A Great Step up From a Smartphone: Olympus Pen E-PL10 Review

The Olympus Pen E-PL10 is a fun camera that gives a great ILC camera foundation to build upon.

As we all know, smartphones have taken a massive chunk of the entry-level camera market away from manufacturers, but the big boys still try to claw back customers who have maybe outgrown their smart devices when it comes to photography. One of those companies is, Olympus, and their latest roll of the dice into the entry-level camera market is the Olympus Pen E-PL10. This review turned out to be interesting as I was only allowed to leave my home for a limited amount of time to test the camera, so I had to get creative. Despite this, I was still able to put this small, compact camera through its paces. Is this camera good enough to make new photographers step away from their smartphone cameras? Let’s find out in our full review.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • The E-PL10 is a fun camera to use; especially with smaller lenses
  • The feature set is quite impressive and includes Olympus’s Live Comp and fun art filters
  • 3-Axis Image Stabilization works really well
  • The flip-down screen is great for those who love selfies
  • A very good quality LCD – It’s better than the LCD on Sony’s a6100
  • It’s small, light, compact, and it looks good. It can go anywhere with minimal fuss
  • Pretty great battery life
  • Image quality is great considering the sensor is six years old
  • Good autofocus performance in good lighting conditions
  • Good build quality overall

Cons

  • The sensor is six years old! Come on Olympus, it’s time for an update
  • Autofocus performance is hit and miss in low light (contrast only AF)
  • In bright sun, the LCD can be tricky to see
  • The buttons and controls are a little hard to use due to their small size
  • Even with some helpful splash screens, the main meat of the menu system is terrible
  • There’s no weather sealing
  • Apart from two small upgrades, the E-PL10 is the same camera as the E-PL9

Gear Used

Olympus Pen E-PL10

We used the Olympus Pen E-PL10 with the following lenses: (yes we know these aren’t all typical lenses you would use with this camera, but it’s what we had, and it shows the versatility of the Micro Four Thirds Platform):

Tech Specs

All of the specifications have been taken from the official Olympus website.

  • Sensor Effective Resolution / Type16.1 Megapixel Live MOS
  • ProcessorTruPic™ VIII
  • Focusing SystemContrast Detection with 121 Focus Points
  • Image Stabilization SystemIn-Body 3-Axis Image Stabilization
  • Rear Monitor3.0″ 180° Tilting Touch LCD
  • Creative FeaturesLive Composite, Selfie Mode, Selfie Video Mode, Video Clips Mode, Advanced Photo (AP) Mode
  • Sequential Shooting Speed8.6 fps [H Mode], 4.8 fps [L Mode] Mechanical Shutter
  • Special FeaturesEasy image sharing via Bluetooth Low Energy, Wi-Fi, and Olympus Image Share App; Built-in pop-up flash

“A large 3-inch tilting LCD screen dominates the back of the Olympus Pen E-PL10. Notice that there is no EVF, so be prepared to look like a fool when you place this camera up to your eye only to remember that there is just an LCD for you to use.”

Ergonomics

Olympus Pen E-PL10

The Olympus Pen E-PL10 is a pretty stylish camera to look at, and it is sure to turn heads when you take it out. The vintage-styled camera is wrapped by a nice grip that comes in either black, white, or tan. The black leatherette with brushed metal-looking plastic is quite nice. One thing you will tell instantly from this image is that this camera is tiny ((4.61 x 2.68 x 1.54-inches) you’ll also see that the grip is equally small, which makes the camera a little hard to hold for those of us with bigger hands, but the textured covering does provide a little grip. Other than the lens release, there are no other features on the front of the camera.

Olympus Pen E-PL10

The top of the camera features a simple layout. On the far left, you will see where the pop-up flash is located. The hot shoe is then followed by the mode dial and then a function dial, which controls your shutter speed. The shutter is located in the middle of the dial. You’ll also see the power button which illuminates blue when the camera is turned on, and on the top of the back panel, you can find the Super menu button and a customizable function button.

