A little over seven months ago I reviewed the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1, an SLR-like camera using a new lens mount and body design that eliminated the bulky reflex mirror and optical viewfinder that had been a feature of all SLR cameras - film and digital - since 1949. The result was a camera not much bigger than an average super-zoom, but with an SLR-sized Four Thirds sensor and a range of tiny, lightweight interchangeable lenses.
The Micro Four Thirds lens mount and the Four Thirds sensor format were co-developed with Olympus, with the latter being used in Olympus's E-system digital SLRs, and now Olympus has also launched a camera employing the new format, the Pen E-P1.
The camera's unusual name and retro styling are a reference to the original Olympus Pen, a series of half-frame 35mm cameras first launched in 1959 and continued in one form or another until the early 1980s. The model on which the Pen E-P1 is styled is the Pen F, an innovative half-frame SLR that used a rotary shutter and porro prism viewfinder, launched in 1963 and manufactured until 1972. The Pen series were nice cameras and sold well for a half-frame, but they are hardly the sought-after classics that Olympus seems to want us to think. You can pick them up on eBay for less than £20.
Classic or not, there can be little dispute that the E-P1 has an attractive design, indeed with the 17mm "pancake" prime lens that is available it could easily be mistaken for a 1970s-era 35mm compact camera. The body is all aluminium and beautifully finished in either white and tan or the silver and black shown here, which has a nice brushed metal surface. The finger grip on the front panel is hard plastic with a retro leatherette texture.
The E-P1's overall build quality is fantastic, and it has the solid feel of a quality camera, but then it would need to have. The Olympus E-P1 is currently on sale for a rather breathtaking £598 body only, or £699 including the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lens shown here. Choose the lightweight 17mm f/2.8 lens instead and it will cost you £749, while a twin lens kit will set you back a whopping £849. By comparison you can get the excellent Olympus E-620 DSLR, featuring the same sensor as the E-P1, for £498 body-only, or £674 in a twin-lens kit. Style clearly comes at a price.