Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Too Impatient to Wait: E-P3 Break-In
Okay, so clearly it did none of that REALLY, but nonetheless, an extra few hours of anticipation really made my giddiness skyrocket for when I came home to unbox my brand new and utterly lovely E-P3.
First impression upon getting the awful cardboard and peanut packaging out of the way... complete surprise. It's one thing to read about a camera body online, hear how its construction is methodically dissected and its size/handling relate to the average man-hands, but having the body physically in front of me and the tactile nature of my introduction to it had me very much taken aback. My GF1 was solid, but clearly built of flexible plastic. Same goes for my old D40x. Both of which were fairly light cameras, not nearly so weighty as to really be noticeable over the shoulder unless mounted with a particularly large lens. Completely different story with the E-P3. I'd read about its solid metal construction, but didn't grasp what kind of confidence that inspires when held in the hand. I've had metal film SLR cameras with faux leather gripping but nothing that was quite as elegantly incorporated as in this little digital camera. And it was very little compared to my expectations. Whereas my mental concept of the camera had it being significantly larger than the GF1 that preceded it, I was shocked to find the camera in my hands occupy nearly the exact same amount of space. It was small like the GF1 but deeper to the point at which it was recognizably easier to hold, especially in the two-handed manner that provides the steadiest shots (I never knew where to cradle the GF1 with my second hand, an issue not too dissimilar than that which I have with the XZ-1 compact). I could ramble on and on and on, but the bottom line is that the body alone left the impression that I had invested in a far more professionally minded camera than I ever have before, both in terms of construction and meticulous attention to the most important aspect of any photographic instrument, ergonomics.
By the time I'd unpackaged and assembled the camera the sun was setting in front of a dramatic, stormy sky. Perfect conditions under which to test out such an aesthetically appealing tool. I set my tablet to stream the inspirational sounds of various Post-Rock artists, popped in the earbuds and began a little photo walk. Most of the camera's settings I kept as default as possible, adjusting one thing at a time as I saw necessary. The interface was very intuitive, not too dissimilar from that of the XZ-1 but with a bit more depth available for greater image adjustment in-camera. Immediately I was able to find and adjust image options with limited hassle, the greatest hick-up being the difference in when the scroll wheel was utilized in comparison to the 4-way directional buttons underneath. For the walk I kept the camera in auto ISO (which surprisingly took liberties all the way to ISO 1600, something I will have to change in the future as that is not an ISO I am comfortable with using), used the iEnhance color mode which very intelligently pumped specific depths of color while leaving other, less appealing ones alone, left it in Program shooting mode and stuck with fine JPG files. Although I failed to reduce the noise reduction algorithm's intensity (which is to say turn NR off completely) and didn't notice how broad the spectrum of auto ISO was (just a tad higher than I was comfortable with from an image quality standpoint), the resultant images did not disappoint.
I have yet to push the limits and test the RAW capabilities of the camera but find myself much less eager to do so. My interest is far more focused in perfecting the manual adjustments available for JPG rendering. It's been a very long time since I've worked with any camera able to produce such lovely images out-of-camera and I'm more than eager to lock in the settings that are most appropriate for stills and people shooting respectively. Before I feel comfortable with any attempt at RAW editing I would certainly need to calibrate my laptop screen as well, preferably to match the calibration of the camera's OLED screen for consistency across the board. Somehow, I suspect RAW simply won't see much use anymore.
Given the praiseworthy first impressions this camera has left me with, my anticipation for the future additions I have planned for the system have grown ten-fold. The VF-2 viewfinder and 85mm f/1.8 lens are especially high on the list of anticipated items. Having tested the Panasonic 14mm f/2.5 on the E-P3, the 12mm f/2.0 has somewhat fallen by the wayside as something that would certainly be nice to have but isn't nearly as crucial as originally thought as the E-P3 accommodates that lens surprisingly well (distortion is relatively high, but shot in RAW the distortion is corrected automatically in ACR). Some manner of normal-to-long fast prime is definitely an eager addition to the bag, though. Portraits will be able to sing with this tool at my disposal.
In the months to come I finally feel a sense of jollity at the future of my pursuit of photography. Limited to the XZ-1 I felt encumbered and weighed down by both poor perception and inability to adapt to different shooting conditions. This E-P3, however, re-opens doors that were never entirely shut, simply closed to the point of only a crack being left between door and frame. I never fell off the horse, and my acquisition of this new camera is an empowering testament to my sense of dedication to the art of photography. Amazing I ever doubted it to begin with.