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Announcing the Olympus E-P1 [UPDATED WITH SAMPLES]

2009-Jun-16
by Alan and Mario

PREFACE

[Personal note from Mario] This preview starts with my story of photography. Growing up, my father was a proud owner of a Canon AE-1 which I recall spending countless hours studying and yearning to use. What with cameras not being digital, I was unfortunately not so free to practice shooting as children might today. I watched my father perform the ritual of photography for years: carrying the camera with him everywhere in classy leather bags and cases, later developing film and storing away every 4"x6" print in leather-bound photo albums. Alan's story up until this point is similar, except that his father's choice of camera was the top-of-the-line Minolta X-700.

Upon completing university and getting married, I searched for something with superior optics to record my new life. There were many options but I was drawn to the Contax G1; an odd choice in what could be considered the golden years of SLR cameras. Perhaps it was my father's choice of camera influencing me to find a compact system utilizing prime lenses. SLRs had grown bulky; not so much because of the body but because of the growth in zoom lenses and large powerful flashes.

Hence, here many of us sit with cameras such as the Olympus E-3 and the E-30 from all major camera manufacturers, while they at the same time struggle to produce DSLR cameras that are compact. I still use my original E-1 to shoot day-to-day life as it happens. Ever since letting go of film, I have yearned and hoped for a digital version of the Contax G1 - the camera that made me fall in love with photography from a 1st person perspective.

This is my explanation as to why today's Micro Four Thirds announcement from Olympus is so utterly exciting.

[Alan and Mario's preview begins here] At this point we proudly announce that we had the opportunity to review a pre-production version of the new unit for nearly a week.

(For those of you not interested to read tedious statements explaining the facts, please skip ahead to the "Usage" section below.)

THE OLYMPUS E-P1 - SIZE

It is really very difficult to describe what this camera is. It is many things you already know but have never seen in a single package. The E-P1 certainly has a retro feel with an ultra modern twist. The body we previewed is a no nonsense 4.74"x2.75"x1.37" mix of polished and brushed aluminum with a German automobile grade grip to make it feel comfortably secure in your hand for its size. There also exists a second body colour composed of a white finish with beige grip for those of you that want to be (even more) different.

The most immediate quality that stands out when first viewing the E-P1 is that it is very small - smaller than a Leica M3, the Contax G1, and smaller than the smallest of DSLRs. This smaller form factor is achieved by applying the following two Micro Four Thirds principles:

1) reducing the Four Thirds mount diameter by 6mm
2) reducing the flange back length by 50%

which has enabled Olympus to design a camera containing:

a) no DSLR-style optical viewfinder
b) no DSLR-style mirror box
c) no DSLR-style AF unit





The result is a camera seemingly diminutive compared to the smallest of DSLRs, the Olympus E-450. However, without a lens attached, the body has a respectable heft of 11.8 ounces helping it not only look but feel like a well built camera. With the strap and lens attached, you definitely feel encouraged that you can carry it around with you all day (more on this later).

As mentioned above, the camera does have a retro look; a style that pays homage to the now 50-year-old Olympus PEN series of cameras (the name PEN actually meaning "pen" as in something you carry around with you to record history). However it is anything but retro in function.

THE OLYMPUS E-P1 - FUNCTION

The very first thing to mention about this camera's features is that it contains a full-sized Four Thirds sensor that Olympus claims possesses a full stop improvement over the similarly sized 12.3-megapixel sensor used in the Olympus E-30 released only half-a-year ago. Olympus gives credit for that on the new TruePic V imaging engine in the E-P1.

