Olympus PEN E-PL9 Expert Review

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Olympus PEN EPL9 White (3)

Quick Verdict

The Olympus PEN E-PL9 is a stylish mirrorless camera, that delivers excellent image quality, with numerous shooting features, and a wide range of lenses making this a great choice.

+ Pros
  • Stylish colour options
  • Built-in pop-up flash
  • 4K video recording
  • Great JPEG results straight from the camera
  • Excellent noise performance
  • In-camera image stabilisation
  • Improved user interface
– Cons
  • Main (setup) menu system could be improved
  • Does not feature 5-axis IS of E-M10 III

Olympus PEN EPL9 Black (13)

Olympus’ latest PEN camera, the E-PL9, updates the E-PL8, and now features 4K video recording, 3-axis image stabilisation, a built-in pop-up flash, and Bluetooth. The 16mp Micro Four Thirds camera is available in white, light brown, and black.

Features

Olympus PEN EPL9 Brown (2)

The camera features the same 16 megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor as the E-PL8, but with a new image processor (which is said to be the same as the flagship E-M1 Mark II). This should mean there’s an improvement in noise performance and image quality. The camera has 3-axis sensor-based image stabilisation, like the E-PL8.

The 3inch tilting touch-screen tilts up and down, with it possible to tilt completely down and forwards for selfie shots. You can view a dual-axis electronic level on the screen.

The camera records 4K video at 30/25/24fps, and the 3-axis image stabilisation will help keep videos steady and smooth. Stereo microphones are built-in.

There’s built-in Wi-Fi, and this has been joined by low-power Bluetooth so that you can connect to your smartphone or tablet using Bluetooth. Here’s a quick comparison of the main differences between the two cameras:

E-PL9 E-PL8
4K Video FullHD Video
121 AF points 81 AF points
2 new Art Filters
Bluetooth + Wi-Fi Wi-Fi
Advanced Photo Mode
Built-in Pop-up Flash External flash
Accessory Port (EVF)
Updated Grip

The shooting modes available have been updated, to include Advanced Photo (AP) mode, which is designed to make it easier to use some of the more advanced shooting modes, of which there are many, including Live Composite, Live Time, Multi-Exposure, HDR, Silent, Panorama, Keystone Compensation, AE Bracketing, and Focus Bracketing.

The scene modes have been updated with a new graphical user interface, and you can use the touch-screen to select the scene mode you want. These have been designed to be easy to use, and the Nightscenes including “Light Painting” and other night scene modes that you can use, without advanced photographic knowledge.

There’s an Auto mode, with easy on-screen controls, P, A, S, and full manual controls. The number of AF points has been updated, with the camera now featuring 121, compared to 81 on the E-PL8.

Olympus PEN EPL9 Black (9)

Key Features
  • 16.1 megapixel Micro Four Thirds CMOS sensor
  • Micro Four Thirds lens mount
  • 3-axis sensor-shift image stabilisation (up to 3.5 stops)
  • 3inch tilting touch-screen, 1037k dot resolution
  • 4K video at 30/25/24fps
  • FullHD video recording at 60p, stereo sound
  • ISO100 to ISO25600 (extended)
  • Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity
  • 8.5fps continuous shooting
  • HDR, Focus Peaking
  • 31 Art Filters
  • Available in black/silver, white/silver, and brown/silver

Handling

Olympus PEN EPL9 Black (1)

The Olympus PEN E-PL9 features a metal bodied camera, and on top, the metal dials and shutter release button give the camera a more premium feel. The front grip has been improved over the E-PL8.

The rear grip for your thumb is quite small, and some of the buttons seem quite small, but they are clearly labelled, and the 4-way controller around the OK button gives quick access to some of the key controls.

The rear touch-screen looks good, with a decent resolution of 1037K dots. The frame surrounding it is quite large, and it would be nice if Olympus were able to slim this down in future models.

Olympus PEN EPL9 Screeens (2)

Advanced Photo mode was first seen on the E-M10 Mark III, and is designed to make it easier to access some of the more advanced features on the camera. There’s also an updated Scene modes menu, with quick access to settings. These can make the camera easier to use, however, the main setup menus on the camera are long overdue a good update and can be quite tedious when looking for a specific feature.

Use of the Super Control Panel can make it easier to access settings and controls so that you can avoid having to use the menu system. The back (top) Function (Fn) button, can be customised. The camera doesn’t have an accessory port, so you can’t add an electronic viewfinder to the camera.

Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth means you can connect to the camera from your smartphone or tablet. The Olympus O.I. Share app is available for Android and iOS devices. It’s easy to set up a connection, and from there you can remotely control the camera, import photos, edit photos and add Geotag (location) data to images.

On the side is a MicroUSB connection, and an HDMI connection.

Olympus PEN EPL9 Black (10)

Battery Life is rated at 350 shots, which is the same as the E-PL8, and the camera uses the same battery (BLS-50), which is shared with a number of other Olympus PEN, and OM-D E-M10 cameras making it easy to find spares.

