E-PM1 Pen Mini: First Impressions

Discussion in 'Olympus Cameras' started by Promit, Sep 8, 2011.

  1. Promit

    Promit Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 6, 2011
    Baltimore, MD
    Promit Roy
    E-PM1 Pen Mini: First Impressions (Now with high-ISO!)

    See page 4 for high-ISO comparison!

    It's here! And it's mini!
    pm1-box.
    Fingers crossed, this will be the camera to replace my E-PL1. How do they compare? (Beware iPhone pics.)
    pl1-pm1.
    The PM1 is lighter, slimmer, slightly less wide, and much less tall. Hilariously, it's not heavy or wide enough to stand up with the kit lens on. However, there are two problems.
    * The lens mount really ruins the party here; it doesn't matter what Oly do, because the sensor is backed right onto the LCD in this body. This is as slim as m4/3 can ever be, and IMO there is absolutely no point to making the body slimmer than the lens mount. (NEX is actually slimmer, but you pay for it in the lenses anyway.)
    * The new kit lens is slightly taller than the original. I think everybody knew that already, but the PM1 has turned this into a game of millimeters and if depth is your limiting factor in pocketability, there's trouble to be had.
    On the bright side, the kit lens is also lighter, slimmer, and built noticeably better than the original. (I assume the II non-R is the same way.) It just feels better to work with, tight and precise. Even so, Oly needs to get some X-lens sauce in here.

    Now, as far as actual usability...this camera is going to be a love or hate thing. There is no mode dial. I think that's great! Seriously, mode dials are a pain in the neck to use. I can get between PASM and video modes much faster using the on-screen menus now than I could ever manage with the stupid dial. It's similar in concept to the GF2, but I think it actually works a little better.

    I continue to find Live Control better than the SCP, not as smooth for viewing settings but much quicker to change them. The dial makes it easier to navigate, which I assume that E-P2 and E-PL2 users have had this whole time. There are only a few buttons: Record, INFO, MENU, Playback, OK, and the four-way dial. Only the Record button is customizable. Functionality at all times is heavily context sensitive as a result. It takes some getting used to, even though I don't mind this approach. I'm a little disappointed that I can't customize the four-way controller (or at least I haven't found it yet). D-Pad right and down are customizable, though bizarrely not to zoom. Why only those two? Why only to WB, ISO, and a few useless ones? I have no idea. My PL1's On/Off button also had a problem where it was often mistaken as the shutter; this is not really a concern on the PM1 thanks to a slightly better button feel.

    Simple fact is that if you're a heavy tweaker, this camera is going to be awful. It's essentially got one Fn button that can be AEL/AFL, zoom, MF/AF toggle, etc but you only ever get one. I'm not a tweaker, I shoot nearly everything in Program-Auto and the rest (fast action) in shutter priority. Manual mode is decent enough to work with, but it's basically the same as the PL1.

    However, and this is really, really important: the controls on the PM1 are comically small. Seriously, I'm not joking.
    pm1-controls.
    Put your thumb down on a dime and pretend it's the dial of a camera. The PM1 is smaller than that. The rest of the buttons are utterly microscopic. I have small hands so I don't especially mind this. If you have large hands, or like to use a camera with gloves, you are most likely out of luck.

    So...small body. Without a grip. It actually has a rear grip in the form of a rubberized curved section visible above. IMO this is actually an improvement over the god-awful grip on the GF2, but I'm noticing some early wrist strain in handling larger, heavier lenses. I will probably add a Flipbac grip, though I've heard that Franiec is going to make one too. There's zero benefit to have a grip smaller than the size of the mount plus the smallest lens. Sony understands this a bit better on their NEX body designs. Oly has entirely missed the memo.
    pm1-telephoto.
    The PM1 is wonderfully lightweight and I suspect I'm going to appreciate that a lot, since I usually hang the camera off a wrist strap. However, making it dimensionally small is pointless as long as that lens mount is jutting out, and I'm not sure why Panasonic and Olympus both think this is productive. Simple fact is I bought the PM1 for price, not because I'm a 'compact upgrader' or I like less controls or any of that garbage. I bought it because I'm cheap and I bet the PM1 will sell well for exactly that reason.

    AF and IQ performance are identical to the E-P3, so I see no reason to dwell on it. AF is fast, and quality at ISO 3200 is substantially nicer. The screen on the PM1 is alright. At 460k dots 16:9, it's about the same size as the PL1 screen and only slightly higher resolution. The PL3 tilt-screen is smaller than this at the same aspect, which sounds god awful to me. Manual focusing on this camera is similarly improved only slightly. The dial makes it very quick to snap through zoom levels, and I'm glad to see that the camera does not attempt to do AF acquisition with adapted lenses. That was always a bizarre quirk of the PL1. It also looks like Oly has added a delay jumping out of zoom when using S-AF/MF. This actually makes the setting usable for me and is a welcome change.

