Olympus E-P2 Digital Pen review

For taking professional-looking photos a digital SLR (DSLR) is best, but they’re not as convenient to lug around as a pocket snapper. Clearly we need someone to offer the best of both worlds. Enter the Olympus E-P2, just eight months after the E-P1, and continuing the revival of the Pen series first launched in 1959.

As with its well-received predecessor, the E-P2 is basically a DSLR from Olympus’ E-series that’s had its internal mirror mechanism removed so lens and sensor can be shunted closer together. This has enabled Olympus to deliver not only a more compact body but also physically smaller lenses that do the same job as larger counterparts on 35mm camera-based DSLRs.

The 14-42mm zoom lens bundled with the E-P2 helpfully provides double the 35mm equivalent focal range at 28-84mm. But, as it features a retractable mechanism to further aid compactness, it has to be manually extended before powering the camera up to avoid an on-screen error message.

With this neat system, you might expect the solid-feel E-P2 to fit into a matchbox, but with lens attached it’s still a chunky squeeze for a coat pocket. Indeed, weight and dimensions haven’t altered from E-P1 to E-P2, though the hotshoe for adding the optional FL-14 accessory flashgun has risen slightly to allow for the attachment of an electronic viewfinder (EVF).

Enjoying the view
Since all shots are otherwise composed with the aid of the camera’s large 3in LCD screen, this EVF can be tilted upwards so that the user is shooting at right angles to their subject – ideal for arty low-angle shots, while also providing clearer visibility in bright sunlight. We’d rather have a built-in flash. Ironically in the two months it took between the E-P2’s announcement and it hitting the shops, Olympus launched a third Pen, the E-PL1, which costs less (£549) and does include a flash.

The E-P2 is notable for adding two new Art Filters to its line-up of digital effects – Diorama and Cross Process. Diorama processes the image in-camera to appear as if it’s been shot with a specialist tilt and shift lens, rendering human subjects as if on a toy-town scale. Cross Process apes the wet darkroom process beloved of rock photographers. The pop art, pinhole camera, soft focus, pale and light colour, light tone, plus grainy film options from the E-P1 are still present. All effects are best applied sparingly, but do help set the camera further apart from its peers.

HD movie capability remains at 1,280 x 720 pixels at a maximum frame rate of 30fps and with stereo sound. Footage sounds and looks great; lens quality is miles better than most camcorders. Filming is now offered in M (full manual) shooting mode. Remote slideshow capability is via HDMI and AF tracking is included to lock focus on moving subjects. Also new is an i-Enhance function as the camera’s default setting, which to our eyes delivered warmer images than we’ve seen from Olympus in the past, which appeared distinctly cool in tone.

The foolproof iAuto option, selected via the mode dial sunk into the top plate, continues to produce consistently sharp, well-exposed results almost as good as a DSLR. When the camera chooses to opt for a landscape setting, it renders blues and greens impressively vividly.

OUR VERDICT

Early adoptors that bought into Olympus’ Pen concept with the E-P1 shouldn’t feel aggrieved at the appearance of its doppelganger a few months later – the E-P2 is not enough of a technological jump to prompt an upgrade. Those looking for a very high-quality compact that will deliver near-professional pictures while being easy and fun to use will find much in the E-P2 to delight. Fortunately for those feeling the squeeze a budget option in the E-PL1 has been announced, and this arguably poses a bigger threat to mass uptake of E-P2 than anything rival brands can muster.

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