Michael Rammell

Olympus Pen Mini E-PM2 First Impressions Review

Michael RammellComment

Earlier this year I took an OM-D E-M5 on loan from OlympusUK for review. I loved that camera, so much so that before it went back to Olympus I decided to purchase my own. There are lots of things to love about it, but it's not all roses. You can check out that review right here.

Now OlympusUK have sent me an E-PM2 or, PEN Mini if you prefer.

In much the same way that the E-M1 and E-M5 are members of the OM-D range, the E-PM2 is part of the PEN Mini range. To be clear though; the E-PM2 sits firmly at the bottom of Olympus' mirrorless offerings: imagine their camera range in this order (1 being high end, 4 being low-end):

  1. OM-D Range:  (Olympus OMD)         - Includes Olympus OM-D E-M10, E-M5 and E-M1
  2. E-P Range:      (Olympus PEN)          - Includes Olympus PEN E-P5
  3. E-PL Range:    (Olympus PEN Lite)   - E-PL5 & E-PL3
  4. E-PM Range:   (Olympus Pen Mini)   - E-PM2

The 'tidy' Olympus E-PM2 with the Olympus M.Zuiko f/1.8 17mm

In short, The Pen Mini is a Mirrorless camera, in my opinion lacking (intentional use of the word) a built-in or included EVF or Viewfinder. Of course, you can purchase an EVF for the hot shoe for just a little bit more money, but that adds bulk and size to the E-PM2 and if truth be told: the tiny, compact size of this camera is it's selling point. I'll come to that in just a moment. The E-PM2 is also incredibly priced as well. Again, I talk about this later on in this review

Who is this review for?

Before I begin talking about the E-PM2 in more detail I want to first set out by saying that this review is most likely for an existing Micro Four Thirds shooter looking for a small & light backup camera that will drop into their bag and take their existing Micro Four Thirds lenses. Either that or you could just be looking at the E-PM2 as one of your first decent interchangeable lens cameras.

This review however is not for those who may already own a DSLR and are perhaps looking to take their first steps into the world of mirrorless cameras - if that sounds more like you I would skip this camera and go directly to an offering from the OM-D range instead for the addition of the Viewfinder and controls (which, we'll come to shortly)

I would say that the Olympus PEN Mini (E-PM2) is a camera that will compliment your existing Micro Four Thirds gear and will slot away nicely in your pocket or in a small compartment of a bag. It'll be one of those cameras that gives you peace of mind to know that should your existing Micro Four Thirds camera be lost, broken, stolen etc - that you have a perfectly usable replacement stowed away for such a day. I for one don't like the idea of heading into London with just one camera: It's a train ride away and I'd hate to smash the screen or damage something and not be able to use my camera and then have to head home.

Something like the E-PM2 would negate that risk. So, that out of the way: lets talk about the camera

The Specs

People always want to know about the headline specs with cameras, so I'll share them for you here. It is worth knowing though that sometimes it's not always about the on-paper details, but more about how well those features and specs are implements. What I would say is that in true Olympus style it's all pretty solid and very well put together: 

  • 16MP CMOS Four Thirds Sensor borrowed from the Olympus OM-D E-M5
  • In-Body stabilisation
  • ISO 200 - 25,600
  • 3 Inch, Touch-Screen Display (non tilting)
  • Up to 8 Frames Per Second
  • RAW+JPeg Shooting Mode
  • 35 Focus Points

The Build Quality

Plastic Fantastic. Yes it's mostly plastic, but the parts that matter are all metal: the Lens mount is metal and so it the standard hot shoe too: these are the parts of the camera that will get most of the heavy use in terms of fitting, changing and wear & tear. Well done to Olympus for taking care of the import parts at least. I would have liked to have had the entire body be aluminium, but of course that would effect price too and likely move this camera out of the price point it is competing at. It could have also made the camera heavier.

The rest of the camera, despite being plastic, does indeed feel very solid, much like I pointed out with it's older, more mature and mostly metal cousin the OM-D E-M5.

Olympus E-PM2 "Pen Mini" - That pesky video record button just underneath the shutter button.

The lightweight yet-durable and tough plastics are used to contribute towards a lighter camera. The camera is a solid mass indeed and I feel no flex or movement in the camera. It has been truly well built in typical Olympus fashion.

