Life with the Olympus E-PL2

Finally, I got myself some mirrorless action and I have to say, I’m loving it! In many ways this is the camera I’ve been waiting for years and I just came around to realising it did indeed arrive, already. As a DSLR user, I love the image quality and ever-increasing features, but hate the bulk, and in some ways mirrorless cameras this Pen are a salvation from it. Looking at images on the computer screen, I’m seeing a lot of quality there already, some incredible colours and outstanding sharpness, even from the entry-level zooms I got with it. Sooner or later, I’ll be getting After a while I got the Pana-Leica 25mm f/1.4 and expect to be was beyond my wildest dreams even more blown away by results from this, the best prime lens I’ve yet to use.

In terms of high-ISO, dynamic range or resolution, the results from the 12mp sensor are not really up to the standards of my Nikon D5100, but perhaps up there with earlier cameras, I’m not quite sure. I generally cap it at ISO 800, which is not even as good as the D5100’s 3200, but still the advantages are astounding. With full-time live view, I can see the results of exposure, picture styles or the special Olympus Art filters right up before I press the shutter button. Let me tell you, that in itself is a revelation. I remember the film days when you’d stop down the lens with a button to have a DOF preview, which was actually a pretty big deal them and you’d generally want a camera that could do this. This is the same thing, just 1000x more effective. You can be way more creative than ever before in this way, AS you take the picture, not at a PC afterwards, or to a lesser extent, checking the results afterwards. That whole, ‘take the picture now and get it ready afterwards’ takes away a lot of the thrill and pleasure of experimenting with photography, creating images that have never, ever been taken exactly that way before. This camera and the system it is a part of helps restore the excitement, at least for me.

The camera is small and light, the lenses too, being almost weightless, even the (slightly long by comparison), 80-300mm equivalent zoom (80-150mm). Putting IS in the camera was a remarkably prescient choice, allowing for such small, light lenses, and for absolutely every lens used to be stabilised, which is especially wonderful for immaculate primes. I just love it and find it very effective and the beauty is newer iterations will be even better, on the same exact lenses. I found I could  discretely take photos of people and things and dogs, for that matter, without any intimidation and with fast, accurate and face detecting autofocus (yes, even on the dogs). Seeing as I am getting this as a kind of replacement or grade to a high-end compact, this is a revelation and of course newer models will have even better AF and perhaps even phase-detect, as Nikon incorporates.

Did I say it already, but I love the colours! So vivid and natural and pleasing, perhaps the nicest I’ve yet seen from a digital camera, except perhaps my trusty old F30 largish-sensor compact by Fujifilm, that captured some very pleasing colours as well. I like my vivid Nikon colours, too, but they don’t quite ‘sing to me’ in the same way and certainly the skin tines don’t seem quite as good. I generally use them in Raw and fiddle around (less and less though these days, as the quality is outstanding there, too) but at least at lower ISOs, I’d happily use this camera in Jpeg. Fast, quick,responsive and a picture that’s ready to see straight from the camera.

The Art filters seem to me more usable and pleasing than I have on my Panasonic LX5 and are certainly more interesting than anything I’ve seen in another camera. Even ‘Pop Art’ looks good to me, though I’ve been playing around with the dramatic tone and grainy black and white options more, the later giving a super-contrasty look that suited a lot of images and the former, yes, you guessed it, an element of drama. I’ll put a few examples up here to see what I mean. Of course, all this is nothing you couldn’t do in a way at least on a computer afterwards, but where’s the fun in that, at least with a compact-sized camera suited for quick sharing. I like living now and shooting now and this helps me to do that. Of course, if you are anal like me, you can do the ‘Raw + Jpeg’ trick and have a regular photo too, at a cost in file-size and probably I’ll end up doing that sometimes at least.

I also love the built-in flash, which you can actually angle upwards and bounce. How intelligent is that?! A flash that’s always on the camera and can be bounced all the time. Sure, it’s not as powerful as an extra one, but it will be enough in many cases. Along with the built-in stabilisation, this really feels like a camera from the future and makes others that appear to have a built-in pressure to buy more accessories rather than the feature itself seem antiquated. I know, though, that lens based stabilisation and larger flashes are a lot more capable, especially for power users, but since there is nothing to stop them from being added if need be, it is a simple act of genius to include them in the camera body.

So, I am finding mirrorless even more enjoyable to use than I thought, much more so than any compact. Though I am now a member of the M4/3 club, it has opened my eyes up more to the advantages of such systems generally. The Nikon 1 system has a smaller sensor, but much faster and more flexible AF (very important, this, as MF will be hard on these small cameras) and even smaller lenses, the disadvantages of course being less ability to control the DOF, which for me is essential and the small lens selection right now, especially when it comes to primes. NEX offers much better image quality, but again, a small lens selection and whilst in both these cases you can use more with an adapter, that is hardly ideal and they are going to be massive and ungainly on the camera. Here the Nikon has an advantage, as it will easily AF the larger lenses, up to a point, but with the 2.7x crop, it’s really more for telephoto than regular usage. Anyway, just throwing that in, as other systems are also excellent, carefully designed and worthy of consideration. Who knows, I may get one from theirs too in the future, but for now I’m very happy with this and in fact looking forward to both more lenses and a better, E-M5 style body in the future, especially if I find myself using this more than I anticipated.

One thing is for sure, just a few minutes with a mirrorless camera will convince you that with their quick, easy operation and excellent image quality, this is the way of the future and DSLRs will find themselves in increasing competition from them, after a while finding it hard to survive. I wont be selling my gear and moving camp, though, as I’m very confident that Nikon (and Canon) will make APS-C and eventually full-frame mirrorless models over the next few years and my lenses will be just as relevant on them for decades to come.

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