If we may digress here (most of you can skip this), a Four Thirds sensor is 5.6 times larger in area than the largest of digital P&S camera sensors. At the same time, the Four Thirds sensor is greater than 1/3 the size of a 35mm sensor used in cameras starting at $2699 USD. This means the top P&S camera has a pixel density of about 34MP/cm2 (Canon G10) and the top DSLR has a pixel density of about 2.9MP/cm2 (Sony A900). Less is more for our purposes because what allows photographers to capture a top quality image is the quality of a pixel. Squeezing 34MP/cm2 means less light and less data for the sensor to capture. On the other hand, the size of the pixels capturing light at 2.9MP/cm2 are much larger leading to a much cleaner image. In conclusion, the pixel density on the Olympus E-P1 equals 5.1MP/cm2 meaning you'll get all the quality and quantity of pixels you'll likely ever need to achieve your photographic goals. The only people exempt from this statement are professionals who make a living with photography - who we ironically expect to write articles in the coming months stating they will be using it as a carry-around or street photography camera.

With regards to the camera's function, the E-P1 allows you to take or give as much control of the camera as you want. Put the camera in manual mode and you can control the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, focus points and a host of other settings; more on this later. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you can select iAuto mode and let the camera determine the situation and adjust all of those settings for you. In the middle lies the Scene option which gives you 19 photographic situations to choose from ensuring the camera is adjusting the exposure to exactly what you want to capture. These options are controlled via the flushed dial located on the top-left corner of the camera.

THE OLYMPUS E-P1 - FUNCTION++

New to the Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds table, the E-P1 brings High Definition (HD) video and stereo linear PCM audio solutions. Two movie recording modes are available: HD 1280x720 and STD 640x480, both at 30fps. Staying true to what seems like an ongoing theme at Olympus to produce best out-of-camera results, the E-P1 has a well featured set of in-camera tools to record movies with art filters (similar to those on the Olympus E-30 and E-620) and the application of custom composed background music which can be adjusted independently of the movie's native audio. These actually work well in the pre-production model we handled.

* Movie and Image Art Filters: Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale & Light Color, Light Tone, Grainy Film, Pin Hole
* Ambient Sounds: Melancholy, Nostalgic, Love, Joy, Cool

To the effect that these features can also be applied to individual images and slideshows composed of both images and movies with control of delays of fade in/out between images, this camera is being touted as a complete multimedia image capture device. How far have these devices come?

Something else that comes new with the E-P1 is the introduction of their e-Portrait mode. e-Portrait mode uses face detection to identify faces in a scene (up to 8) and then smoothing the person's complexion without altering non-skin toned areas of the image, like hair. Not only will this feature ease the egos of aging people everywhere, it can be applied to images even after they have been taken. The same applies for the art filters mentioned above except for the fact that the art filters can only be applied to RAW images during in-camera post-processing. Kudos!


THE OLYMPUS E-P1 - USAGE

While the above simply lays out the factuals making up the Olympus E-P1, what is it that really matters? For most, this is first and foremost a high quality and easily portable still image capture device. The fact that you can record movies is an additional benefit that should come at an incremental price. This is unlike Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds video solution in the GH-1 that comes at a hefty price tag of $1899 for 1080p. Time will tell which company made the right decision in this respect.

As a still image capture device, this camera truly feels different from the multitude of DSLRs we've tried over the past 5 years. Around your neck or by your side, it feels like a traditional rangefinder. More compact, more accessible, more discreet. The shutter release is very snappy and the shutter sound is quieter and shorter in duration as would be expected in comparison to the mirror slap included on a DSLR camera. When compared to the Panasonic G1 shutter sound, we unanimously agree that the sound is more quiet and more pleasant. While that seems like a trite statement, the shutter sound is what you hear every single time your trigger finger depresses the release. During our brief one week stint with the camera, the first time hearing the shutter go off brought a smile to our faces and each time after that provided an additional sensation of gratification to something we already enjoy doing. Could it be quieter? Certainly. Try it for yourself and we think you'll agree.

Given the lack of mirror slap, and given the camera body has built in IS, we took note that the i-Auto mode frequently selected a shutter speed of 1/6 second on the pre-production camera we received. While this could be expected, the value of being able to shoot at slower shutter speeds cannot be overemphasized. Using manual settings, we are certain many steady handed photographers can capture worthwhile images at even slower speeds. Put on a fast prime on this body and this may be the ultimate low light camera. Capturing "the moment" is what photography is all about after all.

