Olympus Pen E-PL2: Build and handling

Olympus has stuck with its popular retro styling for the E-PL2, but the lack of a viewfinder or rangefinder window, along with the lettering on the kit lens gives the game away that it's a digital camera quite quickly. Its predominantly plastic body with an aluminium lens mount feels reasonably robust without being too heavy. The contours on the front and rear of the E-PL2 also provide just enough purchase for the fingers of your right hand, so it's comfortable to hold for long periods of time.

Being a comparatively small camera there isn't a huge amount of room for control buttons and dials, but Olympus has managed to squeeze in the essentials without sacrificing too much of the thumb rest. That said, those with very large thumbs may find that they occasionally press the magnify or information buttons accidentally.

Nevertheless, Olympus has introduced a control dial around the four-way navigation pad on the back of the E-PL2. This is useful for adjusting settings and scrolling through menu options quickly.

Although the E-PL2's menu is sensibly structured on the whole, there are one or two strange quirks. As with Olympus's other cameras, in it's default mode the E-PL2's custom screens are not available. This is arguably a good idea because it means the newcomer isn't immediately faced with an overwhelming arraying menu options. However, it is bizarre that it's only by activating the custom screens and accessing the seventh custom screen (G) that the E-PL2 user can enable the highest quality (Super Fine) JPEG option. Once this has been done, the option becomes available in the shooting menu.

Pressing the OK button at the centre of the control dial and four-way controller on the back of the camera brings up the Live Control options on the LCD. The number available depends upon the shooting mode, but in aperture priority there are 14 including features such as sensitivity, drive mode, image style and quality to name just a few. These are easy to navigate, select and adjust as required and after the camera is set-up initially, there are few occasions when it is necessary to dip into the main menu.

While Olympus has made the Super Control Panel seen on its DSLRs accessible on the E-PL2, the amount of button pressing required to activate it makes using it a bit of a chore. It's quicker to access the features you want via the Live Control system mentioned earlier.

Although with a bit of effort the Art filter effects can be created more effectively post-capture, they are fun and if you shoot raw and JPEG images simultaneously you have the best of both worlds as the effects aren't applied to raw files. However, it's worth remembering that using the art filter modes significantly slows down the camera and there's an enforced pause of a few seconds between each shot. Unless the custom menu option to prioritise a smooth on-screen display (mode 2) is selected, rather than the option to accurately preview the effect of the filter (mode 1), the drain on the camera's processing power when using the Art filters also makes LCD display very jerky.

Unless E-PL2 users buy the optional external electronic viewfinder (EVF) they must compose images on the LCD. This performs well and provides a clear view even in quite bright lighting conditions, though as we would expect, in direct sun there isn't enough detail visible in the magnified views when focusing manually to be sure that the focus is absolutely accurate. Also, when focusing automatically the AF box isn't always visible.