The Good. Olympus's latest compact oozes not only style but also smart little features that beginner photographers, bloggers, and selfie shooters will appreciate. The Olympus Pen E-PL9, released earlier in 2018, is a big, if beginner, camera in a small, trendy package. It boasts 4K video capabilities, a sensitivity range expandable to 25,600, a touchscreen LCD that swings 180-degrees, lens interchangeability, image stabilization, and a whole lot of art filters and effects for the preset obsessed. It's a nifty little camera, great for casual photography and for giving beginner photographers access to the more advanced photography techniques--HDR photography, for example.
The Bad. With a 16.1MP Micro Four Thirds sensor, a battery life that only lasts about 350 shots, non-existent viewfinder, and an image stabilization that only uses 3-axis, to name a few, this won't appeal to the pros and the experienced shooters. It will definitely prove inadequate. Then again, they are not its target audience. Casual shooters, however, might find its high price tag ($700) a drawback.
The Bottom Line. The Olympus Pen E-PL9 is a great little camera for casual shooters and those on the market for a point-and-shoot to replace their camera phone. With its surprising number of features, it's also got enough swagger for bloggers and influencers. It is, however, not a compact for the more experienced photographers.
Pick This Up If... you're a beginner photographer, a blogger/vlogger, a traveler, or a user looking for a smart point-and-shoot with high enough resolution for casual use. So long as you're okay with the price.
There's no denying the new Olympus Pen E-PL9 has charisma. With that sleek, throwback look that comes in four different shades plus an extensive range of creative filters and photo modes and a LCD that swivels perfectly for selfies, this beginner compact appeals to the social media generation and consumers who like pretty, little things.
Yet make no mistake: it's a bit more than that. Is it an incredible compact worthy of pro photographers? Not quite. But it does boast features that photographers who are only starting out as well as users who shoot for casual occasions (i.e. on vacation and for family gatherings) will find useful.
There are a number of great things about the Olympus Pen E-PL9, and one of them is the fact that it's an interchangeable lens camera compatible with Olympus' Micro Four Thirds lenses. Not only does this open the camera to a world of possibilities, but also gives its users a glimpse of what it's like to use a more advanced camera system.
For this review, we mostly tested the Olympus Pen E-PL9 with its lens kit, the Olympus M.14-42mm F3.5-5.6 EZ, which has a 28-82mm zoom equivalent on a full frame. However, we also had the Olympus 45mm F1.2 PRO prime on loan.
121 Point AF Area with Face & Eye Detection, Cluster AF, and Continuous AF
3.0" Flip-down Tilting Touchscreen LCD
E-portrait Skin Smoothing
In-camera clip trimming
4K Photo still image extraction
Enhanced Graphical User Interface
16 Art Filters including Instant Film (new!) & Bleach Bypass
Advance Photo Modes
Sweep Panorama (finally in-camera panorama)
Wi-Fi & Bluetooth LE (for a constant, low-voltage connection)
Olympus O.I. Share App compatibility
Full Wireless Control
Larger grip but still palm-sized
Larger mode dial
Dimensions: W 117.1mm x H 68mm X D 39mm
Weight: 332g (body only)
WHAT'S IN THE BOX
Olympus M.14-42mm F3.5-5.6 EZ lens
Pen camera case
Special camera strap
16GB SD card
BLS-50 Lithium Ion Rechargeable Battery
BCS-5 Lithium Ion Battery Charger
BUILD QUALITY & DESIGN
Just by looking at the Olympus PEN E-PL9, you can already tell that it's designed for bloggers and influencers in mind. It's got that sleek, retro, and sophisticated look reminiscent of those rounded rangefinder film cameras dressed in leatherette that comes in four different colors: white, black, brown, and blue. Polishing that off are the words OLYMPUS PEN foil stamped in front, above the front grip that has been improved upon from the last model.
It's stylish and definitely worth an Insta brag. It even comes with a plethora of equally stylish accessories partly for that purpose.
Yet it's also small--pocket-sized, in fact, and we mean that literally as we found ourselves just slipping this thing in our pockets when we weren't using it, which is very convenient. So much so that the bag it came with, the Pen camera case, was rendered almost useless during our tests. And for a small body, it has also managed to pack in a number of useful buttons and dials for more convenience plus a built-in flash.
Its small size can be a double-edge sword, however. We found this camera to be a little too small when actually shooting and adjusting the controls. Perhaps we're just too used to bigger camera bodies, but we were constantly afraid that this would slip out of our hands during our tests.
Experienced DSLR/mirrorless shooters and users with bigger hands might find its size a bit of an adjustment. If you're neither of those, then you're good. The front grip is great, though the thumb rest might be a tad too small, and the leatherette cover also offers a good grip.
We appreciate the 3-inch touchscreen LCD, which not only has an excellent 180-degree tilting so that you can flip it downwards for selfies and vlogging, but also boasts more functionality than the best mirrorless cameras right now. It lets you adjust your focus area as well as access and choose from the six different Scene Modes.
MENUS & DISPLAYS
We must admit that the menus are a tad confusing at first. There are a number of Advanced Photo Modes, Art Filters, and Scene Modes available, complicating the already complicated menu. The Olympus PEN E-PL9 may offer a number of features that automate photography techniques like creating composites and weaving HDR shots, but it doesn't mean that its menu makes it that easy for users to utilize.
It takes a while to get to know the menu, so we suggest practicing a few times first, familiarizing yourself, before you go out to shoot. This way, you have a better chance of getting the results you want more easily instead of spending time during your shoot figuring out where to go.
