Review -Olympus E-PL5 Micro 4/3 Mirrorless Camera

ImagePicked up this camera along with a 45mm F1.8 lens at the duty free in Incheon (always dangerous to wait there for your flight). I had held off purchasing a full SLR for years because of the weight, but handling this, I found it to be light and extremely portable. The pictures it takes trumps anything you can Instagram on the iPhone (and I take a lot of decent iPhone shots). The optics and the larger photosensor gives you amazingly clear images that a point and shoot or smartphone cannot possibly match. 

Take this shot, cropped from a larger image taken from my bedroom window with the stock 14-42mm lens. 

ImageThe light capturing ability (this was dawn) and clarity are unmatched. The fixed 45mm F1.8 lens was chosen for the ability to compose portraits and capture kids in action. The picture below was taken with this lens.

ImageAll of these shots were taken on full program (auto) mode. The first shot of the camera itself was taken with the Olympus XZ-1 which has a F1.8 pancake lens. You can pick up the XZ-1 for cheap at about 200, while the E-PL5 is available for around 550-650USD. 

While I love my iPhone’s camera -after all, it is usually the only camera I have on me, the E-PL5 gives me the chance at taking some amazing shots. I will extend this review as I use the camera. 

 

 

 

Original Hipster’s Automatic Camera

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Pictured above is a Minolta fixed lens camera from the sixties. It was a very hopeful time in Japan and it was reflected in the solid manufacture of this camera which was meant to compete and undercut traditional German cameras like Rollei and Leica. This particular camera had an interesting provenance. When I was living in Washington Heights, I lived next door to an elderly lady, a Holocaust survivor, one of many who settled in Washington Heights after the war, including Henry Kissinger and many other German Jews. She was moving to Florida and was throwing out everything and this was her gift to me. She stopped using it after she first got it because she could never figure out how to use it and her husband used it only sparingly. It has its original box and manual and a handsome leather cover.

Jennifer had a box of old film which I’m sure has gone bad but may still take pictures -I am going to shoot it all and see what I get!

 

Olympus XZ-1 Personal Review

One of my growing hobbies has been photography. In particular, I love taking landscape shots of golf courses and at work, I need tight macro shots of operations. While one of my good friends swears by his Canon Mark 5D, I can’t see myself carrying a second man purse of camera and lenses like he does to capture shots around New York City. That said, even the micro 4/3rd cameras despite their size, demands cases because their lenses protrude.

The primary appeal of interchangeable lens cameras is versatility and quality with regard to image sensor, control, and lenses. Most compact cameras -even high end prosumer compacts, make compromises for broad appeal. In particular, lens speed -the ability to open the aperture wide to let in the most amount of light, is in inverse proportion to zoom which has broader appeal. The beauty of high quality portraits and cinema is that the lens focuses on a narrow plane leaving foreground and background slightly blurred. The ability to do this indoors is limited by lens speed -and flash ruins pictures.

The most popular configuration of micro 4/3rds cameras is buying the body and a 20mm Panasonic “pancake” lens which is rated at F1.8 which is a very fast lens speed. By using old fashioned zoom (by stepping forward and backward), this lens allows for excellent low light photography while also allowing for beautiful landscape shooting. It’s also relatively pricey, as I would be paying extra for an option (the ability to change lenses) that I would not use.

The Canon S-95 has been edging towards these specs, but having the older generation G9, I have come to think that Canon really dumbs down their consumer level products as much as their professional products are excellent. My iPhone camera (which took the above picture) takes as good a picture.

The XZ-1 which just shipped from Amazon (which strangely got it a month later than other retailers) fits my needs. It has a very fast lens with the same F1.8 lens speeds as the popular Panasonic pancake 20mm lens. The offered presets work very well, but the manual settings and the physical ergonomics of the camera and the bright OLED screen make the camera sing.

This snapshot shows the camera’s abilities in the hands of a novice. The worst kind of shots for consumer cameras are indoor shots facing a strong source of light. The camera adjusted and produced this image to the right.

The screen is OLED and very bright. That said, I am considering getting the Olympus viewfinder which gets very high reviews (not like the Panasonic viewfinder which gets middling reviews). The viewfinder would fit in the flashes hotshoe.

I have not taken any flash shots and have found that by increasing the ASA, keeping the f stop to 1.8, and holding the camera still, all indoor shots that are visible to the human eye can be taken with good quality with this camera.

The autofocus is very fast, but also touchy, particularly when something is moving and out of the foreground. I haven’t read the manual (I never do) but the camera does allow you to select the region of focus, or to manually focus the lens.

I did purchase a 16GB SDHC card for it -this allows ample space to park the HD video that the camera shoots. Compared to prior video I’ve shot, I feel like I am carrying movie camera. The subject focuses nicely with the background blurring dramatically -this is the benefit of the high quality lens. I don’t see the point of purchasing dedicated movie cameras for most people except for serious videographers.

The battery life is excellent -it shows full bars despite taking about 100 shots and several video clips. I purchased an extra battery for it but expect that it won’t be needed much unless I’m going for long adventures away from a power source.

My comment earlier about the unnecessary flash touches on something I’ve wanted for years in a digital camera. The instant gratification of digital trumped many of the features of film except for the quality of the pictures which could not match those taken years ago with a manual SLR and a fast lens. While it was obvious that you could get this with DSLR’s, the bulk and hassle of carrying camera gear negates any of the fun for me. This almost fits in my pants pocket, definitely in a jacket pocket, and gives you images that match the most important camera -your eye. It is the camera that you have that is the best camera, and this camera is one that I can always have on me (aside from my iPhone).

Update 4-12-2011
The camera absolutely needs a sleeve for the laptop bag as the lens cap comes off too easily. Video is poor -don’t get this camera for the video. Its primary problem is there is an unstable time delay between focus detection and focus motors which for stills is very fast but for video, it can get caught in a spastic focus loop focusing on some foreground object then to the back and vice versa. I hope they fix this with a firmware upgrade. I really should read the manual. The stills, particularly the landscapes and the portraits are superb. Battery life is incredible.

Update 7-26-2011

Got the viewfinder -incredible quality images through it. Will update this review.