    As for build quality...the E-P3 is $900, with more or less the same electronics and an all metal body. This is $500. Where do you think the money came from? It's plastic. Don't drop it. Don't rough it up. This is not the rugged pro grade camera you are looking for. It's perfectly well put together, but if build quality is a concern then keep walking. I should point out that this camera uses the BLS-1 battery as seen in the PL1, NOT the newer BLS-5 battery. Convenient for me, maybe not so much for you.

    I've just discovered a new problem with AF. Oly finally decided to add an AF assist lamp to this camera. That's good! Only it sits right behind your hand when using a zoom ring. What? Why on earth isn't it on the other side of the camera? If you are using zoom or even just holding the lens and the camera is having trouble focusing, it will turn on the assist lamp. Too bad it's pointed at your hand instead of the scene, so either you remember to move your hand or you watch the camera sadly and fruitlessly search for focus.
     
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  2. Art

    Art Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 13, 2011
    San Francisco, CA
    Thanks for the review. Mine should arrive tomorrow. I truly believe E-PM1 will become the most sold Pen yet because the price is right. Did you notice AF speed difference between PM1 and E-PL1 (with same lens)?
     
  3. ZephyrZ33

    ZephyrZ33 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    685
    Nov 18, 2010
    Southern California
    I wish every personal review was as honest as this one. :smile:

    This is the perfect camera for the "set-and-forget" crowd. I wouldn't mind one as a back-up or fused with the 14mm.

    The lens mount may not get shallower but it's nice to know OLY can continue shrinking the electronics. Leave's a ton of real-estate for that rangefinder built-in EVF (w/out prism hump) form-factor we're yearning for in the near future.
     
  4. Armanius

    Armanius Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 23, 2010
    Houston
    Muttley
    Thanks for the first impressions!

    The EPM1 + Pany 14-42X lens might be really cool. Other than the X lens, it really doesn't make sense to pair up the EPM1 (or even EPL3) with anything other than pancake lenses. Even sticking the PL25 and 45/1.8 appear to overwhelm the diminutive body of the EPM1.
     
  5. Promit

    Promit Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 6, 2011
    Baltimore, MD
    Promit Roy
    PM1 is a lot better at AF with all lenses, even the poor MkI kit lens. It's especially noticeable with the 45-200, where the PL1 could practically never focus it quickly at 200mm and f/5.6. Just keep in mind that it is still contract detect AF, and the key ingredient is contrast. If you hit a low contrast area, it will get lost. In those cases the PM1 is a lot better at finding focus eventually but it will cycle the whole focus range at least twice.

    (Added to post.) I've just discovered a new problem with AF. Oly finally decided to add an AF assist lamp to this camera. That's good! Only it sits right behind your hand when using a zoom ring. What? Why on earth isn't it on the other side of the camera? If you are using zoom or even just holding the lens and the camera is having trouble focusing, it will turn on the assist lamp. Too bad it's pointed at your hand instead of the scene, so either you remember to move your hand or you watch the camera sadly and fruitlessly search for focus.
     
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  6. pharaviel

    pharaviel Mu-43 Veteran

    313
    Jun 20, 2011
    Reggio Emilia, Italy
    Daniele Frizzi
    :cool:Maybe Oly should make a R version of its 17mm... f2?
     
  7. Armanius

    Armanius Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 23, 2010
    Houston
    Muttley
    That would be sweet. And keep it small!!
     
  8. DDBazooka

    DDBazooka Mu-43 Veteran

    211
    Sep 3, 2011
    Thanks for the review. You wouldn't happen to have some pancakes would you? If so, care to share some shots? :)
     
  9. playak47

    playak47 Mu-43 Veteran

    297
    Nov 4, 2010
    Thank you for the post. Keep it up. More comparison shots with e-pl1 would be great. Frontal shots maybe.

    I dont remember panasonic gf series having the lens mount protruding, yet they are still small.
     
  10. Promit

    Promit Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 6, 2011
    Baltimore, MD
    Promit Roy
    I have the 14mm, I'll post some pictures using that soonish.
    Apparently the PM1 and the GF3 are exactly the same depth at around 33mm.

    And the 17mm has been desperate for a revision from the day Olympus released it. Can't believe they still try to pass that off with the new cameras.
     
  11. Promit

    Promit Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 6, 2011
    Baltimore, MD
    Promit Roy
    Here is a quick late-night gift: a 14mm pancake shot at ISO 6400 as OOC JPEG.
    P9092870.JPG
    I don't think I would've gotten away with this on the PL1. Okay, so we're at around Facebook quality, but RAW processing would smooth this image out quite a bit and it'd probably be quite usable. Even as JPEG, if this were a shot from a party or something I wouldn't mind using it for FB. The last time I was at a party, I had to carefully process ISO 2000 and 3200 RAW files from the PL1 to get decent photos. Here's the same image with some very quick cleanup work.
    P9092870-cleaned.JPG
    I've damaged the colors just by being sloppy but honestly that's stellar. Looks like the new sensor counts for something after all, to me at least.
     
  12. hkpzee

    hkpzee Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 5, 2011
    Hong Kong
    Patrick
    Picture quality OOC as JPEG looks quite decent at ISO 6400. I'm impressed...
     
