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Superzoom Vs. Micro 4/3


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#1 Kwali

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Posted 11 May 2011 - 05:34 PM

Hello,

For many years I have been exclusively using a Canon Powershot A540, and I have always been pleased with the pictures, but I miss the control I used to have before my film camera went "obsolete"... I used to use a Pentax K1000, usually with 70-210mm lens. I would not consider myself especially skilled with manual photography, but I was capable and I enjoyed it.

So I am looking to spend about $500 on a new camera and I am trying to decide whether I would be happier with a superzoom, like the Fujifilm HS10 or a micro 4/3 like the Olympus Pen E-PL1.

The camera will be shared with my wife whose priority is to be able to pick it up, push the button, and not miss any good shots of our kid. I value that as well, but want to be able to feel like I have more options than I do now, and play with some settings when I'm feeling creative. I like the idea of that zoom lens, since I like watching birds, but that will be a small part of its role.

Mainly I want something I can focus manually and get better pictures than I currently do. It is easy to get focused on all the negative things you read in reviews, and its hard to tell how pervasive the negatives are, when comparing to very different cameras. A lot of people complain about the noise and overall image quality of the superzooms. On the other hand, I have heard complaints about the Pen being slow, so I don't want to get it and be disappointed if it is unresponsive in terms of shutter lag/long AF times.

So, obviously the superzoom has a lot of tricks, with the zoom lens and the hi-speed shooting, but will the picture quality be no better than my old Canon? The Pen has a better sensor, but will I feel like I'm missing the action while I wait for the autofocus to sort itself out?

All told, I want a camera that will be an improvement in picture quality first and foremost. I don't want to be missing shots because it's slow. Zoom, panorama, art filters, etc are all nice, but they are not as important as being able to pick up the camera and take pictures that look good.

So, I'm long-winded... Anyone care to lend any opinions or advice?

Thanks!!

#2 pezie

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Posted 13 May 2011 - 04:32 PM

Hello Kwali,

I've registered to reply to your questions, not because I feel particularly qualified, but because your well posed questions haven't received any replies at all so far and I think they should.
(In case you're wondering, English isn't my first language.)

I miss the control I used to have before my film camera went "obsolete"...
I assume by "control", you mean the ability to manually control aperture, shutter speed and focus. While most digital cameras (with the exception of only the simplest point-and-shoot models) offer aperture priority, shutter priority and fully manual modes, manual focus is a rare feature in compact cameras and if a camera does have it, this doesn't necessarily mean that it's unusable (my good old trusty Fuji S6000fd being a sad example). Personally, I seldom miss manual focus, though, as I can always point the camera (preferrably in a mode where the camera focuses on the center of the frame) to where I want the focus, then lock the autofocus and then compose the frame.

So I am looking to spend about $500 on a new camera and I am trying to decide whether I would be happier with a superzoom, like the Fujifilm HS10 or a micro 4/3 like the Olympus Pen E-PL1.
No matter how you decide, you will be forced to make serious compromises. A camera that excels in every possible aspect doesn't exist. Maybe some day, there will be cameras that have the speed, the image quality, the high ISO performance etc. of a high end DSLR and the huge zoom range of today's bridge cameras, all in a tiny compact body and for only 500 bucks, but that day seems far away. No matter how good a camera is engineered and designed, the laws of physics still do apply.

The camera will be shared with my wife whose priority is to be able to pick it up, push the button, and not miss any good shots of our kid.
This certainly means that your camera needs at least one fully automatic mode. Luckily, every digicam has one.
This might also mean that your camera should have at least average turn-on time and autofocus speed.
A high frame rate in continuous shooting mode is probably not quite as important.

I value that as well, but want to be able to feel like I have more options than I do now, and play with some settings when I'm feeling creative.
Again, I assume that this means control over aperture, shutter and focus. I wouldn't look out for any "creative" in-camera image manipulation features. With few exceptions, they're almost all pretty much worthless, in my opinion, as there's next to nothing that (even free) computer software couldn't do better. YMMV if you're not much into image/video processing on the computer.

