Saturday, 20 June 2009

E-P1:Plasticularly Surprising

IMG_1811
^Magnesium Alloy chassis, high grade plastic exterior … NOT

Along with the surprise supposedly afforded by the launch of the E-P1, Olympus has secretly hidden another bigger surprise underneath the surface of the camera.  It is "plasticularly" surprising to find the secret underlying the lightness of the camera unfolded in the plastic surgical stripdown below:

Surprise One: Lightweight plastic interior (and exterior too?)

olympus-e-p1-guts-11

olumpus-e-p1-guts-2


Surprise One: Lightweight plastic pancake (the 17mm one the left)  [Or which is which exactly according to Olympus ?]

 IMG_1835 
   pancake01 pancake02 pancake03 pancake04 pancake05 pancake06

Thank you for joining us tonight for the two pieces of expensive plastic.  In fact, will the camera and lens melt under the sun?  Just wondering.

(Photos published by courtesy and copyright of Peter of PhotoRumours)

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As an aside, the interior of the GX100 has much more substance than the E-P1. Click on the photo below to watch the stripdown and rebuild, if you have't yet.

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Friday, 19 June 2009

E-P1: Importance of an Integrated Viewfinder

nikonleica (Nikon and Leica of the enticing retro design to fit with a digitial soul ... er ... and with an important component)

Before answering the question, and further to a previous post here about the retro design for digital cameras, first let's indulge in the past and the future emergence of digial cameras in retro looks. That's a task for you: look for the single universal feature in these vintage cameras.

First up, this is what you can hardly find to buy. The Russian Cnopm. enopm

Then, this is what you probably don't find the money to buy.kodakektra

A Nikon rangefinder resembling a Contax design. I saw this one in a camera museum. nikon

This is the IIa of Exakta, one of the very first SLR cameras.exakta iia

A subminiature camera from Tessina of the Switzerland. It featurs a lens of 25mm at f2.8-22. Shutter speeds are between 1/2 and 1/500. It can fit a roll of film! Every winding allows the film to advance for 5 to 8 exposues on each winding. tessina

The Answer

Now, what is the single universal feature? A lens. Of course. Dials. Yes. The winding mechanism. For sure. My model answer is: the viewfinder. The point should not be required making: the viewfinder was indispensable to a camera in the film era. Then, in the digital era, why are the photographers still in protest of the deletion of a viewfinder? The most recent case in point is the missing viewfinder, or to be exact, the integrated optical viewfinder in the E-P1.

Let's not argue for or against an OVF/ EVF. We concentrate on the viewfinder per se. Another point worth making is many respected photographers have their sound arguments against an integrated viewfinder. For the sake of size, for example. The following is not to negate them. There are just two sides on every coin. Why not Optional Add-on?

To me, if there is one thing that makes the G10 have more going for it, it is the integrated viewfinder. For one thing, it will save me the ridicule of the sun for trying to compose through the washed-out LCD display. All right, its miniature OVF sucks. At least, it has something integrated which I can suck.

You may now argue: An optional add-on viewfinder can do the trick without foregoing the size.

My reply is the option sacrifices the handiness when a person like me perfers using a viewfinder more often than not. (And I am reluctant to pay extra for something the G10 has included for free.) If the optional viewfinder is usually attached, the add-on option doesn't solve the size issue either.

Viewfinder Important for Training

Now, this brings us to the proper reason why a viewfinder is preferred. To quote from Edward Weston, "composition is the strongest way of seeing". And to draw on the experience of many of you, seeing is the gist to photographing. Then, composition is arguably the most important element to photographing, and is the trained way of seeing.

So, a photographer needs training to see scenes in a photo format. In whatever format, this "seeing" is different from our normal way of seeing things. The photographic way of seeing is to, among other things, to represent a 3-D or 4-D (3D plus sounds) world and beyond in a 2-D image. Moreover, the final image is like a painting which requires photographic arrangements to make the elements in the image look enticing.

LCD Screen = Bare Eyes

Look at a scene in bare eyes and than through a photoframe. Hopefully, you will see the more limited elements a photoframed image can give in comparison. It is with these limited elements a photographer is given the job to produce a successful image. In fact, in the film era, photography novices were taught to train their eyes by seeing a scene through their finger-frame or even a self-made paper frame. It was only through repeated training that the photographers had an "auto-pilot" eye to compose a scene effectively.

