Camera

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1 Review

Olympus has created a brand new mirrorless camera model – the Mini – to further segment the mirrorless camera market. At first look, the E-PM1 looks identical to the E-PL3. But on further inspection, one would find that the E-PM1 has far less buttons, knobs and dials.

And that’s where the differences end. At the heart, the E-PM1 offers the same hardware, same list of features, and slightly smaller overall dimensions.

  • 215 grams (body), 401 grams with 14-42mm kit lens, battery and flash
  • 12.3 megapixel High-speed LiveMOS Sensor
  • Full-HD 1080p movie recording AVCHD
  • Stereo microphones
  • Built-in image stabilization
  • Fast auto-focus system
  • 5 fps shooting

Simple and Minimal
The camera body offers a metallic feel, in contrast to the E-PL3 which has a acrylic gloss coating. The camera does appear somewhat bare, with lots of empty spaces, an unusual sight for a large camera, where many manufacturers would attempt to maximise the surface area. While in my earlier review on the E-PL3 I mentioned I don’t really like the layout, I seem to like the E-PM1 more, despite lesser buttons and dials for me to do direct setting changes. This is because I have less buttons to be confused.

Olympus attempts to make the best of the limited buttons on the E-PM1 to achieve ease of use. For instance, pressing the menu button will bring up the list of modes that would have appeared on the mode dial of the E-PL1. To go to the camera setup menu, you will navigate to the right-most selection. When reviewing photos during playback, you have to turn the wheel to scroll the images, while pressing the directional buttons zooms in and out of the image. To move around the zoomed-in image, you first press the “Info” button before you can use the same directional buttons. It does take some getting used to, but if this is your one and only camera, I believe you will get the hang of it over time.

Notice there is no “delete” button, a rarity. You have to press a few extra buttons during review in order to do so. You could assign the movie record button for quick delete, but I strongly do not recommend, because once you press the button, the image is delete: there is no confirmation prompt.

Handling and Speed
With less buttons, I do find it a challenge to change settings on the move. But if you are a novice user with little demands, the E-PM1 offers good handling. The camera feels it’s made of premium quality, its start-up and shooting speed is fast, but the interface is just a tad laggy. While the auto-focus speed is really snappy, I do get some out-of-focus shots under low-light conditions. Apparently, the camera assumes it achieves focus and fires the shutter when in fact the focus is off. In another case, the multi-area AF engine chooses to focus an object far away and ignores the closer human subject.

The E-PM1 offers the same advanced custom settings as the E-PL3, which means it will equally satisfy the demanding enthusiasts who requires manual controls, albeit taking more steps. I just wish the PEN series cameras do not “warm up” the shutter curtain every time it switches on.

Having Fun?
An entry-level camera needs to be fun to use so that beginners can manipulate their images to create interesting effects. The E-PM1 offers 6 Art filters but they are not as wide-range as some competitors (you can however apply these Art filters in PASM mode, which is usually not available on competitors). The E-PM1 also does not have much post-editing options. It does have a Live Guide mode to help the user to adjust the camera using non-technical terms, like

  • Change Colour Image (a.k.a. White Balance)
  • Change Brightness (a.k.a. EV)
  • Blur Background (a.k.a. Aperture)
  • Express Motions (a.k.a. Shutter)

Conclusion
The Olympus E-PM1 is possibly the most customisable entry-level mirrorless compact cameras around. It might not seem to offer much entertainment to beginners, but it captures images fast. Its premium feel, compact size and low price would certainly attract consumers who are foraying into interchangeable lens system.

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