Sunday, February 28, 2010

An Olympus E-series DSLR Wishlist

There's been tremendous chatter in the various photo forums about when and what type of new and future camera(s) Olympus will introduce for their DSLR users. As a fan of Olympus I've always been pleased to own and use what they've sold to date. It isn't perfect (what camera system is), but it's all been Good Enough for me, and until I somehow achieve absolute perfection, it'll continue to work just fine in my hands.

Having said that, I do have a short wishlist, based on my personal experiences, as to what I'd like to see in the next generation DSLR from Olympus. And it's not that long a list.
  1. Better ISO and Image Quality - I'm tying ISO performance to image quality because the noise at high ISO on Olympus systems corrupts detail. At lower ISO (800 and lower on the E-3, 1600 and lower on the E-P2) image quality is, practically speaking, indistinguishable from each other and their respective base ISOs. Meaning it's all good. And printing makes the images look better than staring at images on a computer screen anyway.

    The E-P2 already goes to ISO 6400. That means, with my Sigma 30 mm f/1.4 mounted with the MMF-1 adapter, that I can hand-hold and take exposures wide open at 1/2 second under a full moon. And that's obviously with IS enabled. Ignoring for the moment the question of why I would want to shoot strictly by moonlight, the photo that would be produced would be covered with an awful lot of noise (grain).

    I'd love to have an advanced Olympus DSLR with image quality at ISO 6400 equal to what you can currently get at ISO 1600 (or if possible, ISO 800) with the E-P2. And all of this out-of-the-camera without post processing. While high ISO is now considered the new megapixel race, ISO's greater than 6400 are about as useful as megapixel densities greater than 12. If 12 Mpixel is still good enough for Nikon's D3s, then it's certainly still good enough for me.

  2. Better Autofocus - The problem isn't speed. Autofocus with most lenses on the E-3 is more than fast enough. No, the problem is consistent accuracy. There are times with both the E-3 and the E-P2 where the system will not lock on what is obviously the observable target. You can increase the percentage proper focus hits by narrowing the number of focusing sensors you use (I choose center-weighted cross on the E-3, for example). Which begs the question of why most would ask for more focus sensors.

    My autofocus request is in two parts; fix the number of sensors you do have, then fix the algorithm you use to focus the lens. Don't give me a massive focus sensor increase without addressing consistent focus lock, especially in low light (after all, why have flawless ISO 6400 when autofocus is useless at the light levels I'd want to use it?). And by consistent, I mean 99.99% of the time. No more long zooms out and in while attempting to regain lock.

    And while we're talking about autofocus, give me the ability to adjust for front- or back-focus problems with a given lens. That ability already exists on the E-30, and I was really hoping it would show up on the E-3 as a firmware update (it hasn't). I was more surprised when it wasn't on the E-P1 or P2 (and I have discovered that my copy of the HG 12-60mm front focuses at 60mm). So when you get ready to release a new DSLR, please remember to add that feature. It's important.

  3. Built-in Advanced EVF - The EVF first introduced in the E-P2 is beautiful. It has a very high resolution (far higher than the LCD on the back). An EVF of equal or better quality should be built into the new DSLR. And I would like to see one additional feature in the DSLR EVF: eye-control. Some cameras, such as pre-digital versions of Canon's EOS series, had eye-controled focusing. While that would be quite intriguing in an Olympus pro body, I want eye-control for a more mundane reason; to turn the EVF off when the eye is not over the sensor. Olympus EVF eye-control needs to be sophisticated enough not to turn the EVF on when it's down against your body, and to identify eye-glass wearers eyeballs as well.

    This feature would help in two areas. The first is lower battery consumption. There is no need to have the EVF on and burning up battery charge all the time. The second is switching between live view on the LCD and the EVF. It can get annoying switching between live view and OVF on the E-3, especially when fast action is happening around you. On the E-3 you have to close the OVF shutter, then press the live view button (and suffer the 5 second admonishment to close the OVF shutter displayed on the LCD). The body should be sophisticated enough to switch back and forth seamlessly.

  4. Higher Resolution LCD - You had to see this one coming. If I can have a 1.4 Mpixel EVF as found in the E-P2, then I can surely have an equivalent resolution LCD on the back. The problem with this is, again, power consumption. The more pixels you want to drive, the more power it takes, shortening the number of photographs you can take with a given battery charge. It also takes a higher frequency to drive in real time, especially if used in live view. Again, power tradeoffs.