Something else we very much appreciated is the new menu system. While preparing to shoot, depressing the "Ok" button brings up two sets of transparent menus: one along the right hand side and another at the bottom. The menu on the right represents the variable to be changed (i.e. ISO) and the menu on the bottom reveals the options available for that variable (i.e. ISO 100, 200, 400, etc.). To scroll through the variables, simply rotate the dial located around the "Ok" button. To change the options for that variable, press the left and right buttons located on the same dial. We can't say whether this explains the menu system well enough to the reader but we certainly feel this is the easiest menu system we've used on a Four Thirds camera. In a previous article, we detailed our interest in the removal of buttons and the addition of dial-based controls. Dials in general make it much easier to get to the option you want changed more quickly than pressing arrow buttons repeatedly. Kudos to Olympus for this UI innovation.


Now to the surprise of some, there is no in-body viewfinder. The E-P1 is a full-time live-view camera utilizing the back facing, fixed, 3 inch, 230,000 pixel LCD. While existing P&S users can transition to this style of shooting method without wincing, we found ourselves bringing the camera to our eye on several occasions expecting some form of optical or electronic viewfinder to be located on the camera. This is not to say we couldn't capture several outstanding images using the E-P1 (none of which can be posted because this is a pre-production version of the camera) however until we have more time to use the camera, the jury is out as to whether this is a satisfying method of shooting photography.

On the flip side, the E-P1 can be purchased with the very small 17mm f/2.8 lens *and* external viewfinder (VF-1) which attaches to the camera via the hotshoe. This is a wonderfully retro solution that we expect to see every now and then in the field. While we did not get an opportunity to try this configuration, we do hope that Olympus matches every new prime lens with an external viewfinder. Even better would be a single external viewfinder with the ability to change focal lengths matching their yet-to-be-announced line up of primes. Please let us know in the comments below what you think of the overall viewfinder situation.

The configuration we held in our hands included the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lens - a nifty and ultra-small zoom that collapses to the size you see in the attached images. For the lens to be usable, it must be rotated into place at which point it nearly doubles in length. To collapse the lens back into its resting position, it includes a "lock" switch to ensure that while you zoom in and out of the 14-42mm range, you don't accidentally collapse the lens putting it in an unusable state. Otherwise this zoom is a reasonably well built lens with a convenient range for a kit lens that comes at a price of only $50 above the price of the E-P1 body only. We can't imagine who would choose the body only option when this kit is available.

For those of you with old rangefinder lenses sitting in drawers and closets, the Micro Four Thirds system's reduced flange back length is the shortest flange back length ever produced. This means that given the right lens adapter, virtually any lens produced in existence can be used on this camera. Olympus has already announced that they will be providing adapters to support both Four Thirds mounts (MMF-1) and older OM mounts (MF-2). This little fact has had many people buzzing when the Panasonic G1 was released and we're certain the buzz will continue when they see this camera. We already have our eye on the MMF-1 to try our existing lens line up and lenses such as the Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f/1.4 for the sake of trying other adapters already in the field.

THE OLYMPUS E-P1 - CHANGES

From what we've seen thus far, two things stand out as changes we'd like to see with this camera. The first and most obvious is a black version of the camera body. The E-P1 has the ability to be a discreet camera and nothing stands out as much as a shiny silver or white camera body. Fortunately Olympus has the opportunity to easily make this addition to the line up at any point in time.

The second concern we have about the camera is its price.

* Body - $849.99 CAD
* Body with 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 - $899.99 CAD
* Body with 17mm and VF-1 - $999.99 CAD

Not that the price is unreasonable; where on the contrary it is a fantastically priced camera given the features it has built in. Our only concern is that Olympus has a winning product on its hands in terms of size and quality, and while it addresses user concerns of DSLR bulk and intimidation, it neglects to address cost (i.e. some DSLRs can be purchased for less). One possibility would be for Olympus to release an entry level version of the E-P1 (perhaps the E-P100) containing a subset of the current model's features. Eliminate movie mode, art filters, HDMI support, slideshow/music support, and sell it not as an entry level camera but as a "true photographer's camera" for those who want to get serious about photography. At the $499 to $549 price range, we can see these bodies selling like hot cakes!

