While the original E-PL1 looked and felt slightly more plastic in comparison with the metal bodied E-P1 and E-P2, that's not so obviously the case with the E-PL2, at least as regards the silver bodied incarnation we had on test. Otherwise, placed side by side the E-PL2 and the E-PL1 models take up the same amount of space, with differences being subtle rather than substantial. The newer model is more comfortable to hold than the E-PL1 thanks to a more rounded grip at the front and newly implemented curve at the rear which lets the thumb rest comfortably on the backplate; albeit blocking off the built-in speaker when doing so. Otherwise front-on the cameras are identical.
On the top plate of the E-PL2 we find the same integral pop up flash, sleekly sunk into the bodywork when inactive, hotshoe for optional flashgun with accessory port (now also in its second generation) for the attachment of an optical or electronic viewfinder (EVF) or even microphone tucked just behind, plus identical half-penny sized shooting mode dial. This offers up the standard P, A, S, M creative settings for those who want to get hands on, a dedicated setting for Olympus Art Filter digital effects (more on which later), plus scene modes, video mode (though there is also a dedicated instant record button at the back) plus a collection of scene modes, 22 in total.
The shutter release button is now almost twice the size of the one on the E-PL1 so as to make it both more obvious and more comfortable to use, whilst the on/off button has conversely been swapped from a rounded button to a narrow lozenge shaped one and sunk further into the top plate to prevent accidental activation.
At the back of the E-PL2 the most noticeable difference is that the LCD screen has been made larger than its predecessor's (it's now 3-inches with a 460k dot resolution), which is always welcome, and especially in the absence of any separate viewfinder supplied with the camera. The second thing you pick up on is that the large rectangular and plastic-y looking controls to its right have been switched for smaller, rounded buttons that serve much the same functions but have been re-jigged in terms of positioning. The cross-keys-style control pad on the E-PL1 has been replaced by scroll wheel type pad that we're used to seeing on Canon PowerShot models, but for which we don't have a great love as it's simply more fiddly to use accurately in our opinion. Otherwise the settings ranged around it are exactly the same as those found on the E-PL1, namely controls for exposure, flash settings, self timer and drive mode plus controlling the AF point/s. The lack of a dedicated ISO button is something of an inconvenience for the more discerning user.
Separate HDMI and combined AV/USB output ports at located under a flimsy plastic flap at the camera's side, whilst a central screw thread at the base provides the opportunity to attach a tripod. The compartment and chunky protective catch for the rechargeable lithium ion battery and optional SD/SDHC/SDXC card are in the same place also, so as we say the E-PL2 is more a subtle refinement of the E-PL1 than complete makeover.
Also carried over from its predecessor on which the feature was first introduced, is Olympus' hand-holding 'Live Guide'. Accessed as a toolbar that appears on the right edge of the screen, with a press of the back plate 'OK' button if the mode dial is turned to iAuto (point and shoot intelligent Auto). This allows users to incrementally and manually adjust the likes of image brightness and colour saturation, as well as introduce motion blur through the 'Express Motions' mode. Any adjustments are shown in real time on the screen so you always know approximately how your image is going to look. As on the XZ-1 compact, we also get a brief hints and tips section which outlines how to take better photographs. This only pops up when shooting with the iAuto mode, so more experienced users in Program or Manual mode, for example, can bypass it entirely if necessary.
There are six Art Filters in total and they're identical to the ones offered by the even smaller XZ-1 compact, another possible competitor for the E-PL2 if you don't need the ability to swap lenses. Like that model they can be accessed whether shooting stills or High Def video. In full then, there's Pop Art, Soft Focus, Grainy Film, Pin Hole, Diorama and Dramatic Tone. As we noted in our XZ-1 review, the Diorama feature is the increasingly ubiquitous Miniature mode by another name, which narrows the sharply focused portion of the image to a narrow central strip, thus creating the optical illusion that we're viewing a toy model rather than the real thing. The contrast and colour boosting Dramatic Tone, introduced on Olympus' flagship E-5 DSLR, mirrors the results achievable from compacts that offer high dynamic range modes, and as it sounds can add mood and depth to shots that would otherwise look rather flat and uninteresting straight out of the camera.