The system trumps the individual

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that “I wanted a camera for taking pictures of me. ” I compared the Fujifilm X10 vs the S100 to find an easy to use all around point and shoot camera. I was leaning towards the X10 when a new contender popped up. Well here is the continuation of that story. Back at Precision Camera, I suddenly became curious whether the new Olympus Pens were any better at flash exposure than my E-PL1. After all Olympus had released several new cameras since my older model E-PL1. I played with the E-P3, the latest and the top of the line mirrorless Olympus camera at least until the new OM-D ships this month. I’ve always liked the more upscale look and feel of the E-Px series but reviews online of the E-P3 did not entice me. Sure it focused at lot quicker but the high ISO performance didn’t seem any better than my E-PL1. But maybe the flash worked a lot better, it is at least worth a try.

Jon at Precision brought over a shiny silver E-P3 and I fired off a flash. First impression, the flash exposure looked better than my E-PL1 but it didn’t have that magic color and exposure blending that the Fujifilm’s did. I checked the image details and noticed that the camera picked ISO 200 when set to auto ISO. No wonder the background was so dark. I set the ISO to 800 and fired the flash again. Bingo, nice ambient light with decent flash exposure. This camera did seem better than mine at flash blending. I still don’t think it’s quite the same as the X10 but things looked promising. I shot a bunch of other shots a ISO 400, 1600 and even 3200. Ambient light became brighter with the higher ISOs, as expected, but the images was not getting blown out and over exposed. Olympus definitely improved the flash exposure over my camera. The focusing system is a lot better too with a more accurate and larger autofocus coverage area. It even has face and eye detection which ensures sharp focus on a person’s eyes. However, the E-P3 at $900 was definitely more than I wanted to spend. And, if I was going to spend this kind of money for a Olympus, I would probably spend a bit more and get a OM-D. That new camera, which comes out very soon, seems like a significant improvement over the E-P3. I figured that if the E-P3’s flash exposure was this good, the OM-D E-M5 would be at least as good or better. I left the store empty-handed except for my SD card, and analyzed all the photos at home.

Then I started to dream. The new OM-D E-M5 certainly does look swell. My Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7 and Olympus 45mm f1.8 would really work nicely on that camera too. But there were some downsides. This new camera, while still small compared to a DSLR, is larger than my current Pens. It also uses a different battery. It also has features that I really didn’t need such as weather resistance and an electronic view finder. I decided to hold off on making any decisions until I actually played with the new camera and read more reviews. Then I started to think again. The Olympus E-PM1, the lowest cost Pen camera, it’s supposed to have the same image quality as the more expensive E-P3. There was a discount for it too, only $429 with the rebate. That’s basically the same price as the Canon S100. Sure the E-PM1 isn’t pocket-size like the Canon S100 but I really didn’t care about that. The Olympus will have a higher quality than the Canon and even higher than the Fujifilm. Yeah, I think I still like the exposure and ambient light blending of the Fuji a bit more but with better overall image quality and $170 lower in price, this little Olympus was looking more interesting. I wondered if the flash exposure on this model works the same as the E-P3?

I surfed around some more when I paid a visit to the used camera section of Adorama. I’ve brought some used Canon gear there before and I like to check them out from time to time. I’ve also sold some of my stuff there too and I’m familiar enough with Adorama that I trust their used products. I clicked over to the Olympus Digital section and did a double take. A Olympus E-P3 for $579. And it is in Demo condition, which is one step under New. I couldn’t believe the price and wondered what the catch was. Oh, it’s body only, It does not come with a lens. Perfect! I have a kit lens already and I don’t even use it. I use my 20mm 70% of the time and the 45mm for the rest. But, I resisted. I wasn’t ready to plunk down $579 for yet another Olympus Pen camera, particularly when I already had my two camera setup that I really liked. I knew it was a great deal but I decided to go to bed. These deals go fast so I knew if I wanted it I need to pull the trigger quickly.