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  13. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    Owning the EPL3, a couple of quick comments/reactions. First, in terms of size and handling, I actually notice the size and lack of grip far more with smaller lenses than with large ones. Probably because with large ones (I've done a bit of shooting with the epl3 and the 100-300 - THAT'S something to see) I'm supporting the lens so thoroughly with the left hand, that the lack of a comfortable grip on the camera itself is less of an issue. When I'm using the flip screen and holding the camera down by my waist, the ergonomics also aren't an issue, but using the camera at eye level with a small lens, THAT'S where I notice how uncomfortable the camera is to hold because its more of a right hand operation with my left hand playing a smaller role, if any. I'm hoping the Franiac grip improves things. I think it will - I don't think you need a deeper grip as long as you have something to hold onto. The small grip on the EP3 makes a very big difference to me, which is also partially attributable to the shape of the back of the camera.

    To, me the limited controls on the EPM1 would make it a no-go. Unless money was the driving factor (and I know it will be for a lot of folks), I'd get the EPL3. Well, actually I did. It has only one less button than the EP3 and one less dial, so it has more or less the same amount of control, although in a less ergonomic design. Its roughly as small as the EPM1 except its a little deeper along the back because of the flip screen (although at its deepest point, I don't think its much different). To me, those two things definitely make it worth the extra $$. Then again, if not for the flip screen, which I love, the better feel of the EP3 makes IT worth the premium price. To me, as noted, the EPM1 looks like a decent camera for someone who wants to shoot in iAuto most of the time and isn't going to be changing settings much at all. Although I guess having the one ring/dial would make it easier to use in shutter or aperture priority than, say, the EPL1, which was all button driven. So maybe not bad, but pretty limited controls.

    -Ray
     
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  14. Armanius

    Armanius Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 23, 2010
    Houston
    Muttley
    Looking at the press release photos when all the new Pens were announced, it looks like the Mini and Lite are nearly the same size.

    Ray, do you ever use the 17mm? I'm contemplating getting either a Lite or Mini with the 17 instead of the zoom. But I already have the 14/2.5 and 20/1.7. So not sure if the 17 would add any value to my lens lineup.
     
  15. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    I used to use it a lot - I prefer the FOV to the 20 even though the 20 is better in low light. But then once I had the 14, I tended to use THAT even more and the 17 mostly dropped off of my radar. Then I got an X100 and the 17 dropped COMPLETELY off of my radar. It was never dut to any lack of satisfaction with the 17 - it just became kind of redundant. I could see a kit consisting of the 12, 17, and 25 if you like wide angle options. But if you have both the 20 and 14, the 17 becomes sort of redundant unless you just plain like THAT focal length more than the others. I'm not that picky - I like wider than 20 for sure, but tend to prefer 14 to 17 if I'm gonna take that step... Hence, my silver 17 is for sale...

    -Ray
     
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  16. bongestrella

    bongestrella Mu-43 Veteran

    404
    Sep 2, 2011
    Mechanicsburg, PA
    Thanks for a nice and honest hands-on preview! I've been thinking of getting this instead of the e-pl3. The flip screen is nice but at $200 more I think it's too much. I usually shoot in Av and as long as I can adjust ISO quickly then I'm good. It looks like this can be easily done in e-pm1.

    One thing I dont understand with these latest releases, with e-pl3 and e-pm1 that is, why not give an option for the grip? Just like what they did with the e-p3? Another cost-cutting maneuver? My guess is just to differentiate a higher-end e-p3 to the other two. Pretty cheap of Oly if you ask me.
     
  17. Biro

    Biro Mu-43 All-Pro

    May 8, 2011
    Jersey Shore
    Steve
    What you say is true... particularly if the E-PM1 will be someone's only :43: camera body. But as an inexpensive second body, I personally can deal with the lack of external controls. I would probably use the Pen Mini in very casual situations like family gatherings, when happy snaps are about as good as it's going to get (my relatives have no patience at all), or as a carry-around for those unexpected photo opportunities. You're right... I think most people will use the E-PM1 either in Intelligent Auto mode or maybe Aperture- or Shutter-Priority mode. I know I would.
     
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  18. Armanius

    Armanius Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 23, 2010
    Houston
    Muttley
    For the Mini owners, can you customizate all four directional (up, down, left and right) buttons of the jog wheel? Are you able to assign ANY function to any of the four pseudo buttons?

    Is it also possible to assign a function to the red video button (other than video itself)?

    Thanks!
     
  19. Promit

    Promit Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 6, 2011
    Baltimore, MD
    Promit Roy
    Only the right and down buttons, and the record video button. The options are oddly arbitrary and random. If you open up the manual:
    http://www.olympusamerica.com/files/oima_cckb/E-PM1_Instruction_Manual_EN.pdf
    Jump down to page 82 under Button/Dial for the customization options. Right and Down can be set to exposure comp, flash, sequential/timer, ISO, WB, dial lock. Yes, you can set one to exposure comp even though there's a non-customizable exposure comp button. Clever.
     
  20. Mellow

    Mellow Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 27, 2010
    Florida or Idaho
    Tom
    Don't get the 'slim design'

     
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