The buttons themselves are a decent sized and wisely placed, with the exception of the Video button, which I found to be immediately underneath my right thumb when holding the camera up to shoot. I found that there was a lot of space along that part of the camera and the video mode button was in a place where it could be accidentally pressed. For me, I have very little issue with how it's built. It' a solid piece of equipment that is markedly better than the alternatives in this market and price range. The build quality and choice of materials from Olympus are important as it is those things that keep it as light as it is and at the cost it retails for.

Ergonomics - How does the E-PM2 feel in your hands?

I said when I reviewed the E-M5 that your view on how big or small the camera is will of course depend on you and your own hands. Everyone is different. Of course, some people will adore and love the size whilst others may prefer a slightly larger body that they can really wrap their hands around.

I personally think that the E-PM2 is a great size: that being tiny. It's not the camera I would take out with me as my first choice street photography camera or portrait camera, but that's only because I've come from the world of DSLR's with battery grips and am subsequently now using the E-M5 with a grip and will shortly be running with an E-M1 with a grip. These cameras are more comfortable to use because they are that little bit bigger to use. The E-PM2 has a small, but very useful and wisely positioned grips on the front and back of the body, making it feel less like an iPhone in shape. The small grip on the back allows you to comfortably rest your thumb whist the grip at the front sits underneath the fingers you've wrapped around the front of the camera and aid in grip. They do add a tiny amound of bulk, of course, but having said that, The E-PM2 is still unapologetically and intentionally small and that's the way it's supposed to be - that's it's selling point! This is clear by just looking at the 14-42mm lens that is included if you by the kit: The lens itself packs away as a smaller, shorter piece of glass but extends out and locks once you turn the zoom ring to activate the lens. The E-PM2 is all about it's small, compact size. You can keep the E-PM2 pocket sized by using the 17mm f/2.8 pancake or the minimal 9mm f/8.0 body cap lens.

The size, although maybe too small for some, is how it should be for this sort of offering if you ask me. I would rather carry around an E-M1 and an E-PM2, than two E-M1's! It lovely, little and light. But don't be fooled! It's capable too.

The Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)

There is no EVF included with the EPL2, however you can of course jump online and pick up the Olympus VF-4 for around £200. Again, this would clearly add bulk to the compact E-PM2, so it would be a matter of preference, particularly if you're planning on a purchase of something like this as a backup camera.

If however you are looking at the E-PM2 as your primary camera, I would seriously consider the purchase of the VF-4. Again, having used DSLR's for a long time and being very used to raising my cameras up to my eye to frame a photograph, I still find myself doing the same with the E-PM2, even though i know it has no EVF fitted! I then have to pull the camera away to arms length to compose my photograph on the back of the screen.

If you're more used to shooting with an iPhone or a Compact System Camera that does not feature a Viewfinder, perhaps forgo the purchase of the EVF for now but do head along to a camera store to try one out to see if you prefer it.

Naturally, holding the camera up to your face brings it in closer to your center of gravity and creates a more stable platform from which to make a photograph, compared to holding the camera out at arms length. Doing that will introduce camera shake and make for blurry photographs. I'll talk about the Stabilisation in just a moment on this camera.

The other advantage of an EVF of course is that it will help in bright and sunny conditions. Which brings us to the next point...

Touch Screen & Display

The touch screen featured on the E-PM2 is nothing short of fantastic, as it is on the E-M5. In fact, It's the same as far as I can tell. It could technically be different, but it's the same as far as my own eyes can see.

It maintains the 3", touch display. It's capacitive, meaning it responds in the same way an iPhone does, although it does not feature pinch to zoom. The screen can be used to swipe left and right through photographs you've taken, which is a nice feature.

Of course, without an EVF included the screen is your means of framing a photograph so it has to be good. I found the screen to perform well in bright sunlight on a day out in London.

The screen also repsonded very promptly too, which always helps. There is nothing worse than pressing the screen only to have to wait for a few seconds for a device or camera to catch up with what you've just asked it to do.

