Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 £500

19th Sep 2012 | 11:49

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2

Small but mighty

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Like:

OM-D sensor; Touchscreen; Lots of art filters;

Dislike:

No aperture/shutter speed dial; Fixed screen;

Introduction

Olympus launched both the new PEN Mini E-PM2 and the PEN Lite E-PL5 at Photokina 2012. Both share a lot of similarities, most notably the same 16.1 million pixel sensor and TruePic VI processor that have been taken from the highly acclaimed Olympus OM-D M5.

The two new cameras replace those at the bottom and middle of the Olympus PEN lineup, with no replacement for the higher Olympus PEN E-P3 just yet.

Since the cameras have the same sensor as the Olympus OM-D, image quality should be the same, but with the advantage of much smaller bodies, especially with the Olympus PEN Mini, or Olympus PEN E-PM2.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

The Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 is one of the smallest compact system cameras (CSCs) currently on the market, having fewer dials and direct access buttons than the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5.

It also doesn't have a tilting screen, but unlike its predecessor, it is touch-sensitive, and capacitive. This sensitivity doesn't extend to an on-screen menu in semi-automatic and manual modes as it does on the Olympus OM-D, but it can be used to set the autofocus point or trigger the shutter release.

When using the camera in fully automatic mode, the touchscreen can be used to access the Live Guide menu.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

Unlike the Olympus OM-D, neither this nor the Olympus PEN E-PL3 have an electronic viewfinder, but there is a port for connecting an optional extra EVF should you find you need one.

Both Olympus and Panasonic claim that their cameras have the fastest autofocusing speeds in the world. Speeds of 0.1 seconds have been quoted for the new PENs.

Anyone who has used an Olympus CSC before will know of the company's love for digital art filters. The new PENs contain the widest selection yet, with 12. There are several here that weren't found on its predecessor, including Cross Process and Key Line, along with others that have been around for longer, such as Pop Colour. Art filters can be used on both stills photographs and when shooting HD video.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

Olympus, along with Panasonic, uses the Micro Four Thirds format for its compact system cameras. This uses sensors that are smaller than the APS-C devices currently found on the Canon EOS M, Sony NEX-5R, Samsung NX1000, Fuji X-E1 and other CSCs.

Although there are downsides to using a smaller sensor, it does mean that these cameras, and their compatible lenses, tend to be a bit more compact.

Because the Micro Four Thirds format has been around since 2008, it currently has the biggest range of proprietary optics. And, since Panasonic shares the format, lenses from both companies - and third parties such as Sigma - are compatible with PEN cameras.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

Despite its smaller size, Olympus claims that the sensor technology inside its cameras is class leading and capable of taking on those with larger devices. We'll find out if that's true in our labs tests.

Other interesting specifications of the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 include sensitivity capability up to ISO 25,600, Full HD video recording and 8fps shooting.

The Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 is priced at around £499/AU$579.99/US$599.99 with a 14-42mm kit lens.

Build quality and handling

The PEN Mini is the smallest camera in the range, and it does this by not having too many dials and buttons for direct access to key settings. It's not really aimed at advanced photographers, who might find it a little frustrating to use, especially when compared with those higher up in the range.

As there's no mode dial, to navigate through the various modes the cameras offers, this is done via the screen after a press of the Menu button. Here you can choose between fully automatic, semi-automatic and fully manual modes, along with art and scene modes.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

Although it's small, a grip on the front of the camera, combined with a thumb rest on the back of the camera makes it feel secure in the hand, even when shooting with one hand.

In terms of usability, the addition of a touchscreen on the PEN mini is a big improvement, making it easy to alter the focus point, or even release the shutter for ultra quick shots. As the touchscreen is capacitive, it's very responsive to light touches, making it great to use.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

Although it's not tilting, it boasts a good angle of view from a variety of positions, meaning you can still just about use it in some awkward positions reasonably well.

The size of the autofocus point can be altered to make it easier to select a small target, this can be done by moving a slider up and down on the touchscreen after selecting an autofocus point.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

Like the E-PL5, the settings menu screens can't be navigated via the touchscreen, but the options that appear in Live Guide or art filter mode can be. It's a shame there's no on-screen quick menu as on the OM-D as this would have made navigating this camera, with its lack of buttons, quicker.

