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Olympus PEN E-PL10 Review

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Olympus has two retro-style line-ups in its mirrorless camera range; PEN and OM-D. A key difference between the two line-ups is that PEN cameras have a flat profile without a built-in viewfinder. The PEN E-PL10 is the latest iteration in this entry-level mirrorless digital camera range.

There is plenty in the E-PL10 to entice those new to photography – lovely images, an unparalleled array of fun shooting modes, an intuitive flip touchscreen, and powerful image stabilization. Yes, this retro-style camera is a very capable shooter that makes stepping up from using a smartphone easier, plus it throws in a few manual controls too.

We’ll say straight off the bat that you’ll need a magnifying glass to tell the differences between your E-PL10 and the E-PL9, two years its predecessor. There is an overall feeling, not exclusive to Olympus, that these entry-level models are not high on the priority list.

It’s no bad thing per se because we loved the Olympus E-PL9, but there is less to get excited about here. So does the E-PL10 do enough to succeed in 2020?

Build and Handling

  • Stylish polycarbonate build
  • No viewfinder 
  • 3in, 1.04-million-dot tilt-touch screen with underside selfie mode

Straight out of the box, the E-PL10 will put a smile on your face because it’s a dinky and attractive camera. Looks alone could seal the deal for some. We had the white version with gold, embossed Olympus logo, but it’s also available in black or tan. The body is covered in a tactile faux leather and sandwiched between the top and bottom metal-effect plates.

A thumb grip and curved front handhold provide some extra purchase, although you wouldn’t want to use particularly heavy lenses – those are more suited to cameras in the OM-D range, like the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III.

Being an entry-level mirrorless digital camera, the E-PL10 has a plastic build, which is more obvious on the top and bottom plates. However, all of the controls feel solid enough, the faux-leather is delicious and the top dials are particularly pleasant to rotate. The buttons on the rear are a tad on the small side – Olympus has opted for style over function by surrounding those control keys with a trim rather than maximizing the space.

By default, the 2x digital teleconverter is set to the Fn button at the top right. In practice, it’s highly likely you’ll activate the teleconverter by mistake, so unless you want to make use of that feature a lot, we recommend changing the function.

A tilt-touchscreen dominates the rear. It will flip 180-degrees to the underside of the camera for viewing from the front, appeasing the occasional selfie. Yet without a socket for an external microphone, this is no blogger’s digital camera.

All in all, the touch functionality works smoothly, that is really important on an entry-level camera. For example, those used to a camera phone will feel at home here. You get touch shutter, touch AF, plus swipe control in image playback and magnification for closer inspection.

If you select the Advanced Photo mode, it’s possible to select which setting you want by touch. In addition, the brightness of Art Filters can now be adjusted through the exposure compensation slider.

In video mode, the touchscreen can be used to zoom the lens in and out, with a slow and a quick setting – that’s a nice touch. However, you cannot navigate the main menu by contact.

Unsurprisingly, at times it’s hard to see the screen in bright light and glare. And there’s sadly no way around that, without an option to attach an electronic viewfinder. For framing shots, you’re entirely reliant on the display.

Specifications

Sensor: 16.1MP Four Thirds
Image processor: TruePic VIII
Stabilization: Sensor shift up to 3.5EV (or 3.5 stops)
Autofocus: 121-point Contrast Detection
ISO range: 200 to 6,400 (expanded to ISO 100-25,600)
Video: 4K up to 30fps and Full HD up to 30fps
Max burst: 8.6fps

A pop-up flash is included along with a hot-shoe to attach external flashguns. The amount of manual control available for flash setups goes above and beyond the typical target audience.

Battery life is solid, at 350 shots from a full charge. Olympus deserves kudos for including a battery charger unit too, which is never a given at this level. However, it’s not possible to cost the camera on-the-go via a power bank. Additional batteries, should you need one, are quite expensive too. Still, packing a single battery only caught us out on one occasion.

Ultimately, how a camera looks and its ease of use are two key reasons to keep coming back to it again and again, especially for a beginner. And the E-PL10 scores well on both counts.

