Product Review: Olympus PEN E-PL2

March 16, 2011

By Dan Havlik

The Olympus E-PL2 might not be as fancy looking as some previous PEN camera models but its more basic design makes it easier to use.

I’ve been a fan of the way Olympus’ PEN cameras look but not so much their ability to capture photos. In my experience, these compact, mirrorless cameras that use interchangeable lenses and Micro Four Thirds sensors have been too slow to autofocus and produced noisy images at high ISOs. With their retro styling and cute little lens lineup though, they looked pretty neat.
The new 12.3-megapixel Olympus PEN E-PL2, while probably the least attractive looking model in the PEN line-up, is actually the best picture-taker of the bunch. Here are a couple of things this camera corrects right off the bat:

1)    Autofocus is quick and sprightly and doesn’t produce that distracting wobble on the LCD screen.
2)    The new MSC (Movie & Still Compatible) 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lens (28-84mm equivalent) is a good one, featuring fast and virtually silent autofocus for both stills and movies.
3)    The 3-inch LCD with 460,000 dots of resolution is crisper and brighter than previous models.
4)    There’s a dedicated movie button on back.
5)    Noise is lower at high ISOs and I feel comfortable shooting up to 1600.
6)    Though less chic than previous PEN models, the E-PL2’s simplified body is easier to hold and shoot with.
7)    The max shutter speed has been boosted to 1/4000th of a second, helping you freeze the action.

Those are the key upgrades but there are a few things that are new altogether with the E-PL2. My favorite is the Olympus PENpal device, which attaches to the E-PL2’s accessory port so you can wirelessly send images from the camera to your phone via Bluetooth. (Sadly, it’s not iPhone or iPad compatible though.) Speaking of E-PL2 accessories, I also like the bendable Macro Arm Light that I wrote about in last month’s Objects of Desire column.
I do, however, still have some quibbles with this camera. For one, the confusing, antiquated menu system is in desperate need of an update. For instance, why is the first thing you see in the E-PL2’s menu “Card Set-up” and why is the first option “All Erase”? That’s a wee bit disconcerting to stumble onto and could lead to some potential accidents. Secondly, why are the buttons so small and why is there no exterior control for ISO? For the most part though, this camera is a vast improvement on previous models in the PEN line.
Though it may not be the prettiest PEN camera in Olympus’ line-up, the E-PL2 has so many picture-taking improvements from previous iterations, it’s clearly the best.

Olympus PEN E-PL2
Pros: The best camera in Olympus’ stylish PEN line.

Cons: The least attractive camera in Olympus’ stylish PEN line.

Price: $599