The E-P1 a Year Later

by valrac4_a3kqdy

I bought the Olympus E-P1 in the fall of 2009. The so-called “honeymoon period” lasted a lot longer than I would have thought and even today I still find myself thinking ‘what a neat little camera’ when I pick it up. But the limitations and ideosyncracies have also become more irritating.

I was curious to see how much I’ve actually used the camera and thanks to Lightroom 3’s metadata filter I have some data. I was surprised to see that in 2010 the number of photos I catalogued for the E-P1 and my “main” camera, a Nikon d300, were almost identical: 1486 for the Oly vs. 1493 for the Nikon. But I actually shot a lot more with the Olympus. I found myself experimenting a lot more with it, so the rejection rate was also quite high.
Nearly 60 percent (819) of the E-P1 shots were with the 17mm f/2.8 pancake lens. The M.14-42 was a distant second (375) followed by a 40-150mm with a FourThirds-MicroFourThirds adapter (275). The numbers don’t add up because I also have a Nikkor adapter so some of the shots identifed as being taken with Nikon lenses were taken with them mounted on the Olympus.

The Good

The Micro Four Thirds concept is an attempt to marry the image quality of SLRs and the weight and size benefits of compact cameras. For me the E-P1 hit a sweet spot. I can get nearly the quality of my SLR but I can stick the E-P1 in my jacket pocket. I think that’s one of the main reasons I use it so much — it’s always with me, in my pocket or notebook bag. I never took the neck strap out of the box, a simple wrist strap works for me.

The built-in image stabilization is nice to have, but with the 17mm lens not essential. I like the image quality up to about ISO 800, but higher ISOs are passable if you shoot raw, are willing to massage and don’t want huge prints. If high-ISO is your game, this wouldn’t be on your short list, however.

The basic settings are easy to figure out (but also see entries in the “bad” section) and the quick menu system is great, giving you one-button access to most of the settings you’d typically be interested in changing during any given photo outing.

A lot has been made of the E-P1’s styling — and yeah I like it too.

The Bad

I’ve had the rotary control dial turned off from Day 1 because it’s too easy to inadvertently change a setting just by brushing against the ring. The menu system is a mess, and even after more than a year of fiddling, I still have to look through the manual (itself not particularly clear) for some advanced settings. Fortunately, the basics are easily managed with the quick menu system.

A lot of the early criticism of the E-P1 was about poor AF performance. The autofocus has been tweaked a couple of times through firmware updates, but it’s still not what you’d call snappy. However, I never found it that terrible, and for contrast-detect AF it is reasonable. You learn to work within the limitations.

The LCD provides the only viewfinder functions, and the E-P1 screen is a bit too coarse for fine focusing. That’s compounded by the fact that there’s lots of noise when you are shooting in dim lighting. The magnified view option, which could be a brilliant solution for fine focusing, simply magnifies the noise.

The E-P2 is a move in the right direction, with a modular port that allows you to attach an electronic viewfinder. To me that’s the way to go — don’t make the camera any bigger but add functionality through a modular approach.

I’d like to see Olympus make a bigger distinction between the E-P and E-PL lines. As it is you’ve got the equivalent of a Chev Malibu and a Chev Impala. I’d like the E-P line to be Olympus’s Corvette.

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