    What I'm not looking for is a larger LCD. My E-3's is 2.7" diagonal, while my E-P2 is 3". While 3" is nice, a big LCD takes up more space and cramps what's left for buttons and controls. And I'm not so sure that 3" is truly superior to 2.7". Perhaps on gear sites, where checking boxes is the only way they can 'review' and 'compare', but in general practice (out in the field) it's not that big a deal.
As for overall handling and capabilities, you could use the E-3 as your template and I would be more than satisfied. Yes, I love the E-P2, but I'm ready for the next (perhaps last?) pro DSLR with weather sealing and all the other features I take for granted in the E-3. Just because I've spent so much time recently on the E-P2 doesn't mean I've abandoned the E-3. You'll also note I haven't clamored for video. I have video on the E-P2, and it's more than adequate for my needs. Let others who feel the need (or the one-upmanship pressure with their peers) clamor for video.

Well, it's now a matter of patience. It will come when it comes. In the mean time I'll continue to use what I have with great effect.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Crazy Day on the Roads in Orlando

Today started cold and turned colder as the day wore on. And it wasn't just the temperature. I started the day as usual by traveling up Apopka-Vineland road on my way to ride the 408E on into work near U.C.F. Just before I got to the end of Apopka-Vineland, one of Orange County's finest leaped out into the middle of the road in a stylish neon yellow vest, a radar gun in his left hand while he waved a stiffened right arm at the traffic that was slowing and trying to avoid hitting the idiot. He would swing stiff-armed down one side, then turn and swing stiff-armed to his left, until he found the cars he wanted to pull over and ticket. Fortunately for me I was in the passing lane and traveling at the posted speed limit. Which was kind of interesting, as I wasn't alone on the road, and if I was traveling at the posted speed limit, then so was everyone else around me. I remember such things.

In any event I immediately crossed over to a turn-off lane and stopped, pulled out my trusty E-P2, put my 50mm on it, and shot a few photos to add to my earlier speed-trap photo from this area. After chimping what I'd captured, and satisfied with the results, I got back in my car and joined the other commuters headed into Orlando on the 408E.

Hiding around the cornerSpeed trap victims


It wasn't long before I was passing through downtown, and wouldn't you know it, I got to witness one of the FHP's finest go after another scofflaw speeder. I watched as he leaped on his shiny motorcycle, sped it up as quickly and as wobbly as possible, then managed to get behind and pull over his target. I'd have taken a couple of shots of that but for the fact that it's dangerous to pull over and shoot photos, especially after widening the 408 to five lanes and narrowing the pulloff lane on the left.

Morning turned quickly into early afternoon, and I was back on the road to attend a meeting away from my office. Wouldn't you know it, but another pair of county mounties set up yet another speed trap on Corporate Blvd at the intersection of Corporate and Quadrangle Blvd. This time, I pulled off into a parking lot, and with the E-P2 and 50mm I went out again to take their picture.

This isn't the first time they've set up a speed trap here. The first time I was able to catch them, it was a pair on motorcycles. I photographed them with my E-3 and 50-200mm at 200mm. I was able to stay out of sight. Unfortunately, this time I had to walk across Quadrangle and onto the grassy knoll to get close enough for the 50mm to capture reasonable detail (the 50mm is primarily a macro lens, and even at the crop factor of 2, 100mm is not a long telephoto). As to be expected I was spotted. There were two offices, a male and a female. The male motioned to me to come over. I stood where I was for a split second, then shook my head no and walked back across the street and into the parking lot, where I got back in my car and left the area. Unless they had X-ray vision they didn't see me, as the parking lot is surrounded by a three-foot continuous hedge, and my little econobox disappears behind such obstacles.

Second Speed Trap

One more stop on the way over to the meeting, and I picked up a couple of shots of another dead business on University. The local Boston Market is empty now, a victim of the ongoing Great Recession. If you thought it was over, you're wrong. I'll have another post in March about what's happened to a number of the dead businesses over the past year.