Features

  • In-body image stabilization (IBIS)
  • Art Filters and Advanced Photo mode
  • 4K video at 30fps, 102Mbps

Olympus has settled on a tried-and-tested 16.1-million-pixel sensor on the E-PL10. By current standards, this resolution is modest. However, image quality isn’t all about how large you can print or view the images at 100% size (without loss of quality due to interpolation). There is plenty to like about the photos that the E-PL10 creates – more on that later.

Video specification is pretty much identical to the E-PL9, which impressed on its launch two years ago. There’s 4K video at 30fps. Crucially, again, the E-PL10 offers in-body image stabilization (IBIS), for both movie and photos.

Image stabilization is Olympus’ base offering, which means it’s up to 3.5EV (or 3.5 stops). Yet in use, it’s possible to get really smooth handheld videos. There are not too many other cameras at this level with such a feature and Olympus has long offered class-leading stabilization. As usual, there are a host of art filters, included in the menu with the regular colour modes. Add them all up, including the variants of filter systems like Pin Hole and Vintage, and there’s a total of 38. With Raw picture in-camera editing, any of these filters can be applied post-capture. A lot can be done to an image in-camera, which isn’t always the case.

Pictures can also be captured, shared and edited wirelessly using the Olympus Picture Share app. Using an Apple iPhone, we enjoyed a smooth experience.

We’ve also had fun utilizing the Advanced Photo modes – in general, they are user-friendly for any skill degree. For example, multiple exposures display the first of two shots, so you can line up the next one precisely for the composite. ‘Live Time’ is for lengthy exposure photos and shows the brightness of the image during exposure, so that you know the right moment to stop the shot. A downside is that you are locked into the maximum aperture of the lens.

Yes, Advanced Picture modes do come with some confusing restrictions. Panorama only shoots in the vivid colour mode (plus it fails quite a lot). Try another mode and you may get to choose the colour style.

Ultimately, Advanced Photo is a gateway to creative shooting techniques. Once you have got the taste, all of these effects can be achieved manually with a little know-how and you’ll obtain control over elements such as colour setting and aperture.

However, even those that already know how to do such styles can enjoy how the E-PL10 takes the hard work out of getting these creative pictures. And this is the beauty of a camera like the E-PL10 – it’s fun for users of all abilities.

Image Quality

  • Solid colour rendition
  • Limited dynamic range 
  • 4k videos aided by image stabilization

The E-PL10 has a 16.1-million-pixel resolution, which is lower than most. At 300ppi print resolution, it makes for a 40x30cm print. As an entry-level camera and all-round family snapper, we feel the pixel count is still sufficient today.

With a good range of lenses available, including some that are a sensible price- and size-match such as the 45mm f/1.8 and 12mm f/2, the E-PL10 can push your photography further.

In sunny conditions, the E-PL10 can make sharp images full of contrast and tonal range, backed up by a lovely colour rendition. JPEG photos – that’s those straight out of the camera – especially using the ’natural’ colour profile, look great. Art Filters provide fun alternative styles, too. For a camera that might be used a lot for general family shots, poor low light performance would be more of a turn-off than low-resolution. The native sensitivity selection of ISO 200-6400 is modest, suggesting that E-PL10 images will struggle more than larger-format cameras in low contrast light.

The detail in JPEG images at a sensitivity setting above ISO 1600 is quite smudged. If you shoot in Raw format instead, the same detail improves. Alternatively, we would actually suggest delving into the camera menu and turning noise reduction off, if that is possible in the selected shooting mode.

We must mention the impact of in-body image stabilization (IBIS) on image quality. Regarding the video, we have been really pleased how 4K handheld videos have come out – really smooth movement and crisp fine detail. As for photos, the 3.5 stops of stabilization enables extra light intake, while keeping stationary subjects razor-sharp in handheld pictures.

Verdict

There is plenty to like about the E-PL10; it looks great, has an array of creative and beginner-friendly shooting modes, the JPEG colour rendition is lovely and natural, plus 4K videos are supported by powerful image stabilization. On the flip side, the camera does have its limitations. We did miss a viewfinder from time to time, image quality in low contrast light suffers and you’ll need a little know-how to get the best from AF. Still, the E-PL10 remains a fun little camera, even if the E-PL9 offers better value.

Check Olympus PEN E-PL10 Price

 

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