Performance

The performance section is where we look at the image quality performance of the camera. Additional sample photos and product shots are available in the Equipment Database, where you can add your own review, photos and product ratings.

Speed – We took a number of shots to test the camera’s responsiveness, from switch on to first photo, shot to shot, focusing speed etc. We take a number of shots and then use the average to ensure accurate and consistent tests, making it easy to compare with other cameras.

Shutter Response <0.05secs
Wide – Focus / Shutter Response 0.125secs
Full zoom – Focus / Shutter Response  0.125secs
Switch on Time to Taking a Photo 1.1secs
Shot to Shot without Flash 0.3secs
Shot to Shot with Flash 1.3secs
Continuous Shooting – JPEG
(shots before slow down)
8fps (52 shots)
Continuous Shooting – Flash 1.3secs
Continuous Shooting – RAW 8fps (15 shots)

Continuous shooting lets you shoot a good number of JPEG images before slowing down. Silent shooting using the electronic shutter lets you shoot at up to 14fps. Focus is rapid and shutter response excellent. We tested this with the 14-42mm pancake zoom lens.

Olympus PEN E-PL9 Sample Photos

Food Close Up | 1/160 sec | f/8.0 | 42.0 mm | ISO 400

OM-D E-M10 II | 1/30 sec | f/5.4 | 34.0 mm | ISO 400

Meike 50mm f/2.0 MF lens Portrait (Raw To Jpeg) | 1/160 sec | ISO 200

Portrait Tim | 1/80 sec | f/5.6 | 42.0 mm | ISO 250

Sample Photos – The Olympus PEN E-PL9 gives great results straight from the camera, with JPEG images looking sharp and detailed, as long as you are using a good lens. Face and eye detection focus ensure portraits are correctly exposed and focused, with good skin tones and very pleasing colour reproduction. Exposure is reliable, however, if you do make a mistake with exposure, then processing the raw file can help you recover blown highlights or underexposed areas of an image. There are a number of different ways to shoot HDR (High Dynamic Range) images, either in the Advanced Photo mode, or in the Scene modes, and the camera makes it easy to access these.

Olympus PEN E-PL9 Lens test images

Bluebells Close-up, EZ kit lens | 1/80 sec | f/5.6 | 42.0 mm | ISO 500

E-PL9 In Hand | 1/100 sec | f/6.3 | 42.0 mm | ISO 200

Open Mic Night – Raw To Jpeg | 1/15 sec | f/5.6 | 42.0 mm | ISO 6400

Lens Performance – When using the Olympus 14-42mm EZ lens, purple fringing can be an issue, particularly around areas with high levels of contrast, such as trees against a bright sky, or around chrome or silver objects. Vignetting wasn’t a massive problem, however, corners were occasionally soft. The 14-42mm EZ (Electronic Zoom) pancake zoom lens performs well with quick focus, and the compact size matches the camera nicely. However, for more critical work, or macro photography you may want to look at a prime lens.

Olympus PEN E-PL9 ISO test images

1/8 sec | f/5.6 | 42.0 mm | ISO 100

1/100 sec | f/6.3 | 42.0 mm | ISO 1600

1/400 sec | f/11.0 | 42.0 mm | ISO 25600

ISO Noise Performance – The camera gives good noise performance, with good results up to and including ISO3200 and ISO6400. Colour saturation remains good even at ISO12800, although you may want to avoid using this speed depending on your needs. ISO25600 is best avoided as images are soft and lack detail, although surprisingly colour saturation remains strong.

There are options to adjust the Noise Filter, and these photos were taken on the default setting of “Standard”. If you want slightly sharper images and don’t mind a little bit more noise, you can set this to “Low” and noise performance is still good.

Noise compared to the competition…

Compared to the E-PL8: The E-PL9 gives better results at higher ISO speeds, with ISO3200 and ISO6400 producing sharper images, with better colour saturation as well. Results are very similar to the E-M10 Mark III.

Olympus PEN E-PL9 White-balance test images

AWB Tungsten Light Keep Warm Off | 1/5 sec | f/8.0 | 19.0 mm | ISO 200

AWB Tungsten Light Keep Warm On | 1/5 sec | f/8.0 | 19.0 mm | ISO 200

AWB Mixed Light Keep Warm Off | 1/10 sec | f/8.0 | 19.0 mm | ISO 200

WB Fluorescent | 1/5 sec | f/8.0 | 19.0 mm | ISO 200

White Balance Performance – Auto White Balance (AWB) performs well under both tungsten and mixed lighting. Using the “Keep Warm” On or Off setting you can decide whether you want your shots to retain the warm ambience of the scene (such as candlelight, or warm tungsten lighting), or give a more accurate white balance, which will be particularly useful for product shots. Under fluorescent lighting, the AWB performs well, with the fluorescent preset giving a slight colour cast.