One slight annoyance is the mechanism for altering aperture or shutter speed, which requires first a press of the up button on the directional keypad, and then further presses up or down to make changes. This can get a little frustrating if you find yourself often wanting to alter the exposure.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

There's no flash included on the body of the camera, but one that plugs into the hotshoe comes in the box as standard. This is another aspect that helps keep the overall size of the camera down.

Like the Olympus OM-D, the Olympus PEN E-PM2 has the innovative new "Live Time" feature, which is used when shooting long exposures. To access it, you need to switch the camera to fully manual, and then set the shutter speed to the Live Time option.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

Then, when you press the shutter release, the screen displays the image building up, meaning you can stop it when the exposure is about right, rather than having to guess.

Unlike some of the other cameras currently on the market, the Olympus PEN Mini doesn't have inbuilt Wi-Fi, but it is compatible with Toshiba's FlashAir Wireless LAN cards.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

A free downloadable app is available for iOS and Android smartphones and tablets that enables you to transfer images from the camera to your device.

You can't control the camera via the app, which is disappointing, but perhaps this is something Olympus can work on in the future.

Performance

Because the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 has the same sensor and processor as the fantastic Olympus OM-D, we had pretty high hopes for it, and happily we weren't disappointed.

Images straight from the camera are great, with lots of detail, vibrant, punchy colours and low image noise.

There's a good range of shooting modes to help you get the most from that excellent sensor. For instance, you could choose to shoot in Vibrant mode if you want to emphasise colours and contrast, or in Neutral for when you want more accurate colours - such as when shooting portraits for instance.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

Autofocusing speeds are one of the key selling points of cameras such as this, and as already mentioned, Olympus and Panasonic have ongoing debates about who has the fastest.

The difference is probably microseconds, and needless to say the Olympus PEN E-PM2 does indeed deliver extremely quick speeds, especially in good light.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

We've found in previous cameras that the sensor inside the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 is capable of delivering some incredibly detailed shots, and so the same is true here.

JPEGs straight from the camera are very sharp, and you can apply your own sharpening to raw format files if you choose to capture them.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

In the majority of instances, the automatic white balance does a good job of accurately reproducing colours. It struggles ever so slightly when indoors, under artificial lights, but changing the white balance setting is relatively quick to do via the quick menu.

Olympus pointed out the improvements it had made to sensor technology when the Olympus OM-D was first launched, which it claimed boosted the low light performance of the camera. Since this is the same sensor, we can report very similar low light capabilities.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

Image quality does start to drop off from about ISO 1600, but some images shot all the way up to ISO 10,000 and beyond are certainly good enough to be used online or when printing small sizes.

Noise control at ISO 1600 - the probable top end of the most commonly used range - is more than acceptable.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

Fans of digital art filters will find plenty to like on this camera. When Olympus launched the original PEN Mini E-PM1, it was light on some of the filters found on other cameras in the range.

Now, however, the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 has all of those on the OM-D, with the addition of a new Watercolour filter. This brings the total up to 12, with many of them being customisable or having different options to expand that number further.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

Of course, digital filters are usually a matter of taste, but there are some here that are particularly good, such as Cross Process, Pinhole and Dramatic Tone. The new black and white version of Dramatic Tone is our favourite.

One of the best features about the PEN and OM-D series is that these digital filters can be deployed when shooting in raw format, meaning you retain a "clean" version of the image should you change your mind later down the line.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

It's also great that you can still retain full manual/semi-automatic control when using art filters, something that isn't true of Panasonic cameras.

