5.08.2009

Know Your Users - Micro Four-Thirds

Mainstream camera companies are pushing entry-level DSLRs "average consumer" as the answer to the mediocre image quality they get with the tiny sensors in their compacts. There's no doubt that these T1is, D5000s, etc. have great image quality, but are they really what these average consumers need?

Let me clarify what I mean by "average consumer". I'm not talking about enthusiasts who want a first DSLR. I'm talking about people, many with families, who want to capture their lives without becoming photographers. Sure, all DSLRs have "green modes" with auto-everything, but they're still essentially scaled back and less-good SLRs. These are great as entry points into vast systems or backups (or travel cameras) for those with higher-end cameras. My first DSLR was a Canon Rebel XTi, and it worked very well for what it was supposed to do.

The problem is that entry-level DSLRs are not necessarily the best tool for the aforementioned soccer-moms and hockey-dads. Let's start with the method of use itself. Many of these users are accustomed to shooting at arms length on their compacts. Optical viewfinders feel uncomfortable to them, and the ones in most entry-level DSLRs are extremely small. Lately, we've seen compact camera features like live-view in SLRs like the T1i and D5000, but these are tacked on and not particularly useful. Autofocus during live-view is either nonexistant or extremely slow, rendering the mode nearly useless for users who don't want to manually focus. Another SLR holdover is a preset number of focusing points. These users will rarely select focus points themselves, so why limit them to 7 or 9 points? Why not have a large-sensor version of AiAF that can analyse the whole scene and figure out what to focus on?

Clearly, some daring new ideas were needed. We're more likely to see daring designs from underdogs who have less to lose (and more to gain) by taking risks. Enter Panasonic and Olympus with Micro Four-Thirds. First out of the gate is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1. Now these consumer users can take pictures the way they're used to. A big screen, quick live-view focusing, a non-annoying AF-assist lamp, but with the same image quality as any entry-level DSLR. For up-to-the-eye shooting, the EVF is larger than the competing optical viewfinders. It even has overlays (rather than blinking focus points and symbols at the bottom) just like the rear LCD. The camera is even more compact than the competition and has the same kit lens choices (28-90 and 90-400 equivalents, both stabilized). Panasonic has finally succeeded where bridge point-and-shoots have failed repeatedly. Now we just need that 20/1.7 for indoor shots of the kids.

Of course I'm not the sort of user mentioned above and neither are most readers here, but the G1 also offers the full range of enthusiast features (RAW, configurability, P/S/A/M modes, etc.) as well. I'm still not sure if the DP2 is a keeper for me, but at the same price (a bit cheaper actually), the G1 is mighty tempting.

2 comments:

linh said...

When they actually release that 20/1.7, I might consider it. Especially if they release it w/ a GH1 package, or at least decouple it from the super zoom driving down the price a little.

Still holding out for that Oly "teaser" RF-like m43's...

matthew said...

I work at Ritz Camera part-time and I hear exactly what you've described in your first two posts.

Recently, I had a guy order the G1. He returned it because the user manual did not come in German, although he spoke very good English when he ordered it.

Anyways, the camera has been sitting at the store for a few months now and most people won't look at it for more than about 12 seconds before politely asking for "the camera that Ashton Kutcher uses in the commercial," and then babbling sheepishly about how 'dreamy' he is.

However, the few months that it's been sitting there, I've been goofing off with it and I gotta tell ya, the GH1 is mighty tempting. The G1's lack of HD video makes it less of a contender for me, but I think adding the video and then coupling it with a lens such as the much-anticipated 20/1.7 will make it quite the travel/street companion. After all, carrying a 5D and 24-70/2.8 around gets rather annoying and the sheer mass of it makes people uneasy without even pointing it in their general direction.

I think I'll do just the same is Linh and wait for the GH1 to come out and maybe try and put together my own little Panasonic kit. I think their image quality is fantastic and 60 years of electronics innovation can't be wrong.

Thanks for the post.