UPDATE: This image was disqualified as being staged.
Other winners are:
Read each of their stories here.
That said, for a long time now I have been looking for a smaller companion for the D700, a little brother if you will. I have written about the Decisive Moment Digital (DMD) or Poor Man’s Leica both here and on The Online Photographer. I have scrutinized every potential DMD contender, including the Sigma, Olympus, Leica and Panasonic offerings. For quite a while I have felt that the Micro Four Thirds (Micro 4/3) mount is the future of smaller cameras with good image quality. Unfortunately, the current execution of the concept has not impressed me. I had a brief flirtation with a Panasonic GH1 last week, but after a day it went back into the box to be returned from whence it came. Although my hands are not that big, it felt like a toy, a plastic child’s camera. I kept hitting the wrong buttons and I hated the electronic viewfinder (EVF). Worst of all, it had no soul.
Although I do not want my second camera to be another DSLR, I would be remiss if I did not consider some of the newer, smaller models. Unfortunately, the only company that makes the kind of smallish, but quality, glass I want is Pentax. I seriously considered the new K7; however, in the end I concluded that it was a competent camera, but nothing more. In fact, its performance in certain respects is slightly worse than the K20D. After coming from the D700, looking through its viewfinder is like looking down a tunnel.
Although GH1 did not satisfy, I am still hopeful about the future of Micro 4/3. Some of the images that I have seen from the E-P1 are very impressive. The new Lumix 20mm f/1.7 LINK that ships with the GF1 has gotten raves. The blur index on slrgear.com is unreal. Michael Reichmann reviewed the lens and unequivocally says that it’s a “honey”.
“I found that it held up quite nicely against casual shots taken at the same time with a $3,600 Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux. No, not as good as – but very nice …”
When it came to the GF1, however, Michael was not so kind. It was not a bad review as much as a lukewarm one. I am also concerned about its EVF. If I didn’t like the GH1’s, I can’t believe I’d like the GF1’s. That said, Mike Johnston will be reviewing the GF1 very soon and we’ll see how that turns out.
So for now it’s just me and my D700. And that’s just fine.
My main reason for being interested in Micro Four Thirds is the format’s ability to mount many types of lenses with the appropriate adapter. In January and February, I wrote a series of articles entitled “Obsession” about my search for an M mount camera that wouldn’t break the bank. A poor man’s Leica so to speak. At the time I dismissed Micro Four Thirds due to the 2x crop factor. I felt that any Micro Four Thirds camera would not be able to shoot wide enough. When the Olympus E-P1 was announced I, like everyone else, was pretty excited. Because I loved the look of the camera and the adaptability of the format, I decided to revisit my conclusions about the crop factor. Pleasantly, after a second close review, I concluded that I had been wrong. There is plenty of glass out there that will work just fine. Also, in the interim a number of new adapters were released by well-known manufacturers, including Voigtlander and Panasonic, at a fraction of the price of the original custom made.
So now we have two very different choices when approaching Micro Four Thirds. The Panasonic G1 and GH1 take the safe route and mimic a DSLR in its design. Although very ergonomic, the quality of its construction is questionable. The E-P1, on the other hand, is a throwback to a camera that I had never even heard of. It is beautifully designed and constructed and is destined to become a classic at some level. However, it also has some major issues, not the least of which is that you compose using only the rear LCD.
In its version of the EP-1, the GF1, Panasonic has gone for a less retro look and solved the viewfinder issues by offering an EVF that mounts in the hot shoe. Nevertheless, it is still a far cry from a DSLR.
The Panasonic G Series
Proper ergonomics is clearly in the hands of the user. What works great for you may drive me nuts and vice versa. From that standpoint the G1 and the GH1 are the clear winners. Both feature a 1,440,000 pixel live view finder and a free-angle display which can open up all sorts of creative possibilities and avoid much back strain. The GH1 features a 3 inch 460,000 pixel LCD (nearly twice as fine as the E-P1) and an entirely new 12.1 megapixel sensor and image processing engine. Panasonic claims lower noise with the GH1 even at high ISOs. These G series cameras also have fewer menus and more dedicated on-board controls.
