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A PENtastic Introduction

In Photography on April 24, 2012 by eongxien Tagged: , , ,

My acquaintance with photography. It started with the camera phone, the now-classic Sony Ericsson W800i. It came with a 2MP camera and back then, it was in a class of its own (In fact, check out the Flickr group here, you’ll be surprised by the image quality). So started my patronage in the Lowyat.net’s Phone sub-forum, where I would browse camera phone pictures taken by other people. I was particularly intrigued by how some people have the knack of capturing photos of their food in the most saliva inducing possible way. Thus, I started emulating their style and experimenting with different angles. Then our family bought the Canon Ixus 75 and my path to food photography enlightenment continues. While shooting with a compact was fun, it was limiting as I started learning about apertures, shutter speeds and ISOs.

Eventually, I got myself a dSLR 2 years ago – the Nikon D90. That’s when I started to take this photography thing a little more serious. Shooting in RAW became the norm, editing in Lightroom became a fixture. While it was 2 steps above the compact, the size and weight meant that I had to stash it at home unless for the special events.

After much consideration, I decided to put the Nikon up for sale. The justification was that for the serious stuff, I could fall back to the film heavyweights and casual and travel, I would sought after a more compact solution. With the mirrorless cameras market saturating, choice isn’t an issue. You could go for the Fujifilm’s amazing but expensive rangefinder X Pro series, the APS-C sized Sony NEX series, the Olympus & Panasonic’s Micro Four Thirds series or the newly launched super compact Nikon 1 series.

At time of writing, the Micro Four Thirds seems to have the better lens choices. Plus, prices of the older models have dropped a lot. I pulled the trigger and bought the Olympus E-P2 and the superb Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7 from the second-hand market (Both cost RM1500+ in case you’re wondering).

Shot with Nikon D90 + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC

Ergonomics

When I first received the camera, I immediately noticed how solidly built it is. The camera looks plasticy in the online stock photos but in flesh, the brushed metal casing is rock solid (Well, what do you expect from a camera that cost almost RM3k during its launch 2 years ago?). This camera is built for abuse. However, the trade-off is that it’s rather heavy for a compact. One-hand operation is possible but my wrist started to sore after pro-longed usage. Nevertheless, once I got used to it, it wasn’t an issue.

In addition, I love how the buttons are placed on the camera. The main dial falls nicely on your thumb for aperture/shutter speed adjustments and while it lacks of a secondary dial, the scroll wheel is very handy for adjustments of exposure compensation, ISO and AF. Olympus even provided a customizable Fn button. The previous user set it to one-touch WB and I left it as it is. The Auto WB is mostly spot-on but it does very poorly under incandescent lighting. The one-touch WB is a life-saver in these situations.

The AF is acceptable, but far from the instant focus we’ve seen in the later models.

Now, onto the Panny 20mm pancake lens. One word – amazing! Not only sharp from corner to corner, the lens has a great colour rendition. Before handling the lens, I thought that a 40mm (Full frame equivalent) focal length would be too limiting but you know what, I didn’t miss the wide-angle focal lengths that much. There’s a reason why the full frame 35mm lens is regarded as photographer’s favourite walk-around lens.

Shot with Nikon D90 + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC

The Fun Factor

Many people have pointed out the fun factor of the Micro 4/3s camera and I echo their sentiments. See, with a dSLR you need to compose with the viewfinder and while that’s great for pure photography purpose, it isn’t that great in casual events. Imagine sitting at a dinner with friends and you want to take a photo of the plate of scrumptious food, like any typical Malaysian would do. But you want the best possible angle, and that may mean standing up, bending over the table with your eyes glued to the camera. When it’s finally dining time (Your friends are now in red for keeping their hungry stomachs waiting), you find it hard to find a place to keep the camera. In the bag? What if another photographic opportunity arises? Or on the table? Where it becomes a nuisance to to others? Argh… decisions decisions.

Using the E-P2 in these situations reminds me a lot of the Ixus. In fact, I don’t miss the viewfinder at all. Well, in these situations at least. Plus with the PEN camera, you could keep it in your pouch or handbag. Very convenient. In fact, this is one camera I don’t mind bringing around. Don’t forget that photography guru Chase Jarvis once said that “the best camera is the one that’s with you”. 😉

I have yet to take it for travelling but I reckon with a decent zoom, it should do well.

f/2.6, 1/250s, ISO100

f/1.7, 1/125sec, ISO500

f/1.7, 1/15s, ISO1000

f/1.7, 1/30s, ISO1000

f/1.7, 1/15s, ISO1000

f/1.7, 1/20s, ISO1000

f/1.7, 1/20s, ISO1000

Conclusion

It’s not a surprise that I’m loving this camera. It’s compact, it’s relatively light, it’s solidly-built and it’s fun to use. But is it the perfect camera? Well, no. The ISO performance is poor even for a 2010 camera. I found the noise unbearable above ISO1000. Secondly, the dynamic range. In situations where the lighting range varies greatly, highlights get blown out easily. So yes, while it’s a great camera, it’s not a dSLR.

However, you’ll miss the point of these cameras if you compare them to dSLRs. It’s easy to forget that the E-P2 was released during the early days of the Micro Four Thirds. When you look at the new OM-D E-M5 or even the E-P3, you’ll come to appreciate how far the mirrorless segment has come.

So, who would I recommend this camera too? People who are interested in the mirrorless segment are usually those who want something more serious than a compact, minus the bulk of a dSLR. Usually, they are willing to spend more and thus, the new models such as the E-P3, E-M5 or the Panasonic GX1 would be a better choice. They have better AF, better sensors and great touchscreens to use. The older E-P2, however, would be perfect for people who need a secondary camera or those who want to test the water before splurging on a new toy (Trust me, they aren’t cheap!). As the E-P2 body could be found for as low as USD250 on eBay, it’s almost a no-brainer.

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4 Responses to “A PENtastic Introduction”

  1. I had been looking for that 20mm Panny lens and all offers came up RM1300 and above, finally gave up and bought the 45mm Oly instead. Costs me 890 but wont know the diff between the 2. To me its good enough

    • Hey, but they are difference lenses. The 45mm is a telephoto, while the 20mm is somewhere between wide-angle and normal. I got mine for RM900 second hand. I think the 14mm is pretty good as well, you can get it brand new for around RM600, but from HK/Taiwan eBay sellers.

      Did you get the 45mm brand new or second hand?

  2. Cheap leh! I tried so many forums cannot get. my 45mm is 2nd hand la. 14mm Panny is even more expensive!! I heard they discontinue the 20mm already ka? Then its very noisy when focusing? Trading in ebay never tried before , dunno la dun feel safe. Feel better to test it and COD, else kena conned big time, den feel very upset, dowan to feel cheated.

    • Yeah, the lens is in high demand. The seller said he received loads of inquiries on the lens, guess I was lucky.

      Don’t think they will discontinue gua, such a popular lens unless they want to introduce a new version. Focusing noise ok, never really notice.

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