Olympus Pen E-PL2: Performance

With just 11 fairly large AF boxes, it can feel a little imprecise, in good light the E-PL2's AF system performs well and finds it subject quickly. When light levels or subject contrast drops, however, it starts to struggle a little. Although it is designed for moving subjects, the Tracking AF system is often a good choice for static subjects as it allows you to recompose between shots without having to select an alternative focus box or use the focus-and-reframe technique.

When activated the E-PL2's Face Detection system quick recognises when a face (or faces) has appeared in the scene and bounds it with a white box. On some occasions it also manages to detect the subjects eyes as the shutter is half pressed, and it prioritises the focus to them rather than the face as a whole. As with the normal contrast detection AF, the face detection system works very well in good light.

In its Natural Picture mode the E-PL2 produces bright and vibrant images, however, the colours can benefit from a little tweak here and there to get them looking just right. In full sun both the auto white balance and sunny white balance setting have a tendency to overemphasise any yellow in images so they look a little too warm and patches of yellowish foliage tend to look a yellow. Blue skies are also a little bit cyan and look better for an injection of red.

It's clear from the images taken during this test that the E-PL2's multi-purpose ESP metering system is very capable and generally isn't overly influenced by very bright or dark areas within the scene. However, it isn't adverse to bowling in the odd surprise. Two images taken of the same scene in quick succession, for instance, can sometimes have noticeably different exposures.

The first thing that strikes you when looking at images (raw and JPEG) taken using the E-PL2 at the highest sensitivity setting (ISO 6400) is that there's hardly any chroma noise. Even in the shadows of images taken with the Noise Filter turned off, there's very little coloured speckling visible. There is however, quite a bit of luminance noise, which gives images a stippled texture. At actual pixels or 100% on screen, this texture is visible in images taken at ISO 800 and higher, though it is only really visible in even toned areas of images captured at ISO 800. From ISO 1600 upwards, there is slight smudging of detail, but the results at ISO 6400 are still pretty impressive at sensible printing sizes.

On the whole the best compromise between noise and detail is produced when the Noise Filter is set to low, rather than its default standard setting. This may be selected in-camera prior to shooting, or post capture with raw files using the supplied Olympus Viewer software.

As some colour noise is visible in the images while they render in Olympus Viewer, software must be stripping it out and the Noise Filter control only influences the luminance noise. This suggests that, as is often the case with Olympus camera raw files, straight from the camera raw files will look quite different when opened in Adobe's Camera Raw (once an update is issued).

Interestingly, though our laboratory tests conducted using DXO Analyzer show that the JPEG files from the E-PL2 have a slightly higher signal to noise ratio than those from the E-P2, up to around ISO 1600, the raw files from the two cameras have very similar values from around ISO 400 to 6400. This suggests that it is the processing in the E-PL2 that is helping it to produce less noisey JPEG images.

As our tests indicate that raw images captured with the E-P2 at ISO 100 have a lower signal to noise ratio than those taken at ISO 200, there may not be a disadvantage to the E-PL2 not having an ISO 100 option, other than the restriction exposure control.

With a maximum dynamic range of 10.56EV for JPEG files and 9.99EV for raw files at ISO 200, dipping to 6.94EV and 5.63EV respectively at ISO
the E-PL2 puts in a very respectable performance. In fact its low ISO setting performance is on a par with many APS-C format DSLRs. It can't quite match the impressive 11.76EV dynamic range achieved by the Sony NEX 5 at ISO 200 though.