In a premature launch, Olympus on Tuesday launched its third but potentially most significant digital PEN camera. The E-PL1 has the same 12.3-megapixel sensor as the E-P1 and E-P2 but improves on the earlier Micro Four Thirds cameras through a slew of major design changes. A pop-up flash is the most notable and saves photographers from having to give up flash either on the road or when using an optical viewfinder.
Software is improved as well and totes a new Live Guide mode that lets beginners alter effects like depth of field, exposure and white balance using simple sliders instead of conventional camera terms. Capturing 720p movies is also made easier through a direct recording button.
The E-PL1 inherits the E-P2’s continuous, motion-track autofocusing system and shoots at the same ISO 100 to 3,200 as its predecessors. Extras such as a new "gentle sepia" art filter and a multiple exposure overlay accommodate it to amateurs without necessarily affecting the manual control given to veterans.
A kit version of the camera with Olympus’ existing 14-42mm (28-84mm equivalent) zoom lens will cost $600, or less than its ancestors, when it ships in March. It should be joined in May and June by two new optional lenses. The earliest, a 9-18mm (18-36mm) f4.0-5.6 lens will give Micro Four Thirds one of its first real extra wide-angle lenses while remaining less than 2 inches long. It will be followed by a 14-150mm (28-300mm) f4.0-5.6 lens pitched as a general-purpose upgrade for those who may need telephoto range. These will cost $700 and $600 respectively.