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The Olympus EP-2 is a horrible camera

A rant

in Olympus E-System , Wednesday, September 07, 2011

I’m on vacation in Sicily. It’s absolutely not a photo trip, but Sicily can be painfully photogenic at all sorts of level, so good casual opportunities do come up.

WARNING: high levels of sarcasm ahead, may offend.

It started with a week on the island of Favignana, which was good enough for the likes of Selgado, Burri, and a gaggle of other Magnum photographers, so it should be good enough for me. But ... they, very luckily for them, did not have an Olympus Pen-since-1959 EP bloody 2 “camera” with them. I am coming to loathe this all style and no content device. It is by far the worst camera I have ever used. Considered as a device to prevent photography it would rank pretty highly. But that wasn’t what it was intended to be, alledgedly.

It’s difficult to know where to start, but perhaps I’ll be slightly unfair and start with the add-on electronic viewfinder. Now, this camera is unusable without the EVF. In fact it should be returned as unfit for purpose without it, because the screen is abysmal. I loathe using a back screen as a framing tool, but on my Ricoh GRD at least it can be done, quite effectively even. On the EP2, forget about it: the screen is dim and coarse. So, EVF it is. And this EVF is rated as one of the best in the business. But guess what, it still sucks. It doesn’t pixelise, it has very low delay, it even has pretty good dynamic range. But it doesn’t have enough. Under harsh contrast there is just no way I can get a fix on the highlights and shadows. It burns or blacks out stuff which my eyes do not, making it impossible for my brain to instinctively make exposure decisions. It just gets it the way. And of course, when I apply exposure compensation, it reacts. No! Don’t do that! I know you can, but if I’m sussed enough to understand what exposure compensation means, then it really is not going to help me if you keep moving the electronic goalposts around. And that’s just for starters. I could go on for a lot of paragraphs about how an EVF screws up DoF preview as well. And then of course there’s the idiot fact that the camera has to be turned on to look through the viewfinder (this is “progress”, I believe), which is unfortunate given the gusto at which the EP2 drains its battery (very easily twice as fast as the E400 with the same battery). Of course, all this applies to any EVF camera, not just the EP2, but the scary thing is that this EVF really is - relatively - very, very good. But it ruins photography as an enjoyable experience, and that’s scary.

So, what about some specifics? Let’s start with “manual focus assist”. This zooms the center of the VF area so you can focus more easily. Well fine, provided (a) the object you want to focus on is in the middle, which if you’re slightly beyound idiot level it quite probably isn’t, and (b) you’re not interest in the object’s context. Ok, so you can turn it off, provided you can remember where the option is in the labyrinthine menu system - I’d happily swap it for the “art filter” position on the mode dial - and it is genuinely useful in Live View mode, on a tripod, when you’re moving the focus point around. It is absolutely a pain when it engages when you as little as think about glancing at the focus ring, ruining another shot. And yes you can turn it off. If you remembered to, and if you’ve got several minutes to waste in the menu system.

Ah yes, the menu system: ever since the E400, Olympus cameras have had the “super control panel” screen for direct access to shooting parameters. It’s actually pretty useful and has been widely copied, like a lot of good innovations from Olympus. I’m fairly sure the EP2 has it to, but I cannot for the life of me work out how to get at it. If it is there, and not just a figment if my immagination, it is anyway but 1 of 3 completely seperate systems for configuring the camera. One well designed one would suffice.

(ok, finally I worked it out. Press “OK” several times to cycle through the modes.)

The electronic level is very nice. It would be even nicer if it could be combined with the display of basic shooting info, like Aperture, Exposure, that sort of thing.

