Chase Jarvis TECH: Scott’s personal Olympus Pen E-P2 Camera Kit

Is it bigger than a breadbox?  No.  It’s my new Olympus Pen E-P2 camera kit, and it’s awesome.

As the guy who manages the inventory of equipment here at Chase Jarvis Inc., it’s fair to say that I know a thing or two about what it takes to pull off a photo shoot.  Every time we roll down the street or fly around the world, I pack and move cases of gear.  No matter how light we’re packing, we tip the scales at at least 100 lbs.

In my free time I have access to any and all of this equipment.  A dream come true for any photographer.  Unless you spend your free time deep in the mountains or on travel adventures where an itinerary is unheard of and solitude is the end goal.  In that case, there’s no place for hundred pound cases.  Hell, an extra 20 pounds in the backpack can have a major impact.

This fact has always put me at a loss, oscillating between DSLR kits that feel bloated and obtrusive, and high end point and shoots like the Canon G series that while impressive for their size, just don’t have the gusto when you’re in the trenches.  What to do, what to do.

Well, like many, I took notice when Panasonic and Olympus came out with offerings in the new and exciting Micro Four Thirds format…. On paper it sure sounds good.  Teeny tiny camera bodies, cool lenses, a legitimate sensor, hd video, and maybe, just maybe, a fast shutter and motor drive.  Worth checking out, I thought to myself.  Actually, I nerded out over each new release with anyone who would sit still long enough for me to go through the hmmms and haaaas aloud at their desk.

The end of October found us working New York City and I finally got to put my grubby hands on the cameras I had been reading so much about.  On my way in to B&H I was convinced that the Panasonic GF1 was going to be the ticket.  On my way out I was converted.  The Olympus E-P2 looked cooler, felt better, and had less shutter lag.  Let me say here that these are untested claims, only my reaction to a hands on comparison.  There are other websites that dissect the technology.  I’m here to talk about my feelings.  That’s what the doctor said I should do…

So I had picked the body, what about the rest.  One of the fun things you can do with these cameras is to buy the competitor’s 4/3 mount lenses.  This is awesome except when you’re trying to decide what to put in your kit, then you have to do some real analysis of this lens versus that, the package price of this kit versus that one, the extra third stop in the aperture here versus the more compact design there.  I scratched my head for some time before I decided on a kit that looks like this:

Olympus Pen E-P2 camera body

Olympus 17mm 2.8 Lens

Olympus ED 14-150 f/4.0-5.6 Lens

Olympus VF-2 Electronic Viewfinder (expensive, but necessary outdoors)

2 Olympus Batteries

3 SanDisk 16 GB Ultra SD Cards

Lowepro Rezo 110 AW Camera Bag

That little kit gives me respectable speed (3+ fps with very little shutter lag), RAW files of 12 million good looking pixels, decent 720 video, an effective lens range of 28-300 (micro 4/3 format has a lens factor of 2), good ISO performance to 1600, and a few days of shooting before I need to see a charger or computer.  Sick.  Cooler still?  The fact that I can even pony up for the 9-18 lens when I feel like it and it will also fit easily in my 7 inch camera bag.  So much damned awesomeness, so little space.

How’s it shoot?  I love it.  A lot.  Feels good in the hands, responsive, quick adjustments, quick shutter.  At first I was trying to use it one handed like a point and shoot because it’s so compact.  I quickly abandoned these erroneous ways and started shooting it like a real camera, because that’s what it is.  A real camera with real user controls in a very small package.

Any nitpicks?  The focusing leaves a little to be desired, the AF is a little tricky to figure out at first, and the manual focusing is tough even through the digital viewfinder.  There is a focus assist function, but it’s horribly distracting when trying to compose an image.  I also found myself accidentally changing the ISO, White Balance, Focus Mode, and Shutter mode when spinning the control to change the shutter speed in Manual mode.  That was solved by turning off those functions, they can still be accessed by pressing the center control button.

Verdict.  Booyah!  Had a need, this camera filled it with power and panache.  Me likey.

So it’s emerging from winter into spring/summer here in Seattle, and my favorite thing to do is head for the hills, climb, ski, and document my adventures.  Here are the fruits of my labors and those of this tough little workhorse.  I don’t get attached to gear very often, but I think this one has already earned some shelf space in the permanent collection.

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