The Photographic Community for the Four Thirds Photographer
Announcing the Olympus E-P1 [UPDATED WITH SAMPLES]
[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.
(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 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.
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.
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.
* 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. 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.
|Copyright ©2004, MyFourThirds.com. All Rights Reserved.|