Then there’s more general stuff about the ergonomics and user interface. In A-mode, which is pretty much all I use, if you press the exposure compensation button, the value highlights in the display and you can change it with either the thumbwheel or the control dial. I try to avoid the control dial. If you click the button a second time, both the aperture and compensation values highlight, and now you can change the aperture with the thumbwheel and compensation with the dial. Or is it the other way around? And why, anyway? The opportunity for error is endless, especially if you have to use the control dial.
The control dial is a truly stunningly bad example of industrial design. Like many similar devices, it also functions as a 4 way pad, with the 4 buttons providing a quick entry point to things like ISO and White Balance. Useful, but not when the thing is so fiddly and sensitive that when you just had that shot lined up of Elvis climbing out of his flying saucer, you discover that you’re in 12 second self timer mode. Or something even more obscure. Even when you’re intentionally using the dial, the slightest misapplication of pressure can have you at ISO 3200 in a microsecond. Reversing out, however, would take a while longer.

Finally, because otherwise this could go on for ever, a word about the standard 14-42 lens. In order to pretend that it is small, Olympus made it collapsible. This provides yet another potential roadblock in getting the shot. And attaching a filter to it, especially a polariser, is an exercise in frustration. Turning the polariser almost always throws the focus completely off, and triggers an error message. And when you remove the filter it feels like you’re in serious danger of dismantling the lens inner barrel. Yet another ghastly Pen experience.


Kodak Films? Unfortunately, no ho bisogno, grazie

Ok, you can get good results out of the EP2, all being well, but for me at least it provides little enjoyment and kills spontaneity. So much that the whole point of the thing seems weak.

On a general note, in 2 weeks, some spent in very photogenic tourist spots, where everybody has a camera, I have not seen one “compact system camera”. No micro four thirds, no Sony NEX, no Samsung. Plently of Lumix and Fuji bridges, plenty of Canikon DSLRs, even a sprinkling of Olympus DSLRs, some high end compacts and of course hordes of digicams. But the world takeover by compact system cameras? I see no evidence of that on the streets.

So, what ‘s the alternative? I don’t always feel like carrying a DSLR around, even a small one, and compacts have their own compromises and lack creative control. Film seems tempting. A small SLR, maybe, but even an Olympus OM isn’t all that light. Or maybe a Voigtlander or Zeiss Ikon rangefinder ... but again, these involve compromises. Maybe somebody will make a CSC actually designed to encourage photography, but I’m not holding my breath.

But as far as the Olympus EP2 is concerned, I think I’ve had my fill. The worst, and possibly the prettiest, camera I have ever owned. And it seems I’m stuck with it.


Olympus E-3 Diffraction

shocking, really

in Olympus E-System , Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Further to my recent mental hand-wringing about diffraction, I decided to try a little self-education. The following video shows a sequence of shots at increasing f-stop of a convenient wall in my garden (I understand walls are in fact necessary for this sort of exercise. Or cats. But they move too much. And I prefer walls).

The camera is the Olympus E-3 firmly bolted to a tripod, lens is the 12-60 set at 33mm.

Even with various levels of compression screwing around with the results, I think it is pretty clear that the image quality starts off ok, improves towards f/8, stays ok-ish until f/11, and then dramatically collapses.  This is, of course, what is supposed to happen, but bearing in mind the old film-era advice of “crank it up to f/22” it is pretty scary.

diffraction test   on Vimeo.

No sharpening done, just standard Aperture conversion of the RAW files.


Blast from the Past

bokeh bliss

in Olympus E-System , Thursday, May 26, 2011

Finally, I did it. I got around to getting a Canon FD lens adaptor for my Olympus E-P2. Back in Ye Olde Days, I was a Canon FD user, and I had some truly awesome lenses for that system. The 135mm f2.0 was probably the best lens I ever used. A pity I gave it away…  However, I have still got the 50mm f1.2L, and the 20-35mm f3.5L.  And they’ve been sitting on my shelf for years, just a whim away from eBay.

So my Novoflex adaptor arrived today. Yes, I know it’s the most expensive, even outrageously so, but it has a pristine reputation for “just working”, unlike many others. I’m tempted by the shift adaptors, but maybe some other time.

It took a while to coax the 50mm in to life.  It was in a strange state, and I couldn’t get the aperture ring to work, even when mounted on my Canon A1. The 20-35 worked straightaway, but the 50mm was the one I was interested in, and it was stuck either at f1.2 (mounted) or f16 (unmounted). Anyway, I eventually got it working. I seem to recall it was always a bit recalcitrant.

So here’s a photo. Of flowers, of course. At f1.2, of course. And the bit we’re all interested in is the out of focus part.  I think we call this “testing”.

Drm 2011 05 26 5261379

Some flowers. At f1.2.

The photo is straight off the card, into Aperture, and out again. Default settings, nothing added, no sharpening, nothing at all.

I’d say the results are promising :-)


Summer in the Arctic

not so grim up north

in Olympus E-System , Tuesday, February 22, 2011

It isn’t trivial, slimming down a selection of 16 photos from 6000 candidates… Not that all 6000 are good, but probably 1000 or so are in the same ballpark as the 16 I chose (not that I’m claiming they’re anything special).

Anyway, hot(-ish) on the heals of my Pyramiden & panorama galleries, here’s another more general set from the wonderful Arctic world of Svalbard.

Svalbard selection

And for those who like to know these things, they were all taken with an Olympus E-3, using Zuiko Digital 12-60SWD, 50-200SWD and 7-14mm lenses.


Olympus EP-2

my preshussssss!

in Olympus E-System , Friday, November 12, 2010

I’ve been meaning to write more about the Olympus EP-2 for a while, but for various reasons I didn’t get around to it. One of these is that I wanted to compare with the E-3, but I haven’t got a lens adaptor for the EP-2 yet, and in any case, I’m not really into doing “tests”. Anyway, there’s little point: it is glaringly obvious that in terms of image quality, the EP-2 is way ahead, even with the 14-42mm kit lens.  I say “even with” ... to be honest, I seriously doubt that the vast majority of web chattering about lens quality is based on any sort of objective evaluation of real-world use. This lens certainly isn’t limiting my photography.

Oh, and it’s great fun to use.


An EP-2 photo using the Fake Hasselblad preset

There are a few things I don’t like so much about the camera, and all of them are concerned with handling and the user interface.  The control dial is pretty horrible to use. You have to be very, very careful to not completely change the setup when you were intending to dial in +0.3EV. The various ways of changing settings, through the menu, the super control panel, or the info layer (if that’s what it’s called) are just too confusing. At least one of them should go, and actually, although I’m very familiar with it, my choice would be to deep-six the super control panel. As I get used to the info method I’m finding I hardly ever use the control panel. I wonder if it has made it through to the E-5, or if Olympus consider it to be a “consumer” feature ?


Another pretty picture

There are a lot of things I do like. First of all, in my experience so far this camera has by far the most accurate auto-exposure of any Olympus E-System camera I’ve used. Very good and very consistent, unlike the E-3 which frankly seems to use random guesstimation as it’s baseline method. Second, dynamic range is also much better. The photo above would have caused my all sorts of problems with the E-3. With the EP-2, it’s just routine. The EVF is excellent, and without it the camera would not be anywhere near as useful or enjoyable. It would be nice if it were orientable in two axes, like the E-3’s screen. The general feel and construction of the camera is very good, and personally I love the design. It is so much easier to carry this camera around than a DSLR, although it is notable that it is only slightly smaller than the E-400. I like the shutter sound, although it would be nicer if it were a touch quieter. Oh, and I really like the AF-C Tracking Mode - this is fantastic when combined with “focus and recompose” shooting, although I suppose that wasn’t quite what it was meant for! It might not be quite so hot with fast moving targets - I don’t know, I haven’t tried - but it works fine for motionless inanimate objects. 

I’m not quite so keen on manual focus.  I’m still not entirely sure how to pre-set the focus point: I found out once, and then forgot (manual ? what manual). And moving the focus point while zoomed in in MF mode is probably the most frustrating and curse-inducing activity I’ve encountered on a camera in many years. But then again, who cares when you’ve got AF-C Tracking Mode ?

So, I won’t be selling it. In fact, since I bought it, I haven’t picked up the E-3 (or E-400) once. Obviously in some cases the E-3 will still be the better tool, but in general I can see it settling on a quiet semi-retirement.

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