Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Olympus Disappoints in µ4/3rds Announcements

New All Black E-P2 Kit
Today Olympus announced the availability of two new all-black E-P2 kits and two new µ4/3rds zoom lenses. None of what Olympus announced today is what I would classify as exciting nor innovative. Instead, it illustrates what appears to be a slowly growing morbidity within the entire Olympus camera division. In this instance all that has occurred are cosmetic changes on the Pen kits and a regurgitation of older 4/3rds designs with the zooms.

The E-P2 was originally released in December 2009. It came in two kits; one with the 17mm silver M.Zuiko all-silver lens, and the other with the collapsing M.Zuiko 14-42 zoom in black with silver trim. Both versions came with the VF-2 electronic viewfinder, and they both retailed for $1,100. Today's EP-2 kit releases are a minor variation on the original in that the lens is now an all-black 17mm across both kits, with the variation being a kit with an all-black FL-14 external flash (what is what is shown to the right) or a kit with the VF-2.

The cost of these new kits is $1,371 with the VF-2 and $1,332 with the external flash, a bit more than what they cost in December 2009.

Oh. I forgot to mention. You also get a snazzy new lens cover with the Pen F symbol stamped on the front.

I purchased the December 2009 E-P2 kit with the zoom because I felt the zoom would be the more useful lens to start with (and it was). And I was very satisfied with it (and still am). But now Olympus has bucked the downward pricing trend of the original kit by "refreshing" it, and selling it for even more money. With no more than cosmetic changes, the new kits are no better than the originals, and frankly, not worth purchasing.

The zoom story isn't much better. Olympus has introduced a pair of zooms, an M.Zuiko MSC 40-150mm f/4-5.6 zoom and an M.Zuiko MSC 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 zoom. The MSC accronym stands for Movie Stills Compatible, which Olympus claims indicates the zooms are fast and silent, suitable for both video and stills photography. This feature is also a part of two of Olympus' earlier zoom lenses, the M.Zuiko 9-18mm f/4-5.6 and the M.Zuiko 14-140mm f/4-5.6.
M.Zuiko MSC 40-150mm f/4-5.6 zoom
My complaint about the 40-150mm is its price, at a suggested MSRP is $300, or some $100 more than the original 4/3rds lens plus a suitable adapter. It comes complete with a plastic lens bayonet (which the regular 4/3rds zoom did as well). In my book $300 is a bit much to ask for an all-plastic lens, especially with a plastic bayonet, I don't care what its pedigree is.
M.Zuiko MSC 75-300mm f/4.8-6.3 zoom
And then there's the 75-300mm, with has a suggested MSRP of $900. That's a lot of money for such a little lens (Leica examples not withstanding). Even more ominously, it's a very slow lens, especially at 300mm. Keep in mind that due to the multiplication factor of the 4/3rds sensor, you multiple any focal length (given in 35mm lengths by the way) by 2 to get the equivalent focal length of the lens, which in this case is 600mm at maximum focal length. That's an awfully long, slow lens for such a small body, especially to hold by hand. This is definitely a lens that needs to work in broad daylight for decent results. Else you're going to start climbing through the ISO range pretty quickly. And as much as I like the Pens, high ISO performance are not their forte.

I have lost a fair amount of enthusiasm for Olympus over the last six months, especially with this announcement. I am very disappointed with the high prices, especially for the warmed over E-P2 kits. All of these newly announced products range from overpriced to very overpriced. Equivalent 4/3rds lenses (the 40-150Mk II and the 70-300mm) are 1/3rd the cost of these newly announced zooms. Unless you absolutely have to have these new items, I would not spend the money, looking instead at the older kits for far less money, or even looking at alternative brands and even small DSLRs. I don't know where Olympus is going with all of this, but they've pretty much left me behind.


Panasonic Lumix GF-1 with Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 prime
Not interested in paying such a high premium for Olympus' warmed over µ4/3rds Pens, but want a camera that matches the overall quality and features of the E-P2? Then take a look at Panasonic's GF1. The kit comes with the highly regarded 20mm f/1.7, has a built in flash, the same 4/3rds sensor (with matching resolution), and is priced between $700-$800, depending on the seller. You can even purchase an EVF for it for another $200 if you so desire. The biggest mark against it in my book is the lack of in-body image stabilization (IBIS) as Panasonic sells zooms with in-lens image stabilization (ILIS). But at that price differential even I would overlook that deficit.


  1. I couldn't agree more with your comment about "losing enthusiasm for Olympus." I'm hoping that if the rumored E-3 replacement actually comes to fruition this year I might be able to get excited again but honestly, I'm bracing for disappointment.

    There's money in my business plan next year for a new 35-100f2 lens but honestly, that same money would nearly cover a new Canon 5dMkII..

  2. Bill, you make some really excellent points. I think Olympus is trying to make M4/3 into a high end niche product, and I doubt it will work. I see three categories of potential users:
    1. P&S users moving up
    2. A high quality compact for DSLR users
    3. Anyone who wants a platform for legacy (or other brand lenses)

    And absolutely none of the above will be in the market for $900 mFT lenses. These high priced lenses will only hold appeal for those wishing to assemble a "complete" mFT system. And I suspect this is a pretty small group.


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