Olympus Pen E-PL10

A large 3-inch tilting LCD screen dominates the back of the Olympus Pen E-PL10. Notice that there is no EVF, so be prepared to look like a fool when you place this camera up to your eye only to remember that there is just an LCD for you to use. The screen is flanked by the main control wheel, the delete and playback buttons, and the menu and info buttons. This layout looks nice, but due to the size of the camera, these controls are quite hard to use. You’ll find yourself getting a thumb cramp if you reach for the controls often, this is exacerbated even more if you have large hands like me.

The main control wheel is also small, and hitting the four control buttons inside the wheel requires you to use the very tip of your finger or a fingernail, and even when you take care to try and hit the right control, you will find yourself mashing the controls, which becomes a little frustrating. The little thumb nub that you can see in the top right-hand corner is welcomed as it allows you to assert a little more control over this tiny camera. The Olympus Pen E-PL10 is small and light (0.84lbs), and that’s part of its charm. It’s a fun little camera to use, but just be prepared to twist your hand, fingers, and wrist into sometimes awkward positions to use it.

“The great thing about the metal LCD bracket is that you’ll be able to tilt and swivel the LCD screen without fear of the mechanism wearing out quickly.”

Build Quality

Olympus Pen E-PL10

The Olympus Pen E-PL10 has a good build quality overall; just remember that this is not meant to be a premium camera, and you’ll be okay with the almost all plastic build. The plastic feels nice, and apart from the battery door, which honestly feels like could snap off with just a little force, the camera is solid. The bracket that holds the tilting screen is metal and is probably where a lot of the weight comes from. The great thing about the metal LCD bracket is that you’ll be able to tilt and swivel the LCD screen without fear of the mechanism wearing out quickly. The plastic buttons and dials all feel nice and provide good tactile feedback, and this makes the camera nice to use.

You’re going to have to keep in mind that there is no weather sealing in the Olympus E-PL10 so you’re not going to be able to take it outside when the weather takes a turn for the worse. Honestly, I wouldn’t even take it out into a light sprinkle just to be on the safe side. If you need a camera with weather-sealing, this is not a compact camera for you. Overall the Olympus E-PL10 falls right where you would expect a camera like this too when it comes to its build quality. It’s not going to receive awards, but it gets the job done, and it should survive what most photographers who will jump for this camera will put it through.

“The super menu will quickly become your best friend. Any photographer who has used Olympus cameras will tell you that this is one of the best features when it comes to ease of use.”

Ease of Use

Olympus Pen E-PL10

The Olympus Pen E-PL10 is pretty easy to use once you get used to its small size, and of course, the infamously convoluted Olympus menu system. I will say that the menu system in the Olympus Pen E-PL10 has been toned down from their pro cameras like the E-M1 III, and there are some beautiful splash screens in place that explain what different modes can do (like live composite, focus stacking, etc.). I would think the average user of this camera will likely stick to modes where the splash screens are displayed, but if you venture deep into the menu systems, you will see that Olympus still needs to work on its user interface. Spend some time with the camera, and you should be just fine, though.

Olympus Pen E-PL10

The super menu will quickly become your best friend. Any photographer who has used Olympus cameras will tell you that this is one of the best features when it comes to ease of use. The super menu places all of your commonly used functions in one easy to read menu. Simply hit the super menu button, then use the touchscreen to select which parameter to change and then use the top dial to change the values. This functionality makes the camera easy to use, and new photographers who are used to using touchscreens will find it faster than fiddling with the small control dial on the back of the camera.

In the above picture, you can also see the Olympus Share app on my iPad. Sharing images (both RAW and JPEG) from the camera is very easy. You simply scan a QR code on the camera and the iPad or your phone will connect. You can transfer, edit, and share files quickly.

This was captured handheld at 0.4 seconds. The image is tack sharp. The 3-Axis IBIS works very well and makes it easy to use the camera.

Several features make the Olympus Pen E-PL10 stand out. The 3-axis IBIS is excellent, and in my opinion, it works much better than the 5-axis stabilization that is found in say the Sony a6500/a6600. I was able to handhold the camera and get a razor-sharp shot of my dog with a shutter speed of 0.4 seconds. It’s really impressive. Then you have fun features like the built-in art filters, which allow you to add a unique style to your images, and the Olympus Pen E-PL10 even has focus stacking and live composite (which continues to be one of the best features in Olympus cameras). The camera can also fire off 8.5 frames per second (mechanical) and 14.1 fps (electronic), though the buffer fills rather quickly. Still, you can capture action quite easily thanks to these burst rates.

