First impressions of the Olympus E-PL9

The 16Mp Olympus PEN E-PL9 has been announced. At an undisclosed location overlooking London, I get the chance to give an Olympus E-PL9 hands-on review. 

Like the rest of the Olympus PEN series, the E-PL9 is a mirrorless Micro Four Thirds camera. It’s aimed at the ultra-cool vlogger, blogger and influencer, basically, it’s set to appeal to the Shoreditch set. 

Olympus was the first manufacturer to launch a retro-inspired digital camera with the original E-P1 back in 2010.  Few were sure at the time about the leap from SLR to this new compact approach – if only we’d known!

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Now in 2018, many are making that leap, (although not all to Olympus) and there’s a massive choice out there. The E-PL series has done well in the past with the vloggers, bloggers and influencers (let’s just call them bloggers).  Why? Mainly because of its small size, cool looks and let us not forget those Art filters. 

But most importantly, these cameras have a proven track record making the E-PL9 a perfect fit for anyone breaking into photography.

Vlogger, Blogger and influencer features

There’s no doubt that Olympus likes to see its cameras in the hands of the latest set of bloggers and the camera reflects its intended audience with its design.

First up is the colour range; black, white and a brown caramel colour.

Olympus EPL9 review

The Black and White versions look amazing, but I’m not sure about the brown. I think this may appeal to the same people that like pastel coloured Nissan Micras a few years ago.

Size wise, the E-PL9 is pretty compact, even when you compare it against the Olympus OM-D E-M5 MKII which always surprises me by how small it is. 

Despite the size, it’s well-weighted and although small in the hand, is perfectly workable and comfortable to use. 

The top dial and button layout is just right, select the mode dial option you want and start shooting. 

After a quick top tip check for the uninitiated beginner? Take photographer Jay Mclaughlin’s advice and pop the camera into Program mode. 

Is Samsung about to relaunch its NX camera line with a 30MP high-end model?

That may not sound so ‘top tip’, but then you can use the second dial to adjust the exposure compensation and instantly make the image lighter or darker. It’s a simple tip and a simple technique, but I think it’s inspired and easy to understand. 

The camera comes packed with special features and moderevis that enable you to apply creative effects. The Art Filter modes have been a part of the PEN series since its conception back in 2010; these all look very Instagram and are great fun to use.

Wait, wasn’t Instagram started in 2010 as well?

There are two new Art Filters; Bleach Bypass and Instant film. Here’s the subtle version of bleach bypass.

Olympus EPL9 review

There’s also the addition of an AP (Advanced Photography) mode, this gives direct access to creative capture techniques such as Live Composite and HDR. Many experienced photographers struggle to find these clever modes on some Olympus camera, so it’s great that they are easier to find on the E-PL9 (and the OM-D E-M10 III).

The touchscreen also sees an overhaul over the E-PL8’s and offers a smartphone-style interface that enables you to double-tap the thumbnail with the look you like to tell the camera to sort out the settings. 

On the smartphone front, the camera offers Wi-Fi and now BlueTooth connectivity, this makes for easier image transfer to your mobile device.

There is, of course, a smartphone app – although it wasn’t available to us at the press event. When released the E-PL9 will enable you to take control of the camera as well as much more.

Back to the hardware and an addition that many bloggers will like is the new dinky pop-up flash – it’s great for adding a little fill light for more attractive selfies.

Olympus EPL9 review - pop-up flash

I’m surprised the flash doesn’t double as a video lamp, but maybe that’s something for the 10 or X.

Video is an essential feature in 2018, especially for vloggers, and the E-PL9 is capable of recording 4K at 30fps. That’s quite impressive for a camera of this size and price.

Olympus EPL9 review - Screen

I checked out the 4K recording controls and it all made sense although it might be a little limited for some, it’s straightforward to use. I’ll check it out in a little more depth later. 

What no accessories port or external mic port?

One big miss is the accessories port that used to be just below the hot shoe. This has now gone and as far as I can see there’s no way to plug in an external mic. This seems like an epic fails considering the main audience for the camera. 

Powering 4K video and other features such as the 121-point AF system (with group focus and movement detection) takes a processor with some clout. The E-PL9 has speed in abundance with the TruePic VIII processor; the same as the one used in the flagship OM-D E-M1 Mark II, so it has a proven track record. Sure enough, the focusing when using the kit 14-42mm lens seems fast and accurate. 

Likewise, when I was shooting video and playing around with the Art Filters and other functions, the camera did the job without issue, albeit for the short time we had it. 

Olympus EPL9 review - Sensor

Finally, the big blogger appeal comes with the tilt and flip down the screen. This flips down under the camera rather than to the side giving the blogger or selfie shooter a more flattering angle.

Early Olympus E-PL9 hands-on review verdict

In addition to the aesthetics, the feature-packed Olympus E-PL9 has loads going for it in terms of technical specifications.

It features a 16Mp CMOS sensor, TruePic III Image Processor, 121-point AF system, 4K at 30fps video, built-in Wi-Fi and BlueTooth connectivity plus a tilt and flip-down LCD touchscreen. It ticks all the boxes in that respect.

Its control really couldn’t be more straightforward. It’s clear that the designed is intended to keep the fun in photography (some might feel bring it back).

Double tap to select is simple and very similar to the interaction you have with a smartphone.

As ever with the PEN series, it’s those added extras that sets the E-PL9 apart from the bulk of similar cameras out there. The Art modes are insane and brilliant with the latest two options (Bleach Bypass and Instant Film) making great additions.

I especially like Bleach Bypass, I think it will appeal to Instagrammers and social media lovers.

The colour choices for the camera are a little odd, the black and white make sense, but I’m more than a bit curious as to whether anyone will go for the brown. It’s very odd.

The complete lack of audio input is a big miss. In the past, there has been the accessories port, and while this was a little convoluted, it made sense. To lose any type of audio input seems like an odd decision, especially when you consider the intended market.

Audio is an incredibly important aspect of video, and while the body mics are ok these days, they’re nothing compared to a dedicated mic.

During the event, I had time to take a few snaps, so while we wait for a review sample to arrive you can check out those images below. 

Of course more information can be found at the Olympus E-PL9 product page

Olympus E-PL9 review sample images

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Olympus E-PL9 review
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Olympus E-PL9 review
Olympus E-PL9 review - the latest offering from Olympus is certainly impressive with smartphone-style touch screen and 4K video but is it enough to excite the bloggers.
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Camera Jabber
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