Boston Market Out-of-business NoticeBoston Market Out-of-business


After the meeting I headed home and passed, for the forth time that day, my final speed trap, this time on the 408W. Again, traffic being what it is, I just passed on by. This time it was an unmarked SUV (save all the blue and white lights hidden discretely in the regular light wells and inside behind the front and rear windscreen).

I don't know what's going on with cops and speed traps, except it is the end of the month. And it's the same spots. These are favorite haunts that seem to generate plenty of tickets. Which makes you wonder what it is about those particular roads.

I hate speed traps. They serve absolutely no useful purpose other than to crowbar large wads of cash out of your wallet, cash you (or at least I) can ill afford to loose. I can't do much about what I see as a petty abuse of power except to document and warn. So if you're living in Orlando, watch out. They really are out to get you.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why I Live in Florida

This is from a co-worker from New Jersey, who happens to be in the office today. He's hoping to get back home before a big snow storm hits around where he lives. He sent this out to me in an email. Enjoy.

Diary Of a Snow Shoveler

December 8 - 6:00 PM
It started to snow. The first snow of the season and the wife and I took our cocktails and sat for hours by the window watching the huge soft flakes drift down from heaven. It looked like a Grandma Moses Print. So romantic we felt like newlyweds again. I love snow!

December 9
We woke to a beautiful blanket of crystal white snow covering every inch of the landscape. What a fantastic sight! Can there be a more lovely place in the whole world? Moving here was the best idea I've ever had! Shoveled for the first time in years and felt like a boy again. I did both our driveway and the sidewalks. This afternoon the snowplow came along and covered up the sidewalks and closed in the driveway, so I got to shovel again. What a perfect life!

December 12
The sun has melted all our lovely snow... Such a disappointment! My neighbor tells me not to worry- we'll definitely have a white Christmas. No snow on Christmas would be awful! Bob says we'll have so much snow by the end of winter, that I'll never want to see snow again. I don't think that's possible. Bob is such a nice man, I'm glad he's our neighbor.

December 14
Snow, lovely snow! 8 inches last night. The temperature dropped to -20. The cold makes everything sparkle so. The wind took my breath away, but I warmed up by shoveling the driveway and sidewalks. This is the life! The snowplow came back this afternoon and buried everything again. I didn't realize I would have to do quite this much shoveling, but I'll certainly get back in shape this way. I wish I wouldn't huff and puff so..

December 15
20 inches forecast. Sold my van and bought a 4x4 Blazer. Bought snow tires for the wife's car and 2 extra shovels. Stocked the freezer. The wife wants a wood stove in case the electricity goes out. I think that's silly. We aren't in Alaska , after all.

December 16
Ice storm this morning. Fell on my ass on the ice in the driveway putting down salt. Hurt like hell. The wife laughed for an hour, which I think was very cruel.

December 17
Still way below freezing. Roads are too icy to go anywhere. Electricity was off for 5 hours.. I had to pile the blankets on to stay warm. Nothing to do but stare at the wife and try not to irritate her. Guess I should've bought a wood stove, but won't admit it to her. God I hate it when she's right. I can't believe I'm freezing to death in my own living room.

December 20
Electricity's back on, but had another 14 inches of the damn stuff last night. More shoveling! Took all day. The damn snowplow came by twice. Tried to find a neighbor kid to shovel, but they said they're too busy playing hockey. I think they're lying. Called the only hardware store around to see about buying a snow blower and they're out. Might have another shipment in March.. I think they're lying. Bob says I have to shovel or the city will have it done and bill me. I think he's lying.

December 22
Bob was right about a white Christmas because 13 more inches of the white shit fell today, and it's so cold, it probably won't melt till August. Took me 45 minutes to get all dressed up to go out to shovel and then I had to piss.. By the time I got undressed, pissed and dressed again, I was too tired to shovel. Tried to hire Bob who has a plow on his truck for the rest of the winter, but he says he's too busy. I think the a--hole is lying.

December 23
Only 2 inches of snow today. And it warmed up to 0. The wife wanted me to decorate the front of the house this morning.. What is she, nuts?!! Why didn't she tell me to do that a month ago? She says she did but I think she's lying.

