NEW DIGITAL CAMERA HAS THE BEST FROM POINT&SHOOT AND DSLR MODELS
It’s not often a camera maker flies you to New York to show off its newest digital camera and let’s you play tourist with it all day long…with a handful of company technicians in tow. This included a sea harbor tour of New York, the Statue of Liberty, the colourful Conny Island beach boardwalk, an impromptu picture-perfect pass under the Brooklyn bridge and a spectacular evening penthouse view of the New York skyline from the lower east side.
So what was all the fuss about last week in the Big Apple? Olympus announced its much awaited E-P1, 12.3 megapixel, interchangeable lens system digital camera. The classic looking aluminum/stainless steel body draws attention anywhere I have been taking it since, especially camera stores. It even has similarities with the original PEN film camera Olympus launched 50 years ago…imagine, that’s half a century!
But it’s what’s inside that’s special about the E-P1 (body $849.99, with ED 14-42mm f3.5/5.6 Zuiko Digital Zoom lens, $899.99) as well as two cameras released earlier by Panasonic, the Lumix G1 and GH1.
It’s the new Micro Four Thirds system, adopted by Olympus and Panasonic with a few new potential partners like Kodak, that uses the same size full four thirds sensor in Panasonic and Olympus DSLR cameras.
The prism and mirror are gone, the lens mount is smaller and the sensor is closer to the lens, allowing for better lens design (less retro-focus). This also allows for smaller camera and lens design but the new micro cameras also accept the full Four Thirds lens family from the consortium camera and lens makers, with an optional lens converter.
Call it a hybrid digital if you will…the size of enthusiast point & shoot cameras, the quality of DSLRs and interchangeable lenses and new features.
I have been testing the Olympus E-P1 since last Tuesday and I can tell you, without a doubt, its picture quality is equal, if not better to that of Olympus’ newest DSLR, the 12.3 megapixel E-620, in fact, showing even less noise at higher ISO settings.
Did I tell you it also shoots HD video? It shoots 720p (AVI format) with stereo sound recorded in audio CD quality. You can also record (or re-record) 30 seconds of audio on any still frame you shoot. All very handy for in camera slide shows.
-Picture quality is the tell-all of how good a camera really is. Does the E-P1 12.3 megapixel on a larger chip translate to a better looking image than that of the 12.1 megapixel GH1? Yes. On the lower ISO settings the cameras are close, with the E-P1 showing richer colours, to some a personal preference. But as the ISO is notched up from 800 to 3200, the Olympus retained colours longer and less grain, yielding very usable pictures in dim lighting. But at 6400 ISO, the only camera to go that high, the E-P1 yielded noticeably grainer images and flatter colour. Still, the E-P1 is Olympus’ best image quality four thirds chip camera, beating out all company DSLR models. It also shoots twice the sequential pictures faster than the GH1.
-The E-P1 does not have an optical viewfinder, or a small secondary LCD eyepiece, like the Panasonic models have. But its 3-inch brilliant LCD can be seen clearly from angled overhead or ground-up photography, even in sunlight. The Panasonic Micros have a full swivel LCD, finer detail screen, but that also adds weight and bulk. The EP-1 screen has smoother motion having an adequate 230,000 dots compared to the noticeably finer detailed 460,000 dots of the Panasonic models. Still, the GH1 impresses with a print-like quality LCD screen which is also clear, even in dark rooms, unlike the E-P1 which gets grainy, but at the end, produces the best quality photos.
-The most important part, for me, is the camera’s response, commonly referred as shutter lag. Having been a professional photographer for more than 40 years, I know a few things about capturing the exact moment in photography. I compared the E-P1, GH1 and Olympus’ newest E-620 DSLR shooting a digital timer dozens of times (manual and auto focus). The Olympus E-P1 averaged .28 seconds lag, compared to the .30 seconds of the E-620 and the .36 seconds of the GH1. The E-P1 also can shoot more than twice the number of sequential frames.
-The video quality of the E-P1 maxing at 720p was similar to the GH1, both exhibiting slight image stuttering on fast moving scenes, typical or still cameras wanna-be camcorders. The GH1 also shoots an impressive 1080p, but with less panning smoothness, in AVCHD format. A plus, it also can shoot MPEG4 video. The E-P1 HD video is a feast for the ears with best-sounding stereo Linear PCM audio recording.
-Both cameras have excellent dust reduction systems.
-The extras on the E-P1 rock when it comes to applying live view art filters on still photos and videos, although the Pop Art and Vignette effects affect the video smoothness. Then there’s the multiple exposure feature which you can do live, while shooting, or after, picking from already taken frames.
-On image stabilization, the GH1 can take steadier pictures at slower shutter speeds. Oddly, the E-P1 does not have built-in flash, when it needs it more than competitors. But a small, metal finish external TTL capable flash is available for $100, after rebate.
-Both Micro cameras share a slew of similar features, including a 300-325 frames with some flash, on one battery charge. Both cameras have extensive menu options, but the E-P1 all in one info display, a carry-over from the DSLR line, rocks, allowing you to make 20 quick settings changes of one screen, and the new thumb operated vertical roller bar speeds up your menu navigation.
WHICH TO BUY?
The GH1 retails for more than twice the price of the E-P1, at $1,899.99 but you get more things to tinker with on-camera and an unquestionably impressive 10X 14-42 mm optical zoom lens. The G1 12.1 megapixel sibling goes for $799.99 with similar features, a 14-45 mm zoom lens but no video. If video is important to you, the GH1 has more options and its quiet lens does not make distractive audio sounds when zooming. The E-P1 zoom during video is so noisy, you have to turn the auto focus off. The GH1 comes with lens hood and runs directly off a power outlet if your battery is dead. Both cameras have mini HDMI output for flat panel TVs, but the GH1 can be controlled with your newer TV’s remote control.
But if you want small, cool style looks and best still picture performance, go with the Olympus E-P1, out the first half of July.