Smaller and lighter. That seems to be the ‘mantra’ for in-coming new cameras. For those who may not be aware, in 1972, Olympus was the first to stun the world with its legendary OM-1 SLR, designed by one of the greatest designers the world has ever known – Yoshihisa Maitani (1933-2009).
Maitani was also responsible for the original half-frame Pen, the Pen F halfframe SLR, the entire the OM 35mm SLR system, and the XA ultra-compact 35mm camera. The Olympus E-PM1 was introduced in October 2011 and continues in the footsteps of the PEN-series. The E-PM1 is also known as Olympus PEN Mini. Let’s see how this baby performs on our test bench.
There can be no question about it – the Olympus E-PM1 is a tough, little, ultralight, mirror-less compact camera. The outer body is sleek and appears to be made from metal, including the mount. The lens mount however, is made from plastic (the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens). If you were to hold the camera in one hand, it will feel lop-sided and may even slip out of your hand. But then, ideally, cameras should be held using both hands! The body weighs a mere 265g with the battery and the memory card. The 14-42mm kit lens has a filter thread for 37mm filters.
The Olympus E-PM1 is a 12.3 megapixel (effective) Interchangeable Lens Compact Camera (ILCC) designed on the Micro Four Thirds System, featuring a 17.3 x 13mm Live MOS image sensor in conjunction with a TruePic VI image processing engine. Currently, 12 Olympus lenses (and some more from Panasonic and Sigma) are available for this model. Further, by using compatible adapters, one can also use the standard Four Thirds lenses. To get rid of dust that is likely to settle on the sensor, the E-PM1 uses a Supersonic Wave Filter to vibrate the dust away (which is collected on a sticky tape under the filter). A 3-mode Image Stabiliser (for horizontal, vertical, and horizontal + vertical camera movements) is built into the body. This means that any lens fitted to the E-PM1 becomes image stabilized. Olympus claim that the image stabiliser provides up to 3 stops advantage.
The E-PM1 offers shooting modes for beginners (iAUTO, Art, Scene), and for advanced users (P, A, S, M). When set to iAUTO (intelligent Auto), the camera automatically optimises the settings for the current scene. The Art shooting mode has filters that help to create effects like soft focus, grainy film, pin-hole effect etc without resorting to a image editing program like Photoshop. The Scene (SCN) shooting mode lets the user select any one of the 23 scenes types incorporated in the camera. Within iAUTO, one can also select what Olympus terms as Live Guides that make it easy to access a variety of advanced photo techniques. For example, you can change the colour saturation and contrast, ‘warm up’ or ‘cool down’ an image, change the brightness of a photo, have the background blur or sharp, and create movement or stop movement. Shooting tips for photographing children, pets, flowers, cuisine (food) etc. are also available. Processing options (also called Picture Modes) like i-Enhance, Vivid, Natural, Muted, Portrait, and Monochrome further help to fine-tune images to your individual liking. You can set the camera to various aspect ratios: 4:3, 3:2, 3:4, 6:6, or 16:9.
The E-PM1 has 35 autofocus points and you can use: (1) All 35 AF points – the camera will automatically select the target (2) Single AF point – the user manually selects the required AF point (3) Group of 9 AF points –the camera will select the target from within the group. Autofocus can also be set to Face Priority, wherein the camera will focus on the face closest to the camera.
For exposure metering, the E-PM1 offers 5 choices: Digital ESP metering, Center-weighted average metering, Spot metering, Spot metering with Highlight Control, and Spot metering
with Shadow Control. Here are some tips on which metering to use and when. Using the Digital ESP metering, the camera meters brightness in 324 areas of the frame and offers an
exposure best suited for the lighting/ contrast condition. This mode is recommended for general day-today use. Center-weighted average metering places greater emphasis in the
center of the frame and is useful when the brightness on the subject defers widely from that in the background. The Spot meter reads about 2-percent of the frame and hence can be
invaluable in the hands of advanced users (beginners, please avoid using this mode unless you know how to interpret the suggested readings). Spot metering with Highlight Control
increases the exposure for the metered highlight (all meters are designed to turn the metered area into mid-tone. Using Spot metering with Highlight Control, the highlights will remain as bright as you see them). Similarly, the Spot metering with Shadow Control ensures that the shadow area is not overexposed (this is done by reducing the exposure). The camera can be used in Program mode (with Program Shift), Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Art Filter, and Scene modes. Exposures can be compensated in +/- 3 EV in 1/3 EV steps.
