on December 10, 2009
I got mine on Saturday from a camera store here in Austin. The camera is nice and small but feels very solid. I was interested in the EP1 but could never get my mind around the practice of viewing and focusing on the back LCD screen. I was interested in this product segment because I have a collection of the Pen F half frame film cameras that this one is based on. I was very happy to learn that several people are making adapters that will allow me to use those old Pen F lenses on the EP2. I am looking forward to using two of my old favorites, the 60mm f1.5 and the 70mm f2.
I took the EP2 and the kit zoom lens out for a three hour spin yesterday morning. It was 30 degrees outside and the first thing I discovered is that this is not a camera with an interface you can use with gloves on. The buttons are too small and require too much pressure with gloves.
In daylight I didn't notice any real problem with focusing. It was not as slow as I was led to believe. BUT, it does do this little "focus on either side of sharp" and then lock and shoot that takes a few tenths of a second each time you autofocus. The cure is to switch the focus on control to the fn button or the ael button and then you can focus once and shoot until the subject/camera distance changes. It's definitely not bad. I also tried a bunch of low light focusing later in the evening and, with 60 watt household lights in various fixtures the focus locked pretty well.
You would be unwise to buy this camera without the EVF (electronic viewfinder). In my opinion this is what makes this camera and cameras like the Panasonic GF1 special. It's a great finder. Almost as clear and clean as a great optical finder. Better than the optical finders on the Olympus e300 and e520 cameras that I also own.
Here's why I really love the camera. I spent years and years shooting with a Hasselblad and I love composing images as squares. Several DSLR's with "LIve View" are available that can be configured to shoot different aspect ratios in Jpeg. Including the square. But when shooting portraits those cameras go through too much time consuming labor to use it effectively and the effect can only be seen on the rear LCD screen. On the EP2 this is not the case. The exposure is relatively instantaneous. And the camera can be used in a square format which you can view through the EVF.. You basically wind up with a 6x6 camera that shoots 9 megapixel files (the crop of the 12 megapixel sensor to square) at three frames per second.
The color and sharpness, even with the kit lens, is superb. Out of camera jpegs are something Olympus is famous for and this camera is even better than it's predecessors. I've also processed a few raw files with Capture One 5.01 and they are great but not that much better than a well exposed Jpeg.
I wrote a little review of the shooting experience on my blog. [...]
At the end of the first paragraph is a link to a gallery of images. The image at the top of the blog is full size. Click on it to see just how sharp the files are.
The only unhappy note I have about the camera is that the BLS battery was "only" good for around 300 images. I always buy a spare battery when I buy a new camera so I had one in my pocket when the first battery became depleted. Keep in mind that it never got about 35degrees (f) while I was shooting and cold really messes with batteries. I presume you might be able to hit the 500 shot mark with warmer weather.
Finally, I am excited to shoot HD video with this camera. With adapters I'll be able to use some of the great lenses I've bought for my regular Olympus cameras.
Here is my con list:
1. The batteries could last longer....
2. The EVF plugs into a port under the hot shoe. It also takes over the hotshoe. This means that you can't use the hot shoe or even trigger a flash if the EVF is plugged in. This is a big deal. I wish the camera had a little pc terminal somewhere. Then I could use the EVF and still be able to trigger studio flashes.
3. Same thing for microphones. If you want to use an outboard mic for recording sound you'll need to use the same connection port. So you get to choose between EVF and microphone.
4. I wish there were more dedicated Olympus lenses for this format. I'd love a 20 or 25mm prime lens with a fast aperture. I think that would be sooooo cool. Maybe that's down the road.
All in all this is the camera I've wanted for a while. I am happy with it. It gets only four stars because of the multi-function port. On image quality it's five star. If they drop in price after the launch I will try to buy a second body. Have fun deciding between this and the Panasonic GF-1.
Bottom line: this camera represents a fantastic compromise between price, portability and picture quality. For those who can't take their big DSLRs everywhere they want to take pictures, this is the best camera I've found. Folks who are moving up from point and shoots should get a "real" DSLR as their move-up camera; this thing is really for those who already have DSLRs and looking for a great 2nd camera.
Image quality, feel, size, weight. Really, you get great pictures up to ISO 400 (and I'm picky), and ISO 800 is completely usable. This is my replacement for a Canon G9, and this camera is just a little bit bigger and TONS better.
This is a system with multiple manufacturers. I'll be able to upgrade bodies and lenses from different companies without worrying about compatibility. Panasonic may make a better body a year or two from now -- no worries, I'll just buy it and know my lenses will just work.
