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Olympus' E-PL8 camera is a lot less wonderful than it looks

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A dressed-up point-and-shoot is still just a point-and-shoot

Olympus E-PL8 at Photokina 2016 Vlad Savov

Olympus is a company responsible for some of the prettiest and most striking designs in mobile photography today. Its new E-PL8 fits right into the heritage established by gorgeous recent models like the M5, M10, and especially the PEN-F, but it lets them down by failing to live up to anywhere close to their build quality and responsiveness. The E-PL8 feels almost like a knockoff Olympus made by Olympus.

At $650 with a kit lens, the E-PL8 is at the entry level of Olympus’ PEN line, aiming to effectively serve as a stepping stone for people looking to move beyond their traditional point-and-shoot cameras. As such, the E-PL8 includes a number of affordances to its target audience, including an iAUTO mode that automates everything, a tap-to-shoot option on its touchscreen, and dedicated zoom buttons.

Olympus E-PL8 at Photokina 2016 Vlad Savov

Like most point-and-shoots, the new E-PL8 has practically no grip to speak of, opting for a more linear design, which is jarring to hold after experiencing Olympus’ higher-end models with comfortable and trustworthy grips. The power switch is also a button rather than a physical toggle. And since point-and-shooters will surely like selfies, the E-PL8 also has an articulating screen that flips down under the camera to let you compose shots with the camera facing you.

All those newbie-compliant features would be well and good, but the E-PL8 fails to justify its existence by offering a legitimate upgrade. Its built out of cheap materials that only convey the look of more expensive Olympus models, not the sense of reliability and trust that comes with good construction. The LCD screen is unimpressive and flipping it out is an unpleasantly stuttery affair. Basically, drain all the refinement and quality out of Olympus’ designs and you’ll end up with something very much like the E-PL8. It doesn’t feel good to touch or use.

Looks like a genuine Olympus, but feels like a cheap knockoff

The E-PL8 strikes me as a checklist camera. It has an articulating screen, interchangeable lenses, wireless remote control via a smartphone, a litany of art filters and creative modes, and the look of high-end Olympus design. It also has in-body image stabilization and the same image processor used in Olympus’ flagship E-M1. It’s probably not a terrible camera. But in this age when the point-and-shoot audience is rapidly vanishing and people are more inclined to spend the E-PL8's price on a smartphone that can do a whole lot more besides shooting pretty pictures, this camera needs to do better than not being terrible.