Olympus E-P1 Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera

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Olympus E-P1 Micro Four Thirds Digital CameraToday, Olympus introduces their first Micro Four Thirds camera – the E-P1. The compact new Olympus E-P1 has a 12.3-megapixel sensor and it’s Olympus’ first changeable lens camera to offer a movie mode (720p HD). The Micro Four Thirds format was announced last August and since then I’ve been anxiously waiting to find out what Olympus would do with it. Panasonic has introduced two Micro Four Thirds cameras, the Lumix G1 and the GH1 with HD video. But until now, the only Micro Four Thirds action we’ve seen from Olympus was behind glass at tradeshows. But now there’s an Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera we can bank on – and it’s not just a list of specs and features, either. I was lucky enough to get a pre-production E-P1 last week so I could get a feel for the camera, make my own product photos and shoot a hands-on video preview of the new Micro Four Thirds camera.

Olympus E-P1 Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera

The Olympus E-P1 was named in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the Olympus Pen half-frame film camera. The lines of the E-P1’s sleek metal body are an obvious nod to that heritage. And like the Olympus Pen-Series, the Micro Four Thirds format E-P1 offers high-performance in a smaller camera body. Basically, the Micro Four Thirds format eliminates the SLR mirror so the camera and lenses can be smaller and lighter (for more on the Micro Four Thirds format, read our Micro Four Thirds Introduction article).The E-P1’s stainless steel and aluminum body is comparable in size to a 35mm rangefinder and has a solid, metallic feel that traditionalists will love. Unlike the Panasonic Lumix G-Series Micro Four Thirds cameras, which have electronic viewfinders (EVF), the Olympus E-P1 only uses only a 3-inch, 230k-pixel LCD for viewing and composing, allowing them to make the camera even smaller. That allowed Olympus to make the E-P1 the smallest 12-megapixel digital camera with changeable lenses. It’s as if you chopped the top off one of the smallest digital SLRs and then squished the body front to back (see below). Lens diameters are also smaller and less glass makes the camera even lighter. The E-P1’s size feels closer to high-end compacts like the Canon G10 than a digital SLR. But the EP-1’s 12-megapixel Four Thirds sensor is much larger than the G10’s and can deliver far better image quality.

Olympus E-P1 - Olympus Pen Fiftieth Anniversary

The E-P1 Olympus sent me was a pre-production camera so wasn’t able to evaluate image quality or test things like speed or auto focus performance. But I’ll be all over this camera when they have production units available. There is one detail to note about image quality – the new True Pic V image processor is supposed to have a significantly better signal-to-noise ratio and that should mean better high-ISO image quality (the E-P1 maxes out at ISO 6400). Since the Four Thirds sensor is smaller than APS-C sensors in most DSLRs, it’s a bit much to expect the E-P1 (as well as Four Thirds digital SLRs) to match their image quality. But I’ve been really happy with the 12-megapixel sensor in the Olympus E-30 and E-620. If the new processor reduces noise and further improves image quality, I will be very pleased. The E-P1 has an image-stabilized sensor so image stabilization is available regardless of the lens you use. If you’ve got Leica M-rangefinder lenses – you can get a Micro Four Thirds M-mount adapter and you’ll be able to shoot image-stabilized photos with Leica glass on the E-P1.

Olympus E-620 and Olympus E-P1 - Front
Olympus E-620 and Olympus E-P1 - Side View

Olympus joins Nikon, Canon, Panasonic and Pentax in offering a high-end digital camera with HD video. The E-P1’s movie mode is intuitively placed on the mode dial. Video is captured at 1280 x 720 resolution (720p HD) with stereo sound and the video files are in the user-friendly and easy to edit .AVI format. The Art Modes introduced with the E-30 are available for video now, too. Unlike the current batch of video-enabled digital SLRs, the E-P1 does have auto focus in the video mode. You can select from single shot AF, continuous, manual focus and S-AF/MF (single shot with manual override). You can also use the AEL/AFL button to activate auto focus in the video mode. (Editor’s note: the original text stated that the video mode only allowed manual focus. Today, while using the camera at the official introduction I discovered my error – hence the correction. I apologize for the mistake.)

The E-P1 has a lot more valuable and thoughtful features. A couple of my favorites are the digital level tool introduced with the E-30 and the new manual focus assist, which automatically zooms in when the manual focus dial is adjusted. The camera also includes selectable aspect ratios, a sensor dust-reduction system, multiple exposure, Art Filters (for stills and video), a new 324-segment metering system and 5 built-in music themes for slideshows and videos.

