Olympus PEN E-PL10 review: Digital Photography Review
The Olympus PEN E-PL10 is an entry-level mirrorless camera that uses the Micro Four Thirds lens mount, sports a 16 Megapixel sensor and in-body image stabilization. Its compact body and easy-to-use touch-based interface make it ideal for beginners and families, while a flip-down LCD and 4K video make it an option for vloggers.
- 16MP Four Thirds sensor
- In-body image stabilization (3-axis)
- 121-point contrast-detect AF system
- Flip-down touchscreen display
- 4.8 fps burst shooting with continuous AF
- ‘Live Guide’ for quick adjustment of brightness, saturation, background blur
- Built-in flash
- UHD 4K video capture
- Wi-Fi + Bluetooth connectivity
The camera is available in three colors: kuro (black), mocha (brown-ish) and shiro (white). It carries a list price of $599 for just the body and $699 when bundled with the how-did-they-make-it-so-small? 14-42mm power zoom lens.
What is it?
Something that makes Micro Four Thirds cameras like the E-PL10 appealing is just how much smaller the camera and lens can be compared to their APS-C peers. With its collapsable 14-42mm (28-84mm equiv) F3.5-5.6 kit lens attached the E-PL10 will slip into a jacket pocket or small bag, making it very easy to carry around. It’s light enough for handheld vlogging, even if you put on a wider lens, such as the Panasonic Lumix G 7-14mm F4.
The E-PL10’s ‘Natural’ color mode has a well-judged level of saturation, giving attractive color to images
ISO 640 | 1/60 sec | F4 | Olympus 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 EZ @ 28mm equiv.
There are many choices in the entry-level field, mainly represented by mirrorless cameras, though there are a few digital SLRs still available. Here’s how the E-PL10 compares to the Canon EOS M200 and Fujifilm X-A7 mirrorless cameras, and the Nikon D3500 DSLR.
|Olympus E-PL10||Canon M200||Fujifilm X-A7||Nikon D3500|
|Sensor||16MP Four Thirds||24MP APS-C||24MP APS-C||24MP APS-C|
|Image stab.||In-body||Lens only||Lens only||Lens only|
|LCD type||Tilting (180°)||Tilting (180°)||Fully articulating||Fixed|
|Burst w/AF||6.1 fps**||4 fps||6 fps||5 fps|
|Battery life (CIPA)||350 shots||315 shots||270 shots||1550 shots***|
|Wireless||Wi-Fi + Bluetooth||Wi-Fi + Bluetooth||Wi-Fi + Bluetooth||Bluetooth|
|Dimensions||117 x 68 x 39 mm||108 x 67 x 35 mm||119 x 38 x 41 mm||124 x 97 x 70 mm|
|Weight||380 g||299 g||320 g||365 g|
* Phase detection with optical viewfinder, contrast detection with live view
** With electronic shutter; 4.8 fps with mechanical shutter
*** With optical viewfinder. Battery life will be considerably lower when using live view
In some important areas, the E-PL10 beats out its mirrorless peers, while in others, it’s behind. Its biggest advantages are its built-in image stabilization (to reduce the risk of blurry photos) and battery life. Where it falls behind is in terms of its sensor, which is smaller and lower resolution, and its contrast-detect-only autofocus system (which tends to ‘hunt’ and doesn’t track moving subjects terribly well). The lack of USB charging is a big disappointment.
At low ISO settings the camera renders detail well, though noise reduction starts to smooth it away at higher ISOs
ISO 200 | 1/100 sec | F5.6 | Olympus 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 EZ @ 48mm equiv.
The Nikon D3500 is a totally different beast. It’s definitely behind the times in terms of tech, but shooting with its optical viewfinder is a different experience than using the LCD. You can see the real world, but without knowing what the resulting image will look like, unless you use live view, which has very slow autofocus on the D3500.
What it’s like to use?
The E-PL10 is lightweight, easy to hold and surprising well-built for a lower-end camera. The grip is perfectly sized and the control dial, shutter release and power button are easy to reach. The majority of the camera’s buttons are located right under your thumb, which can cause accidental setting changes. The buttons are quite small, as well – especially the four-way controller. The E-PL10 has a single control dial, which is what we’d expect on a camera in this price range.
|The Live Guide menu makes it easy to adjust color saturation, background blur and more via a slider-based interface.|
The user interface is really a mixed bag. If you’re a beginner and want to stick to Auto mode, you can do so, though Olympus only simplifies part of the interface. The touch-based menus (known as Live Guide) only let you adjust a few things (via sliders on a tab that you swipe out): saturation, color image (white balance), brightness (exposure compensation), background blur (aperture) and express motion (shutter speed). Since the camera isn’t telling you what you’re actually adjusting, Olympus isn’t really leading users toward shooting in more advanced modes.
|Tips on how to take pet photos can be found via the Live Guide menu.|
There’s also a photo tips option, which gives you some basic information about how to take photos of kids and pets, among other things. The tips are a bit vague in terms of what settings you need to adjust and where they are, so you need to know your way around the camera a little bit.
