Released in the fall of 2019, the Olympus PEN E-PL10 is the latest entry into the PEN lineup. And it’s the company’s latest entry-level camera, aimed squarely at beginners wanting to upgrade their smartphones. But an upgrade characterized by good looks and a sleek, fashion-forward design.
It officially replaces the previously released E-PL9, released one year prior. And it comes to rejuvenate the beloved PEN lineup. But, on paper, it looks nearly identical to its predecessor and offers virtually no improvements. So considering the PEN 9 is already quite affordable and well-reviewed, how will this new model stack up without any notable updates? And how does it compete with Fujifilm’s X-A7, Nikon’s D3500, Sony’s a6100, and Canon’s EOS M200? Let’s find out.
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- What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Olympus PEN E-PL10?
- 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 PEN E-PL10?
It obtains its predecessors 16.1MP Live MOS Micro-Four-Thirds sensor, the same used on the PEN 8. And it also receives its TruePic VIII image processor, originally taken from the flagship E-M1 Mark II. While unchanged here, the image quality remains excellent for the class. But, do know, it does offer less resolution than its peers (16 vs 24MP), so it isn’t as apt for large format printing. Even so, it’s surely a notable upgrade over today’s flagship smartphones, its key competition. Images are sharp, with good dynamic range and a pleasing color rendering. So, despite the lacking changes, this continues to be a tried-and-true configuration for Olympus, it seems.
It obtains the Highlight & Shadow Control from the Pen F, letting you adjust the tone curve to alter the brightness of the highlights or shadows. And it’s a practical option to tailor the images in this fashion to remove the need for doing so during post-processing.
It receives the 2x digital teleconverter, doubling the focal length of the attached lens.
The TruePic VIII processor yields identical continuous shooting speeds as the PEN 9. In this case, the camera still provides 8.6 FPS with the mechanical shutter or 14.1 FPS using the electronic. And both modes do so without AF and a locked exposure and white balance following the first frame. Alternatively, you can drop down to a Continuous Low setting of 4.8 FPS, which maintains AF. The buffer depth is also identical. And the camera provides a 14 shot RAW buffer before slowing, which is average for the class.
It obtains identical video capabilities as its predecessor, which was the first release to bring notable advancements to the line. With that, it shoots 4K UHD up to 30 FPS at 102 Mbps and 1080p Full HD video up to 60 FPS at 52 Mbps. And it shoots both resolutions to the MOV format with H.264 compression. Both also have a full sensor readout, making them entirely free of a crop. Additionally, you can also apply effects during recording, like the Art Fade, Old Film, and more. Overall, while unchanged here, the video quality is excellent for the class. And the footage is detailed enough, with the same pleasant colors as stills.
It obtains the High-Speed Mode, which records 720p HD videos at 120 FPS, played back at 30 FPS for 4x slow-motion.
It obtains the Movie Clips Mode, which compiles a short video from multiple clips. And you can split the clips into various groups or add pictures too.
It has a Silent Shooting option, which prevents the camera from recording operating sounds. Instead, you’ll control the electronic zoom, volume, aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, and ISO by touch alone.
You can save still images from a 4K video using the In-Movie Image Capture option.
Low Light Performance
It obtains the same native ISO range of ISO 200 to 25,600 as the PEN 9 and 8. And its low light performance is unchanged. As such, users can still expect usable images up to ISO 6,400 or videos up to ISO 1,600.
It obtains the same autofocusing system as its predecessor, which first overhauled the line. In this case, it’s the 121-point High-Speed Imager AF system with Face and Eye Priority AF and support to -2 EV. Like the PEN 9, though, this is a contrast-detection-based autofocusing system. But, it generally locks on quickly, consistently, and accurately when shooting stills. And the camera’s single-shot AF mode is usually quite fast and snappy. But, for video, it does tend to hunt—more on this in cons below.
It also obtains focus magnification and peaking, if you prefer manually focusing.
It obtains the long-standing BLS-50 battery, used on much of the PEN range. But, battery life remains excellent for an entry-level mirrorless camera. And Olympus rates the battery to provide 350 shots per charge or 140 minutes for video recording.
