Olympus EP2, 50mm f2 Olympus Macro Lens.
Wow. I'm in love all over again. A little background: I dumped ten years worth of other system cameras and bought a modest amount of Olympus e-series gear this past Summer. I liked the stuff. When the EP2 came out I thought the combination of features, the usability of existing Olympus e-series lenses and the similarities to my old Pen FT system were too much to pass up. Little did I know that I would fall in love so hard for this little micro 4:3rds system.
If I could do all my assignments with the EP2 I would get rid of everything else in a heartbeat. If I assume the role of "practical businessman" I'd quickly tell you that this is a camera for the pro that already has a systems he or she is happy with. At the moment there are too many gaps in the system and gaps in the operating capabilities to make it your one, "go-to" camera. But that doesn't negate my belief that this is the funnest camera to shoot on the market today! My e3 focuses better. My Nikon gear did stuff faster. But none of them are as much fun to shoot during a day of walking around in a visually resplendent city with a pocket full of cards and a good friend.
We're between jobs and my good friend asked me to go shoot with him in San Antonio. I figured it would be a great venue for shooting with the new EP2 stuff. We left Austin at the crack of dawn and hit SA early in the morning. We hiked and shot from the area around the Alamo to the area round the Mercado. It was crispy and fresh outside and the big jackets felt good. We were both carrying the EP2 and extra batteries and memory cards. Otherwise we traveled light and easy. Here's my take on this camera system:
Olympus EP2 with the kit zoom lens. 14-42mm.
Let's start by looking at the metering. Just like any camera on the market you can fool it's light meter with scenes that have small points that your want right surrounded by bigger areas of opposite tonality. Most camera have conventional viewfinders that can't show a preview. They can show a review but by then you've already snapped a shot and perhaps the moment is already gone when you've reviewed the results and have decided to shoot again. In the EP2 (and also in the Panasonic GF1, G1 and GH1) when you look through the electronic viewfinder you are seeing the image from the main processor with all the Jpeg settings incorporated into the scene. In other words you are usually looking at exactly what the photo will really look like when you press the shutter button. The colors are a match. You can preview what the exposure settings are giving you and you can watch the screen as you make changes. When you see just what you want you trip the shutter. Amazing that point and shoot people have done this for years but to us DSLR shooters it's a new method. A new feature.
The EP2 has a wonderful EVF finder. Right now it's impossible to buy the camera without one and that's a pretty good thing. It's one of the best EVF's I've ever used. There's no lag and the colors and the resolution of the screen mimic the clarity of a good quality optical finder.
St. Joseph's Church. ISO 1000. Hand held exposure at 1/13th of a second. Kit Lens.
Let's talk about image stabilization for a moment. Since the camera does not have a moving mirror and has good mass for its size it already does a good job of providing a steady platform for hand held photography. The in body stabilization is the gravy. And it is delicious gravy. I am consistently able to hand hold the kit lens at its longest focal length at speeds of down to 1/10th of a second. Reliably. And it's a feature that works even with the lenses I play with from my old Nikons, via an adapter. Is it the best in the world? Is it better than Panasonic's in lens IS? Don't know and don't care. It does a fine job and helps me get stuff that previously would have required a tripod.
A few words about various ISO's. I generally shoot with the camera set to ISO 200 and leave the lens set at its widest aperture, changing just the shutter speeds to control exposure. The Olympus cameras have one difference vis-a-vis Nikon and Canon. The camera comes with the ability to control noise reduction. You can set it on high and see smooth photos with the detail smeared out of them and you can also set it to off and see amazingly sharp and detailed images with a lot of noise, even at 200 ISO. Canon and Nikon don't give you the "off" option. Everything seems a bit cleaner but you lose the option of getting exactly what you want from the N & C cameras. I guess they think their customers are too dumb to leave setting the right noise reduction to.... But, and here's the fatal flaw, Olympus has one other setting that effects noise in their cameras and that is an auto gradation setting. When this is set it lets the camera boost the darker areas to give the appearance of more detail in the shadows. But it comes at the expense of a big jump in shadow noise when it kicks in.
If you use the "no" setting on noise reduction and also leave "auto gradation" as the default you'll see big noise in frames from 400 ISO on up. There's a simple cure. Set the gradation to "normal" and you'll have no big problems. I want control over my noise stuff.
That said, I am happy with noise performance up to ISO 1000 in low light settings and up to 1600 when there is enough light to slightly overexpose my files. (There's headroom in these Jpegs that is quite good). I'm happy to stick to 200 most of the time but I never fear faster speeds, where necessary. These cameras won't compete in the noise department with Nikon's D3 series or Canon's 5Dmk2. Don't expect them to. But if you shoot what I shoot you probably don't need to go much over ISO 800 and in this range don't expect to see any difference between your demure and discreet Olympus versus that big hulking brute of a D3.
Park Custodian. San Fernando Cathedral. Early Morning.
So, the finder works and the metering is reliable (if not spectacular) and the IS is great. The ISO range is ample and well matched to the price point of this system. But what about the color and integrity of the files that come squirting out onto the SD memory cards? Well, when I shot Nikon I pretty much shot in raw. I wanted control because the metering would occasionally burn me and the mid tones would go dark and the shadows, when corrected, would sit on the verge of banding. I profiled my D700 and made custom curves but I was still never reliably happy with the jpeg files I got straight out of the camera. That's okay. Raw programs are really speedy these days. But when I started playing with the EP 2 I noticed that the color and the tonal curve of the camera looked great in just about every jpeg I pulled out.
Now that I can have "what I see is what I get" control via the preview in the electronic viewfinder I choose to shoot mostly in the large super fine jpeg setting and see now reason to lash myself to the computer to convert raw files. The tonal curve shows a much nicer distribution of mid tones than most other cameras I've used. The contrast at defaults is just right and flesh tones work well. Raw is beginning to remind me of the early days of digital when getting good exposures and colors out of the primitive cameras was really hard and demanded some skills. Now it's more a hang on from those days....if you are a careful worker. You'll need to get the images right in the camera but once you do you free up so much space on your card when compared to raw files.
What people say about "Olympus Blue" is correct. Somehow they have tuned their color algorithms to produce very deep and natural blues that take additional saturation gracefully.
Here's how I set the camera up to shoot:
I set the camera on "natural" color. I use single shot. Evaluative metering (corrected by experience). Aperture priority or Manual. And I set the white balance for each type of lighting. I use the camera's aspect ratio settings to show me a square composition in the finder. If you shoot raw you'll see a square in the EVF and you'll see the full frame with a square imposed to show the right cropping when you shoot raw. If you shoot raw you can always go back and try a different crop from the available full frame but I think that's cheating. We Jpeg shooters burn our bridges and there is no turning back for the life jackets once you commit.....
If I'm shooting for hot color I'll set the color settings to "vivid" and go to town. I've used the info control to show me a finder that has no extraneous information on it. It's just not necessary.
One of the coolest things about using the EP2 and the Panasonic equivalents is that their short "flange to sensor" distance allows the use of a very wide range of lenses, all with infinity focus. I've used the kit lens that came with the camera (and is small, light and sharp enough for most work) along with most of the Olympus e-series lenses. I've also used a Nikon 50mm 1.2 with an adapter. My friend Paul is using his Panasonic GF1 with Leica M series lenses. And I'm also waiting for the Olympus Pen F half frame to micro four thirds adapter to come. Those lenses should be really wonderful on this descendant of their body buddies.
When I use a manual lens like the Nikon I set up the info window to show the green box that indicates the position of the chosen focus area in the EVF. I push the center button on the back mounted wheel control to show me a 10X magnification of the shot for fine focusing. I push the button again to see the full frame for composition and shooting. Unless your subject moves around a lot you'll only need to fine focus after you or your subject changes position. It's easier to do this procedure than to write about it and it is much quicker.
At first I thought I would get a lot of use out of the various adapters but I've come to find the kit lens good for most applications and am loathe to remove it unless I need more reach. I've found that my second most used lens is the "pancake" 25mm lens for the regular Olympus e system. It is small and light and doesn't overwhelm the ergonomics of the camera body. It's also a good lens and a good value.
Am I happy? Very. I've found a wonderful camera I can carry and use almost everywhere without the big camera stigma. Will I give up my regular cameras? For assignment? No. But I'll rue the weight and size and lack of preview every time I do a jobs.
Anything else? Yes. I've shot some video but I'm not ready to post any examples. The video is good 720p stuff with lots of detail. And thankfully, unlike the Canon 5dmk2, the Oly people gave us total manual control over exposure and focus while doing video. It's a great "combo" camera for those making that step. If only they would rush me out a microphone adapter!!!!!!!!! Dammit.
Thanks to my friend, Keith, who got me out of the house at 6 am to do this fun "walk around" project. He was also shooting with an EP2 but, since he is much less lazy than me he was pretty persistent in shooting with adapter equipped Nikon lenses. His stuff looks great.
That's it. Go to the link to see everything but I'm throwing one more picture in at the end. I don't get paid by Olympus to use or talk about their stuff. I bought my own camera and lenses. But I do have some books for sale at Amazon. Full disclosure strikes again!
Wait staff and mural at Mi Tierra. Kit lens. Hand Held.