Photokina, the huge photographic expo in Germany, starts next month and the rumors of new cameras are ramping up. I know I have enough cameras but I’m sill looking for something more in the Olympus space. Something that has the speed of the E-P3 but with better high ISO image quality. I’ve certainly been eyeing the Olympus OM-D E-M5, a very well received camera. And while it’s not perfect, the E-M5 is in the running for my next camera purchase along with whatever new Olympus announces. In many ways, though, I prefer the Olympus Pen form factor. So over the next few weeks, I’m dreaming of the possibilities. What will Olympus announce for their 2012 Digital Pen line?
There are rumors that Olympus is reducing the three Pen models down to two. I think this makes sense. I always thought having 3 PEN cameras in the $500 – $900 range was too confusing. The tyranny of choice, having too many options dilutes the message. The same rumors sites say that the higher end E-Px line will be dropped. I hope not since I like the premium feel of this compact camera. What do I want in the new Pen? What features if missing, would sway me to the E-M5 instead? Here are some of my thoughts. My mental calculus that will tip the scales between the OM-D EM-5 and the next generation Pen cameras.
Olympus Color and Exposure
I really like the Olympus color and exposure and I would certainly want the same consistent images from the new Pen.
Higher quality sensor
I would like a sensor with the same dynamic range and same high ISO performance as the Olympus E-M5. I wouldn’t mind going up to 16MP like the EM-5 but will be satisfied with 12MP. The low light performance and dynamic range is more important than the number of pixels.
Improved in-body IS
The Olympus’ in-body image stabilization is one the key features for me. It helps me immensely for the type of low light shooting that I do. The 5-axis IS system in the EM-5 would be fantastic. A slightly scaled down version of this well-regarded IS system will also be acceptable but I would like better performance than the current Pen line, especially for video
I like my mirrorless camera systems to be compact. That, to me, is one of the benefits of this type of camera. The E-M5 is a larger because of the EVF (Electronic View Finder) hump. Sacrifice the EVF and give me a smaller body; something like the size of the E-P3.
Nice to Haves
Same control interface as E-P3
I’m generally happy with the E-P3 control and layout. Ideally if I have the same controls on the new Pen, I can use this new camera and the E-P3 as a matched set. Then I just remember one user interface and I can switch quickly between both cameras. This is how I use my two camera EPL-1 setup. Unfortunately, switching between the E-P3 and E-PL1 is less smooth since they have a different interface.
Same size and shape as the E-P3
I like the size and shape of the E-P3. It is light and compact but it has enough heft to feel substantial.
Solid build quality
The E-Px line is built of metal and seems solid. The lower level E-PMx and E-PLx cameras seem light and a bit more delicate. Please give me something that is solid enough to stand up to years of constant use.
From the retro film Pen remake to the reinterpretation of the OM SLRs, Olympus have a good sense of style. I hope the new Pens will continue with these distinctive designs.
I first thought that the E-P3’s OLED display was over saturated but have grown to like the punchy colors and bright screen. I’ve noticed that the E-M5, while still being an OLED, is equally bright but a bit sedate in color. Either way, I like how the OLEDs look. The standard LCD screens look dim and washed out in comparison.
Ever since using tilt-able LCDs on the Sony NEX-5, I’m a fan. I would love a tilting screen like the ones on the OM-D E-M5 and the lower priced E-PL3.
I would be nice if I can use the same batteries as my E-P3 and E-PL1, but not at the expense of battery life.
Solid Video Camera
While I use the E-P3 video in a pitch, I find the video image stabilization to be lacking. The digital IS is twitchy and combined with the rolling shutter, it can create unstable video. While you are at it Olympus, please give me a HD option to save in mp4 format and not the dreaded AVCHD format.
Faster Focusing Speed
While the E-P3 is pretty darn fast for still shot focusing, faster focusing is always welcome. Also, better lower light focusing is appreciated. I find that the E-P3, while focusing a lot faster than the E-PL1, does not focus as well in dark, low contrast scenes.
I don’t use flash too often but I like to have it readily available when I need it. The separate clip on flashes are a pain in the neck which I’ve experienced first had with the Sony NEX-5. The Olympus OM-D EM-5 also has a separate clip on which is disappointing.
I believe a $300 price differential is reasonable between the high-end Pen kit and the basic E-M5 kit. It would be great to have a body only (without a kit lens) option for under $700.
I know for many people an EVF (Electronic View Finder) is a must have, but not for me. For the type of shooting I do, the rear LCD works well in most cases. Take out the EVF, make the camera smaller and less expensive.
A weather resistant camera is no good without weather resistant lenses. None of my 5 micro 4/3 lenses are weather resistant. I can do without this feature.
Of course, what you want in your Olympus Pen will most certainly be different than what I want. So what would you like to see in the next Pen line? Please let me know and add the features that you want in the comments section.