful in bright outdoor conditions although there were still occasions when Mother Nature was able to overwhelm the monitor and make image capture or review a difficult prospect. Since we started including peak brightness and contrast ratios in our camera reviews it seems the better performing monitors have a few things in common, notably a 3.0-inch size threshold and high dot composition – particularly 900,000 dots and up. High contrast ratios also seem to squeak better performance out of monitors that register relatively low in peak brightness. So while the PM1 comes up a bit short on monitor resolution, it size and high contrast seem to be helping out.

There is an electronic viewfinder available from Olympus that can be mounted on the camera’s accessory port and would probably be my first add-on were I to purchase a PM1. The downside is by installing an EVF you lose the ability to mount the flash – but unless you’re shooting the flash as fill light, you’re probably not going to miss it in the bright outdoor conditions that make the EVF so nice to have.


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