One thing Olympus have put in place, i believe with all of their touch-screen cameras is the ability to actually use the touch screen as a shutter button at the same time as selecting your focus point. On the E-PM2 this is particularly helpful, as of course the physical controls are limited, meaning the more you can do with the screen and without having to go into menus, the better

Olympus E-PM2  - The rear of the camera showing the 3 inch touch screen display and controls

One issue I have found though is that because the screen on the E-PM2 is used for everything, it's always on. So, it does drain the battery a little quicker than I'd like. With a DSLR of course you'll find that you can shoot over 1,000 shots without having to worry about the battery life. I found with the E-PM2 I was shooting more like 300 photographs before I started to see the dreaded 'Battery low' indicator. Have no fear though, spare batteries are available from Amazon and Ebay for favourable prices.

Focusing Speed & Accuracy

Again, the E-PM2 feels much like the E-M5 in this respect and the speed and accuracy have become something that Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras are renowned for. The E-PM2 does not fail on this either.

I found focussing to be ultra accurate. The camera seems to have a little bit trouble focussing in low light and so the contrast lamp (The small orange light) kicks in to try and help the camera find focus. This does work, but if you're bothered about the focus assist light, this may annoy you.

The E-PM2, again, like the E-M5 only has Contrast Focus Detect, meaning it favours the area in the scene where there is contrast and this is how it selects which focus point to use. What I would say about the Contrast Detect though is that historically, even with DSLR's using only Contrast auto detect - it was never a success: Accuracy was never quite as good as it should have been. However, Olympus have gone a long way to really pushing the Contrast detect technology to it's limit. Couple that with face detection auto focus and you're onto a winner. The focus accuracy is good and not something that should put anyone off.

Again, the auto focus accuracy is also helped by use of the touch screen. Just tap on the area of the screen you want the camera to focus on and it will snap in very quickly and then even take a photograph for you too!

With regards to focus tracking - it's average, at best. It does have continuous auto focus settings, meaning if you move, or of your subject moves you can continue to half-press the shutter and allow the camera to try and maintain it's focus on the subject. We should remember though that this is a compact interchangeable lens camera. It certainly isn't a feature in most / many pocket point and shoots, so having continuous auto focus in a body of this size and price should be seen as a bonus anyway, if you ask me. If continuous auto focus is something you're looking for, then you need to take a few steps up the range to get it from a camera that has phase detect as well.

With a good lens though, especially a solid prime lens such as the Olympus 17mm f/1.8 or the Olympus 45mm f1.8 - auto focus is snappy and the results are very pleasing.

Typically, Olympus implement things in a solid fashion and make sure things work well, even if it isn't ground breaking or new technology; Olympus put their magic to work and make these things really work well - the focussing speed and accuracy really is proof of this.

As I mentioned in my review of the E-M5 I tend to only use Single Focus Point and select where I want the camera to focus, but I have found most recently that using a zone of 9 auto focus points to cover a square inside the viewfinder (or, on screen) that 9.8 times out of 10 it will in fact choose the correct auto focus. I took the E-PM2 to Bournemouth for a family day out and found that it did a great job of finding the subject using this method. Of course, with the touch screen you may be best off just tapping on the screen where you want the camera to focus as it will then instantly make a photograph too. This method works particularly well for Street Photography.

Again, I must stress that with the E-PM2 the touch screen is probably the best way to go.

When it comes to using zone focussing (selecting a group of auto focus points and allowing the camera to choose from those points) I'm not convinced at all that my Canon 7D even focusses quite as accurately as E-PM2, even though the 7D is packing Phase Auto Focus as well! The 7D is a camera aimed at those looking to shoot sports and action, but only contains an APS-C. I would say that considering the E-M5 and E-PM2 are 'Only' running contrast auto detect on a MFT sensor, the difference in performance isn't as drastic as one may imagine.

Of course though, the 7D does track focus tremendously well and at this point in time I think it's safe to say (although this could chance in a blink) that the MFT format has some ways to go on getting there. Comparing the 7D to an E-PM2 is highly unfair, but I wanted to demonstrate how impressed I am with the focus accuracy of the Olympus.

Dials, Controls & Customisation

Something I sang the praises of when it came to reviewing the E-M5 was how you could change everything about the camera AND how you could change them with relative ease, making the dials and controls control whatever function you wanted.

