Olympus PEN E-PL9 Review
By Yvonne
2022-09-27

Olympus E-PL9 mirrorless camera is essentially the same as E-PL8, except that it has a flash built-in and supports 4K video.

Olympus PEN E–PL9 Review

Let's get to the bottom

Olympus E-PL9 mirrorless camera is essentially the same as E-PL8, except that it has a flash built-in and supports 4K video.

The pros

  • Autofocus snappy.
  • Burst speed of 8.5fps
  • In-body image stabilization.
  • 4K video.
  • Slim, attractive design.
  • Touch LCD tilting.
  • Built-in flash.
  • Wi-Fi, Bluetooth.

Cons

  • Image sensor 16MP for aging
  • There is no EVF option or additional options.
  • Access to 4K video is not possible.
  • A small buffer for raw shooting.

Olympus has not done anything to improve the technology of the entry-level mirrorless camera in the last few years. Olympus' E-PL series is updated every year. The E-PL9 (body only) costs $5999.99 and it looks very similar to the EPL8. There are three major improvements: an in-body flash and an image processor that can capture 4K video. Although it's an excellent starter camera, we don't consider it to be our favourite in this category. The Sony a6000 is still our Editors Choice.

Related Reading: Nikon Coolpix A1000 Review

Design

E-PL9 is a continuation of the designs from earlier models. It's a slim mirrorless camera without a built-in EVF or an add-on option—if you want an EVF, buy a different camera. The flash is available in the body, but it's not on any older models. It is attached to a hinge. The flash can be tilted up or down for soft bounce illumination.

Without a lens, the PEN is 2.7 inches by 4.6 inches by 1.5 inches. The PEN is available in silver with a black or tan exterior. It is slightly thicker than that on the EPL8, which improves ergonomics and doesn't add much bulk. Olympus tried a variety of grip design options in its E-PL7 series. However, this grip is more like the one we had with the E-PL7.

Olympus also sells the E-PL9 as a body-only model, and a basic 14-42mm zoom lens. This kit is $100 more than the separate 14-42mm EZ, which costs $299.99. You also get a 16GB card with carrying case.

Top plate contains the pop-up flash as well as a hotshoe to attach a bigger external flash or wireless trigger. The accessory port is not available. This means that you cannot use the clip-on flash provided with older PEN models. You can also add an EVF or external microphone to the PEN model. Olympus can be blamed for dropping the accessory port, even though there is a flash included. However, I wish Olympus had provided a standard microphone for 3.5mm to compensate.

The E-PL9, although an entry-level model is lacking in controls, has enough to allow you to adjust settings and take photos. You will find the Mode dial next to the top of the hotshoe. It is joined to its right by the combination dial/shutter release, as well as the On/Off buttons.

The Shortcut/Zoom out and Fn/Zoom in buttons are located at the back of the thumb rest. You will find a Record button to record videos below the thumb rest, as well as Delete, Menu and Info buttons. The directional pad is located in the middle of the screen. It has OK at the middle, as well as directional buttons to adjust the drive mode, flash setting, exposure compensation and focus.

The E-PL9 adds a variety of on-screen display options to its physical controls. When shooting, press OK to open a menu that allows you to adjust file format, ISO settings, JPG settings and video resolution. The Shortcut button brings up a more detailed on-screen display of settings that relate to exposure and autofocus—there's some overlap between the two on-screen menus, with the Shortcut screen diving into more detail and adding adjustments to things like face detection and the metering pattern.

Shortcut can do more than that. You can change the mode dial to Advanced Photography (AP) to switch between Live Composite or Live Time. This will allow you to choose from multiple exposures, HDR, silent photography, keystone distortion removal and other bracketing options.

For photographers looking to capture a wide-angle shot quickly, the addition of panorama stitching in camera is an advantage. Simply move the PEN left-to-right, using an onscreen arrow to guide you. The electronic shutter will capture the scene. To get the best shots, avoid subject movement as with multi-shot panorama mode.

