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Olympus announces rangefinder-inspired E-P1
by Allison Johnson -  6/10/2009

For a hands-on look at the new Olympus E-P1, be sure to take a look at our video preview.

Olympus announced today the E-P1, a revival of their classic Pen series of compact film cameras in Micro Four Thirds format. Behind the retro exterior, the E-P1 features a decidedly modern 12.3 megapixel Live MOS Four Thirds format sensor and Olympus's latest TruePic V image processor.

Olympus EP-1

The E-P1 is also accompanied by two new Zuiko micro four-thirds lenses – a nifty fold-down 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom (24-84mm equivalent) and 17mm f/2.8 (34mm equivalent) "pancake" prime lens.

Olympus EP-1

Retro aesthetics
At just 1.37 inches slim without a lens, the E-P1 is easily the smallest interchangeable lens camera from Olympus, a manufacturer that boasts the world's smallest digital SLRs. The camera body is entirely metal, and will be available in either white or silver. To put it simply, there's nothing to match the E-P1 aesthetically in its class.

Olympus EP-1

Around back, a 3.0 inch, 230,000 pixel LCD offers the Live View function integral to the Micro Four Thirds system. (For more on Olympus and Panasonic's jointly developed Micro Four Thirds technology, which eliminates the mirror box and prism/optical viewfinder of a traditional SLR-style interchangeable lens camera, take a look at our write-up on the subject.) Brightness adjustments of +7 or -7 can be made to account for different lighting situations – crucial when you consider that the the LCD is your only standard shot composition aid on this full-time live view cam.

Olympus EP-1

Though there's no optical viewfinder, the hot shoe on top of the E-P1 accepts a separate viewfinder accessory for those who would rather not rely solely on the LCD.

Olympus EP-1

Ground-breaking hardware
In addition to being Olympus smallest interchangeable-lens digital camera and the maker's first Micro Four Thirds offering, the E-P1 serves up some fairly revolutionary hardware beyond its unique form factor and sensor arrangement. For instance, a peek into the battery compartment reveals an SDHC card slot, a departure from Olympus's standard XD picture card compatibility.

Likewise, in spite of its ultra-slim construction, the E-P1 features a sensor shifting in-body mechanical image stabilization system – which Olympus claims will provide a cushion of up to four stops for dealing with tricky shooting situations like low light and full telephoto.

The E-P1's Four Thirds sensor – the same physical size used in the company's E-series DSLRs – features an ISO range of 100-6400 when shooting in manual mode. Auto mode is pre-set with a customizable range of ISO 200-1600. The TruePic Image V processor has been revamped for better color reproduction and noise suppression. Also new to the E-P1 is an 18 zone multi metering system, with center weighted and spot metering also still offered as options.

Novice-friendly options
While Olympus has attempted to build a camera with enough advanced options to appeal to experienced shooters, they've also tried to design a system with the ease-of-use casual photographers are looking for. You'll find an iAuto scene select mode, 14 scene modes, and the creative Art Filters that have been previously available on some of Olympus's DSLRs.

Olympus EP-1

Other exposure modes include aperture and shutter priority, program auto, and manual. Shooting modes are all accessed through a nifty recessed dial on the left shoulder of the camera.

The E-P1 employs an 11-point contrast detection auto focus system with several modes: single AF, continuous AF, manual focus, and single-AF + manual. A unique feature to the E-P1 is manual focus assist. By rotating the focus ring in S-AF + M mode, the LCD will jump to a magnified view (up to 10x) of the focus area to allow for sharp focusing of distant objects.

Advanced multimedia capabilities
The E-P1 will offer HD video recording of 1280x720 at 30 fps. That's a very appealing number, but there's a catch – a maximum of seven minutes of HD video can be recorded at a time. A lower SD resolution (640x480) is also available at the same 30 fps. The E-P1 will record up to 14 minutes at this resolution. The six creative Art Filters on-board this camera can also be used in video recording mode – with some reductions in frame rate, depending on what filter you're using.

Olympus hopes to have crafted this camera into a little powerhouse of multimedia recording and playback. In addition to 720p HD video recording, the E-P1 allows users to utilize the creative art filters that have been available in several of Olympus's SLR models. Users can mix and match still images with video to create slideshows in the camera itself. Video is recorded with stereo PCM/16 bit audio, and users can capture audio files without video to layer over images in a slideshow.

There's a long list of reasons why we're interested in seeing how this camera performs. It's attractively styled, equipped with a nice set of specs, and the whole package comes in well under $1,000. We'll wait for the lab test results to come in before we pass any judgment. In the meantime, be sure to take a look at our hands-on preview of a pre-production E-P1.

Olympus EP-1

Pricing and availability
The E-P1 will make its debut in July 2009 with a body-only price of $749.99. A kit with 14-42mm f3.5/5.6 Zuiko Zoom Lens will cost $799.99. Opting for a kit with 17mm f2.8 and an optical viewfinder will cost $899.99.

For a hands-on look at the new Olympus E-P1, be sure to take a look at our video preview.