The new Olympus E-P1 Micro Four Thirds should appeal to all kinds of photographers. Pros and enthusiasts who want a compact camera with excellent image quality, consumers who want to upgrade from a standard point-and-shoot, and rangefinder purists will all find something to like about the E-P1. Personally, I’m excited about an even more packable, high-performance, changeable-lens Olympus camera that can deliver DSLR image quality. The sexy metal body and movie mode don’t hurt, either.

The Olympus E-P1 should be in stores in July. Suggested retail for the body alone is $749.99 and the kit price for the camera with the ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 Zuiko Digital zoom is $799.99.

Olympus E-P1 Press Release

Olympus E-P1 Digital Camera

Related Content:
All Olympus User Reviews
All Olympus DSLR Reviews
Olympus Cameras and Four Thirds System Digital SLRs Forum
Digital SLR Cameras Forum
More Olympus News
Olympus Web Site

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About the author: Photo-John

Photo-John, a.k.a. John Shafer, is the managing editor of PhotographyREVIEW.com and has been since the site launched back in 1999. He's an avid outdoor enthusiast and spends as much time as possible on his mountain bike, hiking or skiing in the mountains. He's been taking pictures for ever and ever, and never goes anywhere without a camera.

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  • Patia says:

    Wow, it’s so small! Exciting!

  • Wes says:

    D’oh! Wish this was out this month instead of next. Looking forward to a full review

  • Photo-John says:

    I’ll add some detail to the review later. But I have to correct what I said about the auto focus with video. There is auto focus in the video mode and it works really well.

  • Eric says:

    Does the \E-System Hot Shoe\ provide access to sensor data or is it pretty much there just to fire a flash? I’m wondiering if it would be possible for Oly to create an add-on EVF down the line that would work with zoom lenses.

  • sammy aka lightbright says:

    That is soooo cool! Look out dp1 and dp2!!

  • Gunz says:

    WOW, looks really cool! Can’t wait to check it out. Enjoyed your ‘box opening’ video-fun.

  • Darcy says:

    Is there a long zoom lens out there that will work on this camera? Like, for example, the zoom lens for the Panasonic Lumix G1?

  • Photo-John says:

    The Panasonic zoom lens will work – any lens with a Micro Four Thirds mount will. But since the Olympus has built-in image stabilization, it’s kind of a waste to use the Panasonic lens, which has optical image stabilization. I think the Panasonic image stabilization also has to make their lens bigger than an equivalent from Olympus. I was thinking about a longer lens for this camera today and I would like to see a compact 50-100 with a fast aperture. That would be equivalent to a 100-200mm lens on a full frame camera and it would be a great compliment to the 14-45mm kit lens it will sell with. I’m sure their working on longer lenses. We’ll just have to wait and see what they come up with.

  • gumanow says:

    i can’t wait to get my hands on one of these babies…

    just remember, if you are attaching Leica M glass, you’ll need to do the magnification exercise. My Elmarit 28mm will turn into a 56mm.

  • Amjamjazz says:

    And I’ll be able to use my old Zuikos? Right?

  • Photo-John says:

    Amjamjazz – yes, you can use your old Zuiko lenses, with the adapter. Olympus made sure that was an option.

  • francois says:

    That camera took this video:

    I am sold! I’ll get to use it too in an upcoming bike tradeshow.

  • dsi r4 says:

    This is a great product. Perfect for walking about and shooting great pictures. Having it you’re more likely to have a camera with you at all time. That’s certainly my plan.

  • Liz says:

    I’ve had the E-P1 for about 2 months and love it! In the beginning I was ready to give it up due to the challenging learning curve; however, I learned to take one day at a time beginning with auto, and slowly trying different settings and features.

    Biggest Pro for me personally: IQ is my No. 1 priority for me, and I find the E-P1 produces images comparable to what I got from the XTi and a few “L” lenses.

    Biggest Con: Slow AF. However, with few exceptions I can work around this and it is not a problem for me.

    Other great features include: IBIS, ability to use many other lenses with the E-P1 (thanks Olympus)! Size, rangefinder style, LCD screen viewable in bright sunlight (better than any others I’ve tried)….many more.

    I sold my entire Canon system for the M4/3 system – and have not looked back.

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