I like the idea of that zoom lens, since I like watching birds, but that will be a small part of its role.
If you want super long focal lengths at an affordable price, superzoom cameras are your only choice. Unfortunately, the zoom range comes at a price:

Mainly I want something I can focus manually and get better pictures than I currently do.
I wouldn't expect any superzoom camera to give you better image quality than your four or five years old A540. They might give you better pictures in the sense that you can take photos at focal lenths that your A540 doesn't have (at either end of the zoom range). A photo of a bird at your A540's 140mm is less impressive than even the noisiest/blotchiest one at 600mm.

It is easy to get focused on all the negative things you read in reviews, and its hard to tell how pervasive the negatives are, when comparing to very different cameras.
What's a slight nag to some is a deal breaker for others.
Nothing beats actually using a camera for long enough that you can get used to it. (Fortunately, here in Germany, I can order a camera, test it for two weeks and then send it back if I don't like it.)

A lot of people complain about the noise and overall image quality of the superzooms.
Justifiably so. Many good compacts from five years ago have equal or better image quality than most of the latest superzooms, both at base and higher ISO.
And yet there are people who are very happy with their superzoom camera. People's expectations are vastly different.

On the other hand, I have heard complaints about the Pen being slow, so I don't want to get it and be disappointed if it is unresponsive in terms of shutter lag/long AF times.
What's unbearably slow for person A may be very acceptable for person B who appreciates the other strengths a not so quick camera may have. (More on the Pen below.)

So, obviously the superzoom has a lot of tricks, with the zoom lens and the hi-speed shooting, but will the picture quality be no better than my old Canon?
Again, probably not.

(You get more megapixels, but they're worth nothing if all you get is bigger files with no increase in actual information, but, among other drawbacks, increase in noise due to insane pixel count on a tiny sensor.
People who need high resolutions buy a DSLR. People who want many megapixels in a compact camera because misleading advertising has made them believe that that's what they want, almost never need them. In fact, amateur cameras would make better photos with less pixels. Too few people understand this. I certainly don't tell you anything new here, though.)

The Pen has a better sensor, but will I feel like I'm missing the action while I wait for the autofocus to sort itself out?
There a several Pens, the older ones being slower even than many compacts, the more recent ones being quite snappy (and featuring AF tracking - which is inherently less performant than that in a DSLR, though).

BTW, if on forums you don't get an answer to a particular question like that of a camera's performance and if you can't find a review of a particular camera that gives you exact numbers or an otherwise precise description of a camera's performance, you may have luck searching Youtube for a hands-on video about that cam.

All told, I want a camera that will be an improvement in picture quality first and foremost.
Zoom, panorama, art filters, etc are all nice, but they are not as important as being able to pick up the camera and take pictures that look good.
If this is your priority, go for a MFT/MILC (you're not limited to Olympus – or even the MFT sensor format: Sony's NEX models are great cameras that feature an even larger APS-C sized sensor) without thinking twice. They give you better sharpness and resolution, greater dynamic range, shallower depth of field (which is invaluable for portrait and creative photography in general) and a high ISO performance that's leaps and bounds beyond any tiny sensor superzoom. What's more, they allow you to adapt third party lenses (a whole range of old, but great MF lenses are popular with MILC users).

Drop a line when you've made a decision. smile.gif

Regards,
pezie

#3 Kwali

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Posted 17 May 2011 - 01:12 AM

Thanks for your very detailed response, Pezie. I decided to go with the E-PL1, and I am anxiously awaiting its delivery. BTW, I wouldn't have guessed you weren't a native speaker, you write very well.

#4 Kwali

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Posted 24 May 2011 - 07:34 PM

QUOTE (Kwali @ May 16 2011, 09:12 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Thanks for your very detailed response, Pezie. I decided to go with the E-PL1, and I am anxiously awaiting its delivery. BTW, I wouldn't have guessed you weren't a native speaker, you write very well.



I went with the PEN. I received it last night and so far I am thrilled. I took a picture in my living room last night of my empty beer bottle sitting on the coffee table, with miscellany in the background, and the lighting and colors were great! And my wife is just as excited about it as I am.

Thanks for the tips!



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