Which lens do I want for the Olympus EP-1?
June 27, 2009 9:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm about to become an 'early adopter' for the first time. The Olympus EP-1 digital camera will be hitting the market in July just at the time when I'm ready to upgrade. Two lens options available: 17mm or 14-42mm. Which one do I want?

I've been looking to upgrade from a Nikon S210 point-n-shoot to a DSLR for a while. I carry a camera with me always. I take pictures of everything: people, landscapes, architecture, events, flowers and bugs with the macro. I've been aching for the ability to control more of the variables but hesitant to move to a bulky DSLR that, because of the price and size, I'd be less likely to carry everywhere.

So, the Olympus EP-1 Pen digital is coming next month. The price and size should make it the right upgrade for me. For the portability, I'm tempted to go with the 17mm lens. What would I be missing out on if I passed on the 14-42 mm? Am I right that the 17mm would be the better general use lens? Anyone know the minimum distance I'll be able to get from a subject with the 17mm?

I think I understand the limitations of this camera; the micro 4/3, the live view, etc. What I haven't seen covered in any review are the lenses. Thanks!
posted by yamel to Technology (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This is partially a matter of your bias. I'm a speed freak - I do so much low-light, indoor shooting of not-perfectly-still people that I won't even consider buying a lens slower than f/2.8, so I'd go straight to the 17mm without passing go; the compactness would also be a big factor, considering that the small size is the EP-1's major draw. On the other hand, the 17mm pancake represents the equivalent of a modestly-wide 35mm on a 35mm camera; 14-42 gives you a very respectable zoom range equivalent to 28-84. If you're fine with not having a zoom ability, or you want the advantages of a fast lens, the 17 can be a great option; on the other hand, if you'd rather not be 'stuck' with one focal length, and you don't care about being slow (f/3.5-5.6) think about the zoom.

Here's a suggestion: Your S210's widest zoom is ~38mm, which isn't too far off what you'd have with the 17mm on the EP-1. Try zooming all the way out, and taking shots that way for a day, without letting yourself use the zoom at all. Does it drive you nuts? Are you losing shots? Or does it work for you? If you're bugged by it, the 17 isn't an option; if you're fine with it, well, I'm always biased in favor of fast primes over slow zooms. But that's me.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:45 AM on June 27, 2009

I'm considering this camera as well. I'm inclined to go with the 17mm, but no decision will be made until I've handled it in the store.
posted by blaneyphoto at 9:48 AM on June 27, 2009

Just as a point of information, the EP-1 isn't really an SLR. Sure, it has some of the features of an SLR, but is missing the 'R' portion (Reflex mirror). That said, it looks like a really cool system!
posted by jangie at 10:07 AM on June 27, 2009

The 14-42mm zoom lens, obviously, incorporates the 17mm focal length. The 17mm will likely produce better picture quality (and better blurred backgrounds, since it opens wider -- though frankly f/2.8 is not all that great) but only at that exact focal length. Personally, I'd prefer the zoom lens to start out with.
posted by kindall at 10:16 AM on June 27, 2009

The long and short of it is that it all depends on preference and what you want to do with the camera. It also doesn't matter all that much: neither will be the limiter of you taking good photographs. I documented an entire road trip across the US (and back!) with a single 50mm lens on an 25-year-old Canon SLR. Some of my favorite photos were taken with a prime Tessar on my Rolleiflex. But when I use my Canon G9, you bet I use the zoom. Personally, I'd get the 17mm for the extra 2/3rds stop of light, and because I just plain like shooting with primes.

though frankly f/2.8 is not all that great

No less a source than Mike Johnson of The Online Photographer had this to say: "Or, put it this way: given the presence of all these conditions, ƒ/2.8 is the new ƒ/2."

Just as a point of information, the EP-1 isn't really an SLR. Sure, it has some of the features of an SLR, but is missing the 'R' portion (Reflex mirror).

And good riddance. The advantage of an SLR was the ability to frame the photo by looking through the lens, which wasn't possible with folders, TLRs, rangefinders, etc. Light had to be hidden from the film, of course, so you couldn't look straight through, hence the mirrors and prisms. With the switch to digital, there was no film to hide, opening to door to radical re-engineering of cameras. The camera companies, however, didn't take the chance to do that, merely stuck a sensor where the film used to be, and pretty much kept the cameras unchanged otherwise. I'm of the mind that the E-P1, and Micro 4/3rds in general, is a much bigger leap in the evolution of camera engineering than most people realize, because it's the first real decoupling of image quality, camera size, and lens interchangeability.

posted by The Michael The at 10:40 AM on June 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

This is based on my general photographic experience, not the Olympus per se--but I'd get the zoom first just so you can have the versatility and put the camera through its paces. Unless you've shot with primes in the past, they can take a bit getting used to as you attempt to get the framing you want with the focal length you got.

That said, I think Tomorrowful's advice is 100% great. A fast prime is one of the best things on the planet (though, as Kindall notes, too, 2.8 is not super duper fast). I've got a 35mm 1.4 arriving on Tuesday and I am verrrrry excited.