THE OLYMPUS E-P1 - CONCLUSION

Assuming the production version of the E-P1 will possess the performance promised by Olympus, this is definitely the most anticipated camera release we've seen since the original E-1 we both purchased just over 5 years ago. We are very much looking forward to getting the final version in our hands to see how it performs and how the shooting experience will be without a viewfinder. If all goes well, you'll be seeing personal posts on MyFourThirds using the E-P1. Panasonic and Olympus have now laid down the gauntlet in the camera industry for the next generation of digital cameras - isn't innovation grand?!

Click here for the official Olympus E-P1 press release Word document.

P.S. Mario is in New York City today for the launch of the Olympus E-P1 - follow us on Twitter to read what is happening by clicking here. Expect to see sample images using the new camera! Unfortunately Alan had to tend to a family emergency this week.

OLYMPUS E-P1 - NEW - ADDITIONAL INFO

At the press event that officially launched the E-P1, Olympus Division Manager for Digital Cameras, Mr. Tom Nakashima, stated that Olympus plans to have a complete line up of Micro Four Thirds cameras while continuing to fully support the original Four Thirds class of systems. No time line was provided for future bodies or lenses.

Some features included on the E-P1 that were not mentioned above include: a) in-camera multi-exposure for two frames, b) the camera body is composed of stainless steel while only the top and bottom are made of aluminum, c) the audio recording is indeed stereo and lossless, d) built-in leveling gauge, e) maximum ISO on this camera is now 6400, f) SSWF to remove dust from the sensor, and g) mechanical IS.

When asked how Olympus viewed the target market for the E-P1, they listed three distinct groupings: a) photo enthusiasts (you know who you are), b) technology aficionados who appreciate aesthetics, and c) step-up P&S consumers. We imagine that as Olympus expands their Micro Four Thirds line up, they will narrow down they target market for each product.

OLYMPUS E-P1 - NEW - SAMPLE IMAGES

Click on the image below to see a full sized version of Mr. Tom Nakashima holding the white version of the Olympus E-P1. This shot was originally taken using aRGB and then converted to sRGB using Photoshop (no other alterations have been made however the skin tones were more accurate in the original).


Now we hope everyone appreciates the sacrifice Mario has made here to demonstrate how well ePortrait mode works. :-) This is a cropped self-portrait taken on the bus on the way to the Coney Island ferry.


To see some actual HD video taken during the day out on Coney Island, follow this link so that we don't have to go through the trouble of uploading our similar video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAus9zr1neE

Below it was a grey day and so it was the best I could do under the circumstances.


Click on the image below to get a sense of the 14-42mm edge to edge sharpness while shooting at 14mm, ISO 100, f/4.5 and 1/500sec. This image was not modified in any way and the camera's settings were left at default.

Comment/Rate Share this Article

Crowd Pleaser?

I just came from the Oly-America website. And...

I wonder what the target market is? With a zoom lens and an external flash the camera is no longer pocketable and the price jumps up another $200 or so, and this effectively eliminates the EP1 from the purely amateur non-enthusiast market. As a fashion statement, the EP1 might open a few doors, but only if it catches on. The no-nonsense folks are not going to want to deal with another camera with art filters cluttering up the menu system. It is not really a system DLSR, and the EP1 does not seem to have a niche of its own that would clearly distinguish it from the 410. Unless this camera can truly excel in at least one specific modality, then what is the point? For discreet shooting the EP1 still cannot beat a small P&S.

I think that unless a buyer was at a point where he or she wants to dump the big DSLR and all its big fast and big long lenses, then there is no point to this.

