Olympus PEN E-PM2 Review
The Olympus PEN E-PM2, also known as the PEN Mini, is an entry-level Micro Four-Thirds mirrorless from Olympus. This digital camera is built around a 16 megapixels Four-Thirds sensor with a maximum ISO of 25600, fast 8 FPS full-resolution drive and 1080p HD video capability. It features built-in image stabilization and a hot-shoe with accessory port which supports an optional add-on EVF. The E-PM2 includes a small flash unit which attaches to the hot-shoe.
The E-PM2 distinguishes itself by having sophisticated video features. These include Program, Aperture-Priority, Shutter-Priority and Manual exposure as well as Art Filters. It offers plenty of video focus modes like continuous autofocus (AF-C), subject-tracking and direct manual-focus (DMF). It can record stereo sound via a built-in microphone or an external one which connects the the hot-shoe's accessory port.
This digital camera review analyses the ergonomics, usability, performance and image quality of the Olympus PEN E-PM2.
Olympus PEN E-PM2 Features
- 16 Megapixels CMOS Four-Thirds sensor
- Micro Four-Thirds lens mount
- Sensor-Shift image stabilization
- Built-in ultra-sonic dust-reduction
- ISO 200 to 25600 sensitivity, 1 or 1/3 EV steps
- Auto ISO, customizable limit from 200 to 25600
- ISO Bracketing, 3 frames, maximum 1 EV increments
- 1/4000-60s Shutter-speeds, ½, 1/3 or 1 EV steps
- Live Bulb and Timed exposures up to 30 minutes
- PASM Exposure modes
- Program-Shift in P mode
- Exposure-Compensation, ±3, 1/3 or 1/2 EV increments
- Exposure-Shift, ±1, 1/6 EV increments
- Multi-Segment, Center-Weighed, Spot, Shadow Spot and Highlight Spot metering
- Auto-Exposure Bracketing, 3, 5 or 7 frames, maximum 1 EV steps except 1/2 EV for 7 frames
- Flash Bracketing, 3 frames, maximum 1 EV increments
- Flash-Compensation, ±3, 1/3 or 1/2 EV increments
- Auto, Redeye, Forced, Off, Slow-Sync+Redeye, Slow-Sync, Rear-Sync and Manual flash modes
- Manual flash power between full and 1/64th power
- Remote-Control flash
- Automatic, 7 presetsSunny, Shade, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Underwater, Flash, kelvin and custom white-balance
- White-balance fine-tuning along 2 axis in 15 steps
- Digital white-balance preview
- White-balance bracketing, 1 or 2 axis, 3 frames along each axis, 3 step sizes
- Optional and automatic long shutter noise-reduction
- Optional high-ISO noise-reduction, 3 levels
- Picture Modes, 17 color and 2 monotone
- Adjustable contrast, sharpness, saturation, 5 steps each
- Adjustable gradation, automatic or 3 levels
- Adjustable tone curve, 15 steps for highlights and 15 steps of shadows
- sRGB or Adobe RGB color space
- Single-shot (AF-S), Continuous (AF-C), Direct Manual-Focus (DMF) or Tracking autofocus
- Manual-focus (MF), optional display magnification up to 14X
- 35-area AF system, automatic or manual point-selection
- Face-Priority toggle
- Controllable focus-ring direction
- Optionally reset lens focus to infinity
- Optional bulb focusing
- Optional AF-Assist lamp
- 8 FPS Continuous drive, 12 RAW or JPEG
- Multiple-Exposure, 2 frames, optional automatic gain and composition overlay
- Self-timer, 2s or 12s
- 1920x1080 @ 30 FPS Video using AVCHD codec
- 1280x720 @30 FPS Video using MPEG-4 codec
- Program, Aperture-Priority, Shutter-Priority and Manual video exposure
- Automatic and Art-Filter video modes
- Optional stereo sound with built-in microphone
- Optional external stereo microphone via a hot-shoe accessory port
Display & Viewfinder
- 3" Touchscreen LCD, 460K Pixels
- Depth-Of-Field Preview
- Optional Live-Histogram
- Optional guidelines, 4 types
- Optional blinking highlight
- Adjustable brightness, 15 steps
- Adjustable color, 15 steps, 1 axis
- Optional 0.2" EVF, 1.4 megapixels
- 4:3 Native aspect ratio
- 3:2, 16:9, 1:1 and 3:4 cropped aspect ratios
- 12, 8, 5, 3, 2 and 1.2 megapixels modes
- JPEG, RAW, RAW+JPEG capture
- 4 JPEG Compression levels
- Optional vignetting correction
- Hot-Shoe with Accessory port
- HDMI (1080i) output
- A/V (NTSC / PAL) output
- USB 2.0 connectivity
- Lens stabilization control, 3 modesBi-Directional, Horizontal, Vertical
- SDXC memory
- Lithium-Ion battery
- Custom DPI settings
- Custom Copyright data
Usability - How easy is it to use?
