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The Matchup
Not often do we get a chance to do a 3-way Head-2-Head review, but these cameras share a couple of key elements that warrant a closer comparison. First, the price point. They’re all under the $1,000 mark, yet they have 12-15MP sensors, interchangeable lenses, and an impressive set of features tailored to the serious photographer. Oh, and they all sport HD video.

Still, we have a matchup that could be seen as a couple of apples compared to one orange - the Olympus has a profoundly different approach than the other two cameras. The E-P1 casts off the mirror and prism machinery to allow a much smaller body, and through-lens viewing is done solely with the on-camera display, rather than with a traditional eyepiece viewfinder.

 

Context
The E-P1 continues Olympus’s long tradition of creating new product paradigms. Back in the late ‘50s, the Pen series cameras were a unique entry into the pocket camera market. The first Olympus Pen series camera had a half-35mm-frame, making it ultra-compact. This camera led to the Pen EE line of compact consumer point-and-shoots and the Pen F, the worlds first half-frame SLR camera for the professional market. If you’re interested, a pretty good history on that series can be found on the Olympus site, here

 

Olympus also redefined the 35mm SLR when they introduced the OM1, a camera revolutionary in its compact design and rugged body. The OM1 was a fresh build; a design that was throwing out all the preconceptions and evolutions of most cameras of the time, and taking a fresh look at what needed to go into a camera, and the most efficient way to build it. The OM1, as a professional-level systems approach with some fairly remarkable lenses, was a head turner.

 

Then came Olympus’s EVOLT E-330, the first DSLR to offer live view capture. The E-P1 is something of a continuation of that design, offering interchangeable lenses, while omitting the viewfinder completely. (Most of us here at H2H were excited at the prospect of composing images solely with a nice, large LCD display – it reminds us of the old days peering at a ground glass, except not upside-down or flipped.)

 

Canon and Nikon – the leading DSLR manufacturers in terms of market share - are continuing to evolve their DSLR lines. The Nikon D5000 and Canon Rebel T1i pack a lot of pixels onto an APS-C size CMOS sensor and couple it with highly developed noise handling and even remarkably high quality HD video at an amazingly low price.

 

Yes, there are parts of the comparisons that get pretty close to the “apples to oranges” point, but, at the same time, these three cameras all represent a particularly interesting common point. What can you really get for under $1,000 that will satisfy critical users and point-and-shooters?

 

Check out the Spec Battle. There are the usual few features that are very similar, but there are some very notable differences too. Image Stabilization, lens compatibility, file quality, ISO performance - it gets pretty interesting the deeper you look.

 

One thing we urge you to keep in mind. More than a few people are going to look at the Olympus and have reservations about a camera without an eyepiece viewfinder looking through the lens. The question you have to ask yourself is simple - if you have a camera that can do both, which viewer would you use? Do you need to peer into that little window and see what the lens sees? If so, the Olympus is simply not for you. If you use a camera with live viewing and enjoy it, then read on, and you may find that the Olympus is the best option for you. If you use a bit of both, and are considering the Olympus, you have to ask yourself that hard question: can you give up the eyepiece?


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