The Bottom Line
One of the best compliments I can give the Olympus PEN Mini camera is this: The Mini's look, feel, and performance level make me expect to see a much higher price tag on this model.
The PEN Mini, also called the E-PM1, shoots high-quality photos, and it has a fast response level. It's available in several colors, and it has a stylish and smart design, such as an add-on flash unit that's centered for optimal performance. The PEN Mini is very similar to the PEN Lite, but the Mini carries a slightly smaller and lighter camera body, as well as a lower price tag. It's a lot of fun to use.
The PEN Mini simply is one of the better interchangeable lens cameras for beginning and less experienced photographers that is available. Throw in a price tag of well below $500 with a starter lens, and it's easy to recommend this camera.
There's very little to complain about with the image quality of the PEN Mini. A few photos that you shoot might not have perfectly sharp focus, and a few might be a little blurry from camera shake, but the vast majority of photos are of outstanding quality, especially in terms of sharpness.
Colors are extremely bright and realistic in all lighting conditions, including when the flash is being used. However, one problem with flash photos is that you may see a shadow from the lens, depending on the angle at which you're shooting. You'll have to adjust your angle if you notice this problem while shooting, which can be a bit of a hassle.
Olympus included five different aspect ratios with the PEN Mini, which is one more than you'll see on most cameras. You can shoot at 4:3, 16:9, 3:2, 1:1, and 3:4 for vertical photos without having to turn the camera. Twenty different combinations of resolution and aspect ratios are available, and having this kind of flexibility is great. You also can shoot at JPEG, RAW, or both.
Quite a few special effects are available through a special menu, and they're a lot of fun to use. You can select a blurred background, color saturation, or an adjusted color tint, among other options, through this menu.
Movies are easy to shoot with the E-PM1. You simply have to press the movie button to start and stop the video, and you don't have to enter any special movie mode. Because the zoom is controlled manually, it will work fully in movie mode.
In fully automatic mode, the E-PM1 works very quickly with great response times. Shutter lag is not noticeable on photos shot outdoors, and it's only a slight problem on indoor photos. The autofocus is very fast, although it does slow down a little bit in low light and over a distance. However, the autofocus does work very accurately all of the time, even in low light.
Like a point and shoot camera, the PEN Mini offers almost two dozen scene modes, which can allow you to help the camera's automatic mode work better in certain situations. Scene modes include macro, document, 3D, and fish-eye.
Unlike a point and shoot camera, the PEN Mini doesn't have an automatic zoom lens. You must manually twist the zoom ring on the lens to change the zoom.
Because this camera has no viewfinder, you must rely on the E-PM1's LCD screen for framing photos, so it's a good thing that the PEN Mini's LCD is of such a high quality. It also works quickly, as it can remain clear and sharp as it follows moving action.
The PEN Mini model that I tested is all silver, including the lens housing. It's a very simple design that still manages to exude style. The PEN Mini is extremely light and thin, and it's the smallest and lightest digital interchangeable lens camera I've ever used. Even though it doesn't weigh much, this camera still feels as though it's well built.
My test model had a 14-42mm starter lens, and this lens was about two and a half times thicker than the thickness of the camera body. The camera's weight balance was still good, but a larger, longer lens could leave the E-PM1 feeling a bit unbalanced.
A tiny flash unit attaches to the hot shoe, which is directly centered on the camera. To use the flash, you must raise it. However, in automatic flash mode, it only fires when needed, even when raised. When closed, it has a very low profile on the camera, which is nice for such a small camera.
The camera's top panel only has two buttons, a power button and a shutter button. These two buttons are pretty close together, unfortunately, so you could inadvertently press the power button when reaching for the shutter button. The back panel's buttons include movie, info, playback, menu, and a four-way button with a spin ring. The PEN Mini's button layout looks more like a point and shoot camera than an advanced DSLR camera, which makes it easier for beginners to use.
It would be nice if the E-PM1 had a mode dial or a viewfinder, but those items aren't as easy to include on such a small model. Without the mode dial, you're forced to rely on the on-screen menus to set up the camera, so it's great that Olympus obviously spent so much time designing a very easy-to-use and nice-looking menu. For beginners, explanations of each menu item appear on the screen as you select it. Some menus are hidden at the beginning, so, as you become more familiar with the camera, you can turn on these menus.