A quick look at the above feature list shows that the Olympus PEN E-PM2 has considerably more features than expected from an entry-level model. The Olympus approach to entry-level models is to give them a few external controls while keeping a high level of customization. Advanced features that require no mechanic components such as bracketing, multiple exposures, tone-curve control and DOF preview are often included as well.
This compact mirrorless camera has a nice build quality for its class. The smooth metallic body of the E-PM2 feels durable except for a rather thin door covering the combined battery and memory card compartment. Plus, Olympus fitted it with the same 16 megapixels sensor as the high-end OM-D E-M5
Olympus OM-D E-M5. Beginners appreciate these details more than having intimidating controls.
The minimal size of the Olympus PEN E-PM2 is an attractive feature. Unlike its predecessor, the E-PM1, this one has a small grip which makes it considerably more secure to hold. A matching rubber thumb-rest on the back improves thing further. A strap eyelet still digs uncomfortably into the index finger while reaching for the shutter-release because it is mounted on the top plate. Larger cameras avoid this by having the release at the top of the grip.
The top of the camera holds a standard two-stage shutter-release, a small recessed power button and a new customizable Fn button. The shutter has a distinct halfway-point which is nice to avoid accidentally taking a shot before the camera had time to focus. The small power button is responsive but hard to activate unintentionally. Further left is a hot-shoe between a pair of microphones to record stereo sound and a small speaker. Since the E-PM2 does not have a built-in flash, a small add-on one is provided.
The hot-shoe is paired with a proprietary accessory-port which supports an optional 0.2" EVF with 1.4 MP among other accessories such as an external stereo microphone. Given there is only one such port, this means that only one add-on can be used at a time. The bottom of this camera has a metal tripod mount centered relative to the camera which is good for balance but not for panoramas.
The remaining controls are on the back of the camera next to a wide-aspect ratio 3" touchscreen LCD with 460K pixels. The screen is sharp and, when combined with manual focus magnification, makes it possible to easily confirm focus. Visibility is decent but the contrast is lower than most modern cameras. An anti-reflection coating effectively prevents the display from washing out in bright light.
Touchscreen control is minimally implemented on the E-PM2. One can chose the focus-point and take a shot which is unfortunately easy to do accidentally. You can also change camera modes but not much else. As with all touchscreens, smudges appear quickly and it is best to avoid using it.
One common problem about modern mirrorless cameras is the poor accuracy of their preview but as one of the pioneers of Live-View, Olympus actually gets it mostly right. The E-PM2 shows a reasonable Exposure-Priority preview in both Program and Manual mode but not in Aperture-Priority or Shutter-Priority. The Live-Histogram exhibits exactly the same problems.
While on the topic of exposure-modes, it is good to know that the E-PM2 supports full manual-controls but does not have a mode-dial like its mid-range sibling, the Olympus PEN E-PL5
Olympus PEN E-PL5. Instead, exposure-modes are chosen from the camera's menu system, as described below. In terms of features, the E-PL5 also has a tilting display. Image quality and performance should be exactly the same.
The top rear control is the video recording button. Luckily, this button can be customized to access much more useful functions: EC, ISO, WB, AE-L/AF-L, DOF Preview, One-Touch Custom White-Balance, AF-Area Selection, Focus Point Home, Manual Focus, RAW, Test Picture, Backlit LCD, Underwater Mode, Live Guide, 2X Digital Zoom, Focus-Aid Magnification, HDR Bracket and 4 custom modes. The AE-L/AF-L function can be customized further using the Setup menu. Picking the right function here is a tough choice as AE-L / AF-L and DOF Preview cannot be activated any other way. ISO is an extremely useful option here.
On the opposite side of the accessory-port, right above the LCD, the Playback and Delete buttons. There work just as usual. The E-PM2 is also shooting priority, so a half press of the shutter exists Playback mode as well. Delete does nothing in Capture mode.
Below the soft rubber thumb-rest are two buttons with a combined 4-way controller and control-dial between them. The buttons almost work as usual:
- Info: Usually cycles between various display modes in both Capture and Playback modes. A Setup option controls which modes get included in each cycle. In Capture mode after pressing the Up direction of the 4-way controller, the Info button cycles between EC, Highlight Tone-Curve and Shadow Tone-Curve.
