PetaPixel

Review: Olympus E-PM2 Is Small, Speedy, And Sleek, But Its UI is Not

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Olympus first ushered its PEN brand into the digital age back in 2009 with the E-P1. Since then, the lineup has split into three distinct tiers: the E-P line for standard PEN cameras, the E-PL line for smaller “Lite” models, and the E-PM line for even smaller “Mini” models. Goldilockean photographers can therefore choose the size and feature set most appropriate to their needs (and hands).

Unveiled in late 2012, the E-PM2 is the second generation PEN “Mini”, offering pretty much exactly what the E-PL3 does except in an even tinier package, without a tilting screen, and carrying a friendlier price tag.

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The camera is designed to be a consumer-friendly “gateway camera” to the PEN line, and is the smallest and lightest of Olympus’ PEN offerings.

However, don’t let the diminutive body deceive you about what’s within: the camera packs the same Four Thirds sensor size as all other Micro Four Thirds cameras and captures 16 megapixels in resolution. You know the highly regarded Olympus E-M5? The E-PM2 features the exact same sensor.

The Good

One of the main selling points of the E-PM2 is its compact body, so let’s start there. The camera is about the same size as a high-end compact camera. It’s small, but not too small. The thumb grip on the back and the larger grip on the front are great for the ergonomics, and make the camera feel much more comfortable than it looks like it should.

You’ll be able to shoot one handed without worrying about the camera slipping out of your hand and smashing onto the pavement below.

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The E-PM2 is also as fast as it is small: it’s a very speedy little camera in a number of different ways. Autofocus is fast and accurate. The AF system was able to rapidly lock on to virtually every subject we threw at it, even in low-light environments.

For those of you who need a camera that’s always ready to capture life’s most precious moments (e.g. an embarrassing photo of your friend), you’ll be happy to know that the E-PM2 has a blazing fast startup (and shutdown) time. Even when the camera is completely off, pressing the On/Off button instantly wakes it from its slumber. It feels as though the camera is perpetually on standby and at the ready. Powering off is just as fast.

Here’s a very short video demonstrating the startup and power off times of the E-PM2:

Build quality-wise, the camera feels very light and ever-so-slightly plasticky, but not cheap. It won’t groan and creak like some low-end cameras do if you wring it in your hands.

On the back of the camera is a 3-inch LCD touchscreen. At 460K dots, its offers less than half the resolution as some of the other screens you’ll find on the market. However, at this size it doesn’t make much of a difference when it comes to framing and reviewing shots.

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It’s sharp, sensitive to the touch, accurate in its colors, and very responsive — even in low light. This is a screen that isn’t plagued by the slow and blurry refreshes common in many LCD screens. What good is an ultra-high-res screen when it slows to a crawl when you’re indoors?

There’s a semi-thick black bezel around the entire screen, which seems like a waste of space. It feels like Olympus could have squeezed a larger touchscreen into the camera without having to change anything else about the design. This is a minor gripe, though.

The controls of the camera are definitely geared toward casual consumers rather than serious photographers — the default configurations, at least. Most options are tucked away inside the touchscreen menus and behind the directional click wheel that squeezes 5 buttons and a dial into a very small area.

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The image quality of the camera is, well, Four Thirds quality. If you’re coming up from a smaller sensor or are already used to using a Four Thirds-sized sensor, you’ll be quite happy with the E-PM2′s photos. It has the E-M5′s sensor, after all, and that camera is praised for its image quality.

Noise doesn’t start becoming a problem until ISO is boosted way beyond 1600, so you’ll be able to snap acceptable low-noise, non-blurry shots even in dimly lit environments. The color and detail reproduction of the camera are quite good.

Here are some sample shots captured at various ISOs, all the way up to 25600 (we’re guessing you’ll spot that one quite easily):

The Bad

The E-PM2 is a camera that’s clearly geared toward entry-level photographers and casual consumers, and its user interface design reflects that. The controls on the camera are relatively sparse, and many of the features and settings are tucked away inside digital menus rather than on the camera body itself.

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What was slightly frustrating was that the “dumbed down” interface actually makes things less intuitive. If a good camera UI is one in which everything you need to do can be figured out without looking into the instruction manual, then the E-PM2′s interface falls short of that.

Let’s say you want to turn off something like the camera’s beep or the autofocus illumination light that shines when you try to focus in low light. Doing those things should be simple and straightforward, right? Well, it wasn’t.