If I were to buy this camera I would get it with the 17mm pancake lens and forget the rest of the accessories, because in any other configuration the compact design becomes compromised. If the camera is designed for easy control and manipulation of the basics, including bracketing and EV, then I think more avid users might be interested.

Very interesting camera and it will be interesting to see hear what its new owners will have to say.

Tom D ¤ at 06:12 EDT on 2009-Jun-16 [Reply]

NO SUBJECT

I simply love this camera, can't wait to see the next models. Meanwhile i'll buy a two lens kit when its sold for 800€. It will be my camera of choice for night shooting in bars, nightclubs and the like. And the size&weight is just outstanding, I don't agree with you Tom, this is a truly amazing feat. A PEN 1 with the pancake will be a very compact and portable system, do not forget that this system will have a lot of primes and it still has the features of a E3/30! Regards.

Joćo Medeiros Win ¤ ¤ at 09:24 EDT on 2009-Jun-16 [Reply]

NO SUBJECT

that Contax G1 was a darling of mine for may fruitful years...too bad Contax is no longer around, but I'll take the E-P1 to keep my Pen FT company ...I can see my DSLRs spending more time sulking in the cabinet ....thanks for sharing ...cheers ;-))

dee vee HoF Win ¤ $1 at 16:42 EDT on 2009-Jun-16 [Reply]

NO SUBJECT

Thank you mario for your detailed view on the new Olympus E-P1. I'm curious, do you think you will have a chance to try your "old" contax lens in the e-p1? Regards.

Joćo Medeiros Win ¤ ¤1 at 19:01 EDT on 2009-Jun-16 [Reply]

No chance at all Joao

While I would love to re-use my old Contax G lenses on the E-P1 system, because these lenses are electronic and they have no manual method available for focusing, the only way to stick these lenses on a Micro Four Thirds camera is by doing the following conversion to an M-mount.

http://www.japanexposures.com/lens/

I'm not yet prepared to do this in the near future...as much as I would love to. :-)

Alan and Mario at 21:45 EDT on 2009-Jun-16 [Reply]

Oly lets users try it for a week

On DPR it's been said that Oly Europe and Oly Australia is having contests for users to borrow the camera for a week to try out the camera.

Alan & Mario, if you hear anything that Oly Canada is doing something similar can you pass that on...at the Toronto Camera Club there's a potential of several hundred photographers seeing me with it...it would be great publicity for the camera and Olympus! ;-)

At photographic events I can see myself using one of these instead of my E-300 or E-330.

Mike Fellhauer ¤ at 01:56 EDT on 2009-Jun-17 [Reply]

Just curious...

Why do they continue to load up these cameras with all this software?

It's not like you can't do the same things when the file is out of the camera - even with base software. I mean heck, Paint Shop Pro XI is still $99 and it could be argued it's Photoshop's handy dandy little brother.

It would seem to me that it would be a better approach to dump the software and just make the camera mechanically better rather than have an operating system bloated with all those features.

Tom Francis ¤1 at 19:53 EDT on 2009-Jun-17 [Reply]

NO SUBJECT

I know what you mean. And I don't like or want this stuff on my cameras either. BUT. Just a thought from the "other side"...

Cameras of old (film) had one good thing going for them. Independence. My Canon A1 worked for 20 years. I didn't have to worry about new drivers for software, the impact on the camera and my whole photography toolkit with new versions of window etc.

Nowadays, but a camera, works with LR 1, new versions of LR comes out, they don't support RAW with the older camera.... or a few years from now... Windows 8. Hmmm... Photoshop now longer works, no drivers for my camera etc etc. One cannot hang on to a 12 year computer to keep their 12 year old camera working... Never a problem with my A1.

So maybe, having all this "stuff" in camera besides making it easier (but I don't think so) for someone who does not want to buy and keep up-to-date all this software, has a camera that will always do it "inside the camera". BUT, and there is always a but. If the drivers and windows version are not friendly to this camera, the user will be able to do all the in camera stuff they want and maybe not be able to do much more...

