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Olympus Pen E-PL1 - Performance and Results

By Cliff Smith



  • Recommended by TR
Olympus Pen E-PL1 front angle


Our Score:


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.

Olympus Pen E-PL1 top

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.

Olympus Pen E-PL1 bottom

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.


August 28, 2010, 1:47 pm


The E-pl1 is very good. Even more so with the panasonic 14-45.

The only thing missing is a viewfinder.

Great review. Like most of your reviews.



August 28, 2010, 5:49 pm


I send you an email two days ago requesting that you review this camera, it is done so fast. I am sure it must in the pipe line by the time my email reaches you.

I read a number of reviews from consumers of this camera, their main gripes of this camera are:

1. a slower auto-focus compared to others.

2. cannot/difficult to auto-focus in bad light

3. the image is not so sharp when it is fully extended.

I don't think you mentioned these in your review. I assume you use the latest firmware. Is it possible that these problems have been fixed in the latest firmware. Maybe you like to comment on them. Otherwise it is a fine camera indeed, esp at the price it is selling. It is on special in some stores in Australia and the States. I heard you can get it at B&H in the States for $499.


September 3, 2010, 8:47 pm

I moaned like the old man that I am when Olympus started fooling around with MFT... But I would not have done if they had started with this one. Looks really modern and retro at the same time. The price is very interesting and the features and performance are what an ancient fan expects of Olympus.

Fair question about shutter lag. If it's mainly the time it takes to focus, and there is no problem getting the focus before you release the shutter, it'll be as manageable as it is on any successful compact.

That doesn't mean I'm about to trade in my E-620, but there would have been an outside chance of me buying an E-PL1 if it had been well established in the market place when I bought the E-620.

Mike B

October 16, 2010, 11:25 pm

I feel you may as well have a Panasonic G10 rather than this camera. the G10 has a built in viewfinder (EVF) and better handling due to the grip, given it weighs about the same as a PEN and is very close in size then why compromise?

Danilo Ingan-eng

October 30, 2010, 7:59 am

E-PL1 with latest firmware can now shoot As Soon As Possible but not in All Shooting Angle Possible restricted by its fixed image viewer.


December 28, 2010, 4:05 am

I'm confused about Mike B's comments. Having compared the image quality of the 2 cameras, the Olympus wins hands down, so how can it be a compromise, especially when firmware updates appear to have fixed many of the niggles?

I also question the 9/10 for image quality given to the Olympus, having compared it to cameras given 10/10 it appears to perform as well, and even better (in my humble opinion) than cameras given 10? I want a small camera and was previously sold on the Panasonic FZ38, however, having found this at a significantly reduced price, I'm revisiting my finances! ;)

Merry Christmas everyone!

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