Olympus PEN E-PL10 Review

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Olympus PEN E-PL10 was originally launched in November 2019, however it was only recently on sale in Malaysia in March 2021. I got curious and decided to take a closer look on the E-PL10. Olympus maintained their formula of making a simplistic, compact and stylish beginner friendly PEN Lite camera in the E-PL10, yet it offers interchangeable lens capability and features a full sized Micro Four Thirds image sensor. I brought the E-PL10 out for a few rounds of shooting sessions, including a full live theatre show in Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Center, and I am sharing plenty of fresh photographs taken with the E-PL10 as well as my experience using the camera here in this blog entry. 

For those who prefer to watch this review in a video format, here you go (click). 





DISCLAIMERS
I am an Olympus Visionary, an ambassador to the Olympus brand. The Olympus E-PL10 was on loan from OMD World Imaging and will be returned to them after this review purpose. I was not asked to review the camera, I did this willingly, and no one is influencing my opinion or thoughts being shared in this article as well as my video. This is not a technical review, I am sharing my experience using the E-PL10 from a professional photographer's point of view. All images were shot in RAW and post-processed in Capture One Pro with very minimal adjustments. 

CAMERA HIGHLIGHTS
16MP Micro Four Thirds image sensor
Truepic 8 Engine
3-Axis Image Stabilization 
Tilt-Screen with Selfie mode
4K video capable with image stabilization
Advanced shooting features - Live Composite, Keystone Compensation, HDR
For full list of specifications and features, go here (click)

DESIGN, BUILD & HANDLING
The Olympus E-PL10 sits at the lowest level of all Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera, and is designed to be beginner friendly, and made to be as compact and light as possible. Therefore, the camera is stripped of many controls and features, and appear to be minimalist in nature. There is no electronic viewfinder, there is only a singular command control dial, there are very few buttons on the camera and definitely not many shortcuts and customizations. The simplistic layout is intentional to not scare non-professionals or casual users away just by looking at the camera. The LCD screen is tilt-able (up, down, and selfie mode) and has touch operations too. There is a built in/pop-up flash at the top of the camera, and a hotshoe that accepts external flash attachment. 

I personally like the simplistic design of E-PL10, yet it is looking super elegant. The camera does not feel cheap in hand, the leather-like texture that wraps around the camera body gave the camera a premium feel. While this is an entry level camera and is made of plastic, the E-PL10 feels robust and solid when held in hand, and I never once felt I was using a cheap camera. I do treasure the small footprint of the camera and the light-weight - I highly suggest pairing this camera with smaller lenses, especially prime lenses, eg 25mm F1.8, 45mm F1.8. The E-PL10 may look like a non-serious camera by design and first impression, but it uses a 16MP Micro Four Thirds image sensor that can still pack quite a punch. 

Handling on E-PL10 is fairly good. I do miss the beefier grip of OM-D cameras, especially my own E-M1 Mark II, but the E-PL10 was not intended to be used professionally. I went to shoot KLPAC's live theatre performance, it was a 2 hours plus show, and I was using the E-PL10 with M.Zuiko 40-150mm F4-5.6 R lens attached at all times, shooting non-stop for that full 2 hours duration. I did not feel any strain on my wrist, or any discomfort on any other parts of my body. The E-PL10 does have some extra gripping area on the front body, and a good thumb-rest/hook at the back, providing more secure hand-holding when the camera is in use. If you intend to shoot with much larger lenses, eg 12-100mm PRO, or 40-150mm PRO, I'd recommend using those on full sized E-M1 series bodies. 

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IMAGE QUALITY
While the E-PL10 uses an older generation 16MP image sensor, I never once felt the image quality was insufficient. Shooting in good light, the E-PL10, coupled with even the basic kit lens M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 gave me images that are consistently sharp. This humble combination managed to resolve good amount of fine details, rendering realistic looking images with plenty of pop, and very true to life colors. The contrast is also very good, and I was constantly impressed by per-pixel sharpness that the Olympus cameras can produce. It does not matter if you have 100MP image sensor (I am looking at some smartphones) but if the pixels are not optimized, they won't look like high resolution quality. Even lower resolution images but each pixel is fully optimized and you get truly sharp, and images that look more 3-dimensional, with good depth. 

