For years I've been writing about bridge cameras - cameras that are advanced enough to bridge the gap between consumer cameras and DSLRs. But the bridge factor on these cameras have been the advance features like higher zoom level, better manual control options and even manual ring-based focus and zoom controls. But the biggest differentiating factor between compacts and DSLRs have been rarely touched upon, which is the sensor size. The 12.3 megapixel Olympus E-P2 with its bigger 4/3" sensor promises to truly bridge that gap.
You can't help but instantly love the retro looks of the EP2. The metallic body, the old-school design, all take you back to the eighties where models like these were ruling the enthusiast photography market.
The Olympus E-P2 borrows a lot from the EP-1 (released earlier this year, but not in India), and even the features seem to be pretty much the same at face value. Sized at 121 x 70 x 36 mm the E-P2 is not exactly the kind of camera you can (or should) carry around in your pocket. Like a DSLR it requires the lenses to be purchased separately, so you don't have a default lens attached at all times. The unit we got for review had a 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens which is equivalent to a 35mm equivalent of 28-84mm.
Getting back to the 4/3" sensor, at 18.00 x 13.50 mm it's pretty much capable of being inside a DSLR camera, which gives it a huge jump in performance when compared to any other compact camera. The thing is that even though the sensor is DSLR ready, the camera in all its functionality is a high-end consumer camera.
You have a good looking LCD display and live view and none of that optical viewfinder business. The E-P2 also bundles with a neat little electronic viewfinder that fits on the hotshoe, and can tilt to adjust to your viewing convenience. The weird thing here is that the camera doesn't have any flash built-in on the body. You do have that hotshoe to fit in external flashes, but an on-camera flash has always been a basic requirement, which seemed to have been overlooked here. E-P2 works with a mechanical shutter that further narrows the gap between consumer compacts and DSLR cams.
All the manual shooting options are present here, including 2 separate control wheels for setting the aperture and the shutter speed (not dedicated to those functions, but there nonetheless). The whole camera seems to have a very mechanical feel to it, starting from its looks to the sound that the shutter release makes. It's like they've taken the best bits out of 'old-school' and pressed them into this cam.
The one function that blew the bejezzus out of me are the camera's art modes that contains options like high-contrast black and white, vignetting, soft focus, diorama, etc. All of these modes are simple enough to achieve in Photoshop, but considering that the camera uses them as scene modes means that you get a preview of what your final image will look like when using these art modes, which is a great help during framing a shot. Moreover, you get the option to try out different effects to enhance just about any scenario you're shooting in, getting more out of any situation. All these options usually come under Lomography category, but the E-P2 gives you all of that right out of the box.
Of course when using these modes to shoot you need to understand that it takes quite a bite out of the camera's processing power, so be patient if the liveview seems to be a bit low on framerate, or the camera takes a bit of time to process after every shot. Rest assured, the end result is always worth it.
In our tests, the camera performed magnificently under just about all lighting conditions. Fine details were well represented by the E-P2, and unless you're shooting at higher ISOs, the dark areas were low on noise as well.
The color reproduction was almost spot on, with just a minute tinge of added saturation, which is not perfect, but pretty good. The reds and the greens did lose out on a minute bit of detailing, but not to the extent that will show up in standard sized prints.
The shot-to-shot timing of the EP-2 varied quite a bit depending on the mode used, with it being faster on all the regular shooting modes and a lot slower on the Art modes. In fact, the camera disables the continuous shooting mode in all the Art modes.
The EP-2 is a great camera, no, it's a brilliant camera. Not only does it look and feel great, but it also has the best looking results you can get from a compact camera, thanks to its large sensor. Its price of Rs. 59,995 (EP2 with micro zuiko digital 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 ED) is a hell lot for a compact camera, but frankly this is the best compact camera you can buy today.