Oly E-P2 beats Panny GF1: Here’s Why

The Olympus E-P2
I think I’ve caught the photography bug again, after a 3-year hiatus.  After I sold off all my Canon equipment in 2006, I turned to Panasonic’s minute workhorse, the LX-3 as my sole photography tool.  Coming from the much larger APS-C sensor of the Canon 20D,  the tiny 1/1.63″ sensor of the LX-3 was a massive downgrade in terms of image quality.  I’ve not produced a large format print in a while, and have relied on the web (and my computer screen) as my main medium of output, but I never cease to be reminded of the huge discount I was taking on image quality each time I worked on the RAWs produced by the LX-3.

I can’t afford a Leica M9.2 and its associated ‘harem’ of lenses, and so my dream of owning a highly portable and non-obstrusive range-finder sized camera with image quality comparable to dSLRs continued to elude me with every snap of my LX-3, until I laid my eyes on the Olympus E-P2 at the Megatex show this weekend over at the Singapore Expo.

Try not to be overly distracted by the Japanese model as you view the commercial 😉

I’ll spare you the usual manufacturer-inspired rehash of the camera’s features and technical specs. Shawn Barnett and Mike Tomkins over at the Imaging Resource have come up with a comprehensive preview of Olympus’ latest micro-4/3 (m43) gem, and there are plenty of articles measurebating the Panasonic GF1 with the Olympus E-P1/2 if you googled around a bit.

With a month-long road trip to the USA in January ’10 almost nigh, with plenty of potential shutterrific moments ahead, I decided it was time to ditch my trusty LX-3 in the quest for a better camera that retains the LX-3’s portability that I have come to love, while taking me back to dSLR-like image quality.  I toyed with the E-P2 at the Megatex event for quite a bit, thanks to a really helpful salesman (who was undoubtedly eyeing my plastic to close his sale), but decided against an impulse buy in the hopes of doing some desktop research.  It’s not every day that one makes a switch to a new system, so I thought it best to think things through before taking the plunge.

And so I dug up every single user review and field report of the GF1 and E-P1/2 that I could find, pored over the m43 lens roadmaps by both Panasonic and Olympus, pixel-peeped at the full-res images from both cameras and read articles and forum threads from both camps.  I was almost won over by the GF1 after reading Craig Mod‘s superbly presented 16-day field test of the Panny GF1, but in the end, the Olympus E-P2 came up tops.  Here’s why:

  • In-body image stabilization of the E-P2 v.s. lens-based O.I.S. of the GF1: This is the single most important reason for my decision.  If the Panasonic 20mm/f1.7 was great on the GF1, I’d imagine it would be even better for shooting handheld on the E-P2 with its in-body image stabilization.  There’s also a ton of legacy lenses (with the requisite adaptors) that would benefit from it.
  • Retro-chic look of the E-P2 v.s. the utilitarian look-and-feel of the GF1: The first digital camera I ever owned was an Olympus C-5060WZ.  It felt like I was going full-circle by returning to Olympus.  Besides, the GF1 looked too much like an LX-3, which while was a lot more powerful, would have made it look too little of an upgrade from a visual perspective.  Yes I’m biased heh.
  • Way more powerful EVF (1.4mpx) of the E-P2 v.s. the much-lousier EVF (0.2mpx) of the GF1: I don’t see the 230k LCD of the E-P2 as a major hindrance v.s. the 460k LCD of the GF1, mainly because I’ll mostly be shooting through the EVF and chimping via the LCD only in between shoots and mostly in shaded places.  Besides, there’s always the computer LCD to work on…
  • Better ergonomics: I like how the slightly longer E-P2 felt in my hands.  The grip also felt better, which is a major point especially when one is dealing with smallish cameras and lenses, where the usual off-camera-hand-under-the-lens-barrel move fails miserably.
  • Good excuse to start stocking up on Leica-M mount lenses: this works for both cameras, but I thought I’d include this since I’d still like to own one of those über imaging machines someday, and having a m43 camera gives me an excuse to pick these lenses up along the way, and be able to use them with a compatible adaptor.
Novaflex lens adaptor for Leica-M mount lenses

Novaflex lens adaptor for Leica-M mount lenses

As for its weaker attributes when compared to the GF1, here’s what I think:

  • Slower AF than the GF1: I suspect I’ll probably not be able to tell the difference, coming from the crappy AF of the LX-3.  Most of the users/reviewers who say so are probably comparing it against their dSLRs, which isn’t a fair comparison in the first place.  Besides, the slower AF will give me good cause to learn manual focusing techniques such as hyperfocal focusing. Yes yes, excuses excuses 🙂
  • No AVCHD mode, 2GB video size limitation with M-PEG format: I don’t have any smart aleck answers to this.  This is probably my biggest peeve with the E-P2 (yes, not the AF!), as I had been hoping it could have doubled up as my main video recording device at events.  Still, at 2GB, I should have enough time to start my videography experimentation.
  • No built-in flash: who cares! Me wants fast wide-aperture primes!  Available light photography FTW!
  • Higher price point: despite going head-to-head against the GF1, the E-P2 kit is priced at some S$400+ higher than the GF-1 kit.  I guess I’m going to have to suck this point up, and foot another S$550+ for the Panasonic 20mm/f1.7 pancake prime lens, and hope to recoup whatever I can get for my pristine LX-3 in the entire upgrade process.

If you own the E-P2, I’d love to hear from you what your dislikes are, and how you shoot best with it.  I’ll likely bite the bullet soon and get my hands on it this coming week.

About James Chan

James Chan is an entrepreneur, investor, geek, photographer and husband/father based out of Singapore. Apart from frequent travels to Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia for work, James can also be found online via his trusty 15" Retina MacBook Pro or iPhone 6+.