Olympus E-PL7: Great Imaging Guts, Now With a Slick Selfie Redesign

Olympus interchangeable-lens cameras are some of the best out there, and that doesn't change with the new Pen E-PL7. As with the E-PL5, you get amazing imaging tech crammed inside a very small body. What's surprising is that the redesigned selfie-friendly LCD screen—usually an eye-roller feature—is so well-conceived that it's the distinguishing new feature of the camera. That's disappointing for a shooter from such a storied mirrorless pedigree.

Many of the Olympus mirrorless cameras share guts, and the E-PL7 follows that trend. The E-PL7 inherits its 16-megapixel micro four thirds sensor and TruePic VII image processor from the excellent, more expensive OM-D line. While the three-axis image stabilization isn't the finest vibration control the company makes, it's still very good, letting you shoot shake-free photo at slow shutter speeds as if you are steady as a tripod. In terms of basic shooting specs, though, not much has changed from the last generation of the camera, the E-PL5.

We're not used to being impressed by a camera's 180-degree tiling LCD designed for selfies. The feature has been making its way to every consumer camera out there. from bottom feeders to enthusiast grade kit that costs almost a thousand bucks. But it's actually really smart that the Olympus screen flips downwards instead of up.

When I was briefed on the E-PL7, the Olympus product specialist told me that the camera's downward tilting screen yields selfies that look more natural. When the screen flips 180 degrees up, as on some of Sony mirrorless cameras and its new king of point-and-shoots, the RX100 III, you end up holding the camera below your eyes so you can see the photo you're taking. This is an odd angle that glares at your chins and shoulders. Ugly. The down-flipping screen helps E-PL7 point at your eyes and the scenery.

While that design choice is clever and handy for the hordes of people who don't really see a reason to need a standalone camera any more, it's something of a bummer for the enthusiasts that brought M43 to life. Is this really what camera innovation has come to? Maybe it's not fair to expect too much from a tiny Olympus shooter. The company has been focusing its energy on larger mirrorless cameras like the O-MD E-M1 (which rules). And to Olympus' credit, it got the compact, mirrorless/micro four thirds concept right maybe before anyone. There's only so much you can do with such a small body and maybe we've plateaued.

The Olympus E-PL7 will be available for $600 for the body alone or $700 bundled with a 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lens.