Display & Viewfinder
It obtains the same 3.0-inch tilting touchscreen LCD from the PEN 9 and 8. And it also has the same resolution of 1.04M dots and flip-down articulation, letting you position it 180º down for front-facing selfies. But, it also tilts upwards of 80º, which is helpful when shooting flat lays and low-level shots. Plus it receives the same touch capabilities too. The list includes touch focus, touch shutter, exposure compensation, playback, and art filter selection. Overall, while unchanged, the screen remains on par for the class. And it’s sharp and bright enough for comfortable viewing outdoors.
It obtains the slightly redesigned user interface and menus from the PEN 9, which are modestly more streamlined and user-friendly than the PEN 8. And the PEN 9 initially brought touchscreen support to the filter selection. But otherwise, the interface is mostly unchanged and follows standard Olympus logic. So they continue to be complex and difficult to master. Thankfully, seasoned users will find them at least familiar. So pros and cons there.
It displays on-screen shooting tips with helpful photography tips to explain some basic shooting styles.
It obtains both the Quick Menu and LV Super Control Panels, which display a variety of shooting information and settings. And these are helpful to save trips to the main menu.
Both the Record and Function (Fn) buttons are programmable, letting you set them to various settings to suit your workflow.
It obtains the Custom Menu, where you can customize all of the camera settings on a single page.
It features Live Guides, letting you adjust various settings like color, brightness, or background blur using a slider with the touchscreen. And the camera shows a live preview of the change on the display.
Physical Layout & Ergonomics
Physically, it maintains a similar fashion-forward styling and design as the PEN 9 and 8. At first glance, you’d be hard pressed to differentiate this camera from the PEN 9, as the two are identical. They share the same dimensions, design, and weight at 332g body alone. But this is not necessarily a con. Instead, the nostalgic appeal known to this lineup makes its return, which we welcome as this is, arguably, the most attractive camera at this price point. So it’s good to see the return of the neural top-mounted dials, which offer a tactile feel, along with the embossed Olympus logo and magnesium alloy frame.
Additionally, it’s kept the improved grip from the PEN 9, which was slightly larger than the PEN 8. It also keeps the larger Mode Dial, leatherette wrapping, and the familiar control set too. So overall, while unchanged here, the design remains excellent nonetheless. And it’s ideal for those who prefer cameras with style and function. Plus, it’s also small enough to stow into a jacket pocket or small bag easily.
It retains the dedicated Advanced Photography (AP) position on the Mode Dial. And this gives you direct access to all the camera’s advanced shooting options. We will cover all of those options shortly.
It retains the dedicated Art Mode position on the Mode Dial, giving you immediate access to the 16 built-in Art Filters. And it receives both Bleach Bypass and Instant Film filters, first debuted on the PEN 9. But, it now features Fine-Tuning, letting you adjust the degree of the Art Filter’s effect to taste.
It has a dedicated movie record button to quickly start recording when the Mode Dial isn’t set to the Movie position.
It retains both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, letting it maintain an always-on connection to a paired smartphone. And you can wirelessly transfer or geotag images and remotely control the camera via the OI. Share app.
It obtains its predecessor built-in pop-up flash, which also tilts for bounce flash.
It has built-in panorama.
It receives Olympus’ full suite of Advanced Photography (AP) Modes. These include Focus Bracketing, HDR, Multiple Exposures, Keystone Compensation, Live Time, and Time-lapse recording. With focus bracketing, the camera takes eight images and combines the final result in-camera. While for time-lapse, it can render the video in-camera. And Olympus’ Live Time Modes make their return, letting you see a long exposure build in real-time.
It features Audio Recording, letting you add a 30-second audio clip to still images in Playback.
It obtains the e-Portrait Mode from its predecessor, which smooths skin tones for more flawless portraits. And this feature saves time doing so in post-processing.
It has a fully silent electronic shutter.
It obtains the Anti-Shock Shooting Mode, which uses the electronic first curtain shutter to reduce vibrations when working on a tripod.
It obtains the Photo Story Mode, letting you compile individual images into a single frame.
The camera captures video strictly using auto-exposure, regardless of the shooting mode. The only option you have is adjusting the exposure compensation, which isn’t ideal. Otherwise, you cannot control the exposure manually.
The camera automatically segments video recordings into 4 GB chunks, which require post-processing to create a single seamless video.
It lacks zebras for highlight warning indication.
It lacks any advanced video-centric features like 10-bit recording, log profiles, waveforms, and false color. And the camera doesn’t output a clean signal via HDMI either.
