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Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 Review
by Chris Gampat -  12/6/2012

The E-PM2 is Olympus's newest teammate in the PEN line up. Joining greats like the E-PL3, E-PL5 and the OM-D E-M5, the E-PM2 has a lot to offer first time mirrorless camera users. It follows in the footsteps of it's predecessor, the E-PL1. It is lightweight, portable and fun. This compact micro four thirds camera is available for around $500. At this price and with these features, the E-PM2 has us cheering!

Olympus's initial marketing strategy with the E-PM1 involved giveaways in their PENReady promotional sweepstakes. In this contest, users of these cameras shot lots of photos that were aggregated into a special Tumblr. The camera itself was also quite good: it was small, powerful, fast focusing, and simple to use if you didn't want to go into the complexities of the menu system. The company has updated the camera in the form of the E-PM2--and it can essentially be called the little brother of the EP3.

The E-PM2, like its predecessor, is designed for the person dipping their toes into the mirrorless interchangeable lens camera world. Amongst the main upgrades that the camera features is a 3 inch LCD touchscreen with 460K dots of resolution, a 16.1 MP sensor,  a TruePic VI imaging processing engine, 8 fps shooting, and upgraded version of the F.A.S.T. autofocusing system.

In a move that Olympus typically does with its camera line, the sensor is the same one in the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and E-PL5. So for a lesser price tag of $549 (body only), a user can get the same image quality that an OMD can. Of course, there is a lot more to the OMD though. For the advanced user, there is absolutely no comparison in the way that the E-M5 and the E-PM2 feel. The OM-D EM-5 feels like a camera that means business, while the E-PM2 feels very much less so.

Users familiar with a point and shoot camera will easily warm up to the EPM2 due to its lack of buttons and controls. The camera also has a little but of a grip to comfortably rest your fingers while the back includes a nice thumb rest. Unfortunately, we're not quite sure who those additions were put there for. In our tests, we put the camera in the hands of quite a few amateur shooters--and many of them held the camera just like they would their iPhone. This means that the grippy areas were totally ignored.

Like its predecessor, it may be best for someone to leave it on an automatic mode and shoot to their heart's content. For the advanced user, you'll get your most pleasurable experience from the camera by shooting in Aperture priority.

The autofocus is an upgrade of Olympus's F.A.S.T. autofocus system that takes advantages of the company's MSC lenses to deliver some of the fastest autofocus performance that we've seen so far from a camera in this class. Indeed, the focusing performance is just as snappy as its bigger brother, the OMD EM5.

The camera also has 1080i HD video shooting capabilities for those that want to record quick movies during their vacation. Additionally, the EPM2 features best of both worlds with the ability to shoot JPEGs, RAWs, or both if they want. To shoot these, the user can take advantage of the 3 inch 460K dot touchscreen or use the shutter button on top of the camera. Like other Olympus cameras, the user has the ability to activate the touchscreen, use it just for focusing, or touch to release the shutter and focus. In playback mode, one can think of it almost like an Android device in terms of flipping through images, zooming in on them, etc.

Build and Design
The E-PM2 has a very point and shoot style camera body that will be familiar to users who are stepping up from such a camera with the exception of the more advanced point and shoots such as the XZ-2. There are very few buttons on the EPM2 due to the intended design emphasis on keeping things simple. When holding the camera, one immediately thinks (and totally gets the point) that this camera is primarily supposed to be operated using the touch screen. This fact is further supported when you turn the camera on and put it in auto--nearly any button press will activate Olympus's Live Guide.

The camera has size dimensions of 4.3 x 2.5 x 1.3" / 11 x 6.4 x 3.4 cm and weighs in at 9.49 oz / 269 g. When used for long periods of time, one won't even notice its weight when a light lens is attached. However, what advanced and experienced users will see is a build quality that isn't up to par with Olympus's other Micro Four Thirds cameras.

Ergonomics and Controls
The Olympus E-PM2 retains most of the build and design cues that the E-PM1 had. The front of the camera is now a tiny bit different though. On the E-PM1, there was no grip of any sort. Personally, I put gaffers tape on my unit to give it a bit more texture and gripping ability. On the E-PM2 there is a grip that helps to solve that problem. The rest of the front is characterized only by the lens release and an AF assist lamp.

