At first glance, the E-PL2 looks like it offers virtually identical performance to last year's E-PL1. Upon closer examination, well, the E-PL2 offers virtually identical performance to last year's E-PL1.
You have to look extremely close to find areas where the new E-PL2 offers even a marginal step up from the older camera. That's not necessarily a bad thing since the E-PL1 still holds its own against other Micro-Four Thirds cameras and budget DSLRs. Still, I doubt many current E-PL1 owners will see an obvious reason to "upgrade" if the only major gains in performance come from a new high ISO setting (ISO 6400) and a new maximum shutter speed (1/4000 sec.).
As with the rest of the digital Pen series cameras, the single Achilles Heel of the E-PL2 is auto focus. First, let me start out by saying that the E-PL2 is among the fastest focusing Micro-Four Thirds cameras we've tested and is only bested by the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 and the Sony alpha NEX-5. Unfortunately, that still isn't quite as fast as DSLRs in the same price range.
To put the AF speed into context, you'll be able to quickly get a focus lock and snap a photo of your child if he or she is relatively still, but if your child is moving quickly then you'll probably end up with a photo that's out of focus. That means the E-PL2 gives you DSLR quality images for portraits and landscapes but isn't always going to deliver when it comes to candid photos of fast action or sports. Of course, the same can largely be said for any compact interchangeable lens camera currently on the market, but it's worth keeping in mind if you're trying to decide between this and a budget DSLR for family photos.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2||0.01|
|Sony alpha NEX-5||0.05|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2||0.34|
|Sony alpha NEX-5||0.39|
The 11-area contrast detection auto focus system inside the E-PL2 uses the image sensor to determine auto focus (similar to a point-and-shoot compact digital camera) rather than a separate phase detection auto focus system such as the ones used inside DSLR cameras. The contrast detection AF system is generally reliable, but not particularly fast (per my earlier comments).
Continuous focus mode suffers from similar performance limitations: It's suitable for slow moving subjects under bright light if the subject has enough contrast for accurate subject tracking, but low contrast, low light, or high speeds can all make the E-PL2 fail to obtain a focus lock.
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2||60||3.4 fps
|Samsung NX10||12||3.3 fps
|Olympus E-PL2||16||3.2 fps
|Sony alpha NEX-5||∞||2.6 fps
*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.
Continuous shooting is pretty good when compared to a point-and-shoot digital camera, but compared to similarly priced DSLRs, the burst shooting performance is a little flat. The top continuous shooting speed in our lab came in at 3.2 frames per second (faster than the advertised 3 frames per second) with a fast class 6 SDHC memory card. The maximum number of images that you can capture at this speed is limited to 10, so that's something else to consider if you do a lot of sports photography.
Built-in flash performance on the E-PL2 is basically identical to the E-PL1. As near as I can tell, this is the same built-in flash that was used on the E-PL1 with a different top plate to match the exterior of the new camera. It's fine for close-range snapshots or outdoor photos that need some fill flash to balance shadows under bright sunlight, but just like DSLRs, you'll get far better flash results by using an external flash in the camera's hot shoe.
The E-PL2's hot shoe provides full TTL communication with Olympus's current flashguns. Just like the E-PL1 and the latest Olympus DSLRs, the E-PL2 allows you to use the camera's built-in flash to wirelessly control multiple external flash units.
It's unlikely that most of the photographers who purchase this camera will use the wireless flash feature (since it requires purchasing one or more compatible flash units) but it's a nice feature to include with this camera and increases the likelihood that professional photographers who use Olympus DSLRs might purchase the E-PL2 as a travel or backup camera.
As noted, an in-body sensor shift mechanism provides image stabilization for the E-PL2 - a welcome feature on any camera this small. The IS menu (which is buried among the clutter of the rest of the camera's menu options) can be used to engage or disengage IS, and select from one of three (normal, plus two panning mode) options for the system.
We used the new 14-42mm kit lens and the 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6 telephoto lens during our testing period. I also used a Micro Four Thirds to Four Thirds lens adapter to take photos with the professional-grade 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0. lens. All three of these lenses performed flawlessly with the E-PL2 and produced good overall image quality.
The new 14-42mm kit lens feels a little cheap with its all-plastic construction compared to the almost premium fit and finish of the E-PL2. The 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lens is obviously a piece of consumer glass, and although the results are far superior than what you can expect from a compact point-and-shoot camera, the kit lens doesn't produce images with the same contrast and sharpness you'll see in images from the more expensive 12-60mm lens.
Like all Four Thirds models, the E-PL2 registers a 2x crop factor, meaning the 14-42mm kit lens performs like a 28-84mm zoom in familiar 35mm terms.
Another thing to keep in mind about the E-PL2 is that it doesn't remain particularly "compact" when any of the zoom lenses are attached to the camera. In fact, the only way to make the E-PL2 a truly "compact" or "pocketable" camera is to use a pancake style prime lens such as the Olympus 17mm f/2.8 or one of the several Panasonic Lumix pancake lenses.
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