E-P1 compromises

The E-P1 is clearly the most talked about camera for quite a while, and as such, some people have built up unsustainable expectations about what it would be. Some people have believed that since it has a large sensor and interchangeable lenses, it will be equivalent to an SLR in every aspect. Now that it’s out, and reality shows it’s harsh face, love turns into hate. There are a lot of people on the internet bemoaning the camera as unusable, a fiasco, and the death blow to Olympus. I believe them to be wrong, silly and perhaps a bit stupid.

I believe I had a more realistic expectation about what type of compromises would be necessary to create this type of camera, and as such, I am far more pleased with the results. As far as I can see to date, the E-P1 matches my expectations quite well.

There are basically three main differences between a compact camera (of today) and an SLR. Image quality, autofocus, and speed.

An SLR can take images with better dynamic range, clearer colors, less noise, and finer details than a compact. Images can also be given a shallow depth of field to achieve a classic, artistic look that is impossible to create with a compact. In essence and slightly simplified, this image quality comes down to the sensor, and to a great degree the size of the sensor, combined with the ability to choose the correct lens for the situation instead of using a jack-of-all-trades integrated lens. In this, and only this, aspect, the E-P1 is comparable with a current entry-level SLR.

No compact camera can obtain sharp focus of a moving object with low contrast in bad lighting. And in the cases focus can be acquired, it will be slow since the lens has to “move past” correct focus to find where it had the highest contrast, and then move back. SLRs (when not in live view mode) use a fundamentally different system where light from the lens is diverted (and divided) to separate autofocus sensors through a set of mirrors/prisms. This phase detect system is impossible without the mirrors, and the entire concept of micro 4/3 is the lack of mirror, so of course the E-P1 would be lacking compared to an SLR in this aspect. Of course it would be like any other compact. In fact, it’s an engineering feat that it isn’t vastly inferior to other good compacts, since the compacts with smaller sensors have smaller apertures which will automatically mask a slight missfocus with a large depth of field, something which would require a lot of stopping down with the E-P1.

Finally, one of the joys with a good SLR is the immediacy of its’ operation. Even apart from the fast focusing, there are basically no other perceivable slowdowns that prevent you from getting a picture. If I’m holding my 20D and see something interesting happening, I can go from off to picture taken in maybe half a second, depending on how fast I can point my camera in the right direction. If I was holding the E-P1 it would take maybe 3 seconds to start the camera, focus and shoot. Most likely, I would have missed the shot. And if I take a picture, it will take me a few seconds until I can take the next one. The 20D will let me take a new picture as fast as my finger can press the shutter button again. I’m slightly let down that the E-P1 isn’t faster, but only slightly.

The single most notable difference, however, is looking at an LCD compared to looking through an optical viewfinder. Before the image can be displayed on the LCD, it has to be captured on the sensor, demosaiced, processed, downscaled and brightness compensated. That’s a lot of calculation, and sure, a faster processor would speed it up a bit, but if we had an i7 in there the battery life would be counted in minutes. Finally, the image has to be sent to the LCD, which in and of itself has a latency before the liquid crystals can be rearranged.

All this means that what you see on the LCD doesn’t reflect reality right now, but rather a while ago when the image was captured on the sensor, before all that calculations etc. As far as I can tell this lag seems to be somewhere between 0.1 and 0.2 seconds, which is really fast by compact standards. By comparison however, when looking through an optical viewfinder, the only thing slowing the image down is the speed of light… what you see is what is happening right now.

So in the most important performance aspect, the E-P1 makes an unexpectedly good showing (perhaps the low resolution screen was a compromised Olympus had to make to achieve this low lag, in which case I think it was clearly the right decision). But naturally it can’t compete with an SLR. The laws of physics prevent it.

As I said, none of these shortcomings surprised me. I don’t count any of them as failings of the camera, but rather design decisions necessary to allow it to be better than an SLR in some ways. Better in term of small size, particularly, and better in terms of aesthetics (it doesn’t look like a toy, as most similarly priced SLRs do).

So all in all, of course the E-P1 is a compromise. I think it’s a really good compromise. This camera will be with me in situations where I otherwise would have been without a camera, and as such the compromises will allow me to capture images I would have otherwise missed. But I can’t for my life imagine getting rid of my SLR, nor did I ever. As always, the right tool in the right situation will win.

Olympus E-P1 second impressions

After having the E-P1 a day, I can confirm that the camera is exactly as expected. It has the image quality of a (low level) SLR, and the focus performance of a (high level) compact.

Image quality first. It simply blows away cameras such as the Panasonic LX3 or Canon G10. It can resolve fine details that simply aren’t there with smaller cameras, and even if I haven’t stress-tested it yet, it does appear to get a resonable amount of dynamic range out of tough situations.

Noise performance at ISO 1600 is perfectly acceptable. Auto ISO works brilliantly in P and A mode, choosing more or less exactly the same ISO setting (between 200-1600 by default) as I would myself, if I tweaked it in 1/3rd stop intervals between every frame… In iAuto mode, however, Auto ISO makes so weird choices (often pegging the ISO at 200 even in low light) that I’m inclined to think it’s a firmware bug.

ISO up to perhaps 3200 can be used in really unfortunate situations in order to get a picture that would otherwise be missed, but noise starts to get very annoying in that case.

In other words, exactly what one would expect from a (relatively) large sensor.