Star trails captured using the Live Composite feature.

The large LCD is pretty nice too. It has a higher resolution than the screen that can be found on the Sony a6100, so your images look nice and sharp when you zoom in, the only downside is that in bright sunlight, glare can make the screen hard to see, and it is in these moments that you wish the Olympus Pen E-PL10 had a dedicated EVF.

The touchscreen makes it easy to focus too, as all you have to do is tap where you want the camera to focus, you can even tap to take a shot too, This is a feature that those coming from smartphones will no doubt love. First-time camera owners who are migrating from phones will love everything about this touchscreen LCD. It makes the camera fun, it’s intuitive and easy to use.

Crazy selfie. The flip-down screen comes in handy for shenanigans.

The flip-down screen on the Olympus E-PL10 is also a great feature, and it makes taking selfies a breeze. You simply pull down on the display and flip it 180 degrees, and it’s ready to go. You’ll find that eye and face detect do a good job when you are holding the camera an arm’s length away and, and you tap the screen to focus and take a shot. If you’re a fan of selfies, you’ll love this feature. The pop-up flash also comes in handy for this too!

Overall the Olympus Pen E-PL10, once you get used to the menus and functions, is a fun camera to use. The camera has many great features, and the battery life is great (I was able to get 300 shots and still have plenty of juice left in the tank). It’s a great option for first-time camera owners who want a small, compact camera that they can grow with for a while before moving on to something with a little more oomph.

“You won’t have too many problems with AF performance overall, but you will occasionally curse under your breath when you miss a good shot because the light was a little low.”

Autofocus Performance

In good lighting conditions, the Olympus Pen E-PL10 and its 121 AF points will find focus incredibly fast. It’s a case of point, half-press, and shoot, and it all happens in the blink of an eye. I had no problems capturing objects in motion either; it’s when the sun goes down, or you are in dimly lit environments that the camera struggles.

In this camera, Olympus opted to use contrast only detect focus, and while we understand this was probably done to keep costs low, it does let the camera down. There is a bright focus assist beam that tries to help, and it does make the focusing a little better, but it is time to move past contrast only autofocus systems. You won’t have too many problems with AF performance overall, but you will occasionally curse under your breath when you miss a good shot because the light was a little low.

Tracking

When it comes to C-AF (continuous autofocus), the Olympus Pen E-PL10 does a good job. The Airforce was doing a flyover to salute healthcare workers, and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to try C-AF and tracking out.

As you can see in the sequence above, the E-PL10 done a great job keeping up with the Boeing KC-46; in fact, there was just one image in this sequence that was ever so slightly out of focus. When it comes to using the tracking and C-AF mode though, just forget it, the system is a mess and is incredibly erratic. Stick to a single point and C-AF, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.

The E-PL10 also features eye and face detect, and it does well too, but don’t expect miracles. You’re not going to get super fast eye-AF like that which Sony can deliver, but it gets the job done. Overall the autofocusing performance of the Olympus Pen E-PL10 is good, not great, but good enough for most people who will pick up this camera. Just understand its limitations, and you will find that it performs well.

“JPEGS are what most people who buy this camera will likely want to work with, and honestly, they are so good that I would recommend that everyone works with them unless you are shooting a particularly tricky scene.”

Image Quality

Olympus Pen E-PL10

The 16-Megapixel sensor in the Olympus Pen E-PL10 maybe six years old, but it can still deliver beautiful images. I have been very impressed with the pictures I have been able to make with the camera. The colors that are produced are fantastic, the images are detail-rich, the JPEGS are excellent, and you can push and pull the RAW files quite a bit. Don’t let anyone tell you that 16-Megapixels aren’t enough. If you’re stepping up to this camera from a smartphone, then you will be blown away, and honestly, 16-Megapixels is more than enough for the way that most images get shared these days.

RAW File Versatility

Unedited RAW File

I’ve heard time and time again that Micro Four Thirds cameras are terrible when it comes to dynamic range, but take a look at these images and see for yourself that those statements are fake news. I am a Micro Four Thirds user, and I have never had an issue with not being able to recover shadow and highlight details.