The 14-42 lens is really sharp. I've ordered the 45-200 and pre-ordered the super-wide 7-14 zoom. They all weigh about a pound. I also have a Gitzo Traveler. My travel photo kit will be quite nice, small and light. Ahhhhh!
I synch external 3rd-party strobes at 1/320th of a second. Very, very nice.
The electronic viewfinder is bright and clear. I really like the diopter correction.
The autofocus isn't as good as my prime DSLR (a Canon 1ds iii, so you know from whence I speak!), but is a heck of a lot better than normal point & shoots. The autozoom function while manual focusing is a nice touch, but in moderated-to-low light is too noisy to get tack-sharp focus. A "preview" button would be a nice workaround, but only if it was just used to temporarily freeze the zoomed view and show a quick focus check.
As *everyone* says, you have your choice of one option at a time: strobe, electronic viewfinder, or external microphone connection. Arghhh!
The USB connector is some darned combo AV / USB thing. It is NOT compatible with standard USB cables. My suggestion: don't take the cable with you on the road, but instead use a separate card reader to download pictures.
The battery it came with is lame. Get a higher capacity battery for $9. In fact, get two! Maximal Power DB OLY BLS-1 Replacement Battery for Olympus Digital Camera/Camcorder (Black)
I really wish they made a very little strobe for this other than the Olympus FL-14 Flash for Olympus E-P1 Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera. The FL-14 is lame (no tilt or swivel, low power), but the FL-36R is too big. The ideal setup would be to just use a wireless trigger and move the strobe off-axis.
The user interface is a little weird. I actually had to read the manual. I suspect this is just because I'm a Canon-head, but be warned. I'm getting used to it, which mostly means going into the secret setup menu (you have to turn on the detailed setup menu) and customizing things. One strong suggestion: set Auto-ISO to 100-400. No real penalty in picture quality at ISO 400, and you won't mind if the camera swings between 100 and 400 as it pleases.
The user interface requires you to use the wheel often, e.g. to change the f-stop/shutter tradeoff in "P" mode. It's way too easy to push on the ring and accidentally change a setting (e.g. ISO 100 --> 6400!). This has happened to me a few times.
The bracketing feature is useless for HDRs. You only get to change by 1 EV; you need two or three.
(In response to an excellent comment, here's a follow-up...)
I agree that ISO 1600 is "really good," but in my opinion 400 is the highest ISO that maintains the best quality. In fact, there's really no noise to clean up -- even in solid red areas of the picture. 800 and above, you're trading off quality for sensitivity. I suspect we're really agreeing with each other, but I could have been more explicit. So, here goes: this thing has near-DSLR image quality in a very small, nice package. If you make huge prints, stick to 400 or lower (advice that's also relevant for all but the highest-end DSLRs); judicious use of Noise Ninja, et al, may allow you to push a bit past 400, but you're literally pushing your luck. ISO 1600 is fine for smaller prints, and more than fine for web pages, etc.
For the numerically inclined, here's the noise index from Noise Ninja:
ISO 100 11
ISO 200 14
ISO 400 20
ISO 800 28
ISO 1600 46
ISO 3200 99
ISO 6400 148
My rule of thumb: 20 and under is near-perfect, 20-30 is quite usable, and 40+ has issues.
And since I've written my original review, I've come to appreciate the auto-tracking continuous focus mode. I have my Fn key mapped to MF (manual focus), so I can bounce back and forth easily. I sure wish the camera had a few more mappable buttons, though. I'd really like to also get access to the white balance set command as well as the depth of field preview. Oh, well.
Also, I built a dual-illuminant DNG Color Profile for my E-P2. Amazing improvement! I was able to take a picture of the target on my LCD, bring the pic into Lightroom (where the profile is automatically applied), and then see that the colors of my displayed image exactly match the original. Nice stuff. Just google "dng color dual illuminant" to see how to do it.
As you can tell from the above, I also built some Noise Ninja profiles. Feel free to get them at [...]
Finally, the nice guy who runs epaperpress made ptlens work with the E-P2 about an hour after I asked him to. I highly suggest using ptlens from Photoshop to correct barrel distortion, etc.
on December 10, 2009
I've been shooting with SLR's for years now. The quality for me has always overridden the fact that the systems were bulky and cumbersome to shoot with. But I had felt that the "fun" had sort of been sucked out of my photography. It's hard to be spontaneous with a large SLR and large lenses. Luckily for me, those days are over. The fun is back.
The Olympus E-P2 is simply fantastic. You've got SLR quality in a near pocketable package, and the result has opened up avenues of photography that haven't been available to me in years.
