Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Sep 28 2010

GF1 vs. EP1: Fight!

I realize that anyone interested in the GF1 vs. EP1 debate has long since either made up their minds or are rabidly awaiting Fuji’s X100, but as I’ve had a chance to use both cameras extensively, I thought I’d provide my thoughts on the subject.

When Olympus came out with the EP1 last summer, I was intrigued and planned to get one when I could rustle up enough cash. I was attracted to the idea of a larger sensor in a small body, small enough to be my “always with me” camera that I keep in my backpack for everyday shooting. Previously, this spot had been filled by a series of Canon Powershots, Sigma’s DP1 and most recently the Panasonic LX3. I never really warmed to the LX3, however; something about the images just put me off it. The colors never seemed quite right, and with the protruding lens it wasn’t pocketable either. Granted, I was coming from the DP1, which produced excellent images when it got around to focusing on something and actually taking a shot, but I was frustrated at the slow operation and the fixed 28mm-equivalent lens. 35mm I could see as a single lens, but not 28; it’s just too wide. In any case, neither camera really hit the spot.

Panasonic’s first micro-four-thirds cameras, the G series, were almost DSLR-sized, and I simply couldn’t see the point of such devices, particularly as the DP1 was smaller and produced similar image quality with its larger foveon sensor.

Although I was interested in the EP1, the reported focusing problems made me hesitate. It just took too long, DP1-long, and it often missed. That fall, Panasonic introduced its own small m43 camera, the GF1. On paper, it addressed all the problems of the EP1, and it came with a snappy 40mm-equivalent f1.7 lens. On a trip to Tokyo last November I was able to handle both cameras in the stores, and the quick autofocus and higher-resolution LCD of the GF1 won me over. The feel of the EP1 was nicer, the brushed metal skin a joy to hold and the “clunk” of the shutter more akin to closing the door on a big Mercedes than the harsh plastic “clack” of the GF1’s shutter.

But I had to be practical. I’m pretty good at holding cameras steady in low light, so I figured I didn’t need the in-body image stabilization that the Olympus offers.

So I got the GF1, a silver version, and wrapped it in some leatherette skin I ordered from Japan. It looked great and was easy to hold. I used it every day, with the 40mm as well as the Olympus’s wide zoom. People often asked me if it was a film camera.

In daylight it was a great performer. At night, however, the ISO would jump and the shutter speeds plummeted, and I got some blurry, grainy shots. Not nearly as many as the LX3 or DP1, but enough to make me pause. This sensor is almost there, I thought. If it were just a little more sensitive, it would be useful as a night shooter.

I shoot a lot at night. Taipei comes alive at night, visually, with all the signs, stalls and activity, life spilling out the doors onto the verandas, patios, streets and alleys. Night photography is important to me, but it’s hard to have the 5DII with me all the time. The Invincible Rabbit, albeit invincible, is just too big and heavy for that.

Recently, my friend and fellow photographer Brian Q. Webb, aka Photojazz, upgraded his EP1 to an EP2, and so he let me borrow his old EP1, which he had dropped, dinged and dented up pretty good. With the most recent firmware, the focus speed has improved to within shouting distance of the GF1, though shot-to-shot time is still frustratingly slow and the low-resolution screen makes focusing something that can only be left to the camera. Also, the EP1 lacks controls on top for shooting modes like black/white or multiple exposures, requiring a trip to the back of the camera.

Still, the camera felt as nice as I recalled, and I enjoyed the shutter feel and sound more than the GF1. All in all, for daytime shooting, the two cameras were more or less the same. Both are less than instantaneous when shooting, with the shutter lag and focusing issues. The GF1 has the useful ability to sleep and wake up at a moment’s notice, something I haven’t figured out how to do with the EP1, which has to stretch and yawn before bothering to take a shot. The battery life is also less impressive than the GF1, though the batteries are smaller as well.

Shooting at night, however, brought the EP1’s true strengths into play. On the pitiful LCD I couldn’t see much, but once I zoomed in, I was astounded: The combination of the IBIS, the f1.7 aperture, and Olympus’ noise reduction algorithm let me get a surprising amount of sharp shots all the way down to a quarter of a second. The subjects’ motion is blurred, but the environment is tack-sharp. The stabilization works on all lenses, including the wide zoom as well as my Leica summicrons, and though manual focusing on the terrible LCD is a hit-and-miss affair, the EP1 produces more usable shots with the legacy lenses at night than I got using the GF1; even at f2, they just weren’t bright enough to get decent shutter speeds without IBIS.

Is it too late in the game for such contemplation? I’m not sure; as beautiful as it may be, Fuji’s upcoming X100 will not have optical image stabilization that I know of. It will also be restricted to a fixed focal length, and I like my wide-angle shots, especially in as dense and crowded city as Taipei. So far, only the m43 cameras provide a large-sensor compact with useful interchangeable lenses. Sony’s NEX series is an operational nightmare with no useful pancake lenses available yet, and Samsung’s sensor hasn’t proven to be a strong performer. Things might change as other brands move into the market, but for now, that’s the way it is.

In the end, I bought Brian’s old EP1. I couldn’t justify buying a new one or the even costlier EP2 so late in the product cycle, but the battered little camera, with its nocturnal superpowers and chunky shutter, has earned its place in my backpack.

posted by Poagao at 11:44 am  


  1. Like I said last time at coffee, I love the street-level lighting in Taipei at night. Those shots you showed me were great and because of them I’ve made it a point to take some more night shots.

    The short days of fall & winter make it more convenient, too.

    Comment by Brian — September 28, 2010 @ 4:42 pm

  2. Hi there Poagao, I really enjoy viewing ur photographs and I’ve been following ur blog for some time now. If it’s not too much trouble I’d like to know ur opinion abt the M6, its retail price in Taiwan as well as its 2.0 35mm lens? Thanks a lot. Keep up the good work. Cheers.

    Comment by Links — September 29, 2010 @ 8:07 am

  3. I got mine through a friend on the LeicaFans forum, the price was around NT$38,000, as was the lens. It’s a great camera, though I have to say the M3 feels smoother and more classic due to the brass mechanics. But the M3 only really does 50mm. The M6 was the cheapest M I could find that would take a 35mm lens.

    Comment by Poagao — September 29, 2010 @ 8:42 am

  4. Nice pics you got there. I just bought the GF1 with the macro and the wide angle lens. Can’t wait to get the zoom, though, but am counting my pennies at this time. I wanted the changeable lens and my wife wanted to stick with the small body, so we found this semi-pro camera the best combination. We almost bought the Sony version with the smaller body and the pop out screen, but thought it was too expensive for such small differences. The Sony does have 14 mpix, but after 12, who’s counting?

    Comment by Top 100 in Taiwan — February 18, 2011 @ 10:40 am

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