Olympus E-PL1 Review

4.5
March 4, 2010 | Mark Goldstein |

Image Quality


All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 12.3 megapixel Super Fine JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 7Mb.

During the review, the Olympus E-PL1 produced photos of excellent quality. Noise is very well handled, being virtually absent from ISO 100-800 and not being too obvious at the relatively fast speed of ISO 1600. At the fastest setting of ISO 3200, noise is easily detectable when viewing images at 100% magnification on screen, but the images are still perfectly usable for small prints and resizing for web use.

Colours were vibrant without being over-saturated in the default Natural picture mode, and you can always choose Vivid if you want even more punch. The art filters quickly produce special effects that would otherwise require you to spend a lot of time in the digital darkroom, while the various Picture Modes provide a quick and easy way to tweak the camera's JPEG images.

Image stabilisation via the camera body is a very useful feature that works well when hand-holding the camera in low-light conditions or when using the telephoto end of the zoom range. The 12.3 megapixel images were a little soft straight out of the camera at the default sharpening setting and ideally require some further sharpening in an application like Adobe Photoshop, or you can change the in-camera setting. The new built-in flash is a great addition that takes full advantage of the E-PL1's various flash modes, with good exposure and no red-eye.

Noise

There are 6 ISO settings available on the Olympus E-PL1. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting, with JPEG on the left and the RAW equivalent on the right:

JPEG

RAW

ISO 100 (100% Crop)

ISO 100 (100% Crop)

   

ISO 200 (100% Crop)

ISO 200 (100% Crop)

   

ISO 400 (100% Crop)

ISO 400 (100% Crop)

   

ISO 800 (100% Crop)

ISO 800 (100% Crop)

   

ISO 1600 (100% Crop)

ISO 1600 (100% Crop)

   

ISO 3200 (100% Crop)

ISO 3200 (100% Crop)

File Quality

The Olympus E-PL1 has 2 different JPEG file quality settings available, with Fine being the highest quality option, and it can also shoot in RAW format. Here are some 100% crops which show the quality of the various options, with the file size shown in brackets.

Fine (5.2Mb) (100% Crop)

Normal (2.3Mb) (100% Crop)

   

RAW (11.9Mb) (100% Crop)

 
 

Sharpening

Here are two 100% crops which have been Saved as Web - Quality 50 in Photoshop. The right-hand image has had some sharpening applied in Photoshop. The out-of-the camera images are just a little soft at the default sharpening setting and benefit from some further sharpening in a program like Adobe Photoshop. You can also change the in-camera sharpening level to suit your tastes by changing the Picture Modes.

Original (100% Crop)

Sharpened (100% Crop)

   

Flash

The flash settings on the Olympus E-PL1 are Auto, Red-eye Reduction, Slow Synchro, 2nd-curtain Slow Synchro, Fill-in and Off. These shots of a white coloured wall were taken at a distance of 1.5m.

Off - Wide Angle (28mm)

Fill-in - Wide Angle (28mm)

   

Off - Telephoto (84mm)

Fill-in - Telephoto (84mm)

And here are some portrait shots. As you can see, neither the On or the Red-eye Reduction settings caused any red-eye.

On

On (100% Crop)
   

Red-eye Reduction

Red-eye Reduction (100% Crop)

Night

The Olympus E-PL1 lets you dial in shutter speeds of up to 60 seconds and has a Bulb mode as well for exposure times as long as 30 minutes, which is very good news if you are seriously interested in night photography. The shot below was taken using a shutter speed of 20 seconds at ISO 100. We've included a 100% crop to show what the quality is like.

Night Shot

Night Shot (100% Crop)

Image Stabilisation

The Olympus E-PL1 has an Image Stabilisation mechanism built into the camera body, which allows you to take sharp photos at slower shutter speeds than other digital cameras. To test this, I took 2 handheld shots of the same subject with the same settings. The first shot was taken with Image Stabilisation turned off, the second with it turned on. Here is a 100% crop of the image to show the results. As you can see, with Image Stabilisation turned on, the images are much sharper than when it's turned off. This feature really does seem to make a difference and could mean capturing a successful, sharp shot or missing the opportunity altogether.

Shutter Speed / Focal Length

Image Stabilisation Off (100% Crop)

Image Stabilisation On (100% Crop)

1/5th / 28mm
1/8th / 84mm

Art Filters

The Olympus E-PL1 offers six different Art Filters, which allow you to quickly apply an artistic effect to a photo before taking it (JPEG images only). The most useful of these is Soft Focus, because the FourThirds system lacks a dedicated soft focus lens, and the effect would require advanced knowledge of layers, blurring methods and blending modes if you were to reproduce it in post-processing. The six available Art Filters are shown below in the following series, which demonstrates the differences. Note that applying the Art Filters slows the camera down somewhat as the camera takes several seconds to process and save the image.

Pop Art

Soft Focus

   

Grainy Film

Pin Hole

   

Diorama

Gentle Sepia

Picture Modes

Olympus' Picture Modes, similarly to Nikon's Picture Styles and Canon's Picture Controls, are preset combinations of different sharpness, contrast, saturation and colour tone settings. The five available Picture Controls are shown below in the following series, which demonstrates the differences. There is also an additional Custom style so that you can create your own look.

i-Enhance

Vivid

   

Natural

Muted

   

Portrait

Monotone

Entry Tags

hd video, hd, 720p, 12 megapixel, beginner, 2.7 inch LCD, manual, olympus, micro four thirds, PEN, ep l1, e pl1, epl1, e-pl1, Olympus E-PL1 Review