The first round of interchangeable-lens cameras offered a lot to appeal to enthusiasts, but at prices upward of $800, not quite a no-brainer for point-and-shooters in search of an upgrade. The bigger sensors in these models can generally deliver better photo quality at somewhat higher ISO sensitivities than the smaller snapshot models and they support video capture, but the alternative has been the moderately larger dSLRs with action-friendly optical viewfinders and kit prices starting at a significantly lower $600. Even the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1, which delivers the right set of performance and features for these folks in a compact, attractive design, comes in at an ouch-worthy $900 or so. Olympus' sleek E-P1 and E-P2 have attracted a lot of attention, but without a built-in flash they're simply not the right camera for snapshooters, especially at their relatively high prices. So Olympus is trying again to lure this lucrative audience to its Micro Four Thirds camp, this time with the more consumer-friendly designed and priced E-PL1.
At $600 for a kit with the 14-42mm (28-84mm equivalent) lens, a boxier but not unattractive aluminum body that's definitely smaller than a dSLR and this time with a pop-up flash, this latest model might just be a contender. (Unfortunately, I only had a preproduction model to play around with, so I can't address key aspects like performance and image quality.)
If you're one of the crowd attracted by the low price, though, keep in mind that even though both Olympus and Panasonic make compatible lenses for the system, because it's much newer there are still a lot fewer choices in Micro Four Thirds lenses than for dSLRs, and they tend to be more expensive than their SLR-compatible counterparts. For example, Olympus' 14-42mm lens lists for $299, while both Canon and Nikon's staple dSLR 18-55mm lenses run $199. The Micro Four Thirds lenses and bodies are more compact, though, and people are historically willing to pay more for less bulk.
While the elder E-P models mimic a traditional film design, the E-PL1 takes its design cues from digital cameras like the Canon PowerShot G series and Panasonic Lumix LX models. It will come in blue, champagne gold and silver and black, and the black and silver model still has a somewhat retro look. The plastic and aluminum body doesn't feel quite as tanklike as the E-P models, but it feels sturdy, with a relatively large, comfortable grip. Still, I found it just a tad slipperier to hold than I'd like, especially with winter-dry hands.
Some basic specs compared to its linemates:… Read more