Olympus Pen EP-2 Camera Review

Well, after a few weeks of using my new EP-2, I feel like I have something of a handle on it. I haven’t tried every feature, or figured out how to use every setting, but I can give a general review of how the camera functions as an everyday shooter.

First off, it’s a great size and weight.

 

While it’s not point-and-shoot small, it is easily carried in a pocket (especially with the Panasonic lens on it). The camera feels solid and easy to grip in my hand, and I don’t tire from holding it up. It has a very retro look, which I like, having grown up around film cameras.

The two lenses are very different sizes. The Panasonic 20mm is flatter, because it’s not a zoom. The range is fixed. The Olympus 14-42mm stock lens sticks out much further. Still, they are smaller than the lenses made for DSLRs. Primarily, I use the Panasonic. The images are lovely and the color is soft. I like the depth of field it provides, and the “bokeh” (the blurriness) behind the subject. It also has a larger aperture, so I can take photos in lower light without worrying as much about blur.

  

It also takes pretty rockin’ landscape photos, too, which I didn’t expect.

 

The zoom stock lens isn’t really very “zoomy,” especially if you’ve come from a decent point-and-shoot. But it does take good pictures, particularly in strong light. I like the deep depth of field that makes things look almost miniaturized at times. I’m not going to get rid of it, but it certainly won’t be my primary lens.

 

The EP-2  has all the functions one would expect from a modern camera: I can take pictures on several settings (manual, shutter-priority, aperture-priority, program, iAuto, “art” and “scene” modes), as well as shoot high definition video. There are numerous tricks one can perform, from bracketing photos at different apertures, ISOs, and white balances; to face-recognition. In fact, if a point-and-shoot does it, the EP-2 probably does as well. Since I use it almost entirely on full-manual, I haven’t tried out most of these features, but I would assume they work as one would expect. I would like to try the bracketing one of these days, so I can make some HDR landscapes, but I haven’t had the time (or lighting) to try it yet.

On the back are many buttons, a thumb wheel for control of aperture, and a rotating dial that controls shutter speed, ISO, focus, etc. The LCD is 3″ and reasonably clear and bright. The camera has no built-in flash, but it does have a hot-shoe on top for a flash, view-finder, or microphone (there are small, built-in mics for video recording, of course).

Since I mostly don’t use the menu settings, it’s worth mentioning the one I do like. If I scroll through several iterations on the “info” button, past the histogram, I get to a setting that allows me to manually move the focus-square around the frame, so that I can focus on things that aren’t in the center of the picture, or that aren’t in front in the field of view. The higher-end EP-3 does this with its touch-screen function, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover I could do it (albeit more slowly), with this camera too.

The ISO range on this camera is much higher than on my old point-and-shoot. I can easily shoot 800 or 1000 ISO and still get really great photos with very little noise. The lowest on the range is 100, which is higher than what I had on my old point-and-shoot, yet it generates no noise at all. I tend to shoot at 200 with this camera, and that works beautifully, but if I forget and shoot a bunch of photos at 800 after using it at night, the noise is easily cancelled out in RAW mode when I post-process. It also has image stabilization, which I mostly leave “off,” because it can make non-shaky pictures seem blurred (I know, that’s counter-intuitive). However, when I was riding the ski lift, it was the only thing that allowed me to get this shot:

The camera can shoot pictures as jpegs, suitable for instant downloading, and one can edit them in-camera fairly easily. If you are the type who hates to do post-processing, this camera would take lovely pictures without much effort. The iAuto settings are particularly suited to this, giving folks who want it a lot of hand-holding to get great pictures.

It can also shoot in RAW mode, or RAW+jpeg, which is what I use. Now that I’ve processed photos from RAW, I could never do jpegs again. So much control!

The battery life so far has been just fine, much better than I was led to expect. I’ve taken roughly 300 pictures with it so far this week, and haven’t had to switch the battery out yet. Batteries are cheap for this camera: I bought two extras on Amazon for $11 shipped to my door. The camera comes with the charger. I’m using an 8GB SDHC memory card, and 100 RAW+jpeg files uses less than half of my memory. For everyday shooting, this is fine. When I travel with it, I’ll have to buy a bigger card to hold a day’s worth of photos.

The best part is that the camera itself continues to drop in price. Olympus just released their new high-end micro 4/3rds format camera, the OM-D EM-5 (say that three times fast). At $1200, it’s priced to compete well with DSLRs, and has many more features than my camera, a built-in viewfinder, tilt LCD, and a bigger sensor. This has lowered the price on mine around the internet. There’s a new one on Craigslist in my area for less than $325. That’s a heck of a deal! The lenses will work with any micro 4/3rds format camera, so if I eventually decide to get a different camera body so I can have more features (like a larger light sensor), I can continue to use my lenses.

If I were to buy this camera again, I’d get the refurbished body-only, buy the Panasonic 20mm, and spend a bit more to buy a good longer-range zoom lens. The stock lens isn’t really worth the money. That said, I don’t hate it or anything. In fact, the photo up above of my step-daughter watching the ducks take off is one of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken! So I may decide I like it more as I use it more. We’ll see.

I am continually surprised by the beauty of the photos I’m getting with this camera. My friends and family are all admirers of what it can do, and I am a complete convert. I can’t imagine going back. I would highly recommend trying one of the cameras in this class if you are transitioning from a point-and-shoot and want to take better pictures, or if you are using a DSLR, but want more flexibility in terms of size. The more basic models are just $400 brand new at any store, and will take pictures just as good as the higher-end ones: they simply offer less manual control. The highest-end ones, like the Sony Nex7 and the new Olympus OM-D, take pictures that are just as good as DSLRs at a reasonable price and much nicer size.

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