- Menu: This button brings up a selection screen for Exposure Modes and the actual menu system. The dial, left or right direction can select one of: Art, iAuto, Scene, Movie, PASM or Setup. A mode among PASM is then selected with the up or down directions. This makes changing modes and settings slower than on most cameras.
There is a lot going on with the 4-way controller which is customizable. The central OK button can bring up different controls, including the most useful one which is called SCP for Super Control Panel. The SCP gives access to plenty of camera settings using an interactive control panel. These settings thankfully include ISO, White-Balance with Fine-Tuning, Drive Mode, Flash Mode, Focus Mode, Flash-Compensation, Metering and Image Stabilization plus some less common settings like Picture Mode, Saturation, Contrast, Sharpness, Key, Image Quality, Face-Priority and Color-Space.
Each direction of the 4-way controller is assigned a function:
- Up is for Exposure-Compensation. This one is odd to use. Once active, Left and Right set the EC amount and Up and Down change the other exposure parameter which causes frequent accidental changes. OK must be pressed to exit this mode. This button is not configurable but modeless EC is possible as detailed further down.
- Right is for Flash Mode. This can be replaced by ISO and WB among other not so useful settings.
- Down is for Drive Mode. This can be replaced by the same settings as the Right direction.
- Left is for selecting the focus point. Pressing OK returns to normal operations afterwards.
The Olympus PEN E-PM2 only has a single control-dial, which is normal for an entry-level camera. This is the rather thin dial which surrounds the 4-way controller. It rotates easily with soft well-spaced detents. While not the greatest and certainly too low, it works reasonably well.
Usability of this mirrorless camera goes a long way with the right customization. Now, if you plan to use it strictly as a point-and-shoot, the only recommended settings is to change the Fn button to control EC. This is the only way to get modeless exposure-compensation. This means you can press Fn, dial the amount of EC, let go and the camera will be back in its normal operating mode. This will greatly lower chances of inadvertently affecting exposure. Still, you must avoid using the Up direction which still accesses modal EC.
This leaves three buttons to customize, one of which is already doing something useful: Down for Drive mode. Only two left after and one has to most-likely choose between ISO, WB, AE-L and DOF-Preview. Given that AE-L and ISO are the most likely to be changed quickly, those were the ones chosen here for the Video Record and Right buttons, respectively.
Performance - How well does it take pictures?
Performance starts with image quality, which is the criteria used as the foundation of our digital camera ratings. Ergonomic issues may get in the way, but in the end, image quality counts the most. For an ILC, image quality greatly depends on the lens used. While color, noise, exposure and dynamic-range are properties of a camera, distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberrations are properties of the lens. Sharpness and contrast depend on the weakest link. That is, a camera cannot capture more details than a lens lets through. Conversely, it is quite possible for a lens to transmit more details than a sensor can capture.
Image Noise & Details
The Olympus PEN E-PM2 shows very good image quality with clean results up to ISO 800. Noise becomes barely noticeable at ISO 1600 with little adverse effect. ISO 3200 makes noise clearly visible but details remain quite sharp and moderately large prints are completely usable. Only by ISO 6400 that we start seeing softness and fine details be eaten away. At this point it would be best to limit to medium-sized prints. ISO 12800 is more restrictive but remains usable for small prints. Leave ISO 25600 for emergencies.
This is an excellent performance and certainly one of the best for the price of this digital camera. It almost matches the more expensive OM-D E-M5
Olympus OM-D E-M5 despite sharing the same sensor which could be explained by different processing.
There are three levels of noise-reduction available. Olympus improved the performance of their noise-reduction algorithms, making them less destructive than before. Particularly, the Low setting is gentle enough to be used permanently. The E-PM2 captures plenty of details which are optimally rendered with Sharpness set to +1 which produces artifact-free output.
Color & White Balance
The E-PM2 struggles with color accuracy. There are lots of Picture Modes but none produce realistic colors across the spectrum. The best image colors are obtained in Natural style with Saturation dials down to -1. Unfortunately, the red channel remains too high regardless of settings. This is obviously avoidable for those who shoot RAW.
Automatic While-Balance is excellent. It deals well with a variety of conditions including typical indoor lighting. There are tons of options for the rare cases when AWB has difficulty or to get consistent colors between shots. Custom WB is easy to use on this camera and renders whites perfectly neutral.
This digital camera has an excellent multi-segment metering system. It is overexposes only when rather small and bright highlights are present in the scene. Generally, exposures come out perfectly usable without needing any exposure-compensation. Low contrast scenes are exposed towards the mid-tone which makes them look natural.