There are a few other touchscreen items worth noting, especially when the LCD is flipped into ‘selfie position’. You get an on-screen shutter release (for stills and videos), a playback button, as well as an option to make your skin look nicer. The focus point can be moved, and you can tap to focus or take a photo. Note that the screen will be largely blocked if you have any kind of tripod or selfie stick attached.
|The shortcut (Live Control) menu|
In addition to the slider-based menu available in Auto mode, there’s also a button-driven shortcut menu (reached by pressing the OK button) as well as the overwhelming main menu. While the shortcut menu is handy, the main menu really needs to be revamped for less experienced users (and more experienced, to be honest).
|The top-level menu in scene mode. There are a total of 27 different modes on the camera.||Light Trails, known as Live Composite in other shooting modes, is a clever way to take star trails.|
The E-PL10 has a large collection of ‘Art Filters’, which give your images a creative flair. There are also a good set of scene modes, with helpful descriptions and sample images of which each one does.
One scene mode of note is ‘light trails’, which is known as ‘live composite’ in other shooting modes. This is essentially a time-lapse mode that it only captures subjects that change in brightness in each exposure. For example, if you’re capturing star trails and there’s a building in the foreground, the building’s brightness will not change over time. We’ve tested it on previous Olympus cameras and have found it to work quite well.
Processed using the watercolor Art Filter [see original image]
ISO 200 | 1/160 sec | F7.1 | Olympus 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 EZ @ 84mm equiv.
The camera is perfectly capable in P/A/S/M modes as well, though the single control dial means that you’ll have to use the exposure compensation button to toggle between that setting and aperture or shutter speed. Beginners who can live without the on-screen sliders may actually want to shoot in program mode, for the sole reason of avoiding the over-the-top i-Enhance color which you’re stuck with in Auto mode. The exposure compensation button is disabled: you need to use the ‘change brightness’ slider if you want to adjust that. While you can process Raws in-camera, you first need to go into record mode, choose the settings you want to apply, and then return to playback mode to perform the edit, which is far more difficult than it need be.
The only color mode in Auto mode is i-Enhance, which has higher saturation and sharpening than Natural, which is the default in other modes.
The E-PL10 offers Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for sharing photos and remotely controlling the camera. Olympus’s Image Share app let you set up both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth at the same time, simply by scanning the QR code shown on the camera’s display. The app interface is attractive and easy to navigate, and offers two ways of remote control, though it cannot transfer images as they are taken. Unfortunately, actually using any of those features is difficult, since connecting to the camera often fails, on both iOS and Android.
The E-PL10’s BLS-50 battery allows the camera to take roughly 350 shots per charge according the CIPA standard, which is above average for this class. And, in the real world, you’ll be able to do better, especially if you limit flash and Wi-Fi use. The camera is one of the few that lacks USB charging, which is a disappointment. If you’re out and about you can’t plug into a car to charge up. You’ll either need to carry a spare battery or bring the clunky external charger with you and hope for a power outlet.
How does it perform?
Although it doesn’t have the resolution of its peers, the E-PL10’s image quality is still very good. JPEG colors at the default setting (Natural) aren’t too punchy, though it’s easy enough to increase saturation in any shooting mode (including Auto). White balance was just fine, and it’s worth noting that you can choose warm (yellow-ish) or cool (blue-ish) settings in the all modes.
Noise levels in JPEGs are low around base ISO and not bad at all at high ISOs, but that’s because the camera applies quite a lot of noise reduction, which wipes away fine detail. Setting the ‘Noise Filter’ option to ‘low’ will turn the noise reduction down a tad. If you’re a more advanced user, editing Raw files can give you back some of that detail. Brightening shadows in Raw images at lower ISOs does not come with a significant noise penalty.
The fine detail in this high ISO photo has been smudged. More advanced users can edit the Raw version of the image and adjust noise reduction and sharpening to their liking.
ISO 6400 | 1/1600 sec | F6.7 | Olympus 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 @ 600mm equiv.
