Just over a year ago I reviewed the Pen E-P1, Olympus's first foray into the compact system camera market. The review was generally positive, but I criticised the camera's lack of a built-in flash and relatively high price compared to contemporary DSLRs. Olympus must have been paying attention, because it has recently launched the third model in its Pen E series, the Pen E-PL1, a cheaper, simpler version of the design which does include a neat pop-up flash gun.
As I've remarked in several recent camera reviews, the compact system camera is now a well-established sector of the market and is growing rapidly in popularity, promising as it does the versatility and image quality of a digital SLR with the portability and convenience of a compact. The Pen E-PL1 is certainly more akin to a compact camera than either the E-P1 or Olympus's more recent E-P2. It is smaller, lighter, and has much simpler controls than its two more expensive stablemates, however it does still offer a good range of features and plenty of creative versatility.
The smaller body of the E-PL1 will inevitably draw comparisons with the brilliant Panasonic GF1, and indeed there are a number of similarities between the two models. Both use the Micro Four Thirds lens mount and sensor system, and they are within five millimetres and 12 grams of being the same size and weight, with the E-PL1 measuring 114.6 x 72.2 41.5mm and weighing 297g body-only, slightly heavier narrower, taller and thicker than its Lumix rival. Both cameras have similar Four-Thirds Live MOS sensors, although the Olympus has marginally greater resolution at 12.3MP. However the E-PL1 is currently selling on the high street for less than £425 with the kit 14-42mm standard zoom lens, considerably cheaper than the GF1, which costs around £550 with a 14-45mm lens. The E-PL1's other major rival is the Sony NEX-5, which is considerably smaller and better equipped but is also around £100 more expensive.