the m43 conundrum
June 7, 2010 12:13 PM   Subscribe

i'm going micro four thirds! but... like a woman caught between two men, i can't decide between panasonic lumix and olympus. and to make things worse, a potential third leg in this love quadrilateral! the upcoming sony alpha-nex 3. help me make up my mind!

after a long period of waffling over whether or not to upgrade my camera body (an old nikon d50) i have accepted the unfortunate truth: i just don't have that camera out with me that often because of its bulk and weight. to that end, i've been watching the growth of the micro four thirds market with a lot of interest, but as your average cautious consumer, decided to wait until it had been around for longer and people had used them/had things to say about them that i could use as a guidepost for whenever i got around to picking one up.

the unfortunate part is, now that i've finally come around to wanting to pick one up, the gazillion reviews from users online keep jerking me in different directions, and i'm not sure which one to get! i've been looking at the panasonic lumix dmc-gf1 and the olympus pen epl-1.

pluses for the EPL-1: i love the retro design (i use a lot of vintage cams- i have a collection of medium format cameras i shoot with) and the in camera image stabilization- i like to shoot in low light and have slightly shaky hands.

pluses for the GF1: better, faster autofocus than the EPL-1. a better kit lens (20mm f1.8, though i could also buy it separately and mount it on the EPL-1). i've noticed most people on flickr who are shooting with leica and voigtlander glass are using GF1s.

however, there's another contender in the soon-to-be-out sony alpha nex-3 which is getting a lot of good advanced buzz. BUT, despite being an interchangeable lens camera, it isn't really a m43, and while there's been talk of companies making adjustment mounts for them, there will probably be a wait before they're available.

trust me, i've already lost many many hours to reading just about everything on internet on the lumix vs olympus m43s front. i'm asking you, the camera people of metafilter, for advice if you own either cameras! what do you love/hate about them, what do you shoot, and do you think it's a good idea to wait for the new nex-3 or 5?

i am one of those artsy pretentious photo shooters (my real-life job is that i'm a graphic artist/illustrator which informs how i shoot as a photographer) so i'm not really a shooting family/friends/sports kind of shooter (with this camera anyway- i have a pintsized point and shoot for that kind of thing). i travel frequently and would love something more toteable than my slr and its collection of lenses. i love rangefinder glass and pushing the limit of what you can achieve with DOF. i crave f1.4 lenses (and lower!) for gorgeous low light photos. this is not a question about lenses, but rather the body that will support them best. i know both cameras have adapters that will allow me to use other 4/3 lenses as well as a range of legacy m mount lenses. which is the camera for me? (also: not looking for 'get a rangefinder instead' type of advice as i'm also looking into eventually getting a film bessa-r.)

additionally i am not looking for comparisons or advice with a lot of math-y type stuff (like how 50mm lenses become equivalent to 35mm lenses because of the blah blah blah)- i am not one of those techy-mathy photographers but rather someone who goes on feel. for those of you who own these cameras, how does it feel to shoot with them?
posted by raw sugar to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
so if you're not shooting things that move fast (people) the speed of autofocus is less important, right? in which case the EPL-1 should win.

if you crave fast lenses, looks like there's a minolta MD to m43 adapter! this means you'd be able get lenses like a 135mm/f2.8 for $100, a 50mm/f1.4 for $80, 5mm/f1.2 for $400. they'd all be manual focus, though.

don't remember which of those cameras has video, but the nex-3 does.
posted by maulik at 12:28 PM on June 7, 2010

I just bought the Panasonic Lumix GH1 after a significant amount of reading on the subject, and I have a few thoughts I'll share. Take them for what you will.

1. The first images I've seen from the NEX-3 and -5 make them look like a poor implementation of a good idea. The images I've seen are decent, but not good, and the controls look awful, especially if you want to shoot artsier stuff. Also, I'm not sure how long the lenses will take.

2. The E-PL1 and the GF1 are both nice cameras, but I was wondering if you've had the opportunity to handle either/both of them. I tried the PL1 in a store (a Best Buy, of all places), and I really disliked the ergonomics. Of course, this depends a lot on you.

3. The GF1 looks like a nice camera, but I've never handled it in the wild.

4. I REALLY like having a viewfinder instead of just an LCD. The E-PL1 viewfinder is significantly better than the GF1 viewfinder according to the reviews, but both are much worse than the G1, G2, or GH1, which have more of a dSLR shape than a rangefinder shape. If size is your big consideration, do keep in mind that the viewfinder makes either one nearly as big as a G1 or GH1.