But jeez, this is an expensive setup. I'd still go for a real DSLR, or a cheaper POS, like the Lumix LX3.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:43 AM on June 27, 2009

I'd get that 14-42 mm zoom. I shoot with both a DSLR with mostly prime lenses (that is,
not zoom lenses), and a compact point-and-shoot. It's really, really nice to have
a pocket full of lenses that are always mounted on the camera with that compact P&S.

And just having cleaned some spots of crud off of my DSLR sensor, I recall fondly the
days of shooting with film, when each frame was a virgin slice of emulsion that was
just now seeing the first light of day. So not slapping lenses on and off of a body is
looking better all the time.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:24 AM on June 27, 2009

I managed to grab an LX3 before they got expensive, so I'll probably hold off on the E-P1 until more lenses are available. The LX3 has good image quality and the zoom range is perfect for the kind of pictures I like to take. If the E-P1 has dramatically better image quality than the LX3 due to its larger sensor, then it might be tempting. The images would have to be shockingly better, though. I'm very happy with my LX3.

If Leica or Voigtlander start introducing m43 versions of their primes, the E-P1 will become a lot more interesting to me.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:50 AM on June 27, 2009

Um...I thought you were going to be able to get both lenses very cheaply, like $100 more than the bare camera body? If so, I would 100% buy both...why not.

Also, I'd be looking at getting a cheap adapter to use some old film lenses...I'd probably start with Leica Screw mount lenses if I could find an adapter, and start buying up old Russian lenses, which are cheap and awesome.
posted by sully75 at 5:20 PM on June 27, 2009

If Leica or Voigtlander start introducing m43 versions of their primes, the E-P1 will become a lot more interesting to me.

You can always just use the Voigtlander adapter.
posted by The Michael The at 6:41 PM on June 27, 2009

and start buying up old Russian lenses, which are cheap and awesome.

The Russian lenses are cheap, but not awesome. You will get better quality images out of a $50 canon from eBay.

You can always just use the Voigtlander adapter.

I could, but my 15mm 4.5 is a lot less interesting at an effective focal length of 30mm. Might as well just stick with the 17mm 2.8.

What I would like is an array of new primes, or maybe a small number of high quality zooms.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:18 PM on June 27, 2009

I think that if you're used to having a point-n-shoot, you're going to be more comfortable getting the zoom lens. When I first started shooting with a prime lens it was frustrating not being able to zoom in and out.

That said, now I prefer prime lenses. As others have mentioned, since the aperture opens wider, you'll be able to shoot in the dark more easily and you will probably get better bokeh (I'm assuming).

If you are buying the EP-1 for the purpose of taking shots that are "artsy", I'd lean towards the 17mm. If you're going to use it for things like graduations and other things where capturing the moment is more important than how it looks overall, I'd go for the zoom lens.

Personally, I would love to buy the EP-1 (I'm a sucker for shiny cameras) and I'd, without a doubt, get the 17mm.
posted by carpyful at 8:43 PM on June 27, 2009

Also, get the white body version! It looks so much cooler than the silver one!
posted by carpyful at 8:44 PM on June 27, 2009

sorry -- when I said "bokeh", I actually meant "depth of field".
posted by carpyful at 8:47 PM on June 27, 2009

The best possible lens is the lens (& camera) you have with you. The 14-42 adds considerable size to the camera. Is it enough to cause you to leave the camera at home? In my case, it is... which is why I'm getting the same camera with a 17mm. Or will, after I at least hold a demo model in my hands. And shooting with a prime lens can really turn you into a much better photographer. As Richard Stromberg says, the best quality zoom in the world is your feet.
posted by centerweight at 4:05 PM on June 28, 2009

b1tr0t...I kinda think you might not know what you are talking about. I got a pretty amazing lens with my Fed that my Canon EOS prime lenses can't top for sharpness. Perhaps you had a different experience. They are generally considered excellent lenses. The cameras less so.
posted by sully75 at 6:02 PM on June 28, 2009

I think, for me, The Michael The and centerweight have the answers that best suit my use. I almost never use the zoom with the point and shoot, but I do use the macro frequently. Though not huge, I think the larger lens would reduce my comfort carrying it around day to day.

Carpyful, the white body is very pretty, but think of the fingerprints!

Sully75, from all of the pricing I've seen, the base kit is affordable. The individual lenses are ~$300.

Thanks for all the comments and the inclusion of some great links. You were all very helpful!
posted by yamel at 6:21 PM on June 28, 2009

Actually, I'd say the opposite. I bought a few Feds and Zorkis back when they were cheap. The bodies were amazingly robust, though rather light on features. The lenses were good for that vintage effect, but a good modern Nikkor prime would stomp all over them.

From what I understand, quality control was all over the place. Maybe if you have a well-restored Industar or Jupitar you could get great images. But the cost of restoration would easily exceed the cost of a Nikkor or Canon 50mm 1.8. Maybe even a 1.4.

Regardless, I'd like to see purpose-built m43 primes.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:25 PM on June 28, 2009

And that's mostly because my LX3 does the zoomy thing very well.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:26 PM on June 28, 2009

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