The Lightweight Photographer:
Olympus PEN E-P2 Real World Camera Review

by Alan Haynes / PhotoCitizen on November 13, 2010

UPDATE: Read about the brand new Olympus PEN E-P3 here.

The E-P1 PLUS. That’s what they should have called the Olympus PEN E-P2. The E-P2 has nearly everything in common with its predecessor. But that PLUS is really something!

Olympus E-P2 Review: 9mm lens and 6:6 aspect ratio

9mm Square

The E-P2’s image quality and most of its features are identical to the E-P1, so this review will concentrate on the differences. To learn more, read my review of the E-P1: The Lightweight Photographer: Olympus PEN E-P1 Real World Camera Review.

The Big Plus

So, what’s the E-P2’s one really big thing?  The accessory port.

Doesn’t sound like much, does it? The port itself is no big deal. It’s what you plug into it that places the E-P2 a mile ahead of the E-P1: the Olympus VF-2 Electronic View Finder.

Finally, we have a mirrorless, micro four thirds camera with an excellent viewfinder.  This optional accessory is well worth the extra $250 or so that it costs. I’ll be writing a review of the viewfinder later.

Olympus PEN E-P2 Review: silver E-P2 with M.Zuiko 9-18mm lens and VF-2 electronic Viewfinder

If you’re in a hurry, you can read user reviews of the VF-2 here. The VF-2 is available in colors to match your camera: black or silver.

Currently, the only other accessory available that uses this new port is for you die-hard compact videographers: the Olympus SEMA-1 Stereo Microphone Adapter Set. I’ll be reviewing it soon.

Olympus PEN E-P2 Camera Buyer’s Guide

The Olympus PEN E-P2 is available in two colors (silver or black) and several kits including various lenses and accessories.

Here is what I’d suggest you get:

  1. Olympus PEN E-P2 kit with 17mm f/2.8 lens. The 17mm (34mm equivalent) is small, light and fast.
  2. Olympus VF-2 Electronic Viewfinder. The VF-2 is the main reason to get an E-P2. I wouldn’t buy one without the other. Available in black or silver.
  3. The new Olympus M.Zuiko 9-18mm f/4-f/5.6 wide-angle zoom lens. Equivalent to 18-36mm on a full-frame camera, this lens is nice and wide!

If you’re into telephoto, Olympus has two new lenses for you (which I have not tried): the Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/4-f/5.6 and the Olympus M.Zuiko 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7.

Neither is particularly fast, but both are available in black or silver. And the 75-300mm gives you a field of view equivalent to a 600mm lens in a very small package. Nice!

Here are some other available kits. Prices are correct as of 11/13/2010. Click links for current price:

Olympus PEN E-P2 Camera Review: E-P2 and 17mm lens Olympus PEN E-P2 Real World Camera Review: Silver E-P2 with 17mm lens Olympus PEN E-P2 Real World Camera Review: Black E-P2 with 17mm lens and black FL-14 Flash Olympus PEN E-P2 Real World Camera Review: E-P2 with 14-42mm Lens and VF-2 Viewfinder Black
Black E-P2 with 14-42mm Lens Silver E-P2 with 17mm f/2.8 Lens Limited Edition
Black E-P2 Kit, 17mm Lens, Flash
Black E-P2, 14-42mm, VF-2

Every time you click on one of the links and buy something (anything), you support PhotoCitizen at no cost to you. Thanks.

The Little Pluses

Besides the accessory port, there are no other physical differences between the E-P2 and the E-P1. But there are a few changes under the hood:

1.    There’s a new picture mode called iEnhance. Don’t ask me what it does, though. Even Olympus can’t describe it very well. The E-P2’s user manual (page 72) says it “Produces more impressive looking pictures matched to the scene mode.” Huh? The Olympus website is more wordy, but equally vague. The picture modes affect only JPEG images. I shoot raw, so it doesn’t matter much to me.

2.There are two extra Art modes called Diorama which imitates the narrow depth-of-field of a tilted lens, and Cross-Process which alters colors to look a bit like E6 slide film developed in C41 chemicals.

Olympus PEN E-P2 Review: Grainy Film Art Mode - Crystal Pier

Grainy Film

Some of the Art modes – my favorite Grainy Film mode included – are very processor intensive. They bog down the camera causing the LCD or viewfinder to refresh slowly. This makes them very jumpy and difficult to use for stills – and nearly impossible for video.