I've missed countless opportunities to take pictures because of the sheer mass of my SLR system and not wanting to lug it around. This little camera will stay with me more frequently and just begs to be used. You get the convenience of the point and shoot, but the quality you crave in your pictures.
Pros of this camera:
High ISO is really good. Pretty clean all the way up to 3200, and certainly printable.
Movie mode is of very high quality. Somebody with good lenses and a creative mind can make some magic here.
Ability to use old lenses with an adapter. Very nice feature, and the manual focus mode is especially nice because it magifies what you are trying to focus on automatically.
Picture quality has amazing detail and color. Olympus color is in full force here.
Portability. (I recommend getting the nice Panasonic 20mm 1.7 lens. It takes the quality and portability up a notch, and gives you a top notch low light system)
Viewfinder is really top notch and large and bright. This allows for viewing of pictures and movies out in the sun(something you couldn't really do with any camera before now).
Built in image stabilization, which will work on even old lenses up to 4 stops.
Slightly slower focus than an SLR(and even the panny GF1). Not bad though and for a live view system it's pretty peppy.
No built in flash. Not a negative for me. Built in flash results are atrocious. I got the little FL-14 for flash in a pinch.
Cost. A little pricey for everyone, but it's actually worth the money for everything you get.
This is really a nice camera. If you have legacy 4/3 lenses you can attach and autofocus them. If you have other system lenses you can use them with an adapter and they work well. The obvious competitor, the Panny GF1 is also a nice camera. Both have strengths and weaknesses but in the end I'm really happy I got the Olympus E-P2. It's stylish, uber powerful, portable, and just downright cool. I still can't believe how small it is. Quite an amazing achievement to fit this technology in this small of a body.
on June 28, 2010
We're lucky when we shop for something and our choice is limited to two options. Such is the case with micro fourth-thirds cameras. The format has been around for at least 40 years, but digital micro four-thirds is new. The format appeals to photobugs because it represents a good compromise between the image quality of consumer SLRs and the size of compact cameras. The image sensor is only a third smaller than that of an SLR, but nine times the size of a typical compact camera. Since sensor size is intimately correlated with goodies like background blur ("bokeh") and lower color noise, along with the fact that pictures taken with bigger sensors are deeper and more accurate, micro four-thirds is a boon. With a compact prime ("pancake") lens attached, it's not too big for a coat pocket. Add to this that the lenses are interchangeable and the format is friendly (via adapter) to every imaginable lens mount --- including legacy manual-focus classics often available inexpensively on eBay or molding away on your old film SLR body. This all adds up to an irresistible proposition for the early adopter whose neck hurts from hauling around a big hunk of metal and glass.
But as mentioned, there are two: The Olympus Pen (in this case we'll look at the E-P2) and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1. Which is better? Like so many things in a competitive economy, it's a set of trade-offs--the two cameras excel at different things. The best choice likely depends on your picture-taking. Let's compare the two, feature for feature.
1) Looks. When I first saw the Olympus E-P1 in silver, I fell in love with it. It's a beautiful camera. Soon the E-P2 came along and, though it's a far better camera, until recently it came only in black. Okay, it's not exactly black but more of a metallic dark grey in the body and black in the extremities. Personally, I don't like grey and black together. You might. Notheless, I thought the black Pen looked better than the Lumix so I bought it. Later, I got a closer look at the Lumix. Now I believe the Lumix is every bit as retro and handsome as the Olympus, but in a more Leica-ish, rangefinder-y way. This only makes sense since Lumix is a sister company to Leica. For looks, I'd say if you like silver the Olympus wins, if you like black the Lumix wins.
2) Fit and finish. The Lumix is built like a brick shithouse. You can squeeze it hard and there's no "give." Not that the Olympus is chintzy, it's just not as solid. Lumix wins.
3) Autofocus. This is critical. If you shoot action or have any other reason to use faster AF, the Panny wins hands down. If you use old manual lenses it couldn't matter less, but if your primary goal is to shoot kid soccer games using modern kit lenses, the faster AF is a decisive advantage for the Lumix.
4) High ISO. The Olympus measures at significantly lower noise in lowlit, high ISO situations (which is a good thing because the camera has no built-in flash). If you're allergic to flash photography and like indoor portraiture, this could be a significant factor in favor of the Olympus Pen.
5) Flash. The Panasonic has a built-in flash and, as mentioned, the Olympus doesn't. The outboard flash designed for the Pen system (FL-14) will set you back an extra hundy, and though it looks very cool and retro, it tends to blare a bit. It also can't be tilted to "bounce," off ceilings, and only has limited exposure compensation. If you need flash for parties and bad Facebook shots, Lumix wins.
