Amber Doing the Mona Lisa - Chicago
Copyright © Erik Pennebaker, All rights reserved

I just added a new member to the sprawling camera collection - an Olympus E-P2.

While I've been playing with film, the digital world has made a few critical steps forward. The big one for me was improving the low-light performance. I had noticed years ago that film grain could be pleasant, but digital noise seemed to be repulsive. I hadn't thought about why. One of the big reasons is that digital noise can be globby and multi-pixelled. It will therefore never be mistaken for detail or sharpness. With the E-P2 the noise levels are not only about 2 stops less than on my little DMC-LX3, the noise itself, even at 1250 ISO, is still overall pixel-sized and grain-like in quality.

The photo above is almost a worst case - ISO 1250 and underexposed, so probably effectively ISO 2000. The shadows are gone and there is noise but it is workable. Correctly exposing at ISO 800 is incredible, all with a camera that can fit in a jacket pocket.

The other neat thing is that this is a micro-4/3rds camera. I got the kit zoom lens (slow but worthwhile for daylight) and separately got the Panasonic 20mm/1.7 (40mm effective). This is a great lens. I'm pretty impressed. There are f/.95 lenses out there, and the standard seems to be catching on, so in a few years there could be a great, competitive selection.

Some things I don't like - Olympus also has a 20mm/2.8 kit for this. If they had a 20mm/2 or 20mm/1.7 it would have saved me a chunk of money. For people buying this camera for low-light work a 2.8 isn't fast enough for a prime. I can't wait until someone makes a nice solid 2.8 zoom. I'm sure I'll use the slower kit zoom (3.5 - 5.6) sometimes I guess.

Also, the auto-focus isn't great. I haven't done tests to compare but offhand it seems to often choose the exact wrong thing to focus on. I've switched to center-auto focus and just locking it, which is fine, but not good for quick shooting when you may not have time to center, focus, then compose the frame.

The manual focus is neat - as soon as you move the focus ring, the view hyper-magnifies and you can focus incredibly sharply. Hard to work in low-light (the f1.7 lens helps a lot) and also inevitably the camera isn't going to happen to be focused, so all you see is blur, and it can be guesswork to figure out which way to turn the ring. Also, you have to turn the ring quite a bit to do a big focus change, so often manual focus means spending a LOT of time turning the ring, half the time in the wrong direction. Presumably it could be adjusted somehow to make a turn result in greater focus change. There is not reason it should need more than 1 turn to go from infinity to close-up.

Bottom line though, for this small size I am extremely impressed. I find myself pondering what a full-frame sensor could do these days, but this is a thought that is best not pursued.

More (and better) samples to come.

[ tags: e-p2 light low olympus people ]

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