More than Camera Enough

Someone finally did it, and I should have known it would be Olympus. Back in 1972, Olympus shook up the 35mm SLR world by introducing the OM-1. Here was an SLR camera that was not as big as a brick. It was small and cute, and came with small and cute lenses. Of course, Olympus has always tried to make small and cute things. The Pen cameras from the 60s, the OM cameras in the 70s and the Stylus point and shoots in the last glory days of 35mm film.

In the digital world they had yet to recapture this magic, until now. Now Olympus stands alone as the first major camera line to finally realize that there are people out there who want a small camera with a decent sensor. They have given us the EP-1, a digital reincarnation of the Pen half frame cameras of yore. And of course, all the camera people can do is whine.

Ok. I have to give some of them credit for seeing what is great about this machine. The Online Photographer ran two good pieces about it, both of which pointed out all the things to like:

1. It’s small. About Canon G10 sized.

2. It has the same sensor and imaging pipeline as the Olympus DSLR cameras. You can shoot fast frame to frame and you can shoot four RAW frames per second for ten shots. That’s all anyone who does not work for Sports Illustrated will ever need.

3. It will come with a great set of small lenses, so you don’t have to carry a 2lb camera body and a collection of 1.5lb zoom lenses on your next trip.

4. Real hot shoe. Real flash system.

And confronted with this, how do people react? The smart ones see a wonderful gift handed to them from the camera industry gods. A niche camera to satisfy an enthusiast niche. The real camera dorks can only say:

It does not have an optical viewfinder, therefore it is unusable.

Never mind that in the entire history of the camera universe there have only ever been five non-SLR cameras with decent optical viewfinders (see note below). Or that fitting a viewfinder on the machine would make it too big. Or that the entire point of this new 4/3rds form factor is that the camera has no mirror box so there is no way to actually provide an optical viewfinder.

Finally, medium format and large format cameras have come without eye level viewfinders for centuries and no one ever had trouble composing pictures on those primitive machines.

Mike Johnston has also argued these points better than I can, so I’ll quit now.

Olympus did not fit it with a 10-351.4 zoom lens, making it useless in low light.

Never mind that the entire modern world has been happily shooting with the 2.8 wide angle zoom lenses for the last 15 years or so. Or that the fact that you can push sensors to ISO 1600 obviates much of the need for large aperture lenses. Or the fact that a large aperture zoom (or prime) would be huge and completely defeat the purpose of the entire machine.

Finally, there are more minor pieces of whining about how the AF is not phase detect (again, no mirror box) or how the LCD is second rate, or how it doesn’t come in black.

So, to summarize, what the real camera dork wants is a black camera with the viewfinder of an EOS-1Ds, a zoom lens the size of the Nikon 14-242.8, a full frame 35mm sensor, and a body the size of a Leica M6. That shouldn’t be hard, what do these camera engineers do all day anyway?

I’m here to say, ignore all of this. When this camera comes out you should go and try it for yourself. It’s not often that a company takes a risk listening to the enthusiast market the way Olympus has with this camera. They should be paid back for it. We should all be in the Amazon pre-order queue. Otherwise, we’re all just dorkier than thou.

Notes

The five optical viewfinder cameras that are decent are:

1. Leica M.

2. Those Canonet things from the 70s.

3. Konica Hexar AF.

4. Konica Hexar RF.

5. The Cosina RF cameras.

If I forgot your favorite viewfinder camera, accept my apologies. You were probably wrong about it anyway. I’m out of here.