6) Electronic viewfinder (EVF). The Pen balances out the flash disadvantage here. The base kit ships with an outboard viewfinder. The Lumix requires you to to buy one for more than a hundred bucks. More importantly (since this is photography so money ain't a thing) the Olympus viewfinder is better, brighter, and more adjustable than the Lumix. You may not even think you need a viewfinder until you try an EVF on a micro four-thirds camera. If you want to use manual lenses it's absolutely crucial. Both the Lumix and the Pen have manual focus assist so if, like me, your eyesight sucks, a press of a button will temporarily zoom you in so you can manually adjust focus on, say, the subject's eyelashes. It then pops back to normal so you can compose the shot. The keystrokes to accomplish this are more involved when you use old manual lenses. In the case of the Olympus, you have to put the camera in a specific mode to make MF assist engage with one keystroke. It then stays zoomed until you repeat the same keystroke, which can be awkward. The Lumix zooms itself back out automatically, even with legacy glass, but it requires two keystrokes to zoom in, so there's the same amount of button pushing. To me it seems more intuitive to have the MF assist self-cancel (unless I'm still struggling with finding focus when it does). In spite of this slight advantage, and that the Lumix has a higher-resolution LCD, the viewfinder on the Oly is included, and it spanks the finder on the Lumix. And no, they don't work mounted on each other's bodies. Olympus wins
7) Menu system. The Pen takes a lot of heat for having convoluted menus. To my mind these complaints rendered invalid by a simple setting whereby virtually every menu item is available in a single screen-view that you can navigate to with the touch of a convenient scroll wheel whereupon you can change any setting pretty much instantly. You almost never need to navigate the formal menus. I'm not sure if a similar feature exists on the Lumix, but it seems likely that if you have a Leica D-Lux 3 or 4 (Panasonic LX-2 or 3) you'll like the Panasonic better for its familiar menu system. In truth, this is likely a tie.
8) Kit lens. I prefer prime lenses and to date the finest prime created for the digital micro four-thirds format is the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/2. It's a jewel, and works on both cameras. Even if you have the Pen you'll want to buy it. Yet it ships in the Panny prime-lens kit. On the other hand, if you like or need zoom lenses, the Oly zoom lens that ships with their zoom kit is better than the zoom that comes in the optional Panasonic kit, if only because it's retractable, making the camera pretty compact for having a fairly long focal range. Keep in mind that the micro four-thirds "crop factor" means that the effective length of a lens in this format is twice the actual (1:1) length of a lens. So the Lumix kit's prime 20mm is actually equivalent to an old-school "normal" lens. As a side note, not only is lens shopping cheaper in micro four-thirds thanks to old manual lenses (just don't develop a jones for Leica M-glass) but the 200% comparable focal length means you can get by with fewer specialty lenses. That 400mm white-ass golf lens that sets you back $8 grand and gets you punched by Sean Penn, in four-thirds format is accomplished by a little 200mm brand-x lens. But if you like prime lenses: Advantage Lumix. If you like zoom lenses: Advantage Pen.
9) Image stabilizer. Now this was the overwhelmingly decisive factor for me. I take natural light photos in some pretty dark places. Great legacy lenses and even the better optics in the modern world tend not to have their own internal image stabilizers. The Olympus has great in-body image stabilization. The Lumix doesn't. This means that any lens, no matter how old, is image stabilized on the Pen body. You not only don't have to buy stabilized lenses (which in many cases can be a $1K upgrade), but you can buy slower lenses. Combined with the strong high ISO performance, instead of a maximum aperture of f/1.4, you might be able to get away with a max aperture f/2 or even f/4. Look up Leica 50mm lenses and compare the price of the f/4 with the f/2.8 and the f/1.8 and finally the f/.90. Opening the aperture a few steps can add thousands faster than Nancy Pelosi's bar tab. And in the case of most manufacturers, at its most open aperture settings, the lens with the smaller maximum aperture outperforms the more expensive lens (that is, at f/5.6, the Canon 50mm f/1.4 beats the Canon 50mm f/1.2 in term of sharpness and distortion, and for less than a tenth of the cost). What this means in practice is that you should always buy a fast lens for the way it renders at its widest setting. If an in-body stabilizer effectively widens that widest setting by allowing you to increase your shutter speed in low light, it may very well negate the need for extravagant glass (or better yet, allow you to buy slower glass from an extravagant manufacturer). Big win: Olympus.
Which brings us to the skinny: The Olympus E-P2 and the Panasonic Lumix GF1 test as indistinguishable in image quality. They both take great pictures, share the same lenses, and are fun as hell.