Whilst you can adjust settings and Function buttons on the E-PM2 there really is only 1 dial, 1 shutter button and the function buttons, so there just isn't as much to be adjusted to your requirements. Menu navigation really is the order of the day with the E-PM2, so if you're shooting street photography or something in changing light conditions, you may want to opt for one of the priority settings, such as Aperture or Shutter priority. The E-PM2, whilst it does offer a full manual mode, feels clunky and a challenge to operate in full manual: It just doesn't have enough buttons or dials to dedicate to the settings you're going to need most when shooting manual: Aperture, Shutter Speed & ISO.

When you press the menu button, the first screen you're presented with is a sort of 'quick access' type menu, allowing you to delve into the deeper menus and advanced settings, or, to quickly change your shooting mode. I guess the best way of describing it is that when you press the menu button you're effectively looking at an on-screen mode dial so you can change from iAuto (Olympus' full auto mode) to Aperture Priority, Manual etc. I find that the menu is laid out logically and I was able to find everything I needed with relative ease. The most common settings are higher up the menus with some of the more obscure options a little more buried away.

In summary there is an evident lack of dials, which if included would make the camera far easier and faster to operate. If you find this a deal breaker, perhaps take a step up and have a look at the Olympus PEN E-P5. But, when you get to that range of camera you're now talking about a completely different price range.

But, as I said before - if you're looking to get involved with your first interchangeable lens camera, but aren't won over by a DSLR looking camera or find them too clunky, then this could well be the option for you. The full automatic mode is one of the best I've seen on any camera. It just works!

Image Quality

I couldn't review a camera without talking about the results it's capable of producing, of course! The E-PM2 is capable of producing amazing photographs in most light conditions. In good light it's stunning, in conditions where the light is limited, it's still excellent. When light is fading, pop the flash on and again it just continues to shoot great, sharp photographs. In low light the noise is fine, but focussing becomes an issue, as I mentioned before.

Here are some sample photographs made with the E-PM2:

The Olympus E-PM2 shoots RAW (which is the equivalent of a Digital Negative). If you are aiming to post-process your photographs in a program such as Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, you can do so with ease and really push the RAW files around quite a lot. They're very forgiving and seem to be packed full of information meaning you can punish those pixels!

Again, if you're new to photography and are considering the E-PM2 as your point and shoot you may require certain software to open the RAW files, unlike a JPG or a PNG file. You can however download RAW viewers and even a RAW Photo Editor from Olympus. The best thing about that is: it's free!

If you would like any advice or help with software please do get in touch via email: michael@rammellphotography.com

With it's 16 Megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor (the same as found in the OM-D E-M5) the results are very pleasing and even more so if you nail the exposure with Jpeg photograph. With a Jpeg, as you'll find in all good cameras, the camera itself applies some correction and sharpening to the file so the Jpegs coming straight out of the camera are excellent. So, if you're not serious to the point where you want to post-process your images: no problem, just shoot in Jpeg mode. You will be incredibly impressed by the quality of the photographs you produce.

Neil Graham said to me (after having borrowed my Olympus OM-D E-M5): "I don't know what the special sauce is that Olympus add to the pixels, but the files coming out of these cameras are excellent and very forgiving. They can take a lot of pushing and pulling in Lightroom or Photoshop. The files that come out of the E-PM2 are just as good.

For those of you less inclined to edit your photographs in some sort of post production, or for those who are disk space concious - the camera does of course have a series of JPeg size options ranging from Large, Fine & Small. Lowering the quality would allow you to fit more pictures on one memory card.

Olympus have also included 12 Art Filters as well, so if you don't have a copy of Photoshop or Lightroom - no worries you can apply filters and effects in the actual camera! These art filters include things like Black and White, Sepia, Pop Art, Soft Focus, Grainy Film and Push Process. These are similar in ways to some of the filters you're likely to find in may phone camera apps, or Instagram. If that's your thing.

High ISO Performance

One thing I should have declared at the start of this review is that when it comes to cameras I am far more interested in how a camera performs practically (In the real world) instead of lab tests. That, and I haven't got the patience to make the same photograph 10 times at different ISO's. All you need to know that the E-PM2 is good up to ISO3200, which is respectable. Of course, expose to the right a little and make use of noise reduction (for example in Lightroom) and you'll be able to get rid of some of that noise in no time.

