Camera review: Olympus E-PM1

Smaller than a DSLR but packed with the same exciting technology, the PEN Mini has won many industry awards - but what did Tesco customer Tony Gates think of the new CSC from Olympus?

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At first glance the Olympus E-PM1 looks just like any other compact, but when you mount a lens and start to use the camera you realise it is so much more. It's packed full of useful and intuitive features, many of which you would normally only be able to get by investing in a high-end DSLR.

For me, the two main benefits of this camera are that it gives you the opportunity to do a lot of your photo editing within the camera as opposed to using software on a PC, and that it also has a handy guide or manual built in to explain each camera setting. This manual is very useful and would definitely appeal to those who are starting out in photography and looking for some extra guidance to enhance their enjoyment of the camera. The camera offers 12.3- megapixels, has a slim metal body with a large three-inch LCD screen, built-in image stabilisation and the kit I used comes complete with a specially engineered 14-42mm lens.

I found the camera easy to use when taking simple point-and-shoot style photography, however it was a little challenging when trying to take more detailed shots that required the use of the top dial and buttons to alter the camera's settings as the controls are fairly small - but I am sure you would get used to these in time.

Interchangeable lenses

To enhance your photography, connecting different lenses to the camera gives you the capability to take a wide range of pictures. The standard lens that comes with the camera is the 14-42mm. At the 14mm end you are able to take wider-angle photos for some great scenery shots and landscapes. 25mm gives you a normal view that's similar to what the human eye sees and you can go up to 42mm for medium portraiture.

I also tested the 40-150mm lens (available separately), which was perfect for wildlife and sports photography. This lens starts off where the other lens finishes and with both in your kitbag, you end up with the equivalent of a 300mm telephoto.

The macro converter, which is also available separately, enables you to focus the PEN at a minimum distance of 24cm, allowing you to take close-ups of tiny objects.

Lights, camera...

The flash is not an integral part of the camera; this separate unit is included in the kit that can be kept in a handy pouch on the strap. When it's attached, the flash is not bulky and could easily be left on the camera as a permanent feature so you're always ready for lowlight shots.

Like the camera in general, the main control dial is also small so you may need a light touch to ensure you don't press the wrong button. Depending upon the mode you're using, you can control the camera's shutter speed, aperture and the exposure value by altering this control dial accordingly.

If you're more interested in moving images, the 1080i HD video is quite impressive and ideal for shooting videos, especially with its stereo sound capture as well.

Art filters

One of the first features I was drawn to was the selection of built-in Art Filters. They can apply a range of effects to the image and can be previewed on the camera's LCD screen before you take the shot. They include:

Soft Focus which gives you a softer, dreamier portrait.

Pop Art for more vibrant colourful subjects - such as a multicolour row of beach huts.

Pin Hole which darkens the edge of your shot leading your eye to the subject in the centre of the shot.

Grainy Film is an interesting option that takes you back to the days of 35mm film cameras - looks great on wood grain and portraits.

Dramatic Tone is probably my favourite of these filters as it adds real depth to your photos, giving a whole new dimension to your work and making you feel like a pro - without you having to employ too much brain power!

In conclusion...

Overall I found the image quality on this entry-level PEN to be very good even in low-light situations, without a flash, right up to an ISO setting of 1600. Beyond that the images become a little grainy - but this can add to the effect of the grainy film filter! The camera has the capability to go up to an ISO setting of 12,800.

For the right person, this is a great little camera that is capable of taking some really nice shots. It is small and light enough so that you could easily pop it into a pocket or carry the whole kit - camera and lenses - in the small carry case that can be purchased separately. The overall design of the camera and matching case is quite retro, so it looks very cool and funky.

To sum up, the E-PM1 would be an excellent choice for someone looking to start in serious photography without wanting the bulk of carrying around a DSLR.

The PEN Mini is available in a range of shades...

Olympus PEN Mini

Tony lives in Suffolk where he's a full-time chef and keen photographer who loves taking pictures of his friends, family and shots of the natural world.