Steve Huff recently published an article titled “Building the perfect Micro 4/3 Camera kit for under $2500“, in which he talks about his favourite Micro Four Thirds cameras and lenses and where to get them. While his “perfect kit”, consisting of an Olympus E-P3, Zuiko 12/2, Panasonic Lumix 20/1.7, Zuiko 45/1.8 and the VF-2 viewfinder, is certainly a killer combo, it also comes with a killer price tag – US-$ 2,697.85 if you buy from B&H Photo.
Not all of us have that much money to spend, so here’s my suggestion for the perfect BUDGET Micro Four Thirds kit.
Camera: Olympus E-PL1
The Olympus E-PL1 was the third Micro Four Thirds camera to be released by Olympus. While it has less buttons for direct feature access than the E-P1/2, it inherits the E-P2’s viewfinder connector and adds a “Live Guide” that helps you with choosing settings. It has also got a weaker AA filter than the E-P1/2 which provides slightly crisper images. All in all, the E-PL1, while more than a generation old now, is still capable of producing excellent results and can currently be had for as little as US-$ 399.99, including the 14-42mm kit lens, which is a nice allround lens for general shooting.
Alternative 1: If you don’t need the possibility to add an electronic viewfinder, you can get the E-P1 used for even less.
Alternative 2: The successor to the E-PL1, the E-PL2, brings back the sexy retro design of the E-P1/2, has more direct access buttons and features the new Accessory Port 2, to which several new accessories can be installed. It comes at US-$ 499.99 including the kit lens.
This was the first serious prime lens for the Micro Four Thirds system in that it was the first with an aperture large enough to make available light photography possible. Its field of view, corresponding to that of a 40mm lens on 35mm (full frame) is one of the most versatile. It is wider than a 50mm, which can sometimes be too narrow, yet not quite as wide as a 35mm, which can be a tad too wide sometimes, yielding unnatural distortion. Photographer Sally Mann describes the 40mm focal length as being “about right” for her kind of work. With its maximum aperture of f/1.7, the 20mm can provide nice subject separation and background blurring, while showing only little vignetting wide open and rendering tack sharp in the image center from the start. At currently US-$ 349.87, this lens is a no-brainer.
Lens: Olmypus M.Zuiko 45/1.8
This is the just-introduced portrait lens for Micro Four Thirds. With a field of view equivalent to that of a 90mm lens on 35mm full frame and its wide f/1.8 initial aperture, the lens is suited at both low light photography as well as portraiture, where an isolated subject with a strongly blurred background is wanted. It also functions as a short tele lens, meaning you can isolate subjects that are close up, or crop details in architectural or landscape scenes. All reviewers have been very positive about this lens so far, ascribing it good performance in terms of sharpness, contrast and colour reproduction. At ~ US-$ 399.99 (it’s not available yet at B&H), this is a no-brainer as well, and together with the little 20mm pancake lens makes for a formidable two lens kit.
Accessory: VF-2 electronic viewfinder
According to some, the VF-2 electronic viewfinder is a must-have. With its 1.44 million dots, it provides a crisp and clear preview image and makes precise manual focusing possible. It is also very useful outdoors in bright lighting conditions, where the built-in screen of the camera can get difficult to read. The VF-2 is available new for US-$ 225.82 in the black version.
Alternative: The VF-3 viewfinder, which has lower resolution (9k pixels) and a lower price tag at US-$ 179.99, but will work almost equally as well.
Olympus E-PL1 with kit lens: US-$ 399.99
Panasonic Lumix 20/1.7: US-$ 349.87
Olympus M.Zuiko 45/1.8: US-$ 399.99
Olympus VF-2 EVF: US-$ 225.82
Total: US-$ 1,475.67
So, for about half the money that Steve’s “perfect” MFT kit will set you back, you get a kit that is almost as versatile, delivers almost the same IQ and will be equally as much fun! (And if you decide on the VF-3 viewfinder, you’ll save another US-$ 50, and if you decide to get the older E-P1 without a viewfinder, you can save another US-$ 300 and still have a great kit!)
How’s that for a deal?!