Old is the new New

update: added link to wired’s hands-on review 06/20, 6.27am
update: added new closing paragraph, link to photo.net’s hands-on preview 06/19, 8.12am

Olympus, the lesser known giant of the camera industry has once again strike a stir with the introduction of their new retro-vintage style camera the E-P1. Dubbed as the new PEN, the launch also marks their 50th anniversary of the original PEN series, which has seen its golden days on the 60-70s.

Now at its 3rd model, the E-PL1 might come just in time for the season, whether you’re taking photographs for the o2 mobile phone deals reviews or you want something stylish and retro to cart around while you’re on holiday, this might be the answer to your joyous wishes.

Beneath the hood lies the industry’s worst kept secret, the Micro Four Thirds[1. DP Review made a very elaborate and excellent detail on the Micro Four Thirds used in this camera, read more on this here] format, an even smaller sensor of the Four Thirds system Olympus has been marketing for the DSLR market for a couple of years now.

Personally, I like how the camera maintains its retro design without compromising features. This little beast captures HD quality video with its image stabilized 12.3 megapixel (Live MOS) sensor capable of shooting up to ISO 6400, which justifies the absent of an internal flash.

There is one fundamental flaw with this new (even smaller) format.

Serious photographers, or those who opt for a bigger format will surely understand the importance of image quality but that’s not the real reason, even smaller sensors are more capable in producing higher quality images nowadays, what I’m referring to here is the actual optical image recorded by the sensor, and there are parameters that define the quality of such, e.g. sharpness, color, contrast, or distortion, etc., and there’s one thing that cannot be achieved with smaller size sensor: Maximum Depth of Field.

Now, would a smaller, lighter, a more compact camera justifies that for you? Or do you prefer the bulkier, not-so-easy-to-carry-around all day camera by your side, all the time? Believe me, the answer is not as easy as it seems while its easier for some who has different priorities.

And that’s the keyword: Priority.

Priority means knowing what you are looking for and choosing your gear based on the subject. Priority means knowing your limits and bending towards it, not against it. Priority ultimately means knowing what you want and when to go for it, or not to begin.

Photography is an addictive hobby, not to mention its pricey nature. There will be no end once you begin, and only sky is the limit once you begin that journey.

We are now in the phase where everything begins with a new ending, what was once considered a dying style is now back in fashion, retro is that new fashion, and old is becoming new, again. Style may fade but wisdom stays.

The legendary Leica M Series never changed its basic style for more than 50 years and their products continues to sell strong (left), regardless of their age. The newer Leica Digilux System (right) shares the same design philosophy while adopting technological edge beyond its look–Leica works together with Panasonic for the digital electronics part.

A finer example may be found with Olympus’ own PEN models, among the two which one of them is new, or old?

Another layer of innovation involves reinventing the old wisdom with a newer technology, which Hasselblad has demonstrated perfectly with its innovative HTS 1.5 lens mount system (below left) that reinvents how lenses can be adjusted independently providing perspective, tilf/shift control against the film plane.

Dinoasur Camera

The same phenomenon also happens on how we perceive looks in general, in particular how retro looking photographs are back in fashion!

Retro Fashion

…and the never-dying Black & White.

Batavia Reopened

Back to the E-P1, the real headline is not the retro looking design, nor the new Micro Four Thirds sensor, rather than what the future might unfold based on this new product. As touted by Akira Watanabe, product planning manager of Olympus’s SLR division, The E-P1 will be the first of a range of Micro Four Thirds cameras from Olympus. Also planned in the pipeline are lens adapters that allow older manual focus Zuiko (SLR, OM System) or the newer auto-focus Zuiko optics (dSLR, E-System) lenses to be mounted on this new camera, as well as opening up to other 3-rd party manufacturers so other lenses can be fitted too (with sensor this small, basically all lenses can be fitted to this camera).

On the final note, just as the wheel turns, what was old, become new again, and there may be days where Big is the new Small, and/or vice versa. I’d always think of photography as something that is not better when it’s smaller, it’s much more than being small but being useful to its owner. While many will find this new offering from Olympus as sexy, there will always be a different perspective for others that will find bigger systems more lucrative to their needs. But the good news is, such competition will always benefit us as customers, more technology on less money to spend.

(If you are curious, the anniversary model of PEN, on the right is a real vintage model)

Further reading:

  • Olympus E-P1 Hands-on preview
  • Olympus E-P1 Movie sample
  • More in the Micro Four Thirds pipeline
  • New Retro-inspired Olympus Shoots HD Video
  • Olympus E-P1 Hands-on Preview
  • Hands-On With the Smart, Retro Olympus E-P1 (with retro image sample!)

    If you are interested in buying this camera, you might also want to check out:

  • Ricoh GR Digital
  • Sigma DP
  • Leica Digilux