Olympus has announced a newer (and more expensive) successor to its first micro four-thirds camera, the E-P1. From my point of view, the key features of the new camera are electronic viewfinder support (hotshoe-mounted — very similar to the GF-1), continuous-tracking autofocus (will this make it suitable for photographing toddlers? according to dcresource the E-P1 and E-P2’s focusing have both improved since initial release — thanks to firmware upgrades — but both remain lackluster compared to the GF-1), and the option to shoot video with full manual control. Aside from these two new features, the new camera is black — sad, because I think the new model is markedly less attractive — and has a few irrelevant gimmicks.
Along with the new camera, Olympus will be offering a 9-18mm (18-36mm) wideangle zoom, and a 14-150mm (28-300mm equivalent) superzoom, making Micro Four-Thirds a pretty complete ecology (and quite likely offering superior optics at a given price-point than Canon or Nikon). This will leave Nikon and Canon sandwiched between Panasonic and Olympus (offering superior compact cameras) and Leica (offering superior high-end cameras). If Panasonic and Olympus can only get some camera bodies out at a reasonable price, they could do some serious damage.
While these may seem pretty minor changes, assuming the continuous-tracking autofocus doesn’t suck, it significantly changes things relative to the GF-1, since the E-P2 has almost everything (except a built-in flash, which I don’t care about) that the GF-1 offers along with image stabilization and better controls. In the end, however, this is really still a first generation product. I imagine the true second generation micro four-thirds cameras will be truly compelling.
The E-P2’s SRP of $1100 (which includes the new EVF) is steep, which remains a deterrent.
It’s interesting to see Canon backing off its relentless pursuit of the megapixel, with the 1D Mkiv and G-10 both signaling that maybe it’s time to concentrate on pixel quality. (What’s with the zany crop factor of the Mkiv though? I’d have thought we’re past that kind of odd compromise.) It’s also interesting to see Nikon persisting with 720p-only cameras — how hard would it be to offer 1080p @24fps?
It seems to me that Canon right now has two very compelling cameras (the 7D and 5D mkii) while Nikon’s range is starting to look dated. (The 7D’s hefty introductory price tag does manage to make the 300s seem reasonably priced though.) Nikon’s cameras are all great still cameras, but their half-assed video support seems more like an attempt to tick a checkbox than offer serious functionality.
Right now, I want Panasonic, Olympus, and Leica to give Nikon and Canon more serious competition, because it seems that they’re all just milking their customers — especially early adopters. (It’s amazing that Leica’s cameras seem reasonably priced compared to Nikon’s. Indeed, the Leica X1 looks pretty competitive with the E-P1/E-P2/GF-1 coupled with the (~$500) 20mm f1.7. If you don’t need autofocus, full frame Nikon prices look ridiculous.)