Building the perfect BUDGET Micro Four Thirds kit

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.

Lens: Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7

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?! :-)

Photkina 2010: A report in pictures

As I previously announced, yesterday I spent the day visiting photokina 2010 in Cologne, and I brought back with me a huge load of impressions, pictures of latest models, of prototypes, and other stuff. So without much ado, here’s my report on the fair — by manufacturer, in alphabetic order.

Photokina 2010 south entrance

General impressions from the fair will be posted in a seperate gallery soon.

CAUTION! Massive amount of pictures ahead! Make sure your connection is fast enough, and that you have enough time! :-)

Continue reading Photkina 2010: A report in pictures

Leica vs. MFT: Two reviews, one article

There are two new reviews and one article worth reading, all dealing with either MFT or Leica cameras, or both.

First, Mike Zawadzki from Unique Photo has done an extensive review of the Olympus E-PL1, comparing it to two entry-level DLSRs and one advanced point-and-shoot. The result: the E-PL1 is the clear winner. Read his review to find out why.

Then, DCWatch have published their take on the Leica X1. As always, they have lots of nice pictures (worth taking a look at) paired with cryptic, Japanese-to-English Google translated comments.

And finally, Steve Huff has written an article on his “two favorite Digital Cameras ever!” (mind the exclamation mark) – the Olympus E-PL1 and the Leica M9. An interesting essay on two simple and effective, yet substantially different photographic tools.

Buy the Olympus E-PL1 digital camera from B&H Photo Video Audio!
Buy the Leica X1 digital camera from B&H Photo Video Audio!
Buy the Leica M9 digital rangefinder camera from B&H Photo Video Audio!

E-PL1 reviewed by dpreview

dpreview have posted their (as always) long-awaited E-PL1 review!

The camera is out of question for me as its interface has been significantly dumbed down, but it is obvious that it outputs cleaner and sharper results than the E-P1 at any given ISO setting. As RAW noise is stronger than with the E-P1 (due to the lighter AA filter), the JPEG enginde must have been tweaked and seems to be doing a very good job! (In fact, dpreview didn’t manage to get better results with ACR!)

Olympus PEN firmware update tested by dpreview

dpreview have taken the time and tested the autofocusing performance of the E-PL1 with the latest firmware update for Olympus’ PEN series. Their result: The E-PL1 with firmware 1.1 is on par with the Panasonic G1 when used with the M.Zuiko 14-42/3.5-5.6 kit zoom, and about 20% faster than the E-P2 with firmware 1.0. Paired with Panasoic’s kit zoom, the Lumix G 14-45/3.5-5.6, the E-PL1 focuses another 20% faster.

You can read the full article here.

This gives hope that the E-P1 and E-P2 also perform considerably better with the new firmware. Also, this means that the PENs’ focusing slowness is for a big part due to the kit lens’ slow focusing mechanism, as the overall performance now seems to be on par (or at least close to) that of the Panasonic models.

Sadly, I couldn’t find my USB connector cable (YAY for proprietary connectors …) this morning, so I had no chance to perform the update on my E-P1 myself yet. But since my Lumix 20/1.7 is still with Panasonic, I can take the time and wait until a new cable arrives from eBay …