Evolution is a wonderful thing. My first introduction to the Olympus E-P2‘s forefather, the E-P1, left me impressed. This camera has now evolved into a very lovely camera. I’ve been testing the E-P2 for a couple of weeks now and I’m completely taken by it. The obvious first difference is that it now comes in black; actually more of an attractive gun metal dark grey. This was something most pro photographers, myself included, had been asking for. The other major change, this time a little less noticeable is the inclusion of a data port on the rear of the camera, just below the hotshoe. This brings some superb accessories to the E-P2, making it rather unique and infinitely more usable.
The Micro 4/3 interchangeable lens camera works without a mirror, so the whole camera is smaller as are the optics. With the announcement of the E-P2, Olympus also added to it’s current Micro 4/3 lens line-up of the the 17mm f2.8 pancake and 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 zoom lens, two new zooms; 9-18mm f4-5.6 and a 14-150mm f4-5.6. My review was done with the excellent 17mm (equivalent 34mm) pancake and the surprisingly good 14-42 (equivalent 28-84mm).
One of the beauties of the Micro 4/3 system is the ability to use lenses from both Olympus and Panasonic who have developed this system. I was extremely keen on trying out the Leica designed Panasonic 45mm f2.8 Macro lens which Panasonic kindly supplied along with the DMW-MA2ME Leica M to Micro 4/3 adapter, allowing me to use my Leica M lenses on the camera; naturally in manual focus. This ability to get the best optics on the camera, add to this camera’s attractiveness as a quality creative tool. There are also countless other adapters around for mounting a variety of 35mm camera manufacturers lenses, including a couple from Olympus allowing the use of OM lenses as well as 4/3 lenses on the E-P2.
That Data Port Thing
When I used the E-P1, the ability of adding other manufacturer’s manual focus lenses seemed a good one, but slightly lost on me, as I like to shoot using an eyepiece and not the camera’s back. With this little data port comes the optional VF-2 electronic viewfinder which mounts on the hotshoe. This allows you to see through the lens. During my testing of the camera, I attached my Leica 35mm f2 ASPH Summicron to the E-P2 and produced some stunning images. Using the VF-2 I could focus on the run and shoot just like a “normal” camera, without having to hold it like a digital compact. We all have our favourite old lenses in the back of our cupboards and this camera will let you use them again. Its not all rosy though as firstly the focal length is doubled, and secondly focusing can be a little tricky. When using the supplied Olympus lenses in manual focus mode, the slightest touch of the focus ring magnifies the image, allowing for precise focusing. As the camera is not aware that you are manually focusing when using a lens on an adapter, this magnification doesn’t happen. I imagine that this can easily be fixed with firmware and the handy “Fn” button could perhaps be programmed to magnify the screen to aid focusing.
However the one thing that truly sets this camera apart from the E-P1 and Panasonic GF1 is its ability to use external microphones for video, using the optional SEMA-1 microphone adapter set. This is a very neat adapter which sits in the hotshoe. It comes with a tiny stereo microphone which plugs straight into the adapter, or can be placed closer to the sound source by using the supplied extension cord and lapel clip.
This is such a well made and nicely designed little camera. Just like the E-P1, it just encourages you to pick it up and go shooting. The viewfinder adds so much to the appeal and usability of the camera. It also makes using zoom lenses a possibility. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, I am of the school where a camera is held up to the eye and not at arm’s length. Whilst initially I would still have preferred to have optical finders matched to fast prime lenses, the electronic finder has made me change my mind. It’s not completely perfect as it blacks out at the moment of exposure (just like an SLR) and very fast panning causes a little blurring which resolves itself in a millisecond. However it opens up so many other uses, and the ability to use manual focus lenses with the camera to the eye has sold me on the idea.
I’ve been using the camera mainly in aperture priority and must say that the exposure meter is superb. There were occasions when I used the perfectly placed exposure compensation button (just by the shutter release) but in large, it’s spot on. Image quality from 100 to 1250 ASA is great with 1600 ASA being usable.
The AF is very snappy. Although with the E-P1 I missed a small percentage of shots due to the AF, the E-P2 works better for me. I’m not sure if anything has been changed in this respect, but just having an electronic viewfinder and seeing exactly where the focus point is makes a world of difference; with the E-P1 and the optical finder it was a case of guessing where the point was when set to centre.
The Leica designed Panasonic 45mm f2.8 Macro lens was stunningly good. Pin sharp, great contrast and tone with pleasing bokeh. The only thing I had against the lens was the rather slow focusing. Portraits sang and macro shots stunned. It’s a lens I would definitely recommend for considered photography.
Video on this little camera is astonishingly good. It shoots 720p HD video. Viewing some test footage on a 46” Plasma TV left a very pleasing feeling. It’s no Canon 5D MkII when it comes to video, but it really is impressive. The ability to plug in an external microphone makes this a capable tool for video. The optional stereo microphone which comes with the adapter captures too much ambience. However when I plugged in my Rode VideoMic (which is a shotgun type) the difference was unbelievable.
The E-P2 just makes photography fun. It’s so straight forward and simple, feeling like an extension to one’s eye. It makes you less the “camera guy” and more the photographer; you just take nice picture after nice picture. Can’t ask more of a camera.
More images on my Flickr E-P2 Set
Homage, a short film shot on the E-P2