Olympus PEN E-PM2 First Impressions Review
With an upgraded sensor and new grip, Olympus makes all the right changes to the entry-level PEN.
Design & Usability
The E-PM2 is similar in look and size to the original PEN Mini. Olympus added a small (non-removable) grip to the left side of the body, which improves the ergonomics and reintroduces a bit of the retro feel that was characteristic of the first two generations of digital PENs.
Olympus also rejiggered the button layout a bit, placing a few buttons above the LCD and an extra function key on the top panel. We're undecided on whether the redesign is an improvement; it's harder to reach the buttons in the top-left corner, but the Mini is meant for more of a point-and-shoot audience anyhow, and the relocation makes room for an improved thumb rest on in the top-right corner of the back panel.
With a pancake lens like the Panasonic 14mm, Panasonic 20mm, or especially the new 15mm body cap lens, the whole kit is still compact enough to fit into a jacket pocket, and it's lighter than most other system cameras, too. For that small footprint, it gives up a mode dial, tilting screen, and some buttons compared to the E-PL5. It has no built-in flash either, though it comes with a small clip-on flash—the same one that came with the E-PM1.
The PEN Mini series is quite handy, even without many on-body controls. We brought an E-PM1 to shoot with at Photokina because it's comfortable to carry around all day and can get the job done perfectly well with a lens like the Panasonic 20mm (just one of the many great Micro Four Thirds lenses available these days). We shot the product photos in this preview with that kit (under weird blue lights at the Olympus booth, mind you). The interface is a little wonky by default, but very customizable, so once you've found a setup that works (the Super Control Panel is highly recommended), you'll get along fine. The E-PM2 uses an almost identical interface and adds an extra function key, so it's even a bit easier to wrangle. A jog dial would be great, but the size (and price) advantage is compelling.
Part of what made the E-PM1 so attractive last year was that it used the same sensor and autofocus system as the $900 PEN E-P3, yet it only cost $500 because it came in a stripped-down body. The E-PM2 should prove to be as good of a deal. Though the MSRP is bumped to $600, it's equipped with the same sensor as the OM-D E-M5, which we already know offers great results, and a redesigned autofocus system. Olympus says that it's better than the AF in last year's PEN lineup, and almost as good as the OM-D—don't want to make OM-D owners jealous, we suppose.
The newest PENs don't come with the OM-D's 5-way stabilization either, though they do have standard sensor-shift IS. The only thing that might hold back performance is the standard 14-42mm kit lens, which performs fine for a compact kit lens, but probably isn't as sharp as the 12-50mm that comes with the OM-D E-M5 (and certainly isn't weather-sealed). We'll see what happens when it comes out.
Like every other Olympus Micro Four Thirds model (even the OM-D!), the E-PM2 comes with a big heaping handful of art filters—the same set as the previous PEN generation, plus one new Watercolor effect. Live Guide mode is carried over from the last generation, though the default Live Guide button can be reassigned to almost any function of your choosing.
The 3-inch, 460,000-dot LCD is now a touchscreen model, because that's something that a bunch of other camera makers have decided is important. It's pretty responsive, though we'd like to see more visual feedback when we select a menu command, for example. The tap-to-focus feature is nice, but thankfully you can otherwise completely ignore the touchscreen interface.
Also interesting is the fact that the E-PM2 will ship with a Toshiba FlashAir memory card, which doubles as a wireless transmitter. It lets the camera connect to a smartphone or tablet running an Olympus app, and from there, users can save, edit, upload or do whatever they want to the photos on their camera without actually taking the memory card out of the camera or hooking up any cables. The app is only available for iOS right now, but an Android version will be available in October. We aren't crazy about in-camera WiFi, but this implementation seems fine from the quick demo we got.
Olympus basically made all the right updates to the E-PM2. The biggest shortcomings of the E-PM1 were the poor ergonomics and the aging 12-megapixel Four Thirds Sensor. The original PEN sensor in the E-PM1 was descended from the granddaddy E-P1 and re-engineered within an inch of its life to eke out all of the possible performance.
Now armed with a useful yet unobtrusive grip and the Sony-derived sensor from the OM-D E-M5, the E-PM2 looks like it'll be a great package, perhaps one of the best small, entry-level system cameras. Our only hangup is that it costs $100 more than the E-PM1 did at launch. On top of that, the E-PL5 is only an extra $100 and has a handful of useful extras like a tilting screen, mode dial, and an extra function button. But it's still the most affordable PEN in the lineup, and the sensor upgrade is no small thing. We're eager to get it into our labs for proper testing.
The Olympus PEN series keeps marching along. Now in its fourth generation, this side of the Micro Four Thirds system has yet to produce a bad camera—some are less interesting than others, but none have been anything worse than a slight disappointment. Alongside the mid-range E-PL5, the entry-level E-PM2 (also known as "the new PEN Mini") was announced in the lead-up to Photokina 2012. (As a side note, Olympus has confirmed that an E-P3 replacement is in development as well, allaying fears that the "P" branch of the PEN system had bitten the dust in the wake of the OM-D release.)
The E-PM2 is a subtle but focused update to last year's E-PM1, addressing the shortcomings of its predecessor without really changing the formula that made it a modest success.
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