You can also use the Art setting to access a variety of filters on your PEN. One can be set and you can choose to use a Bleach Bypass, or another stylized effect. Raw images can have filters applied later from the playback menu. Nine different filters can be applied to one image as shown in the image.

It is 3-inch in size and 1,040k dots with touch support. It's bright enough to use on a sunny day—necessary for a camera without an EVF—and can tilt to face up, down, or all the way forward. It could use a better hinge design. To angle the LCD downward, you must push down straight on it. Although it's simple once you're used to the concept, I don't find it very intuitive.

Selfie fans are going to be surprised to see that the screen flips under the camera, rather than above it, when facing forward—so you can still see the frame when the flash is popped up. The design is not something I like. It limits the options for vlogging while using a tripod.

To set focus, tap on a frame or to navigate the menus. You can also swipe through photos or pinch and zoom to see more. It is just as responsive as the flagship smartphones, which can be a huge plus for those photographers who want to move up from their phone cameras.

Related Reading: Fujifilm X-S10 Puts IBIS Into Compact, Affordable Body

Connectivity and power

Although the E-PL9 has Bluetooth added to it, the E-PL8 doesn't have this feature. However, the E-PL9 does not do much to enhance the wireless experience. Setting up the camera is easy—the rear LCD shows a QR code and you photograph it with your smartphone. My iPhone prompts me to create a (unsigned), Wi-Fi profile in order to save my E-PL9's SSID/password and complete the Bluetooth pairing process.

The camera can be set up as any modern device with Wi-Fi. To view the live feed, connect to your smartphone to the network. You can also transfer photos (at full resolution or reduced size) or 1080p video (4K is reduced to 1080p for speed).

It's implied that the camera can use Bluetooth to transfer photos automatically—you just need to flag them first, using the Record button in the playback screen. This didn't work in my case. An error message appeared telling me that I needed to link the PEN with my smartphone via Wi-Fi to enable automatic transfers. While Wi-Fi works faster but is less convenient, it's still more efficient. Nikon's SnapBridge technology, included in the D3400, is the most efficient Bluetooth file transfer system at press time.

The E-PL9 only has two data ports—micro HDMI and micro USB. The E-PL9 does not allow charging via USB. Olympus provides a rechargeable battery charger that can be used to charge the device via USB. The battery can record 350 photos or approximately 80 minutes per charge.

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Performance and autofocus

The E-PL9 runs a bit faster than the predecessor. The E-PL9 starts and focuses in 0.8 seconds. In bright lighting, it locks focus in 0.03 seconds and in dim lights in just 0.05 seconds. In bright light, the E-PL8 takes a little over 0.9 seconds to focus. It can lock focus in bright lighting in 0.1 seconds. However, it matches the 0.3 second market in dim lights.

Burst capture speeds up by around 1 fps. E-PL9 can shoot images at 8.5fps and maintains that speed for 10 Raw+JPG or 11 Raw shots, respectively, before slowing down. The buffer clear times take only 5 seconds to complete a Raw burst, and three seconds to finish a JPG shot. This means that you don't need to wait too long before starting again. I tested the camera with a Sony 300MBps memory card, although the E-PL9's memory card slot cannot take full advantage of that speed—you'll be fine using a more affordable 95MBps card.

Focus must be maintained after each frame. You can switch to low speed drive mode if you wish to continue moving objects in focus. The E-PL8's E-PL8 has it at 4.4fps, versus 3.5fps. It also delivers good accuracy, although not perfect. If you want an affordable mirrorless camera that does a better job tracking subjects, look to the Sony a6000—it tracks at 11fps.

An electronic shutter option is available for silent photography, however it can only be accessed via the AP dial setting. This means that you can't use the electronic shutter option for silent shooting. The mechanical shutter is employed in standard modes. There are several anti-vibration options available if you're concerned about blurring from shutter shock. The mechanical shutter, with its small sensor and mirrorless design is quite quiet.

