Olympus made quite a splash with its Micro Four Thirds Pen E-P1. The Pen E-P2 is similar to that camera but offers a series of enhancements. Kevin Spacey really likes it, too. But then maybe he didn't have to pay around £850 for his camera (including a 14-42mm kit lens).
The E-P2 has the same body as the E-P1, but is differentiated by a new, black finish and a plug-in electrical socket just below the accessory shoe. This is where you attach the rather good electronic viewfinder that's included with the 14-42mm lens kit, or an external flash, or, in future, maybe external stereo microphones and other accessories.
The E-P2 has the potential for more advanced movie making than the E-P1 then, and this is boosted by new manual exposure controls in the movie mode. That puts it a step ahead of most rivals, although it only shoots 1,280x720-pixel high-definition movies, rather than 1,920x1,080-pixel ones.
Olympus also has added two new 'art filters' to this camera -- 'diorama' and 'cross process'. They're not bad. The name 'diorama', incidentally, refers to the miniature-model effect that's all the rage at the moment. It uses selective blur to make ordinary scenes look like tiny replicas shot as close-ups. It's very effective, but only really works when you're looking down on your subject from a bridge, say, or a tall building.
The cross-process filter aims to simulate films processed in the wrong chemicals, producing distinctive colour shifts. Like the rest of the filters on this camera, it has some creative and novelty value now and again, but it's not something you're likely to use all the time.
Also new is a focus-tracking mode that stays locked onto moving subjects surprisingly well. There's also a new 'i-Enhance' mode, designed to improve shadow and highlight rendition in tricky lighting, although its effects are pretty hard to spot.
Same old, same old
Otherwise, this camera is just the same as the E-P1 and, to be perfectly honest, it's rather difficult to see what all the fuss is about with this whole 'digital Pen' malarkey. The E-P2's retro styling looks smart, but the camera handles badly. The vertical control dial is more difficult to spin than a regular knurled dial, and you have to apply pressure with your thumb to get a proper grip on the control ring around the navigation pad, which means you often press one of the direction buttons by accident. The electronic viewfinder is good, but the rear LCD display's 230,000-pixel resolution isn't particularly impressive by today's standards in a camera of this price.
The autofocus goes through a big focus movement every time you press the shutter halfway down, even if the subject's distance hasn't changed, and, while that collapsible zoom lens makes the E-P2 look neat and compact in press shots, it's a pain in the neck to have to keep unlocking it to use the camera. Also, when it's extended, the lens looks flimsy.
Olympus is trading very heavily on the heritage of its old Pen-series film cameras, and the E-P2 certainly captures the look and even something of the ethos of classic film compacts. But, if you spend any time at all with this camera, you might start to wonder if Olympus has concentrated on looks at the expense of ergonomics.
Edited by Charles Kloet