Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Please Olympus, Make The E-7 Great

I loved the Olympus E-5, I really did. Its ergonomics, build quality, design, work-flow: everything was great. The truly amazing element was, of course, its lens selection. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that Oly's Zuiko lens line represents, in many cases, the best lenses available. Obviously, designing lenses for the smaller sensor is easier, so Canon and Nikon get a bit of a pass, here. But still, even if we take everything into account, Oly's lenses remain at the top of the top-pro heap. If only the E-5 was a worthy companion to those lenses.

At very low ISO, and I mean no higher than 400, the E-5 produced good images. The OOC JPEGs were bright and punchy, if perhaps a bit oversaturated. Unfortunately, Olympus' lenses would only truly sing at longer focal lengths. Oly's 150mm was the equivalent of 300mm on full-frame. That means that you would need a minimum of 1/600th to guarantee a sharp image. Even the extra stop of speed compared to FF lenses (most of Oly's top-pro lenses hit f/2.0, while Cankon rarely drops below f/2.8) frequently wasn't enough to get the camera exposed correctly at low ISO.

Basically, in all but the best light, the E-5's sensor just wasn't up to the challenge. The new Sony sensors change all that. They more than double the ISO performance of the old Panasonic sensors and make ISO 1600 usable. If they combined this sensor with the design of the E-5, I would be very tempted.

That said, with the release of the GH3, Fuji X Pro 1, NEX 6, and others, the E-7 cannot be simply an E-5 with a Sony sensor. It needs to be wholly different. First, it needs to take everything that it does to a pro level. If the camera has a feature, it needs to match other cameras three times the price in that feature. The E-M5 already has hints of this philosophy with elements like the 1/250th flash-sync.

Secondly, make it a hybrid 4/3-m4/3 camera. Based on comments by Olympus reps, this is absolutely one of their intentions. While the traditional SLR design may not be feasible, it's not needed. All they need is a PD focusing system in the camera. Sony's SLT technology gives an idea of how this can be achieved. Apparently, Olympus is thinking of implementing some optical adapter. Whatever it turns out to be, it better be good.

Thirdly, release updated lenses. Olympus was the company that started the autofocus wars, back when they were trying to convince people to buy their overpriced-and-underperforming Pen line of cameras. Now, the speed of the AF is a major marketing point. The performance of AF, whether it be phase or contrast, is predicated on two things: the processing speed of the camera and the speed of the lens' motors. Old lenses simply don't compare anymore. Is the difference small in many cases? Hell yeah. But this is about both actual quality and perceived quality. If Oly can't advertise the speed, then they need to make it faster.

And finally, make the E-7 different in some key way. A hybrid camera is a start, but it needs to go much further than that. Include extensive video features, as Panasonic is doing with the GH3. For the love of Pete, give it a 1:1 sensor; talk about unique! Take a page from Sony's NEX design book and step outside of the bounds of traditional camera design. Because your current tack, excepting the decent success of the E-M5, is getting the shit kicked out of you.

I liked the E-5. I liked the design philosophy behind it, and that's something that a company has a hard time ejecting or adopting, which means that I am only ever likely to get that philosophy from Olympus. That means that I want the E-7 to be great in every way--to be great enough where I have to come up with reasons to not buy it. Make me want the E-7, because I want to want it, and I absolutely want more Zuiko lenses.

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