Now, you may say: Nevin, the LCD screen serves exactly that purpose.

My response is: it doesn't really. Wink an eye and put the thumb-and-index-finger square against the other eye. Look through the square at and compose for the interesting scene which you'd take a shot. Do the same direct without the square. Supposedly, you've a better sense of composition through the square which blocks the elements outside of the confined scene.

This is somewhat a tautology to the viewfinder and the LCD screen. The viewfinder will give you a better sense in doing composition. People start photography without the baptism of the film era may not see the difference. But surely you will after using a viewfinder for a month. The difference will be obvious to make you join the photographers in protest of the missing OVF in the E-P1.

E-P1 and Viewfinder

Okay, why OVF? This is because of prejudice. I think the EVF has caught up or will soon with the OVF in all visual aspects.

Then, why E-P1? This is because the camera seems to offer an alternative to the DSLR system. Taken together with the money to be invested in it, such an alternative system is more likely to be used for serious shooting occassions as well in an all-weather way. A viewfinder is needed. And when a viewfinder is usually needed, an optional option helps nothing but the profitability of the camera maker. Of course, as Co-Editor says in the previous posts, the M4/3 system is possible because of the deletion of the pentaprism, which make the DSLR-like OVF not possible.

But how about a rangefinder window plus the add-on option?

(Photos from Xitek forum)

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Further Pondering on the M4/3 System

IMG_1858 When the G10 was unveiled, some critics didn't like its bigger size. The E-P1 is more meaty and hefty. Let's continue from where we stopped yesterday. Before we start, I would like to recap two main points in the previous post. First, the M4/3 system is designed with the female and family users in mind. Second, the focusing speed through the LiveView is worthy of your attention. So far, these are the two characteristics of the E-P1 and also the factors for your consideration of a switch or not.

What are the other characteristics/ factors?

The Strengths of M4/3

2. Shorter Lens-Sensor Distance: The distance between the end of the lens and the sensor in M4/3 is just half of that in the ful 4/3 system, resulting from the deletion of the reflex mirror and the pentaprism. This cotributes significantly to the smaller size of the M4/3 cameras and their lenses. But to me, the size of the sensor is as important as the size of the body and lenses. The cropped M4/3 sensor is not even in APS's size. This doesn't matter because as evidenced by the E-P1's sample photos available so far, the image quality is from great (at low ISO) to good (even at ISO 1600 IMO).

The main issue is: a cropped sensor gives extensive sharpness in the images and renders the smaller F values (larger aperture) less useful in relation to a blurry background. If I were to switch to the M4/3 system, it would replace my existing DSLR/SLR systems. And chances are I would need to do a blurry background, expecially for portraits. This is another area I would check out for the E-P1.

10 A pictorial illustration of the shorter lens-sensor distance

3. Downsized lenses

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The M4/3 is not all about the lighter body. The focus is more on streamlining the lenses. The M4/3 lenses are smaller than those for the full 4/3 by about 6mm in diameter, without affecting the image quality as quoted from Olmpus' information.

4. 11 Communication Points

The communication points between the camera and the lens are increased from the full 4/3's 9 points to 11 points. Understandably, this is for the increased digital capbilities of the mirco system as technology advances

The communication points are for information transfer between the lens and the body. More communication points 112mean higher throughput. The LiveView is one of the new functions which requires the higher data throughput. A far bet is that the mirco system is set to feature even better video recording function.

These are all good news. The choices of M4/3 lenses will be wide enough. This will make the system more comparable to the proper DSLR system in a way. So will the investment accompaning it. As far as I'm concerned, the success of the M4/3 system lies heavily in its pricing. Existing DSLR users will need good reasons to go for a switch or an additional system. Existing DC users will not bother much about it. Perspective users are facing a tough choice between the full, proper and proven DSLR system and the M4/3 system in terms of IQ, portability and even investment. For the three factors the M4/3 doesn't necessarily gain an upper hand or at least an adequate edge.

5. LiveView and Video Recording

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As said , the M4/3 is targeted at female and family users, who are more likely concerned about the video recording function in a camera. As we saw from Nevin's links to the two videos, the quality is really gobsmacking, to steal from him.