White Balance on the E-PM1 can be set to Auto, Custom, One-touch, or any one of seven presets. The ISO sensitivity on the E-PM1 ranges from 200-12,800, plus Auto. Still images
can be recorded in RAW, JPEG, or RAW + JPEG. The user can combine the image size (Large, Medium, or Small) and compression ratio (Super Fine – SF/ Fine – F / Normal – N/ and
Basic -B). Movies can be recorded in Full HD Fine, Full HD Normal, HD Fine, HD Normal, HD, and SD quality options.
There is no built-in flash on the E-PM1 but a very tiny, accessory flashgun is provided. Besides the usual flash modes, it is possible to bracket the flash exposures. The camera does not offer any internal storage, but images can be recorded on SD, SDHC, SDXC or Eye-Fi card. The camera is powered by a rechargeable lithium ion battery and weighs 265g with battery and card.
The E-PM1 is a multi-feature camera that has more features than what you would probably like. If you are technically inclined, you’ll love to set-up this camera; if you hate technicalities, well, you’ll most likely hate the camera. This is because there are just too many settings to set. It isn’t that the User Interface is difficult, it’s just the number of settings that will get you. But once set, you should have no complaints about the usage.
In terms of sharpness, the Olympus E-PM1 acquitted itself very well. Sharpness was good throughout the focal range (14-42mm lens). Center sharpness was better than at the corners. We felt that the maximum sharpness was at f/8 throughout the range. At f/16, effects of diffraction of light could be noticed at 100 percent screen size. F/22 showed a loss in sharpness even at the center. We could notice corner darkening at the wide-angle setting with the lens wide open, but by f/5.6, the illumination was even. Barrel distortion was seen at 14mm, but by 18mm, it was negligible. We did not find any barrel/pin cushion distortion worth talking about at the other focal lengths. Flare could be seen in strong againstthe- light shots but we did not notice any colour fringing, which is good.
Now let’s see how the E-PM1 fared in the White Balance test. WB in Sun gave a yellow cast; AWB in Sun was okay. WB with flash gave a red cast; AWB with Flash was okay. WB in Shade gave a strong reddish-yellow cast; AWB in Shade was okay. Same was the case with Incandescent light and Fluorescent light. While the Presets gave colour cast, the AWB settings proved fine.
Digital noise was well controlled. At 16.7 percent screen size, noise was not seen throughout the ISO range, though ISO 12,800 felt a bit rough. Same was our perception at 25 percent screen size. At 50 percent screen size, though ISO 3200 showed some noise, we would not hesitate to use it. At this point, ISO 800 seemed just as good as ISO 200! At 100 percent, noise could be seen throughout the ISO range but I would not hesitate to use up to ISO 1600, if needed.
Value for Money
The Olympus E-PM1 (body + 14- 42mm kit lens) is available at an MRP of Rs.29,999. This is a very attractive price, and makes the E-PM1 very competitive when compared to the competition.
+ Excellent metering choices, Lightweight, Good overall performance
– User Manual not provided in print, Lenses quite bulky in relation to body size, Cumbersome to set up
Design and Build Quality 17/20
Key Features 18/20
Noise Control 4/5
Value for Money 9/10
Grand Total 84/100
*Evaluation is for AWB, not Presets.
The E-PM1 is a great performer. The body is tough, and plenty of lenses (from Olympus and Panasonic) are available. The Olympus kit currently offered here in India is priced much
lower than in the USA and elsewhere. Take this opportunity and go for it before Olympus changes its mind about the pricing.