December 24
6 inches - Snow packed so hard by snowplow, I broke the shovel. Thought I was having a heart attack. If I ever catch the son of a bitch who drives that snow plow, I'll drag him through the snow by his balls and beat him to death with my broken shovel. I know he hides around the corner and waits for me to finish shoveling and then he comes down the street at a 100 miles an hour and throws snow all over where I've just been! Tonight the wife wanted me to sing Christmas carols with her and open our presents, but I was too busy watching for the damn snowplow.

December 25
Merry f---ing Christmas! 20 more inches of the damn slop tonight - Snowed in. The idea of shoveling makes my blood boil.. God, I hate the snow! Then the snowplow driver came by asking for a donation and I hit him over the head with my shovel. The wife says I have a bad attitude. I think she's a fricking idiot. If I have to watch "It's A Wonderful Life" one more time, I'm going to stuff her into the microwave.

December 26
Still snowed in. Why the hell did I ever move here? It was all HER idea. She's really getting on my nerves.

December 27
Temperature dropped to -30 and the pipes froze; plumber came after 14 hours of waiting for him, he only charged me $1,400 to replace all my pipes.

December 28
Warmed up to above -20.. Still snowed in. The BITCH is driving me crazy!!!

December 29
10 more inches. Bob says I have to shovel the roof or it could cave in. That's the silliest thing I ever heard. How dumb does he think I am?

December 30
Roof caved in. I beat up the snowplow driver, and now he is suing me for a million dollars, not only the beating I gave him, but also for trying to shove the broken snow shovel up his ass. The wife went home to her mother. Nine more inches predicted.

December 31
I set fire to what's left of the house. No more shoveling.

January 8
Feel so good. I just love those little white pills they keep giving me. Why am I tied to the bed?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Olympus E-P2, A Personal Review

Late Night Self Portrait
Sigma 30mm via MMF-1 on Olympus E-P2
There is a new love in my life, and her name is E-P2. Small, svelte, and seductive, the Olympus E-P2 camera is a delightful pleasure to use. It’s compact and unobtrusive, allowing me to photograph my world without raising concerns among people who happen to be around me at the time. I’m glad I purchased it and would certainly purchase it again.

This is an “experiential” review. It’s based on my highly subjective experiences with the camera, not on any objective technical analysis such as lens sharpness or sensor resolution tests. While the E-P2 is capable of both still and video, I've concentrated just on the E-P2’s still capabilities.

My Background, or Why Did You Buy This?

I'm a long time Olympus user, going back to the OM-4 I purchased in 1984 while on a trip to San Francisco. The OM-4 instilled an appreciation for Olympus' optical and general build quality. That heritage has carried through into Olympus' digital cameras, up to and including the E-P2.

The E-P2 is the third Olympus digital camera I’ve purchased in the last four years. My first was an E-300 kit in March 2006. My second was an E-3 kit in December 2008. My third, the E-P2, arrived in December 2009 from B&H Photography as another kit that included body, electronic viewfinder VF-2, and the M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens.

The E-300 was my first tentative step into Olympus-style digital photography. When I discovered how enjoyable the E-300 was, I jumped into owning Olympus gear with both feet and purchased the E-3 along with several HG lenses. The E-3 is a superb DSLR, especially out in the field here in Florida. It has repeatedly proven to be rugged, reliable and consistent in operation and output. The only “problem” I have with the E-3 is that at certain times, especially with a compliment of Zuiko Digital lenses, the kit can get just a tad too heavy to haul around.

I was therefore very receptive to the concept and implementation of the E-P2. I was in the market for a small unobtrusive camera that would give me the image quality and some key features of the E-3; overall the E-P2 has delivered.

So What Is the E-P2, Exactly?

It’s a very compact, mirrorless, interchangeable lens camera, designed and built around the 4/3rds sensor. Being mirrorless and subsequently without pentaprism and optical viewfinder, Olympus and its 4/3rds partner Panasonic were able to shrink the size (most significantly the depth from lens mount to sensor) of the camera body, producing a new compact camera they call Micro 4/3rds. Because micro 4/3rds cameras are mirrorless they use live view from the sensor to the build-in LCD, and at times an attachable electronic viewfinder, for through-the-lens focusing. Live view is not always necessary; Olympus sells a pancake lense that will work with a simple non-electronic optical viewfinder (the VF-1) that you slide into the hotshoe. But for just about any other lens you can mount live view is a must.

