For the last year, I’ve been taking pictures with the HTC One X smartphone. The phone takes great photos and I’ve become a daily photographer now. However, as good as the HTC is for photos, it simply can’t compare to a professional camera. I decided I wanted to get serious about photography in 2014 and I needed a good camera to do it. After about a month of researching entry-level digital cameras, I chose the Olympus E-PL5 micro four-thirds camera. The camera takes very high-quality photographs and is affordable. What follows is the journey I took to make this decision and the advice I got from pro level photographers on the net.
Research is part of the fun of buying something of high quality. And, of course, being a good 21st century consumer, I looked at the mid-level to high end cameras first. Nikon and Canon are the kings of this kind of camera, especially for the mid-level market (around $1,000). I spent almost a month going over the various merits of the Canon vs Nikon DSLR’s . I simply couldn’t choose between the two.
So I started asking myself questions; what kind of photos do you want to take? How complicated to you want to make the photography learning process? Do you need more than just a camera and a single lens to take good photographs? And I reflected on what I liked so much about using a smartphone to take pictures: it’s quick and easy, I can keep in in my pocket and I don’t need a lot of equipment to get good photos. I realized that what I wanted was a camera that would allow me to have the same kind of freedom that a smartphone has, but with much higher quality photographs.
Taking another look at the Nikon and Canon cameras, I realized these DSLR cameras are big and bulky. Plus, I’d probably need more than one lens. This mean’t I’d need a big bag to carry extra batteries, lenses and other equipment. This didn’t fit into what I wanted to do at all. I was more interested in what I understood was called “street photography”.
I then began to research with a much clearer idea of what I wanted in a camera. This led me to dpreview.com and the micro four thirds system of cameras. Dpreview.com is an excellent website that reviews cameras, posts articles on cameras and provides a very healthy forum community for photographers both pro and amateur. I won’t go into detail about the micro four thirds system as it would take up to much space, but, essentially, the system does away with the reflecting mirror in a DSLR and allows the light to shine directly on the sensor. This in turn allows for a much smaller and thinner camera. Exactly what I was looking for.
Illustration from imaging-resource.com
However, is the quality of image from a micro four thirds camera equal to that of a DSLR? The answer to this question led me to photographers David Thorpe and Robin Wong, whose reviews and photography showed clearly that these cameras can take wonderful photos even though they are quite small compared to a DSLR camera. On their recommendations, I started looking at the Lumix series of cameras by Panasonic and the Olympus Pen series. Both Panasonic and Olympus were the actual founders of the micro four thirds system and seem to have the best combination of features and pricing for their entry level cameras.
In the end, it was David Thorpe’s wonderful, droll review of the Olympus E-PL5 that won me over to this camera.
Once I decided on the camera, I quickly found a good deal for it at B&H Photo in NYC (included extra tele-photo lens + bag + free shipping). I got the camera in 3 days and, true to David’s comments, the menu system is awful and the manual is worse. But the image quality and simplicity of design is better than I expected. I’ve been taking the camera everywhere with me shooting on “automatic” for now. And although I understood that the video on the camera isn’t that great, it’s fine for me. My focus is on learning photography and this camera is exactly what I wanted.
I highly recommend the Olympus E-PL5 for beginning photographers. Despite the poor menu system and so-so video, the camera takes superb photographs. It’s easy to use, small enough to keep in your pocket and the fast focusing is very, very cool. My thanks to David Thorpe, dpreview.com and Robin Wong for sharing their thoughts and experience with the Olympus E-PL5.
Photo of antique journal using the Olympic E-PL5