Wow it feels like ages since I wrote anything on the blog. I guess I just haven't had time recently. Too many projects and I'm likely to be pretty busy right up into October. Today is going to be a bit of a departure for me. I don't write about kit usually, but I think the new Olympus EP-1 is something to talk about. But first some history
My first proper camera was an Olympus C5050z. It was a small bridge camera that I bought because it had manual controls and an inexpensive dive housing. It was a pretty cool camera. It had a 35-105mm equivalent zoom lens that was f1.8-2.6 and had a flippy-flappy screen (I don't think that's the technical term).
One of the best things about it was that you could pre-set the focus on manual using a distance scale in feet or meters. Combined with the custom modes, it was possible to pre-set the camera at the hyperfocal distances for each aperture and focal length, then you could guarantee that pretty much everything would be in focus. This was very useful for diving, because it meant you could shoot without any lag and be sure to get the fish in focus. Magnum photographer Alex Majoli found this useful when he was out and about in various war zones. Not only were the cameras tiny, but he liked having lots of depth of field. The tiny 7.1mm lens on the C5050z means that even at f1.8 everything from about 8 feet away can be acceptably sharp.
In his interview with Rob Gailbraith Alex Majoli said "I miss the strongest of the old generation cameras -- Olympus OM-1, the Leica. The dream would be a digital camera the size of the C-5060 -- not bigger than a Leica, let's say -- with exchangeable lenses. Small lenses. I would like to see fixed lenses, not zooms. Maybe some bigger apertures -- f/1.8. The file is fine. I don't need 20 million megapixels."
Well fast forward to today and Olympus appear to have answered his request. The new Olympus EP-1 is designed in the style of the Olympus pen series of cameras. The sensor size is 4/3rds which means that it has a bit more depth of field at equivalent focal lengths than a full frame DSLR and it has interchangeable lenses. I think it will be a popular camera with many photographers if the quality and handling are right. Its certainly a revolutionary camera but does it go far enough?
One of the things that attracted me to the four thirds system was that the lenses could be smaller. I think that that is certainly the case, but the other side of that coin is that you could build lenses as big as their full frame counterparts but with larger apertures. That doesn't seem to have materialised with the 4/3rds system. Just look at the C5050z with its f1.8 zoom lens. The front element is tiny, no more than 2cm across. If the Olypmus EP-1 had been built with a smaller sensor than the 4/3rds system there could have been so many interesting options not only in terms of the lenses, but also in terms of the overall package. for instance, with the smaller sensor you might have room for viewfinder or a fold out screen. Yes there are trade-offs in sensor noise and the ability to create shallow depth of field but every camera you buy involves some sort of compromise and you buy the camera you want for the job you want to do.
Still the EP-1 looks like it could be a very popular little camera and I'll be very interested in seeing what new lenses get developed for it. But will we ever see the small interchangeable lens camera that Alex Majoli dreamt up? I suspect not.