Olympus E-PM2 Review
The Olympus E-PM2 (also known as the Olympus PEN Mini) is a new entry-level compact system camera. Featuring the same 16-megapixel “Live MOS” sensor and TruePic VI image processor as the flagship Olympus OM-D E-M5, the E-PM2 also sports a slim, stylish and very small metal body, the world’s fastest auto-focus system, a high resolution 3 inch LCD with touchscreen functionality, 8fps burst shooting, 1080p HD video recording in mov format, a maximum sensitivity of ISO 25600, double-axis sensor-shift image stabilisation, a hot shoe and an accessory port, 12 creative Art Filters, and a direct wireless link to social media for sharing images via a smartphone via Toshiba’s Flash Air memory card. The Olympus PEN E-PM2 is available in black, silver, red and white for a retail price of £499.99 / $599.99 for the M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 IIR standard zoom lens and tiltable external flash.
Ease of Use
Measuring 109.8 x 64.2 x 33.8mm and weighing 223g (body-only), the metal-bodied E-PM2 is marginally bigger and heavier than its predecessor, the E-PM1, but remains one of the smallest and lightest compact system cameras on the market.
In terms of how the E-PM2 fits into the Olympus PEN range, this is the smallest, lightest, cheapest and most uncluttered model in terms of its control system, although it has usefully gained a few extra buttons to make life easier. The E-PM2 shares a lot of key features with its bigger brother the E-PL5, so some of the comments that we made about that camera will be repeated here. These include the headline resolution of 16.1 megapixels from a high speed Live Mos sensor, and a 3-inch touchscreen which offers a widescreen aspect ratio and comes with a respectable 460k dot resolution, although it's not tiltable as on the E-PL5.
Another welcome attribute that this model shares with the E-PL5 is a claim for the world's joint fastest auto focus system, thanks to 35 AF points spread over the entire LMOS sensor, plus a TruePic VI processor to keep performance zipping along. Full time AF and AF tracking also feature. Once again though there's no optical or electronic viewfinder supplied here as an alternative to the rear LCD screen, though like the recently reviewed E-PL5 there is an accessory port Version 2 to be found above the screen at the E-PM2's rear which will accept one of Olympus's optional external viewfinders.
The raison d'etre of the E-PM2 remains the same as its brethren: high quality images (and video) from an interchangeable lens camera that's perceived to be less fussy to operate and transport than a DSLR. For a suggested price of £449.99 / $599.99 with lens the E-PM2 comes bundled with a distinctly plastic-y feeling M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II T lens (one of 20 available dedicated Micro Four Thirds lenses), with an interchangeable 'decoration ring' and the same sleek, chic retro styling we've come to expect from the PEN range.
Once again the hand-holding Live Guide mode to help novices achieve more professional results is included on the E-PM2 too, with, as on the E-PL3, its features selectable by tabbing up and down a visually-led menu that appears running down the right hand side of the screen. In this way the likes of depth of field/background blur can be adjusted in real time by dragging a simple slider bar.
There are now 12 creative Art Filters on the E-PM2, actually one more than on the flagship E-M5, all applied at the point of capture. Included here are our preferred choices of pinhole and dramatic tone, joined by the tilt and shift lens ape-ing 'diorama' for rendering cityscapes as if on a toy town scale. Though the latter is a fun tool, we feel this miniature option works less well on the Olympus Pen than its competitors; for us the Pen seems to blur too wide a portion of the frame, so that occasionally the result can resemble a mistake rather than an effect. Once again, these filters can be applied to Full HD video as well as stills, recordable in AVCHD or reduced resolution Motion JPEG format. Just press the dedicated video record button when in Art Filter mode.
Alongside body integral image stabilisation, something that gives it the Pen the edge over the Panasonic Lumix G range, Full HD video with stereo sound is included as standard, with left and right microphones positioned either side of a vacant hotshoe - the latter a feature that might also position it one step ahead of arguably Panasonic's closest rival in the Lumix DMC-GF5. If it weren't, that is, for the fact that what is more unforgivably omitted here is the luxury of a built-in flash of the pop-up variety - a feature that the E-PM2's intended consumer audience is surely going to miss.
Instead, with the E-PM2 a separate plastic-y clip-on flash is included in the box that we can see getting lost down the back of the sofa, or simply forgotten when you head out for the day with your shiny new camera. Admittedly the flash does look quite cool when slotted into place and works effectively, but it does inevitably add to the camera's bulk, and it also prevents you from using the optical viewfinder and flash at the same time. If the supplied flash unit with its guide number of 10 meters at ISO 200 isn't powerful enough for you, the E-PM2's hotshoe is compatible with the FL-50R, FL-36R, FL-50, FL-36, FL-20, FL-14, and FL-300R flashguns. The E-PM2 also supports wireless flash via the bundled unit acting as a master to control off-camera flash units, very useful for more complex studio work.
The E-PM2 now has a new handgrip, as with the E-PL5, although it can't be removed as on its bigger brother. With the handgrip the solidity is sufficient to be able to still hold the camera nice and steady when shooting handheld, although it inevitably makes the camera look a little less stylish than its uncluttered predecessor.
Low light sensitivity has been boosted on this latest Pen, incrementally extendable from ISO12800 to a semi pro-like ISO25600, as on the OM-D E-M5 and E-PL5. This is partly down, says Olympus, to the implementation of a noise reducing Venus Engine VI processor.