Dynamic range is more than sufficient, even in the harshest conditions I was able to pull back several stops of highlight and shadow recovery. Of course, it is best shooting at ISO200 (native, base ISO)  if you intend to maximize the dynamic range capture from your Olympus cameras. The dynamic range of the E-PL10 looks pleasing and smooth, much more natural looking than "over-processed", "over-baked" images from smartphones, that tries too hard to tone down the highlights and shadows, creating an over-painterly, water-color outcome. Sometimes, it is not about how much shadow and highlight retention is in the image - the image has to look somewhat realistic too - something smartphone manufacturers has yet to learn about camera making. 

LOW LIGHT
To test the low light performance of E-PL10, I brought it to shoot KLPAC's live theatre show. The stage was dim, lighting was constantly changing and the actors were dancing and moving around all the time. I had to use ISO6400 most of the time to achieve sufficiently fast shutter speed to freeze motion. There were also a few instances that I went up to ISO12800 and even 25600 to get my shots. Of course, I was only using the humble M.Zuiko 40-150mm R, and was seated quite far away from the stage (about 10 rows from the front). 

Autofocus worked effectively, even in such dim light, and shooting subjects constantly in motion. I had very high hit-rates, about 70-80%, and the failures were mostly my own fault (wrong focusing area, clicking the shutter too late, etc). I was actually expecting more trouble and difficulties handling the low light stage, but the E-PL10 exceeded my expectations when it comes to nailing the shots, and capturing critical moments. 

In terms of image output, at ISO1600, images look very clean, and has almost no trace of noise. ISO3200 is probably the limit for most people, you get some noise, which should not be an issue and can be tolerated. Personally I have no issue shooting up to ISO6400, I admit there is noise in the images but they were not destructive, they added structure, and they still look great, with plenty of fine details fully intact, good colors and contrast being well preserved. I'd suggest not to stretch beyond ISO6400, as anything higher, you will get excessive noise, and noise reduction will degrade the pixel integrity of the images. If it was a job, I would be shooting with my E-M1 Mark II which would easily give me at least 2 stops cleaner ISO (ISO6400 no issue) and I'd use brighter lenses such as 40-150mm PRO, and several prime lenses. 

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Highlight & Shadow recovered in post
Dynamic range is impressive

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E-PL10 SUPERIOR TO SMARTPHONES
After shooting at KLPAC, I had a realization that I could not achieve even 10% of what I could shoot with the Olympus E-PL10, if I were shooting with a smartphone camera instead. The Olympus E-PL10, being the humble, entry level mirrorless compact camera, still outperforms smartphone cameras in virtually all aspects of photography. 

Firstly, general speed of operations and AF performance - the E-PL10 wins. The smartphone cameras, even in the latest, most advanced, most expensive, flagship models today (2021) have all kinds of lag and delays. There is already a significant delay on the smartphone's display - you can feel it, what you see on the screen is slightly slower than what is seen in real life. Then there is the AF issue - even the best smartphones today will struggle when it comes to low light, and me having to go all the way up to ISO25600 shows how dimly lit the stage was. Add the display lag and slow AF to the shutter lag, which no smartphone cameras managed to solve yet, no matter how fast and powerful the core processor is and how much RAM they cramped in, you basically won't be able to capture meaningful moments. You will miss the shots again and again. The Olympus E-PL10 however, has none of those issues. The LCD screen was silky smooth and lag-free even in the darkest lighting on stage, the AF was quick, responsive and most of the time, instantaneous, and what shutter lag? For Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras, there was almost zero shutter lag!

Secondly, the ability to change lens is critical for photographers. Most smartphone cameras are still stuck at wide angle, and even the telephoto lenses do not give that much reach. Yes, some smartphones today have 10x zoom, or 100x digital zoom, but let's face it - the quality can't even touch what a dedicated true telephoto zoom lens from Olympus M.Zuiko can do, even the humble 40-150mm R. There is just no contest - without the reach, you are stuck with wide angle, and you cannot shoot meaningful shots without physically being able to get near. Even so, the stage is wide, and you can't step onto it to get your shots. 

Thirdly, high ISO low light shooting - smartphone cameras are still way behind. Some will argue the "AI/Computational" photography having the camera taking multiple shots and merge them for cleaner output - you seriously think that case is applicable here? You hold your smartphone for 1-2 seconds while the dancers were flying around on stage? You capture nothing that way! You have no choice but to use high ISO, and guess what, ISO400 on smartphone cameras even the best of the best is already looking quite bad - perhaps worse than even ISO6400 on Olympus E-PL10! And if you stretch to ISO800-1600 on your smartphones, you get even better results shooting at ISO25600 on Olympus E-PL10. 

