Following days of rolling leaks, it's finally official, at midnight tonight here in the wilds of the American Midwest: Olympus has released its long-awaited and much-anticipated Micro 4/3 camera, the "Pen" E-P1. By most estimations it's the fifth camera of the new breed of large-sensor compacts. The advantage of a large-sensor compact is that it can be as portable and handy as a digicam, while yielding results of sufficient quality to treat interchangeably with your DSLR pictures.
The retro-styled E-P1 hearkens back to Maitani's Pen 35mm half-frame cameras, as emphasized by Olympus in its teaser campaign. But it's a fully "convergent" appliance, with video and sound recording in addition to having the digital image recording functions of a still camera. Naturally, much of the press information has to do with all the nifty things the onboard processing can do (19 scene modes and so forth), and the fact that, in the words of the press release, "its diverse multimedia features offer something for everyone." (I've been disciplining myself all day not to make any snide wisecracks about "art filters" applied to videos. We'll see how I do.)
However, it certainly also looks like a mouth-wateringly appealing camera, for those of us who are mainly photographers. Eamon Hickey has actually spent time with the camera and lenses, so I will mostly defer to his report (which will follow this post, tomorrow morning). But here are a few random observations and points of interest from me, before I turn it over to Eamon:
• There's a full set of accessories, including straps and cases, a dedicated flash, two lenses, a matching optical viewfinder for the 17mm lens, protective filters, and lenscaps in three colors: magenta, green, and black. (I'm not sure about lens hoods.)
• The estimated street prices for the U.S. will be $750 for the body, only $800 for the body and zoom, and only $900 for the body, 17mm, and* the 17mm's matching optical hot-shoe-mounted viewfinder (such viewfinders can usually cost $150 0r more all by themselves). It would seem fairly obvious from that pricing structure that Olympus would like you to buy your choice of its matching lenses and not just the body.
• There are two dedicated adapters available out of the gate from Olympus, one for full-size 4/3 lenses and one for older manual-focus 35mm OM Zuiko lenses. Leica M, Canon FD, and several other adapters are already available for Micro 4/3.
• The two initial lenses, a fixed-focal-length 17mm ƒ/2.8 (34mm-e) that takes 37mm filters, and a 14–42mm ƒ/3.5–5.6 (28–84mm-e) zoom that takes 40.5mm filters, are available in either silver or black.
• It has body-integral image stabilization (a feature I personally have a big weakness for, comma, yikes).
• It has Olympus's Supersonic Wave dust reduction system, but is not weather sealed or splashproof.
• Hers and his? Olympus isn't marketing them that way, but the two available color schemes sure have that look to me.
The new E-P1 is obviously a deluxe product, on which a great deal of thought, care, and design effort has been lavished. I can't wait to read the coming tests and reviews, see the results it's capable of, and of course hold one in my very own hot little hands.
More to come.
"The Voigtlander 35mm VF works fine except for the greasy noseprints on the screen. The aspect ratio is a little off, but close enough for snapshots."
Featured Comment by Sam G.: "I can just picture photojournalists from the 1930s talking about that new 35mm format: 'What, no groundglass? That's a deal breaker.' 'You mean I gotta close one eye and look through this little viewfinder? Maybe my wife would like it but I don't think it could be used for anything serious.' 'Look at the size of the film! There's no way you could get a good print out of that.' 'Sure it could fit in my briefcase, but if I'm going to bring that I might as well bring my Graflex and get better image quality.'"
Mike replies: Sam, you laugh, but in point of fact that IS how photographers in the '30s reacted to 35mm. Back then, even rollfilm cameras (what we would call medium format) were sometimes referred to as "miniature," because of all the folding cameras used by amateur snapshooters. For a long time 35mm was considered a "toy" and only a few iconoclasts like Rodchenko and Cartier-Bresson attempted to commit to it for serious work. It wasn't until the '50s that it began to gain widespread acceptance, and not until the '70s was it really accepted for much professional work outside of a select few fields like sports and photojournalism—until then, pros from advertising guys to wedding shooters shot large and medium format for the most part. And many continued to. I knew a small-town portraitist in the late '90s, a very interesting guy of the WWII generation, who had never used a 35mm for his work—he just used them for fun and family snapshots. Even mass-production school portraits he shot on 70mm long rolls.