When it comes to focus, in good light (outdoors or indoors during daytime) it’s fast, in bad light it’s sometimes painfully slow, but as long as the subjects are stationary it does tend to be quite accurate when it finally acquires focus. If you want to shoot animals or kids running around indoors, this is absolutely not the right camera for you.

In other words, exactly what one would expect from a contrast-detect focus system. Accurate and fast focus of moving objects in low light is still entirely the province of DSLRs.

Compared to my 20D (with grip and a reasonable lens), it’s a joy to run around with however, it’s small and weighs almost nothing at all, and can be thrown in any small bag. It’s not quite go-anywhere since it won’t just slide into a jeans pocket, but it’s absolutely go-most-places.
Also, everyone I’ve showed it to thinks it’s a really handsome camera. That may not help the quality of my pictures, but it sure feels good. 🙂

Olympus E-P1 first impressions

I have been longing for a smaller, easier camera to carry around, that can still take useful pictures, for a long time. The buildup to the launch of the Digital Pen, Olympus E-P1, had me scouring the internet day by day for some small thread of information. And now that it’s out, even if it of course doesn’t fulfill all my hopes and expectations (no coupled VF…), I just had to have it.

And yesterday I got it. I got the 14-42 kit. The pancake, OVF and flash are on backorder.

My very first initial reaction is that I really like the “feel” of the camera body, it exudes quality in a way compacts or entry-level DSLRs don’t. The lens, however, is plasticy in the same way as most kit lenses are.

The autofocus seems reasonably snappy outdoors or daytime indoors, clearly faster than my Ixus, and it hasn’t missfocused yet. I haven’t had a chance to test it in any really tough situation yet, however. Off to picture taken is about 3 seconds (which I find OK), and so is picture-to-picture (not so great, if you miss your first shot you might loose the moment completely). Shutter lag with focus locked seems negligible.

The biggest initial problem (as expected) is the lack of a real viewfinder, in overcast weather it works perfectly fine (except my muscle memory keeps moving the camera up to my eye… it feels wrong holding a real camera, one hand on the lens, out in front of me). In bright light, however, it’s almost unusable. In these situations, with my old Ixus, I would just point the camera in the right direction and snap away “blind”, but with a camera such as this I would like to have more control of the results…

This said, I don’t expect it to replace either my Ixus (this camera certainly isn’t “pocketable”) nor my full size DSLR, but rather slot in between them, and for anyone in my situation I expect it to work brilliantly on total. Anyone looking for a single camera, however, ought to think hard about either entry level DSLRs or top level pocketable compacts instead.

Sommar i P1

HÀromdagen var det professor Roger Wallis som hade sin dag i P1s mest svenniga av alla svenssonprogram. Jag kan rekommendera detta program, det Àr en knapp timmes lugna och avslappnade historier om hans liv, hans verk och hans forskning. Ingenting revolutionerande och nytt, men jag tror att detta kanske fÄr ett visst genomslag hos en del av befolkningen som aldrig tagit del i debatten, som kanske för första gÄngen fÄr upp ögonen för att frÄgan inte handlar om stöld och en ovilja att betala, att APB inte alltid spelar ett rent spel, att upphovsrÀtten inte Àr nÄgot absolut och oförÀnderligt, inte nödvÀndigtvis i alla former gynnar upphovsmÀn, och definitivt inte varit utan problem redan lÄngt innan internet.

Sommar har ett RSS-flöde för podcastning, likt mĂ„nga av SRs program (mycket praktiskt, jag har ingen radio men brukar t.ex. lyssna pĂ„ P3 DokumentĂ€r varje vecka, ett utmĂ€rkt sĂ€tt att bĂ€ttra pĂ„ allmĂ€nbildningen nĂ€r man drönar pĂ„ tunnelbanan), och jag skrattade lite över att musiken i podcastversionen var “förkortad av upphovsrĂ€ttsskĂ€l”…

Inte mycket att diskutera kring

Marianne Levin, ordförande i SFIR (alltsÄ Svenska Föreningen för Industriellt RÀttsskydd), slÄr pÄ SvD ifrÄn sig Ànnu en gÄng om att SFIR skulle vara en förening för sÀrskilda intressen, och upprepar Ànnu en gÄng att det bara Àr en förening för folk som Àr intresserade av att diskutera immaterialrÀtt. Men man behöver inte lÀsa mer Àn ett par meningar för att förstÄ just varför det Àr olÀmpligt för en domare att vara styrelseledamot i föreningen (i vart fall en domare som dömmer i just dessa frÄgor). Ty hon slÄr gÄng pÄ gÄng fast att dagens system Àr en sjÀlvklar och oundviklig del i ett marknadsekonomiskt system, att det Àr det enda sÀttet att sÀkerstÀlla att intellektuell utveckling sker, och att alla förÀndringar av grundsystemet leder till total anarki.

Man kan förvisso tĂ€nka sig att justera detaljerna i systemet, men att ifrĂ„gasĂ€tta det, nej, det Ă€r nĂ„got som “inte hör hemma i diskussionen”. Överhuvudtaget.

Faktiskt tror jag att Levin skrivit ner just de tydligaste beviset pĂ„ att föreningen Ă€r en fullkomligt partisk organisation, totalt utan jĂ€mnvikt och balans. Det faktum att hon inte sjĂ€lv ser det, visar just pĂ„ det tunnelseende man drabbas av nĂ€r man bara diskuterar med andra av samma Ă„sikt, Ă„r ut och Ă„r in…