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Camera-Review-Olympus-E-P1

Neither P&S or SLR, but a Little of Both

The Olympus E-P1 is a bit of a hybrid. It’s not a point and shoot camera, although it looks like one. It isn’t an SLR but takes interchangeable lenses.


(Editor's note: This article was originally scheduled to be posted early next week, but with today's announcement of the Panasonic GF1, we decided to post Joe Farace's comprehensive review of the Olympus E-P1 today.—MR)


Key features:

·                12.3-megapixel resolution

·                In-body Image Stabilization (three modes)

·                6-built-in Art Filters

·                HD video capture

·                Double exposure capability

·                Shadow Adjustment technology

·                Face Detection technology

·                Dust Reduction technology

·                Live View

·                3-inch LCD preview screen

·                First Olympus camera to use SD memory card

·                Uses Micro Four Thirds system mount

·                All-digital lenses (Four-Thirds compatibility via MMF-1 adapter)

·                Compatible with many other manufacturer’s MF lenses (with adapter)

Camera options:

·                FL flash

·                Clip-on viewfinder for 17mm f/2.8 lens

What’s missing?:

·                No built-in Flash

·                Lacks electronic eye-level viewfinder

·                It’s pricey (An E-620 SLR costs $599.99)

Best suited for:

·                General photography

·                Low and available light (ISO 100 - 6400)

·                Special effects

·                People photography

·                Landscapes

·                Travel photography

Price:             

 

The Olympus E-P1 is a bit of a hybrid. It’s not a point and shoot camera, although it looks like one. It isn’t an SLR but takes interchangeable lenses. It doesn’t have a rangefinder window yet provides a large 3-inch LCD screen and offers a slip-on viewfinder for the 17mm f/2.8 “pancake” lens that along with the 14mm-42mm f/3.5-5.6 ED, make up the two lenses Olympus currently offers for the E-P1. The camera uses a Micro Four Thirds mount so it accepts other lenses such as those Panasonic offers for their Lumix G1 and GH1, and the just-announced GF1 camera, including the 7-14mm f/4 ASPH, 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH, 14-140mm f/4-5.8 ASPH, and 45-200 f/4-5.6 lenses.

 

Also read: Panasonic announces Lumix DMC-GF1 interchangeable-lens compact digital camera.

 

If that doesn’t satisfy you you’ll be glad to learn that Olympus offers two optional lens adapters that allow it to mount other Olympus lenses. The MMF-1 lets you use any Four Thirds (not Micro) lens from Olympus, Sigma, and Leica/Panasonic on the E-P1. The MF-2 adapter lets you mount any of the jewel-like manual focus OM film camera lenses on the E-P1. Some of these are available from Adorama’s Used Department, as well on on-line auction sites such as eBay.

 

Novoflex and Voigtlander offer adapters that allow you to mount other manufacturer’s lenses onto Micro Four Thirds cameras like the E-P1. These adapters ensure infinity focus and when used with the E-P1 offers exposure control via stop-down metering or Aperture Priority (Av) automatic exposure. Currently Novoflex offers adapters for Leica M, Leica R, Nikon G and non-G, Contax/Yashica, Olympus OM, Pentax K, Minolta MD, Sony/Minolta AF, Canon FD, M42, and T2. Voigtlander offers an adapter for Leica M-mount lenses and I expect this to be a trend with adapters for other lenses coming from more different companies.

 

Also read: Is the Olympus E-P1 interchangeable-lens compact digital camera street smart?

 

SPECIAL EFFECTS AND MORE

 

But more than anything, the E-P1’s combination of Art Filters, double exposure capability, enhanced monochrome (Olympus call it “monotone”) capture, and an array of scene modes make it an exceptional camera for those photographers who enjoy special effects photography.

