Wednesday, June 17
The Olympus E-P1 – climbing Mount Improbable?
Olympus have generated a torrent of publicity and interest in this new digital camera, billed as a successor to the old film Olympus Pen.
On paper, the E-P1 looks to be just what a lot of serious photographers have been waiting for – a smallish, compact digital with a large sensor, and an array of small lenses in the pipeline. Not so small as to be fiddly, but not so large as to be conspicuous, and possessing decent manual controls and dials.
And as someone who has tried to use a digital with an LCD screen for composition but never really took to that way of working, the large external viewfinder designed to work with the small prime lens looks like a perfect combination.
The only dark clouds on the horizon seem to be mutterings about focusing speed. For example dpreview says, ‘the samples we’ve tried have very slow focus in anything but perfect light’. OK, these are samples and not the final cameras, but it doesn’t seem to tally with Olympus’s claim of 3 frames per second...
In theory, with the new pancake prime lens pictured above – which is about 35 mm in 35 mm terms – a manual focus to about 5 ft and f/8 would cover most bases, but according to www.dcresource.com, that doesn’t sound too promising either: ‘Manual focus allows you to set the focus distance yourself, though that can be difficult, since there are no distance markings on the lens, nor are any displayed on the LCD’. Hmm, curious...
Of course, we’ve been here before, with cameras that promised much but were let down by details such as the shaky build quality of the Ricoh GR digital cameras, and the general sluggishness of the Sigma offering. But Olympus have built this new camera up so much – and even reprised David Bailey as ambassador – that they must be confident in the E-P1, so here’s hoping its performance lives up to the publicity.
Meanwhile, Britain’s leading cartographer of the psychogeographic landscape is awaiting a review copy... Oh, and a black version would be nice.
**** Update, 23 June 2009 ****
More reviews coming in suggest that the focusing speed is similar to a fast compact, but not up to digital SLR standards. For example:
"In outdoor light at the wide end of the kit zoom, the E-P1's focusing generally felt as fast as a decent point-and-shoot, and at times maybe faster. There was some definite lag and hunt when shooting indoors, though – more than you'd expect from a DSLR. If action shooting, especially indoor sports photography, is a primary interest, the E-P1 (or any other MFT camera, to be honest) probably isn't the best choice."
It also mentions a "a great quick-shift AF to MF transition".
Digitalarts online are more forgiving
"When you turn on the E-P1, it's ready to shoot in about a second. Focusing is fast using its 11 focusing points, and shutter lag is minimal. Burst mode is 3 fps. In other words, it feels like DSLR when you press the shutter button."
**** Update, 6 July 2009 ****
A few more reviews I bumped into both flag up the focus speed. Doesn't sound good:
NYTimes.com Gadgetwise Blog
"I found the auto-focus a bit imprecise and slow. In particular, it was difficult to focus on anything that was moving (even when using Continuous AF)."
**** Update, 9 July 2009 ****
I had a quick try of the camera with the kit zoom today, courtesy of Jessops in Bournemouth. After all the talk of less than stellar autofocus performance, it didn't seem too bad to me in terms of speed.