The Olympus Pen E-P1 just arrived.
Why would you care? Well, to bring everyone up to date, there are many sensor sizes for digital cameras, and have been for some time. In SLRs, the two most common sizes are full frame 35mm (24x36mm) and APS-C (about 2/3 the size of full frame 35mm). A few years ago, Olympus created an alternative called 4/3 (the naming is obscure and did not involve anyone with experience in consumer communications). The 4/3 format is smaller than APS-C (about 2/3 of APS-C and half of full frame 35mm). Consumer digicams (so-called point-and-shoot cameras) have smaller sensors still, in various sizes. All of this talk about sensor sizes stems from the issue of noise. Basically sensor noise goes up as the sensor gets smaller (though sensor size is not the only factor, because pixel dimensions and noise reduction techniques, etc. also matter). More sensor noise makes it harder to take a clean image in low light. A good overview of these issues can be found by clicking here.
So, while larger sensors sound better, they have two problems. Larger sensors are more expensive and larger sensors require larger cameras. Olympus developed the 4/3 system to balance these issues so that they (and others; 4/3 is an open system) could create small cameras that made high quality images. In essence they wanted to slot cameras between the point-and-shoots and the pro or semi-pro offerings of Canon and Nikon. Problem was, some specification quirks meant that the 4/3 format cameras and lenses weren't that much smaller and cheaper.
So, Panasonic (a partner with Olympus in all this) pushed for a new variant called Micro 4/3. Basically Micro 4/3 uses the original sensor size, but involves a smaller lens mount and places the lens closer to the sensor. The latter concept prevents the use of SLR-type mirrors, so Micro 4/3 cameras use electronic viewfinders, either LCDs on the back of the camera or eye-level EVFs. That's a bit of a loss for lovers of optical viewfinders, but there are some gains besides size. As one example, live histograms work more easily on EVF-based cameras.
Panasonic launched the Lumix G1, which we covered here, as the first Micro 4/3 camera. It is very nice, but is in the mold of a small SLR (to be sure, the smallest if you count it as an SLR). But what about something smaller and more rangefinder-like?
That brings us to the Olympus Pen E-P1. Take a look below at this new arrival.
The box, because you can't have an unboxing without one.
Anticipation builds -- how big is it really?
Looks nice, though the lens seems large -- proportionally?
With the lens on, the camera seems a little more balanced.
Next to the Leica Digilux 4 and Canon G10, you see that the E-P1 is pretty small.
Though a top view reveals that the Pen is quite a bit deeper (the lens here is 28-84 equivalent, which is a little more range than the Leica but less than the Canon).
The depth also increases when you actually use the zoom. The picture above is at about 50mm equivalent, but the lens is longer than when retracted at all focal lengths.
The lens is retracted using this nicely located unlock button. You can use the lens when it is retracted simply by turning the zoom ring.
The back of the camera has a typical array of controls. More on how usable they are or aren't in our Test Log (which archives our test comments).