Is this camera what I really want?
July 7, 2010 3:02 PM   Subscribe

I am thinking of getting an Olympus PEN E-PL1. Will I regret not getting a digital SLR instead?

I am a graphic design student and I need a more capable digital camera for my projects. This will probably be the last camera I buy for a long time, so I need one that I can grow with.

I like the Olympus PEN cameras for their size, appearance and or course the interchangeable lenses. However, some concerned parties have suggested I get a low-end digital SLR instead.

Is the Olympus going to be limiting in ways I don't see? Can I get more for my money with a digital SLR? Please help me reach a decision.
posted by AtomicBee to Technology (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
The main advantage to going with an SLR, especially as a student, is simply that you'll be able to draw on a huge number of existing lenses. Micro 4/3rds is a very new lens format; my Canon SLRs give me the option of using lenses as old as I am, if I want to bargain-shop. Same for Nikon, or Pentax, though you'll lose autofocus with lower-end Nikon SLRs combined with older glass. Point is, if you go with a major existing SLR format, you'll be able to tap into a huge ecosystem of Stuff, whereas you'll be limited with the Olympus to a very small set of mostly brand-new options.
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:07 PM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I had figured it was similar to the Panasonic GF1, but this review seems to state otherwise.

Anyway, it's really up to you. Do you want a really good point-and-shoot camera with changeable lenses? Or do you want a more capable dSLR?
posted by StarmanDXE at 3:16 PM on July 7, 2010


The main advantage to going with an SLR, especially as a student, is simply that you'll be able to draw on a huge number of existing lenses. Micro 4/3rds is a very new lens format; my Canon SLRs give me the option of using lenses as old as I am, if I want to bargain-shop.

These Micro 4/3rds cameras have no moving internal mirror which therefore lets them put the lens very close to the sensor. The practical upshot of this is that you can get an adapter ring for basically any other lens type and affix it to the front of the Micro 4/3rds body: FD, EF, EF-S, (the Nikon standards I don't know,) etc.


...though you'll lose autofocus with lower-end Nikon SLRs combined with older glass.

Valid point as well for affixing non Micro 4/3rds lenses to a Micro 4/3rds camera body: no autofocus or the like.
posted by StarmanDXE at 3:21 PM on July 7, 2010


For semi-serious/ serious camerawork, there's little to beat an SLR. Way back in 2004, I bought a kind of SLR wannabe, convinced it was good enough. I took it on holiday to the Philippines and it sucked so much I came back and sold it on eBay. Then I bought a Nikon D70. Six years later I still use it all the time and love it. I suppose I'll replace it eventually, but it's still a very capable camera.

Of course, SLRs are quite big. But that's the only real downside I can think of.
posted by rhymer at 3:29 PM on July 7, 2010


This:
Do you want a really good point-and-shoot camera with changeable lenses? Or do you want a more capable dSLR?

The PEN is functionally like a very high-end compact camera. It's a lot smaller than a DSLR, and nearly as capable, but the ergonomics are completely different.

A (D)SLR is a photographic machine - uncompromisingly giving you the control to get exactly the picture you're after. The main downside is the size and the aesthetics - the Pen is pretty.

With an SLR you're literally looking through the lens. Light goes through the lens, bounces off a mirror and a prism, and goes into your eye. On a compact, the light hits a sensor and is displayed on a screen. It's a significant difference in use.

The autofocus system used on an SLR is much faster than you'll find on a compact. They're fine for general use, but you'd struggle to hit fast-moving subjects reliably, especially with the decrease in depth of field that you find with a larger sensor.

Essentially - are you going to pursue photography, and want a camera that can grow with you? If so, a Canon or Nikon DSLR is the obvious choice. Do you just want a compact camera that offers greater flexibility and much higher image quality? If so, the PEN is apparently very good.
posted by Magnakai at 3:40 PM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Possibly relevant questions:

What's your current camera?

Do you like being able to fiddle with controls? Or do you just want to take the shot? (i.e. Do you use "Auto" mode ::shudder:: or Manual/Aperture Priority?)
posted by StarmanDXE at 3:55 PM on July 7, 2010


One thing I've noticed with compact cameras is that your ability to focus and see sharp detail before you take the shot, especially with macro photography, is limited by the resolution of the display screen or mini-screen in the viewfinder. With a dSLR, it's purely optical, the resolution and perceived detail in the viewfinder is limited only by the quality of the glass and your eye. I have a Panasonic DMC-FZ50 which is a nice full-size but not a dSLR. My sister has a nice Canon dSLR, and it's one of those cases where I thought I had it pretty good with my camera, until I used hers. I am pretty much unable to take any manual focus or macro shots with my camera, because the fairly limited resolution provided in the viewfinder and on the larger screen make it difficult to tell if the shot really is in focus. So I wind up taking a progression of shots, and later choosing the sharpest of the lot. This is not always practical, especially for action shots or changing subjects.

If you're going for serious work and planning to keep it a long time, I really can't imagine choosing anything other than a dSLR. You can start small, and as others have said, there are a lot of quality second-hand lenses and accessories out there that will work just fine with your new rig.
posted by xedrik at 4:04 PM on July 7, 2010


I have both a old Canon Rebel DSLR and the E-PL1. While I like the E-PL1 a lot and use it almost exclusively, I think you may be better served with a DSLR. This is especially true if you are trying to learn photography. With the DSLR, the settings for aperture, shutter speed, etc. are much easier to tweak and learn from. The low end Canon lenses are pretty good value-to-money.

In terms of image quality, the E-PL1 is about on par with the last generation of DSLRs (my E-PL1 is about the same as my Rebel Xti). I use the E-PL1 more because I like to use old manual focus lenses that are great quality and available cheap on Ebay. For technical reasons, these are much more difficult to use on a DSLR. Size and weight are important to me because I travel a lot, so heavy backpack full of camera gear is a big plus.

