First let me be clear: I love film and have no plans to cease using film until the last frame of the last roll on Earth has been exposed. I enjoy the 100% hands-on nature of it, the texture of it, and the fact that the portraiture clients I have value it (which, of course, pays for me to buy more film). However, there are situations in which it is obvious that digital would serve me better. A good example is this blog. I would really love to be able to post more timely Taiwan-related travel, culture, and event articles and that would be much more practical shooting in digital. So I guess the first thing to do is firgure out the camera that best suits my shooting preferences and subjects.
I’m primarily a street-shooter.Yes I shoot portraits for cash, but that’s primarily done on 120 and 4×5″ B&W film, which is an integral part of the “package” I sell the client, so there’s no need to include that in considering a first digital system. Basically, these are my general requirements:
- A body compact enough to fit in my normal messenger bag or a coat pocket
- Fast lens availability
- Interchangeable lenses.
- Minimum of 10MP
- Decent High ISO/Low light performance
The first requirement pretty much eliminates any and all dSLRs and while there are point & shoot cameras with fast lenses, they are eliminated by requirement #3. Leica M8 or M9, you say? Yes, they fit but they are far too expensive for someone like me. At first glance, the Epson R-1x also seems to be a good fit, especially since most of my film kit consists of rangefinders, but unfortunately they are limited to a 6MP sensor. I am aware that great A4 prints can be made from 6MP but there is an industry standard of 10MP. Want to submit some images to Getty or Corbis? They generally impose a 10MP minimum resolution requirement. Of course, microstock sites such as Shutterstock have less strict requirements, but the rewards are equally diminished.
From what I can see, there are essentially two choices for me:
Both are small packages, with the Olynpus EP-1 utilizing the micro 4/3 mount standard and the Ricoh GRX utilizing a very ingenious system in which the sensor is integrated into the lens and not the camera, allowing for a very small body. Both are also 10+MP, with the Olympus Pen having the same proven 12.3MP as in its E-620 dSLR and the Ricoh GRX being either 10 or 12MP depending on which of the 2 currently available lenses was mounted. According to reviews, both have excellent performance up to EI1600, too. Both also come in a kit with either a slow zoom or moderately fast (f/2.8) fixed focal length lens. Neither have a viewfinder and must be composed via the LCD, however the Olympus + 17/2.8 kit comes with a hotshoe viewfinder (VF-1) for faster framing. The GRX has a small integrated flash while the EP-1 does without.
And both Olympus and Ricoh only manufacture 2 lenses for these systems. But here’s where the Olympus EP-1 takes a big leap in front of the Ricoh GRX and even a big step in front of many dSLR bodies. Quoted from page 2 of the dpreview Olympus EP-1 review:
The ultra short flange back and small lens mount actually makes Micro Four Thirds, theoretically, the most ‘lens compatible’ system on the market – you could in principle produce physical adapters for just about any lens designed for 35mm (or larger), specifically manual focus lenses from older film SLRs. Olympus has already launched an adapter for its own legacy OM (manual focus SLR) lenses, Panasonic is promising one for Leica M and R lenses, and third parties are looking at a range of other options. It’s not surprising camera geeks are excited by the possibilities offered by the new format.
I did a quick search on eBay and found m4//3 adapters to every camera system I could think of, SLR and rangefinder alike. Because of the way the GRX is designed, with the sensor integrated into the lens and not the body, you are limited to only the lenses Ricoh produces specifically for that system. Because the EP-1 uses a mounting that is standard across a number of manufacturers, you have a wider selection of native lenses and a selection that will grow broader with time with companies like Leica, Panasonic, and Olympus all behind it. Not only that, but the adaptability of the Olympus Pen to other lenses would allow me to utilize the mix of Voigtlander M-mount and Nikkor F-mount lenses I already have.
So the Oly wins? I’d appreciate some thoughts on this.