Nearly every other reviewer has described the E-P2 as the ‘digital Pen’. Even Olympus’ own marketing group refers to it this way. I believe the real descendant to the Pen was the E-300 (and E-330). The key feature the E-300 shared with the Pen was the Porro prism system for focusing through the lens. If you check older Olympus documentation circa 2005, you’ll find where Olympus said essentially the same thing. To me the E-P2 is the follow-on to the E-300, as much as it is the old Pen in digital form. I just wish they’d carried the E-300’s Porro finder into the E-Px series, or else mounted the EVF on the body. But I can see why they didn’t do either.

Physical

The E-P2 is a gorgeous, well-built little camera. The polished black metal around the body, the precise fit between all body components, and the heft in the hand for its small size exude a feeling of high quality. To my eye and hand the fit and finish of the E-P2 rivals that of the E-3. It’s an irrational statement to make, but the E-P2 invites (almost begs) me to pick it up and use it, far more than just about any other camera I’ve ever come across.

I purchased the E-P2 instead of the nearly-identical E-P1 because of the VF-2 electronic view finder that is available only with the E-P2. As with the E-3, a superb viewfinder played a key role in my final purchase decision of the E-P2. Big and bright, the VF-2 has 1.4MP of resolution, shows 100% of any attached lens’ view, and has a 1.15x magnification for easier viewing. The VF-2’s view and magnification match the E-3’s, and for the most part matches the clarity of the E-3’s optical viewfinder. While most photography with the E-P2 can be conducted with the rear LCD, there's one situation where a viewfinder is needed, and that's outside in the bright Florida sun. In direct sunlight the back LCD can be washed out; that's when the VF-2 can step in an provide clear unobstructed focusing. The VF-2’s only flaw (and just like live view in general) is its electronic nature; it will suffer from vertical noise streaking in low light situations. And the dimmer the shooting situation, the noisier it gets, leading to difficulty in focusing, especially if focus assist is enabled.

While the body gets high marks for build quality, the 14-42mm kit lens doesn’t quite so much. The lens certainly isn’t junk, but physically it’s not in the same league as the body. With a maximum aperture of only f/4 at 14mm, its best use is in reasonably bright light (outdoors in sun and shade, or indoors with plenty of light).

The 14-42 lens is made almost entirely from plastic, with the exception of the optics and the metal lens bayonet. The 14-42 was designed to ‘fold’ or collapse into itself when traveling. It takes a 15-20 degree twist of the zoom ring to extend the lens. Fully extended, it’s more than twice as long as it is collapsed.

It’s in the extended position where the lens’ physical quality feels the least acceptable. It feels unduly hollow and flexible, almost too fragile for heavy duty use. When I think of solid work-a-day lenses I think of my original kit lenses on the E-300 or the HG 12-60mm, 50-200mm, and 50mm macro. The M.Zuiko 14-42mm is not in their league.

Once extended, the lens stays locked in this position until you open the lock on the zoom ring and twist the zoom ring in the opposite direction to collapse it. With the 14-42mm lens attached to the E-P2 and collapsed into its traveling position, the E-P2 will easily fit into a coat pocket. And with the long cold spell we’ve had here in Central Florida recently, I’ve had plenty of experience putting it in my coat pocket.

In spite of my concerns about the M.Zuiko's physical build, optically speaking it will consistently produce pleasing results. As usual, Olympus has produced a lens that is sharp wide open; it has to be, as the fastest maximum aperture is f/4 at its widest focal length.

The VF-2 is primarily plastic with a matt black finish that appears almost impervious to scuffs and fingerprints. It seems rugged enough for its diminutive size, but never-the-less I handle it rather gingerly, due to the fact that it’s a small, easily misplaced $300 precision optical device. I obsess enough over losing $7 E-3 eye cups. The idea of losing the VF-2 is almost heart-stopping. But that’s my personal obsession.

Operational

Operationally there is a considerable difference between the E-3 and the E-P2. While they share the same sensor size and the E-P2 can mount the E-3’s lenses with the MMF-1 adapter, the E-P2 is not a replacement for the E-3. Instead the E-P2 makes an excellent alternative to the E-3 where the situation doesn’t call for the E-3’s heavy firepower.

