Olympus EP1 PEN Hands on and First Impressions

The new PEN camera, with my older Lumix in the background.

The new PEN camera, with my older Lumix in the background.

Yesterday afternoon I received the new camera from Willoughby’s in New York. The Olympus EP1 PEN. I have to say that this is one of the sexiest looking cameras I have used in a long time. It has this amazing retro feel that makes me long for the old days of film and rugged cameras that were all metal with leather grips. Maybe part of my sentimentality stems from the fact that the first 35mm camera I ever owned was an Olympus OM1.

The revolutionary OM1 circa 1975

The revolutionary OM1 circa 1975

A revolutionary compact 35 mm camera with the most user friendly controls I have ever experienced. It was all manual, and shutter speed and aperture were located on two rings behind the lens mount. Pure genius, but I digress.

Lets talk about the EP1 Pen. I am not going to give a huge technical review here. Instead I am going to talk about my experience so far, 24 hours in to using it. My first impressions, likes and dislikes. As I use the camera more, and especially after the trip to South Africa with it I’ll post updates and sample pictures.

First a little background. The EP1 is the digital follow up to the PEN cameras from the late 50’s and early 60’s. It is a micro 4/3 camera which in very general terms means that it packs the features of an SLR into a more compact body that feels like a point and shoot. Yet it allows for interchangeable lenses. One caveat is that the reduced body size, and distance from lens to focal plane is about half of a standard SLR. Just 20mm, this has advantages and disadvantages. One plus though is an insane amount of depth of field can be achieved  in your shots. Olympus has been working hard under the hood in the development of this system. It has a 12.3 MP sensor that has had a bit of an upgrade to increase resolution and sharpness over other Olympus point and shoots – plus a few fixes that show they’ve been listening to their users. One nice feature is that image quality boost been achieved by the use of a lighter low pass filter and a powerful new TruePic V processor, which offers better moiré and screen removal and improved high level ISO performance In addition they have added the  ability to capture HD movie clips (720p). Otherwise the key feature list is pretty similar to Olympus’s latest DLSR offerings.

So here are the first impressions.

• It looks so sexy. The retro styling is just spot on.
• It feels great in the hand. The camera is a bit front heavy with the 14 to 42 lens though.
• The feature set rivals high end DSLR’s
• The range finder attachment could benefit from some sort of electronic input via the hot shoe. I’d like to change settings on the fly and get a visual
update in the range finder without having to look at the LCD on the back of the camera.
• The menu system seems a bit complex, but it could be I am just not used to it
• The shutter response time is great in continuous shooting mode.
• The external Flash is bright and controlled by the camera so it intensity is adjustable.
• From what I can tell so far all of my early test shots show amazing detail and tons of resolution.
• Excellent ISO performance up to ISO 3200
• The dual dial controls on the camera are intuitive and surprisingly functional.
• The auto focus can be a bit slow at times
• And I am kind missing an AF illuminator.

So my first impressions with the camera are this. Hats off to Olympus for getting so much right on the first Digital Micro 4/3 camera it has produced. The camera is stylish, and feels great in the hand. The construction is superb, almost all metal with limited use of plastic. The image quality is top notch and matches all the reviews I have read so far. Olympus has done an excellent job of squeezing a massive amount of features and functionality into a tiny form factor, with no compromise to  when it comes to handling, and camera operation. This camera is the kind that will appeal to serious photo geeks as well as the person looking for a solid point and shoot with more robust features. This camera isn’t perfect. It’s not a take it to the party and snap pics of all your friends kind of camera. It has a ton of features that will leave some confused about what all this camera can do. With that said, if you want to learn about photography this is a camera that will pave the way for anyone prepared to invest the time and effort needed to master it, and the end result will not disappoint.

For me this product has that rare ability to get an emotional response which is a salute to the folks at Olympus. A solid digital camera that makes me long for the days of film, and old school ways. As I use it more, look for updates in the future.

With the external Flash attachment installed.

With the external Flash attachment installed.

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