My "new" Olympus m4/3 camera - m4/3 "pixie dust"

Olympus E-P2 12mm f/2

Olympus E-P2 12mm f/2

So not so new after all. I've just bought this from the Olympus Market refurbished ebay store. It cost me the outrageous sum of £148. German manual and lead, but apart from that brand new and unused.

I love the E-P2! My favourite Olympus Pen and therefore my favourite camera ever. Absolutely gorgeous, a joy to look at and hold. Its fitted with the new VF-3, which is fine for me. Not quite as sharp as the VF-2, but good enough. For me it has the great advantage of being polaroid dark glasses friendly, so any loss of resolution is compensated for by the fact that I can actually see through it with my preferred sunglasses. Another advantage for me is that the E-P2 lets me shoot at ISO 100. Yes I know Olympus say the base ISO is really 200 and you're supposed to get reduced dynamic range, but anyone who has ever used one of these at ISO 100, will know what I know, the files look better, with less luminance noise. However Olympus don't let you have that option anymore. Including the new OM-D. Nikon, Canon, Leica and Sony let you have an (artificial) low ISO option, but not Olympus. Ho-Hum!

Had a brief chance to try it out yesterday in dull, freezing cold weather. But the suns out this morning so I can give it (and the E-PL3) a good workout.

Olympus E-P2 12mm f/2m f/2">
Olympus E-P2 12mm f/2

Olympus E-P2 45mm f/1.8
Olympus E-P2 45mm f/1.8

Olympus E-P2 45mm f/1.8
Olympus E-P2 12mm f/2

Olympus E-P2 12mm f/2
Olympus E-P2 45mm f/1.8

One things is for sure, that ISO 100 setting certainly shows what the 12mm and 45mm lenses can do. Excellent files, beautifully sharp and very clean. m4/3 is capable of very attractive looking files, if we are allowed to use the best quality settings. (Note to Olympus, please change the firmware in the OM-D to include an ISO 100 option, an ISO 50 option would be nice as well.)

PIXIE DUST

In a recent Dpreview forum, someone quoted from this blog, and also wrote this, which I liked and got me thinking.


"Whatever pixie dust Olympus has "infused" with the E-M5 does seem to be tickling the lizard part of people's brains. I guess it's part marketing, part by design.
Interesting comments about the emotion side of things. That's why I found it intriguing that such a dichotomy exists with those who talk smack about the E-P/L3's shortcomings, yet for some reason still gravitate back to these cameras despite many owning arguably technically superior offerings (NEX/Panasonic bodies etc.)"
So why do I (We) keep coming back to m4/3? Why is the OM-D, easily the most drooled over camera for ages, and apparently has incredible numbers of pre-orders. After all its a 16MP camera (plenty of those about) with this small(er) sensor thats not that great at high ISO and dynamic range. I expect the sensor to be very similar to the GX1, despite Olympus's claims that its not, so a decent performer at low ISO's, but compared to that in the NEX-5n, probably not as good. So why do I want to use that rather than my 5n? Indeed why do I want to use my 12MP Pens rather than the 5n and also the 24MP NEX-7?
Well for me its this.
Olympus E-PL3 E-P2 12mm f/2 45mm f/1.8
Olympus E-PL3 E-P2 12mm f/2 45mm f/1.8
Olympus E-PL3 12mm f/2 45mm f/1.8 Panasonic GX1 20mm f/1.7
I just think these things look so "right". The lens to body ratio is right, the design is right, the layout and handling is (mostly) right. These things look good and feel good, and just for good measure they take good pictures too. Not the best maybe, but for those of us who don't want to photograph black cats in a coal mine, freeze a speeding bullet or shoot 12 frames a second of a celebrity embarrassing themselves, they do just fine.
In the 1990's Apple decided to make their computers look more like PC's, with the consequent loss of market share. They almost went under. Whatever you say about Steve Jobs, he knew that to get those lost Apple fans back, something more than just saying how wonderful their product is was required. Style works. Style is appealing. Style makes us buy stuff. We may not know why we like it, we just know we do. Olympus make very pretty cameras. Panasonic do occasionally as well. Sony don't. The NEX-7 may be a great camera but I just don't love it.

When m4/3 started I hoped that it would become what it is turning into now. An attractive, high-end (but not ridiculously expensive) system that would offer benefits in terms of size and weight and not compromise (too much) on image quality. With a series of sensor tweaks Panasonic have achieved terrific stills quality with their sensors, and it should be said almost unbelievably good video capture. They and Olympus have managed to squeeze all sorts of technological goodies into their cameras to satisfy the gadget freaks, while at the same time managing to keep the more traditionally biased photographers happy at the same time. The word harmonious keeps popping into my head. The system seems integrated, thought out, and even though it may have evolved in a somewhat haphazard way, when you put the cameras and lenses together as in the picture above, it looks complementary.
The other phrase I keep thinking about is "democratic leica". By this I mean a Leica sensibility, but one that doesn't need a large amount of disposable income to indulge it. A system that is almost the complete opposite of the large DSLR. Though in the OM-D we may have, somewhat incredibly, the best of both worlds. Plus, whatever we think we should do and despite telling ourselves that it doesn't matter, how many of us would rather take out a camera we think looks good than one which takes better pictures? I'm not ashamed to say that applies to me. After all, as I constantly bang on, there really isn't that much difference between what they all produce anywhere. Put a Nikon D7000 image and a Panasonic GH2 image taken in 3:2 ratio and at ISO 200 side by side in a blind test and ask people to spot the difference. I doubt many could. Print both out or publish them in a magazine and I suspect the differences become less apparent.
I have no trouble whatsoever selling m4/3 shots, for publication, for advertising for all kinds of social and commercial uses. In fact in certain situations people actually prefer the m4/3 "look". If I felt I was compromising my earning potential in any major way, I wouldn't use it, but I don't feel I am, so I can indulge myself happy in the knowledge that I'm able to deliver the goods while still enjoying the experience that goes into that. If I need more pixels then I can always stitch images together anyway.
Reading between the lines of Kirk Tucks post on the OM-D /soundimageplus/2012/02/kirk-tuck-on-olympus-om-d.html I get the impression that, should the camera check out OK, he is planning to use it for his pro work. And why not? Despite all the reservations, all the criticism, all the perceived shortcomings, again and again that small sensor proves itself capable of achieving results, under normal circumstances, that we didn't think it could. If it does this while allowing us to enjoy using the system and yes enjoy the look of it as well, then thats something to be celebrated. I've written some unkind words about Olympus in the past, but the one thing I've consistently made clear is how much I love their designing abilities. Simply the best as far as I'm concerned. And thats something that shouldn't be underestimated, since if we can't take pleasure in what we use, life would be a much less enriching experience.