Hands-on: Olympus Pen E-PL7 review
Your eyes do not deceive you: the Olympus Pen E-PL7 has an LCD screen that can be angled to sit beneath the camera. That makes it the apparent perfect selfie machine, giving it a key sell that few other compact system cameras can offer.
But otherwise the E-PL7 doesn't break the mould of its predecessors by a significant degree. It's been a couple of years since we last saw a Pen model: the E-PL5 crossed our paths in late 2012, while the E-PL6 remained absent from European stores for a whole year after its initial Japanese introduction.
The E-PL7 is a supposed change in company's direction with the Pen series, but from what we've seen at the product preview it's one of marketing direction rather than a significant product advance. The vari-angle screen is nifty, but the earlier E-PL5's screen was able to also face forward, albeit above the camera rather than below it.
There are obvious benefits to a screen sitting below, primarily that with a flash or electronic viewfinder attached to the hotshoe it's still possible to get a full view of the screen in its forward-facing position. And no other manufacturer has yet designed a camera in this way.
But the biggest advance to the E-PL7 in our view is one that can't be seen from the exterior: the adoption of the same 81-point autofocus system as found in the top-spec OM-D E-M1 model. It's really quick in a variety of conditions and the touchscreen control makes light work of selecting where to focus in near-immediate time.
There are other more subtle tweaks, including two new Art Filter modes for in-camera image effects. There's Vintage which gives a subtle bleach effect, while new Partial Color introduces a colour wheel to manually select a specific colour to stand-out while the remainder of the image shifts to black and white - it's not a new concept, but the more detailed colour wheel selection avoids the more binary "red/yellow/blue" kind of selection some other manufacturers offer.
Image quality isn't something we've assessed in full with our brief hands-on time, but with the very same 16-megapixel sensor as found in its peer cameras the quality throughout the ISO 200-25,600 sensitivity range the E-PL7 stands shoulder to shoulder with the likes of the E-PL5 and more recent OM-D E-M10 models. Which is no bad thing.
The camera is also lightweight - a given in this series, as that "L" does stand for "Lite" after all. In the hand, and with the 12mm prime lens attached in this instance, it felt light but reassuringly sturdy. There's not the all-metal build of the top-end E-P5, but that's a far more expensive camera body. The E-PL7 has metal dials that are great for mode and settings adjustment, a textured grip and the choice of plastic materials combines for a good-looking result. We saw the white and tan model, but red and black alternatives will also be available.
However, while we've seen other camera manufacturers making efforts to shrink their products - think Panasonic Lumix GM1 - the Olympus Pen E-PL7 is a little larger and weightier than the earlier E-PL5. Not by a huge amount, though, with width and height gaining approximately 4mm for 115 x 67 x 38mm dimensions, while the 357g body-only weight adds just 33 grams. Still, it's bigger than some competitor models and, for the audience Olympus wants to captivate, we think a yet smaller scale would have been advantageous.
Compared to earlier models in the series the E-PL7's price has been squeezed to just under the £500 mark, making it an affordable offering. Whether you care much about selfies or not, if assured image quality and lightning fast autofocus - two core reasons to buy any camera - are top of your list then this latest Pen doesn't do a great deal of wrong. We've long been advocates of the Pen series and the E-PL7 doesn't rock the boat with regards to that.
Saying that we can't help but think it could have reinvented itself by downscaling to a yet smaller model. Instead the E-PL7 feels much like a "Lite" re-work of the E-PL5 and, given the context of its current competitors, that leaves it with plenty to do.
But if you are captivated by the way the E-PL7 looks and its top-notch performance - or, indeed, if you're just a selfie fiend looking for an interchangeable lens camera - then the E-PL7 could be yours from the end of September when it hits the store shelves.