Initially released in the spring of 2018, the Olympus PEN E-PL9 is the latest released into the entry-level PEN lineup of interchangeable cameras. Officially, it replaces the previously released E-PL8 and takes the helm as the newest flagship in the lineup. The Olympus PEN series is a long renowned popular choice amongst bloggers and vloggers. And this new release aims to continue the suit. On paper, it promises massive improvements in connectivity and added functionality over the predecessor. And it seems to be an exciting release.
Olympus aims this camera at beginners and enthusiasts looking for a step up in image quality. Alternatively, they also aim it at those looking for a powerful, yet compact and fashionable, traveling companion. And it’s also a camera released to compete with Fujifilm’s XA5, Sony’s a5100, and Canon’s EOS M50. In today’s post, we address its strengths and weaknesses and answer whether or not it’s still a relevant contender today.
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- What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Olympus E-PL9?
- Image Quality
- Video Quality
- Low Light Performance
- Focusing Performance
- Battery Performance
- Display & Viewfinder
- User Interface
- Physical Layout & Ergonomics
- Niche Features/Extras
- Video Capabilities
- Autofocus Performance
- Lacking Features
- Is this a good beginner camera?
- Is this a good camera for you?
What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Olympus E-PL9?
It inherits the same 16.1MP Live MOS Micro Four Thirds sensor as the predecessor. However, it receives the same TruePic VIII image processor from the flagship E-M1 Mark II, for increased processing performance. While the sensor remains the same, it’s a tried-and-true configuration. And it delivers excellent image quality. Images are sharp, properly exposed, and the color rendering is outstanding.
The camera offers continuous shooting speeds of 8.6 fps, without AF and locked exposure or 4.8 fps with AF. And it provides a reasonable 14 shot RAW buffer. The speeds here are good, though the buffer depth is about average for this class.
In video capabilities, this camera represents a significant improvement over the predecessor. With the updated TruePic VIII processor, the camera now sports 4K UHD video up to 30 fps at 102 Mbps, making it the first PEN camera to obtain this feature. It also shoots 1080p Full HD video up to 60 fps for slow-motion video. And both 4K and FHD capture with a full sensor readout, without a crop, using the MPEG-4 codec to the MOV format. The camera also obtains the IPB compression method from the predecessor and supports the use of art filters or effects during recording. And overall, video quality is excellent. The footage is reasonably sharp, with pleasant colors and ample dynamic range.
While the camera is quite small, it doesn’t suffer from overheating like its competitors.
It also inherits the Movie Clips Mode from the predecessor, which assembles a short video from multiple short clips in-camera.
It offers a 2x digital teleconverter, which doubles the focal length of the attached lens. This feature only works in 4K, but it’s helpful to get closer to subjects.
It features In-Movie Image Capture, which allows you to save still images from a 4K movie.
Like most cameras in this class, video recordings limit at 29 minutes per clip.
Low Light Performance
It features a native ISO range from ISO 200 to 25,600. And low light performance remains the same as the predecessor. Users can expect usable images up to ISO 6,400 and videos up to ISO 1,600.
The autofocusing system on this camera has greatly improved over the predecessor. It features the brand new 121-point High-speed Imager AF system, a substantial update over the predecessors 81-point system. This system also obtains both Face and Eye Priority AF, for added precision during portrait work. And while High-speed Imager is contrast-detection based, its performance remains fast, accurate, and consistent.
For those who prefer manual focus, the camera also features focus magnification and peaking.
It obtains the same BLS-50 battery as the predecessor, and battery life remains excellent. Olympus rates the camera at 350 shots per charge or 140 minutes of video recording.
Display & Viewfinder
The camera inherits the same 3.0-inch tilting rear touchscreen LCD as the predecessor. The screen maintains the same resolution of 1.04M dots and articulation. In this case, it flips approx 80º upwards, for shooting flat lays or low-level shots and downwards 180º, for high angle shots, or front-facing selfies and video recording. It also features similar touch capabilities, including touch focus, touch tracking, touch shutter, exposure compensation changes, playback operation, and art filter selection. Overall, the screen remains sharp and offers plenty of brightness for composting outdoors.
