Olympus, or its new owner OM Digital Solutions, has introduced a very attractive little camera that makes a nice choice for travel. It has a great range of features and can produce good stills and video (provided you want to keep things simple on the video front), but the lack of a viewfinder is frustrating. Thankfully, the Olympus Pen E-P7 is a good judge of exposure but it can also be hard to select the right colour mode in bright conditions – and the colour options are a key selling point.
Small and light
Good stabilisation system
Screen blocked by a tripod in selfie/vlogging mode
Disjointed colour options
Small and light, the Olympus Pen E-P7 is an attractive option for travel photography
What is the Olympus Pen E-P7?
The Olympus Pen E-P7 is the first camera to come from Olympus since it transition to its new ownership with OM Digital Solutions. However, cameras take a couple of years or more to come to market and therefore the Pen E-P7 would have largely been developed under Olympus’s stewardship.
Prior to the Pen E-P7 being announced, the last Olympus Pen camera that we saw introduced was the E-PL10, or Olympus Pen lite 10, which was announced back in October 2019. However, the last full Pen E-P camera was the E-P5, which dates from May 2013. Consequently, many people had started to think that perhaps the the line had been shelved and the E-P7 wasn’t going to come, but here it is.
The E-P7 blends aspects of the Pen E-P line with those of the popular Olympus Pen-F, which was introduced in January 2016. However, one key element that distinguishes the Pen F from other Pen cameras is missing. The E-P7 doesn’t have a viewfinder built in.
Sensor: 20.3Mp Four Thirds type (17.3 x 13.0mm) Live MOS
Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds
Processor: TruePic VIII
Sensitivity range: ISO 200-6,400, expandable to ISO 100-25,600
Autofocus system: 121-point contrast detection
Max shooting rate: Mechanical shutter: 8.7fps until the card is full; Electronic shutter: 15fps for up to 42 raw files or 49 Large Fine Jpegs
Max video resolution: 3840 x 2160 (4k) / 30p, 25p, 24p / IPB (approx. 102Mbps)
Storage: SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS‑II
Screen: Tilting 3-inch 1,037,000-dot touchscreen
Dimensions (WxHxD): 118.3 x 68.5 x 38.1mm
Weight: 337g with battery and memory card
Inside the E-P7 is a 20.3Mp Four Thirds type sensor, which is paired with the TruePic VII processing engine. Olympus hasn’t commented on if or where that sensor has been used before, but it seems likely that it’s the same sensor that is in the OM-D E-M10 Mark IV.
Unlike the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III and OM-D E-M5 Mark III which have a hybrid focusing system that uses both phase and contrast detection, the E-M10 Mark IV has just contrast detection autofocusing. The Pen E-P7 also uses contrast detection autofocusing and there are 121 selectable AF points.
Olympus is generally regarded to have the best stabilisation system around and while the E-P7 doesn’t have quite as an impressive system as the company’s top-end cameras, it’s still claimed to offer a shutter speed compensation factor of 4.5EV for stills photography. This stabilisation system can also be used when shooting video to help iron out the shake and wobble of hand-held recording.
On the subject of video, the Olympus Pen E-P7 is capable of recording 4K (3840 x 2160) video at up to 30p, but aside from aspects such as exposure and white balance, the level of control is fairly basic and you won’t find a selection of codecs or Log options. There’s also no microphone port so audio has to be recorded either via the onboard mic or an external recorder.
Although the E-P7 doesn’t have a viewfinder, its 3-inch touchscreen is the tilting kind. It can be tilted up through 90° for viewing from above, or down through 180° which makes it visible from in front of the camera and useful for composing selfies or vlogging.
Build and handling
Like other Olympus Pen cameras, the E-P7 has a rectangular, rangefinder-like shape. This is in contrast with Olympus’s OM-D series of cameras which have a mini-DSLR shape with a bump at the middle of the top plate for the viewfinder.
