Like all of their Digital PEN models, the E-PL2 utilizes the join effort of Panasonic and Olympus with their micro 4/3 system, which offers the functionality and versatility of a dSLR with interchangeable lenses, however in a more compact package that retains some of the comforts of a point-n-shoot camera. Features carried over from the E-PL1 include a 12-megapixel Live MOS m43 image sensor, TruePic V processor, iAuto exposure control, SuperSonic Wave Filter dust reduction, in-body image stabilization (sensor-shift method), 324-area metering system, 720p HD video recording, RAW and JPEG image capture modes, a built-in pop-up flash unit, and a direct movie recording button. Olympus has added a high-quality 3.0-inch LCD screen with 460k dots (compared to the 2.7-inch unit on the E-PL1), New Dramatic Art Filter, broader shutter speed and sensitivity ranges, Art Filter stacking, new Live Guide II for stills and movies, three new scene modes, new iDetect (Eye Detect) technology for the face detection system, an updated version of the M.Zuiko 14-42mm lens with MSC and Bayonet mount for optional lens converters, and a few body improvements that we'll go into more detail about later.
The E-PL2 offers the same affordable price tag that was originally sported by the E-PL1 ($599 US) when it was released. This includes the new kit 14-42mm kit M.Zukio II lens. This has driven the E-PL1's price down to $499 US, making the E-PL2 Olympus' mid-range Digital PEN model, which is still considerably less expensive than the E-P2 (which is still $899 US).
The E-PL2's exterior still keeps in line with the Olympus Digital PEN retro look, however they have made several improvements over its predecessor. First off, they've broadened the hand grip of the right hand side, both on the front and back of the camera to give you a more comfortable and firmer grip. When in my large meat hooks, I noted a noticeable improvement in comfort when holding the E-PL2 compared to the E-PL1; which is saying a lot as I enjoyed the E-PL1. Next, they brought back the control dial that is mounted around the 4-way controller. This was something that we truly missed on the E-PL1; kudos to Olympus for hearing our cries. They also changed the camera strap loops on the left and right sides of the camera from fixed loops to swiveling. The controls on the back have also seem some slight rearrangement, which I actually prefer the new setup over the E-PL1. The Index (FN) and Magnify buttons have been moved from up top to along the right side of the LCD, and the Info and Menu buttons cradle the 4-way controller and control dial. This allows for effortless control with your thumb, without having to modify you hold on the camera much. Lastly, they've addressed the Power button issue we saw with the E-PL1. While it's located in a similar position, the button is now longer and recessed, compared to the round button used on the previous model. This makes accidentally turning the camera off pretty much impossible now.
I was glad to see that Olympus increased the size of the LCD on the E-PL2, jumping from 2.7-inches to 3.0. While this may not seem like a huge improvement, the extra surface area offered by the larger display gives you a better view of your subject(s) when out shooting, and makes the menu a bit easier to see with larger icons and text. The display also saw a nice bump in resolution up to 460,000 pixels, which is double the amount found in the LCD from the previous models. While working with the E-PL2 in various lighting environments, I found the display preformed very well. Indoors it gains up nicely to offer a brighter view, and the anti-reflective coating makes it possible to see your subject(s) when shooting in bright sunlight. The menu system is logically organized, and is arranged in the same fashion as past Digital PEN models. Along with some new or changed menu options, Olympus has added an all new menu for use with PEN accessories that use the AP2 port. The start of these is the new PENAL unit; which will talk about more below. Like past models, you can easily navigate the menu to make changes to settings, and the shortcut menu that is accessed via the OK button is very useful for changes on the fly.
The E-PL2's shooting performance results showed a noticeable improvement over the E-PL1, which was no slouch itself. From power-on till the first image was captured measured 1.4 seconds. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter and capturing an image, was almost instantaneous when pre-focused, and averaged between 1/10 and 2/10 of a second including autofocus time; compared to about 4/10 of a second on the E-PL1. Shooting a rapid sequence of photos in Single drive mode allowed me to capture images every 1.2 seconds, which is about 1/2 a second faster than the E-PL1. The E-PL2's sequential or burst mode performed similarly to the E-PL1, capturing 10 images in 2.9 seconds; supporting Olympus' claim of 3.0fps. Like we saw with the E-PL1, after about 15 Large SuperFine images, there's a noticeable slowdown in burst speed to about 1.8fps due to a full buffer. One the buffer is filled, it takes a total of about 12 seconds to fully flush the buffer, however you can still capture additional frames during this time at the slower rate; some cameras require you to wait until all images are processed before continuing to capture more photos. Changing the image format to RAW mode will slow the camera down slightly, however the only real decrease you will notice is in frame depth in burst mode shooting. Instead of being able to capture up to 15 frames at 3fps, you'll only be able to shoot about 10 before it starts to slow down due to processing these huge RAW files. Our tests were done using a SanDisk Extreme (Class 10) 4GB SDHC memory card, the kit M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm II f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens, iAuto or Program mode, ISO Auto, Preview on (1 second setting), Large SuperFine JPEG image quality, and all other settings a default unless noted. Times may vary depending on camera settings, media, and lighting conditions.
