Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

The Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 is a capable little interchangeable-lens camera with a Live Guide mode for photographic novices, but for just $100 more you can get a better PEN.
Photo of Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2

This year’s entry-level Micro Four Thirds camera, the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 ($599.99 direct with lens), comes in at a higher price than its predecssor, the $500 PEN E-PM1 . For the extra money you get a vastly improved 16-megapixel image sensor and processor—the same one found in the top-end OM-D E-M5 —and a body with a modest handgrip, a touch-enabled display, and a few extra buttons. The $600 price point makes the new Mini a tougher sell than its predecessor—for only $100 more you can buy the PEN Lite E-PL5, which adds a tilting rear display and a few other improvements. Neither camera beats our current Editors’ Choice entry-level compact interchangeable lens camera, the $600 Sony Alpha NEX-F3 —it does better at the highest ISO settings, features an articulating rear LCD, and also supports an optional EVF. 

Design and Features
The E-PM2 is quite similar in size and design to the E-PL5. The Mini measures 2.5 by 4.3 by 1.3 inches and weighs 9.5 ounces. Despite its billing, the Mini is comparable in size to most other compact interchangeable lens cameras. The Olympus E-PL5 is deeper at 2.5 by 4.4 by 1.5 inches and a bit heavier at 11.4 ounces due to its tilting rear display, and the Sony NEX-F3 is only slightly larger at 2.6 by 4.6 by 1.7 inches.

Olympus bundles the Mini with its standard 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 (28-84mm equivalent) zoom lens. It’s a collapsible design, which helps to minimize the camera’s depth when the lens is mounted and turned off. The 3x zoom range is standard for an interchangeable lens kit zoom, but those looking for the best in build quality should look elsewhere—a plastic barrel and lens mount save some weight, but aren’t as sturdy as higher-end lenses that are fabricated from metal. Sony bundles its NEX series with a sturdy 18-55mm lens, but it isn’t as good as the Olympus 14-42mm from an optical standpoint.

The rear LCD is fixed, a departure from the tilting displays found in the Sony NEX-F3 and Olympus E-PL5. Its 460k-dot resolution is about half as sharp as the LCD on the NEX-F3, and and the difference is noticeable when looking at them side-by-side. The display does support touch input—you can use it to select a focus point, fire the shutter, or navigate through the camera’s Live Guide. This mode explains photographic concepts like exposure, aperture, and shutter speed in layman’s terms. Instead of adjusting the exposure, you can modify a scene’s brightness, and the aperture setting is controlled by the Background Blur setting.

The main menu is also navigable via touch. It’s a colorful screen that gives you access to in-camera art filters, iAuto mode, scene modes, Movie mode, Setup, and standard P, A, S, and M modes. More than the other cameras in the PEN series, this model is aimed at entry-level users, but once you enter Aperture priority, Shutter priority, or Manual mode the controls to adjust settings are identical to the mid-range E-PL5. There are physical buttons that adjust Exposure Compensation, Drive Mode, the focus area, and flash settings (there’s no built-in flash, but an external one is included).

Adjusting aperture or shutter speed in A or S mode isn’t the most intuitive process. First, you’ll have to tap the Exposure Compensation button, and only then will you be able to use the up or down directions on the rear control dial to change the f-stop or shutter speed—EV Compensation is controlled via spinning the wheel or tapping left or right. In either of these modes the initial button press shouldn’t be necessary—the spinning rear control dial should be enough to adjust it.

If you’re not a Raw shooter—and this camera is not really designed for photographers who demand control over every step of the shooting process—you may find yourself using the in-camera art filters, which apply effects to your photos. Effects include a grainy black and white look, a miniature mode, soft focus, and a cross process mode that creates some very funky, hyper-realistic colors. All effects are shown in real time on the LCD, and you can opt to shoot in Raw and JPG mode simultaneously to record a processed and unprocessed image simultaneously.

There’s no Wi-Fi here—if that’s a must-have feature, consider the Samsung NX1000 , it has the best Wi-Fi implementation we’ve seen in a mirrorless camera. Olympus recommends the use of a Toshiba FlashAir memory card, which is similar to an Eye-Fi card, to add wireless connectivity. At this time, the card isn’t the easiest to find at retail, and is rather expensive at around $90 for the 8GB version. Olympus is offering a card to PEN purchasers via mail-in redemption, but that offer expires at the end of the year.