If your thing is portraits, flowers (ugh), still-lifes, pets (ugh) and landscapes, and you don't shoot a lot of action, the Olympus wins for its in-body stabilization and high iso performance.
If your thing is action, hyper kids, sports, and other chaos, and you're hard on your cameras, the Lumix is better. It's also better if you need a flash--for instance if you bring cameras to dark parties or tend to shoot in Auto Mode.
You really can't go wrong either way.
on January 24, 2010
I bought this camera for its light weight and high ISO performance. No disapointment in either area. My main camera is a Sony a700 with 18-250 zoom as my walkaround lens. I have a nine month old dgthr and the two together can be a bit much to carry. I am very happy with the portability of this camera the color and image quality is great. The autofocus is tricky and too slow in dim light. The manual focus has a 7x magnifier that activates when you turn the focus ring. I do a lot of night shooting and got great results with manual focus. The spot meter is REALLY touchy. I am getting pretty good at spot metering and then using exposure lock so I don't have to reset in manual. The camera is so good looking I can't put it down. The Olympus raw converter is adequate. I do not own photoshop. Occasionally I have to adjust white balance. That's it.
The video in this camera is terrific. I have a sony mini DVD camcorder which I will proobably never use again now that I have this camera.
This camera has a steep learning curve but if you love photography, you will love the ride. I started shooting my own 35 mm with a Honeywell Pentax in 1974. A teacher loaned my his Oly Pen in 1973. This camera brings back a lot of precious memories in incredible color and image quality.
It is NOT a point shoot. It is a real camera. I recommend it highly
on July 14, 2010
I just returned my Olympus PEN e-P2 and I thought I would post a little review for others' edification. A while back, I sold my APS-C outfit (a Canon 20D with lenses) because I wanted something that I felt comfortable carrying around...something that doesn't look like a weapon when it's pointed at you and that i feel comfortable taking on the bus or bike or to social events. It turns out that I sold prematurely as I was convinced that micro 4/3s would be the holy grail. I recently purchased the e-p2 kit with the electronic viewfinder and the 14-42 Zuiko lens. Alas, `twas not what I'd hoped.
I feel that the e-p2 is a lot closer to a highly functional compact camera than it is to a limited functionality SLR. I didn't realize just how key an optical viewfinder (combined with manual focus) is until I tried photographing my kid's track meet or shooting a landscape at night. In both, very different situations, the super-cool little add-on electronic viewfinder (EVF) was basically useless. In order to manually focus, the LCD (or EVF) picks a tiny section of the image and magnifies it so you can manually adjust the focus. The reason it's useless is that by the time you move the focus spot to something that you care about, such as my incredibly cute and talented daughter, she's moved away. In the case of landscape shooting, you have to take it off the tripod to move your view to your point of interest. Both situations were problematic. Also, at night the LCD/EVF were not helpful because those pixels just don't pick up near as much info as your eyes so at night, i just got a bunch of flickering useless pixels.
The e-p2 was great at static daytime objects that didn't require a tripod. The build quality is high, as it ought to be for a camera roughly the same price as a D90 or 50d, and it truly is a very portable stylish little beast. Controls were so-so, the main dial was designed for tiny little baby fingers and that was rather annoying.
If you can accept the limitations I've described, it's a great little camera although priced too high IMHO. I think the picture quality is really very good although I did see a little highlight clipping. The high ISO performance also seems competitive with full-blown SLRs. I really hope that this year's Photokina involves Canon/Nikon unveiling a small, optical viewfinder, interchangeable lens, APS format camera to compete with the m43 cameras because Oly and Panasonic are really onto something with these small cameras.I think the bottom line is that it would be great to have in addition to one's SLR but is no substitute.
on May 16, 2010
Many of the reviews I've seen out there for the new Olympus Pen series cameras compare them to full featured DSLRs or point-and-shooters. They fall short of the former and exceed the latter in performance. But these types of comparisons leave the E-P2 on shaky ground. What, exactly, is it, and what is it good for? I want to clarify that the E-P2 is trying to be precisely what it is: an immensely capable, compact camera that has the potential to produce beautiful work. Having owned it for only two days, I can already see that it is going to help me grow as a photographer, and it is well built, well laid out, and very pleasant to use. I considered the Canon 2ti Rebel, and in my price range that was the only other choice. Look at that one if you want a full-on DSLR. But if you are looking for a small, capable, beautiful camera, get the PEN e-P2. So far, it has only made me smile.