It’s a fine-looking camera with clean lines and retro styling. On the front, there’s a shallow grip while on the back there’s a small thumb rest. Together they give enough purchase when a small lens such as the M. Zuiko Digital 17mm f/1.8 or M. Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ is mounted, but it feels less secure and front-heavy when a larger lens such as the M. Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro is mounted.
Paired with the M. Zuiko Digital 17mm f/1.8 (effective focal length 34mm) or the M. Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ (effectively 28-84mm), the Pen E-P7 makes a neat little camera that won’t take up much room in your bag or weigh you down. It weighs just 337g with a battery and card, and adding the ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ lens takes it to 430g.
Olympus hasn’t said much about the construction of the E-P7 but it appears to be predominantly made from plastic with a metal lens mount and metal dials on the top plate. These controls feel well made and have a nice action, plus the camera responds quickly to their use.
It’s great to see dual control dials on the top plate as this makes adjusting the exposure quicker than using a single dial combined with a button.
The mode dial has settings to select Auto, program, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual, bulb, video, Art Filter, Advanced Photo and Scene mode. The Art Filter setting is useful for swapping to a Filter quickly, but you loose control over the exposure (other than exposure compensation), so it’s best to access these modes in the same way as the Picture Controls, via the main menu or the Super Control Panel (SCP) that pops up on the screen when the ‘OK’ button is pressed.
Olympus arranges some of its smartest features in the Advanced Photo (AP) mode and it’s here that you find options such as Live Composite, Live Time, Multiple Exposure, HDR, Silent, Panorama, Keystone Compensation, AE bracketing and and Focus Bracketing mode. Live Time and Live Composite mode are particularly useful because they make it easy to shoot long exposures. Instead of having calculate (or guess) how long the exposure should be, you see the image build up in the screen on the back of the camera and stop the exposure when you’re happy with the image.
Live Composite mode is especially useful for light painting and photographing fireworks or light trails.
In addition to these familiar modes, the Pen E-P7 also has a selection of Color/Monochrome Profiles that are accessed via the dedicated switch on the front of the camera. It’s not possible to access the Picture Controls or Art Filters via this switch.
There are 8 profiles available for selection when the Color/Monochrome switch is flicked in the right direction, four monochrome and four colour.
Each of these profiles is customisable and you can adjust the contrast using the Highlights & Shadow Control and/or the vignetting using the Shading Editor. It’s also possible to replicated the effect of using traditional colour filters with the monochrome profiles and adjust the saturation of up to 12 colours by up to +/-5 steps for the colour profiles. The coloured filter and saturation adjustments are made using a type of colour wheel control on the camera’s rear screen.
Unlike the Art Filters and Picture Controls, the Color/Monochrome Profiles can’t be used with video, they’re just available for still images. However, it is possible to shoot raw and Jpeg files simultaneously so you can have the Jpeg with the effect and the raw without.
It would be nice if these different colour treatments could be more unified so that they can be accessed, activated and adjusted in the same way. Also, do they really need three different names? The Art Filters and Color/Monochrome profiles are effectively Picture Control modes with a few additional options such as the ability to add a frame or vignetting – depending upon which one you have selected.
While I’m at it, names like Mono 1,2, 3 and 4 and Color 1, 2, 3 and 4, aren’t very helpful when you’re trying to decide which to use.
Although it doesn’t have a viewfinder built-in, nor the ability to accept an external viewfinder, the Olympus Pen E-P7 has a tilting screen that can be angled up through 90° to make it easier to see from above and down to so it can be seen from below. It can also tilted down through 180° so that it’s visible from in front of the camera, which is useful for selfies and vlogging. However, even with the Live View boost on, it’s hard to see fine details or assess the exposure and colour in bright conditions.
A screen that flips under the camera is also presents problems if you need to support the camera on a tripod – the tripod head obscures the view of the screen.
Although it’s hard to assess exposure in bright conditions, the E-P7’s ESP metering generally does a great job so in most situations you can rely on the camera to produce a decent image. There’s also a histogram view that will let you know if the highlights are going to be burned out or underexposed etc, but it would be nice to have a viewfinder to be able to assess the image with a good preview.