When in comes to taking great photos, the E-PL2 follows suit with past PEN models. This is mostly because the camera uses the same imager and processor found on the E-PL1, E-P2, and E-P1; if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The camera is able to produce beautiful exposures when shooting outdoors, with pleasing contrast and colors. Thanks to the 14-42mm M.Zuiko II lens, images are also nice and sharp. Color saturation will depend greatly on the settings you use, or the exposure mode. When using the iAuto mode, the camera defaults to the iEnhance color/picture mode setting, which produces much richer colors that really pop. Many will like this look, however other may want more natural colors. iEnhance is available in all shooting modes, so even if you're using Aperture priority most of the time, you can still have those brilliant colors. iAuto performs so well, that I find myself using it more and more with these EVIL and higher-end prosumer digicams. Olympus has also updated their "Live Guide" system to "Live Guide II", which not allows beginners to use the great features offered by this system in movie mode. When the mode dial is set to the iAuto position, you press the OK button in the center of the 4-way controller to activate the Live Guide, and access settings to alter the look of your photos in a way that most photographers use manual settings to achieve. You can choose from Color Saturation, Color Image, Brightness, Blur Background, and Express Motion. Once you choose an option, and start sliding the effect gauge up or down, you can see a live representation of the changes that will take effect in your photo right on the LCD, before you actually capture an image. Pressing the shutter release will snap a photo, however now you can also press the movie mode shutter button to capture video with these same effects in place. This is yet another option Olympus has added to help the average user create more unique and creative photos, and now videos.
Like I mentioned earlier, Olympus has updated their 14-42mm M.Zukio lens that is included in the zoom lens camera kit. The M.Zuiko ED 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II is optically the same as the previous version, however Olympus has added a bayonet mount to the end of the lens for attaching optional conversion lenses, much like you see with some prosumer cameras. These are easy and fun units that will allow you to capture a wider range of photos, without having to fork our hundreds of dollars on a complete new lens. Currently, they are offering three options, a Fisheye converter, Wide-Angle converter, and a Macro converter. These units cost as little as $59.99 US for the Macro unit, up to a maximum of $169,99 US for the Fisheye lens. You could virtually buy all three units for less than the cost of a single lens to cover only one of these areas. Unfortunately, we were not able to test the E-PL2 with these new units. Like with past models, my favorite lens to use with these Digital PEN models is the M.Zuiko 17mm F/2.8 pancake lens, however the kit 14-42mm lens does offer much more versatility in shot composition; especially now with the new conversion lens options.
Olympus has broadened the sensitivity range on the E-PL2, from ISO 200 up to 6400 (compared to a maximum of 3200 on the E-PL1). Like its predecessor, the E-PL2 performs very well all the way up to ISO 1600. While there is visible noise when pixel peeping at 100%, at full-screen the ISO 1600 images look very good. At ISO 3200, like with the E-PL1, you will start to see some noticeable amounts of luminous noise throughout photos when critically inspecting them at 100%, however there's still a great deal of fine detail left in the image, and again at full-screen they still looks please when you consider that the image was shot using ISO 3200. When you reach the maximum ISO 6400 setting, on top of strong luminous noise, you will notice a shift in color balance. These images do retain more detail than I expected, however I really could not see these images making it to print without heavy post-processing. Overall, like past models, the E-PL2 continues the Digital PEN tradition of offering class leading High ISO performance. Combine these results with their 17mm f/2.8 pancake lens, and you've got one awesome low-light rig.
The E-PL2 continues the use of a handy built-in manual pop-up flash unit, along with a hotshoe for external units; like the FL-14. We were glad to see this functionality remained on the E-PL2, as this was one of the features that was missing from past PEN cameras (although, the thought with the original PEN cameras was that you'd use an external flash anyway). This built-in unit offers a guide number of 10 (m) at ISO 200, which is comparable to some of your higher end point-n-shoot cameras in terms of power. You'll find the flash range to be sufficient for a good amount of flash photography, including macros, close-up portraits, etc. Just remember that it does not have the power to illuminate large open rooms, or even mid sized rooms at that. This is where an external unit would suffice, like Olympus' FL-14, FL-20, FL-36, FL-50, FL-36R or FL-50R external speedlites.
