In the first part of this series I talked about the events that lead me to start considering the Micro Four Thirds system as a viable option for a backup and travel camera. Now I'm going to discuss the experience I had in testing a few of the currently available m4/3s cameras, and which one I chose. I was looking at a subset of the m4/3s system, namely the smaller cameras in the lineup, which currently come in the form of the Panasonic GF2 and Olympus E-PL2. Both of these cameras were recently updated in the form of the GF3 and Olympus E-PL3, but those cameras were not available for me to test, since nether of them are in stores yet. Not only that, some aspects of the feature sets of the newer cameras are slightly less appealing to me.
I'd considered some of the more DSLR like Panasonic G series cameras, partly due to the fact that they had electronic viewfinders, rather than just the rear LCD, but I quickly realized that the size of them negated some of the benefits that I was looking for. Those benefits mainly come in the form of size and weight savings. Not all was lost by only considering the E-PL2 and GF2, since both can accept optional electronic viewfinders that slides onto the flash hotshoe. In some cases these attachable viewfinders are better because they can be tilted. I'd heard that the Panasonic GF2 and Olympus E-PL2 were a bit of a let down compared to the higher end models (GF1 and E-P2), but I wanted to find out for myself.
Thoughts on the Panasonic GF2:
This was the first of the two m4/3s camera that I tried. The GF2 is smaller than the E-PL2, has a modern look, and appears to be more like a compact camera. With the kitted G 14mm F2.5 lens it looks almost like the Panasonic LX-5, which is kind of nice. I say that because people are less likely to pay attention to someone holding a point and shoot like camera than someone with a flasher camera. When I picked up the GF2 I realized how well it was made, thanks to the tightly assembled metal shell on body. The button layout and menu system are well thought out and easy to use. The real dial makes it easy to change settings, even in manual shooting mode. I really like the Q menu on the GF2. I'd heard that the touch screen on the GF2 was a bit of a pain to use, but I did not find that to be the case at all. I quickly got used to how much pressure was needed to use the screen to change settings quickly. The one downside is that the GF2 does not have built in image stabilization, so only I.O.S equipped lenses are stabilized (like the G 14-42). Auto focus is fast enough for the intended purpose, and focus accuracy is spot on.
Thoughts on Olympus E-PL2:
The E-PL2 is the larger of the two cameras and features what I would call a reto film camera look, which I rather like. The E-PL2 is well made and feels solid. I found the E-PL2 to be a little less comfortable in my hand, and the kit 14-42 zoom left something to be desired. I'll have more to say on the lenses later. The menu system of the Olympus camera seemed less simple to use, but I was somewhat familiar with the layout since I'd used the E-410 in the past. The E-PL2 has something that none of the Panasonic bodies have, built in image stabilization. That means that no matter what lens you use, image stabilization can help reduce camera shake in low light. Like the GF2 auto focus speed an accuracy are good.
Final thoughts on the two cameras:
I like the build quality of the GF2 vs E-PL2 which feels a little cheap in comparison. Not sure what it is exactly, maybe it's the finish on the E-PL2 that makes it feel that way to me. Auto focus speed an accuracy seems identical between the two cameras, so that was not a factor that I considered. I like the controls of the GF2 more as well. Small things, like the dual purpose rear control dial, the touch screen for picking the focusing area, and the Q menu for quickly accessing important settings. I know some people dislike touch screens, but I'm an iPhone user, so I'm used to having that kind of interaction with my devices. I also found the the screen of the GF2 to be clearer.
In terms of lenses, I liked the Panasonic G 14mm F2.5 lens kitted with the GF2 more than the Olympus 14-42mm zoom. First of all the kitted zoom made the already larger bodied E-PL2 less compact, and the slow aperture of the lens wasn't overly appealing anyway. If the E-PL2 was kitted with the 17mm F2.8, maybe my feelings would have been a little different.
It wasn't all bad news for the E-PL2 though, there were two things that I liked about it, built in image stabilization and the retro styling. Unfortunately those two things are simply not enough to sway my opinion towards the E-PL2. I think the most unfortunate thing is that neither camera is available body only in Canada, so I had to choose one or the other. That is too bad, because I liked things about both cameras. After using the cameras for a while, my preference leaned towards the Panasonic GF2 and kitted 14mm F2.5 lens. Of course I could have gone for the E-PL2 kit and bought a prime later. The possibility was something I considered, but I liked the idea of using only primes with these cameras in order to keep the size down, and hope to keep my m4/3s kit limited to them. In the end the control layout of the GF2 is what won me over. Having the rear control dial in the same location on the body as the rear dial that I'm used to using on my Nikon cameras was a real plus.
I'm not finished with my views on the Micro Four Thirds system, and will have more to say about it over the next little while. The next post will focus on lenses.