Also, the short rated battery life (which Olympus erroneously lists as calculated with 50 per cent flash usage, although the camera doesn't have a built-in flash), doesn't factor in shooting any video, a notorious battery drainer and something that will probably be a frequently used feature on this camera. The battery simply didn't seem to last very long. All together, it adds up to a pretty poor showing in terms of performance.
That's a shame, because we were quite impressed with the photo quality. Metering and exposures are very good -- right in the middle, rather than the typical overexposed consumer or underexposed pro defaults. Its dynamic range seems solid, capturing detail in both highlights and shadows without clipping overly. Colours render accurately, and the automatic white balance is much better than many models of any class, indoors and out.
Olympus' TruePic V image processor delivers excellent noise performance for this price class, with clean photos up to and including ISO 400, and good, only slightly degraded photos at ISO 800 and ISO 1,600. While its high ISO performance is better than compact competitors like the G10 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3, as well as Micro Four Thirds models like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 and GH1, it's still not up to dSLR competitors like the Canon EOS 500D or Nikon D5000.
Video isn't great, but it's pretty typical for the E-P1's class. It displays many of the same problems that we saw with models like the 500D and D5000. It has serious moiré problems, haloing on edges, shimmering and noise in even the faintest of shadow areas, and JPEG compression artefacts from the use of the inefficient Motion JPEG codec. The continuous AF frequently got confused while shooting video as well, dropping focus and hunting unnecessarily, which complicates the issue. The video from the GH1 is better, although that's a far more expensive camera. The sound is good, as long as you're shooting indoors or on a calm day -- as with most of these models, the E-P1 lacks a wind filter.
Olympus is targeting three types of shooters with the Pen E-P1: dSLR owners looking for a compact complement, enthusiast photographers who like the rangefinder feel of compact models like the G10 but who want interchangeable lenses, and snapshooters looking to step up from a point-and-shoot model but who are averse to the bulk of a dSLR.
We can't really recommend the E-P1 to folks upgrading from a point-and-shoot camera, since the biggest motivation in that case, in addition to wanting better low-light photos, tends to be a desire for better performance to shoot kids, pets and sports. On the latter count, unfortunately, the E-P1 simply doesn't deliver. But, we think the first two groups would be more forgiving of the E-P1's performance -- either because they have tricks to compensate or because they have a faster camera somewhere for shooting action -- and most appreciative of the design and photo quality.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet