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E-PL1 the Good the Bad and not much ugly

Discussion in 'Olympus Cameras' started by dcisive, Mar 16, 2010.

  1. dcisive

    dcisive Mu-43 Veteran

    Feb 19, 2010
    Salt Lake City, Utah
    OK, well I must say this may well be the most difficult decision I've ever made regarding a camera. Just bear in mind that the mindset I will be coming from in the following comments is that since gravitating to a full sized DSLR back when the D30 Canon came out (late 90's) I really never considered anything smaller, and had little experience from that point on with one except perhaps a Canon Pro1 which was a advanced P&S for it's time.

    Let's get started........took delivery of a new PL1 yesterday and took the day off just to decide if the 4/3rd format was going to be for me. I took my other potential choice home to shoot with it side by side to compare and determine what my needs were and how each camera could meet this need. The opposing camera was the Nikon D5000 DX format (cropped sensor) 12.1mp DSLR. Now consider my main shooter is a Nikon D700 with a 24-70 f2.8 lens along with a 70-300vr and 50mm f1.4D as well as my "travel lens" a 28-300VC Tamron which has in built vibration reduction. This is a full frame system well known for it's low noise and high ISO performance, so needless to say I've been a bit spoiled. I had been eying the 4/3rd stuff as it was smaller and from what the web showed nice IQ.

    Built and layout
    The size of the camera is ideal, it is very solid with NO flex or creaks whatsoever. MY hand fit it perfectly. Everything regarding the layout of contols is intelligently laid out and at your fingertips with nice tactile feedback. The menu is super easy to figure out and FAST to negotiate. I never read the manual and mastered it within a half hour. Yeah, it's THAT easy. Kudo's to Olympus for getting this layout so perfect. IMHO it is BETTER than the P1-P2, but perhaps it's personal taste. The screen is nice and bright and sharp, sharp enough to do everything you need to do. The flash is a hoot. Just pops right up when you flip the switch with an reassuring snap. The kit lens (while a plastic mount) didn't seem quite as smooth as the metalish one I had on the P1 prior, but it's basically fine overall.

    Operation and IQ

    Once set up it delivers as advertised. The one touch movie button is just so easy, and this thing takes marvelous movie clips. I took no less than half a dozen. All were properly exposed and rendered a flawless result. NONE of the "rolling shutter" distortions I've seen from many. Now I do recommend you stick with single focus on this and NOT autofocus, as autofocus DOES hunt and is annoying. But if you just focus and gently move about it renders a very nice sweet result. Just be sure to NOT mess with the lens, or allow for focusing during the shooting process as the mic pics up every movement your fingers make let alone the lens movement if you manually or auto focus.

    The sharpness and colors rendered are extremely accurate. In fact I noticed time after time this camera (to me unlike the P1 or P2) tends to get the exposures dead on exposing shadows. This was one of the MOST annoying things about 4/3rd cameras to me, they tended to leave a lot of shadow in the picture as if they were afraid to expose everything blowing the highlights. This exposures system is the BEST yet. It exposes shadows properly but does NOT clip highlights with NO special settings! (the bummer is if viewed 100% on screen you can see noise in the shadow areas even at lower ISO's). If one resizes their images for print (which no doubt you will) then you can eliminate most if not all of this annoyance. I was actually quite surprised at the amount of resolution the kit lens pulls. Even to all the corners. Very impressive performance, even at f5.6 (which as we must remember due to the format is actually more like the equivalent of f11).

    Indoors for me I'm sorry to say was quite another matter. While the flash does it's best to illuminate things, it simply can't cope well with a large room scenario unless you crank up the ISO's which results in a large image revealing considerable noise. Once again I hate noise, so I'm overly sensitive to it compared to others and many here. I tend to print 13x19's often, and while most of my work is outdoors with landscapes, indoors for the portable choice here was critical as well. Here I feel this camera let me down. If many of you are printing family quick pics or 8x10's or smaller you'll probably be just fine. It's just me The Nikon rang rings around the Oly in this area for sure. The onboard flash was at least twice as effective and I could shoot at ISO200 compared to the needed ISO 800 on the Oly. 100% on screen the results could get ugly, but when resized to say 50% of original and printed smaller it was fine. This I suspect is what most of you do so it's no biggie for the average person. This could be just me so I'll leave it at that. Frankly regarding shadow noise revealed (typically 100% on screen) This was my deal breaker between my 2 camera choices. The D5000 was simply at least a stop or more superior. I don't like to use noise reduction software due to the destruction of fine detail. Considering most of my shooting is landscapes and such this is a deal breaker for me.

    I did take some shots with the 45-200OIS Panasonic lens I got to try with this camera. I have to tell you it is astoundingly sharp. It is as sharp as ANY lens I've used, even at 200mm (eq: 400mm on the 4/3). I will post some crops of these taken tonight for you to see in large size here. It was enough to feel just a bit of remorse for not keeping this camera for those situations because this is one sweet lens for the long stuff. Much sharper than examples I've seen on the web. By the way the OIS worked superior to the IBIS in this case. I tried them both and believe me, the OIS worked better handheld at 400mm equivalent lengths.

    In fact before I packed this back up I tried some things with the kit lens again. Rather than cranking up the ISO's in my office last night I used a tripod. What I found is it simply was too difficult to try to hand hold the camera, even at ISO800 or 1600 to get great sharp images full size. So I tried it on a tripod at ISO100 just to see if it could deliver a sharp image without the noise. Indeed it CAN, but obviously this would only work for static objects. Very restrictive. The Nikon with it's VR kit lens delivered this handheld at ISO400 and NO noise.

    For many the portability is what it is all about. And indeed I too was caught up in this. For many it is also a level of performance that will satisfy. I guess I've just been so spoiled that I just can NOT give up the performance of a DSLR. So I'll have to put of with a bit more bulk. The D5000 isn't as svelte but can be kept in a rather small top load bag. It has a real optical viewfinder, more powerful flash on board, and gives me the grip I am used to. It is less than half the weight of my D700 and considerably smaller as well, which was my goal. If desired if I slap on my 70-300vr it then becomes a 112-480mm albeit bulkier, but it could certainly get me some serious reach if I make it back up to Yellowstone sometime. Also it has a full 2 stops greater dynamic range to cope with the bright outdoors or dark places being able to pull up shadows better without noise if needed. I already have and use NX2 as my editor so it is fully compatible with RAW processing as well. As I said it was more about my personal decision than a global commentary on this camera.

    I could very easily HIGHLY recommend this camera above all others for it's given purpose to those looking for such a image maker. I think it's obvious Olympus has a real winner here. Oh and by the way, I almost forgot. YES in good light it DOES lock focus IMMEDIATELY with NO hesitation unlike the other models. It's when it gets into lesser light situations it can take longer, like the P1 did normally. But indeed they have sped it up a bit. My wife said it this way, when she saw me struggling with this decision. "If I say to you when we are on our vacation....quick Lee, grab that shot, hurry see that!" and I can have NO hesitation.....which camera will get the shot. Sorry to tell you the winner in shear speed is the D500 or most competent DSLR's for that matter. There is a price to pay for convenience...it is undeniable. There truly is NO free lunch. You WILL give ups SOMETHING to get the small size and carry weight. If you can deal with what compromise is involved (and it's not much for most) Then I say the PL1 is about the best the 4/3rd format has to offer at this time. Go for it!!!
    • Like Like x 4
  2. Streetshooter

    Streetshooter Administrator Emeritus

    Dec 15, 2009
    Phila, Pa USA
    Sorry to loose you dcisive.
    Thanks for the report. Good luck in your journey...
  3. goldenlight

    goldenlight Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jan 30, 2010
    Thanks for giving such a detailed personal insight into your findings and decision making. Good luck and hopefully there will be a :43: camera that suits you one day. :smile:
  4. BBW

    BBW Super Moderator Emeritus

    Agreed, I appreciate the details and your sharing the plusses and minuses in your view while, at the same time, not disparaging the E-PL1. Very well done. Thank you dcisive - and best wishes!
  5. BBW

    BBW Super Moderator Emeritus

  6. dcisive

    dcisive Mu-43 Veteran

    Feb 19, 2010
    Salt Lake City, Utah
    Well it is interesting how from one review to another they come up with different results. I noted on the Dcresource one they have more noise generated at ISO800 and 1600 than what I was used to seeing. Their night shot was not impressive, where I've seen better as well. Seems it certainly depends on whose hands the camera it during the testing. I'll be doing my own testing over the next couple of days as I"m receiving another PL1 today along with that wonderful 45-200OIS and their 20mm f1.7 pancake lens. After all I've heard about that one I have high expectations. We'll see, and I'll be sure to post results and comments of course. I really really hope I want to keep it this time. As much as I respect the D5000's superior traits in some areas, there was just some things about the PL1 that were compelling. I"ll see if this time around is the charm. Frankly the 45-200OIS was alone a good reason to want to keep it. I consider that lens a "Must Have".
    • Like Like x 1
  7. Bokeh Diem

    Bokeh Diem Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Mar 14, 2010

    I ran my 45-200 full out on moving targets, in morning light, this weekend... the first real test for the lens. I was surprised at the results also.

    I have it mounted on the G1 which has a nice grip for the weight.

    I keep waiting on someone to offer up affordable fast primes for the 4/3rds kit as the low light problems are serious in my mind. Noise reduction is one thing (especially as it can be accomplished now post-shoot, in -or out of- camera), but speed and creative ability are quite another, and if compromised then shooters will stay away from embracing the system.

    I am in the process of ADDING light to compensate, not something I wanted to do but am forced into now.

    Bokeh Diem
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