Monday, September 12, 2011

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Olympus E-PL2

Olympus E-PL2 + 75-300mm + EVF-2

I was recently given the opportunity to try out some Olympus gear for a couple of weeks. The Olympus PEN E-PL2, 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 and the VF-2 all pictured above.  I'm no stranger to the Olympus PEN, I have the E-P1 and use it quite often however I haven't used many of the micro four thirds lenses since I have a four thirds adapter so I can use all my other lenses on it.  I only have the kit zoom and the Panasonic 20mm F1.7 pancake in the micro four thirds line. The cameras are pretty similar so it didn't take much time to get used to.

I've never used an electronic viewfinder before and was curious how well it worked.  Everyone I know that has tried it swears by it and they seem to not be able to live without it.  I've used my E-P1 just fine without one so I wasn't sure what I was missing.  Now that I've seen it I want one too.  It fits into the hotshoe on top of the camera and also plugs into an accessory port just below the hot shoe.  Unfortunately the E-P1 doesn't have this accessory port so the VF-2 can't be used on it but there is a VF-1 but I doubt it would be as good as the VF-2.  You get a digital display in the viewfinder which is basically a copy of what you would see on the LCD screen.  So you're not just seeing what you are shooting but you also view the menu system, settings and it even flashes the photo you capture after hitting the shutter.  I love that because you can chimp your photos without people knowing you're chimping.  I have a bad habit of chimping my photos and it took me a long time to stop looking at the back of the LCD when using the viewfinder after taking a picture. Another neat thing it does is you can tilt the viewfinder. You might wonder why you would ever want to do that. I found it very helpful when shooting directly above a subject, like a plate of food, shown below.  If you have a PEN camera that can use the Olympus VF-2 I would highly recommend it. The only downfall is that it is a pretty expensive accessory, currently $226 on Amazon.  There's also a slightly cheaper VF-3 that was just recently released and is priced at $180.
Cactus Grilled Skirt Steak Salad 
20mm ~ F4.5 ~ 1/60 ~ ISO 640

 The 75-300mm is an amazingly wonderful range and is only the size of a pop can.  I don't know of any other camera manufacturer that can produce something that small in that range.  The down side is the lens has a very slow F Stop range of only 4.8-6.7.  So if you want to take a photo at 300mm the fastest you can shoot at is going to be F6.7.  I found that to be too slow for my liking. The majority of photos I took with this lens ended up being at 1600 ISO when shooting in Aperature priority and Auto ISO.  I took the camera/lens combo on a couple of photostrolls with the Seattle Flickr Meetup group. 

The first stroll I went on was at Alki Beach on a nice, bright sunny day so using the 75-300 was no problem since there was plenty of available light and I was able to get close up people shots without them even knowing I was there.  I shot people having fun in the sun. I even captured a few action shots of a beach volleyball match. The lens was surprisingly sharp and had good depth of field.
Back Atcha 75mm ~ F4.8 ~ 1/2500 ~ ISO 200
Kayaking by the Beach 117mm ~ F5.3 ~ 1/1600 ~ ISO 200
Beach Reading - On Your Stomach 300mm ~ F6.7 ~ 1/1250 ~ ISO 200
Missile Radar Vessel Departs 75mm ~ F4.8 ~ 1/2000 ~ ISO 200
The following weekend I brought both the E-PL2 and my E-5 to Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. This was my second time to the park and decided to bring two camera bodies this time so I could keep the 75-300mm telephoto on the E-PL2 and a wider lens, the 12-60mm on my E-5 so I wouldn't have to switch lenses which I remember doing a lot of last time I went. Since the E-PL2 and 75-300mm are so light it was no problem to carry around both camera systems. I kept the E-PL2 mounted to my tripod and kept the E-5 around my neck. Even though it was a bright sunny day, most of the animals were out of the sun and in the shade which meant almost all of my photos were shot at 1600mm. I admit I did do a bit of noise reduction in post processing on some of the photos since it was too much noise for my liking. Below is a photo of my E-PL2 set up and a few photos and a series of videos shot with the E-PL2 in less than ideal conditions.

Olympus E-PL2 E-5 ~ 12-60mm
21mm ~ F4.5 ~ 1600 ISO

Angry Bald Eagle 300mm ~ F6.7 ~ 1/40 ~ ISO 1600
Buffalo 75mm ~ F5.0 ~ 1/160 ~ ISO 1000
Lazy Coyote 252mm ~ F6.5 ~ 1/60 ~ ISO 1600 

Even at such high ISO the shots are pretty reasonable. The 75-300mm is an amazing lens and I think worth the $750 price.  If you are wanting to shoot weddings or indoor events you best look for a different lens.  You need a decent amount of light in order to get good shots from it.  I didn't take too many photos at full 300mm. I found it to be a little too close and most of my shots were 200mm or less.  Panasonic also offers a similar ranged lens, 100-300mm F4.0-5.6.  I would be curious to see how it compares.  It is slightly faster but I'm willing to bet the photos aren't as sharp.  The only other micro four thirds telephoto option at this time for Olympus is a 40-150mm F4.0-5.6 however Panasonic has a slightly longer lens, a 45-200mm F4-5.6 that is priced at only $265. My longest Four Thirds lens is a 50-200mm and if I really need the length I will use that with the adapter but having one of the lighter micro four thirds telephotos is pretty tempting.  It would be great to take on hikes or while traveling.

If you don't already own an Olympus PEN, I would definitely recommend the E-PL2.  If you already own a PEN I don't know if the additional features are enough to switch.  There are a few additional art filters but I honestly rarely ever use them. Being able to use the VF-2 is the only real big advantage to me.  The E-PL2 has a built in flash that the E-P1 doesn't have but I never use the on camera flash anyway. If I use a flash I will use my external flash in the hot shoe or trigger it off camera. I'm still waiting for Olympus to come out with a splash proof PEN then maybe I will consider getting a newer model. For now, the E-P1 is good enough for me.

More of my photos from these two photo strolls along with a few other photos I've taken with the E-PL2 can be found in my E-PL2 Flickr set.  I also put together a how to video on removing cilantro leaves from the stems using the 14-42mm kit lens which can be viewed on Youtube.



  1. Very nice review and great images. Thanks for posting it.

  2. Love the video and pictures. Especially the video! Thanks for posting!

  3. and oh, it should be the Panasonic 45-200mm lens, not Olympus...

  4. Oops thanks for reading through and catching that. I've modified it. :)

  5. Thank you for your review ! Very interesting.

    But you did not wrote anything about the focus speed.
    Can you compare the focus speed of this combo E-PL2 + 75-300 with another combo from 4/3, by example E-520 + 70-300 ?

    Thank you !

  6. Unfortunately I don't have the E-520 or 70-300mm so I can't really compare it to those. I will say it is MUCH faster than the E-P1 but not as fast as an E-3 or E-5. From what I've heard the E-PL3 is quite a bit faster. Would love to get my hands on one of those to try out.