But this is not a killer feature which would compel users to switch to the M4/3 system. The LiveView is welcomed. But this is only as good as it gets. We all have come across the embarrassing situation that the LCD screen doesn't help to tell the composition or exposure of the scene under the bright sunlight. This is okay for a DCs. But if I have contributed the investment in a system which I am going to use seriously, that is not to be forgiven. The E-P1 comes up with a EVF. That's great except for defeating the rationale behind the design: lightness in size and weight, not to mention that the body itself is not really so in the first place.

In a Word

Well, to switch to a new system or not is a personal choice after all. And owning and playing with a new system are always exciting. But I would be more prudent in telling myself the cogent arguments for embracing it. For the time being, I have none. I don't mean to belittle the breakthroughs afforded by the E-P1. Olympus has a job well done really, not least for the adopting a retro design. I am just saying that investment has costs. And I'd rather devote more time and efforts and money to advancing my photography techniques.

This is all personal. Until next time.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Pondering on the M4/3 System

IMG_1854 ▲The E-P1 is small, but not as I’ve thought it to be

Nevin’s E-P1 day was very well done.  Hat tipped.

Now that the E-P1 is ready for sale, photographers are tempted by it in large number.  This blog may have served as one of the rumour mills to push this up; or has it?  Anyway, if it is just for the sake of size which makes you comtemplating a switch, there should be stronger reasons for the voting by foot so, not least because the E-P1 is not really small.  The investment to be poured on the lenses and the body(ies) will be no less that on a proper DSLR system.

What is so special about the M4/3 system (I sort of hate the codename of it, which is not great for typing it)?  Does it worth the admission?

The birth of M4/3 for whom?

The story starts with the 4/3 format, which gave birth to the M4/3 format. As early as in June 2003, the first 4/3 camera Olympus E-1 saw the light of the market, giving photographers a choice in addition to the APS and full frame formats. It is called the 4/3 format because the imaging sensor is 4/3 inches in 4:3 proportion, which combines to give the sensor a dimension of 17.3 x 13 mm. This dimension is rought 1/4 the size of a full frame sensor as shown below.

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The 4/3 cameras on the market today include the Olympus E-system (E-420, E-520, E-620, E-30, E3), Panasonic DMC-L series (L1 and L10) and Leica Digilux 3. Although the 4/3 cameras boast relative lightness in size and weight, they are a far cry in these aspects to many. Despite the fact that a lightweight E-420 mounted with a 25mm f2.8 Pancake lens is just 475g (380g + 95g), it outweights the digital compact cameras which do not exceed 200g. Size-wise, the two are not even comparable.

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▲ 4/3 cameras

Market researches show that these dissatisfied customers include particularly family and female users. For family users, the requirements are simple operation and image quality which outperformed the digital compacts. For female users, the need is good image quality with a body much lighter than a DSLR. Understandably, the M4/3 system is targeted at these two groups of users.

8▲ M4/3 cameras will accept 4/3 lenses via step-ups

 

The Strengths of M4/3
 IMG_1865

So the micro 4/3 system is modelled and improved on the full 4/3.  The mirco version boasts the following special features

1. Smaller size – The mirco system sheds the reflex mirro and the pentaprism all together, which are replace by the LiveView function.  This brings the camera a smaller size (but well not small in the strictest sense; just smaller).

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▲M4/3 does away with the reflex mirror and the pentaprism

The LiveView function is made possible by the LCD screen, which is exactly the way how the DCs are doing.  Judging from the performance of the G2 and GH1, we can expect that the LiveView focusing speed of the E-P1 will see some improvement (or proven by now?).    This is an important point to note if you are thinking of a switch to the system.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Gobsmacking Video Recordings by E-P1

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A Taiwan tester posted some more photos of the two versions of E-P1 on his blog, most importantly of all the last few photos in high ISO by E-P1; that’s if you’ve not seen enough in Dpreview.

The gobsmacking videos are here and here.

Oh, I think this is the last from today.  What a full day!

A Video to Share: E-P1 Operation

Olympus E-P1 Spec Table and Video

The above comparison table between the M4/3 camera, plus the video below, are the latest report fron Cnet.



Olympus E-P1 Links and Samples

The Olympus E-P1 has been officially released and some links to the relevant sites are here.







(Source from E-P1 Site)

Latest Report on Olympus EP-1 with Pictures

The first report by a Chinese website (translated in Googlish):
Olympus E-P1 is compatible with the micro 4/3 System standard
for digital camera lens. "Olympus Pen" comes from ....
Continue reading page one and two.

