The E-PL1's overall performance is also more like that of an advanced compact than a DSLR. It starts up and is ready to shoot in just under two and a half seconds as long as you remember to manually extend the lens, and the shot-to-shot time in single-shot mode is approximately 1.8 seconds in both Raw and JPEG modes, both respectable times for a compact camera, but pretty slow compared to most DSLRs. The shot-to-shot time is faster than the original E-P1, however. In continuous shooting mode it can manage slightly over three frames a second, although in Raw mode the buffer can only manage 10 frames before it slows down to approximate one frame a second.
Like the other Pen E cameras the the E-PL1 has a contrast detection autofocus system. It is fast and accurate in good light, but does have a slight tendency to hunt on lower contrast subjects. Low light performance is generally good, but it lacks an AF assist lamp, so below a certain light level it has real problems and it won't take a picture unless it has focused. The pop-up flash has to be manually raised to work, and is a bit underpowered, with a maximum range of only around three metres, although it attenuates well at close range to avoid burning out highlights.
Image quality is one of the major selling points of this type of camera, and the E-PL1 doesn't disappoint. The 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens lens is excellent, producing outstanding edge-to-edge sharpness and lots of fine detail, and the low compression of the fine picture quality setting gives excellent results. Colour reproduction is superb, with very natural looking tones and good detail even in saturated areas. Dynamic range is also excellent, with plenty of shadow and highlight detail.
Image noise has been a problem on some previous Four Thirds cameras, but the E-PL1 produces excellent results at up to 800 ISO, with noise only starting to become an issue at 1600 ISO, and even the maximum 3200 ISO setting gives results that would be acceptable on a small print.
The general impression of the Olympus Pen E-PL1 is not that this is a cut-down version of the E-P2, but that it is well-made high-spec compact camera that has been equipped with interchangeable lenses. This is a true bridge camera, even more so than the E-P2, the Lumix GF1 or even the Sony NEX-5. It sits mid-way between compact cameras and DSLRs, offering a good compromise between convenience and creativity, with good performance and superior image quality and at a reasonably affordable price.