Cameras: When size no longer matters so much

Posted on by Mike Evans

What is it with Macfanboys and their cameras? I've yet to meet a Mac enthusiast who doesn't have at least a passing interest in photography. So it is with me. Although I'm a rank amateur, I flatter myself with equipment capable of turning a sow's ear into a silk purse (if this is not mixing the metaphor). For years, even before digital cameras, I've always had a big Nikon with an impressive range of lenses. Plus I have a mid-range camera, the latest being a Nikon P6000, for those occasions when (which is most of the time) the Nikon D90 is just too big and heavy to carry around. The Nikon P6000, a top-of-the-range compact, was a disappointment and, increasingly, the Nikon D90 has remained at home in the drawer.

Olympus PEN Enter Micro Four Thirds (don't ask because I, too, think it ought to have been Micro Three Fourths), the new live-view hybrids pioneered by Panasonic and Olympus. There are two main contenders in this compact format, the retro Olympus PEN E-P2 and the more modern looking Lumix GF1. For about two months I've been studying the comparisons and, while in the USA, made up my mind to buy one (or the other). There wasn't a major saving to be made, so I waited patiently to return to London before making up my mind. 

Both of these cameras have their pros and cons, of course. I actually prefer the look of the Lumix and love its high-resolution screen, but eventually settled for the Olympus because of that gorgeous live-view viewfinder that slots, retro-stye, into the top accessory shoe. This really is a wonderful viewfinder and, since I've never been comfortable composing from a screen, it was a must have. You can see all the menu options in this large finder and the quality and convenience more than makes up for the fact that it's a bolt-on rather than an integral device. 

I got a good deal from a retailer in London's Tottenham Court Road and now own the Olympus PEN kit (including the viewfinder and a neat, small 14-42mm zoom which is equivalent to 28-84mm in old 35mm terms). I also splashed out on the Lumix 20mm pancake lens (40mm equivalent) which, at f/1.7 I much prefer to the Olympus f/2.8 17mm equivalent. Since the Olympus doesn't have a flash, this lens is going to be much better in low-light conditions. 

My first experimental shots today have been impressive and I really like the lightness and the handling of this diminutive camera. Although it isn't a true DSLR, in particular it lacks a mirror, I like the implementation of direct live view. With MFT cameras, what you see is what you get, just like on a DSLR. The Olympus feels, sounds and acts like a DSLR, like a mini Nikon or Canon in fact, and it is light enough to be carried around without too much thought. The lenses are minute compared with full-size Nikon glass and I think I'm going to be happy with this new toy.

I'll report on my progress as I get more familiar with the camera and the capabilities of the two lenses. For the moment, though, my D90 kit and the P6000 are on the market and I look forward to being a one-camera man for the first time in years. 

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