The camera uses a contrast-detection AF system, which isn’t the best at tracking moving subjects. Thus, the autofocus performance is sufficient for stills but not for video. AF-C hunts while filming, causing many frames to be out of focus. And it could easily ruin the resulting video. Additionally, the Face-detection on this camera isn’t reliable enough for professional use. The camera tends to lose track quickly, then hunts as it attempts to regain focus. Therefore, we wouldn’t suggest this camera for professional use. Competitors like the Canon EOS M200 or M50 far outperform this camera in this regard. And they would be the better go-to choices for tracking moving subjects or recording video.
While the flip-down screen is helpful for selfies, it’s not the ideal articulation here. Using a tripod or monopod will block the screen, rendering it useless. So if you use these accessories often, expect to get frustrated. For this reason, a flip-up screen is the better option, as this camera lacks a microphone input. So at least with that articulation, we could avoid the tripod issue altogether.
Like most PEN’s, it too lacks a built-in electronic viewfinder. And unlike the PEN 8, it doesn’t support the optional viewfinder accessory, so adding one isn’t a possibility anymore.
While the main menu is updated like it was on the PEN 9, it’s still low resolution and antiquated compared to rivals. Not to mention, the menu structure is overly complicated and will likely overwhelm less experienced users. The user interface on the PEN line seriously needs a revamping. It’s simply too complex and challenging to navigate. We mentioned this on our PEN 9 review, so it’s a shame to see the same menus return here. Additionally, there are too many quick menus on this camera. Users have the option of both the Quick and LV Super Control Panels. And together, it’s too difficult to find relevant settings since only one inevitably has specific settings. Overall, this camera is not intuitive enough for the target demographic. And without a redesign here, beginners will likely become frustrated by the user experience and react negatively.
Like the PEN 9, both the SD card and battery live in the same compartment underneath the camera, making it tedious to change either when using a tripod or selfie stick.
While the camera does offer updated front and rear grips, they’re still relatively small. And you’ll find it uncomfortable if you have large hands, so we’d recommend purchasing the Leather Body Jacket. Additionally, the buttons on this camera are quite small, especially the four-way d-pad. And it’s far too easy to press a button accidentally.
It lacks USB charging, making it one of the few cameras without the capability. Thus, you’ll have to carry a spare battery or hope for an outlet to use the external charger. And, strangely, even the battery charger doesn’t use USB-C either.
It lacks built-in GPS.
It lacks a microphone input.
It lacks a headphone input.
It lacks weather sealing.
It lacks dual card slots.
Is this a good beginner camera?
It’s an excellent choice, even more so if you want something attractive and stylish. And it’s currently unmatched in its general feature set at this price point. As such, it offers plenty of room for long-term growth, all the while offering superior image quality over a smartphone in the process.
Is this a good camera for you?
But current E-PL9 owners shouldn’t upgrade. The only noteworthy change is the fine-tuning functionality for the Art Filters. Otherwise, there are no other upgrades to this model. So save your money.
However, E-PL8 users and below should consider the upgrade. The better wireless connectivity, updated interface, and 4K video are worthwhile additions. But, if you can find the E-PL9 at a lower price, getting that instead would be wise.
Budding sports, wildlife, or action photographers wanting to shoot fast action should look elsewhere. With a burst rate of 4.8 FPS, it’s not the ideal option for most of these mediums. But, you could find it capable for slow-moving sports and casual family outings.
Videographers should also look elsewhere, consider the lacking inputs and poor autofocus. Better options exist at this price point.
In the end, the Olympus E-PL10 is a repacked E-PL9 with one notable addition of Art Filter fine-tuning. But otherwise, it remains unchanged from the PEN 9. Even so, respecting its starting price, it’s an interesting option for beginners. And even while untouched, it still bests rivals in several areas: style, image stabilization, and advanced functionality. However, it does remain behind in autofocusing performance and image quality. So it’s not quite the perfect option. That said, it’s a relevant camera nonetheless for those wanting a stylish upgrade over a smartphone. And it keeps the retro and nostalgic look loved in the PEN series. Yet, it couples it with a proven feature set, compact design, and attractive price. So, if you’re looking for something well-rounded and fashionable, despite the learning curve, this is your camera.
The Olympus E-PL10 essentially repackages the already successful PEN 9. And while almost entirely unchanged, it does remain an attractive option nonetheless for beginning photographers.