Olympus Pen E-PL7 Review

Olympus announced the E-PL7 in summer of 2014 as a successor to the E-PL6 in their Pen-Lite series. Since then it has gotten a lot of attention from amateur photographers and especially from fashion bloggers all around the world. That was more than three years back but I still believe it to be a viable option for people who are looking for a cheap and beginner-friendly camera to shoot with.

I have owned this camera for almost two years now and I would like to write about my experience with it so far. I will start with a relatively non-technical overview of it and then talk a bit about the technology behind it that ultimately made me choose it as my first camera. Please note that I mainly shoot stills and will not talk about video features in detail.

The first thing that catches your eyes with this camera is definitely the retro look and feel of it. Another thing is the small size of it which I find to be a huge advantage. When combined with a small lens such as the 17mm f1.8 it makes it easier to just put it in your jacket pocket and take it wherever you go.

product shot
E-PL7 with the 17mm f1.8

The body is made out of plastic, yet feels solid in the hand. The touchscreen on the front tilts almost 90° up and 180° down (the latter being very useful for taking selfies). Additionally it can be used to set focus points by simply touching an area on the screen. As mentioned before it does not feature an electronic viewfinder. However, combined with a viewfinder such as the VF-4 it almost makes an E-M10 II with the benefit of being a smaller camera when you don’t need the viewfinder. Under the hood it features a 16 megapixel sensor with the Truepic VII image processor. All this makes it almost identical to it newer sibling, the E-PL8. The sensor resolution of just 16 megapixels may sound not quite up to date but considering both Panasonic and Olympus still use them for their cameras released in 2016/17 it doesn’t sound that bad either. Additionally when compared to the 20 megapixel sensor in the higher end models, there is little difference to be seen in image quality. Another thing you’ll find quite useful in this camera is the built-in 3-axis image stabilization which gives you more flexibility in low-light situations by smoothing unwanted shakes. The fastest shutter speed is 1/4000s and is sufficient for shooting in most lighting conditions. Finally, if you’re not planning to shoot videos with your camera then I believe there is little that you will miss with it.

Handheld HDR taken with the 12-40mm f2.8 @ 24mm ISO 200 f4 1/2000s

I bought this camera in a set consisting of the 14-42mm pancake lens and the 45mm f1.8 portrait lens. To be honest, in the beginning I wasn’t quite impressed with the image quality of the camera and I was seriously considering selling it and getting a smartphone with a better camera instead. However, as soon as I started using the 45mm f1.8 my mind quickly changed and I started enjoying using it. Initially I avoided using the kit lens and only took portraits using the 45mm. Soon after I decided to buy the Sigma 19mm f2.8 lens and I had all that I needed for this to be my primary camera. While smartphones are catching up with image quality quickly, they still don’t offer the versatility provided by being able to put on another lens.

These days, the body sells for around 250€ used which I find very attractive for beginners. Add a lens such as the aforementioned Sigma 19mm and you have a quite nice combo for every-day shots. If you feel 19mm isn’t exactly what you’re looking for, no problem! You can use all Olympus and Panasonic lenses but also a lot of third party offerings. The large number of lenses is another big reason why I would recommend it over for example the Sony A6000 as it gives you more freedom when shopping for gear.

The out of camera images generally look quite pleasing and in most cases they are usable without any editing. Of course you can also choose to shoot RAW if you need more control over the look of your pictures. ISO levels of up to 800 when paired with a good lens show very good detail and I find levels of up to ISO 1600 still usable. This is naturally a thing of preference and you may want to look at sample pictures taken at different ISO levels to make up your own mind.

When it comes to autofocus I can’t really complain about anything. All the lenses I have tried on it focused almost instantly and the option to focus on different eyes of your subject makes it perfect for taking portraits. For manual lenses magnifying and focus peaking options are provided.

Portrait shot taken with the 75mm f1.8 @ ISO 400 f2.8 1/400s

 

Panorama of Hong Kong taken with the Sigma 19mm f2.8 @ ISO 200 f6.3 1/1000s

Let’s talk about things I don’t like about this camera, and there are only a few 🙂

Video: This camera is clearly not made for taking videos. The image quality here is mediocre to say the least and I would suggest you look elsewhere if you plan on shooting video. The only real advantage here when compared to smartphones is the possibility to change lenses. Other than that things I miss on this camera are the possibility to charge it via USB and maybe a second dial for exposure compensation. Something that also could’ve been added is in-camera panoramas. Since the HDR mode is quite useful and delivers good results I see little reason Olympus chose not to include a panorama mode even in their latest cameras.

This pretty much sums up my feelings and thoughts about this camera. I really enjoy taking it with me, using it and the general look and feel of it. I also own the E-M5 II and while it is more comfortable to use, this Pen gives you the majority of the features in a small and low-cost package. Paired with the VF-4 it provides an almost perfect shooting experience.

If you want to find out more about this camera I recommend Robin Wong’s Blog that includes some more sample shots and an in-depth look at it (Part 1, Part 2).