If you don’t have a pocket-sized camera that can change lenses and offer abundantly more capabilities than your iPhone, or you’re already an Olympus PEN believer, you’re going to want to check out the upgraded Olympus PEN E-PL9. While many of the technical specs haven’t changed between the E-PL8 and E-PL9, enough has been added to make this camera worth the upgrade.
The biggest change, especially if you’re into recording video, is the 4K Video and Still Image Capture From 4K video—both added because of the upgraded Image Processor. Built-In Bluetooth has been added to the already built-in Wi-Fi capability, allowing for even smoother wireless image transfer. Advanced Photo Modes, including Live Composite, Live Time, Multiple Exposure, HDR, Silent Panorama, Digital Shift, AE Bracket, and AF Bracket have all been added to uncomplicate your life—and getting to these modes has been made easier, thanks to a larger mode dial and a more intuitive menu system. A bigger and more ergonomic grip on the front of the camera allows for a more comfortable hold without sacrificing style. For added convenience, a built-in flash has been added without compromising the hot shoe on top.
The E-PL9, much like its predecessors, is built for those who want more capabilities from their everyday camera without having to sacrifice space in their bag and deal with the extra weight that a traditional camera system would imply. In other words, it’s perfect for someone who wants something small, yet produces much better photos than their smartphone.
I put the stylish black version in my bag immediately after receiving it, to see how it would fare in whatever situation I might find myself wanting to take pictures, throughout the week I had it. Living in New York City, it’s typical that whatever I need throughout the day, I must carry it with me. Most mornings, I play a quick round of Tetris with my bag, trying to squeeze in coffee, lunch, workout clothes, a laptop, art supplies, and—quite often—a camera that I can access quickly if there’s a shot on the street I can’t live without. I was relieved to find I could easily add the E-PL9, and hardly noticed the additional two pounds. Over the weekend, I was even able to carry it in a small over-the-shoulder purse—something I could not do with my bigger DSLR camera—or large point-and-shoot cameras, for that matter.
Excited to see what this little guy could do, I didn’t let the season’s third Nor’easter stop me from bundling up after the snowfall to take some pictures of my snow-covered street in Brooklyn. As soon as I left my apartment, I was anxious about being able to capture the bright blue sky against the snow-covered branches. Not having a viewfinder required some adjusting, especially since I was surrounded by bright morning sun and reflected light, but I didn’t notice too much glare on the screen when taking the picture. While the previous model would have allowed a viewfinder to slide into the hot shoe, the E-PL9 no longer offers an accessory port under the hot shoe to support an electronic viewfinder, but the more I worked with the camera, the more I adjusted and took advantage of the tilt screen when glare became an issue.
Again, being accustomed to a bigger camera, taking pictures with the E-PL9 felt like I was holding a point-and-shoot camera, without losing any of the manual capabilities. Because the design felt so intuitive, I quickly maneuvered through the menu system to set up my ISO, JPG+RAW capture setting, and turn off the autofocus assist light, all while walking down the sidewalk toward a beautiful cherry tree in full bloom despite the freezing temperatures, icy rain, and several inches of snow.
With a fence between me and the tree, my options were limited, so it was a pleasant surprise when I could zoom in for a couple of tight shots of the snow-covered blossoms. While I tend to rely on prime lenses for my personal work, the range of the kit lens proved to be a perfect all-in-one, because its comparable 35mm focal length had the equivalent range of 24 – 84mm, allowing photographers to get those wider street shots, as well as tight close-ups and portraits with dreamy out-of-focus backgrounds. If you’re married to certain lenses, a handful of adapters can integrate most of your favorite lenses into your Olympus workflow. I played around with the different focal lengths, capturing different angles of the cherry blossoms, and for the most part was satisfied with the shots I could get—all from the sidewalk, with a double-layer fence between me and the tree!
After living in Asia for so long, I have grown fond of certain foods that I simply cannot find at my local grocery store, and often make special trips to Chinatown for dragon fruit, dried seaweed in bulk, and steamed buns to snack on. Despite being surrounded by throngs of tourists, it’s not necessarily my goal to come across as a visitor when negotiating for a deal on the street.
Luckily, the PEN E-PL9’s size and convenience came in handy yet again, because I couldn’t resist grabbing a picture of the vibrant pile of fruit before paying for one and tucking it in my bag. While there are several different modes with which the camera comes programmed, I tend to prefer more natural colors (#nofilter) and I thought the camera continually did a fantastic job of capturing colors without the need for any adjustment.
I wandered around downtown, curious to see how the camera would do in the different lighting, because buildings were either bathed in bright light or shade, depending on which side of the street I found myself. The camera responded remarkably well to the bright and evenly lit situations and, for the most part, adjusted to the shade—if the entire scene was the same temperature.
However, the E-PL9 didn’t seem to respond to situations where both bright light and contrasting shadows appeared in the same image. While this isn’t a necessarily new phenomenon with digital cameras, I was a little disappointed when the E-PL9 struggled a little bit to pull out information from the shadows.
When I tested this later, at home, in a bedroom with filtered natural light, the camera worked remarkably well to pick up the details of my lazy rescue pup, a dark brown and black lab-hound, lounging on the bed. The images looked great on the camera’s rear screen and on my iPhone screen as I considered sharing to Instagram. I would have never been able to capture the same image using my phone.
Having a “real camera” in my bag, in addition to my smartphone, has never been an issue for me. (Sometimes I even carry two!) While it’s completely understandable for anyone with a busy schedule or an already heavy bag to think it’s OK to compromise and leave a camera behind, when it’s as small, stylish, and capable as the Olympus E-PL9 is, chances are you won’t even notice it’s in your bag. You will quickly get used to how easy it is to use, how well it performs in low light, and how small it is, making you virtually unnoticeable when you want to keep a low profile while making a high-quality image. Instead, you’ll probably wonder what you did before having this gem of an everyday camera in your bag.
What do you think? Is this the sort of camera you want on your wish list? Tell us why in the Comments section, below.