Olympus has slightly redesigned the user interface and menus on this camera. They’re now slightly more streamlined and more user-friendly than the predecessor. And they also now enabled the touchscreen to support the selection of dedicated filters. But otherwise, the overall interface remains mostly unchanged. The menus follow the standard logic Olympus uses on the majority of their camera. And, while complex this go-round, both newcomers and seasoned users will find them decently intuitive.
The menus do offer assist tools for novices that display on-screen photography tips to explain various settings.
The camera provides both a Quick Menu and LV Super Control Panel, displaying a variety of on-screen settings and critical shooting information. Overall, they’re quite helpful and save trips to the main menu.
When shooting in the manual mode, the d-pad selects and changes Shutter Speed and Aperture. An interesting way to do this, but excellent for those who prefer manual exposure.
Physical Layout & Ergonomics
The camera maintains a similar styling and design as the predecessor, giving it a nostalgic appeal. It features the neural dials on the top plate, providing quite a tactile sensation. And it keeps the embossed Olympus logo with a gold inlay. Overall, the design is excellent. For those who like a more stylish fashion-forward design, this is right up your alley. The camera also feels solid and well made. It features the same magnesium alloy frame as the predecessor, for a similar level of robustness. However, it does offer a few improvements. Firstly, the grip is now larger and more pronounced, improving the handling. And the Mode Dial is also slightly larger, which makes it easier to change settings. Otherwise, there are a few minor cosmetic tweaks here and there, but externally the camera is mostly the same as the predecessor. It’s the same familiar and straightforward control set. And coming in at 332 g body alone, it’s also equally as compact.
The camera offers a dedicated Wi-Fi button for quick access to image transfer from the Playback Menu to the connected device.
It has a dedicated movie record button that starts movie recordings when the Mode Dial isn’t in the Movie record position.
It has a dedicated Art Mode position on the Mode Wheel, giving users quick access to the 16 built-in art filters. And the camera provides two additional filters, Bleach Bypass and Instant Film, that are new for this release.
It also has a dedicated position for Advanced Photography (AP) Mode on the Mode Dial, which gives users direct access to the variety of features offered. The AP mode culminates all of Olympus’s more advanced and innovative shooting modes into a single location, a feature first introduced on the EM-10 Mark III. And this grouping makes them far easier to find than it used to be.
In addition to Wi-Fi, it now offers Bluetooth connectivity, a new addition to the series. Adding Bluetooth allows the camera to maintain an always-on low-powered connection to the paired device, improving image transfer speeds, and consistency. It also means that users can transfer images via the OI. Share app, even when the camera’s asleep, without ever having to take the camera out of the bag. The camera also supports wireless remote control and can automatically geotag images.
Unlike the predecessor, it now features a built-in pop-up flash, removing the need to connect an external one to the hot shoe. The new flash can also tilt for bounce flash if needed.
It features 3-axis image stabilization for use in both photos and videos. And the stabilization system offers two settings, which vary in intensity. While it’s not the higher-end 5-axis system found in Olympus’ top-end cameras, it does work incredibly well. Olympus officially rates the system for 3.5 stops of compensation, and the results are remarkably steady. Even if you consciously shake your hand, the resulting footage remains to shake free. For the price, this camera’s stabilization system is class-leading.
It now features a built-in sweep panorama mode, which creates either horizontal or vertical panoramas. And it can stitch them in-camera, making it the first Olympus camera to obtain this feature.
It obtains the full suite of Advanced Photography (AP) modes form the predecessor. These include Focus Bracketing which takes eight images at different focus settings and combines them in-camera. Built-in HDR, Multi-exposure, and Keystone Compensation. Plus timelapse recording, which is fully customizable and can render an optional in-camera video. And it also obtains the full suite of Live Time modes, which builds the exposure based on changes in light throughout the scene.
