05/12/2012 13:34 | By Rob Clymo, contributor, MSN Tech

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

CSC that ticks a number of boxes


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What is it?
The Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 is a compact system camera or CSC, which is an entry-level model in its recently updated range.

What’s great?
Easily mastered controls along with a compact design that still manages to provide plenty of picture-taking potential at a reasonable price point.

What’s not?
The design is something of an acquired taste, while the lack of an electronic viewfinder and a touch-sensitive screen might not be for everyone.

The bottom line:
There’s a growing CSC market out there, with enticing rivals in the shape of the Samsung NX or even more impressive Sony NEX models vying for your attention. But, armed with a bundled kits lens, the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 does an awful lot for relatively little outlay.

Olympus camera review (© Olympus)

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2: Review

There’s a lot to like about the new E-PM2, which has emerged as part of a revised Olympus PEN range that includes the similarly commendable, though rather more bulky and expensive, PEN Lite E-PL5.

However, if you’re looking to save a few pounds and fancy trying a compact system camera then the recently unveiled E-PM2 makes a very good place to start. So, who would want to buy one? Well, it appears that Olympus is hoping that people who have outgrown their point-and-shoot models will want to investigate the PEN range.

And, if you’re migrating from a compact camera, then in that respect the unobtrusive design of the E-PM2 marks a smaller transition rather than a large jump to the beefier stance of the E-PL5.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2: Design

On first impressions it’s hard to feel overwhelmingly drawn to the little E-PM2, for the simple fact that it’s not exactly drop-dead gorgeous. Sure, there are nice lines and some neat design flourishes, such as the colour-coordinated rubber finger/handgrips that contrast nicely with the body colour you’ve chosen.

Traditional black presents little in the way of surprises, but the silver and zingy red models work this feature in to great effect and subtle styling touches include nicely recessed control buttons that feel firm to the touch. Meanwhile, other more brash chrome finishing’s, such as the area around the hotshoe and the hooks for the carrying strap, are a little bit overstated.

So, looks-wise, the PEN is a bit of a mixed bag although the all-metal construction does feel robust, it has to be said.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review 4 stars (© Olympus)

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2: Specification

A micro four thirds CSC like the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 makes a lot of sense if you’re looking for a space saving option to a DSLR camera. Granted, there are some compromises on the performance front, but an obvious benefit is that you can still mix and match lenses.

In the case of the E-PM2, it also means that you get to experience the well-proven sensor technology that can also be found lurking inside the fab Olympus OM-D, via a beefed up (from earlier PEN models) 16-1-megapixel Live MOS sensor and an impressive ISO sensitivity range of 200-25,600.

And while the E-PM2 might have a diminutive stance, behind the slightly quirky styling lurks a camera that can deliver high-quality RAW files via a feast of manual exposure modes. What’s more, if you love to clip on a telephoto lens then crisp and clear shots are also much more likely thanks to optical stabilization (alongside an in-camera option) that can be switched on easily enough using the menu system.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2: Screen

A key part of the E-PM2 package is the touch-sensitive 3-inch LCD screen around the back, which acts as your main area of picture composition because this model doesn’t have an electronic viewfinder. That in itself may prove a little off-putting for people who aren’t overly enthusiastic about shooting in such a way and, adding to the potential irritation, is the fact that the screen is fixed in place, rather than being tilt-able, as can be witnessed on the Olympus PEN E-PL3 model.

It is possible to purchase an additional electronic viewfinder that can be attached on top of the camera in the aforementioned hotshoe, but it’s not an arrangement that’s going to appeal to everybody. However, with some playing around, mastering the touch-sensitive functions on the LCD can prove quite fruitful, although it takes practice in order to perfect shots taken in this manner, even if you’re simply using basic auto settings.

We also found that the touchscreen functionality seems a little lacking in a few areas, with access to some menu selections seemingly out of reach going down this route. In addition, there’s a whiff of compromise from the good-but-not-great 460-000-dot screen, which is obviously reflected in the asking price.

Confused by some of the technical terms? See here - Camera jargon explained

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2: Usability

While there are some areas of the E-PM2 that leave you feeling a little flummoxed, it’s the array of manual control options that really let you explore the cameras capabilities best of all. If you consider yourself part of the Olympus target market and are planning to move onwards and upwards to a camera that offers much more in the way of manual intervention, then the E-PM2 provides a relatively stress-free ride thanks to controls that are far from daunting.

In fact, take a tour of the buttons and you’ll find that there’s very little in the way of surprises and the addition of a function option on the top proves handy for calling up your own personalised functions as and when needed.

Meanwhile, the body feels nicely balanced and suits most hand-sizes. That said, if you’ve got sausage-like digits then some aspects of the compact nature of the E-PM2 might prove slightly problematical.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 back (© Olympus)

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2: Performance

In use, the E-PM2 is decidedly sprightly, starting up in rapid-fire fashion and offering zesty performance, particularly from the refreshed AF system that delivers impressive autofocus capability. If you’ve been taken by the touchscreen and prefer to head down that route, then manual focus control is surprisingly good allowing quick and easy zoom previews of your shots.

Anyone who’s a fan of smartphone technology will love this about the E-PM2, although traditionalists might prefer sticking to the button controls instead. Nevertheless, having the option to enjoy the generally rock-solid performance from either angle is great.

Elsewhere, there’s the capacity for shooting full HD video and that’s helped along nicely by the stereo microphone and further boosted by wind noise reduction. The resulting footage isn’t mind-blowing, but it’s up there with most of the other CSCs in this price bracket. Still images, however, are very impressive and should keep all but picky seasoned photography professionals happy.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2: Creativity

There are some cool features worth exploring on-board the E-PM2, all of which will help to push your photographic creativity further than perhaps your previous camera might have managed. We certainly think the Live Bulb feature deserves a thumbs-up, which proves a real asset when you’re trying to improve your long exposure skills.

Anyone into High Dynamic Range photography will also see the benefit of the HDR bracketing feature that aggregates a series of images for you to play with. Better still; one of the highpoints of the E-PM2 is spending an afternoon toying around with the collection of art filters hidden inside the menu system. They are great fun and some of the effects are pretty funky, while others, such as the Dramatic Tone option, offer an imaginative way of spicing up shots heading for use on a blog or website.

That said, there’s no Wi-Fi functionality with this camera, although there’s a workaround by enlisting the services of Eye-Fi or Toshiba Flash SD cards that can do a similar job if you need to transfer shots in a jiffy.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2: Verdict

Many people are now choosing to use their increasingly powerful smartphones to take off-the-cuff shots, but anyone who wants to be a little more serious about their photography and keep a ‘proper’ camera to hand would do well to investigate the charms of the PEN Mini E-PM2.

Granted, it’s not a stunner that anybody is going to steal, but if you want an easy-to-master performance camera with a twist then this could be the model for you. You’ll certainly notice the difference in picture-quality over your ageing point-and-shoot model.

Alternatively, it could also prove to be a handy second camera next to a DSLR. Olympus has already proven that it has the ability to pack great technology into its products, as witnessed on the acclaimed OM-D model. If you want to get the essence of that, albeit decanted into the budget pocket-sized edition that is the E-PM2 then you’ll find plenty to enjoy. Not least of which is the simplicity involved in operating it.

four star review

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2: Available now - £500 (with a 14-42mm kit lens)

Check out: 10 best DSLR cameras for beginners
See also: Fujifilm XF1 review
And: Samsung Galaxy Camera review

On Bing: Find the latest Olympus camera deals

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