Olympus E-P1: Hands On Report

The long-awaited, much rumored Olympus E-P1 arrives and "it" makes a statement.

Retro-cool styling and modern features combine in the first Micro Four Thirds camera from Olympus. Yes, yes, it sounds like market-speak, but the Olympus E-P1 really does feel like something new: Not an SLR or SLR-styled EVF, nor a point and shoot compact, but something new.

Sample JPEG Large-Fine shots from the Olympus E-P1, straight-from-the-camera, except for resizing for screen display. Click the Flyout box on the lower right of the above player to launch fullscreen mode.

It's natural, at first, to want to hold the new Olympus E-P1 up to your eye, rangefinder-style, but no matter how many times you so, there's no integrated optical viewfinder. Instead, there's a big LCD screen, typical of compact cameras. But on the front, there's that Micro Four Thirds lens mount--compatible right out of the box with a small range of Micro Four Thirds lenses, and with a host of Four Thirds lens, and even older Olympus OM glass via a pair of adapter mounts. 720p HD video at 30 frames per second? It's in there, as is a shifting sensor for stabilization of both stills and videos.  Enough with the specs. Let's talk about the shooting experience.

The E-P1 feels good in the hand. The stainless finish looks sharp, and the slightly raised grip patch on the front does truly keep the camera from slipping. It's tough to not want to hold the E-P1 up to the eye rangefinder style, but the LCD does a good job in framing the scene, even in bright light. The triaxial level function is very handy for framing shots to be plumb. There's a lot of handy features built in, and the camera feels both fun and functional at the same time.

SLR shooters may notice that autofocus searches at times, particularly in continuous AF. Navigation is mostly intuitive, but there are some deep submenus that need digging to uncover–swapping out and tweaking custom functions for example.

The compressable 14-42mm lens (28-84mm equivalent on 35mm standard) has a nice, wide zoom barrel, and a smaller autofocusing ring.  Both are smooth in operation, although getting the hang of the lock/extend switch does take a few tries. I also shot extensively with the Four Thirds Zuiko Olympus 7-14mm f/4.0 lens for serious wide angle action via the MMF-1 adapter ring. Here's the neat thing: the focal length of Four Thirds lenses stays unchanged, because the distance to focal plane with the adapter on a micro Four Thirds is equal to the Four Thirds standard.

Here's the shutter sound of the new Olympus E-P1, per reader requests.

Sensor-shift stabilization kept video smooth, even in Coney Island's unnerving Wonder Wheel ferris wheel. (The cars are on closed-loop tracks, so they shift and sway as the wheel rotates! It is not your average ferris wheel!) A nice touch is that the Image Stabilization has three settings, Horizontal plus vertical, and either Horizontal or vertical.

All in all, this is a fun camera, and the Olympus E-P1 has that unmistakable "it" factor about it. The classic styling combined with a modern feature set kick the cool factor of this camera into overdrive. Overall, it's a winning combination that should more than satisfy both SLR shooters and compact owners looking for something more than a point/shoot, but something less than a full-on SLR. Throw in 720 video and high-quality sound, and it is a safe bet that the Olympus E-P1 will be one of the hottest cameras this year.

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