A NOTE ABOUT THE AUTO-FOCUS GRIPES: As soon as you get this camera, download the firmware updates. When I first unpacked the camera and tried it out, I was not impressed with the speed or accuracy of the focus. It would roll out to infinity and back quite often before settling. When I installed the firmware upgrade, the auto-focus was a new beast. It is faster and more accurate. I think you will be pleased.
I gave this camera four stars because I had to give it something. I'd like to just review it without rating it at this point.
on January 1, 2010
I'm a happy owner of the two Panasonic P&S cameras: DMC-ZS3 and DMC-ZR1 purchased from Amazon. Those two advanced P&S cameras are very good and along with my two others - Nikon D90 and D700 cover all my photography needs. The only area where I'd like to have some improvement is shooting the high quality video with good sound indoors at the relatively low light conditions.
The most high quality video out of those 4 cameras I'm getting from Panasonic ZS3 but there is one problem - its stereo microphones are on the top of the body facing the ceiling and if you shooting a movie clip of someone speaking in a relatively noisy environment those microphones collect all the noise around and make the voice of the person in the front of you camera a kind of indistinctive.
So I was looking for a relatively small camera with the front microphones which could take good low light movie clips. A new Olympus EP2 with its relatively big sensor seemed to be a perfect candidate to fill that position. Because of my special interest in that camera this writing is not a comprehensive review but it's rather focused on the EP2's video-recording capabilities.
The new Olympus Micro-Four-Third Pen EP-2 looked pretty good on the paper so I purchased it and was testing for about a week by now. The build quality of its body is pretty good. It's a little bit heavy, but feels solid and reliable. The retractable zoom lens Zuiko 14-42 mm feels somewhat flimsy but it's a kind of trade-off for about twice shorter lens size than of the similar Panasonic's one. From my prospective it's very convenient for transportation, but some people might complain that it makes the camera startup time a bit longer.
Having received my EP2 from Amazon the first idea was to check its picture quality against my ZS3 and D90. At the very low light conditions D90 was the only competitor to EP2. Depending on the used lens the results of Nikon D90 were from "slightly better" (for Nikon zoom lens 18-200mm at 18mm and F/3.5) to "remarkably better" (for Sigma primary lens 50mm-F/1.4 at F/2.8). For the outdoor pictures and those taken indoors at the good light conditions the quality of EP2 shots were somewhere in between D90's and ZS3's, however more close to ZS3 ones. Such a comparison might not look fair for DMC-ZS3 because its sensor has about 8 times smaller area, but taking into account that ZS3 is much more sophisticated device than many others P&S cameras the results of the actual picture quality comparison turned out to be not that obvious.
I was taking some outdoor pictures of landscapes and architecture by both EP2 and ZS3 cameras and while comparing those shots edge-to-edge at 100% crop I had hard time to find out any significant difference in the image quality, and the only depth of field could help to recognize which camera was used to take a certain shot. On the pictures of white buildings on a sunny day with the blue sky Olympus produced some reddish tint while Panasonic shots were more close to white. On the other hand Olympus provided a slightly wider dynamic range especially if you set the contrast to the lowest (-2) position. The EP2 menu allows you to choose a number of shooting modes like NORMAL, VIVID, MUTE, etc. in each of which you can adjust separately the contrast, saturation, and sharpness. Actually that tuning does not make a big difference but is a nice to have feature.
For indoor testing I put the two cameras EP2 and ZS3 together into their auto mode and wanted to see what would be the results without my intervention. That experiment showed me that while ZS3 tried to set the best possible for that camera shooting parameters, e.g. the lowest ISO, EP2 automatic settings were far from optimal. While taking pictures of the same subject indoors the first camera (ZS3) set automatically ISO=400, Aperture=3.3 and Shutter Speed=1/15, while EP2 set ISO=1600, 3.5 and 1/60. The result was - approximately equal amount of noise on both pictures. No subject was moving and so there was no any reason for EP2 to set that relatively high shutter speed. So I assume that it would be better not to rely on EP2 automatics but set a lower ISO (around 400) manually.
One of the best features of Olympus EP2 is its in-camera image stabilization, which allows you to decrease the shutter speed about 3 stops from its original value. In my testing I was able to get pretty good, none-blurred hand-held photographs at the shutter speed as slow as 1/8 - around 90% of shots were good (just keep your breath while shooting :). When I switched to Program mode and set manually the ISO=400 the camera responded with the shutter speed about 1/15 and I started getting much clearer, almost noiseless pictures! From my prospective the noise becomes visible starting from ISO around 500-600 or higher. The quality of pictures taken at ISO=1600 is still acceptable for small prints but if you want to take good portraits it's better to keep ISO at 400 or less. There is a workaround how to get better indoor pictures with the less manual operations: if you are not shooting kids of animals, you can switch to the "S"hutter priority mode and set a default shutter speed as low as you can handle (taking into account the advantage of the internal image stabilization), for example 1/15. Then camera will be adjusting its ISO accordingly and most of the time it will be lower than its default "1600" value. In that case EP2 will give you a completely noiseless clean picture. However sometimes when you're taking pictures of your kinds of pets you might not have enough time to perform all those manual corrections.