5. The Panasonic 20mm/1.7 pancake looks gorgeous, and I am coveting it and its small DoF.

6. Regardless of which MFT camera you get, the $35 adapters for legacy glass work nicely, but keep in mind they will be manual focus and manual aperture. You will want to focus with aperture open and close it down right before shooting. This is, of course, an inconvenience, but the ability to shoot with legacy glass is quite nice.

7. The 14-140 kit lens with the GH1 is pretty awesome, despite being a bit slow. It's nice to have that huge range for travel, though there is a significant hit in size.

8. The Olympus (at least the P1 and P2; I don't know about the PL1) have in-body stabilization, which means you can get stabilization even with other lenses. (Panasonic does this in the lens).

9. is the single best resource I've found online for comparisons.

10. The absolute best thing to do is handle the cameras. I found the E-PL1 a bit cheesy feeling, and there is definitely a contingent of reviewers who agree. If you could handle both, that would be awesome, though they're hard to find at local camera shops.

11. My local camera shop was willing to come down on price to within a little bit of the best online prices, and I always prefer to support local merchants if I can. I went in with the attitude that I'd rather give them the sale than Amazon or B&H, but they had to work with me on the price.
posted by JMOZ at 12:39 PM on June 7, 2010

Also, with the 20mm lens, image stabilization won't do much unless you're shooting in VERY low light. (a rule of thumb: maximum shutter time for a handheld shot is 1/focal length. e.g. 1/20 second for 20mm, or 1/100 second for 100mm.)
posted by JMOZ at 12:44 PM on June 7, 2010

My advice is to buy your cameras from a company that makes cameras, not a company that makes microwaves and DVD players and and televisions and movies and video game consoles and vacuum cleaners and mobile phones and oh yes, we do happen to make some cameras too, which we will orphan brutally the moment they stop making us money (or the Koreans start building cheaper) as we have done with countless other product lines.

On top of that you have the Sony curse -- the tendency of their products to break just after the warranty expires, which is so consistent that it must be intentional.

Panasonic does produce versions of Sony products that actually last, but they have no real background in photography; essentially all of the photographic expertise in the Four Thirds partnership comes from Olympus (at least initially -- there are other actual photographic companies in the consortium now).

If you had ruled out Sony and Panasonic right out of the gate, you wouldn't have had to read so many comparisons on the Internet and would be happily shooting right now.
posted by kindall at 12:47 PM on June 7, 2010

kindall- the consensus is that Panasonic's MFT lenses (some of which are Leica-branded) are significantly better than Oly's. I would see your point if Panasonic didn't have decades of experience at video cameras. Why is this relevant? you ask. Well, technologically, mirrorless cameras are closer from a technological viewpoint to a video camera than a film camera.

I'm not saying you're wrong, but I think you're doing the OP a disservice to suggest eliminating Panasonic on this basis. Especially if you compare the actual camera. Now, with Sony, I do think you have a valid point, but I find the NEX cameras to be ugly and awkward.
posted by JMOZ at 12:58 PM on June 7, 2010

I have the GF1, and love it, but probably not for many reasons that would help you in your decision. I bought it primarily because it came with the 20mm f/1.7 lens, which was the closest to a 50mm film SLR.

No complaints here, except that it would be nice to have a viewfinder occasionally. Mostly when I'm using it at concerts and I have the nagging feeling I don't seem as 'serious' as I should by framing my shot like all the folks using a point-and-shoot or crappy cellphone camera. That's really my only complaint.

That said, I'd probably be just as happy with the Olympus, especially with the in-body stabilization now that I'm using a manual lens adapter for my parents' old FD lenses.

Can you get your hands on both for a few minutes and see what UI you prefer?

A good read is 4/3 Rumors - has info on upcoming developments in the m43 world, and rundowns on the currently available hardware.
posted by Gortuk at 2:02 PM on June 7, 2010

I was in your boat for a bit and came down on the side of the GF1. I really love the 20mm lens. I bought it for many of the reasons that you talk about (easy to carry around etc.)

I tried both the EPL1 and the GF1. There is a nice heft to the GF1 that I like. I was only able to compare the images on the LCD but the pics I took with the EPL1 looked a little flat.

I am doing a 'pic a day' thing this year. I picked up the camera almost 2 months ago and I have not put it down since.

