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Olympus Pen E-PM1 review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £356
inc VAT

It's far from perfect, but its low price makes the E-PM1 a brilliant step up from a compact or ultra-zoom camera


17.3x13mm 12.0-megapixel sensor, 3.0x zoom (28-84mm equivalent), 378g

Given the lack of a mode dial, the menu system provides instant access to the various exposure modes, there’s no touchscreen either, as on the NEX-5N. The settings menu is bewilderingly bare at first glance, however, we eventually found a rather obscure setting that gives you access to the full menu. From here you can assign a wide range of controls to various buttons, or to the dial, making the E-PM1 a usable camera for any shooting style, as long as you don’t change modes for every shot.

Olympus Pen E-PM1 back There are few buttons, but you can customise their uses if you delve deep into the menu system

The screen itself follows the current trend for widescreen designs, so video fits but photos only take up the centre of the screen – although the black bars down either side make it easy to read the icons that would otherwise sit over the image. Unlike its E-PL3 sibling, this screen doesn’t tilt, making it guesswork to compose shots while holding the camera above your head. It’s not the best screen either, not as sharp as that on the NEX-5N and a little smeary when it comes to fast motion.

Olympus Pen E-PM1 top We’d have liked a mode dial, but with the E-PL3 having one, it’s hard to complain of its absence here

Previous Pens were plagued by poor performance and sluggish autofocus – which struggled in low light – but this has now all changed. The new image processor is a massive improvement, with the camera going from off to taking a photo in just 0.9 seconds, with subsequent shots following at 0.6 second intervals. The autofocus is now startling quick, especially with the new kit lens, routinely outpacing the NEX-5N. It’s far better in low-light too, with an AF-assist lamp giving sharp shots in conditions that would have defeated older Pens.

Olympus Pen E-PM1 samples Noise reduction isn’t laid on too thickly at fast ISO speeds, and image quality holds together well – click enlarge

Speaking of low-light, there was impressively little noise from the sensor at higher ISO settings. Our tests showed that the sensor was superior in this respect to the GF3 and the Nikon 1 J1, though it couldn’t stand up against the superb NEX-5N. Image stabilisation was also a little disappointing, with less than half as many steady shots at full zoom compared to the NEX-5N.

All that said, the results are impressive overall. Photos were filled with detail, focus was sharp and automatic exposures were well chosen. There’s little noise reduction, so you get plenty of detail in your shots too. The results may be a little vivid for some, with boosted contrast and digital sharpening, but you can always play around in the menu if this isn’t to your taste.

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Basic Specifications

CCD effective megapixels12.0 megapixels
CCD size17.3x13mm
Viewfinderoptional electronic
Viewfinder magnification, coverageN/A
LCD screen size3.0in
LCD screen resolution460,000 pixels
Articulated screenYes
Live viewYes
Optical zoom3.0x
Zoom 35mm equivalent28-84mm
Image stabilisationoptical, sensor shift
Maximum image resolution4,032×3,024
Maximum movie resolution1920×1080
Movie frame rate at max quality30fps
File formatsJPEG, RAW; AVCHD, AVI (M-JPEG)


Memory slotSDXC
Mermory suppliednone
Battery typeLi-ion
Battery Life (tested)330 shots
ConnectivityUSB, AV, mini HDMI
HDMI output resolution1080i
Body materialaluminium
Lens mountMicro Four Thirds
Focal length multiplier2.0x
Kit lens model nameOlympus M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 II R
AccessoriesUSB and AV cables, detachable flash unit

Buying Information

Warrantyone-year RTB

Camera Controls

Exposure modesprogram, shutter priority, aperture priority, manual
Shutter speed60 to 1/4,000 seconds
Aperture rangef/3.5-22 (wide), f/5.6-22 (tele)
ISO range (at full resolution)200 to 12,800
Exposure compensation+/-3 EV
White balanceauto, 7 presets with fine tuning, manual, Kelvin
Additional image controlscontrast, saturation, sharpness, noise reduction, shading compensation, colour space
Manual focusYes
Closest macro focus25cm
Auto-focus modesmulti, centre, flexible spot, face detect
Metering modesmulti, centre weighted, centre, face detect
Flashauto, forced, suppressed, slow synchro, rear curtain, manual, red-eye reduction
Drive modessingle, continuous, self-timer, AE bracket, WB bracket, ISO bracket