So if you want to get maximum picture quality out of EP2 you have to set manually some shooting parameters. But the accessing of its menu is a separate story... It took me about 10-15 minutes with Panasonic cameras to find out how to adjust the major shooting settings and no more than one hour for Nikon D90, but unless you are an Olympus fan, you must read its manual first! After learning its menu organization you will find how to reach quickly the necessary functionality, but there is another trick - you can get to some settings in a variety of ways but the available functions or its behavior might be somewhat different depending on which way you got there. So you definitely have to spend some time for the learning curve to be able to operate the Olympus camera in a real situation.
I was generally satisfied with the quality of the kit zoom lens 14-42mm - the still pictures were sharp with the good colors and contrast. The auto focus for outdoor still pictures was quick enough, while for indoor ones it was slower but still acceptable. The precision was also good - I could not get better sharpness when I was focusing manually. Generally the auto focus system can either choose dynamically the part of the frame to focus on or you can manually point to a certain area to be used for focusing. There is also one display mode which might be very helpful for manual focusing - in that mode once you start turning the focus ring the camera zooms the central part of the picture up to 7x or 10x which helps you to obtain the best focus. Once you stop the focus adjustment it quickly returns to the normal 1x display mode.
So you can get good out-of-the-box outdoor still shots and you might have much better results for indoor shots if you are willing to learn its manual and to perform some manual adjustments while shooting pictures.
The best thing about Olympus EP2 for shooting movies is its front-side stereo microphone. It has a wide enough frequency range, so even the recorded music sounds good (but not HiFi). It has a pretty good sensitivity and a remarkably low its own noise, which makes this camera outstanding from this prospective from many others. It means it would be very good for example for recording a low voice or birds singing in silence.
EP2 has the two video modes: VGA 640x480 and HD 1280x720. There is nothing to write home about the VGA low resolution mode - it's no better than of any P&S camera. The quality of the HD mode depends on the light conditions: it is good for outdoor shooting but shows much noise on the indoor clips. However it is not a show-stopper, the major problem is its really bad auto focus.
I took a number of movie clips which could be divided into 3 groups.
1) On a sunny day I took a few clips which showed a blue cloudless sky, dark blue sea with some waves and a few ships far in the sea. I did not move the camera and no moving subjects were in site. That was the only case where I could not admit any noise or compressing artifacts on the EP2 clips. ZS3 clips for the same subject showed a little bit artifacts on the blue sky which looked like subtle difference of blue tint in some areas, not a big deal.
2) On the same sunny day I recorded a panorama of some buildings across the street.
Some noise became visible in some areas (not everywhere) of the EP2 clips. Because there was plenty of light it seems in reality that was a result of MPEG/MP4 compression which looked like ordinary noise. On the ZS3 clips in the similar MPEG/MP4 mode the same level of noise was visible across the entire picture, but in the AVCHD mode the noise was hardly visible anywhere at all.
The major and the crucial difference between those two cameras was in the auto focus behavior. With ZS3 I could not admit any visible auto focus activity or any relevant sound. Either I was doing panorama with the same focal length or I was zooming in-and-out - the picture remained in focus all the time. The ZS3's auto focus system worked very smoothly and actually was doing small periodical adjustments back-and-forth which you could hardly even admit, but which helped to keep the recording picture in focus while the focal length or a distance to the subject was changing.
With EP2 I experienced the two variants of behavior, both abnormal:
a) When you're doing some panorama, so the distance to the subject is changing, or if you're zooming in or out the auto focus might remain insensitive, unresponsive for some time and so your picture might start getting out of focus. And then, all of a sudden, the auto focus system might start a very intensive work for catching focus back and because of that it will very quickly change the focus in its entire range which will make some bad periods of interference in the recording clip accompanied by the audible sound of the hard-working auto focus mechanics. So the system does every time 1-2 big adjustments and catches focus, after a while it repeats again.
b) The auto focus system might also start continuously hunting focus doing big adjustments back-and-forth a number of times. When it finally finds focus and you continue panorama again or any moving object comes in site then that long focus-hunting process might start again and as a result most of your clip will be completely out-of-focus.
