Features & Controls

Olympus retained the same image sensor and image processor from the PEN E-PL7, released a couple of years ago, when putting together the PEN E-PL8. Both models feature a 16.1-megapixel Live MOS Four Thirds sensor and Olympus' TruePic VII image processor. The image sensor measures 17.3 by 13.0 mm in size.

The PL8's image sensor has a native 4:3 aspect ratio, meaning it will record at the highest resolution when shooting at 4:3. However, you also can shoot at other aspect ratios, including 1:1, 16:9, 3:2, and 3:4, using the camera's software. You'll be able to record at small, medium, and large resolutions within each aspect ratio. And you can shoot in JPEG, RAW, or RAW plus JPEG image formats.

The lens mount is a Four Thirds mount, allowing for use of any Four Thirds compatible lens. You'll line up the red dot on the lens mount with the red dot on the lens to attach a lens. To the right of the lens mount is the lens release button.

The AF illuminator/self-timer lamp is to the upper right of the lens mount.

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Olympus shipped a 14-42mm zoom lens with the PEN PL8. This lens has an interesting locking design.

When transporting the camera, you'll want to have the lens locked in place. This makes the lens compact, as shown in the upper photo. Before you can record photos, you must extend the lens by twisting the zoom ring, which is the wider ring visible in the photos with the switch on it. Twist this ring to the left, and you'll eventually hear a click that tells you the lens is unlocked.

When you want to lock the lens in its compact position again, you'll twist the zoom lens to the right. At the same time, you'll press the toggle switch outward on the zoom ring to allow the zoom lens to fully contract.

You can use manual focus with this lens too. Set the PEN E-PL8 to use manual focus mode (MF) using the on-screen menus. Then twist the focus ring (the thin ring outside the zoom ring) to sharpen the focus.

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The Olympus E-PL8 has control buttons and dials on the top panel of the camera.

On the far left is the hot shoe, where you'll connect the portable flash unit (included with the camera kit) or an electronic viewfinder (not included).

The mode dial is to the right of the hot shoe. It's small, but it still has all of the settings you'll need. There's no extra options that just serve to make the mode dial larger, yet aren't all that useful. The mode dial options are

  • P - Program AE
  • A - Aperture Priority AE
  • S - Shutter Priority AE
  • M - Manual
  • Movie Recording - Movie camera icon
  • Split Screen - Three box icon for split screen photos
  • SCN - Scene Modes
  • ART - Art Modes
  • iAuto - Automatic shooting mode
To the right of the mode dial is the shutter button. It's an average size and it works well. Surrounding the shutter button is a command dial that you can use to scroll through menus and saved photos more quickly.

On the far right is the power button. When the camera is powered on, you'll see a blue light in the middle of the button.

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Olympus includes a small detachable flash unit (model number FL-LM1) with the PEN PL8. After attaching the flash to the hot shoe, you'll lift the head upward at a 45-degree angle when you want to use the flash. The flash will not activate unless the flash head is raised upward. You can shoot photos with the flash in the downward position, but the flash just won't operate.

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A platform on the bottom of the flash slides onto the hot shoe bracket. You can see the edges of the hot shoe bracket at the top of this photo. There's also a rectangular port on the back of the Olympus camera, which is visible in the center of this photo. The portable flash unit contains a male connector that will slide into this port, and the platform slides into the hot shoe bracket at the same time.

This included flash unit has a guide number of 7 (ISO 100 · m) / 10 (ISO 200 · m).

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When you're ready to remove the portable flash unit from the hot shoe, you'll need to press the unlock button on the left side of the flash and then slide it backward off the hot shoe.

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There's a lot to like with the Olympus PEN PL8 camera's LCD screen. It offers 1.037 million pixels of resolution, which is an above average number and yields a sharp display. It measures 3.0-inches diagonally. Best of all it offers touch capabilities, which can simplify the operation of this camera for beginners, as they can just press the screen to record a photo, similar to a smartphone camera. Unfortunately, the touch features are very limited. You cannot make menu selections or change settings through the touch screen.

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Olympus gave the PEN E-PL8's display screen tiltable capabilities too. You can tilt it upward to 80 degrees and downward to 180 degrees. When you tilt the screen 180 degrees downward, it will be visible from the front of the camera, allowing you to shoot selfies.

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As with most cameras, you'll find a host of buttons on the right side of the back panel of the Olympus PEN PL8. I felt like most these buttons were too small to be used comfortably.

With that said, the top two buttons on the panel (which have D shapes) actually are of a good size to be used comfortably. It's too bad Olympus didn't follow this design with the other buttons.

The left button of the top two buttons is the Fn button, which opens a popup menu on the right side of the screen. It'll give you access to some handy features. In Playback mode, you'll use this button to access the E-PL8's grid display. On the right is the zoom button (marked with a magnifying glass). It allows you to zoom in on a photo that's saved on the memory card. When shooting in manual focus mode, you'll use this button to zoom into the scene, making it easier to dial in a sharp focus.

Just below these D-shaped buttons is a black thumbpad. It's of a good size to help you hold the PEN camera securely. And it has a little bit of texture to it, which will help you maintain a grip on the camera.

To the left of the thumbpad is the movie recording button, marked with a red dot. You'll use it to stop and start movie recording. You can record movies at any mode dial setting, although it's easier to access the movie recording settings when you twist the mode dial to the movie camera icon. Because of this button's small size, you may occasionally make a mistake pressing it when trying to stop or start a movie recording, which can be frustrating.

Below this button is the Menu button, which you'll use to access the PEN E-PL8's menu screens. The Info button to the right allows you to change the data that's displayed on the screen in shooting modes and in Playback mode.

The four-way button in the middle of the panel gives you quick access to give a few different settings. Just press the edge of the four-way button to match the function you want to access.

  • Right area - Flash (Auto, Redeye, Fill-in Flash, Off, Redeye Slow, Slow Sync, Slow Sync 2, Full Flash)
  • Bottom area - Continuous Shot (Single Image, Sequential High, Sequential Low), Self-Timer (12 seconds, 2 seconds, Custom)
  • Left area - AF point
  • Top area - EV (+5, +4.7, +4.3, +4, +3.7, +3.3, +3, +2.7, +2.3, +2, +1.7, +1.3, +1, +0.7, +0.3, 0, -0.3, -0.7, -1, -1.3, -1.7, -2, -2.3, -2.7, -3, -3.3, -3.7, -4, -4.3, -4.7, -5)
The OK button is in the middle of the four-way button. You'll use it to save menu screen selections. And it most shooting modes it opens a popup menu to give you access to commonly used settings.

The bottom two buttons only work with Playback mode. Press the button on the bottom right to open Playback mode. When you want to delete a photo from the memory card, press the button on the bottom left with the trash can icon.

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On the right side of the camera (as you're holding it) is a compartment with the USB and HDMI ports. The compartment door rotates on four plastic hinges. The compartment door snaps back in place when you're finished.

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The battery slot and SD memory card slot are both on the bottom of the camera behind a hinged compartment door that locks in place with a toggle switch. The compartment door opens about 80 degrees before it has a noticeable hitch that allows it to open past 90 degrees for an easier insertion of the battery and memory card. This hitch makes the door seem a little flimsy, but it's actually tightly secured to the camera body. The hitch is part of the door's design.

Olympus rates the PL8's battery for 350 shots per charge. My tests showed that number is relatively accurate, perhaps just a little high. The camera has a good battery performance level versus other mirrorless interchangeable lens models.

Olympus ships a separate battery charger with the PEN E-PL8 that plugs into a cord for a wall outlet. The cord is surprisingly long, giving you some flexibility in how you use the charger.

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