The new touchscreen is a good performer in all but the brightest of sunlight, avoiding glare and reflections, making the need for a separate electronic viewfinder fairly minimal.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Olympus PEN E-PM2 review, we've shot our resolution chart.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 200 the Olympus PEN E-PM2 is capable of resolving up to around 24 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

JPEG

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

ISO 200, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

ISO 400, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

ISO 800, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

ISO 1600, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

ISO 3200, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

ISO 6400, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

ISO 12800, score: 12 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

ISO 25600, score: 10 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

ISO 200, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

ISO 400, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

ISO 800, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

ISO 1600, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

ISO 3200, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

ISO 6400, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

ISO 12800, score: 14 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

ISO 25600, score: 10 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

Here we compare the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 with the Sony NEX-F3, Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1, Nikon 1 J2 and Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

These results show that the Olympus PEN E-PM2's JPEG files have a relatively low signal to noise ratio compared to those from the Sony NEX-F3, Olympus E-PM1, Nikon 1 J2 and Olympus E-PL5, falling below the Sony and E-PM1 at lower sensitivities, but overtaking the E-PM1 at ISO 3200 and keeping up with the E-PL5 at the higher end of the settings.

Raw signal to noise ratio

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

The signal to noise ratios of the TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 are very similar to those from the Olympus PEN E-PL5, falling below the Sony NEX-F3 but beating the Nikon 1 J2 throughout the sensitivity range. The E-PM2 sits below the Olympus PEN E-PM1 at the lower ISOs, before taking the lead after ISO 1600.

JPEG dynamic range

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

JPEG results for dynamic range again show the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 scoring very similar figures to the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5. The two cameras sit above the Sony NEX-F3 and Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1 at every sensitivity setting, and above the Nikon 1 J2 at the lower ISOs, before the Nikon creeps up to its level at ISO 3200 and above.

Raw dynamic range

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

As we see from this chart, TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 once again produce similar dynamic range to the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5, beating results from the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1 and Nikon 1 J2 at every sensitivity setting. The E-PM2 beats the Sony NEX-F3 at lower sensitivities, but the Sony joins its level at ISO 1600 and above.

Sample images

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Thanks to its large sensor, the Olympus E-PM2 is capable of producing attractive shallow depth of field effects.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

The standard 14-42mm kit lens converts to an equivalent of 28-84mm in 35mm terms. It provides a fairly wide angle for capturing landscapes, although wider optics are available.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Colours from the E-PM2 are bright and vibrant, without being overly saturated.

Art filters

Olympus is well known for its love of art filters, and the E-PM2 (along with the E-PL5) has the widest range currently available. You can choose to use art bracketing to shoot more than one filter at a time, too.

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Pop Art

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

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Soft Focus

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

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Pale and Light Colour

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

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Light Tone

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

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Grainy Film

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

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Pin Hole

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

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Diorama

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

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Cross Process

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

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Gentle Sepia

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

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Key Line

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

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Watercolour

Sensitivity and noise images

JPEG

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

Full ISO 200 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 200

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 400

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 800

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 1600

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 3200

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 6400

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 12800

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 25600

Raw

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 200

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 400

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 800

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 1600

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 3200

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 6400

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 12800

Olympus PEN E-PM2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 25600

Verdict

The announcement of the new PEN cameras was particularly exciting because they used the same fantastic technology we'd already evaluated and loved in the OM-D. To see that make its way into a smaller, much cheaper camera is really special.

Although the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 isn't really aimed at enthusiasts, there's still a lot here to love for those looking for a more advanced camera - such as full manual modes, raw shooting and the innovative Live Time feature.

For beginners, or those looking to buy their first compact system camera, this is an ideal candidate, because you get a lot of bang for your buck.

You can choose to shoot in fully automatic, and learn with the camera as you expand your expertise. Or you may never move on from fully auto mode, and that would be just fine too.

We liked

It's great that this camera now includes a touchscreen, making changing the autofocus point particularly easy. It would have been nice to see this touchscreen capability expanded further into the menu system, but it's a great advantage over the camera's predecessor.

We disliked

Since there are so few buttons and direct access dials, making changes frequently can be a bit of a pain. It would have been great if Olympus could have found room for a small scroll dial for changing aperture/shutter speed at least.

Final verdict

Olympus has once again produced an excellent camera in the shape of the PEN Mini. We can see this being a very popular proposition for first time CSC buyers, or perhaps those looking for a small camera that can be chucked into a bag for the weekend.

That fantastic sensor coupled with some really great features makes this a very desirable camera. The fact that there are now so many compatible lenses for the Micro Four Thirds system is the icing on the cake.

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