It is important to know that the LCD clips extreme highlights which may still be correctly captured. This happens when adjusting the highlight tone-curve too. Differences are barely noticeable on the LCD but images are in fact captured differently. Changes to the shadow tone-curve are much easier to see. When in doubt, the Playback histogram must be checked. The Live-Histogram is only truly accurate in M mode.
The Olympus E-PM2 has a reasonably fast contrast-detect autofocus system. This is by far the most improved aspect compared to previous generations. This model locks focus quickly and accurately. Even in moderately low light, focus rarely takes more than ½s. Often, and particularly when light-levels are good, the E-PM2 locks focus in about ¼s. It does happen that things take longer, particularly at close range, up to 1s before giving up.
With most Micro Four-Thirds lenses, focus is done via a fly-by-wire ring around the lens-barrel. The Olympus E-PM2 keeps up well with no perceptible lag. In DMF mode, a slight turn of the focus-ring shift into manual focus. Because the ring is fly-by-wire, this camera can reverse the direction for focusing except for the few lenses with a mechanical focus-ring.
The E-PM2 is a rather responsive digital camera and faster than the E-PM1, though still slower than the flagship OM-D E-M5. The key autofocus system has been reworked and shows improved speed in good light. Low-light performance is reasonable but not great, particularly with a dim lens.
The following measurements characterize its performance:
- Power-On: Just over 1 second.
- Power-On to First-Shot: 1½ seconds.
- Autofocus: Down to ¼s, rarely more than ½s except in very low-light.
- Shutter-lag: Instant with 1s blackout.
- Shot-to-shot: 1½s with AF, Under 1s in MF mode.
- Playback: ½s to enter, Instant exit.
- Power-Off: Under 1 second.
- Video: 1s to to start, ½s stopping.
With numbers like this, the Olympus E-PM2 puts in a respectable performance on all fronts except video. The black-out times makes it difficult to follow action, but for general use this camera performs well. Autofocus speed is exemplary and really shows that Contrast-Detect is coming of age.
Video performance is the only regression compared to the E-PM1. Despite having a dedicated Video mode, the PEN E-PM2 takes one second to start filming, making it possible to miss the start of action. At least framing is accurately previewed in Video mode. Recording video in other modes is possible but makes it impossible to setup framing and wastes a precious button for photography.
The Olympus PEN E-PM2 is powered by a proprietary Lithium-Ion battery which provides 360-shots per charge with 50% flash use. This is average among mirrorless cameras and should be enough for a day of shooting.
The Olympus PEN E-PM2 is one of the smallest and lightest mirrorless cameras. With its Micro Four-Thirds mount and matching sensor, it manages to deliver very good image quality in a rather compact form-factor. Besting its predecessor
Olympus PEN E-PM1 in nearly every way, the new E-PM2 nearly matches the top-of-the-line OM-D E-M5
Olympus OM-D E-M5 in terms of image quality while falling slightly behind in terms of speed. At less than half the price though, the Olympus E-PM2 currently delivers one of the best values among digital cameras.
This mirrorless camera impresses with its image quality. Noise is low until ISO 1600 and results remain usable at ISO 12,800. Metering and white-balance are very good, although colors remain slightly off. Plus, autofocus, shutter-lag and shot-to-shot speeds are all top-notch. Only video recording is comparatively slow.
Its entry-level status give it a simple design with few external controls. However, the E-PM2 hides a surprising amount of features and highly customizable interface, making it more capable and pleasant to use than its direct competitors. For a few more direct controls, the Olympus PEN E-PL5
Olympus PEN E-PL5 is expected to show exactly the same performance.
Overall, the Olympus E-PM2 manages to hit head-on the requirements of beginners looking for improved image quality in a small and simple to use package. The speed of operation is also sufficiently quick to keep up with most situations other than fast action. Finally, as a Micro Four-Thirds model, this one gets access to the most complete lens lineup made exclusively for mirrorless cameras. Given it outclasses its predecessor in terms of image quality and speed, it presents a worthy upgrade for those not ready to move to a more expensive model.
Olympus E-PM2 Highlights
Sensor-Size: 17 x 13mm
Actual size when viewed at 100 DPI
|16 Megapixels Mirrorless||ISO 200-25600|
|Micro Four-Thirds Mount|
|2-Axis Built-in Stabilization||Full manual controls, including Manual Focus|
|0.45" Optional EVF 1.5 Megapixels||Custom white-balance with 2 axis fine-tuning|
|2 Axis Digital Level||Spot-Metering|
|Built-in Dust Reduction||Hot-Shoe|
|8 FPS Drive, 15 Images||Stereo audio input|
|1920x1080 @ 30 FPS Video Recording||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|3" LCD 460K Pixels||Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
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