My experiment with the little Olympus E-P1 camera has been going on for a couple weeks now, and I figured I should fill everyone in on my findings. As a recap, my point for diving into the mini-interchangeable lens world is to gain a portable camera that can serve not only as a backup for my DSLR, but can serve as a lower profile camera for times when that is necessary. During my trip to Kuwait last year, there was several times when I was frowned upon for pulling out my DSLR, so I started using my point and shoot which was not quite up to par for what I was trying to do. I found that something in between was needed.
Of course, whatever I was going to do for a back up camera had to be cheap, and enter the micro-four thirds system. To start off, I gave myself a $300 budget, and set out on an eBay adventure. After a bit of perusing I came across the Olympus PEN E-P1, which had some good reviews on DPReview.com and other places. After the usual bidding game I picked up a real clean one for $112.50, shipped, but no lens was included.
From there it was time to research some lenses and see what folks were saying. The 14-42mm lens looked like a dud, but the 17mm “pancake” lens has some great reviews. More research brought me to the “legacy lens” and the adapter. This seemed like a good solution, since there are literally thousands of lenses from 35mm film days floating around for cheap. The conclusion I came to was that I would try some legacy lenses out and see what happened, then if I needed to fall back on the 17mm olympus lens later, I could always do that.
My first legacy lens was an olympus om-zuiko 50mm f1.2 prime lens that I found on eBay in a bundle with an adapter for $30 shipped. This is an awesome lens, but 50mm with the micro four thirds crop factor is like a 100mm on a full frame SLR, not the best focal length for all around shooting. At about the same time I found a “lot” of lenses and 35mm cameras on eBay for $50 shipped, that included a bunch of good stuff. Among this lot was a Minolta MC lens in 70-200mm f4 lens with 2x teleconvertor, something that could be fun to play with when I’m whale watching here in a couple weeks, but I’ll come back to this one later. Also in this lot was a 35-70 mm Olympus zoom lens, that I though might be a bit more friendly for walking around, but this is still equivalent to 70-140mm and not really ideal.
Honestly, I was a little worried at this point, since getting much below 35mm focal length lenses would be getting more expensive, and my thoughts were starting to go with ordering the 17mm lens. I was at $192.50 and that left me $107.50 to get this figured out, which is just enough for a used 17mm.
Through a little bit of horse trading I ended up with a guitar for my daughter and a Minolta MC 28-70mm lens. This being a slightly more usable focal length I spent some time playing around with it, having some fairly good results, but still wanting for something wider angle for the style of photography I generally use. Even on my APS-C sensored Canon with 17-40mm lens I often wish for a wider angle lens.
Now, with a bit of luck I found a newer lens on a minolta auto focus 35mm body at the pawn shop, and picked up the whole package for $20, but I also had to order a $30 adapter, since the Minolta auto focus lenses are a different mount then the older style manual focus lenses. The lens is a Sigma 17-35mm lens, and I’ll mention that the adapter will not allow use of the auto focus, but will let me manually control the aperture and focus. Maybe this will be the lens I’ve been looking for.
At this point, here is a summary of what I’ve learned. I’m almost at my $300 budget and I still don’t really have an ideal backup camera. The E-P1 does not have an optional electronic view finder, and honestly it needs one. Focusing a manual focus lens in low or super light conditions is very difficult. I’m thinking that buying lenses that can be controlled with the camera are the only way around this, which is ok if you understand this. With the E-P2 model they introduced the electronic view finder, so I would recommend spending the extra money on this model or an even newer version.
“Legacy lenses” are no different than any other lenses. You get what you pay for, simple as that. More often than not the older lenses have a fungus growing inside of them, and the coatings on the lenses are degraded. Image quality is degraded considerably as well. There are nice lenses out there that can be had for decent prices, but look at the glass carefully. I will say that I really do like the ability to control aperture by a ring on the lens itself, and wish Canon would make lenses like this still.
What’s my next move? As I look from this vantage point I see that investing in lenses for my backup camera will be just like lenses for my DSLR, paying for quality glass pays for itself in time. There are many micro four thirds lenses made by Olympus,Panasonic, and others of high quality that will put this mini might right where I want it. In stealth mode.