Promotional materials on Olympus's website last week featured the image of a mystery PEN camera obscured by a hand. Today, they move that hand away and reveal the third Micro Four Thirds system in their digital PEN series, the E-PL1. They've offered DCR a first-look, pre-production unit and we've had our hands all over it ever since it arrived.
For a run-down of the features and specs of the E-PL1, take a look at our coverage here. If it's hands-on photos and initial impressions you want, you're in the right place.
Lighter frame, lighter features
Where the E-P1 and E-P2 were all smooth lines and elegant curves, the E-PL1 takes more of a cue from compact cameras in its design. The chassis isn't made of the sturdy stuff that comprises the E-P1. It's an aluminum body with what feels like plastic encasing the whole package. The shutter release is smaller, and all of the controls on the top are pushed to the right side to make way for a pop-up flash to the left of the hot shoe.
Little differences in all of the controls set the E-PL1 apart from its predecessors. The mode dial is smaller and fully exposed, whereas the E-P1 kept it partially inside the camera body. The 2.7 inch LCD of the E-PL1 is slightly smaller than that 3.0 inch montior on the E-P1, but in the field it doesn't feel at all cramped.
On the back, the control that operates zooming in and out from images in review (and jumping to the focus check zoom mode) is made up of two buttons. On the E-P1 and E-P2, it was a rotating dial. Different functions have also been assigned to the buttons on the four-way control. Exposure compensation, flash, drive mode, and a focus selection mode are all now available through the directional buttons. The center, as with the other PEN models, pulls up a menu of more options over the shooting screen. That's where you'll get to other often-used settings for ISO, white balance, and AF mode.
It's what inside that counts
Aside from the cosmetic differences, the E-PL1 feels like the E-P1 and E-P2 in most other ways. The flash pops up with a satisfying snap, the rubberized grip offers a steady feeling in the hand. Our slate blue model looked pretty sharp with the pancake lens attached.
But without the control ring around the directional controls, it handles a bit more like a point and shoot. For those who are stepping up from a digital compact, this might be a good thing. The Live Guide function is straightforward, and allows the beginner to make changes to aperture and shutter speed without having to know what those terms mean. Take a look at a brief demonstration of the Live Guide feature in use.
Small camera, small price
If the Micro Four Thirds space is where DSLR and point and shoot meet, then the E-PL1 is decidedly the most point and shoot oriented camera of the bunch. It doesn't have all of the sophistication of its predecessors, but it offers almost all of the same functions with the addition of a built-in flash for a lower price. We'll reserve judgement until we've put it through the full review routine, but for now it seems like an enticing option for those who didn't want spend big bucks on a Micro camera. For now, take a look at the image gallery on the next page for more photos of the E-PL1.