Olympus E-P1 Digital Camera Review$499.99
Ease of Use
Buttons & Dials
There aren't many buttons on the E-P1, but thanks to the two well-designed Live View menus and the availability of two convenient control dials, that works out fine. The main control dial does double duty as a four way controller for direct access to key settings, which proved practical, without a lot of accidental turning. As for the ridged sub dial, it's well positioned for easy access with your thumb, clicks slightly as you turn it to help with fine adjustments, and has just enough resistance to prevent turning it accidentally.
Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes
The multiple exposure capabilities of the E-P1, which are available both while shooting and as an in-camera editing effect, are fun to use and can produce handsome results. While shooting, two consecutive shots can be combined to create a single image. You can also use a RAW file stored on the memory card as one of the two images to be combined, allowing you to keep a library of component parts available for your multiple exposure experiments. By default, each image is set to half brightness, but this can be overridden so each image is reproduced with its full brightness value. For getting a precise alignment of multiple exposure frames, shooting in Live View displays a semi-transparent view of the first frame while you line up the second. If two frames aren't enough to suit your needs, you can shoot in RAW mode and use the newly taken multiple exposure as one part of a new multiple exposure combination. Overall, though, there is more flexibility to the multiple exposure function in playback mode.
The E-P1 uses three menu systems: Live Control menu along the right and bottom edges of the Live View screen, a full-screen Super Control Panel superimposed on the Live View display and a traditional full-screen tabbed menu.
Pressing the OK button while shooting brings up the Live Control menu, a strip along the right side of the screen that displays common settings and a strip along the bottom that shows the options available for that setting. The main dial can be used for moving vertically through the menu (by spinning it or pressing up and down), the sub dial or pressing right and left on the main dial provides horizontal navigation. The available settings include white balance, drive mode, image stabilization, aspect ratio, image size, flash, ISO, metering, autofocus, face detect, and autofocus target.
With the Live Control menu displayed, pressing the Info button brings up the Super Control panel, a full-screen menu system with nearly all available shooting options available. Putting all your options on screen at once makes them easier to navigate than the Live Control menu strip, but there's a hitch: since there's no optical viewfinder, you can't leave this full-screen menu live while shooting, the way you can with an SLR or the electronic viewfinder-equipped Panasonic GH1.
The full-screen menu system is used for shooting settings not included in the Live View control schemes plus the host of infrequently changed options.
The 164-page instruction manual begins with a 24-page basic guide combining a reasonable explanation of how you set up the camera and squeeze off your first shots with mind-bogglingly dense diagrams of the Super Control panel and Live View screens that may sap newbies of the will to go on. For those hearty souls who do continue, the main manual does well with some topics, including an appropriate mix of illustrations, diagrams and dry but functional text, but leaves many important concepts very poorly explained. Art Filters, for example, are given a cursory listing on page 5, with no explanation of what any of them do, and never reappear in the manual. The gradation setting is an Olympus-only term for dynamic range adjustment, but we only learned that after calling our friends at Olympus and asking. Similar lapses crop up frequently, capped off by an index that's dangerously close to useless. Want to know about sound recording? The camera can do it, but the index doesn't include the words 'sound' or 'audio.' Want to find out what resolution settings are available? Don't look up 'resolution' or 'image size' -- it's listed under 'number of pixels.' Your best bet is to download a PDF version of the manual and use the software search function to find what you're seeking: it's available for download directly from Olympus by clicking here.