Once the user looks at the top of the camera, they begin to realize that there is a bi more control. Here you'll find an on/off button, shutter release button, custom function button (this activates the Live Guide but also serves as a control for ISO, which is what I set it to.) There is also a hot shoe up top for mounting the included flash that comes in the box. To the left of this are speakers to play back audio recorded in the video mode.

To record that audio, you can find two microphones on either side of the hot shoe. Ergonomically speaking, these are weird spots for microphones.

The back of the camera is where things become even more complicated. The top left of the back side of the E-PM2 contains a playback button and a trash button--which seem to be the only place they could have been situated as the rest of the back is mostly dominated by the giant 3 inch LCD screen. But around the screen are other controls such as a video record button, thumb grip, info button, four way control dial and buttons for manipulating other settings, and a menu button near the bottom.


The bottom of the E-PM2 is where you'll find a 1/4 20 tripod socket. Next to that is the battery release door--which houses not only the battery but also the SD card.

On the right side of the camera is a small door that protects Olympus's USB port and an HDMI out port. Once again, Olympus utilizes a proprietary USB cord for transferring photos, updating firmware and more. Hang onto that cord as that port is in no way universal.

Menus and Modes
The main shooting control menus (that can be accessed by simply pressing the, "OK" button) are very straightforward for users that understand the lingo when using the P/S/A/M modes. However, if someone chooses to switch to an automatic function, then Olympus's Live Guide comes up to help make everything easier. As was apparent in the past, the user has control over things like saturation, brightness, shutter control, etc; and Olympus tries to break these terms down for people into common vernacular.

Because there is no menu dial of any sort, the menus are digital and will be accessed by pressing the menu button. Here, you'll find all of the different modes outlined and explained. Want to control the camera even more? Then you'll need to hit the menu button, go into the setup menu, and then navigate through even more sub-menus. To take the fullest advantage of the camera, you'll also need to unlock two hidden menus that otherwise keep the interface more straightforward.

The menus that can be accessed by using the menu button are a bit deeper and more complicated to navigate. For those that aren't familiar with Olympus's system, they'll have a tougher time cutting through this forest.



Otherwise, the camera's other shooting modes are fairly straightforward.

Movie: Full HD at 1920x1080 and HD at 1280x720, both at 30 frames per second (fps). Maximum file size is 4GB, maximum recording time is 29 minutes at both settings. Audio is Wave Format Base Stereo PCM/16bit, 48kHz with wind noise reduction.

pop art                                                                        soft focus

pale & light color                                                           light tone

grainy film                                                                   pin hole

diorama                                                                      cross process

gentle sepia                                                                dramatic tone

key line                                                                      watercolor

Display/Viewfinder
The E-PM2's three inch touchscreen is the primary display for users to focus, compose, and operate the camera, though there are two different electronic viewfinders (VF-1 and VF2) available if the user chooses to go that route. No matter what the lighting conditions were, the screen often had enough resolution for composing and viewing images despite being only 460K. The choice for including such a low resolution display is still puzzling as most competing brands offer a much better experience. To take the fullest advantage the user will need to navigate into the sub-menus of the setup menu in order to unlock the Fast FPS mode--which speeds up the frame rate of the display and makes it much more usable. We're not sure why this isn't available from the start though--perhaps it drains the batteries faster.

In practice, the screen is more than sufficient enough for composing and shooting clearly. It was also more than satisfactory when it came to using the camera's touch to shoot functionality. In terms of the interacting touchscreen, very little has changed from the EP3 and the OM-D E-M5. That statement pertains to the use of autofocus lenses like the 14-42mm kit lens; and we have no doubt in our mind that it would work exceptionally with others such as Olympus's 12mm f2 or 45mm f1.8. In our tests, we were also able to use other autofocus lenses (such as the Sigma 19mm f2.8 and 30mm f2.8) with ease.

For the best and least laggy results, you'll need to stick to Olympus's own lenses. All of these lenses have the company's MSC motors built in, and so would deliver images to the user very quickly due to just how fast the focusing system works.

Many Micro Four Thirds users also love adapting old lenses or lenses from other camera systems onto their cameras. Of any of the current Micro Four Thirds cameras made from Olympus, the EPM2 is the least comfortable to operate and work with such lenses. In practice, we found the experience of looking down at the screen at waist level (such as with the E-PL5 and OM-D E-M5) to be much easier and comfortable. Holding the camera body up at eye-level while focusing the lens manually just creates too much jitter. In that case, you're much better off reaching for a Vanguard Nivello--a tripod designed specifically for mirrorless cameras.

