NOTE: If you want to see some test shots I made with the E-P2 visit:
http://photofocus.com/2010/05/22/three-simple-lessons-from-one-simple-photo/
http://photofocus.com/2010/05/21/photo-competition-tip-avoid-merges/
http://photofocus.com/2010/05/21/photo-printingframing-tips/

OVERVIEW

The Olympus Pen E-P1 was introduced last year. Olympus has updated the camera and the new version is even better than the original – which was already very good. The Olympus PEN E-P2 is the upgrade camera. Should you buy it? Read on.

Cosmetically, the E-P2 is essentially the same camera as the E-P1. It is available in black or silver. The original camera came in silver. The E-P2’s now offers a high-definition VF2 electronic viewfinder and an Olympus microphone (like the ME51S or ME31) for improved video sound. The kit lens is a Zuiko f/3.5-5.6 14mm-42mm (equivalent to 28-84mm) zoom. A separate Zuiko f/2.8 17mm “pancake” prime lens is also available. I own both lenses and the pancake lens is the lens I use 95% of the time with this camera. It’s sharp, contrasty and bright.

The E-P2 is what’s known as a Micro Four Thirds camera. These cameras use interchangeable lenses, but have sensors that are much smaller than the typical DSLR sensor. The also typically share the ease of use you find in the point and shoot cameras, which usually offer smaller sensors than the Micro Four Thirds cameos.

The E-P2 has a 12.3 MP sensor that delivers both JPEG and RAW images. It offers image stabilization in the body, uses SD/SDHC memory cards, has a dust reduction system, a long-life battery (good for about 300 exposures,) a full compliment of shooting modes, a stainless steel body and very accessible controls.

The EP-2 is remarkably easy to use. Beginners will probably first choose “iAuto.” In this mode the E-P2 makes all the decisions. Frankly, it does this better than any point and shoot OR DSLR I’ve tested. For those who are used to point and shoot controls, the E-P2 also has scene modes a plenty designed to help newbies navigate through the camera’s many options.

The manual modes (with both aperture and shutter priority) are my favorite. It’s very easy to dial in exposure compensation and take complete control of the camera if you want to. While many higher-end compact cameras allow you to have full manual control, they also require you to spend too much time leaping through nested menus. Not so the E-P2.

Some of the newer features on the E-P2 include an improved 11-point autofocus system and the new VF2 electronic viewfinder. The only apparent difference in the autofocus is the inclusion of a continuous tracking mode. I found the continuous focus mode of the E-P2’s AF to be unreliable. It hunted for focus constantly. I wish there were a way to incorporate phase detection AF in these small cameras, but it appears to be too hard to do so since almost all use a contrast-based system instead. On single shot mode, the autofocus works just fine. So the improved AF isn’t really a good reason to buy the E-P2 if you have the older version.

The really big news is the new viewfinder. The VF2 slides into the camera’s hotshoe and mates with a connection port. The VF2 provides 100% coverage and a 1.15x magnification. It is amazingly bright and it even rotates to allow for you to look down or straight through. I was really impressed with this viewfinder and think it gives Olympus a leg up over the competition. Beware though that some people are selling the E-P2 with or without the viewfinder. If you’re expecting the viewfinder be sure to ask your camera retailer.

In my tests, I found ISO 200 to be perfect for the E-P2. At that ISO, the camera performs more like most DSLRs than you would expect. At ISO 800, I lost confidence in the camera’s ability to record a clean image. This isn’t much of a surprise given the small sensor size. It does perform similarly to most of the higher-end point and shoot cameras where noise is concerned. The E-P2 may be a bit better at ISO 800 than say my Canon G11. If you need to shoot at higher ISOs, buy one of the entry-level DSLRs which all do a better job at the low light stuff since they have larger sensors and larger sensor sites.

VIDEO

The E-P2 records 720p HD video at 30 fps. The E-P2 offers manual exposure control in movie mode as well as the use of the camera’s art filters. The E-P2 records AVI motion JPEGs. Most of the pro video people I know say this is not satisfactory for broadcast video and hopefully, one day Olympus will add H.264 or some other CODEC that works better. But for Motion JPEG, the video quality is quite good. Short of needing broadcast-quality, the E-P2 won’t disappoint. I do like the fact that you can add a microphone to this camera for the purpose of recording good audio with your video. Most cameras of this type don’t offer that feature. You do have to trade off using the electronic viewfinder if you use the mic. All in all, the video (with the ability to record high-quality audio) is superior to most similarly-situated cameras.

IMAGE QUALITY

Default images show very good color, contrast, and sharpness. Shadow detail is decent, and with the kit lens, there is some purple fringing – but at this price point, that’s all to be expected and nothing I couldn’t easily fix in post. Where the camera shines is in its ability to record RAW files that can be significantly improved in post. Yet another surprise is the quality of the JPEGS. Simply put, right out of the camera, the JPEG quality from the E-P2 is superior to that of ANY camera we have EVER tested, including the pro-DSLR bodies. I don’t know what Olympus did to get such good JPEG quality, but I am very impressed. JPEG shooters will be very happy with the camera’s default JPEG output.

CONCLUSIONS

I have a love/less than love relationship with this camera. It’s not love/hate – that would be too strong a reaction. I love the image quality, size, portability, build, electronic view finder, etc., but I really do not like three things about this camera. 1. It’s a bit overpriced. That’s not really a strike against the E-P2 since many things are overpriced these days. 2. It only has one accessory shoe and that means you can’t use the electronic flash at the same time you use the microphone or the electronic viewfinder, etc. 3. You have to use a proprietary cable to hook up the camera to a computer in order to update the camera firmware.

If you already own the E-P1 and are working on a budget, there’s no need to sweat the upgrade. The improved autofocus isn’t that impressive. The camera comes in black (although silver is available) so if you always wanted a black E-P1 that might be reason to upgrade. The image quality from both cameras appears to be identical in our tests. The only thing that may have you wanting to push that upgrade button is the beautiful electronic viewfinder. If money is no object – go for it. If you’re looking for a 4/3 camera system, this is the one to buy in my opinion.

In general, I do recommend the EP2. In fact, I bought one. I use it almost daily. It drives me a little crazy, but I really like shooting with this camera and usually have it and the beautiful 17mm pancake lens with me everywhere I go. I’d be enthusiastic, almost evangelistic about the E-P2 if the price were 15% lower, if it had at least a dual accessory shoe and worked with either industry-standard cables or could be updated like most cameras, via the memory card.

I can’t give this camera the coveted Photofocus “Highly Recommended” because of the three faults I mentioned. But I can give it “Recommended” – which ain’t bad. And remember, I bought one so how bad can it be?

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This post sponsored by X-Rite Color and the ColorChecker Passport

Join the conversation! 3 Comments

  1. [...] of the E-P2 Writer / Photographer Scott Bourne's mini review of the E-P2 at Photofocus. Olympus E-P2 / Mini Review Photofocus While he rated it as recommended (just short of highly recommended), he obviously liked it well [...]

  2. [...] Bourne comments on the PEN EP2's image quality in his mini review: here the camera shines is in its ability to record RAW files that can be significantly improved in [...]

  3. [...] Olympus E-P2 / Mini Review The Olympus Pen E-P1 was introduced last year. Olympus has updated the camera and the new version is even better than the original – which was already very good. The Olympus PEN E-P2 is the upgrade camera. Should you buy it? Read on. 3rd June 2010 [...]

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