From the front then, and with or without the attachable flash fitted, the E-PM2 very much looks the part and worth the relatively modest outlay, exuding a cool sophistication. It still has that 'classic' Pen clean look, with an AF illuminator/self timer lamp top right of the lens, springy lens release button to the right, Micro Four Thirds logo bottom right and Olympus logo top left, with the new handgrip filling the left-hand side.
Moving up to the top plate, the E-PM2 locates a speaker complete with stereo microphones flanking the adjacent vacant hotshoe. This comes with a protective plastic cover that also loops over at the back to at the same time to protect the accessory port against dust and other nasties. Set into a strip to the right of the hotshoe - if viewing the camera from the back - are a small but obvious shutter release button and inset into the top plate, the power button and the new Live Guide / Function button, This control by default accesses the Live Guide controls, but can be usefully reassigned to one of 6 settings, including ISO speed.
The Live Guide options are presented as a colourful toolbar on the right hand side of the screen. From the top we have the ability to change colour saturation, from 'clear & vivid' to 'flat & muted', next down is the ability to alter 'colour image', which translates as shifting the tone between warm and cool via slider bar, with the third option shifting brightness/exposure between a simple bright and dark. The fourth option down is probably the most interesting/effective in that it provides the ability to incrementally blur the background of your shot by again dragging an indicator on a slider - thus providing a similar shallow depth of field effect to that achievable with a DSLR and suitable aperture.
For its fifth Live Guide option Olympus has retained the curiously named 'Express Motions', which to us has always sounded more like a bowel movement than the actual emphasizing of subject motion by introducing blur. Well, in fact, there's the option to both blur any movement or stop it in its tracks, again achievable by dragging a slider indicator. The last option on this tool bar is a on-board shooting hints and tips manual, with the usual 'suspects' of photographing children and pets given the most prominence ('take a picture at their height level' being a summation of the level of advice imparted). We even get tips, as a bit of closet advertising, for attaching Olympus accessories, such as lens converters.
Press the power button and if you haven't first manually extended the bundled retractable zoom lens, an on-screen text message prompts you to do so. So getting ready for the first shot is a two-tier process: either extend the lens first then press the power button or vice versa. Once the lens has been unfurled the camera is ready for its first shot (or video) in just under two seconds. A half press of the shutter release and there's a very brief wait while the focus visibly resets. Go on and take the shot and with no discernable shutter delay, a Fine quality JPEG and Raw file are committed to memory in two to three seconds, which is nothing to complain about.
The rear of the E-PM2 is where most of the design changes have been made. There are two new self-explanatory buttons on the left of the accessory port for image playback and deletion. Over to the right there's a dedicated video record button positioned where it ergonomically falls under the thumb as the camera is gripped in the right hand, so ergonomically that on a couple of occasions we inadvertently started recording a video without noticing. Hit this and recording begins no matter what alternative stills shooting mode might be in play at the same time, the black bands cropping the left and right of the screen when shooting in default stills mode disappearing so that the entire screen is taken up with the image being recorded.
The E-PM2 now a touch screen like the one on the E-P3. You can for the most part get away without using it much at all, as there are enough physical buttons which are either dedicated to specific functions or can be customized to suit. Indeed, the screen's implementation here hasn't led to a cleaner or more pared-down minimalist look for the Pen, as say the touch screen on Panasonic's latest GF5 has.
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An info button and separate menu button sit above and below a standard multidirectional control pad, encircled by Olympus' love-it-or-hate-it scroll wheel set up. At 12 o'clock on the control dial is an exposure compensation control (+/- 3EV), at three o'clock a compendium of flash settings (auto, red eye reduction, fill in flash, flash off, red eye slow sync, slow sync, 'full' flash and incremental adjustments running from ½ to 1/64th strength), at six o'clock we get self timer/drive modes, and at nine o'clock the ability to manually specify the AF point by selecting a point on a 35-zone grid that is overlaid on the real-time image.
Dragging a finger, and so the AF point, around the touchscreen will achieve the same end, though inadvertently subsequently taping it will cause the shutter to fire. Yes, this facility can be deactivated by prodding the relevant shutter button icon on the touch screen, but it's just as easy to accidentally turn it on again; even via an action as incongruous as the button of your shirt connecting with the screen as you're wearing the E-PL5 on a neck strap, or the thumb of your left hand straying as you handle the camera.
While chunky lugs for attaching the shoulder strap hang at either side of the camera, thankfully out of the way of fingers and controls, on the right hand flank, if viewing the camera from the back, we find a pair of covered ports for joint USB/AV output and mini HDMI output respectively. This cover, being a weaker plastic element amidst the surrounding brushed metal, is one of the very few flimsy points on the outwardly covetable camera. Again, we leveled the same criticism at the E-PM2's more expensive siblings.
Also plastic-y, but more reassuringly chunky, is the flip-open cover protecting the joint battery and card compartment at the E-PM2's base. The PS-BLS5 rechargeable lithium ion battery supplied with the E-PM2 is good for around 330 shots (the exact same performance as we got from the E-PM1). There is the option here to use all varieties of SD media card too, up to and including SDXC cards. Dead centre, but slightly off-centre of the lens, is a metal screw thread for attaching a tripod.
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