 

Olympus introduced their easy-to-use Art Filters with the E-30 SLR and has since rolled this feature out into its other SLR models. Like the E-30, the E-P1 offers six in-camera Art Filters that can be applied as effects that include Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale & Light Color, Light Tone, Grainy Film or Pin Hole. Unlike the other cameras, however, these filters can also be applied to High Definition video clips that the camera is capable of capturing.

 

Tip: If you’re concerned that you want to keep the original unmanipulated image, you can capture the photo using the E-P1’s RAW+JPEG option and the Art Filter will be applied only to the JPEG file; The RAW file will contain the original untouched photograph. The downside of this capture method is that it will take slightly longer to write and use more space of the SD memory card that the E-P1 uses. The upside is that you don’t need a computer or editing software to produce special effects and can make prints directly from the memory card.

 

Author’s note: All of the following examples were made using RAW+JPEG capture so you will be able to see the original alongside the Art Filter effect. None of the images were manipulated after capture and represent the image file as it came off the card.

 

The Grainy Film Art Filter recreates the grainy look and high contrast tonality of some black and white films and produces images that have a decidedly dramatic feel. This can be a great effect for studio and fashion photography as well as a way to add gritty looks to street photography but I also like it for cars (and trucks.)

The color image, above left, was captured in Av mode with the 14mm-42mm f/3.5-5.6 ED lens with an exposure of 1/320 sec at f/8 and ISO 320. The image on the right was captured using the Grainy Film Art Filter and produces an entirely different, even nostalgic, image making the color photo seem too busy and contemporary. ©2009 Joe Farace


The Pop Art filter enhances colors, making them more vivid and deeply saturated. It was one of my favorite filters to use when capturing images that need a little impact.

The original photograph was “made in the shade” as the old expression goes and the colors are a bit flat although the E-P1 did a wonderful job with its AWB and auto exposure in Program mode. Exposure was 1/100 sec at f/5 and ISO 320. The image made with the Pop Art filter captures more of my original intent in making the photograph. ©2009 Joe Farace

 

The Pin Hole Camera filter reproduces the color tone and the peripheral vignetting of photos made with a toy camera, so it’s really more of a digital Holga effect than a true pinhole camera look. The above image was, for example, made at an aperture of f/6.3 while my Zero Image (www.zeroimage.com) pinhole camera has an aperture of f/256 or thereabouts.

The original photo of this street rod was made using the 14mm-42mm f/3.5-5.6 ED lens with an exposure of 1/250 sec at f/6.3 at ISO 320. The Pin Hole Camera filter (on the right) kicked up the contrast, increased saturation, and vignetted the edges of the frame creating a look I actually prefer over the original. ©2009 Joe Farace

 

Soft Focus creates the familiar soft focus effect that works great with still life or portrait subjects. Like a real soft focus filter, the aperture used has an effect on the final look. For example, smaller apertures produce less effect than wider apertures.

I photographed my wife Mary after we finished lunch at an outdoor restaurant as a RAW file at 1/80 sec at f/5.6 and ISO 400 using only natural light. She was simultaneously captured as a JPEG file using the Soft Focus filter as shown on the right. ©2009 Joe Farace

 

Pale and Light Color uses muted color tonalities to apply what Olympus calls a “gentle looking light” on the photographs. Photographers who are fans of on-camera filters might liken this to the effects produced by Cokin’s Pastel filter.

The original RAW image at the top was captured with an exposure of 1/200 sec at f/7.1 and ISO 320. The bottom was made using the Pale and Light Color filter, which might be considered the opposite of the Pop Art filter since it subdues bright colors. ©2009 Joe Farace

 

Light Tone subdues highlights and shadows to produce the ambience of what Olympus calls a “perfectly illuminated” scene. Both the shaded and highlighted areas are softly rendered while maintaining detail. The effect is similar to using one of Tiffen’s Contrast filters and can be useful for controlling a scene’s contrast.

The entrance to this medical center was photographed with an exposure of 1/1250 sec at f/11 and ISO 640 and using the Light Tone filter (bottom) to tame the strong middle-of-the-day contrast. The top image shows the effect without the filter.

