My first digital camera was an Olympus – a 1.3 megapixel brick! I have spent the last couple of weeks playing with the Olympus E-PL3, giving my DSLR camera gear a break for a little while. Its my first time trying out this new category of micro mirrorless digital camera so I really had no idea what to expect.
The first thing you notice is the form factor. Its small. Smaller than it looked in photos for sure. The thing actually fits in my pocket! Considering how huge my expensive DSLR is, I wasn’t used to this. Its of course correspondingly light weight to boot. Even better it looks really cool. It really channels the look of retro film cameras in a good way but gives it a modern slick redesign.
Its an interesting category. Its so much more handy and convenient than a full DSLR rig, and so much more versatile and powerful than a point-and-shoot. I found myself taking it around with me everywhere yet able to really use it to capture the images I wanted, even in low light and situations where a point-and-shoot would absolutely not fit the bill.
It is a camera built for expansion too, much like the DSLRs you might be used to. The flash is not integrated – you can pop it on and off, and upgrade it with a new one at will. Same with the lenses. You can strip this down to be minimal or build it up into something very different. If that is what you’re used to then you won’t feel like you’re missing out here. Its so easy and quick to outfit it to your liking that its actually fun.
A nice surprise is the articulated LCD screen which can swivel almost 180 degrees vertically making high and low shots very comfortable. Its a little inconvenient having to extend and unlock the lens whenever you power it up though – you’ll have to get used to remembering to do that. Its a small gripe though, only noticeable since otherwise the camera is pretty fast and fluid to use. Combined with the quick focus and the ability to snap still photos while shooting video, you’ll find new uses for this that you wouldn’t have imagined with either your DSLR or P&S gear.
As far as image quality goes, it manages just fine. It handles well in low light (featuring a high ISO range) and even shoots in RAW, thankfully. Video quality looks great, even when viewed on your HDTV. Sure its not quite as good quality as you can get with your DSLR and the sensor isn’t quite as big but its a great compromise considering the convenience. It handles a lot better than you’d expect for a non-DSLR camera. This new camera category is worth paying attention to.
The real problem I have with this camera comes when you have to try to take advantage of these features and tweak the settings to your liking. The interface isn’t horrible or clunky. Its just not as intuitive and quick as I’d like. It always seems to take me a little bit too long to get to the settings I need. Its not so bad that I can’t learn and adapt after a little more time, but these days I shouldn’t have to.
In the end, I love this charming little camera. Its all the convenience of a point-and-shoot pocket camera with all the versatility I’ve come to expect with my DSLR. It simply looks and feels cool to use, frankly. I haven’t had this much fun with a camera for a while and I’m still exploring what it can do. It gets all the big things right. It gets most of the little things right. My gripes with it are really quite minor and issues that I’ll certainly adapt to over time. At the very least, you should check it out in the store to get a good idea where this new category is headed and how it compares to what you’re used to. I was surprised, and I’m sure you will be too. I think I’ve found my new “walking around” camera.