Having said that, the noise you do get on the E-PM2, much like on the E-M5 is actually quite pleasing. With some DSLR's I've used the photographs can rapidly lose their sharpness at higher ISO's and show a lot of colour noise in the darker areas of the photograph. I've found that anything up to ISO 3200 is perfectly fine on the E-PM2.

The Price Point

You'll find the price on the E-PM2, as with most cameras will vary a lot depending on where you're buying from. The Olympus shop (through Amazon) sells the E-PM2 and 14-42 kit lens for £329.99 with free delivery. If you're looking at the Olympus as your main point and shoot then this represents fair value if you ask me. You get a lot for your money and at the end of the day the quality of the images coming out of the E-PM2 justify it's price for me. I don't see that as expensive for a half decent camera and the E-PM2 is more than half decent!

Alternatively, If you're considering the E-PM2 as a camera to drop into your bag and stay there as a backup, or if you already have an OM-D and you're looking for a backup to take your existing set of Micro Four Thirds lenses, then you could pick up the E-PM2 as a body-only deal from Park Cameras, where it sells for a bargain at £269.99 as of June 2014. Remember, in both of those prices you're getting a flash, an external battery and an external charger. Some other cameras, even in this price range, have a built in battery or worse - a battery that is charged when it's inside the camera!

The E-PM2 gives you lots of bang for your buck if you ask me!

Just for fun: E-PM2 shutter in slow motion

What is the intention with the E-PM2

It's all about size and compactness. The E-PM2, I feel, makes a few sacrifices in terms of controls and ergonomics to instead focus on being small. Because however this is both a success and intentional, it's perfectly acceptable. The EPL2 is NOT a replacement for an EM-10, E-M5 or the E-M1, but it certainly is a great companion! Note that it does NOT take the same batteries as an E-M5, meaning if you are buying this as a backup or as an ultra-convenient, yet powerful camera, that you may have to also spend some money on spare batteries too, especially considering the screen is what you'll be using whenever it is powered on to compose and check your shots and even to change most of your settings.

Would I buy one?

Yes, I would. I'm not going to for the moment though. Unlike with the E-M5 - it was not love at first sight with the E-PM2. The lack of dials made it a challenge for me to operate, because that's what I'm used to. I would say that was partially my fault as I felt inclined to use the camera on manual mode and that's not necessarily the best way to use this camera. Although it's perfectly fine using manual, it can mean if you're shooting in changing light conditions you may miss a shot whilst you change the settings using the menu.

The form factor and the fact that the resulting images are so fantastic are biggest plus points for me. The fact that you have something so small that will fit in your pocket, yet still allow you to make truly wonderful photographs is great. I'll admit I shoot a lot with my iPhone when I'm out and about; it's a capable camera, but you just don't have enough creative control with regards to Depth of Field or Shutter speed on the iPhone! So to justify carrying something dedicated to making photographs would mean the camera has to have all of those things and be in a neat and tidy package. The Olympus E-PM2 is exactly that!

My advice if you're going to buy an E-PM2 would be to pick up the kit from somewhere like Amazon or Park Cameras along with a spare battery and also a fast, sharp prime lens to go with it, for example the 17mm f/1.8. Any camera is only as good as it's glass and whilst the kit lens provided with the E-PM2 is capable, if you're a stickler for absolute quality then a lens is a worthy investment. I would also say that if like me you're exclusively a manual shooter, be prepared to give the priority modes a try (aperture & shutter), rather than persisting with fumbling around in manual. This camera is best at home when set to one of the priority modes or even full automatic, particularly in good light scenes.

As a street photographer I know all about the need to travel light and the EPL2 is a camera that will enable you to do so. It's not a professional grade camera in terms of it's build quality and handling, but it's not too far off it, which is impressive considering that the E-PM2 isn't designed for professional use. It makes amazing photographs, can make use of a selection of stunningly fast and sharp lenses from a variety of manufacturers (Olympus, Panasonic, Leica, Voitglander etc) and is small and light. The reasonable price also makes the E-PM2 a worthy investment, knowing that you can then also move up into more serious cameras later if (when) the photography bug bites you, such as the E-P5, E-M10, E-M5 and the top of the range E-M1.

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