When I wrote about the handling of the E-3, I wrote that it fit my hand like a glove, that it seemed an extension of my arm. The E-P2 does not exactly share this feeling. This is not a bad thing, but it can be disconcerting when first held. The E-P2 is nearly weightless compared to the E-3, even with its 14-42mm kit lens attached. As I said before it can be easily tucked into a large coat pocket or dropped into my computer bag, something the E-3 most definitely can’t do. Most significantly, I’ve noticed that the E-P2 is far less intimidating than the E-3 when used around people. More than once I’ve walked into situations with the E-P2 where I was able to take all the photos I cared to take and no one knew nor cared. The E-P2 looks, at a distance, like a point and shoot. Thus camouflaged I am quickly dismissed and become just another anonymous tourist. But let me pull out my E-3 with the 12-60mm, or heaven forbid, the 50-200mm, and I’m quickly vectored in by Important People who are asking Pointed Questions, such as why I’m taking photographs, and would I please leave?

Ergonomic

To repeat the obvious, the E-P2 is much smaller than the E-3. With my big ham hands the E-P2 demands a different way of handling. The controls on the back of the body are smaller than on the back of the E-3, perhaps a bit too small for my liking. And perhaps a bit too cramped. In addition to the too-small too-close buttons, the designers of the E-P2 decided to put a sub dial on the right back ridge over which the thumb normally rests. I find it too easy to rub the sub dial in either direction, which, depending on the mode, can inadvertently change shutter speed, aperture, or program bias. To compensate for this I automatically look at the back of the camera; if the super menu is up (I normally keep it down) because I’ve inadvertently touched the wheel or another control, I can clear it by tapping the shutter. If I’ve shifted the program bias, shutter speed, or aperture, I quickly roll the wheel back to what I had it originally set to. An alternative is to just turn the camera off. The on/off button is on the top deck next to the shutter release, and the E-P2 powers up fast enough that just keeping it off between series shooting is not an issue.

The main dial around the OK button also has problems. It’s too small, demanding a rather petite touch to use the circular travel. It’s too easy to hit ISO and White Balance and inadvertently change them; as I said before I’ve learned to automatically check the back of the camera when lifting it up use.

In spite of these nits, I’ve learned to compensate for them such that they no longer trouble me.

Flash

Many have complained of the lack of built-in flash. I personally don’t care. When I have a need for flash I reach for the E-3/FL50-R combination. The E-P2 is strictly used for available light shooting.

Many more complain of the single-function plugins that slide into the hotshoe and force you to use it just for flash, or the EVF, or the external microphone adapter. Once again, it’s a matter of personal use and taste. Since I don’t use the video portion (not yet anyway), I’m not (yet) bothered with the issue of losing the external microphone connection to use the VF-2 (and vice versa). And while I’m certainly no video expert, I have seen other video experts use the LCD screens of other DSLR cameras when using those DSLRs for video (such as the Nikon D-90 and Canon 5D MkII). I can't imagine using the VF-2 to shoot video with, but then I'm certainly no videographer.

Autofocus

Here’s where the conversations about the E-P2 get really interesting. Depending on who you read, the autofocus capabilities of the E-P1/2 range from just fine to absolutely terrible. As usual, the truth is far more nuanced.

I’ve been carrying the E-P2 in a Domke F6 Little Bit Smaller bag along with a Digital Zuiko 50mm f/2 macro regular 4/3rds mount lens, a Digital Zuiko 9-18mm f4-5.6 regular 4/3rds mount lens, and a Sigma 30mm f/1.4 regular 4/3rds mount lens. This is in addition to the 14-42mm f/4-5.6 micro 4/3rds mount kit lens. I’ve also experimentally used my Digital Zuiko 12-60mm and my Digital Zuiko 50-200mm lens on the E-P2. All the regular 4/3rd mount lenses were used with the MMF-1 4/3rds adapter. I’ve learned a lot about how autofocusing works on the E-P2 with all these lenses.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear at this point; the E-P series of cameras are not autofocus speed demons. If you need blazing fast autofocus then this isn’t the camera for you. I own the E-3, and with the ZD 12-60mm attached it can focus and lock on a subject so fast it’s nearly instantaneous. But that’s when the E-3 is using it’s TTL focusing system. Put the E-3 in live view and then you’ll discover what painfully slow focusing is all about. The E-3 in live view focusing makes the E-P2 look fast by comparison. The closest you’ll get to good live view focusing in the E series is with the E-30, and that’s with the 14-54mm MkII, and that lens was specifically upgraded to work with CDAF on the E-30. And that’s the only lens in the regular 4/3rds mount to do that. The E-P2 is an artist’s camera, a contemplative photography camera. If you need something to capture the frenetic pace of 21st century living, then the E-P2 is not for you.