The next morning, I was still thinking about that low-cost E-PM1 in the shower. It’s a good price and it could be a decent smaller Pen camera that I can use for my family outings. But you know for only $150 more I could get the top of the line E-P3 from Adorama. But I’m probably too late. But maybe I’ll check, just in case. Wow, it’s still there at $579! Well you know, if I got the E-P3, I could probably hold off buying that OM-D for a year or so. Olympus may even have a E-P4 with a similar OM-D feature set in a smaller package. That might be even better. Well I’m sure you can guess how this story ends. Yes, I did end up buying that used Olympus E-P3. The system trumps the individual (camera). Sure the Fujifilm X10 does some really nice things in a smaller and convenient package with a great zoom lens but the Olympus is part of a system. This new E-P3 uses the same great lenses and batteries as my two E-PL1s. Any future lens investment I make now applies to the entire Olympus system that I’ve obviously started to build. The Olympus color and exposure is a known quality, which I like, so there is a certainly level of image continuity. I don’t have to worry about the possibility of wonky color from another camera company. Hey and I’m getting this top of the line mirrorless camera for a lower price than the Fujifilm X10 too. The only downside, I didn’t get my camera at Precision Camera, who allowed me to the do the camera comparisons. When all things are equal, I like to buy local to support the local stores. I’ll have remember to throw some future business over to Precision, when I can.

In the next installment, I will let you know about my first impression of my new Olympus E-P3. I’ve already got some photographs taken with the E-P3 posted over at mostlyfotos, if you’re interested. I’m sure I’ll be posting a lot more in the future.

10 thoughts on “The system trumps the individual

  1. I am holding out for the OM-D I wasn’t going to do it, but it’s jst too hard for me to resist. A few people have started receiving the camera. Check out the color here – Wow. THis guy has his already.

    You are right about the Oly color. Back when digi cams first came about, I had an Oly D340R I think, and people always asked me why my pics looked better than their pocket cams as far as color. No one could afford the DSLRs at that time, and there were very few of them around. After that I got the Oly C5050 and I still have it. I still use it for fun and I’m still happy with the color. The only Oly mistake I made was the 8MP SP350 – was kind of disappointed in that one. Still have it, and I take it out when it rains.

    While I could not buy into 4/3 DSLRs, I’ve really surprised myself with how much I like the PENs. It’s all your fault too as I bought based in large part on your writing. I popped for the 45mm (Brilliant!) and the 20mm is on the way – should be here MOnday or Tueday. M4/3 is the most shooting fun I’ve had in a long time, in fact the E-PL1 will be my ca,era of choice for Worldwide Pinhole Day Apr 29. I ordered a spare body cap so I can make a quick on and off lensless lens.

    Look forward to your adventures with the E-P3

    1. Hi Libby, I didn’t know you had a history with the Olympus gear. The E-PL1 was my first. The OM-D does seem really nice. I’m sure, in the future, I’ll get one or a Pen with the similar sensor. I hope the E-P3 will keep my busy for a while along with my 2 other E-PL1s.

      Yeah that 45 is sweet as well as the 20.

    1. Don’t get me wrong, I have a bunch of Canon lenses too but I think Canon is missing the boat on the mirrorless. I couldn’t wait for them to come out with one, that I why I started using the micro 4/3s.

  2. I was able to pull some of the raw files for the EM-5 as my raw processor just got upgraded to accept them. I use AFterSHot Pro which is the old Bibble reincarnated by Corel. Pretty nice files and definitely something I can live with. For the small cameras, yes, I guess I do have a history. On the first D340, I bought almost solely on price just to try a digicam. In its day, it was pretty good and cheap. I even bought another for a friend of mine for his trip when he moved cross country. It was good enough for posting junk to the web. The Oly C750UZ followed, then the C5050. I desperately wanted the E-20. But then I went in a whole ‘nother direction and bought a Kodak DSLR. (2005) which took my Nikon lenses. All of the cameras still live LOL! I still use the Kodak for commercial work.

    1. Quite a history Libby. Do you know of Kirk Tuck? He love the Pens too but also shot with the Kodaks. EM-5 is definitely looking interesting. Lots to consider for the future.

  3. Andy, hi. I’m just starting to learn how to use my E PL2 and already love it. One thing I ‘m wrestling with is the flash. Obviously good for about 10 feet. Have you investigated external flashes and what may be some good options.

    1. Hi Chuck, I’ve only looked at external flashes in passing, nothing serious. My primary flash use on the small Pens are for relatively close people shots so I’m OK for now, especially with the E-P3. But we will see for the future.

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