My general feeling is that the current crop of micro four-thirds cameras are great for someone "stepping down" from a DSLR, but less good for someone "stepping up" from a compact. All the controls are there, but you need to know where to look for them.
posted by phatboy at 4:05 PM on July 7, 2010


What's your current camera?

Canon PowerShot A530. it's like 6 years old.

Do you like being able to fiddle with controls? Or do you just want to take the shot? (i.e. Do you use "Auto" mode ::shudder:: or Manual/Aperture Priority?)

I usually just snap in auto mode, and then try to play with the controls if I don't get what I want. I have an old canon SLR, so I now how to work real camera controls, I just don't use it because I don't like buying film and having it processed.
posted by AtomicBee at 4:22 PM on July 7, 2010


I have both a dslr and a GF1 and I love both but for very different reasons. If portability is big for you, then maybe go the Micro 4/3rds route. I love the fact I can easily carry the GF1 with me pretty much anywhere. But it is limited in its uses. Depending on what you will mainly be shooting, you might be better off with a dslr and a fixed 50 lens (was my "go to" setup before the GF1).

If you are sure you want to go the m43 route, then check out this question from last month.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 5:05 PM on July 7, 2010


If you want a "camera you can grow with" I think a DSLR is a better platform long-term. Whether you go Nikon or Canon is up to you but the DSLRs are much better "platforms" in that there are many more lens options, accessory options, etc.
posted by gen at 6:00 PM on July 7, 2010


I came from a (very nice, but quite old) film SLR background and recently bought the Panasonic GH1. It's much more like a dSLR than the PL1, but also a bit larger and bulkier. I like the EVF in the GH1 (and hate shooting with a LCD for most things). The big advantages of the dSLR are (1) low noise at high ISO (good to think about if you shoot in the dark, (2) higher shooting rate (good if you shoot sports), (3) a wider range of native lenses (if you're planning on buying expensive lenses), and (4) price. But, do keep in mind that any lenses you already have from your film SLR can be used with Micro 4/3 (as manual focus!) with an inexpensive ($30ish) adapter. This is nice; I have some old K-mount glass that I like.
posted by JMOZ at 6:02 PM on July 7, 2010


From your level of experience etc, it sounds to me like you need autofocus. Lenses are really where it's at when it comes to cameras, and new lenses - or lenses with an autofocus that will work - for the E-PEN are very expensive.

Basically, you're paying more money for a camera that can do less, has more expensive accessories and is smaller. Unless size is really the ultimate thing for you, you would be far better served by a conventional dslr.
posted by smoke at 6:08 PM on July 7, 2010


I'd get a tiny camera that can fit in your pocket - there's nothing like having it with you when you need it, and you may already have an inkling of that with your appreciation of its size.

However, for serious work, you'll want a dSLR. Now, or later, you should probably go ahead and get one and learn how to use it, if photography is going to be part -- even a small part -- of your work.
posted by amtho at 6:44 PM on July 7, 2010


- What's your budget?
- What's wrong, or what can you not achieve with your current camera?
- Do you have any long term goals for your photography or is this purely to support your graphic design?

It's kinda tough to say dslr or not. Story: My colleague recently came asking me for canon/nikon advice. As usual I recommended him to go to the store, to handle the cameras and see how they work for him. In the end he went with a Micro 4/3 camera because

- Relatively non obtrusive when compared to a slr form camera.
- Really compact
- Image quality is great
- Feels *really* good in your hand
- He doesn't need specialty lenses

OTOH, for me I do a fair amount of event and wildlife/zoo photography; I need a system to accurately place an autofocus point on the subject's eye, and controls to allow me to make exposure changes rapidly.

When I'm travelling though, the slr is a pain because it's big, heavy and seriously, I don't need the performance or weight. However, I can't justify buying a smaller camera so I just grin and bear it.

This will probably be the last camera I buy for a long time, so I need one that I can grow with.

My opinion based on this is - get a dslr, either canon or nikon. IMO these two have a pretty good system to grow with.

Regards,
Trinsic
posted by TrinsicWS at 2:41 AM on July 8, 2010


It is difficult, if not impossible, to acquire more photographic capability per dollar spent than any lower end DSLR. I always suggest going with Nikon or Canon unless one of the other DSLR manufacturers offers specific features in your price range that you feel you can't live without.
posted by imjustsaying at 3:38 AM on July 8, 2010


I had a entry-level DSLR (Canon XTI) with a zoom lens and the 50mm f/1.8, then bought a Panasonic Lumix GF1 with the 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens because I wanted something more portable and with a wider prime lens (and buying a new camera was just a bit more than buying the 30mm Canon lens).

Since I got my GF1, the Canon has pretty much stayed in its case. It's just way easier to throw the GF1 in my coat pocket or shoulder bag, as opposed to making plans to lug around a Canon and bulky lens. I've picked up adapters from eBay to add my parents' FD lenses, and a cheap set of macro tubes to photograph insects in my back yard. And the GF1 actually has more features than the XTI - easy HDR bracketing, for one.

The micro 4/3rds ecosystem is growing steadily, so as you grow there should be more lenses available. And m43 lenses are generally much cheaper than similar SLR lenses.

A DSLR will provide you with a slight quality improvement due to sensor size, but as an enthusiastic amateur I don't really notice much of a difference. I just see the pictures that I wouldn't have if I didn't have such a nice portable camera.
posted by Gortuk at 7:03 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm pretty convinced that a GF1 and a pancake lens is the way to go. Too bad the set is so expensive!
posted by StarmanDXE at 7:59 AM on July 8, 2010


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