3.    Movies can now be recorded using manual exposure.

4.    A few extra languages have been added for the non-English-speaking world.

5.    There are several changes buried deep within what Olympus calls the Tools menu (I call it the Gears menu, since its icon resembles a pair of gears):

  • For both stills and movies, you can now choose the auto-focus mode C-AF+TR. That’s continuous auto-focus with tracking.
  • Dial direction (for customizing which way the dial should move to increase or decrease settings) can now be set separately for exposure and menu. The E-P1 had one setting that affected both the same way.
  • There is now an HDMI Control submenu (choices are OFF or ON) which allows you to hook the E-P2 up to your hi-def TV via an HDMI cable and control playback using your TV’s remote instead of buttons on the camera. Not sure if this will work on all television brands and, since I never view photos this way, I did not test it.
  • The E-P2 no longer has a separate submenu within the Tools menu to set  slideshow playback options such as background music and slide duration. These settings are now part of the main playback menu.
  • The E-P2 adds an EVF ADJUST menu to adjust color temperature and brightness for the optional VF-2 Electronic Viewfinder separately from the rear LCD screen.

The Big Minus

Olympus E-P2 Review: E-P2 with Nikon speedlight flash

E-P2 with Nikon SB-800 Flash

The E-P2 still does not include a built-in flash. You can use a hot-shoe mounted flash, but since the VF-2 electronic viewfinder hogs the hot-shoe, you can’t use both at the same time.

A small built in flash would solve this problem. It could be used as a controller for an off-camera flash in slave mode. The lowly E-PL1 has a flash, but not the E-P2. Maybe the E-P3 will add one.

Little Minuses

I’ve been using my E-P1 for several months now and the E-P2 for a couple of weeks. I’ve found a few things I’d like to see improved in the E-P3 – or whatever Olympus ends up calling the next model.

Olympus E-P2 Review: Custom Reset Menu

Custom Reset

  1. Neither the VF-2 electronic viewfinder nor the VF-1 optical viewfinder locks securely onto the camera. It’s held in place by friction. If you carry the camera around all day with the viewfinder mounted, keep an eye on it. It will eventually work loose and fall off as it bumps up against your body. I’ll have more to say about this in upcoming reviews of these viewfinders.
  2. The useful, but poorly thought-out Custom Resetoption. This option allows you to store two complete sets of camera settings which you can easily return to via a few button pushes.
    • The problem is that the two choices in the Custom Reset menu are labeled SET and RESET. I can never remember which one to choose when I want to bring back my saved settings. (Hint: RESET erases your carefully saved settings, so avoid that one. Maybe I should write it on a sticky note permanently attached to the camera.)
    • Why not name these choices something more clear and descriptive? How about STORE and RECALL?
  3. Auto-exposure bracketing is very limited. All bracketing is done using three frames with no possibility of choosing more. You can choose the EV difference between the frames, but the choices are too narrow: .3, .7 or a full stop. How about 2 or three stops? The other bracketing modes (flash, white-balance, and ISO) are similarly limited.
  4. Neither camera allows you to automatically embed your name into the metadata. On my Nikons, I can automatically add “© Alan Haynes” to every image as it’s captured. It’s an easy way to protect my intellectual property.

Testing the Olympus PEN E-P2 Camera

The camera I tested was the silver E-P2 with matching silver VF-2 electronic viewfinder and two lenses, the 17mm f/2.8 pancake lens and the 9-18mm wide angle zoom.

I also tested the SEMA-1 stereo microphone kit, RM-UC1 remote release, and VF-1 optical viewfinder. More on these in future articles.

Most of my opinions are based on my normal shooting preferences: raw capture and aperture-priority auto-exposure although I did shoot some movies and JPEG stills. Raw images were processed and viewed in Adobe Lightroom 3.

Olympus PEN E-P2 vs. E-P1

Both the E-P1 and E-P2 share a lot of excellent features. For the full details, read my full E-P1 review. Here are some of the highlights:

Olympus PEN E-P2 Camera Review: 9-18mm lens

9mm/16:9 Aspect

  • Micro Four Thirds Sensor
  • 12.3 Megapixels
  • Captures raw images
  • Interchangeable lenses
  • Shutter speeds from 1/4000 to 60 seconds (plus up to 30 minutes in Bulb).
  • Auto or Manual Focus
  • Auto or Manual Exposure
  • Built-in image stabilization
  • Built-in dust reduction system
  • ISO 100 to 6400
  • Native 4:3 aspect ratio plus 3:2, 16:9, 6:6

Wrapping It Up

The Olympus PEN E-P2 camera improves on the already top-notch E-P1. If you already own an E-P1, it’s decision time. Is the VF-2 electronic viewfinder enough of an incentive to dump the E-P1 and move up? I’d say it is.

Like the E-P1, the E-P2’s stainless steel construction and retro styling make them a pleasure to own. “So, you’re still shooting film?” is a remark I’ve heard a few times while carrying one of these beauties over my shoulder.

For those of you who don’t yet own a micro four thirds camera, it’s a no-brainer. Buy the Olympus PEN E-P2, the VF-2 Electronic Viewfinder and a lens of your choice and you’ll have the best compact mirrorless camera available today.

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