 

One of the most important factors to keep in mind when working with the E-P1’s art filters is that their successful application to any image is highly subject dependent. Some filters, such as the Soft Focus, work with all kinds of subjects and I use it to create interesting effects, not just on portraits but on photographs of cars as well.

 

Tip: By using simultaneous RAW+JPEG capture you can use Adobe Photoshop (or your favorite image editing program) to combine both image files as separate layers and then use the Eraser tool to allow selected portions of either layer to show through, combining the best aspects of both image files.

 

But wait! There’s more… The E-P1 is also equipped with 14 automatic scene modes such as Night-Scene, Portrait, and Landscape and the new ePortrait Mode lets you smooth your subject’s face in the camera before capture! Additionally, edits can be made post-capture using the ePortrait Fix mode with Olympus Studio software. Along with the Master software bundled with the camera that’s useful for RAW—Olympus uses the .ORF format— file conversion, a trial version of Studio is also included. The current (and beta) version of Adobe Camera RAW will read and process the E-P1’s .ORF files too.

 

MONOCHROME & MORE

 

The E-P1 also offers several Picture Modes including Vivid, Natural (where I keep it most of the time,) Muted, Portrait, and Monotone, which offers four additional levels of control including Contrast, Sharpness, B&W Filter, and Pict Tone. The B&W Filter mode lets you apply the digital version of colored filters to alter the tonalities of the monochrome image and includes the following filters: Neutral, Green, Red, Orange, and Yellow. Pict Tone allows you to apply in-camera toning to the photographs using Green, Purple (which is surprisingly interesting,) Blue, and the classical Sepia, although the Olympus version emphasizes orange tones more than some might shooters like.

 

As a reference image, Dawn Clifford was photographed as The Unsinkable Molly Brown (right) using the E-P1’s Natural color mode. Exposure was 1/15 sec at f/6.3 at ISO 640. A plus 1.7 stop exposure compensation was used to compensate for the backlighting. The same exposure would be used for all the monochrome versions that follow. ©2009 Joe Farace

 

Starting from upper right-hand corner and reading from right to left: The first photograph was made with the E-P1 set in Monotone mode and the Neutral digital filter was applied. The n image uses the Green Filter that is supposed to improve skin tones but doesn’t work as well with someone like Dawn, who has a deep tan. The red filter is n and landscape photographers will like the way it darkens skies and brightens clouds. Here it lightens the model’s skin tones.

N row: Olympus suggests that the orange filter is “useful for telephoto shots” but here it splits the difference between green and red in a portrait setting. The yellow filter provides “clear contrast between blue sky with clouds” and back in the old days of film, many photographers kept a yellow filter on their camera at all times. The final image was made with the neutral filter and sepia Pict Tone, and although green, purple, and blue tones are also available, the sepia tone seems to fit this subject best. Just as Art Filters are subject dependent, you’ll discover that’s also true of the E-P1’s monochrome options. ©2009 Joe Farace

 

When I was writing “The Complete Guide to Digital Infrared Photography” all of the images made using infrared filters were made with Olympus SLRS, so I was pretty sure the E-P1 would have some IR sensitivity when used with the appropriate filters. The filter size for the current Zuiko Digital lenses is 37mm for the 17mm lens and 40.5mm for the zoom. B+W offers four infrared filters in this latter size, including the #093, #489, #099, and #486. I didn’t have any of these filters at hand and instead used a 58mm Hoya R72 filter held in front of the 14mm-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. If this were my personal camera, I’d invest in one of the B+W screw-on IR filters because compared to how expensive IR filters typically are these 40.5 filters are very affordable because they’re so small. If you’re going to use any of these filters, you’ll also need a tripod because of the long exposure they will produce.

