Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Olympus & Panasonic Releasing Lenses That They Should Have Released Two Years Ago

I am not secretive about my disdain for the way that Olympus and Panasonic have handled the Micro 4/3 format. I jumped on near the very beginning with a Panasonic GF-1, the 20mm, 7-14mm, 14-45mm, 45-200mm, bought a used Olympus 50-200mm, and felt sure that a torrent of enthusiast-level glass was on the way, considering all of the great lenses already being sold for 4/3. The Olympus 12-60mm is practically the only lens that I would ever need, if only the autofocus worked well on Micro 4/3.

But no. We are over three years into the existence of Micro 4/3, eight years into 4/3, and we still have a lens selection that's worse than even Sony's A-mount. One cool advantage, even in the face of this, was optical compatibility with essentially every lens made. But now, Sony's brilliant focus peaking has made their new NEX cameras the best choice for vintage lens fans.

I like vintage lenses and all, there is something distinctly personal about finding some long-forgotten optic, rigging up some adapter if one doesn't exist, focusing & setting aperture entirely by hand, and finally taking a shot that might not be tack sharp, but is entirely unique. This is great for some types of urban photography as well as landscape shots. All of that is great... but autofocus is the shit. There is a good reason why SLR's utterly dominated the previously esoteric, wild and wooly, cluttered world of photography. Autofocus is amazing.

A system is only as good as the autofocus of its lenses. If it's out of focus, it doesn't matter how sharp the elements are. That's why I don't own any Sigma lenses. The autofocus, be it for Nikon, Canon, Sony, or Pentax, is problematic at best for nearly every lens. I need to be able to jump from a landscape shot to a shot of a dog running through a dimly lit house and that lens needs to perform.

So what does Olympus do with its first Micro 4/3 camera, the E-P1? They make a camera with the shittiest autofocus this side of a point-&-shoot. And what do Olympus and Panasonic both do? They put out the same damned lens multiple times. And instead of confirming to enthusiasts that Micro 4/3 is a system worth giving a shit about, all of their lenses are aimed at the consumer crowd. The very same consumer crowd that doesn't give a rat's ass about Micro 4/3. Panasonic's 20mm is a gem, but other than that, the only lens that made people go "oh... wow!" was the 14-45mm... which they promptly replaced with the crappier 14-42mm.

Olympus was the most painful. Olympus' Zuiko lenses are amazing. They are, if not better than, as good as any lens made by any other company. I don't expect $3,000 top-pro lenses, nor do I want them. But the enthusiast-accessible 12-60mm, 50-200mm, and 50mm macro, should have been made available immediately.

Panasonic is finally releasing its two X-series lenses that won't be massive disappointments like the current two. A 12-35mm and 35-100mm will be announced later this year and then made generally available in the year 2076. I seriously doubt that they will have a constant aperture and will likely have a range of F/2.8 to F/3.5. Olympus is likewise releasing a lens in the 10-50mm range, possibly a micro 4/3 version of their venerable 12-60mm. It only took them over three years.

I don't know whether or not I should thank Panasonic and Olympus for dragging their feet. Because, if they had actually released all of those lenses at the beginning, I would have bought them. And then I would be seriously invested in a system that is being helmed by chimps. Then again, if they had released those lenses, that would have meant that the companies were actually being run by highly-intelligent chimps.

Then, we would not be facing a market where two companies have sold seventeen different cameras over three years, only three of which were fundamentally different from the other fourteen. At least Canon adds things to each generation. Olympus and Panasonic either took stuff away or simply called the camera a different name.

Rumors of the Panasonic GH3, or perhaps GX2, are leaking. The camera, whatever it is, will likely be weather sealed. I hope that under that seal is a an up-to-date sensor and no features that are crippled because Panasonic needs to protect sales of another camera.

C'mon Sony! Give me some better lenses for the NEX line! Give me a reason to leave!

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