Combining all these three factors - slow operations/AF, insufficient reach and poor high ISO, the smartphone cameras will fail to deliver any good shots, shooting at a stage, low light environment. The E-PL10 easily outperforms any smartphones today, for those who do seriously care about image output, and getting the shots, nailing the moments. 

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So, who is the Olympus PEN E-PL10 made for? 
For those who want to step up their photography game from smartphone cameras, yet do not want to break a bank, and still wants something truly portable and easy to bring about day to day. 
For casual everyday shooters who want the performance of a DSLR but not the bulk and heft. 
For beginners and entry-level users who want to explore the world of photography. 
For those who care about style, and having a good looking camera with modern, stylish design (let's face it, DSLR design is black and plenty ugly). 

I acknowledge that this is not a full review, I did not do the test for video (I am not a videographer), or touch on other aspects of the camera, but hey, the E-PL10 is also not a new camera, and a lot of the features are also already existing in other current Olympus models, such as Wi-Fi function, and shooting features like Art Filters, and Live Composite, so I don't want to repeat them. 

I did enjoy myself tremendously for the past one full week, shooting almost every day with the Olympus PEN E-PL10. It is a truly capable camera despite its small size, and is capable of delivering great results, far surpassing what even the best smartphone camera can do. The E-PL10 may not offer the best in any category, but it is made to be truly compact/portable, simplistic to use and stylish in design. 

My complains? 
1. Have a full swivel/articulated LCD screen instead of tilt screen. 
2. Include an audio mic in jack. 
3. Multiple touch on the LCD screen please! E-PL10 still uses the old, single touch operation screen. 
4. Bring back the EVF attachment!

I hope you have enjoyed the photographs that I have shared, and my short review. If you have owned the E-PL10, or even the predecessor E-PL9, please do share your thoughts and experience using these cameras!

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4 comments:

  1. I'm glad you pointed out an articulated screen. That is my biggest complaint with Olympus, no articulated screen.

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  2. I prefer the flip up screen. It allows one to use the camera like a TLR, shooting from the waist with the camera held level instead of tilted. Look at Vivian Meyers' work. Her TLR photos are much better than her later 35 mm ones and part of the reason is the location of the camera on the body. A camera without an EVF is much better for use as a TLR because there is no pentaprism to interfere with the view. I would like to see an EPM-3 with tilting LCD and features of an E-M10 III, including AP functions, and one dial on top, like the TG-6, for easy exposure compensation. I would also argue for the development of a new ultra pancake inverse retrofocus 15 mm lens between f/2 and f/2.8 with built in lens cover, creating a digital version of the Olympus XA, Yoshihisa Maitani's last creation. I would name it the Maitani camera in his honor, and I would design the camera with the curved edges of the XA, making it easy to slip it in and out of a pocket. Perhaps the 14-42 could be redesigned as a 12-37.5 (hitting the FF sweet spot of 24-75). Packaging such an EPM or EPL with the 15 mm pancake, wide angle zoom, and inexpensive 40-150 would make this a kit that could be sold at big box electronics and department stores, increasing the public view of Olympus cameras. The cost of such a kit should be less than a high end smartphone.

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    1. Note that since the EPM and EPL are interchangeable lens cameras, they can't use the clamshell design of the XA. The lens cover on the pancake lens could be an iris design. However, the rounded edges of the body are essential. I sold my Leica M-3 after I got an XA, because the XA was always in my pocket (usually a shirt pocket), while the Leica sat on the shelf. The small size of the Olympus lens set and quiet operation of the OM-1 allowed me to work unobtrusively without a camera bag on the Dakota Photo Documentary Project in 1976. I just kept lenses and film in my sports coat pockets. My favorite lens of all time for film cameras is the 24 mm f/2.8. What a jewel and less than half the size of an equivalent Nikon.

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  3. I've used the E-PL8 for serious street photography for years. Despite being entry-level cameras, as Robin says they pack a powerful sensor, and the small Olympus f1.8 lenses are second to none while offering a cost-pocketable kit that boots up in a heartbeat. The E-PL10 is now the last Olympus model with a tilt screen, which some favor (like me) or a rangefinder body, which some love (like me). I think the Pens should get more attention as a serious small camera: they beat the GRIII & XF-10 (street favorites) by having interchangeable lenses, and the Fujis (street cult objects) by being smaller with better glass and in my opinion prettier. It's pretty easy to work with 1 dial. For the E-P11 I too vote for restoring the external EVF, and I'd add Phase Detect AF; surely THAT wouldn't scare off entry-level buyers.

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