Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Pulling the trigger on a Pen EP-3

I'm a 'big' guy when it comes to photography. Big cameras, big lenses, big backpacks, big reflectors. The bigger the better. Whenever I buy an SLR, I have to have the vertical grip that goes with it! And if the camera doesn't come with a vertical grip as an option, then I don't get the camera. Simple as that.

Yes, I like the extra real estate that a grip gives, even though I don't have particularly big hands. And yes, I appreciate the extra vertical shutter button and second battery option that these grips accommodate.

But over and above all that, I really like the extra weight you get with a grip attached - and the added 'coolness' - the extra professionalism if you will - that a grip offers. I love em!

Which is why I've struggled over the years to come up with a 'compact' camera system to carry around and use when I'm not in an SLR mood. Compact just isn't in my DNA. And believe me, I've tried.

The closest I've come to enjoying using a compact camera was way back when I first got into digital - about ten years ago, with a Canon G3. Not that you could call any of the Canon G series cameras 'compact'. And I guess that's what I liked about them. They weren't all that compact - but compact enough so that there was an obvious difference between them and a DSLR.

But that was ten years ago, and a lot has happened in the digital world since then.

Over the last couple of years, my interest has definitely been peeked by the introduction of the mirrorless EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens) cameras - especially the micro 4/3rds range from Panasonic and Olympus. I LOVE the look of the Olympus Pen range, but never felt that it had matured to the point where I was ready to jump in. The autofocus has always been suspect - especially on the original Pen EP-1, so I held off and waited... and waited... and waited...

Pohutakawa Flower - NZ Native. Olympus EP-3 and 14-42mm kit lens
This year, with the launch of the Pen EP-3, it seems that my wait may actually be over!

With the EP-3 it seems that Olympus have a real winner on their hands. Not only does it continue the sexy retro Pen look, but it is also claiming the fastest autofocus of any camera - period! Don't know about that, but at least now we are in the right ball park as far as autofocus is concerned. I'm interested.

Rusty Lock. EP-3 and 14-42mm lens
Not only is the autofocus worthy of a look, the EP-3 has touch screen technology which they have implemented better than the competition. Using a hi-res touch screen, the EP-3 enables you to choose a focus point, or even take a photo, with a touch of the screen. Swipe to move through images in playback a-la the iPhone, or access some basic image 'fixes' in IA (Intelligent Auto) mode.

All Tied Up. EP-3 with Grainy B&W Art filter. 1:1 Aspect ratio
And then, of course, there's the Art Filter modes. Yes, I know - in-camera filters are crap! But hang on a minute. A couple of the Pen Art Filters are actually very cool, and really well done. Especially grainy B&W combined with the black art frame. It's great to be able to actually see the effect on the large 3" screen while you're composing the shot - and you can even use them in movie mode, if you're that way inclined?

Emily. EP-3, Diorama Art Filter and 40-150mm lens
I had the privilege of getting to 'play' with the EP-3 before deciding whether or not I want to purchase one for myself. And I have to say, it's the most fun I've had with a camera of any sort in a very long time!

The menu system is incredibly extensive, and takes a bit of getting used to. The flip side of this, however, is that the Pen EP-3 is incredibly customisable. You can set it up exactly for your style of shooting. Nothing is really there for good if you don't want it to be. It is a small form factor, so the buttons and dials are a little fiddly. But not so fiddly to be unusable (although I wouldn't want to try it with gloves on!?), and it's the price we pay for smaller cameras I guess? The body itself is constructed of magnesium alloy, so it has a good heft to it - which can't really be said for the kit lenses. They are very plasticky, and incredibly light - but having said that, I can't complain about their image quality. And Olympus/Panasonic are releasing some 'serious' prime lenses with all metal construction if you've got the need (and the deep pockets) for such lenses.

What didn't I like? Well, outside in the harsh daylight, the lcd screen that you have to use to compose with (the Pen's have no built-in viewfinder) is almost unuseable! Aaargghh!!! They do sell a very good electronic viewfinder that fits on to the cameras hotshoe and clips into the back of the camera - but you pay for it! If/when I get the EP-3, the electronic viewfinder will be a necessity, and not an option!

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