I don’t know why but I really like taking photos. I’m not sure yet if I’m into the technical and artistic aspects of photography. There’s something rewarding in finding the right angle and composition. It’s also good to have something to remember the more or less interesting events by. And of course it’s nice to have some photos to accompany articles!
That’s why I decided last autumn that I needed a decent camera. I’ve had a few digital cameras before but nothing special, really. As usual, I took my sweet time researching the subject. A friend of mine suggested the Micro Four Thirds. They’re kind of miniature DSLR cameras with interchangeable lenses. The quality and other features are not necessarily on the same level as for the proper DSLRs in the same price range, but the smaller size has its benefits.
After infuriating research I decided to go with Olympus E-PL2. At the time it cost about 420 Euros with the kit lens (14-42mm). It was a decent set. The lens let me to get to know the camera a bit. I took it with me to The Gathering Xbox event in Reading, England and I think it immediately proved its worth.
There’s a lot of talk about the skin tones that Olympus cameras produce and E-PL2 does have that great quality. The colors are actually quite nice. The low light performance of the kit lens could be better and the same goes for the sensor itself. You can use the E-PL2 as a point n shoot type of camera or twiddle with the settings a bit. I mostly tend to not to change the settings too much. The camera doesn’t seem to get the white balance right in indoor lightning, but otherwise it’s mostly automatic focusing, aperture and shutter speed for me.
Of course the main selling point for a Micro Four Third camera should be the portability. The kit lens is pretty compact when not in use so it’s most certainly portable. However, I don’t think you could E-PL2 with the kit lens a pocket camera. No way. Sometimes I like to take photos in a bit dimly lit environments – gaming events tend to be a bit shady, after all. E-PL2 does have a flash but it’s not really powerful nor do I like to take photos with a flash. Using a (bad) flash (not well) tends to give photos an unnatural look. You can add peripherals like an external flash to E-PL2, but I don’t know if that would really go well with the portability side of things. In some occasions it could work, but mostly not.
So I decided to take the next step and buy an additional lens. After all, why would you buy a camera with interchangeable lens if you wouldn’t change the lens? Indeed. I read some really glowing reviews of Panasonic G 20 mm. It has fixed focal length, it’s not that common and it’s actually pretty expensive for my taste (400 Euros). Nevertheless, I wanted it.
And I’ve been really pleased with my Panasonic lens. With an aperture of f1.7 it’s really great for indoors shooting. The lens is also very compact, almost a pancake (not quite as compact as some of the Olympus lenses, but still). Now I sometimes do take the camera with my carrying it in my pocket. It’s a little bit bulky and heavy but fits into the pocket of my jacket nicely. The camera doesn’t take too much room from my bag if I happen to carry it with me neither. And of course – the sexy bokeh! While the kit lens doesn’t have a very strong depth of field effect, this Panasonic one certainly does. It gives a really nice quality for portraits and such.
My current camera system feels good and I haven’t felt the need to use the kit lens since going with the Panasonic. Of course I’m always drooling after new cameras and lenses like E-P3 or the Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm. Then I wake up and realize I haven’t been taking enough photos with my current set to warrant any more investment – not yet, at least.
There are some… interesting features in E-PL2. Some of these are characteristic to Micro Four Thirds systems overall, such as the lack of an electronic (or optical) viewfinder. You know, the thing you peek into to take the photo. Using just the LCD screen to arrange the composition or to focus manually can be a bit tricky, especially in certain conditions. Since I’m not really a professional photographer nor am I using all the tricks, I’ve got along quite nicely with just the screen. Of course I could fork out an additional 100-200 Euros for an external viewfinder (which are very nice, apparently), but I’m not sure I need one yet. Maybe one day. Or I’ll just upgrade to a body with an integrated EVF, some of the MFT cameras do have that luxury.
The Olympus cameras have one peculiar feature: the art filters. I think there are six different settings in E-PL2 that change the color balance and such – properties that could be adjusted at home using a photo editing software. It really sounds like a pretty useless feature, but it’s nice to see your results immediately at the spot. Processing the images takes a little bit of time and the live view kind of lags with some of the filters. The grainy black and white filter is my favorite and I may even use it sometimes to feel all dark n edgy, if I might say. Actually, the header picture of this blog was taken using this filter.
If there’s one feature I would like to see improved in E-PL2, it would be the video shooting. It’s really not that good and I think the codec Olympus uses hates my editing program, causing it to crash. There’s a limit for continuous shooting (I think it’s something like seven or ten minutes) and the quality is not the best possible. Still, if I used the Panasonic lens, you can at least have some nice depth of field in the video too. And I could buy yet an additional peripheral to use an external microphone for the audio. This would really improve the audio quality.
So yes, it’s nice to finally have a decent camera. This was not really a review. I just wanted to share some of my adventures in the world of photography. I think I’m going to stay in that world and I might even dive a little bit deeper some day. All those hot new bodies, lenses and peripherals are calling for me. Meanwhile you can look at the pictures included in this blog post – with genuine disgust and wonder! Here you have some random samples.