We did notice some peculiarities with how the camera handled exposure. In Auto mode, the camera often tended to use faster shutter speeds, boosting the ISO as needed to obtain the correct brightness. While this reduces the risk of camera shake and can freeze fast action, it also increases the amount of noise, which in return lowers detail capture. However, in Program mode, the camera often chose to leave the ISO alone and use slower shutter speeds and smaller apertures, which brings everything in focus but ends up delivering softer images.
The Micro Four Thirds system includes some relatively affordable, sensibly-sized lens options that give a lot of ‘reach.’
ISO 200 | 1/640 sec | F7.1 | Olympus 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 II @ 600mm equiv.
Autofocus is snappy and accurate in single AF mode. In continuous AF mode you may see the camera ‘hunting’ at times, which could result in you missing a moment. Face detection isn’t great. It detects faces, but tends to lose them, with lots of focus wobble as the camera tries to refocus.
There is a tracking mode with which you can point the camera at a subject and it will attempt to keep the subject in focus as they move around. While the camera followed the subject fairly well, it was prone to hunting when the subject moved. Competitors such as the Canon EOS M200, with its Dual Pixel AF system, will do a better job in situations where you’re trying to track something moving erratically.
The E-PL10 can capture 4K video at 30p and 24p. Despite having a dedicated video recording button, you have to set the mode dial to the video position in order to capture 4K (it’ll only capture 1080p in every other shooting mode). There is a crop when shooting 4K, which is increased if you’re using the sensor shift + electronic stabilization feature to get smoother videos. The sensor shift-only stabilization is almost as effective and has no crop, so it’s worth trying first.
Video quality at both 4K and 1080 is just fine for the E-PL10’s capturing memories to share on social media. It’s not super-detailed but it’s not soft, either. We did notice some rolling shutter distortion when panning, but it’s not too bad. Something else that caught our eye is how the stabilization system tends to overcompensate when you stop panning the camera, rolling past the point at which you stopped.
Dropping down to Full HD opens up a 60p option for more fluid videos and several special effect modes not available at 4K. A high speed mode lets you capture footage at 120 fps, though the resolution is 1280 x 720.
As you’d expect from an entry-level, beginner-friendly camera, the E-PL10 is light on manual controls. You can adjust the volume for its internal microphone, and that’s about it. Video capture always uses auto-exposure, regardless of the shooting mode. You can adjust exposure compensation ahead of time in most shooting modes, and also with a virtual button that is in the tab that slides out from the right side of the display while recording. The camera lacks microphone and headphone sockets.
The Olympus PEN E-PL10 is an attractive entry-level mirrorless cameras that does many things well. Despite its low price, it feels well-built, and we like how it feels in the hand. With the bundled 14-42mm (28-84mm equivalent) kit lens, it easily slips into a jacket pocket. Olympus managed to stuff 3-axis image stabilization into the compact body, so any lens you use will have shake reduced for both stills and videos.
For a camera designed for beginners, the E-PL10 is a mixed bag. It can be operated via its touchscreen, and in Auto mode there are sliders available to adjust a couple of commonly adjusted settings, though Olympus doesn’t specify exactly what you’re really changing, which makes advancing to more manual control a bit more difficult.
ISO 320 ISO 320 | 1/160 sec | F5 | Olympus 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 II @ 150mm equiv.
That said, the rest of the menu system isn’t beginner-friendly (especially the main menu), and the camera doesn’t give much room to grow into a more experienced photographer, unlike some its peers. The wireless app is unreliable, which is not what you’d expect on a camera where image sharing is important. Battery life, on the other hand, is very good, though the lack of USB charging is a disappointment.
The E-PL10’s image quality is very good. Photos tend to be well-exposed, most people will be happy with the color in JPEGs, and noise levels are low at both high and low ISOs. Autofocus is snappy, though face detection and subject tracking are just okay. Video quality is fine, as well, though there is a noticeable crop when shooting 4K and, as with stills, the camera may hunt to find focus if your subject has moved.
The camera’s compact size (especially when combined with the retractable power zoom lens) means you can get good quality images wherever you go
ISO 200 | 1/200 sec | F8 | Olympus 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 EZ @ 42mm equiv.
Overall, the Olympus E-PL10 is a fine tool for everyday photo and video shooting. Is it the one we’d recommend to friends and family? Probably not. The Canon EOS M200 offers a more advanced autofocus system that’s responsive and reliable, and has a very good interface for beginners. The Fujifilm X-A7 shouldn’t be overlooked, either, as its large screen gives you a smartphone-like experience though, like the Olympus, the simple interface won’t necessarily teach you how to be a better photographer.