Olympus EP-1 Spec ... well ... Leaked

Pending the official release of the Olympus EP-1 in M4/3 system later today, the spec of the camera has been leaked, kudos to the successful marketing gimmick of Olympus:

- 13M pixels, 3 CCDs
- RAW capability
- SD storage
- 720p Video recording for 7 minutes in one go or 640 X 480p in 14 minutes
- LiveView shooting
- Digital anti-shake, whatever it is called
- 11-point auto-focusing sensor
- ISO 200-6400
- Shutter speed from 60s to 1/4000s
- Body in white or black
- Body only for around US$917; Kit for US$1222 to US$1324
- 17mm F2.8 lens separately for US$101; 14-42mm F3.6 lens for US$356

Monday, 15 June 2009

Olympus M4/3 Camera Launch on June 16

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▲Latest ad on Olympus Hong Kong for the hand-on session tomorrow

Olympus is set to start a global launch of its first M4/3 format camera, dubbed the E-P1, tomorrow (Jun 16). Some lucky Hong Kong users have managed to book for the three hand-on sessions to accompany the launch here. Olympus Hong Kong says that these users will be the first group to play with the camera, with models provided of course.


The new camera sheds the mirror and the viewfinder to achieve a smaller size. Rumour has it that the E-P1 assumes a smaller body than the GH1, which has certainly been pined for among many photographers who look for the combination of small size and high image quality. Apart from the top view photos about the new camera wisely circulated on the Internet, there is an addition of a picture of the E-P1. On top of this, news have seemingly be leaked about its kit lens, M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 ED. It is a 28 - 84mm equivalent lens. Price-wise, there are guesses on 1,200 pounds per kit set. Others have said that the kit set will sell for about US$1,000.

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▲ The E-P1 front view as the most recent picture has it.

Following the introduction of the M4/3 format by the two big players, Olympus and Panasonic, in August 2008, Panasonic rolled out the first M4/3 camera in September the same year, the Lumix DMC-G1 with interchangable lenses. This has set the discussions on the new format soaring in the past months.


What is M4/3?

3The M4/3 system is an improved version of the 4/3 in terms of size and weight through some hardware changes. However, the M4/3 is principled on the following aspects in the process of change :

1. High image quality

2. The 2X multiplication rate in using the existing 4/3 lens

3. Same high image quality in new M4/3 lens

4. Addition of video recording function

5. Reduced size of wide angel lenses

6. Adoptation of LiveView


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▲ M4/3 cameras will accept 4/3 lenses via step-ups


Olympus to Unveil its First M4/3 Camera

Panasonic has launched its two M4/3 cameras, Lumix DMC-G1 和 GH1 but not without dismay to many in terms of size. Therefore, Olympus' version holds much interest among photographers after the company revealed the small size prototype last year.

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▲ The Olympus M4/3 prototype shown in October 1998


The prototype shows clearly the intent of Olympus to introduce the real M4/3 camera in the heart of many, which is small as a DC and uses interchangable lenses. Its M4/3 camera will do away the viewfinder and switch to the LiveView for composition, which is at the core of the M4/3 rationale.


Incidentally, this year marks the 50 anniversary of the birth of the Olympus Pen series. The Pen series stand for the famed compact cameras sold from 1959, including the Pen EE, Pen EES, Pen D and Pen EM. The series reached its heyday with the release of the world renowned Pen F, of which 17 million sets have been sold around the world. The reason is probably that it was then the first and only half-frame SLR in the world which is supported by over 20 interchangable lenses.

16.jpf

▲ The lightweight half-frame Pen SLRs shook the market 50 years ago


The Chairman of Olympus Japan confirmed in the March business report that Olympus' first M4/3 will be launched on 15 June, in which mention was madeon the Pen series. Suffice it to say that the two news were inter-related. It is believed that the Pen Digital version will make to the selves in the first week of July. There are evidence showing that the camera will be much, much smaller than the Lumix G1 and GH1, and that it will be named E-P1.


17 ▲ The widely rumoured Olympus M4/3 camera to be unveiled

According to Olympus' statistices in August 2008, the M4/3 camera will achieve a sale number of about 20 million sets, accounting for nearly 20% of the DC market. The success or not of the new camera hinges on not only the portability but also, more importantly, the range of interchangable lenses and pricing. The answer is to be revealed real soon!