Olympus' Art Filters have been a hit since they were first introduced, in fact Olympus set the stage for these types of filters, with many manufactures now offering similar options on their cameras. While the E-PL2 still offers 6 modes to choose from, you loose Gentle Sepia (one of my favorites), which has been replaced with Dramatic Tone. They've also added some stacking functionality, which allows you to add more than one filter at one time, depending on which setting is being used. While I am glad to see this functionality, I wish you had more control and would stack which ever filters you wanted to; instead of being limited by only the available options they provide. Like we've stated with past models, these Art filters really allow you to be more creative, and have "fun" while out taking photos.
One unique option Olympus incorporated into their Digital PEN models is the accessory port. Working with the flash hotshoe, this port allows you to mount various optional accessories that Olympus offers, such as an external EVF (VF-2) and a microphone adapter (EMA-1). With the release of the E-PL2, Olympus added their new accessory port 2 (AP2) to this new camera, and released two new accessories; a Macro light setup (MLA-1) and the PENPAL Bluetooth unit (PP-1). We were fortunate enough to test the PENPAL, which is a must have accessory if you are an avid Facebook or Twitter user. Using Bluetooth Wi-Fi connectivity, you can connect your E-PL2 to any Bluetooh enabled smart phone. I used a Motorola Droid 1 for our tests, and the connecting process was effortless, taking less than 5 minutes to setup and pair the devices. Once paired, you can send any stored image to your phone using the SEND A PICTURE option in the playback edit menu. From here, the camera will upload the selected photo (one at a time) to your phone, from which you can then upload directly to Facebook, etc. You can choose the picture size via the PENPAL menu on the E-PL2, which allows you to choose from Size 1:Small (640x480), Size 2: Large (1920x1440), and Size 3: Medium (1280x960). The default option is Size 1, which I found uploaded very quickly to my Droid phone. Within minutes, I had uploaded about 11 images to my Facebook page. As you raise the resolution setting, remember the files sizes will increase as well, increasing the time it takes to upload from the E-PL2 and your phone. Overall I think the PENPAL is a very cool accessory, and it's sure to be a hit with all you Facebook lovers. While Olympus told me officially that the PENPAL was only compatible with the AP2 port found on the E-PL2, there has been rumor that a simple firmware update would be coming that would allow you to use the PENPAL with any Digtial PEN model; which I think makes a heck of a lot more sense.
The video options have not changed much on the these Digital PEN models. The E-PL2 offers the same settings we saw on previous models siblings, with the exception of the Live Guide II options we mentioned earlier. You can record video at either HD (720p) and SD (640x480) resolution, along with settings for white balance, IS mode, focus mode, AF target (Single or Multi), AF Tracking, and exposure control mode (Program, Aperture Priority, Manual, Art Filter 1-6). A feature that was added back on on the E-P2 was full manual exposure control, on top of the Program AE, Aperture, and Art filter options. This feature was thankfully carried over to the E-PL1, and now the E-PL2. All together, the E-PL2 has a lot to offer video buffs, who like using different filters and such to produce creative video. The only real option missing would be full 1080p capabilities, otherwise the E-PL2 has it covered. Overall, the E-PL2 can record nice clean video with decent sound from the built-in mic. Just remember to be aware of your surroundings, as you'll likely pick up some background noise you may not notice while recording. Playback is also nice and smooth, thanks to the use of a 30fps frame rate.
One of the last changes noted on the E-PL2 was the battery. Olympus includes their new BLS-5 Li-ion battery pack with the E-PL2, instead of the BLS-1 unit used with the E-PL1. This pack still offers 7.2 volts and 1150mAh, however Olympus claims this is a more environment friendly pack. The battery life quote from Olympus has almost doubled when compared to the prior model, from 290 frames up to 500 on the E-PL2. I found battery life to be quite good, capturing over 280 photos, several short videos, and extensive use of the menu and playback systems with some power to spare. I still recommend you pick up a spare pack just in case, and since the battery is charged out of camera you can always have one charging while you're using another. One important thing to note is that the E-PL2 is compatible with the older BLS-1 battery pack from the E-PL1 (and I'd bet vise versa). However, Olympus does note that the BLS-1 and BLS-5 pack must be charged in their own specific AC chargers.
Bottom Line - Olympus has taken an already awesome camera (the E-PL1) and made it even better. The E-PL2 has some note worthy improvements that add to the appeal of this series, with the addition of the control dial, beefier hand grip, new conversion lens options, and the PENPAL being my personally favorites. If you've already for an E-PL1, I can't really say the E-PL2 is a must have for you. However, for those who wer eon the fence about an EVIL camera, I highly recommend the E-PL2. It offers excellent shooting performance, a comfortable size and weight, excellent image quality that is comparable to entry-level dSLRs, and an awesome price tag of just $599.99 US for the zoom lens kit. Add the PENPAL ($79.99 US), and you've got yourself one awesome package that will allow you to share photos with all you're Facebook and twitter followers. .
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