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Photokina 2012 Report — Part 3: Olympus and Panasonic

by Felix L. Esser on 09/25/2012

The Panasonic GH3 with the X 12-35mm f2.8 lens.

Today we publish part three of our photokina 2012 report. This time: the stands of Olympus and Panasonic. Both companies had announced a number of new lenses and camera for the Micro Four Thirds system, which I had a closer look at during photokina. In this article: the Olympus E-PL5 and E-PM2 cameras, the 17mm f1.8 lens, the 60mm f2.8 macro lens, the 15mm f8 body cap lens, and the Panasonic GH3 with the 12-35mm f2.8 lens.

Olympus

Olympus had announced a number of interesting new products for the Micro Four Thirds system ahead of photokina, as you can recapitulate in our news posts here and here. Additionally, they announced the successor to their XZ-1 enthusiast’s compact, the XZ-2 (announcement here). However, as my time at photokina was limited, I concentrated at their new Micro Four Thirds products.

E-PM2 — The second iteration of Olympus’ PEN Mini series has noticeably matured over its predecessor. While the E-PM1 felt a bit cheap and toy-ish, the E-PM2 actually has a more solid and serious look and feel to it, which is due in great part to the now featured grip — which is a big improvement. Despite the cosmetic changes, the E-PM2 now features the same 16 megapixel Sony-made CMOS sensor as the OM-D E-M5. In terms of image quality, the two camera should be performing equally. The basic operation of the E-PM2 hasn’t changed, though — it still relies highly on the touchscreen, with only the most important functions directly available via buttons. Another change at the backside of the E-PM2 is the thumb rest. This, together with the front grip makes holding the camera much more comfortable over its predecessor.

E-PL5 — The E-PL5′s body hasn’t changed as much as the E-PM3′s in overall appearance, altough it, too has gained a pronounced grip which, like that of the E-P3, can be exchanged. And it, too, now sports the amazing OM-D sensor, which means that image quality has taken a huge leap over the E-PL3. Another major upgrade on the E-PL5 is that the screen now tilts upwards by 180 degrees, meaning that you now can more easily take your next duck-face self-portrait for your facebook page.

17mm f1.8 – The recently announced 17mm f1.8 lens is still in prototype state, so I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures with it. However, in the picture below, you can see how small it is, and that it features the same retractable focus ring and distance scale as the 12mm f2. This should be an awesome lens for street shooting!

While I appreciate that the lens features a manual focusing ring, I wonder why they couldn’t make it any more pancake-like in size, considering that Panasonic managed to come up with a 20mm f1.7 pancake. But I guess Olympus prioritized optical qualtiy and ergonomics here over size.

60mm f2.8 macro – This is a lens we’ve been waiting for for quite some time. After seeing the first pictures of it online, I thought it was going to be huge and heavy. Boy was I wrong! In fact, the lens is very slim and light, and although longer than its 45mm f2.8 counterpart from Panasonic, it is still not large by any means. This is a true 1:1 macro lens, and what makes it especially awesome, beside the fact that it doubles as a nice portrait lens with its fast aperture, is the fact that the focusing range can be limited via a little adjustment wheel on the lens body. Focusing with this lens is on the slow side, but for macro work, this shouldn’t be an issue.

Size and appearance wise, the 60mm f2.8 macro reminds me of he 90mm f4 Elmar-C lens for the Leica CL — although the latter was of course not macro capable.

Below are some pictures I took with the 60mm macro at different focusing distance, with up to 1:1 magnification. It also works nicely for head shots.

As you can see from the pictures, the 60mm provides outstanding image quality already at its widest aperture of f2.8. In addition, it produces a very soft, “creamy” rendering of out-of-focus areas.

15mm f8 body cap lens — This is the one product announcement from Olympus that made us think they lost it. An ultra-slim 15mm lens with an f8 aperture? What the hell? That is, until I handled it at photokina. There, it appeared to me that actually this product is ingenious. While having a profile almost as slim as that of a body cap, this doubles as a 30mm-equivalent pancake lens that is ideal for street shooting. With its f8 aperture, almost everything will be in focus almost all the time. There is a small focusing lever that lets you adjust the focal point anywhere between .3 meters and infinity, and which also operates the integrated lens cover. So, for street shooting, simply set the lever somewhere close to infinity, and you’ll be done. With the great high ISO quality of the new 16 mp sensor, the f8 aperture should not be a problem at all. I can see how this lens combine with the new E-PL5 makes for an awesome street shooting combo.

I took a few quick snaps just to see what it feels like in actual usage. While image quality is not spectacular, it’s also not too bad for such a tiny lens that features only three lens elements.

Close focus at .3 meters. Is that out-of-focus blur I’m seeing in the background? The lens draws acceptably sharp images, btw!

Infinity focus.

You can pre-order the Olympus E-PM2, Olympus E-PL5 and the 60mm f2.8 macro lens from B&H Photo.

Panasonic

The only item I took a closer look at at the Panasonic stand was the new GH3 (news here.) It seems like Panasonic created the GH2 successor specifically with professional photographers and videographers in mind. Not only is the body considerably larger than that of the GH2, the GH3 can also be fitted with a battery grip, features much more buttons and dials than its predecessor and comes with much enhanced and improved functionality. While Panasonic claim that the GH3′s autofocusing speed has been significantly improved — of which I have no doubt — I didn’t find it to be as quick as that of the OM-D while handling the GH3 with the 12-35mm f2.8 lens at photokina. Anyway, below are some hands-on pictures of the GH3, and a video showing a 360 degree view. I would’ve loved to give you some high-ISO and resolution examples, but they wouldn’t let me save any picture because the firmware wasn’t final yet. We will try our best to get the GH3 in for review, though.

Crowds were gathering around the GH3 models on display.

Demonstrating the GH3.

The grip is quite massive and makes the GH3 almost as large as a full-size DSLR. However, it should greatly improve ergonomics as well as battery life.

A disected GH3.

You can pre-order the Panasonic GH3 in black from B&H Photo.

That’s it for today! Part four of our photokina 2012 report comes tomorrow, featuring impressions from the Pentax, Carl Zeiss and Schneider-Kreuznach stands. (At this point, you might wonder where Sony is in our report. To make it short: we already spent some hands-on time with their new models. Here are the links to our first impressions with the a99, NEX-6, RX1 and VG-900.)

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