Why an Olympus PEN, you might ask, and why exactly an E-P2 and not the more recent E-P3?
Well, I don’t have a completely rational explanation, so let’s first look at the situation I am in, at what I expected the Olympus to be, and then finally let’s look at possible alternatives.
First of all, I did not need a camera. I have two of them, and each one is perfect for my use. I don’t print. Sure, prints are nice, but I’m severely lacking wall space. Even in our new home, most walls are hidden behind closets and book shelves, and for the few that are not, I have more prints than I could possibly hang. And even if I really want something printed, I find that I can make satisfying prints from the images that both of my cameras produce.
Thus it is for the presentation on my blog and (rarely) for the odd photo book that I use the vast majority of my images. Again, the technical quality of images taken with the D300 is more than sufficient, and from what I have seen during the last 9 months, even the LX5 is good enough, at least given my subjects and style.
Obviously it was more a matter of playing around. At times I just enjoy playing with new toys. For the last years I have satisfied that urge mainly by buying new lenses for the DSLR, but now I have quite a collection, including a fisheye, several wide-angle lenses, standard lenses, telephoto lenses, macros, zooms and primes, the only lenses that I don’t have are too expensive for my non-professional use and my fairly standard income, and even if I could justify buying the big, long guns, each amounting to the price of a small car, I wouldn’t want to haul them around.
I wanted something considerably smaller than a DSLR, but at the same time something with at least slightly better high-ISO characteristics than the LX5, and I wanted something different from both cameras.
You have seen me experiment with the Panasonic DMC-FZ150, and that was certainly a different and at the same time extremely versatile camera. It lacked in the sensor department though. While I routinely use LX5 images taken at ISO 400, this is a sensitivity where the FZ150 already struggles. Add the longer focal length, one stop less at the wide angle, and you immediately see why it didn’t appeal to me, at least not at that time of the year.
A bridge cam is a fine thing though. While using the FZ150, I became increasingly enamored with the specs of the Fujifilm X-S1. It has the same reach, a better sensor (though seemingly not that much better than that of the LX5), a zoom that you can operate manually, a much better electronic viewfinder, its only obvious flaw is, that it won’t be available in Europe for another one or two months.
Do you know that effect? You want something that you don’t really need, decide for something that you can’t readily get, and then you buy something completely different. Well, it’s not that I didn’t desire a PEN at all, in fact I had considered buying one for more than a year, and when I couldn’t get the X-S1, but instead found a nicely priced E-P2 on eBay, I finally did it.
Using the LX5 is a pleasure for me, because the switch between aspect ratios on the lens barrel is pure genius. You can operate it by touch, and once you are accustomed to actually seeing square compositions on the LCD or in the viewfinder, you have a hard time going back. I really couldn’t see me buying another camera that wouldn’t allow me to directly compose squares. Olympus PENs have just the same aspect ratios as my LX5.
While using the FZ150, I found the DOF in the extreme telephoto range rather disappointing. Sure, I enjoy the DOF typical for small sensors on the LX5 (and on the FZ150, as long as I stay in wide-angle territory), but in the tele range I would prefer something more shallow.
The X-S1 has more or less the same DOF as the FZ150, but it is much heavier (almost thrice) and bigger (almost as a small DSLR). Both facts took away of the appeal of the Fuji, but while the E-P2 is not light and also considerably bigger than the LX5, it does allow for shallow DOF. Not as well as the D300 (or a full-frame camera), but much better than any small-sensor compact or bridge camera ever could.
Using the Tamron 17-50/2.8 VC on the D300 has spoiled me, and so did the excellent stabilization on the two Panasonics. I am no action or sports shooter, my subjects are normally inanimate, thus motion blur is simply not a problem that I need to be solved. Stabilization works perfectly for me.
There are two ways to stabilize an image. One is to stabilize each lens, the other is to stabilize the sensor. Sony and Pentax DSLRs and all Olympus cameras stabilize the sensor, most other cameras rely on in-lens stabilization, but not all lenses are stabilized. Far from that.
As I wanted to use a potential EVIL camera with an adapter for my Nikon lenses, sensor stabilization was the way to go. Olympus has it, but no other EVIL camera does.
The Olympus PEN series obviously fits my requirements nicely, but what about the alternatives? We have been through much of this in “1869 – Lessons To Be Learned“, but at that time I had rejected the PEN as well. What has changed?
Panasonic MFT cameras have a better sensor and more resolution, but while I don’t really need more resolution, the lack in stabilization of my Nikon lenses most likely more than compensates the better sensor.
The Fujifilm X-100 was the big sensation this year, and while I find the camera extremely attractive and its image quality even better than that of the D300, it only covers a very small niche. An attractive niche though, and essentially the same as my PEN with the 17/2.8. Still, its lens, excellent as it is, can’t be changed and the camera has no stabilization at all. Fine, but not for me.
Sony was very unfortunate this year. With the NEX-7 they have one of the technically best cameras in the market, finally a user interface targeted at the experienced photographer, but due to the flood in Thailand, they can hardly deliver. Apart from that, in the NEX line Sony relies on lens stabilization and although I could get an adapter for Nikon lenses, none of my lenses would be stabilized. Furthermore, although the NEX-7 has the sensor and EVF with the highest resolution, the sensor size is exactly the same as in the D300. While every Nikon lens behaves differently on the PEN, they are all the same on the NEX. This is boring and the Olympus scores much higher on the toy value scale.
Samsung is a newcomer in this game, just as Sony, but they don’t lead in any discipline. I don’t see why I should consider their EVIL line.
The Pentax Q is extremely small, I guess too small (I’ve only seen it in a window, but I am fairly sure that it is not a good match for my hands). Its image quality is also not considerably better than that of the LX5, I’m not even sure if it is as good.
Kirk Tuck praises the Nikon 1 V1, and while it is certainly a fine camera with great image quality and a fair share of innovative technology, it doesn’t shoot square. It would let me use my Nikon lenses, many even with autofocus, but the crop factor of 2.7 is pretty big. My 50/1.2 would have an effective focal length of 135 mm (not bad), the 85/1.4 an effective focal length of 230 mm (even better), but I wouldn’t have stabilization. Still, the Nikon 1 V1 is definitely one of the better options, although it excels in areas that I don’t desperately need, while it does not have much of an advantage over the PENs otherwise. Size and weight probably, but not much more.
What about beauty and build quality? Well, I find the NEX-7, the Pentax Q and the Nikon 1 all ugly. The Panasonic GX-1 looks better than their DSLR-like GH line, finally has an optional EVF comparable to the Olympus VF-2, is not as stripped down to compact camera features as the recent GFs, but it not yet available either.
The X-100 is certainly one of the most beautiful cameras that you currently can buy, but even that doesn’t compensate for the lack of flexibility due to the fixed lens.
While I don’t care for the looks of Olympus’ E-PL1/2/3 or E-PM1, I find the flagship products, the E-P1/2/3 extremely beautiful, and they ooze build quality. The E-P1 can’t use the EVF, thus it is out of the question, and the E-P3 is more expensive than I wanted to spend, at least for a camera with the same sensor size and quality as the E-P2. It has a faster and probably better autofocus and a vastly improved LCD though.
Well, here we are. For all these various reasons I chose Olympus over all other brands. Among the PENs I opted for build quality, beauty and a reasonable price. After all, I want a camera that I like to shoot with and that I can sell for a good price if I find that the PENs are the wrong choice. You see, the E-P2 was the ideal candidate. More about how it fulfills my expectations in the next post.