Olympus has just announced the new Olympus E-PL2 Micro Four thirds hybrid camera at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show 2011 in Las Vegas and we managed to get our hands on the new model ahead of the game. Read on to find out what we thought of the new compact system camera.

When the Olympus E-PL1 was released it quenched our thirst for many of the lackings of the original E-P1 model. The latest E-PL2 release looks to further polish up the range but, it has to be said, for those expecting a full revamp of the PEN series this is, at first glance, little more than a marginal update.

First and foremost the E-PL2 does look far better than the E-PL1: The screen on the rear is now much more flush with the body and it’s a larger 3-inch size that dominates the space. Overall the feel is much more up to date and gone is the “champagne” finish, now with silver, black, red or white options available. We’ve only seen the “silver on silver” option in the flesh so far, but it marries together much better compared to the E-PL1 which, frankly, looked a little out of date upon its release.

The E-PL2’s controls see an overhaul from the previous release. Although the interior menu system is the same standard Olympus setup, the d-pad on the rear now has a rotational thumbwheel-like control and the overall finish looks and feels much more together.

Internal changes are fairly subtle, however, with a new top-end shutter speed of 1/4000 second and ISO 6400 sensitivity. Although the latter change means an extra stop of sensitivity over the previous release, the E-PL2’s 12.1-megapixel sensor is the very same as before and there are no processing changes either. But then this isn’t a replacement model – the E-PL2 will sit on the shelves alongside the E-PL1 for the time being.

There’s also Art Filter II which updates some of the original Art Filter settings and adds Dramatic Tone (a pseudo HDR-like setting) as a replacement for the Sepia option. Some settings can also be used in combination, i.e., “stacked”, though there are only a few presets and no option to user-define these. More available customisation would really take this feature to the next level and seems like it should have been further developed for this release. Then there’s Face Detection that gets an extra level of focus detail by targeting the subject’s eyes in the new “Eye Detect” AF option. Certainly great for perfect portraits with that extra degree of precision – ideal if you’re using a wide-aperture lens on the front of the camera.

The biggest change to speak of is the brand new kit lens which, despite the same 14-42mm (28-84mm equiv) zoom range, now has internal focusing which is almost twice as fast as the previous generation lens. Although this focusing mechanism means near-silence which is great for movie shooting (hence the “MSC” (Movie Stills Compatible) designation), the actual camera itself features the very same focusing algorithm as before meaning that there’s no change in how decisive and accurate the focusing is.

What is fairly exciting, however, is the addition of a variety of add-on lens elements (each sold separately): there’s a 1.5x macro for £50 (though this isn’t a true 1:1 ratio), a wideangle converter (the 14mm wideangle becomes 11mm) for £80 and a 120° fisheye lens for around £120. These weren’t available for testing out, though the concept looks to encourage yet more people to step into the PEN system. We’ll be looking to get our hands on these accessories and provide you with the results if we can.

First Impressions

All in all the E-PL2 feels a lot like the E-PL1 should have been upon its initial release. All the original goodness is still on offer in this latest model but there’s just not an astounding amount of “new” to be found here. There’s no viewfinder as per the last version, so word has it there’s likely to be a very different and more advanced PEN model to follow inside this year…

The E-PL2 will be on the shelves this very January and should cost around £500 in the UK. 

Photos by Chris Hall.