 


Caption: The top reference image is as captured in color with an exposure of 1/500 sec at f/11 and ISO 800. The middle image was made using the E-P1’s monotone mode with the same exposure to demonstrate the difference between black and white and monochrome IR capture. The bottom image was made with a 58mm Hoya R72 filter held in front of the lens (the hard way) and a tripod mounted exposure of 15 seconds at f/7.1 and ISO 800. More about noise in a bit…

 

THE TECHY DETAILS

 

The E-P1 is wrapped in stainless steel and offers a (no cost) white paint option that’s stylish and one I found was not intimidating when making candid images. That might be useful in street photography because the white body makes it look less threatening and less like a “real camera” although it is and so much more. It’s compact size (4.75 x 2.75 x 1.43) and relatively light (11.8-ounce) weight along with in-body image stabilization and 3-inch LCD screen also make it an ideal companion for travel photography.

 

Like the Olympus E-620 SLR, the E-P1 uses a 12.3-megapixel imaging chip but this time it’s teamed with a new TruePic V Image Processor image processing chip that produces accurate color, natural flesh tones, and lowers image noise in photos shot at higher ISO settings. The E-P1 has a range from ISO 100 to 6400 and while visibly noisy at this top setting is surprisingly not noisy at ISO 1600. The camera can also capture HD video, including stereo Linear PCM audio recording and the ability to record and play back in WAV, MP3 and WMA formats with its built-in stereo microphone or by plugging in an Microphone making it an all-around multimedia capture device for Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter and blog postings.

 

You can create your own multimedia slideshows using stills, video and audio inside the E-P1 and even dub one of five built-in royalty free background music options to provide a soundtrack for your creations. Then you can plug the E-P1 into any HD television using the by-now ubiquitous HDMI cable and show your presentations to your audience before they fall asleep.

 

One indispensible technology that’s included with the E-P1 is Face Detection that has become der rigeur for even the most humble point-and-shoot camera and while I’ve been skeptical of this feature in every camera I’ve tried it with, the E-P1 made me a believer. Olympus’ implementation of Face Detection reduces the chance of blurred subjects in images by recognizing up to eight people’s faces and tracking the faces within the capture area, even if they are moving, and automatically focuses and optimizes exposure for sharp people pictures.

 

Photographers of all stripes will enjoy some of the E-P1’s little things like the internal Digital Level Sensor that detects the camera’s pitch and roll and indicates it on the control panel making it a useful feature for photographing landscapes. Another cool feature is the Magnified Focus Assist that lets you zoom into the central part of the image by up to 5 times by turning the lens’ focus ring. The Magnification Display lets you further magnify the image on that big LCD by up to 7X with the touch of a button.

 

Amid all this rampant technology the only thing the E-P1 really lacks is a built-in flash. Olympus offers a tasty stainless steel look and optional FL-14 flash unit that they say is “suitably small for the camera” and while it looks clunky does add lighting versatility to your shots while at the same time totally destroys the camera’s sleek portability. Flash aficionados will be glad to know that the E-P1 is also compatible with Olympus other (optional) flash units from the Four Thirds systems including the FL-50R, FL-36R, FL-50, FL-36, and FL-20 and any one of these flashes might really be useful if light output outweighs any consideration of portability.

 

There is more technology wrapped around the E-P1 than Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had in the Eagle lunar lander but you don’t have to be a test pilot to use the Olympus camera. Embrace those features you like and use them and give the others a try after you’ve had some experience with the camera.

 

WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING

 

Some might say that the Olympus E-P1 is nothing short of an E-620 digital SLR wrapped up in a pseudo Pen F form factor. As such it may be more evolutionary than revolutionary yet still represents a giant leap of faith for Olympus, one that’s tied to their heritage and for that alone they are to be congratulated. They have delivered a game-changing camera that may not be for everybody but if the size, shape, and ability to use so many different kinds of lenses, from Olympus and many others appeals to you, as it does to me, you’ll want an E-P1.

 

Joe Farace is the author of a new book called “Digital Monochrome Special Effects” published by Lark Books and that’s available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com.

 

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