Olympus’s OI. Share app and the onboard Wi-Fi/Bluetooth connectivity make it easy to connect a smartphone to the camera, so you can use that to compose images in some instances, but it’s not the ideal substitute for a viewfinder.
Colours can also be difficult to assess when you’re shooting outside. In the default settings, the E-P7 produces pretty punchy, saturated Jpegs and more natural-looking raw files. Both are attractive in their own way. The Color/Monochrome Profiles also create some attractive results, which when combined with the aspect ratio control make for nice sharable images.
It may use contrast detection for its autofocusing, but the Pen E-P7 copes well with most of what comes its way. Even in poor light it usually gets stationary subjects sharp quickly and provided the AF point is over the subject it can get moving subjects in focus too. However, it’s not a natural pairing for a long lens, so it’s unlikely that the E-P7 will be used for sport, wildlife or action photography.
The Face & Eye Priority AF is also good, if not up to the amazing standards set by Sony and Canon cameras such as the Sony A7 III and Canon EOS R6 – but they also cost a heck of a lot more.
During video recording the focusing is reasonably good, and although it doesn’t adjust to changes in the subject distance quite as seamlessly as some other cameras, it isn’t prone to hunting or shifting unpredictably.
Olympus Pen E-P7 image quality
While a pixel count of 20.3-million doesn’t grab the attention in 2021, the E-P7 is still capable of capturing a good level of detail. Also, the files are a manageable size so you don’t find your memory card or hard drive filling up too quickly.
The Olympus Pen E-P7 has a native sensitivity range of ISO 200-6,400 and it’s worth keeping to that upper setting as a maximum. At ISO 6,400, both the Jpegs and the raw files have fine, evenly distributed luminance noise in the midtones and shadows. There’s no sign of clumping or banding and chroma noise isn’t problematic. Stepping above that value in low light results in increasingly grainy raw files and smudgy Jpegs.
Olympus Pen E-P7 stabilisation
Olympus claims that the Pen E-P7 enables the shutter speed to be reduced by up to 4.5EV below a normal safe hand-holdable speed. My tests find that to be an accurate assessment. With the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12–40mm F2.8 Pro mounted and at the 40mm end for instance, got around 50-60% of my images acceptably sharp at a shutter speed of 1/2.5 sec. At an effective focal length of 80mm, a shutter speed of 1/2.5sec is a 5-stop reduction. I even managed to get one image in ten sharp with a 1sec exposure time.
The E-P7’s in-body image stabilisation (IBIS) also works in video mode and it does a great job of making hand-held footage watchable. It takes out the fine tremor so that the footage looks smooth.
Olympus Pen E-P7 video quality
The Pen E-P7 doesn’t give a huge amount of control over the video settings, it seems aimed at those who just shoot the occasional clip or who are just trying video for the first time. Nevertheless, it’s capable of producing nice-quality video without a lot of fuss.
This short video was shot on the Olympus Pen E-P7 in 4K (3840 x 2160) 30p with the white balance set to Auto. The lens was the Olympus M. Zuiko Digital 17mm f/1.8. It was recorded at the Mechanical Art and Design Museum in Stratford-upon-Avon.
The Olympus Pen E-P7 is a nice-looking camera that with the right lens is perfectly sized and weighted for travel. It also offers a good collection of features with options such as Live Composite and Focus Bracketing helping with tricky situations.
There’s also a huge range of colour modes that help you get attractive results in-camera, while the easy smartphone connectivity lets you share images quickly.
However, the E-P7’s current price seems high for a camera that doesn’t have a viewfinder. In fact, it costs the same body-only as the OM-D E-M10 Mark IV with a lens – and the E-M10 has a viewfinder built in. Of course, you don’t get the Color/Monochrome Profiles with the E-M10 Mark IV, but you do get the same long list of Art filters and Picture Control modes.
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