Olympus PEN E-PL9 Digital filters

Instant Film | 1/60 sec | f/3.5 | 14.0 mm | ISO 500

Instant Film | 1/60 sec | f/5.0 | 28.0 mm | ISO 1250

Grainy Film1 | 1/60 sec | f/5.0 | 28.0 mm | ISO 1250

Bleach Bypass | 1/60 sec | f/5.0 | 28.0 mm | ISO 1250

Normal | 1/125 sec | f/7.1 | 42.0 mm | ISO 200

There are numerous Art Filters, with almost all of them featuring different versions of the filter, as well as different options (and frames) that can be applied to them. Two new art filters have been added, Bleach Bypass, and Instant Film. There are a number of shooting modes including Live Composite, Live Time, Multiple Exposure, HDR, Silent, Panoramic (with an 8000×1800 pixel image produced), Keystone composition, AE bracketing, and Focus bracketing.

Video –  4K (UHD) video is recorded at roughly 100mbps, and frame rates available are 30/25/24fps. In-camera 3-axis sensor-based image stabilisation means you can record 4K or FullHD video handheld, and still get smooth video. This works with any lens attached to the camera. Electronic image stabilisation helps here, working in combination with sensor IS, and can be used when using 4K video, with a slight crop to the frame. High-speed video is possible at a resolution of 1280×720, and a frame rate of 120fps. Audio quality is good, and manual controls are available. In low-light, the kit lens will be limiting, and a bright prime lens is recommended.

Specifications

Manufacturer Olympus
Image Sensor
Pixels 16Mp (Megapixels)
Pixels (W) 4608
Pixels (H) 3456
Sensor Type CMOS
Sensor Size Micro Four Thirds
Sensor Size (width) 17.3mm
Sensor Size (height) 13mm
Aspect Ratio
  • 4:3
  • 3:2
  • 16:9
  • 1:1
LCD Monitor
LCD Monitor 3in
Screen resolution 1037K
Touch Screen Yes
Focusing
Focusing modes
  • Autofocus
  • Manual
  • Face Detection
  • Multi
  • Centre
  • Touch AF
Exposure Control
Shutter speeds shortest No Data
Shutter speeds longest No Data
Bulb mode Yes
Exp modes
  • Program
  • Aperture-Priority
  • Shutter-Priority
  • Manual
  • Scene modes
  • Program Variable
Metering
ISO sensitivity 100 – 25600
White balance
  • Auto
  • Flash
  • Shade
  • Fluorescent
  • Incandescent
  • Cloudy
  • Outdoors/Daylight
  • Bracket
  • Manual
  • Underwater
Exposure Comp No Data
Viewfinder
Viewfinder Resolution No Data
Shooting Options
Continuous shooting 8.5fps
Video
Movie mode Yes
Video Resolution
  • 1920×1080 FullHD
  • 1280×720 HD 720p
  • 640×480 VGA
  • 4K
Video FPS 4K 30,25,24fps
Stereo Sound Yes
Optical Zoom with Video Yes
Other Features
Image Stabilisation Yes
Interface
HDMI Yes
USB USB 2
Wi-Fi Yes
Storage
Card Type
  • SD
  • SDHC
  • SDXC
File Type
  • RAW
  • JPG
  • RAW + JPG
Power Source
Battery Type Lithium-Ion BLS-50
Battery Life (CIPA rating) 350shots
Box Contents
Box Contents No Data
Dimensions
Weight 374g
Width 117.1mm
Height 68.3mm
Depth 38.4mm

Olympus PEN EPL9 Vs OMD EM10 II (4)

Verdict

The Olympus PEN E-PL9 continues to deliver the same high image quality of other Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras, giving excellent colour reproduction and great JPEG images straight from the camera. Noise performance is good, although doesn’t quite match the performance of some APS-C cameras. The E-PL9 is now a more complete camera than any previous Olympus PEN camera, with the built-in pop-up flash a great addition. 4K video makes it competitive with the Panasonic Lumix cameras, and combined with built-in 3-axis IS, this is better than most other entry-level mirrorless cameras and will make your video look better than non-stabilised cameras.

The Olympus PEN E-PL9 is likely to be a popular camera, particularly thanks to the 3-axis image stabilisation system, and 4K video recording. The biggest competition is the E-M10 Mark III, with built-in electronic viewfinder, the Panasonic Lumix GX80, and the Sony Alpha A6000, which both also feature a built-in electronic viewfinder. The updates to the user interface is a very welcome addition, however, the more advanced menus could still do with a refresh. The E-PL9 solves most of the complaints we had regarding the E-PL8, with a built-in flash, built-in automatic panoramic mode, as well as new, easier to use modes. As part of the Micro Four Thirds system, it also has access to the widest range of lenses available for a mirrorless system.

(ephotozine.com, http://bit.ly/2xBDyYe)

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