A back dial includes direct-access buttons for ISO sensitivity, white balance, focus mode and drive mode. There's also a vertical subdial. The combination of the two dials is pleasing, and both feel relatively responsive and comfortable to operate.
The prettily inset mode dial atop the left side of the camera offers the standard manual and semi-manual PASM modes, plus movie capture, a variety of scene modes, intelligent auto and access to the six art filters. Next to the shutter is a dedicated exposure-compensation button.
An info button at the bottom right cycles through numerous (some might say too many) display choices: a two-axis digital level, detailed current settings, basic settings plus a histogram or AF area, selectable thumbnail previews of exposure or white-balance compensation, scale/grid display or image only.
You can also pull up Olympus' typical 'super control panel', an overstuffed display where you can adjust the most frequently needed shooting settings plus some not-so-frequently used ones, like white-balance compensation, sharpness, contrast, saturation, gradation, black and white filter and 'picture tone'. There's a much more useful, simplified version in which you cycle around the outer edge of the display to adjust shutter speed, aperture, white balance, drive mode, image stabilisation mode, aspect ratio, image size and quality, flash options, ISO sensitivity, metering, autofocus, face detection and AF target.
For such a compact model, the 14-42mm (28mm-84mm equivalent) kit lens can be pretty sharp. It does much better at macro distances than at traditional ones, however. Overall, it delivers about the same shooting experience as the 18-55mm lenses from Canon and Nikon, with the exception of manual focus.
Although the manual focus rings on those lenses don't feel particularly fluid, they at least use a traditional geared mechanical operation. Like its Micro Four Thirds counterparts from Panasonic, the Olympus uses a servo-electronic ring, resulting in the infinite-rotation experience -- it's not bad, just relatively loose and imprecise, and it takes some getting used to. The way you can retract the lens into itself when not in use is quite ingenious, however, and makes the difference between being able to slip the camera into a large jacket pocket and requiring a carrying case. Of course, if you're looking for the most compact solution, you'll have to opt for the aforementioned 17mm lens, which also has the advantage of a wider maximum aperture.
Olympus offers optional adaptors for Four Thirds mount lenses (MMF-1) and for the older film OM lenses (MF-2). Surprisingly, shooting with the relatively big and heavy (and pricy) 12-60mm f2.8-4 lens via the adaptor felt surprisingly well balanced -- usually solutions like these feel clunky -- although one-handed shooting is out of the question.
Unfortunately, the E-P1 seems to suffer from a sluggish AF system and is crying out for a firmware upgrade. It powers on and shoots in about 2.2 seconds, a reasonable duration. But in our performance tests, shot lag (the time it takes to focus and shoot) with the kit lens in good light ran at about 1.3 seconds and rose to 1.6 seconds in dim light. While it doesn't feel quite that slow in practice -- if it were, it'd be close to unusable for all but landscapes and still lifes -- it still feels slower than it ought to.