3) While shooting indoor clips at the relatively low light the ZS3's auto focus behavior remained almost the same as for outdoor clips - it was smooth and consistent. With EP2 I experienced either the unlimited focus hunting (same as 2b above) or even something new: after doing a number of big back-and-forth adjustments it could hang up forever in one of that extreme positions and just die, e.g. whatever you do, it stops responding and the only option is to cancel recording, which means you lost that clip. So in the relatively low light indoor situations the EP2's auto focus does not work at all, e.g. it does whatever, but normal focusing.
There is also a "Tracking" auto focus mode but this feature is very unreliable and in real world it looses a moving subject almost immediately and so it's not helpful at all.
Having not normally working auto focus you can not apply zoom because once you start zooming the picture will go out of focus immediately. I found that the only possibility to shoot movie clips is to turn off auto focus, don't use zoom, and keep the constant distance to the shooting subject.
The picture quality of the clips taken with EP2 in that indoor environment turned out to be much worse than outdoors. I was shooting a kind of a lecture where a person was talking and showing some exercises. For that light condition the entire picture was filled with the fluctuating noise. The edges of that person's body and face were a kind of fuzzy, not sharp. The eyes looked more like dark spots. I tried to do some post-processing for those clips and in particular to convert them into AVCHD format, but it did not help - the stronger noise reduction you try to apply the more details you loose or to more extent the initial noise becomes replaced with the flickering compression artifacts but it did not help to make the person's image clearer. In any way those clips did not look like the High Definition but rather like Wide-VGA ones.
The clips taken by ZS3 in MPEG/MP4 mode were no better, but in AVCHD mode it was a very different picture - there was much less noise on that person's body and face, the edges were much more sharp and I could normally see their eyes, not just like dark spots. There were artifacts in the darker background but it was not much distracting because the main subject demonstrated a pretty good quality which I would consider as a real High Definition one.
So for still pictures the new Olympus EP2 camera can provide a pretty good quality but I would hardly consider it to be used as a camcorder.
UPDATE: Based on some early comments I updated some paragraphs to provide more details and less emotions. I want to thank those who helped to make this review more clear.
UPDATE2: Olympus just announced (April, 2010) the firmware updates for its PEN series which improve their auto focus performance. Since this camera is not in my posession anymore please check the other reviews regarding the auto focus issue. The recent reviews on E-PL1 might be also helpful since that new Olympus camera already has those auto focus improvements incorporated.
on January 24, 2010
I had been waiting for a camera like this for a few years and had tried what was already on the market but wasn't happy with the quality of the image and kept returning those cameras. This camera meets or exceeds my expectations for a camera of this size and weight. I've made about 1500 photographs over the last month and I carry it with me everywhere. What I specifically like about the camera is the size and weight and the quality of the photographs, I also like the ability to change lenses and the flexibility of shooting using the viewer on the back or the electronic range finder viewer on the top. After using and getting to know the electronic (eye level) viewfinder I prefer the screen on the back of the camera but can see situations where the electronic viewer will come in handy.
I find the controls easy to learn and simple to use and well thought out and I'm looking forward to spring and summer with this camera in my pocket.
The only thing I'd change about the camera to make it even better would be a longer battery life, to bring one charge up to around 700 images. It's hard to say what it really is right now, best guess is 250 - 300, as I'm using it in below freezing weather. It will be great when more micro 4:3 lenses show up on the market.
on August 22, 2010
I was definitely on the fence about this camera for a while. I currently own a Nikon D60 and a Canon point-and-shoot, and thought I was just buying this camera just because of the need for a new camera body. I was reading forums for such a long time, putting up with probably the snarkiest debates between what brand is better, prime and zoom, etc. and I just went ahead and decided on this camera.
I absolutely LOVE this camera! There's something about the aesthetics of the body, the ease of the menu system (although it takes a little getting used to) that really opens up this camera to experimentation. I'm a sucker for retro styled cameras and this definitely brings old school charm with modern tech. The body is pretty solid too, a nice weight and very sturdy feeling. Personally I find the few number of lenses available to be a little bit relaxing, and not as overwhelming as when I look for lenses for my Nikon.
The electronic view finder is pretty spectacular. You can actually flip the viewfinder up so you can take photos while looking down into it which is pretty useful.
Overall, this is a camera for someone looking for something less complicated, perfectly capable of taking great photos, and a feeling of liberation when taking photos. Only drawback is that the price is almost the same as a mid-range DSLR, but if anything, the compact-ness of this little camera is definitely worth it.