Edited RAW File

As you can see, I was able to recover a ton of detail in the shadows, and I was able to pull back details in the highlights too. The colors are great, and overall the RAW file was very easy to work with. You’re not going to have any issues when it comes to the RAW files that the Olympus E-PL10 produces. I’m not sure the majority of users of this camera will shoot RAW, but if you do, you can work wonders with the files.

JPEG Quality

JPEG image straight from the Olympus Pen E-PL10.

The Olympus Pen E-PL10 impressed me with the JPEGS that it produced. The JPEGS are bright and colorful. Shadow and highlight details are excellent, and noise is kept under control as well. JPEGS are what most people who buy this camera will likely want to work with, and honestly, they are so good that I would recommend that everyone works with them unless you are shooting a particularly tricky scene. The JPEGS are small in size, they transfer quickly, and the processor does such a good job that they are ready to share instantly. Excellent job, Olympus.

High ISO Test

ISO 800

Micro Four Thirds cameras aren’t known for their high ISO performance, and while the Olympus Pen E-PL10 won’t blow your socks off, it won’t disappoint either. The images in this series range from ISO 800 to ISO 6400, and as you can see, when it comes to web use, even the image at ISO 6400 is very usable. You’re not going to want to run out and get a big print made, but for this camera’s intended audience (new photographers who will post mainly to social media), the performance is great. If you want to keep as much detail as possible, you won’t venture past ISO 1600 often, but you can if you need to in a pinch. Fine detail starts to get lost at ISO 1600, and by 3200 and then 6400, details become muddy.

ISO 1250
ISO 1600
ISO 3200
ISO 6400

Extra Image Samples

The images below contain a mixture of unedited RAW, edited RAW, and straight out of camera JPEG images. Each has been marked accordingly.

Edited
Edited
Unedited RAW
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Olympus Pen E-PL10
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JPEG image straight from the camera
Straight from camera JPEG
Olympus Pen E-PL10
Straight from camera JPEG
Edited
Unedited
Olympus Pen E-PL10
Edited
Edited
Edited
Olympus Pen E-PL10
Edited
Olympus Pen E-PL10
Edited
Olympus Pen E-PL10
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This is the stacked RAW file straight from the camera, no editing.

Conclusions

Likes

  • Excellent image quality
  • The touchscreen makes the camera fun to use
  • Versatile RAW files
  • It’s a fun camera to pick up and use thanks to its size and weight

Dislikes

  • No EVF, which is missed on bright days
  • Low light autofocus performance
  • Cramped controls

Overall the Olympus Pen E-PL10 is an excellent camera, and it will serve as a great introduction to ILC cameras for anyone who is looking to step up from a smartphone. The camera is small enough that it can be slipped into a pocket if it has a small prime lens attached, or can easily be put into a bag. This camera is perfect for those who perhaps want to do some macro photography, some everyday journaling, street photography, food photography, and even more advanced genres like astrophotography thanks to the tremendous live composition mode. The image quality is excellent, the touch interface will make those who are used to smartphones feel right at home, and the battery has enough about it to last a day or more of casual shooting. It’s a great little camera that packs a punch. I’ve been impressed with the camera, and I’m sure you will be too.

The problem is that the Olympus Pen E-PL10 is more expensive than the older E-PL9, and honestly, there are hardly any differences between the two cameras. These cameras both feature the same hardware, they both look the same and have the same functionality except that silent shooting function can be used in any shooting mode on the E-PL10, and the strength of the art filters can also be adjusted on the E-PL10. Otherwise, they are the same camera. 

Overall we award the Olympus Pen E-PL10 four out of five stars. If you want a pocket-sized camera that will give you a great platform to build upon, and that has some great features, the E-PL10 is fantastic. The lack of real progress between this camera and the E-PL9 and the price bump is what keeps it from getting five stars. If you want the latest model with silent shutter shooting in all shooting modes spring for the E-PL10, otherwise save a few bucks and pick up the E-PL9.

Want one? You can get one for $599 with the kit described above, or you can get the body only for $499.

Recommended lenses to use with the Olympus Pen E-PL10