The first round of interchangeable-lens cameras offered a lot to appeal to enthusiasts, but at prices upward of $800, not quite a no-brainer for point-and-shooters in search of an upgrade. The bigger sensors in these models can generally deliver better photo quality at somewhat higher ISO sensitivities than the smaller snapshot models and they support video capture, but the alternative has been the moderately larger dSLRs with action-friendly optical viewfinders and kit prices starting at a significantly lower $600. Even the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1, which delivers the right set of performance and features for these folks in a compact, attractive design, comes in at an ouch-worthy $900 or so. Olympus' sleek E-P1 and E-P2 have attracted a lot of attention, but without a built-in flash they're simply not the right camera for snapshooters, especially at their relatively high prices. So Olympus is trying again to lure this lucrative audience to its Micro Four Thirds camp, this time with the more consumer-friendly designed and priced E-PL1.
At $600 for a kit with the 14-42mm (28-84mm equivalent) lens, a boxier but not unattractive aluminum body that's definitely smaller than a dSLR and this time with a pop-up flash, this latest model might just be a contender. (Unfortunately, I only had a preproduction model to play around with, so I can't address key aspects like performance and image quality.)
If you're one of the crowd attracted by the low price, though, keep in mind that even though both Olympus and Panasonic make compatible lenses for the system, because it's much newer there are still a lot fewer choices in Micro Four Thirds lenses than for dSLRs, and they tend to be more expensive than their SLR-compatible counterparts. For example, Olympus' 14-42mm lens lists for $299, while both Canon and Nikon's staple dSLR 18-55mm lenses run $199. The Micro Four Thirds lenses and bodies are more compact, though, and people are historically willing to pay more for less bulk.
While the elder E-P models mimic a traditional film design, the E-PL1 takes its design cues from digital cameras like the Canon PowerShot G series and Panasonic Lumix LX models. It will come in blue, champagne gold and silver and black, and the black and silver model still has a somewhat retro look. The plastic and aluminum body doesn't feel quite as tanklike as the E-P models, but it feels sturdy, with a relatively large, comfortable grip. Still, I found it just a tad slipperier to hold than I'd like, especially with winter-dry hands.
Some basic specs compared to its linemates:… Read more
To show that it's still a leader in the rugged compact camera market, Olympus on Tuesday announced two Tough series models. Available in February, the $399.99 Stylus Tough-8010 is shockproof to drops of 6.6 feet and waterproof to depths of 33 feet, while the $299.99 Stylus Tough-6020 is shockproof to drops of 5 feet and waterproof to depths of 16 feet. Also, both cameras are freezeproof to temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit.
Olympus does well with the rugged part of these cameras, but their feature sets were never very interesting. This time out, though, … Read more
Perhaps the most notable thing about Olympus' two new megazoom cameras is the pricing: the top-end model spot, now occupied by the SP-800 UZ, drops to $349.99, while the new budget brother SP-600 UZ comes in at $249.99.
The SP-800 UZ introduces a paparazzi-friendly 30X zoom lens. (For what it's worth, Fujifilm beat Olympus to the announcement by an hour.) Despite the lens, the camera is significantly smaller and lighter than its predecessor, thanks to switching to a rechargeable lithium ion battery and, unfortunately, getting rid of the EVF. While I'm not a big fan of … Read more
Updatable firmware is a mixed blessing. On one hand, it can help keep your hardware from obsolescing as new accessories ship; fix bugs; and expand feature sets on older models. But it's also beginning to feel like camera manufacturers have jumped on the (annoying) ship now/patch later software bandwagon.
More and more, companies seem to announce firmware updates within weeks of a camera's widespread availability: the Canon EOS 7D, Pentax K-7, Olympus E-P1 are all among the cameras that had firmware updates available within the first few months after shipping. The latest to add to that list … Read more
If camera phones have got people thinking twice about the need for a decent snapshot camera, no one's told the camera manufacturers. Canon, Nikon, Sony, Panasonic, Fujifilm, Kodak, Pentax, Casio, Samsung, and Olympus all continue to produce point-and-shoot cameras in a wide array of shapes, sizes, and abilities. The variety is amazing, bordering on downright silly.
This is why the question "What's the best point-and-shoot?" is difficult to answer; while one camera might excel in low-light conditions or photo quality, it'll more than likely come up short in design, usability, performance, price, or in some other area. Sure, I can stack up some cameras with some similar features and prices, but with so many variables it's very difficult to be specific. But, I'll give it a shot.
Below is a list of the best cameras--or at least those worth considering--that fall under a particular type, size, or feature. These are ones that left a strong enough impression on me to make me recommend them again and again to readers, friends, and family. None of them is perfect, but they have pluses that outweigh the minuses. If you're after the best photo quality in a compact camera, Canon's PowerShots are your best bet. However, their shooting performance tends to be behind those from Panasonic and Sony.
While I'm at it, there are a few things you should keep in mind when shopping for any point-and-shoot camera. For capturing kids, pets, or any other fast-moving subjects, you really need a digital SLR. A couple here are pretty quick--the Panasonic ZR1 and Sony WX1 come to mind--but if you're regularly shooting things in motion you'll want to step up to at least an entry-level dSLR. I suggest the same for those wanting the best in low-light shooting without a flash (though again, there are a couple here worth buying).
Optical viewfinders are all but gone from new models. Canon still has a few, but the rest of them are nothing but LCD. Lastly, most of these models use proprietary something or other: a memory card, cable, or, most typically, a battery. It's irritating, occasionally frustrating, and adds to the overall cost of a product--definitely worth keeping in mind when you're shopping.… Read more
The E-P2 is Olympus' newly announced follow up to its first mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera, the E-P1, which also adheres to the Micro Four Thirds Standard (MFT). But while the E-P2 offers some nice enhancements over its line mate, it doesn't seem to address two of the major problems in its almost-identical body. That's too bad, because the E-P1 had serious shutter lag and focus issues. The E-P2 adds AF tracking in continuous autofocus and movie modes, which the company thinks should ameliorate many user complaints, but unfortunately the E-P1's performance woes occurred in single autofocus mode.
The E-P2 is extremely similar to the E-P1, though it will only come in an elegant shiny black as opposed to the silver and white versions of the E-P1. It'll be available with the same kit lenses, the 14-42mm and the 17mm pancake, with each kit costing about $1,100. The most notable addition to the body is an accessory port, which makes the body slightly higher. One of the first accessories Olympus will offer is an add-on tiltable electronic viewfinder that slides into the hot shoe, which the company will bundle with the camera. That's nice--it's an extra-cost option with the Panasonic GF1. The viewfinder seems pretty good and quite bright and contrasty. The other accessory is an adapter for an external microphone.… Read more
If you don't think plastic is fantastic, here's some good news: Japanese carrier NTT DoCoMo has created a new prototype cell phone made from cypress wood.
The Touch Wood handset is crafted from surplus wood culled during forest maintenance work.
DoCoMo teamed up with Sharp and Olympus to create the prototype (seen bottom right, with an ergonomic mockup above). More Trees, a reforestation group supported by musician and actor Ryuichi Sakamoto, was also involved.
Olympus contributed "three-dimensional compression molding" that made the wood usable for phones, according to DoCoMo. The molding also made the cypress shiny … Read more