Image and video

Although the E-PL9 looks sleek and beautiful from the outside, its image sensor has begun to show signs of wear. Although the 16MP Micro Four Thirds Sensor is not as modern as the 20MP Panasonic and Olympus use for their pricier models respectively, it remains the best entry-level option. Compare this with competing mirrorless systems that use the APS-C sensor size and have (for the most part) standardized on 24MP—the Sony a6000, Fujifilm X-A5, and Canon EOS M100 all boast 24MP resolution.

This sensor has 3-axis stability, which is a rarity in this price range. It can also be attached to any lens that you wish. The PEN reduces noise to less than 1.5 percent at ISO 6400. This is a great result for low light photography. However, noise reduction can affect image quality if the camera goes that far. You can still capture high quality images at ISO 1600. ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 may show some smudging. Avoid shooting JPGs at ISO 25600 or ISO 12800, which can cause blurred photos. However, the camera will not be able to range that far. Auto ISO control will prevent the PEN from exceeding ISO 6400.

If you want to take more control over images you can shoot in Raw format and either process photos in camera or using desktop software—we use Adobe Lightroom Classic CC. Raw images are not subject to noise reduction. High ISO shots will show more detail but have more grain.

Detail is more apparent in the higher ranges of Auto ISO, so I would feel at ease choosing ISO 12800. ISO 25600 is heavy with grain, however it can still be used in dim lighting. Raw photographers will look at more models than they do the featured ones. It is better to move up to a sensor with a higher resolution. The Micro Four Thirds World has two solid choices in this format: the Panasonic GX9 and the Olympus PEN-F 20MP.

The E-PL9 adds one new trick to its video toolset—4K capture. The feature, like the E-M10 Mark III's, is hidden inexplicably, so you may not even know it exists. To shoot 4K in HD, you will need to adjust the Mode dial to Movie mode. Also tap the Shortcut button for 4K mode. You can capture 24-25, 25 or 30 frames per second. The sharp resolution is achieved when you shoot in 4K. However, you are limited to the audio from your camera as an external mic cannot be used.

Other modes limit the capture to 1080p. However, you can increase the frame rate up to 60fps. You can use Art filters to your video at lower resolutions, which is not possible at 4K. Although the footage looks great at 1080p it is not as vibrant at 4K.

Conclusions

The E-PL9 is a little more gentle than the E-M10 Mark III which I also reviewed and gave a lower score. The E-M10 costs $50 less than the PEN. The market is another. Because of its ergonomic design, the E-M10 can compete with more expensive cameras. Olympus deserves credit for including Bluetooth and panorama stitching in-camera, which are not available in the E-M10.

Despite this, the PEN EPL9 represents a slight improvement on last year's EPL8, which is why the yearly updates play a role in it. The E-M10 series usually lasts about two years before new models are released. You can focus faster and take burst shots, but you will need to go through some hoops to get to 4K video.

Olympus should push the limits on what you can expect at entry-level. An updated 20MP sensor is a great step. However, even the 16MP chip will give you a substantial upgrade to the top smartphones. Olympus's in-camera art filters have been a feature of their phones for a while and they are an added bonus to the Instagram community.

There are many lenses, although first-time photographers tend to use the standard kit lens. Olympus offers a variety of affordable, compact prime lenses to pair with your camera. The PEN also allows you to use Micro Four Thirds lenses made by other manufacturers such as Sigma and Panasonic.

Since 2004, the Sony a6000 is our Editors Choice for entry-level mirrorless cameras. The a6000's 2014 performance was exceptional. It still holds the title of best entry-level mirrorless camera, with 24MP imaging and 11fps image acquisition, as well as an integrated EVF. This is especially true when you consider its low price, which is $500 for body only. It is starting to show its age due to the lack of touch LCDs, in-body stability, or 4K video. It's probably not the right fit for you if these features are important to your list or if the Micro Four Thirds System is already a part of your investment.

The Panasonic GX85 is a little more expensive, with 5-axis stability and an electronic viewfinder, but it costs $150 less. The GX850 is also available, although it lacks stabilization and costs $550, along with a lens. The Olympus PEN E-PL9 camera is a great choice for snapshooters and vacationers as well as family documentarians. However, it does not stand out much from the rest.

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