The camera offers extensive in-camera RAW and JPEG processing. You can select picture modes, and make individual adjustments to contrast, sharpness, among many other settings.
It has a fully silent electronic shutter.
It obtains the e-Portrait mode from the predecessor, which smooths skin tones for flawless portraits, without any post-processing.
The camera lacks Auto ISO during video recordings, which means you’ll have to compensate for changes in ambient light manually.
The camera lacks zebras for highlight warning indication.
Focus magnification is not available during video recording, only peeking.
The camera automatically segments video recordings into 4 GB chunks, which require post-processing to create a single seamless video.
While autofocusing performance is good, it does use contrast detection, which does overshoot slightly before locking focus. When filming videos, this could be somewhat distracting. So manually focusing is preferred.
While the flip-down screen is helpful for handheld shooting, it’s not the ideal configuration, particularly if you use a tripod or monopod. When mounted on these accessories, the screen is blocked, rendering it almost entirely useless. A flip-up screen is preferred, but even that’s still second to a fully articulating screen.
Like most PEN cameras, it lacks a built-in electronic viewfinder. But, unlike the predecessor, its hot shoe no longer supports the optional viewfinder accessory. So, it doesn’t look like there’s a possibility to add one anymore.
While the main menu is updated, it’s still a bit low-res and antiquated compared to the competition. And between the camera’s Quick, Super Control panel, and Main menus, it’s surprisingly challenging to know exactly where a specific setting hides. Unfortunately, some settings offer more complete options in one menu, but not others. So initially, it’s hard to know what steps are the most efficient way to change them. Overall, this camera will take a trip to the manual and isn’t as intuitive as it should be considering its entry-level classification.
While the camera does offer updated front and rear grips, they’re still relatively small. Purchasing a camera strap or a Leather Body Jacket would be recommended accessory for this camera, particularly if you have large hands.
Like the predecessor, both the SD card and battery live in the same compartment underneath the camera. This positioning makes it a bit tedious to change either when using a tripod or selfie stick, and it isn’t ideal.
It lacks a headphone input.
It lacks a microphone input.
Like most PEN cameras, it lacks USB charging.
Is this a good beginner camera?
It makes an excellent choice for beginners looking for a more stylistic and attractive option. And it provides a diverse feature set, that’s unmatched by much of the competition at this price. Coupled with its full manual control and advanced features, it’s a strong choice for long-term growth as well. Considering, Olympus directly targets this camera at novice and enthusiast photographers looking for an upgrade over a mobile phone. And compared to a phone, it provides superior image quality, without unnecessary sacrifices to the user experience and interface. They’ve done well. And the camera is a strong choice for this audience.
Is this a good camera for you?
Current E-PL8 users and below should consider upgrading. The added wireless connectivity, streamlined interface, and addition of 4K video make it a worthwhile upgrade.
The camera has a slightly smaller buffer than its predecessor. So it’s not quite as ideal for moderate sports and action. However, a 4.8 fps burst rate does mean it is capable if you desire a retro rangefinder-style camera for slower mediums.
In the end, the Olympus E-PL9 is a camera designed for beginners, enthusiasts, and socialites looking for a stylish camera. And not only does it offer a retro and nostalgic appeal, but it also couples that with a competitive feature set and attractive price. It’s a bit quirky and slightly complicated during the first operation. And sure it’s not the most technically advanced and feature-rich camera on the market. But, it inherits a proven feature set, combined in a compact and portable form factor. And, in many respects, it’s the higher-end E-M10 Mark III with the design and style of a PEN camera. A fantastic proposition for this price. Overall, it remains an excellent imaging tool for both photos and videos. And it’s a strong all-rounder and traveling companion. If you’re looking for a well-rounded and stylish option, this is your camera.
The PEN 9 is a solid upgrade over its predecessor, the E-PL8. It provides notable upgrades to wireless connectivity along with 4K support. While it’s not the most technically advanced camera in this price range, it obtains a proven feature set and remains competitive today.