In hand the GH1 feels great. The main reason is its formidable grip. I could use either the EVF or the LCD to shoot very comfortably. The controls were easy to manipulate and whatever Panasonic has used for its skin feels truly elegant. Does this make the G series a camera only fit for females? I think not. Who doesn’t like a nice in hand feel? Besides that the GH1 is a very fine photographic tool as an alternative to a DSLR. Its older brother was named the Camera of the Year for 2008 by Popular Photography and was very well reviewed.
So what’s not to like? In my mind any buyer is going to have to jump a few hurdles to bring a G home. First, the camera, for whatever reason, does not beg to be used. It’s perfectly happy on the shelf. When I see a Leica M3 I have to pick it up and use it. Not so with the GH1. It feels lightweight and plasiticky, like some sort of child’s toy. I just don’t sense any quality there although I know that’s not true. Second, unlike the E-P1, the G series does not feature in-body image stabilization. IS is accomplished via the lens so no IS when using that M. There is also that EVF. For some it’s better than nothing, but I didn’t like looking through it. Finally, there is the price. The GH1 sells for nearly $600 more than the E-P1. That’s a hefty premium for slightly different HD video.
The Olympus E-P1
Okay, I’ll admit it. Although it’s very photogenic, the E-P1 is even more beautiful in person. While the metallic finish photographs as silver, it is really bordering on golden. The camera fits well in your hand, neither too big nor too little. It feels substantial and well built, much better than any other small camera that I have handled. The weight seems perfect for its size and it balanced well with both the 17mm and the kit zoom. Overall, a very impressive package that begs to be used. Even though my main mission was to handle the G1, I simply could not stay away from it. I loved shooting with the 17mm and its viewfinder, which is the way that I would use it.
Although the E-P1 is menu driven, the menus are very well thought out and you don’t have to drill down too deep. Hitting the OK button brings up the master shooting menus where you can set ISO and the like. The menus are fairly intuitive and took me only a few minutes to learn. Operation will not be as quick as a camera with dedicated buttons for frequently used functions, but it should be acceptable with some practice. For those of you care, the E-P1 is not pocketable.
So, is the E-P1 the Holy Grail or the DMD? For some, yes, but for me, not so much. First, call me old fashioned, but it is hard for me to imagine using the E-P1 in its current configuration. The lack of a good on-board viewfinder is a real hurdle. Given that it’s a key component on the E-P1, Olympus should have used a 920,000 pixels display. Although the E-P1 does have a MF assist and magnification function, it remains to be seen if the display is sufficient to do precise manual focusing. Also, I definitely did not appreciate holding the camera away from my face to compose. Although the in-body IS really helped, the E-P1 would be perfect on a tripod with a dark cloth, kind of a mini-4x5. That is not, however, what the designers had in mind. Second, both command dials are on the back of the camera. They are very sensitive and very small (least for my hands). As a result, despite the simplicity of the menu scheme, I found it very hard to navigate through the menus and settings. Finally, the E-P1 could use a bit more of a grip. I really missed that feature. Hopefully, some third party manufacturer will come up with one.
The Panasonic GF1
Panasonic’s answer to the EP-1 has just become available so only a lucky few have been able to handle one. Michael Reichmann’s review was lukewarm at best, particularly concerning the camera’s key component, the EVF. As noted above, I do not like EVFs so I can’t imagine liking this one. Otherwise the jury is still out as they say.
ConclusionThe adaptability of Micro Four Thirds makes it an extremely attractive format. The first examples only hint at the possibilities that lay ahead. I encourage both Panasonic and Olympus to throw the design manual out the window and use this format to create something truly unique much as Herr Barnack did so many years ago.
“Unfortunately, neither of them takes particularly good pictures. That could be considered a drawback in a camera.”
That wins my vote for understatement of the year.