Performance and Conclusions

The E-PM2 is a very speedy performer. It starts and shoots in about 1.6 seconds, notches a minimal 0.1-second shutter lag, and can fire off shots at just under 8 frames per second. It keeps up that pace for about 18 JPG photos or 15 Raw+JPG captures, both impressive figures for a camera at this price point. You aren’t limited to shooting bursts of shots—the camera keeps shooting after the first 18 photos are recorded, just at a slower pace, and if you’re shooting in JPG it only takes about 6.6 seconds to clear the buffer to a memory card. Raw shooters will have to wait a bit longer: 16.5 seconds. The camera is a little slower to start than the previous-generation E-PM1, which starts and shoots in 1.2 seconds—but its shot-to-shot time is slower at 4 frames per second and the shutter lag is longer at 0.2-second.

The included 14-42mm kit lens is the same design that Olympus has bundled with other PEN cameras, which is not a bad thing. It’s compact and sharp, and exhibits very little distortion. At 14mm f/3.5 it resolves 2,233 lines per picture height in Imatest, dips a little to 2,047 lines at 25mm, and softens slightly more to 1,880 lines at 42mm—but it never drops below the 1,800 lines required for a sharp image. The lens is a better performer than the 18-55mm bundled with the Sony NEX-F3—it suffers from noticeable barrel distortion at its widest setting, which makes straight lines appear curved, and it is a bit below the 1,800-line mark throughout its zoom range.

The E-PM2 keeps image noise below the 1.5 percent threshold through ISO 3200, which is impressive. Detail suffers just a bit at this setting; at ISO 1600 photos are excellent in terms of both noise control and detail. The E-PM2 is about one stop better than the previous generation PEN E-PL3 , which recorded 1.5 percent at ISO 1600, but not quite as good as the NEX-F3—it keeps noise below the threshold through ISO 6400.

Video is recorded in QuickTime format at 1080p30 or 720p30 quality. Footage looks great, with sharp details and crisp colors. As the lens is a manual zoom, zooming in and out is bound to add some noise to the soundtrack—but there is an external microphone accessory available that slides into the PEN’s hot shoe and transmits audio data via the accessory port. There’s a proprietary USB port to connect to a PC and a micro HDMI port for HDTV connectivity. Bucking the recent trend, the PEN ships with a dedicated battery charger—so it’s possible to charge a spare battery while you’re shooting with the camera without having to buy an additional charger accessory. Standard SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards are supported.

If you’re looking to move up to an interchangeable lens camera from a point-and-shoot and aren’t comfortable with photographic terms, the E-PM2′s Live Guide will make the transition easier. But for $100 more you can step up to the E-PL5, which rivals the E-PM2′s performance but adds a tilting rear LCD, a mode dial, and a removable handgrip—and even though it doesn’t have the Live Guide, it’s still easy to use. If you’re interested in a similar camera with integrated Wi-Fi, Samsung’s NX1000 is $100 more expensive, but is worth checking out. The Sony Alpha NEX-F3 remains our Editors’ Choice, as it’s one of the few models that features a built-in flash, supports an optional EVF, and performs admirably at ISO settings as high as 6400.

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Specifications
Dimensions 2.5 x 4.3 x 1.3 inches
Interface Ports Proprietary, micro HDMI
Megapixels 16 MP
Battery Type Supported Lithium Ion
Recycle time 0.13 seconds
LCD dots 460000
LCD size 3 inches
Lines Per Picture Height 2233
Touch Screen Yes
Media Format Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity
Maximum ISO 25600
Type Compact Interchangeable Lens
Sensor Type CMOS
Optical Zoom 3 x
Boot time 1.6 seconds
35-mm Equivalent (Wide) 28 mm
Weight 9.5 oz
Lens Mount Micro Four Thirds
Video Resolution 720p, 1080p
Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated) 0 feet
LCD Aspect Ratio 4
Image Stabilization In-Body
35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto) 84 mm
Shutter Lag 0.1 seconds
Sensor Size 18 × 13.5 (4/3") mm
GPS No
Viewfinder Type None

Verdict
The Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 is a capable little interchangeable-lens camera with a Live Guide mode for photographic novices, but for just $100 more you can get a better PEN.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
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