Performance
The Olympus E-PM2 has overall excellent performance for autofocusing (with Olympus lenses), responsiveness, and image quality. The fact that the touchscreen was added in as an upgrade over the EPM1 makes operation even quicker. It is far more responsive and faster than Sony's F3 and the Canon EOS M--which are its closest competitors.

Lens Performance

The kit lens is the 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 and provides a 24-84 field of view. The lens is really quite good, sharp, fast to focus, and collapses into itself for more compact storage. What users will need to keep in mind though is that if the lens is locked/collapsed, the camera won't really work. Instead, when the camera is powered on it will display a screen that states that the lens is locked. This is a problem even for the playback of images.

If used correctly though, the lens's Bokeh can look very nice though not as pleasing as some of the compact prime lenses that the company makes. Also, this lens will force the camera/user to shoot at higher ISO settings in low light. Thankfully, Olympus's sensor-based image stabilization system works well to ensure that camera shake doesn't happen.

If the user chooses to shoot in JPEG mode and auto ISO, then the images they yield will great on the web when using this lens. Chromatic aberration, softness, vignetting and flare are also very well controlled. However, the lens can suffer from some fringing in super high contrast areas.

Video Quality
The E-PM2 has one distinct advantage when it comes to recording video, and that is the fact that it has sensor based stabilization. Additionally, if a user wants to attach an LCDVF and a cinema prime lens to the camera (such as those from SLR Magic) they'll be hard pressed to change any of the settings while recording. For the average user shooting in all Auto, that's fine. For the more advanced user, that's even better news. In the video world, shutter speeds are supposed to stay untouched for the most part while a variable ND filter and an aperture ring around the lens do most of the exposure control. If you need to put a versatile and small camera somewhere on a set as camera C, the E-PM2 might be a good option despite the lack of an uncompressed HDMI out feature.

That means that when you're moving around trying to record, the footage will look much smoother. But for the best results, we still recommend holding the camera in as close to your body as you can.

The footage looks a little muted even when the camera is set to the vivid mode; so users might want to import the files into their favorite editing software to give it a bit of a touchup. Adobe Premiere Elements and other programs are more than capable of doing this.

Image Quality
Overall image quality on the Olympus E-PM2 is excellent. Borrowing the sensor from its bigger brother, the OM-D E-M5 (and therefore the E-PL5) is the main factor for this. Color capturing and white balancing are extremely true to life, though the camera can sometimes render images warmer than they should be. This can be turned off though by adjusting the according setting in the camera's menus (which need to be found in the sub-menus). The exposure performance also ranked very well with the images all being very balanced according to the camera's light meter.

Using the art filters can be fun if you're looking to be creative, but in the end it will only just degrade the image quality. For the crowd this camera is targeted towards, they won't care a single bit.

ISO performance is exceptional up to 1600; and there is where the camera starts to not perform as well as some of its competitors in this category. When noise reduction is turned on, it can smear fine details. For the best results, we recommend shooting in RAW and adjusting the noise reduction and sharpness accordingly. Once again though, the crowd that this camera is targeted toward will have no issues with image quality because most of the images will perhaps be going straight to Facebook, Flickr or another sharing platform.

Additional Sample Images

Conclusion
The Olympus E-PM2 is surely not a camera for everyone. Advanced users will find the lack of buttons and the need to dig through menus to be extremely frustrating. For the best experience, it would be wise to leave the camera in aperture priority--therefore balancing the need to manipulate exposure settings and the need to concentrate most on shooting what's in front of you. However, the person who knows almost nothing about photography will be able to pick up this camera and shoot photos that they'll fall in love with right from the start. The touchscreen also incredibly boosts the performance and lets the user take full advantage of Olympus' revamped F.A.S.T. autofocus system.

Like the OM-D E-M5 and E-PL5, the image quality is some of the best that the company has produced to date and most people may not have a problem at all with the high ISO results. And despite the fact that this camera may not be used much for capturing video, its lack of direct controls will make shooting somewhat more of a pleasurable experience for experienced shooters.

Make no mistake though--if you're looking for a new mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, users with more photography knowledge will want to spring for the E-PL5 or perhaps even Sony's NEX-5R and Fujifilm's XE-1. If you're thinking about giving this camera to someone (and we've all heard them) that want to take great photos without knowing anything about photography, feel free to hand them this camera. 

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