Taking it to the Streets: m4/3 vs. X100

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Since we’ve been on the theme of street photography lately, I thought I’d report out some recent findings regarding my current street shooting kits.  I could just have easily entitled this post as: “Head and Heart Take to the Streets.”  I’ll cut right to it – – the Fujifilm X100 soothed my heart.  The Olympus Pen fed my head.

The backstory on my micro four-thirds (you know there’s a big problem with your product naming schema when nobody knows precisely whether to call it m4/3, micro-4/3, micro fourthirds, MFT, or some other derivative… do you hear that marketing team?) adventures can be found here, here and here.  My impressions of the X100 are here and here.  The short version: I love the Olympus PEN form factor but the autofocus leaves something to be desired, the menus are not intuitive, and the battery life is garbage; the retro X100 grows on you over time, numerous quirks and all.

Olympus recently announced three new PENS, most notably the flagship EP3 which is said to be coming to a website (or real camera store such as Newtonville Camera – they do have their advantages) next month plus the barely mentioned brand new form factor PEN Mini and the EPL3, successor to the popular EPL2 (which I shoot).  The most significant change to the PENs is the adoption of the “world’s fastest autofocus” (seriously marketing team?) system and that will go a long, long way toward making the PEN my sole system of choice.  If you check out the youtube vids (do a search) showing the new AF engine, you’ll be impressed.  World’s fastest?  Doubtful.  The new cameras are also said to have a redesigned (or some say ‘tweaked’) sensor and we’ll leave it to real world experience to determine whether that translates into the things that count – improved dynamic range and better high ISO performance.  As soon as we get the new PEN, we’ll make sure to put it through its paces and report our findings.

I’ve been playing around with some street photography with both rigs and wanted to provide a few impressions of the PEN vs. the X100 here…

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All of the shots here were taken with the PEN, mated to the popular and excellent Panasonic 20/1.7 lens, which is a near approximation to the fixed 35mm equivalent on the X100.  Surprisingly and perhaps because I’ve been mostly shooting with the X100 lately, I found the 20 to be a bit too tight.  The difference between the 20 (40mm equivalent) and the 35 doesn’t seem like much, but in real world experience, I definitely enjoyed the wider view of the nearly ideal 35mm.  It’s enough to make me wonder if the Olympus 17/2.8 (34mm equivalent) wouldn’t be a better choice for me, despite the loss of aperture (2.8 vs. 1.7).

So, how would I compare street shooting between the PEN and the X100?

In it’s favor, the X100 is very beautifully built and the unique optical viewfinder is a true joy to use.  The metal clad body has just the right heft for a day of carry around shooting; it’s not too heavy and it’s not too light.  It’s liberating to be free of the DSLR and the obligatory extra lens or two I can’t seem to leave home without.  For inconspicuous street shooting, the silent mode (easy to quickly toggle on and off) on the X100 is a godsend.  Finally, the photo quality is outstanding and very consistent.  Cons?  The autofocus isn’t always snappy and I do wish the battery life was better.  Most of the other quirks have faded in importance to me as I’ve gained experience with the camera, though the inability to quickly jump between Auto ISO and a set ISO amount still aggravates.

The PEN is a capable street shooter, though on the day I took these photos, I left the optional VF2 viewfinder behind and quickly realized that that was a mistake.  The PEN longs to be held up to the eye, providing another point of contact for the device, adding stability and, for me, I’d always be inclined to look through the narrow peephole into reality than to behold it at arms length via a rear mounted LCD screen.  The Olympus is no slouch in the build department, though its high end plastics are no match for the plated and tank-like build of the X100.  And while I haven’t been in love with the focusing system of the PEN, I must say that it pretty consistently outpaces the X100.  It’s just more reliable and consistent.  And with the better focusing in the just announced PENs, it’s going to be hard to beat.  Finally, the PEN does allow for something the X100 can’t — the option of popping on another lens.  I had the beautiful (and lightweight) Panasonic 7-14/4 with me and it was great being able to grab a few shots at an ultrawide point of view.

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Both cameras have a few tricks up their sleeves.  The Fujifilm allows for different film modes, emulating the popular Fujifilm emulsions from a bygone era.  The camera also has the truly useful sweep panorama mode, allowing for in camera stitching of photos to make compelling pano shots.  The PEN has Olympus’ famous Art Filters, such as Pin Hole and Grainy B&W and these too are quite useful.  If you’re a menu tinkerer and prefer to gain artistic effects in camera rather than in post production, both cameras offer something here, but it’s hard to beat the Oly filters for the fun factor.  Additionally and perhaps even more importantly, these filters can be used in video shooting, allowing for the creation of some pretty artsy and interesting effects.

So, when you add it all up, I found that I really enjoy street shooting with the X100.  I have developed somewhat of a borderline irrational attachment to it and I’m reluctant to part with it.  But, for all the reasons we’ve discussed at 2 Guys Photo, the PEN just simply checks off more boxes on the list for street shooters.  It’s clearly a more rational choice.

Heart vs. heart.  That’s always a tough call…

 

Posted by Rey

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6 Responses to Taking it to the Streets: m4/3 vs. X100

  1. Mark says:

    I ended up with the GF1 because of the slow pen focus and their lack of flash at the time and have been quit happy with it for street shooting. Sometimes it is hard to get past liking what you like even if others tell you it’s not as good.

    Mmmm… Pizza… It must be lunch time.

  2. Ian Soliva says:

    Thanks for sharing! I was about to email you guys regarding this. I was just wondering if there’s a big difference between the two in terms of low light shooting? Thanks!

    • 2guysphoto says:

      Ian – there’s a difference, but I wouldn’t say it’s a big one. The X100 clearly allows for cleaner images as you notch up the ISO (and the lights go down). That coupled with the capable F2 lens makes it a very nice option for lowlight shooting. It rivals my Nikon DSLR in that regard. But with that said, I wouldn’t be discouraged away from the m4/3 format based on this one factor. And if you add a fast lens like the Pan 20/1.7 or forthcoming PanLeica 25/1.4, you can get nice results in dim conditions.

      Posted by Rey

  3. Wonderful reviews…now I have to go do some research of my own. Cost will, alas, be a factor for me! Thanks for your blogs..you are both wonderful in your coverage of your chosen subjects! Hillary

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