By Gavin Stoker | on October 05, 2009
Price When Reviewed: £520 . £610
Pros: Rock-solid build; image quality on a par with SLR cameras; handy size means it can be used like a glorified snapshot model.
Cons: No optical viewfinder or flash provided; plus the same outlay would buy an entry-level entry SLR and a couple of lenses – albeit one without HD video.
This camera is reviewed as part of our group test of Digital SLR HD Video Cameras
Olympus doesn’t currently make a digital SLR – in the conventional sense – with HD video capability. What it does offer, like Panasonic with its GH1, is a device that’s technically classified as an ‘interchangeable lens camera’.
This is a camera where the internal mirror mechanism has been junked to allow the lens and sensor to move closer together. Thus, in theory, smaller optics can be used to achieve similar results to rival digital SLRs based on 35mm film conventions.
Olympus’ innovative Micro Four Thirds system baby is currently the lightest, most compact solution – even ranged against the GH1 – for those looking to shoot Full HD footage with the quality expected from a regular digital SLR.
While it’s expensive compared to a compact, in its present company the Pen EP-1 the most affordable of the bunch. It offers full 1,280-x-720 HD video capture – with the advantage of stereo sound.
HD video is smooth and sharp. As well as shooting in standard 4:3 digital image ratio, users can switch to shooting in 16:9 widescreen aspect, 6:6 – to ape a medium-format camera – or 3:2, equivalent to 35mm film.
So, what other edge does the E-P1 have over its rivals? There’s the brilliantly retro 1960s styling, and six art filter modes that can be as easily applied to HD video as stills photography – although Digital Arts readers will prefer to avoid these in favour of treating footage or stills in post. The art modes are Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale and Light, Light Tone, Grainy Film, and Pin Hole and if you’re in a hurry and after a decent effect, Grainy Film is the best of the bunch, adding artsy moodiness to footage.
The Pen E-P1 is considerably less bulky than a digital SLR, although it’s still not quite pocket-sized. As with a digital SLR, however, you can swap the lens. Without use of any filters at all, the ‘Pen’ delivers a refreshingly naturalistic interpretation of scene and subject, letting you achieve good results with minimal fuss.