5 Things You Need to Know About the Olympus PEN E-PL9

Olympus just announced the new PEN E-PL9, the successor to the PEN E-PL8, and it's a compact powerhouse of an ILC (interchangeable lens camera). If you're familiar with Olympus cameras, imagine an OM-D E-M10 Mark III in a smaller, lighter, rangefinder style body with the ease of use of a smartphone camera. Take note, other camera manufacturers, because you've just been put on notice. This stylish little digicam has a 16MP CMOS image sensor with TruePic VIII image processor, and 121 AF points to help you capture your 4K (30fps) video, selfies or panoramas. It's bananas. Here are five things you need to know about it. 
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1. A Big Jump Over the E-PL8 (& Your Smartphone)

The PL9 may have the same megapixel count and flip-down screen arrangement as its predecessor, but the TruePic VIII processor (stolen from the flagship OM-D E-M1 Mark II) gives the PL9 better low light sensitivity for improved image quality in a wider range of lighting conditions and less noise at higher ISOs. Plus, this is the first PEN that shoots 4K video. Olympus even includes an in-camera app to trim clips as well as pull 4K Photos (8MP) from your video clips. Your smartphone can also record 4K video, but it has a much smaller image sensor which means it can't perform as accurately in low light.

It comes with 16 Art Filters, including Bleach Bypass (high contrast, less color) and the new-for-this-camera Instant Film which is like a polaroid filter that makes the darker areas green and gives skin tones a warm glow. Previously available filters return like Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale & Light Color, Light Tone, Grainy Film, Pinhole, Diorama, Cross Process, Gentle Sepia, Dramatic Tone, Key Lime, Watercolor, Vintage, and Partial Color. And, you can finally do a "sweep panorama"  like a smartphone without having to use external Olympus software.

The camera's 121 AF points with group focus for more sophisticated movement detection and focus accuracy (Face & Eye AF) will be a blessing for those of you making the jump to their first ILC (interchangeable lens camera). 

Lastly, while the body remains compact and palm-sized, the PL9 boasts a larger grip and mode dials with a refined high-grade finish of metal to improve ergonomics.
2. Almost A Mini OM-D

The new E-PL9 shares a lot of technology with the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III. In addition to the image processor and image sensor you also get the E-M10 Mark III's new AUTO Mode, Advance Photo (AP) Modes, and the new graphical user interface that groups Art Filters, AP & Scene Modes in logical ways. And everything's accessible via the touchscreen.

The most significant difference between the two cameras? The E-M10 Mark III offers 5-axis in-body Image Stabilization where the E-PL9 only offers 3-axis I.S.

However, that's a small price to pay to pack all of those amazing features in such a small body. For those of you who might be too scared to ditch the smartphone for an OM-D E-M10 Mark III because of either, it's price or the learning curve; the PL9 is like having a built-in photography instructor that's less intimidating. Check out all the different modes you can access from the touchscreen on the back:

  • Auto Modes: Portrait + Nightscape, Nightscape, Portrait + Landscape, Superior Close-ups, Portrait-Style Shot

  • Scene Modes: People, Motion, Indoors, Nightscapes, Scenery, Close-ups

  • AP Modes: Live Composite, Live TIme, Multiple Exposure, HDR, Silent, Panorama, Digital Shift, AE Bracket, AF Bracket.

3. Selfie Ready

While the PEN E-PL9 lacks the OM-D E-M10 Mark III's image stabilization, the PL9 does have a more functional touchscreen LCD. Like the E-PL8, the E-PL9 offers a 180-degree TILTING screen for shooting selfies and recording vlogs.

Buttons that appear on the touchscreen when you flip the screen down: Shutter Button, Movie Button for quick clips, Self Timer, Rec Review, and e-Portrait (with optional skin smoothing -- it detects faces and smooths the skin).

This is a great feature for handheld selfies and vlogs, but the huge flaw here is that you can't mount the E-PL9 on a tripod and still see the screen, which is I guess Olympus's way of saying people who shoot mostly with their smartphones don't want a tripod. 
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4. Better Bluetooth

The wireless functions on this camera are where it truly shines. While the E-PL8 had Wi-Fi, the E-PL9 adds Bluetooth LE for constant phone-to-camera connections giving you full wireless camera control via the Olympus O.I. Share app along with "How To" video guides. 

Bluetooth LE means the camera stays connected to your phone or tablet even when the camera's asleep. The sounds bad for battery life, but the connection is so low voltage you don't have to worry. Here's how this feature helps: if you need to snag an image even though the PL9's put away in your bag or pocket, open the app, "wake" the camera, and grab away. Also, if you tag photos using the "share" button while reviewing them on the camera and then turn off the PL9, every tagged photo will auto-download to your iOS or Android device when you turn the camera off. 

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5. The Flash is Back

This is a minor but significant detail. While the E-PL8 required you to manually attach a flash, the E-PL9 flash is built-in, which fits with the replacing your smartphone with a better camera model. All smartphones have a built-in flash. If you want to get people to upgrade you need to continue to offer the features they're used to having along with ones they didn't know that they needed.

For a full breakdown of features and specs, check out our: