Common Sense and Buying Compact Cameras.

This camera will not fit in the pockets of my tight Italian jeans.  And it might not fit in yours either.  But it's not much larger than the Canon G12 or any number of extended range point and shoot cameras on the market.  And it will fit in a the pocket of my favorite LA Axis sport coat.  Last week I was looking around Amazon with the vague idea of seeing what compact camera I might like to sport about.  Something to take to the opera or out clubbing or whatever it is that all of you profess to do with your "pocket" cameras.  And I came to the conclusion that you either buy a pocket camera or you don't.  And when I think pocket camera I'm thinking (and I think most rational people are thinking....) something like the Canon S95.  Something you really can cram into a pocket and forget about for a while.  I'm not a pocket camera guy.  And I would ask the majority of you.......Isn't that why you have a camera on your iPhone?  My current phone is a Nokia that I got from Cingular (remember them?)  It doesn't do camera.  It barely does phone.....

But if you want something a little stouter, something with a bigger sensor, something with more tools (like a hot shoe) the days of the premier point and shoots, like the G10's and G11's I carried around in years past,  seem temporarily gone.  The LX-5 and the G12 are just the same as the cameras that came before them.  And in the case of the Canon line the S95 uses the same chip and processor as the bigger brother camera so what's really the point?

During my search and coinciding with my sudden interest in the EPL2 I stumbled across the product page for the EPL1 with lens and I was stunned by the price.  You can pick up a camera and zoom lens for around $400.  Less than the companies own recently announced, fixed lens "super" camera and less than the Canon G12 or the Panasonic.  And what do you get when you "settle" for a slightly bigger camera?  Interchangeable lens capability.  A much bigger sensor.  Really nice Jpegs.  The ability to add the best eye level electronic viewfinder on the market and entry into a world of legacy lenses and inexpensive adapters.  For the same price or less.

I can guarantee you'll have better low light performance.  And if you throw my current favorite lens (the Olympus 40mm 1.4 for the original Pen half frame film cameras) or the Panasonic 20m 1.7 on the front of this camera you'll be able to exercise much, much control over depth of field and maybe even that mysterious function called bokeh.

You know why the price has dropped.  Olympus is about to throw the new upgrade on the market.  But the upgrade is little more than the addition of a dial on the back and a few less buttons.  Nearly everything I like in the EPL2 is already on the one.  The sensor is purported to be the same (and the nearly the same as that used on the new e5).  You can use the same VF-2 eye level viewfinder.  It already has the incredible jpegs and the unbeatable blue sky mojo.  So, what does the new camera buy you?  A nicer body design.  A slightly faster interface.  The ability to use the groovy new PenPal.  And......did I mention the nicer body design?

If you were about to pull the trigger on a super compact I'd like to make the point that this represents a great gob of what we've been professing to love about smaller cameras along with features we asked for for nearly ten years and at a selling price that matches some slightly smaller, much slower, much less adaptable, and less handholdable cameras for the exact same price, or less.

If I did not already own one..........

I have three little Pens in my bag right now.  The EP2 (the prettiest and slowest), the EPL1 (the cheapest body with the biggest interfacial learning curve) and the EPL2 which is as fast and sharp as the EPL1 but better looking and slightly faster to use.  I'll probably buy the EPL2 because it's a good camera.  I haven't decided yet, though, because when I look at my files I'm not seeing that much on sensor improvement over the EPL1.  I haven't done my high ISO tests yet so some stuff remains to be seen.  But you'll be the second to know.

But I'll tell you this, with cameras this good at this price, I'm not giving much love to the super compact category of fixed zoom lens cameras.  And I'm pretty sure that's a good thing.

Finally,  I shot the EPL2 alongside the Canon 5Dmk2 today.  If you were banking on getting close on high ISO performance you'll need to stop smoking whatever you've been lighting up.  The Canon is still the undisputed champ of low light in my camera bag.  But everyone in the medical practice thought the Olympus was cuter.  I don't have a metric for that.


pccrs said...

I wish you made this post last Christmas... I was deciding between s95, g11 and epl1 - went with s95. I enjoy it's portability.

Thank you for your nice posts.

Jessica said...

I don't own Italian jeans, but being a lady has its benefits. I just carry my (large) camera in my bag with me everywhere. I'm just not a small camera person. That's cool with me.

Michael Ferron said...

The only thing that would have me buy an epl2 and sell my epl1 is the improved 1/4000 shutter speed and the better screen on the back. Since I use the very cool EVF I supppose I could save money by simply picking up a 2 stop ND filter. Even in the bright overcast of Round Rock this morning I had to stop down to F5.6 to get under the max 1/2000 @ ISO 200. I would have needed at least F2 on the 4/3 sensor to soften the background as desired.

Dave Jenkins said...

$400 is an incredible price for a camera as good as the E-PL1 -- with lens, no less. But for me, at least, it really needs the VF-2 electronic viewfinder to be usable. That item is now down to $230 at B&H, by the way.

ginsbu said...

I agree that P&Ss haven't been advancing all that much where it counts. Heck, I'm still using a 6MP Fuji F30! Sure, there are things it's lacking that I'd like: raw capability, slightly wider wide angle, faster tele, face detection, etc. But in terms of IQ, it's still got very good high-ISO abilities for a compact and I've made fine 8x10 prints with it -- the new cameras just don't offer that much more there. And mostly I'm using my SLR these days, so why bother upgrading the compact, especially when I could buy another lens or a m4/3 cam for not much more?

The most interesting addition to the compact market might be the Olympus XZ-1, if it has good IQ. I really like that it is supposed to work with the Olympus wireless flash system.

The Fujifilm X100 isn't much larger and looks exciting, if very expensive.

Looking forward to your E-PL2 review.

Paul Glover said...

Really, with cameras like the E-Pens at prices less than the premium compacts and phones with cameras no more mediocre than any of the sub-$100 compacts, I can't see any good reason to own a fixed-lens digital compact any more.

Bill Millios said...

"But everyone in the medical practice thought the Olympus was cuter. I don't have a metric for that."

It's called sex appeal.

Ed Lara said...

Was holding off from buying an E-PL1 because I really love my E-P1, but a confluence of three events made me extend my Pen system: someone dropped my E-P1 and broke the LCD screen; lost my bifocal glasses so I really have a hard time viewing an LCD unless it's at arm's length; found slightly used E-PL1 black body and VF-2 for just over $400 on one of the m4/3 forums. I love the bigger grip of the E-PL1, the built in "bounce" flash, and the VF-2 makes using MF lenses a breeze to use. And as you've pointed out before, Kirk, much better IQ than the E-P1/E-P2. Used E-PL1s with zooms are selling for less than $400 on eBay, so, yes, why settle for a non-interchangeable lens "pocket camera"?

Kurt Shoens said...

The Panasonic G1's down to about $500 these days, including EVF. Plus it comes with a better kit lens than its successor.

The compacts have the advantage of collapsing down into a rectangular solid, which is kind of nice. Lack of interchangeable lenses goes both ways. At least it keeps one from spending more on the little gadgets. And finally they sync flash at any shutter speed. So, pluses and minuses as usual.

All in all I wish I had a m4/3 instead of a compact though. I do have a hard time convincing myself there's enough of a diff to switch.

On an unrelated note, I got my PC Buff lithium batteries today and they're quite small and light. However, the manual warns that they're known not to work with Profoto lights. Apparently the fast recycle design of the Profotos causes enough of a voltage drop to make the Profoto digital circuits cry foul.

obakesan said...

You know, as much as I like my G1 and the other micro 4/3 cameras none are up to the floggin my Coolpix 5000 copped. The titanium body and fold back screen "clam shell" pivot screen is rather like the Canon G12 in many ways ... but why did they not just squeeze a slightly larger sensor in them rather then get even smaller?

Wolfgang Lonien said...

Yup, I agree with Paul, tho I don't own a mobile phone. The compact category will be swallowed by the ever improving Androids and "i"s.

And I agree with you, Kirk, in that the E-PL1 is an incredible value for the money. My wife's E-PL1 is sharper than my E-520, but it also has a tone curve a bit steeper I think. Haven't played around with it enough, since a) it is my wife's camera, and b) I would definitely have to have the VF-2 viewfinder to really make use of it.

May I point you to a small typo in your srticle, which made me smile? The "20m Panasonic" would be an incredible beast of a lens, with the thinnest DoF in history ;-) Wonder how something like that would look in front of a Pen camera...

Good article, and I'm waiting for your final words about the E-PL2. Have you heard/read about the red dot problem? Could you possibly try if you see something like that as well? I will check with mine, and the E-PL1 next time.

Thanks for sharing all this with us. Beside your awesome portraits, your writings are RSS-bookmark-checked each and every day here.


Anonymous said...


Nice article and nice blog: I'm learning a lot with your blog. I love portrait photography and your site is very informative.

Regarding E-PL2, I'm after one to be my wife's camera: she complains that my Canon 5D (mark I) is too big and heavy to take everywhere. I don't expect that Pen's High ISO or PEN's DoF is better than my camera: it's not.

But I must confess that my canon OOC JPEGs teached me to use only RAW. And that takes time... that I don't have now.

That's another reason for picking Olympus: OOC Jpegs for carry anywhere family camera.

Now internet is evil. It was evil with D7000, K5 sensor spots and now E-PL2 lower sharpness than E-PL1 (to allow higher ISO?) and red dot issues.

Can you include it in your tests?

Please note that sharpness for me is just for eye lashes and landscape photography: it is not really critical.

Please keep the good work.


Roebot said...

My EPL1 is FANTASTIC! I'm Loving it. you summed up exactly my thoughts when I was researching the micro 4/3 space a month ago.

kirk tuck said...

Roebot, I feel the same way. And I'm willing to admit that, held in hand, there's no downside to the design touches.

Rich said...

I have the same one as above, and thinks it looks better than the EPL2. It looks capable but modest {?]. But using anything other than the Panasonic 17mm size requires a different definition of pocketable. Then you put on the viewfinder and pockets become theoretical. Nonetheless, its fun to use, and the best colours I've found.

Anonymous said...

Why would anybody want to point their camera (even film) directly at the sun is beyond me. Talk about a way to turn your imager into toast.

Anonymous said...

One of the best features of the E-pl1 (in addition to being able to mount all those great old rangefinder lenses) is the abilty to remotely control off camera wireless flash with the FL-36r/50r flashes. Combine one of these with a convertible umbrella and a Fotodiox 5 in 1 reflector and two stands (throw in a black fleece blanket and a few clamps) and you have a very capable and portable mini TTL studio for about $400.00 (about $225.00 for the studio stuff and $175 for an FL-36r). Off camera TTL flash even without the studio stuff is hugely helpful in a lot of situations. Super "FP" flash gives you sync. at any speed. This is just a fabulous feature on a $400.00 camera. Not too long ago you would have had to spend thousands of dollars for the remote RF commanders/transcievers and studio strobes.