As far as its speed, the Olympus PEN E-PL9 does leave a great deal to be desired. It isn't the fastest compact out there, and we definitely found ourselves reshooting scenes, even outdoors in daylight, because the focus was off, meaning it wasn't on our intended subject even though that subject dominates half the frame, or the shot wasn't as crisp.
The autofocus is not always accurate, and it wouldn't perform as well with action shots. This is one of the reasons why this isn't a compact fit for an experienced photographer's arsenal.
With that said, this camera's speed and autofocus performance is good enough for its target audience. It has 121 Frequency Accelerator Sensor Technology AF points for subject tracking (a step up from its predecessor's), it has Face AND Eye Detection, and it boasts an 8.6 fps burst shooting rate. Plus, it has a built-in flash to minimize blurring, especially in low light situations.
The Olympus PEN E-PL9's metering is decent, if not great. It not only boasts several metering options--Digital ESP metering, center-weighted, spot, spot with highlight control, and spot with shadow control.
It's not excellent, and we did find ourselves adjusting in situations with more contrasts. Spot metering with shadow control and spot metering with highlight control are helpful options in these situations, however. Experiment with those when you find yourself shooting in these situations.
STILL IMAGE QUALITY
With a Micro Four Thirds Live MOS sensor and a resolution of only 16MP, you cannot really expect super sharp, highly detailed images from this camera. They are, however, extremely sharp and have a lot of details for personal use as well as for social media sharing.
Add to the mix its 3-axis in-body image stabilization to compensate for camera and user shake, and you're guaranteed crisp images to a point. Again, it won't be as sharp as those with 5-axis IBIS. In low light situations and when shooting at slower than 1/60, there were several times when we had to retake the shot. Yet it's effective enough, especially in good lighting situations.
The Olympus PEN E-PL9 has a good dynamic range so it is fairly forgiving. Plus, it has a vibrant yet natural-looking color rendition, with noticeably popping yellows and nice skin tones. This compact is great for portraits, but it's ideal for street and travel photography.
We are also impressed by the amount of fun little extras and nifty features this camera has, proving once again that this camera is designed for the Instagram generation. That's not a bad thing, though some purists and photo snobs might argue that such things are simply a crutch to cover up bad photography.
In our opinion, in-camera creative filters and photo modes serve their purpose too, and the Olympus PEN E-PL9 has more than its share of them--16 Art Filters including the new Instant Film filter, 9 Advanced Photo Modes (which are automated versions of more advanced photographic techniques), and 6 Scene Modes. They're more than enough for the instant gratification of casual shooters and even handy for experienced shooters.
Surprisingly, the Olympus PEN E-PL9 boasts top-notch ISO performance, with a sensitivity range of LOW (about 100) - 6,400, expandable to 200 - 25,600 as well as impressive noise control. Loss of detail and unnatural-looking softening isn't visible until at 6,400 and luminance noise isn't apparent until at 3,200. Though chromatic noise starts appearing at 1,600, you have to zoom in to really notice.
Overall, that's pretty amazing. The only thing is that if you want crisp images, you're going to want to avoid shooting at 12,800 up. The images are just not good at that point.
Even though it only has a 3-axis IBIS, the Olympus PEN E-PL9's image stabilization really works to its advantage when it comes to shooting videos. Its IBIS coupled with the fact that it's small and light makes for excellent videos that are steady and high quality.
What we have noticed, however, is that its autofocus tends to falter when the photographer, as well as the subjects, are moving. Instead of smoothly transitioning, intuitively choosing one subject to focus on and holding that focus until that subject moves out of frame or a new one comes in, it just goes in and out of focus erratically, as if it cannot decide what to focus on.
On the plus side, it does boast 4K as well as Full HD and HD recording, as well as the slow-motion and short movie options. The short movie option works with the camera letting you shoot different clips that altogether total up to 18 seconds of recording, then weaving all those clips to make a short. It's a very cool little feature with many applications, from creating vacation videos to documenting events and family gatherings.
Obviously, since the Olympus PEN E-PL9 is designed with the social media squad in mind, effortless sharing and transferring is available. Using the Olympus Image Share app, you can import as well as view in gallery mode your images quite easily through WiFi and Bluetooth. It just takes a little bit of time, as it's not as fast when transferring images.
The app also allows some remote control access, but it's quite primitive and not really that convenient to use.
PROS & CONS
Sharp images with good details
Surprisingly great ISO performance
IBIS works nicely with videos
4K video recording
Accurate color rendition and skin tones
Touchscreen LCD swings 180-degrees
A nice range of lenses available
9 Advanced Photo Modes
16 Art Filters
Only 16MP resolution
AF isn't as accurate when shooting stills
AF is erratic when shooting videos with moving subjects
We have great respect for the Olympus PEN E-PL9. It won't be our first choice for a compact camera, personally, but it has enough going on to tempt us. We like its classy retro design, as well as the fact that it's lightweight, small enough to slip inside our pockets, and has a number of different lenses available. We also appreciate the potential of its collection of filters and photo modes, and can see ourselves utilizing them every now and then. And finally, we respect the fact that it's got 4K capabilities, a 180-tilting LCD with more touchscreen functionality, an effective enough IBIS, and produces sharp, detailed images.
However, there are a few things about it that keeps it from being an experienced photographer's tool. Those, coupled with the fact that it'll set you back $700, makes us hesitate to recommend it to those users. There are better compacts out there more worthy of an advanced shooter's camera bag.
It's a different story for casual shooters, the audience for which this camera is truly designed. This is an excellent tool for travelers who prefer to pack light, parents who want to document family activities and record memories, beginner photographers, and of course, bloggers, vloggers and influencers who are looking for something stylish and easy-to-use yet packing a punch.
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