First, you’ll need to enable a custom menu inside the main settings menu in order to unlock many of the camera’s more advanced settings. This is apparently to shield newbie camera users from confusion by offering a very sparse interface out of the box. It’s great if you want to use the E-PM2 as a souped up compact camera, but a bit irksome if you’d like to unlock its full potential.

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Another example of the dumbed-down nature of the UI is AE-locking. Fixing exposure is a pretty basic and commonly used function, but this camera doesn’t offer a button dedicated to that purpose. Instead, you’ll need to go deep inside the settings in order to configure it the way you want. It’s powerful and flexible, but not as intuitive as it could be.

The Verdict

The Olympus E-PM2 is a camera that’s geared toward — and very suitable for — beginning photographers and casual consumers. More advanced photographers may find the camera a bit frustrating to use, but it delivers on what it’s designed to do, which is shoot high quality images for people who want a highly portable (yet very capable) camera.

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If you’re looking for a pint-sized companion to your larger interchangeable lens camera system, just be aware that many of the E-PM2′s more advanced features and functions will require a couple steps more than the camera you’re used to. You’ll always want to hold on tightly to the camera’s instruction manual (or download it or have it bookmarked), as the user interface sometimes isn’t the most intuitive thing to figure out on your own.

Aside from the sometimes frustrating interface, the camera is a solid and very capable option for anyone looking to do casual photography without having to carry too much bulky gear.


 
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  • Ananda Sim

    Turn on SCP and the extra gear menu and you’re good to go – the features are very rich, no matter what you do, there are too many options like all the competitor models – D7000, 6D etc

  • http://www.facebook.com/xsportseeker Renato Murakami

    I’m waiting for a follow up on the om-d e-m5… any news on that? Kinda weird how they made such a nice stabilization system, but no one followed up or invested in stuff like that…

  • http://www.facebook.com/Moylan Steve Moylan

    The Interface looks almost identical to my NEX5n.. Sue them.

  • Carl

    Like the E-PM1, pair this with a 17mm pancake lens, and it fits nicely into a pocket. Very good for quick photos and compact enough to carry around always. Menus are frustrating and takes too long to custom adjust, but good for many instances where I would have not simply taken any photo (SLR too big for one-handed operation or to always have on my person). Also benefits from prime lenses – I’m not a fan of the kit zoom.

  • http://www.facebook.com/benjaminbjacobsen Ben Jacobsen

    I just wrapped up my EPM2 -vs- GX1 comparison and it’s funny reading this review as I feel a bit differently about the EPM2. The menus are fine for me. Yes you need to “unlock” the advanced menus but once you do they’re great. The annoying part is pressing menu always brings up the PASM/Auto/Scene/settings menu even with “return to menu” option on, but you get used to it. Also pressing OK from the shooting screen brings up ALL the settings you’d ever want to adjust anyway (the AE settings etc are a set it once and forget it affair for me). Where I really DID NOT like this body was with it’s build. It feels like a toy. Plastic everywhere. The grips are also terrible. Better than a P&S for sure but go handle a GX1 and this feels like a child’s toy in comparison. The grips are tiny both front and rear. If this body had a GX1 type from grip and an OMD type rear grip it’d be amazing. The kicker here is the body’s logic (auto ISO, metering, etc) are SO good I really want to love it, but I can’t get comfortable holding it with one hand. This is obviously dependent on the user’s hand size as you say it’s not an issue but it drives me insane (for reference I added the RRS grip to my OMD when I had it). Great review though, it’s always nice to see how different people react to different issues with a specific camera. Personal preferences and all that. I just wish some of the accessory companies would support this so I could get a grip!

  • David Reid

    I recently bought an E-PM1 and experienced similar frustrations. I had to consult the manual to do simple things like delete an image and change the ISO! Still it is lightweight and good value. Once you work out the quirks of the menu system and get the settings you need it works well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/florence.griffith.146 Florence Griffith

    As Ananda says…set up the Super Control Panel and this little machine is fantastic…I have smallish hands and have no problems holding this thing…actually it fits quite comfortably…the touch screen makes getting the focus and image so easily…I use this for shooting indoor ice hockey and outdoor sports using the 75 mm 1.8…the results I am getting far exceed what I was getting with my Nikon D300

  • http://www.facebook.com/florence.griffith.146 Florence Griffith

    and now that the VF-3 has been greatly reduced it makes this system even stronger

  • Federico Scardarelli

    You have to wait till september to see the Oly E-M5 and Pana GX1 follow-up. They both will have the in-body IS. As concerns the E-M5 5-axis-stabilization the E-P5 also features it.