Camera Review: Olympus E-P1

olympus-e-p1 review by professional seattle portrait and wedding photographer cory parris

The Olympus E-P1 created quite a stir when it was introduced three years ago. It provided what many considered the holy grail of cameras. Small in size but with a large sensor. Almost small enough to put in a pocket, but making images similar to a much larger camera.

I wanted one very badly when it first came out, but I couldn’t come up with a business reason to buy the camera, and being around $800, I couldn’t justify it as a part time vacation camera. However, three years after it’s release, I was able to pick one up used on eBay for around $270 including shipping. For that, I could justify buying a vacation camera!

I took my “new” Olympus E-P1 to Disney World with me. There were many things that I liked and a few that I didn’t. Let’s start out with the good.

I love the size and feel of the camera. It is a small camera with a good amount of external controls that allow me to quickly and easily change the settings. It is a metal bodied camera with a nice heft to it. It does not feel like a cheap point and shoot, but rather a serious tool. Plus, it looks really cool and retro with the brushed metal and styling similar to a 60’s rangefinder!

The image quality is somewhere between my professional equipment and a nice point and shoot camera. Which is exactly where I would expect it to be. Perfect for vacations, going places with the family, or when I don’t know if I even want to bring a camera. It also does an excellent video (720) that is far better than any point and shoot cameras that I have used or seen video from.

The kit lens that came with the camera is very cool. With one spin you can collapse it down into a space that is half the size it takes when extended. It has the typical flaws associated with kit lenses. Slow performance, too small of aperture, and cheap construction. As part of the cheap construction combined with the cool collapsing mechanism, the end of the lens is rather wobbly. Literally, you can see it waggle back and forth if you touch the end of the lens barrel. A rather low quality signature “feature”! It was pretty sharp, however.

The internal Image Stabilization system in this little machine absolutely rocks. I quite often took images of still objects at ⅕ or ⅙ of a second. Well below what I can normally handhold my larger cameras.

The E-P1 lacks a flash. Not a big deal to me most of the time, but occasionally, I wanted a little flash indoors for just some snapshots in really poor light. Not a deal-breaker for me, but could be for some people.

Another thing that is both good and bad – depth of field. Many of you that have followed my work know that I am a big fan of shallow depth of field to make the subject stand out from the background. It is a bit harder with the Micro 4/3 format of sensor, and was especially hard with the kit lens. Between using the smaller apertures offered by the lens and the greater depth that is inherent in using a smaller sensor, there was much greater depth of field than I would normally have with some of the photographs. However, it is much better than a small point and shoot or cell phone.

The autofocus system is probably the worst thing about the E-P1. It doesn’t well at all if you use the default settings. You don’t really know where it is focusing, you can’t check focus very easily, and it is rather slow. Once I learned how to set the camera focus point, it worked much better for me. I was able to choose the focus point I wanted it to use (rather than the random point the camera would choose), then recompose how I like. This works great on still subjects. As far as moving subjects of trying to use the continuous AF a different camera.

Overall, for my purchase price, I am quite pleased. I had a great time using it, was pretty happy with the quality of images, and I loved the small size. If I had paid full price three years ago, I may not have such a positive review.