I know, one can take the SD or CF card out and load it onto a computer without the camera drivers... If SD and CF are supported in 12 years...

Face it, today's technology is so "temporary" with no guarentees... two steps forward, 3 steps backward???

Just random thoughts. :) Miss the somewhat simpler times.

Cheers.

Geno Sajko HoF Win ¤ $1 at 20:49 EDT on 2009-Jun-17 [Reply]

Underwater Dream

I've been dreaming of a SLR-quality digital camera that doesn't require a huge expensive housing for underwater use. THis could be it. Cant wait to see a housing!

John Gibbens ¤1 at 09:04 EDT on 2009-Jun-18 [Reply]

ABOUT VIEWFINDER

I had never heard of this camera until it was released just the other day and @myfourthirds tweeted about it. (I haven't been following Olympus lately.) Sometimes I get tired of the E-3's weight, so I almost bought a E-410/420 and 25mm recently for casual situations. When I saw the E-P1 I was immediately glad that I held off.

I had to bring my 50-200 down to Olympus today to have the AF repaired. I live in Osaka, Japan, where Olympus has a repair center/showroom/gallery location downtown. They had the E-P1 there with all the accessories, so I got to try it out.

My initial thoughts:

1) I agree with almost everything in the MFT review above. It's great. I even mounted my 50-200 on it with the adaptor and took some shots. Wonderful.

2) I like the white version better than the silver (champagne?) version. Maybe I am just tired of that color for small cameras. The silver version also has a brushed metal plate around the middle that I really don't care for. The white version is painted metal. Really, I'd like a version painted black.

3) I actually prefer having a hotshoe with no built-in flash, and I love the flash they designed for it. It's small and cool, and it reminds me a little of the old T20, if any of you have seen one of those.

4) And I love the hotshoe mounted viewfinder. It's perfectly usable, and works beautifully with the camera...

EXCEPT YOU CAN'T TURN OFF THE LCD SCREEN

Unbelievably, there is no option to turn off the live image on the LCD screen. On a P&S with no optical finder option, of course we would not expect that. But this camera does have an optical finder option, so, it is completely ridiculous that the live image can't be turned off.

In fact, it is so ridiculous that I wonder if actually it *can* be turned off. But I couldn't figure it out, and the people at the Olympus showroom said it couldn't be done.

They're on firmware version 1.0 now. I'm pretty sure that they'll have to add that option for 1.1 or 1.2. For $1000, I won't consider buying it until that is added.

Robert Swier ¤1 at 03:47 EDT on 2009-Jun-19 [Reply]

Robert...

Good question regarding the turning off of the LCD Robert. We had the same question that day which I put forward to Olympus in New York. If you press the "Fn" button at the back of the camera, the LCD dims to what seems like 20% of its normal operation brightness. Outdoors it looks almost as though the LCD has been turned off and we are told it saves on battery life by about 75% in that mode.

We hope that works for your purposes! :-)

Alan and Mario at 11:24 EDT on 2009-Jun-19 [Reply]

Great!!

Yes, I made a similar comment on dpreview and it was pointed out to me that the Olympus FAQ's for the E-P1 mention linking the LCD backlight to the fn button (or optionally another button). But they don't say what it does. I guess I would prefer off, but roughly 20% brightness is still okay.

I feel better now. I was surprised and a little upset when I couldn't figure it out at Olympus today, and when they told me it couldn't be done.

  • phew!*

Robert Swier ¤ at 11:35 EDT on 2009-Jun-19 [Reply]

100% off is available.

http://www.olympusamerica.com/cpg_section/cpg_support_faqs.asp?id=1461#29

Apparently, 100% off *is* available. I missed this in the FAQ before. I'm not sure about the 20% brightness...but my faith in humanity it restored :-)

Robert Swier ¤ at 12:51 EDT on 2009-Jun-19 [Reply]

Startup speed

Hi. Thanks for the review. What was the startup speed like compared to a DSLR and point and shoots?

Zoltan Olah at 20:42 EDT on 2009-Jun-20 [Reply]