My latest acquisition – the Olympus E-P3, kit lens, EVF and the 12mm lens. I’m hugely impressed by the 12mm lens – subjectively the image quality seems great, and the new pull-back ring to engage manual focus is a fantastic improvement over the horrible ‘fly-by-wire’ manual focus of all the 4/3 and micro 4/3 lenses which have come before – it even has a depth of field scale – it just seems an odd choice of lens on which to introduce these improvements, as with such a short lens focus is not as critical! Of course, I understand it does still focus using fly-by-wire, but the impression is far more that of a conventional lens, and its operation is very smooth. Less satisfactory is that this expensive lens comes without a lens hood or bag – although they are supposedly available as extras, not only are they VERY expensive, but unobtainable! This is totally unacceptable for a lens of this quality and price.
Olympus are also stingy on the budget lens which comes with the E-P3 kit – no lens hood again, and the option is expensive and unobtainable, but even the rear lens cap isn’t a proper bayonet cap, just a horrible push-on piece of plastic.
That aside, obviously I love the 12mm, and the 14-42 seems OK as a kit lens, and compact when ‘parked’. The body looks and feels great, but as in the past I find the Olympus micro 4/3 ergonomics leave a lot to be desired. Incidentally, another economy is that the large paper manual turns out to be about 8 pages in many different languages, you have to go to the disc to read the proper manual – surely for a camera of this price they could provide a printed manual. Most of the first part of the manual keeps referring you to page 81 – the menus of Olympus have come in for criticism in the past, so they have now disabled all the useful settings unless you go to a far-from-obvious menu option to enable them – which is what page 81 is about! The fact that their own manual has to keep pointing you to this page seems to support my view that this is a serious mistake, at least on a camera at this price, and aimed at what I would have thought was a particular market. Once you have enabled the useful settings menus, then you have a huge number of choices about how you configure the camera – I still haven’t got it quite right!
The actual controls on the camera are a mixed bunch – the main control wheel is fine, but trying to rotate the secondary wheel without pressing it in a way which changes what it does is a nightmare – as it was with the E-P1, surely they should learn from this? There are three buttons which can be programmed to perform specific functions, but of course you will need to remember how you have programmed them! I have to say that for me the controls of the Panasonic G1, GH1, GF1 and GH2 are superior in almost every respect.
The EVF substantially increases the size of the camera, but the quality is superb, and it really shows up how mediocre the equivalent of the Panasonic GF1 is (small, low resolution, difficult to look through etc).
So my initial impressions are a curate’s egg – superb 12mm lens, OK kit zoom, excellent EVF2, but the controls on the camera itself will take some getting used to, and some of them will remain very awkward to use. Oh, and the touch screen – a useful addition, but I don’t think the implementation is as well thought-out as on the GH2.
A footnote – I’ve praised the11mm lens. Can I really complain about the Sony 30mm ‘Macro’? Yes, it is very cheap, but the build quality is dreadful. It’s quite short for a ‘macro’, though actually this suits me. Optically it seems adequate. My HUGE problem is with the construction. Macro lenses may have autofocus, but generally it does not work very well at close distances (this is certainly true of this lens), so you would use manual focus. The manual focus on this lens is appalling – not only is it far too high geared (ie a tiny movement of the ring radically changes the focus), but the focus ring and lens movement are horribly slack and wobbly, and just touching the focus ring changes the focus. This is probably the second-worst lens I have ever bought (fourth worst I have ever used!).