The best lens with regards to autofocus performance is the Olympus M 14-42mm kit lens that ships with the E-P2. The lens also best illustrates how autofocus works with the E-P2. In default mode (i.e. using the shutter release to autofocus), when the shutter release is partially depressed the E-P2 focuses the lens out, then focuses the lens back in past the point of sharpest focus, then back out to the correct point of focus. And it does this every time you press the shutter release. This racking of the lens is reasonably fast, but the issue with many people is that the E-P2 does it every single time. There is no concept of a “last good focus point” with the E-P2. If you're dependent upon autofocus you can speed up the overall autofocus process by programing the AEL/AFL (Auto Exposure Lock/Auto Focus Lock) button on the back of the camera to perform autofocus in place of the shutter.

To reprogram the AEL/AFL button, make sure that you’ve already gone into the Setup Menu (the last menu in the top level Menu mode, the entry with the wrench) and turned Menu Display on. This will add a new top-level menu entry right above the Setup Menu. Once enabled, go into the Customization Menu (the menu you just enabled), step down to entry B (Button/Dial) and select it. Now step down to AEL/AFL and select it. You’ll see a submenu with three entries; S-AF (Single Autofocus), C-AF (Continuous Autofocus), and MF (Manual Focus). Select S-AF. In this final menu you will select between four modes numbered 1 to 4. Step to mode 3 and then press the OK button. Exit the menu. From this point forward pressing the AEL/AFL button will trigger autofocus. The shutter button will now only trip the shutter.

Why is this important? If you’re shooting where the subject isn’t rapidly moving toward you or away from you, or if you want to pick a specific point and pre-focus on it and then allow your subject(s) to enter that pre-focus region, then occasional focusing will speed up shooting tremendously. As clumsy as this sounds it’s quite easy to setup and operate.

All the other lenses I tried autofocus no better on the E-P2, and one barely autofocuses at all. My favorite regular 4/3rds lens to use on the E-P2 is the 50mm. It’s a sedate autofocusing lens on the E-3, and I'm happy to report it maintains that reputation on the E-P2. The combination of E-P2 and 50mm can produce stunning results, as good if not better than what you can get on a regular 4/3rds camera, which is why it's worth using. When attached via the MMF-1 the whole combination is easy to handle and well balanced, in spite of the fact it dwarfs the 14-42mm by comparison.

The 50mm benefits from another built-in feature of the E-P2, manual focus assist. You can enable this feature in the Custom Menu under AF/MF, MF Assist. When enabled, touching the focus ring automatically causes the E-P2 to magnify the area being used by the autofocus region. You can then fine-tune your focus, then trip the shutter.

The 9-18mm is a good lens to have in the bag, and seems to autofocus as fast as the kit lens. The E-P2's scale display and the level display on screen help the UWA considerably, especially when shooting architecture.

Of all the regular 4/3rds lenses I tried, the most problematic on the E-P2 is the Sigma 30mm. It’s performance is adequate on the E-3, but it sinks to barely usable on the E-P2. Autofocus performance is very slow, and for reasons which only the Sigma engineers could every figure out, focus assist does not work with this lens. To make focus assist even remotely useful with this lens you need to toggle to the zoom display with the Info button, then press the OK button to manually zoom. Pressing the OK button again returns the LCD back to normal display mode. I carry the 30mm because its a fast f/1.4 speed which is usable wide open. But I’ve half a mind to return it to the E-3 kit bag and replace it with the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake in micro 4/3rds mount.

