The Olympus E-P1 digital camera looks like a classic rangefinder model from the film era. But in fact, the camera has much in common with a modern digital SLR, including interchangeable lenses, a 12.3-megapixel image sensor, and even support for Raw and 720p video recording. As a bonus, it comes neatly packaged in a body closer to the size of a compact point-and-shoot.

I recently spent some time testing out the E-P1--which will ship in July. Here's a first look.

So just how small is the E-P1? If you placed an iPhone over the back of the camera, it'd cover everything but the top aluminum plate where the shutter release and hot shoe sit. And even with the 14-42mm kit lens attached, the depth is a mere 7.5cm.


The camera's small stature is made possible by the Micro Four Thirds standard. This means that the E-P1 uses the same sensor size as a regular four thirds SLR camera, but leaves out or miniaturizes other components. The traditional finder and mirror box are gone, for example. That means there's no optical viewfinder built into the camera.

Instead, you compose shots on the three-inch LCD screen. By doing this, Olympus reduced the area needed for the back lens flange by half. The lens mount itself is 6mm smaller in diameter than the standard four thirds mount. The bottom line: if you're willing to give up the built-in optical viewfinder, you get in return DSLR capabilities in a smaller package.

Olympus also beefed up the electronics. With the new TruePic V image processor, low light performance is improved over previous generation Olympus DSLRs, as well as colour fidelity. Right away I noticed that the picture quality more closely resembled what I see with my eyes, in part because of the camera's Shadow Adjustment Technology that opens up dark areas in the scene.

Most keen-eyed photographers should be happy with the results up to ISO 1600. ISO 3200 and 6400 should be reserved for situations where getting the picture is more important than its level of noise.

The biggest complaint I hear about compact cameras is their long shutter lag and overall sluggish behavior. When you turn on the E-P1, it's ready to shoot in about a second. Focusing is fast using its 11 focusing points, and shutter lag is minimal. Burst mode is 3 fps. In other words, it feels like DSLR when you press the shutter button.