It’s not often that two digital camera makers introduce new competing models using the same underlying technology standard.
Although both models were in my last Journal Gift Guide, it’s challenging to pick the better of the two. Because they share the same mechanical standards, it’s like comparing apples to apples.
The new Olympus PEN E-P2 and Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF1 “hybrid” cameras are unique in that they use an agreed upon technology by several manufacturers in their body and lens design. It’s called the Four Thirds Micro, which allows interchangeable lenses between them, as well as lenses from Leica and Sigma.
They will also accept all older Four Thirds lenses from their larger full size DSLR sibling cameras with adapter rings. Micro lenses are smaller and lighter and just as sharp. Another advantage of all the Four Thirds cameras, lenses and flashes is that they can be updated by simply plugging the body with a USB cable to an Internet-connected PC using included software.
What makes these new cameras so special?
They are not DSLR cameras, which means no flipping mirror or prism, so they are smaller and lighter. When equipped with their ultra-flat, fixed focal length “pancake” lenses, they easily fit in a coat pocket.
They also use the same size image sensor as the same brand DSLR models for exceptional picture quality rivalling bulky mid-level DSLR cameras. They rely on a large, live-view screen for composing and instantly seeing the pictures you take. They have powerful features like follow focus, customized settings and an all-important complete auto setting.
These camera types are not cheap. The bodies start at about $850, while an E-P2 with 17 mm f2.8 pancake lens and electronic viewfinder retails for $1,199.99, compared to the GF1 with 20mm f1.7 pancake lens and live view finder for $1,299.99.
Which is better? Like all things digital, each model has its own strengths, so here is what stands out for each model.
Olympus PEN E-P2 12.3 megapixel:
— It has a faster sequential frame mode, which is good for sports.
— The seven live art filters, applied to stills and movies simply rock, with stunning Photoshop-like effects.
— Multiple exposures, during shooting or after, with selectable layer transparency, let’s you get infinitely creative on combining images together, even planning how you will shoot them beforehand.
— The optional VF-2 90-degree flip digital eyepiece viewer is sharper than the rear-view screen, perfect in bright places and magnifies the image more. It’s like being in the front row of a movie theatre screen. The rear-view screen has the best side-view quality when holding the camera high or low for creative shots.
— Menu screens can be challenging, but several options for changing your settings are the fastest in any camera.
— The additional noise filter makes for cleaner pictures when shooting in high ISO settings.
— Hand-held, available-light shooting with slower shutter speeds are sharper with three built-in image stabilization options which work on any lens.
— The video movie shooting quality is superior — 1280 x 720 with demonstrably better audio, but it takes up more room, requiring one GB of memory for four minutes of video.
— Includes more powerful picture editing software.
The Panasonic GF1 12.1 megapixel:
— The opposite from Olympus, it has an exceptionally sharper rear viewfinder screen but lacklustre optional Live View Finder.
— You can see the pictures you just shot sooner and shoot single images more frequently, as well as scroll through your photos faster.
— There are 27 physical buttons or wheels you can use directly to change settings.
— The Panasonic built-in flash adds more value compared to the optional but more powerful flash for the Olympus E-P2.
— There is a better, more expensive selection of LUMIX lenses, but all are interchangeable between brands.
— The camera body is lighter.
— There are seven choices of motion video shooting quality, the best being AVCHD Lite/H, which can record better than DVD quality movies requiring one GB of memory for ten minutes of video.
The GF1 is a complete camera with built-in flash and more responsive shooting, while the E-P2 has better anti-blur image stabilization, artistic and creative features.
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