Olympus PEN E-PL9 review

Olympus updates its stylish entry-level mirrorless camera

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Our Verdict

The PEN E-PL9 is perfect for first-time buyers who’ve outgrown a smartphone and just want a camera that reliably captures sharp, well-exposed images, fits in a bag and doesn’t look like a piece of military hardware. There are cheaper alternatives, but none which match the E-PL9’s balance of simplicity, power, creative effects and kerb appeal.

For

  • Size and portability
  • Attractive design
  • Easy to use
  • Image quality and effects
  • 4K video and Clips modes

Against

  • No viewfinder
  • No accessory port
  • ISO limit is only 25,600
  • Only uses 3-axis IS system
  • Modest sensor specs
  • Relatively expensive

Learning to use to a ‘proper’ camera after just using a smartphone can look intimidating, but that’s the market Olympus is targeting with the PEN E-PL9. It has some interesting features for experienced photographers too, but it’s really designed to appeal to nervous first-timers who want to step up to the bigger sensor, better quality, more powerful features and interchangeable lenses of a mirrorless camera.

It follows the standard format for a beginner-friendly compact system camera. It doesn’t come with a viewfinder – you’d need the OM-D E-M10 Mark III for that – but the rear screen does have a tilting mechanism which lets it flip upwards and downwards. In fact it swings out on a hinge which offers a full 180-degree downward flip so that the screen faces forwards for selfies.

It’s a touch-screen display too, so that if you’re only experience of a camera so far is a smartphone, you’ll feel a little bit more at home.

Clearly designed with a fashion-conscious audience in mind, the E-PL9 comes in white, black or brown editions with an attractive silver and leather-look finish. You can buy it body only, but it’s best to get it as a kit with Olympus’s neat 14-42mm EZ ‘pancake’ zoom lens.

Features

  • Art Filters and Advanced Photo mode
  • In-body image stabilisation
  • 4K movies
Olympus PEN E-PL9 specs

Sensor: 16.1MP Micro Four Thirds Live MOS 

Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds

Screen: 3.0-inch tilting touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots 

Burst shooting: 8.6fps 

Autofocus: 121-point AF 

Video: 4K

Connectivity: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

Battery life: 350 shots 

Weight: 380g

Olympus has designed the PEN E-PL9 so that it’s easy for novices to pick up but has a full range of manual controls and features for when you’re ready to start taking control.

In full Auto mode you can leave the camera to choose all the settings automatically and just use simple sliders on the touchscreen display to change the look of your pictures, with adjustments for color saturation, brightness, warmth, background blur and more. It side-steps the usual jargon of photography to show camera adjustments in less technical terms.

Alternatively, you can switch to the Scene position on the mode dial to tap on the subject you’re shooting, like People, Nightscapes or Motion, or use the PASM (program AE, aperture-priority, shutter-priority and manual) modes for direct control over the shutter speed and aperture settings.

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But Olympus adds in two more key features: Art Filters and its Advanced Photo mode. With new Bleach Bypass and Instant Film effects, there are now 16 different Art Filters, each with their own adjustable parameters. These go well beyond the sometimes cheesy and crude image effects seen on other cameras.

The Advanced Photo mode, meanwhile, includes features usually found on more advanced cameras, including Multiple Exposures, HDR, Sweep Panoramas and Focus Bracketing. They also include three Olympus specialities – a Keystone Compensation mode for correcting converging verticals in shots of buildings, a Live Composite mode for ‘light painting’ at night and a Live Time mode for watching long exposures build up ‘live’ on the rear screen.

It’s not all about stills photography, either, because the E-PL9 also offers some smart video features

It’s not all about stills photography, either, because the E-PL9 also offers some smart video features, including a standard video mode with the option of adding Art Filters and Movie Effects, a 4K video mode, a short Clips mode capturing 4 second videos (you can change the clip length) and an HS mode for slow motion playback.

The E-PL9 has a contrast-based autofocus system with 121 AF points covering most of the frame area, 3-axis in-body image stabilization (not the more advanced 5-axis system we've seen on other Olympus cameras) and maximum sensitivity of ISO 25,600.

It can also communicate directly with your smartphone via an always-on Bluetooth LE connection that can ‘wake’ your camera and Wi-Fi for full resolution image transfer and camera remote control.