One lens that surprisingly falls down in autofocus is the 12-60mm. Its autofocus speed and accuracy on the E-3 does not carry over to the E-P2. While it will zip in and out fast enough in the first two steps of E-P2 autofocus, the step to final focus is a series of tiny stuttering steps, in which I hear individual activations of the focus motor until focus is achieved. Autofocus is not accurate through the 12-60mm’s range. While the 12-60mm is tack dead on at 12mm, it consistently front focuses at 60mm. And so it stays mounted on the E-3 and in the E-3 kit bag.

The 50-200mm is a big lens and needs an E-3 or E-30 body to handle it well. Putting it on the E-P2 just makes the combination look silly. And you’re certainly not going to carry it around via the E-P2’s camera strap. While it works and focuses accurately enough, the combination is too awkward for anything but trivial use and really defeats the purpose of having a small unobtrusive camera in the first place.

ISO

I’m tired of ISO elevator tests, either pixel peeping the E-P2 alone or comparing it with just about every camera out there. That said, I judge the E-P2 to be just fine up to and including ISO 1600 when viewing the entire image on screen or printing. Photographs shot at ISO 3200 and 6400, however, are not that satisfactory. It isn’t the noise so much as how the noise destroys detail, especially at ISO 6400. I might revisit those speeds in the near future and just shoot in B&W, pretending that I’m back in the 70’s and push-processing Tri-X.

SSWF

Olympus’ Supersonic Wave Filter (SSWF) is their dust reduction system for their sensors, and it's been available since the E-1. I have never had a problem with dust on my Olympus camera systems until the E-P2. For whatever reason, I wound up with dust on the E-P2's sensor that would not shake loose. I was forced to purchase and use a Delkin Digital Duster refill kit (16 mm) to clean the sensor surface. This was a week ago, and since manual cleaning I’ve not seen any other dust accumulate. I’ve always been concerned that dust reduction systems in general would have a harder time of it with EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens) cameras, and I believe I’ve got some proof now. What I suspect happened is that a long period of unusually cold and dry winter air in Florida helped to generate a fair amount of static electricity, which in turn helped the dust to stick more tenaciously to the sensor surface. The good news is that it was easy to clean off, and since the first cleaning the sensor’s remained clean. It’s just one more thing for me to be aware of.

Finis

I haven’t even begun to tap the full potential of the E-P2. I’ve shot nothing but stills. I’ve shot exactly one video clip, and that was just to see what it looked like. I’ve toyed with some of the art filters, but done nothing substantial with them. The E-P2 allows the selection of different aspect ratios (4x3, 3x2, 16x9, and 6x6). I’ve used only two of them, 4x3 and 6x6. The 6x6 aspect ratio with the scale display takes me back nearly 40 years to my Mamiya 330 pro F. I like that aspect ratio, even if it does limit my E-P2 images to a mere 9 million or so pixels.

The E-P2 is a different type of camera for a different type of photography. It’s a camera aimed at the artistic side of photography, where you slow down to think a little more about what you want to photograph. It’s large rear screen and bright viewfinder allow you to see closer to the final image than just about any other digital camera I’ve ever used, including the E-3. As a consequence I actually shoot fewer images, because I can get closer to what I want to create before I press the shutter. It’s small size makes it far easier to carry than a regular DSLR and far less intimidating than DSLRs. You draw too much attention to yourself with heavy duty hardware. But the E-P2 allows you to blend in and be ignored.

I purchased this camera in part to participate in the next step of camera evolution. The E-P2 is a part of this next step. There are others, such as Panasonic's, who are also a part of this next step. And that’s all to the good. I want to participate because I believe this is where cameras are moving, in a direction I want to go in. I’m not going to make wild claims about how the DSLR is doomed. But cameras like the E-P2 will certainly influence camera design in all categories. And that is a Good Thing indeed.

The E-P2 is just too much fun to leave alone. Instead of counting deficiencies, I count little interesting challenges to be worked around in order to take photographs. And in the end, that’s what I get. Magnificent photographs, which the E-P2 can deliver in spades. And that’s all that really matters.
Yellow WallBlue on Blue
Parking Lot ArtFlorida State University College of Law
The AudienceChristmas Ornaments 1
Exterior Building LampNew Year Moon: 1/1/2010
TouristsHarley detail


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Peeking OutNow I Lay Me Down to Sleep
Daniel GraystoneSunset Moon
Last Season's Crepe MyrtleMy Mother and her porcelain painting
BudsRed Thunderbird