I don't usually like to proclaim opinions about things before I know quite what I'm talking about. Not because my opinion is so valuable, but because it isn't.
However, I feel a somewhat closer connection to the new E-P1 than I do to most cameras because of the fact that I've been periodically calling for just such a camera (a large-sensor compact) for the past four years or so. Lots of people have been asking me, "Is the E-P1 the DMD?" I hope this justifies sharing my initial reactions even if it might not add much of substance to the discussion...on account of I don't actually know anything firsthand about the E-P1.
Seldom have new cameras been so anticipated as the E-P1. (The last time expectations rose to such a fever pitch was for the Canon 5D Mark II.) Ever since Micro 4/3 was announced and Olympus let it be known that it would venture an entry into the category, and later when the early mock-up above was shown under glass, many photographers have been waiting for the details.
Personally, I'm well pleased by what we've learned so far of the E-P1. It's basically just what I expected—and more, too.
I should mention that there's a lot about the camera that doesn't interest me. I don't think I'm interested in video, and I don't think I'm interested in having a dictaphone in my camera. So I'm not initially moved by the "electronic Swiss Army knife" aspect of the E-P1. I know this is part of the point of it, part of the design brief, part of the marketing schema. But the reason I like cameras is because I like pictures. I don't go moping around wishing that a camera would just do something else in order to make it more interesting. I like pictures. I like cameras. I'd be likely to use the E-P1 just as a camera.
I'm also not interested in any of the whole happy muck-pile of JPEG processing features—art filters and scene modes and suchlike gabble. That's all fine for those who want all that. Not for me. I'd shoot raw and out.
I'm also not interested in the zoom lens. Wouldn't buy it, and if it didn't exist my opinion of the camera wouldn't be changed. Your mileage etc.
Pig in mud
Here are some of the things I'm happy about, on the face of things:
- The lens focal length. Three huge cheers for Olympus. I've opined (cavilled?) at length elsewhere about the growing scarcity of plain old 35mm-equivalent primes on many digital cameras. Thirty-five millimeter is the de facto normal lens focal length on a Leica rangefinder (the 50mm Summicron holds the position honorarily, but for many years, more people bought Leica 35mms than 50mms), and for better or worse it's just my "home" angle of view. I see like it does. To me something in the 35mm–40mm range is the first most-needed lens, no matter what else is available. I'm thus very happy that the first prime for the E-P1 is a ~35mm-e.
- Body-integral stabilization. As longtime readers know, I love this feature...when it's well implemented. It sure worked great on my old K-M 7D. I don't know, maybe I just drink too much coffee. I loved it for low-light shooting; it really helps. Olympus reportedly implements this feature well. I have high hopes.
- The lens speed. ƒ/2.8 is not super fast, but it's fine for a camera with a sensor that's good up to ISO 800 and that has IS (see the post about this below, second one down). Plus, on cameras where you don't have to look through the lens to see the subject, widest-aperture speed isn't as important. On a camera like this, I'd rather have an ƒ/2.8 the size of this one than an ƒ/2 that's twice as big.
- Two viewfinders! Kewl. Very considerate of Olympus to provide a matching OVF for the 17mm. I'll admit that right now I can't quite see how I'd focus and shoot with this camera, but I'm provisionally willing to wait and see until I can try it for myself. I'm a clever guy (well, with cameras, at least), so I'm betting I can figure out a method that I'd get comfortable with that would allow me to actually take pictures with the E-P1. This baseless conviction subject to cruel real-world smackdown at a later date of course.
- Right-sizing. Everybody will have different opinions about the size of the E-P1. Too big? Too small? Just right? Hello, Goldilocks? Personally, I'm happy that Olympus made an obvious attempt to choose a "just-right" size. You or I might not agree with the designers' choice. (Or, we might.) But I give them credit for making an attempt at finding just the right size.*
- Premium quality. Nice that they decided not to go the el-cheapo price-leading cost-accounting shopper-checklist cut-the-corners route. The EP-1 appears to have some fine-object quality. I approve; I like cameras that are beautiful. If I want cheap I'll buy cheap; in this case I'd rather have pretty.
- Design. Okay, maybe the whole Pen thing is a tad breathless, a shade precious; whatever. I don't think I've ever seen a Maitani Pen and I don't feel the whole nostalgic vibe in this case. But I like the fact that Olympus took so much care in crafting an object of beauty and desire, making a camera that has style and grace.**
- Strap lugs. Yeah, they cost more. But I like plain old strap lugs. Had to smile when I saw 'em.
Lots of things about the E-P1 remain to be seen. That's always the case with a new introduction. Are we going to like or hate the viewing screen, or not care? Is the camera responsive enough? How's the lens, really? What do we really think about the image files, after we've shot with the li'l bugger for a few months and learned how to eke the quality we want out of it? Lots still left to suss, after the sun sets on this day.
But for now, I'm psyched. Do the kids still say that? We used to say that when I was a kid.
*P.S. I could not care less if it fits into a pocket. Absolutely not a criterion. Never carried a camera in my pocket, don't wish to start.
** Also, I do like it when companies respect their history and take continuity into account. It's part of identity, and making products with strong, coherent identities makes for strong companies, if you ask me. Olympus is thinking of its own history, of what sets it apart and makes it unique and thus, what it can offer to us that differentiates it from everybody else. That quality is not the strongest quality among the many strengths of Japanese corporations in general. I admire the people at Olympus for thinking that way.
Featured Comment by Dwig: "Excellent points. Particularly that about the 'normal' prime lens.
"Personally, I prefer to keep the term 'normal' sacred, holding to the classic definition of a lens with a focal length equal to the diagonal measure of the image. That equates to 42mm for 35mm full frame if you file the negative carrier out to show the edges. It's only 40mm otherwise. If you shoot slides, it's more like 37mm or 38mm and if you judge from a machine printed borderless 4x6 or 8x10 it's more like 38mm for color negs and 35mm for slides. Bingo, your preference for 35–40mm-e lenses makes perfect 'normal' sense. Even Nikon's new 35mm ƒ/1.8 DX lens is overly long to be a 'normal' in my view; they need a 24-28mm offering. [Oren and I agree —Ed.]
"'Standard' should, in my opinion be reserved for historical discussions involving the old film convention of selling a 50mm lens as the basic starter lens. Today, 'kit' or 'kit lens' has really replaced the term."