Back in 2009 the first Olympus PEN set the scene for a revolution in camera design. Six years later, the E-PL7 is very obviously part of the same family. The fact that there are so many very similar cameras available today is a testament to how influential the PEN concept has been.
Even so, few other compact system cameras (CSCs) can match the E-PL7 for style. There’s an air of sophisticated retro chic, and the sturdy metal shell and dials inspire confidence. It’s telling that Olympus’s promotional shots feature the camera in the clutches of glamorous young women or perched beside handbags and sunglasses. Then again, we suspect that men are equally susceptible to its charms.
There’s nothing retro about the specification. The touchscreen tilts up by 80 and down by 180 degrees, popping out underneath the camera for the now obligatory selfie shots. Wi-Fi is built in, providing comprehensive remote control facilities, wireless transfers and GPS tagging with the help of the iOS and Android companion apps. Other functions include a digital spirit level to help hold the camera straight, plus face detection with eye priority. It’s even possible to choose which eye the camera should favour. Continuous shooting is quoted at 8fps, or at 3.7fps with continuous autofocus. As with all Olympus CSCs, optical stabilisation is built into the sensor so it works with any lens.
This model introduces of a new kit lens, known as the EZ Pancake, which the lens we reviewed it with. It has a motorised zoom function and collapses down to 22.5mm when it’s powered off. With the help of a slim lens cap, the camera measures 67mm front to back. That’s not quite trouser pocket-sized but a definite improvement on the older kit lens, which gave an overall depth of 94mm and had to be unlocked and extended manually before the camera was ready to use. We prefer a manual zoom mechanism as it’s more responsive to adjust, but on balance this new lens is a definite improvement. It also adds £100 to the asking price. The E-PL7 is available with the older lens, called the M.Zuiko Digital 14‑42mm 1:3.5‑5.6 II R, for £399. It costs £499 with the EZ Pancake version. Sony, Samsung and Panasonic have moved to slimmer zoom lenses on their CSCs recently, but they haven’t charged such a high premium.
^ There’s a sizeable difference between the two lenses, though it’s not as huge in practical terms
Even with this new lens, the E-PL7 isn’t is particularly light. At 450g, it’s heavier than the Sony a5100 (385g), Samsung NX3000 (386g) and Panasonic GF7 (336g). The E-PL7’s detachable flash unit adds further to the camera’s bulk, whereas the a5100 and GF7 have flash units built in. The flipside is that the E-PL7 can accommodate a more substantial flashgun or be used to trigger wireless flash systems.
The controls are highly customisable, with the ability to redefine most of the buttons, and to set the default function for the command dial in each of the four exposure modes. Manual focus is amply assisted by a focus peaking display that highlights sharp edges, plus a momentary 10x magnification. It’s also possible to customise the Auto ISO mode and to offset white balance presets, but these functions could be easier to locate. Pressing the OK button reveals various key functions on the screen, but it’s a shame they’re spread over two pages. The touchscreen could have provided quicker access to the whole set.
WI-FI and APP CONTROL
Olympus has been relatively slow to introduce Wi-Fi to its CSCs, but the implementation here is excellent. There’s no NFC for automatic connection to compatible Android devices, but it was a simple job to establish the connection by pointing the Android or iOS device’s camera at the QR code that appeared on the camera’s screen.
^ The Android app gives you a lot of control over camera settings
Some cameras’ remote shooting apps only cover basic settings such as the shutter release, flash and self-timer. This one goes much further, with the ability to adjust the zoom, set the drive mode, exposure mode, white balance and exposure settings. Best of all is the ability to touch the screen to define the autofocus point – a crucial feature for portraits. Setting the exposure mode to Manual unlocks Live Bulb mode, whereby the shutter stays open for as long as the app’s button is held down (an alternative Live Time mode uses a tap to start, another to finish). The preview image in the app updates for the duration of the exposure, starting off dark and sharp and gradually superimposing additional layers of the image. It’s a great way to experiment with bulb shooting, whether it’s for artistic nightscapes or just to keep the kids entertained.