Click on my profile to get to my Flickr account and see some of the shots I have taken with it.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 3:24 PM on June 7, 2010

Another one for pani here - the only major issue in my mind is the lack of in camera stability- but that is made up for the fact that it is unlikely that I would ever get lots of lenses.* It also has a flash, which can be nice in a pinch. It doesn't have the Pen look though.

*I ended up going with the Lumix lx-3 - no lenses.
posted by zenon at 4:47 PM on June 7, 2010

I also have and love the GF1. And like Gortuk, would say the biggest issue is the lack of viewfinder, which I rarely need anyway. I waffled over the decision to buy the camera for about three months, then made my decision and put off actually purchasing it for another month (I decided it was to be a Christmas present, so I had to wait until at least almost Christmas).

Since the 20mm lens is really really nice, I have rarely needed image stabilization in anything other than extremely low light situations, and it is easy enough to force the camera to use a shutter speed of 1/20 or 1/30 of a second which really keeps any blurriness down unless you are taking photos while jumping up and down or riding in a bumpy car.

The camera (with the 20mm lens) is small enough for me to comfortably carry around in my (not gargantuan) purse with no problems, and is not heavy enough for me to complain about unless I've been on my feet all day, at which point I would probably complain about the weight of a tiny point-and-shoot.

I also have my Flickr account linked in my profile if you're interested in picture samples from a person who went from point-and-shoot cameras straight to the GF1.
posted by that girl at 5:25 PM on June 7, 2010

Reviews of the nex-3 and nex-5 were just published on today. And ignore the advice to avoid companies which make microwaves--Panasonic make excellent cameras.
posted by Deor at 5:31 PM on June 7, 2010

I have a GF1, and I love it. I got it with the 20mm lens but recently got the 14-44mm lens to go with it as well (so recently I haven't actually had a chance to look at the photos from the 14-44mm on the computer yet).

I'm far from a serious photographer, but from the research I did (a lot of which involved the forums) I came to the conclusion that the Panasonic was a better fit for me than the Olympus (even though I love the look of the Olympus). Playing around with both of them in a camera shop for a few minutes only confirmed that opinion. There was definitely a difference in the speed of the autofocus, but from my brief exposure I'm not sure if it would be annoying or not.

I've found that the LCD on the Panasonic is actually surprisingly good even in bright sunlight, and apart from the slightly weird feeling of not holding it up to your face when you're taking a picture, it's easy to use. The built-in flash on the Panasonic is also a small advantage over the Olympus – it's not great, but it's at least there when you need it. Personally I haven't had much luck with low-light photos with the 20mm, but maybe that's just me not knowing what I'm doing.

I actually took it to an airshow with just the 20mm lens and was surprised at the number of good photos I got of planes zipping overhead, even if in some cases I couldn't actually make out the planes on the LCD screen at the time of shooting (which isn't fantastically high resolution, but has a great refresh rate).

I'm very much a rank amateur when it comes to photography, but I'm very happy with the quality of the photos I've got from pretty much leaving everything on auto, whilst being glad there are a lot of settings I can play around with when I work out what they do!
posted by damonism at 9:49 PM on June 7, 2010

I have the GF1 and love it. But I suspect that most of that love is actually for the 20mm 1.7, which is every bit as good (and fun to use) as it is made out to be. Whichever body you get, I strongly recommend this lens.
posted by primer_dimer at 2:28 AM on June 8, 2010

Response by poster: thank you very much to everyone who chimed in!
after hemming and hawing and doing even MORE net research, i decided on the EPL-1 after playing with the GF-1, E-2, and EPL-1 at keeble & schuster camera in palo alto. the sales associate actually suggested i go for the EPL-1 with the 20mm 1.7, which is what i ended up deciding to do. the GF-1 did have faster autofocus but as someone who doesn't shoot sports and who is used to manually focusing lenses (and manually metering etc) on medium format cameras, that was less of a concern for me. the (teensy) weight of the EPL-1 was just right and it felt comfortable in my hands, i'm planning on selling the EPL-1's kit lens and getting the new 9-18mm wide angle, which i played with in the store- VERY nice wide angle lens, SO small. viewfinder also factored into my decision as i've read that the panasonic EVF just can't compare to the olympus one. now i'm just waiting for the olympus EVF to come back in stock.
posted by raw sugar at 3:35 PM on June 14, 2010

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