Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1 digital camera review

Fantastic quality from the smallest of Olympus's Micro Four Thirds range
Photo of Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1 digital camera
£449.99

Olympus’s PEN series is the smallest of a new breed of minuscule system cameras with interchangeable lenses – similar to Micro Four-Thirds models from Panasonic and Sony. The company hopes it will be an ideal introduction for keen amateurs who want to get creative, but don’t fancy launching themsselves headfirst into the scary world of the DSLR.

The PEN Mini E-PM1 lives up to its name, measuring a petite 110x64x34mm and fitting snugly into your palm. It weighs  just 217g before you slide in the battery and SD memory card. Unlike the other cameras in Olympus’s PEN range, the E-PM1 comes in a much broader range of colours, presumably to appeal to both male and female photographers  – black, silver, white, brown, purple and a shimmering silver-rose.

Specifications
Like its bigger brothers the PEN E-P3 and E-PL3, the E-PM1 uses a Micro Four-Thirds lens, the new TruePic VI image processor and a 12.3-megapixel Live MOS sensor which is larger than the sensor used in most compact digital cameras, but not as big as that in a full DSLR. However, because of its slim dimensions, some sacrifices have had to be made with peripheral features.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1 top

Menu options
For a start, you’ll see there’s no mode dial on the top – instead, virtually all choices are made via the menu button on the back which brings up a rather fetching split screen with six possible options. The first offers six art filters (including Grainy Film and the moody Dramatic Tone), then iAuto, 24 Scene modes, Movie, Advanced (the usual PASM priority settings) and the general Setup for all other functions.

Design specifics
For some strange reason, Olympus has decided not to add a front hand grip on what is already a very smooth surface, and once you add the supplied 14-42mm kit lens you’ll need a firm hand to counteract gravity. There’s also no built-in flash but you are supplied with a tilting flash unit which attaches via the hotshoe – the down side, of course, being that you’d have to swap it out for an electronic viewfinder (EVF) every time you wanted that capability.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1

On the other hand, you do get 1080i HD video recording at 60fps with HDMI out, 35 point focus areas, maximum ISO 12,800, 5fps sequence shooting and the facility to take RAW images. The 3.0in LCD display has a slightly disappointing 460,000-pixel resolution but there’s an excellent in-display Live Guide which lets you use a slide control to vary saturation, temperature, brightness and blur for both stills and movies.

Performance
Photo quality throughout is superb, even at low light up to ISO 1600 – and the fact that you get both the lens and the external flash plus the camera for less than £500 should ensure that this PEN will be a small but mighty weapon in your photographic arsenal.

Company: Olympus

Website: http://www.olympus.co.uk/

Contact: Olympus on 01923 831 201

Positives
  • Excellent picture quality.
Negative
  • No built-in flash.

Verdict

The most petite PEN digital camera yet from Olympus with plenty of helpful guides and menus to assist the newcomer to more advanced photography, the E-PM1 nevertheless has stacks of features to appeal to the dedicated amateur who's prepared to accept a few minor practical sacrifices in return for great quality and compact size.