My Quick Take: the E-PL2 vs. the GF2

In the three-part series on my transition from a full DSLR kit toward a micro four-thirds set-up, particularly in Part 3, I commented that my experience had been mostly a favorable one.  But, there was one troubling annoyance that I was not certain I could ultimately become adequately accustomed to and that related to the lag every time the camera and attached external viewfinder woke up from a sleep state (not a shut down state) and the shutter button was depressed.  For landscapes and other still scenes, that’s not much of a problem.  But for moving subjects, as I noted, that could be.  In a dpreview forum post, some suggested that I’d be happier with a Panasonic micro four-thirds shooter given its more highly capable autofocusing engine.

I just had a brief time with the newest member of the Panasonic micro four-thirds family, the Lumix GF2.  Though sequentially, the GF2 suggests the next iteration of the popular GF1, that’s not entirely accurate.  It is next in the lineage line and since the GF1 has disappeared from store shelves, one would certainly get the impression that it’s the replacement model.  But, that does not appear to be the case.  The slightly thinner and lighter GF2 foregoes some of the GF1’s external controls in favor of a new touch screen interface.  Some like it.  Many hate it.  Since I’m a touch screen fan, having long preferred first stylus and now finger touch screen interfaces on communication and computing devices, I figured I’d be a natural for such an implementation on a photographic tool.

So, how did it work out?  And how does the GF2 compare to the Olympus E-PL2?

First of all, the GF2 is metal body clad and the thumb wheel, used to set aperture and other adjustments, are far more reassuring than the plastic (but nice) skin and rotating, fiddly thumb wheel on the back of the EPL2.  The menu system of the Olympus is much less initially intuitive than Panasonic’s.  Beyond that, however, I give the nod to the Olympus.  Why?

  • Out of camera JPEGs on the Olympus are warmer and more accurate.  The Panasonic produces a naturally sharper seeming image, but the tones are cooler and skin tones, in particular, don’t seem as pleasing or as realistic as Olympus’ rendition.  I played around with the Panasonic to see if I could get it to consistently produce a more Olympus-like JPEG result and ultimately I could not.  I’m sure it’s quite possible, but I just couldn’t get there.  Shoot only RAW you say?  I often do, but when I’m out and about, I frequently go with JPEGs and so this is important to me.
  • The start up lag (admittedly, I was not using an attached Panasonic viewfinder) on the Panasonic is better.  It’s not gone, however.  Overall focus speed of the Panasonic seems a wee bit faster, but not substantially so.
  • The grip on the Olympus is much, much nicer.  I found it comfortable and natural to walk around with the Olympus pinched between my thumb and forefinger.  I didn’t have as much time with the Panasonic so perhaps it’s an unfair statement, but it just didn’t feel as surefooted in my grip.
  • The Panasonic seems to be a good deal better spec’d in terms of video, but the AVCHD format that it provides is a pain to use/edit on my computer and so I like deferring to the HD format of the E-PL2 anyways.  I’m not much of a video guy, so the Panasonic advantage here seems minor.
  • I really appreciate the in body image stabilization of the Olympus, which is great when using non-stabilized lenses such as the Pany 20/1.7 and the available ultra-wide zooms.  This, for me, is a biggie.
  • I really consider the accessory viewfinder to be essential and the Olympus model is exceptional.  I didn’t use the Panasonic, but by all reports, it’s not.

P1000013.jpg

P1000020.jpg

Here are a few quick grabs with the GF2 (using the very nice and very small 14mm pancake lens that is available as a kit offering).  These low light situations took advantage of the focus assist light.  For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Olympus does not build this into the PEN series.  Perhaps the next iteration?

What about the touch interface?  I’m sure I could get used to it, but it is nowhere near as intuitive as Apple’s iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) operating system.  Some of the icons don’t clearly represent what function they perform and I found the touch resistance to be such that a firmer press is required than obvious or even convenient.  I was looking forward to the touch focus and shutter release capability, but it did not feel natural to press onto the LCD screen to take a picture, and though I couldn’t measure this in any objective way, I felt as though I was always introducing some camera shake by pushing against the camera right at the moment the shutter opened.  So, ultimately, I found myself ignoring the touch features.

Both micro four-thirds cameras are quite nice and quite capable, but do like the Olympus more so.  Again, this isn’t a completely fair comparison as I shot over 500 images during a recent trip with the Olympus and only had a few hours in my house with the Panasonic.  But, that was enough to suggest that the Olympus offering in this class of micro four-thirds cameras, is the winner for me.

I’m hoping that the true successor to the GF1 will be released with the build quality and physical interface of the original along with an upgraded sensor – – the current one is getting a bit long in the tooth.  Oh, and I hope they release an upgraded viewfinder as well.  If so, I could see my allegiances shifting.

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The Olympus EPL2 can be found here.

The Panasonic GF2 can be found here.

Thanks!

Posted by Rey

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