Good things comes in little packages

17Jun09

olympus_e-p1

One of the most interesting news I read in the past few days, apart from iPhone related ones, is the announcement of the Olympus E-P1.

Here is a tiny camera, smaller than a Canon G10, that has a interchangeable lens system, and has a decent sized imaging sensor — not quite the APS-sized cropped frame SLR sensors (~1.5X multiplier), but way bigger than the miniscule sensors in the typical P&S cameras, having a 2X multiplier.

Here is a camera manufacturer going out on a limb starting from a well-thought out format, IMHO, the Micro Four-Thirds system, building the smallest camera they can, removing elements they feel added unnecessary bulk and coming up with this camera. I don’t always agree with the decisions they made, such as not having a viewfinder without an accessory, but I respect them for accomplishing what they did.

Why would I be interested in this camera any way since I already have an excellent system in my Nikon D300? Good question. You can’t always, and don’t always want to, carry a big SLR around. The SLR brings along issues of bulk, security in questionable places, and difficulty in shooting some subjects simply because a black SLR is so imposing (see my write up on street shooting). This smaller, practically P&S camera brushes away with many of those concerns. It’s nearly pocketable, with the folding 17mm lens, it’s small and unobstrusive, and it’s not as menacing to others. It sure doesn’t seem professional looking, but that’s part of its charm.

All that means nothing if the image quality doesn’t hold up. But it sure looks good at this point. Check out the ISO 6400 sample image on dpreview’s sample gallery from the E-P1. The colors might seem a little more washed out at high ISO, but I can happily live with the noise level in a pinch. You can read the entire preview of the camera there as well.

It does HD (720P) video as well. I don’t know too much about this feature, but it opens up what can be done with the it.

So what’s not to like? As I’ve mentioned, no viewfinder. It’s just much faster to use a viewfinder for certain types of shooting, such as street, although NOT having to bring the camera up to your face can sometimes be a boon as well. It doesn’t have a built-in flash for those few occasions, but given its size, I can afford to carry the accessory flash. The 3″ screen only has 230K pixels. The SD card slot is blocked when mounted on a tripod. I’m nitpicking here. Oh, and I would’ve preferred in a nice inconspicuous black. A big unknown at this point is how responsive the camera is — can this be the shooter’s camera?

At about US$800 for body and 14-42mm lens, it’s not exactly cheap, but given what you get based on the specs, it’s not unreasonable.

Olympus has revealed that there’s more in the pipeline with cameras with electronic viewfinders coming up, and folding lenses to be announced.

I’ve been waiting for something like this since I first contemplated replacing my film SLR with a rangefinder camera, where the latter were too expensive for me and had limited zoom lenses. I’m glad to see that the idea  has come around for digital cameras. Exciting times indeed.

Cheers.

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