Olympus has me all worked up with today’s launch of the (much leaked) E-P1, the reintroduction of the Olympus Pen series film cameras from 50 years ago, but in digital form. The E-P1 manages to shoehorn a Micro Four-Thirds sensor into a body that isn’t much larger than a compact point-and-shoot. Plus, it adds 720p video recording and in-body image stabilization. With what should be very good image quality, I can seriously see this as an almost pocketable carry-everywhere camera to complement my DSLR. Certainly it won’t need a dedicated camera bag like my D90.
While the E-P1 takes advantage of the mirror-less design of micro 4/3rds to reduce the size of the camera, it is not without faults. Certainly, one of the most major is the lack of an electronic viewfinder, instead opting for a plain old LCD, which only has 230,000 dots (QVGA), as opposed to the VGA version used in most mid-to-high end DSLRs nowadays. Both the Canon G10 and Panasonic LX-3 high-end compacts have higher resolution 460,000 dot displays.
Furthermore, the contrast-detect autofocus employed seems to be pretty sluggish, at least in pre-production units, slower than many point-and-shoots, which doesn’t inspire much confidence. Hopefully production hardware and firmware can improve that. The Panasonic G1 shows that it is absolutely possible to achieve very good AF performance using the contrast-detect method.
With those thoughts in mind, I’m still very excited about the Olympus E-P1. Although not cheap, the $799 MSRP for the body and 14-42mm kit lens is fairly reasonable, and less than what many predicted. Certainly, in light of the Panasonic G1’s identical MSRP of $799, it doesn’t look too expensive.