I’m currently owning an old superzoom (Canon Powershot S3 IS) and the Panasonic LX3 and am getting ready to move up to a “real” camera. I’m convinced that the Micro Four Thirds (m4/3) system is the right choice for me, as I suspect I would never actually carry a full-size SLR with me.
Coming from the LX3, which is a camera I really love, I have a bit of Panasonic bias. I like the way it performs and handles, and that has at least up until recently made me convinced that I should get a GF1, especially since it has (had) a much better AF performance than the Olympus PENs.
However, I’m starting to slowly change my mind. I was recently playing with an E-P1 in a shop and was first very annoyed with the Auto mode which consistently chose slower shutter speeds than was possible to manage without a tripod. Then after about 20 shots, I realized that the in-body image stabilization (IBIS) was turned off. After enabling it, I suddenly got almost 100% sharp photos instead. (Btw, I guess this tendency to select too slow shutter speeds is a firmware bug or something? Shouldn’t it take into consideration whether IBIS is enabled or not?)
Unfortunately, Panasonic chose the route to put image stabilization in their lenses, but not in all of them (and obviously not in rivaling Olympus lenses). Olympys, on the other hand, chose the in-camera body stabilization instead, which means that any lens attached enjoys the benefit of stabilization. 3 stops of IS is pretty huge. In the Panasonic LX3, I can sometimes take sharp photos at 1/8 shutter speeds without a tripod I if set it to burst mode and take 3-4 photos at the same time.
This leads me to think that buying a camera without IBIS is a pretty bad idea, given that many lenses (20mm/1.7, 7-14mm, 9-18mm) don’t have IS in the lens either. Also, with the new firmware update, it appears that Olympus isn’t that far behind in terms of AF performance anymore, although the kit lens isn’t very fast of course (though I didn’t find it slower than my LX3).
So, I’m now a bit torn. I’m starting to lean towards an E-PL1 because it also has a built-in flash, and the out-of-the-box colors of the JPEG images are simply stunning. In general, it feels like it has many advantages over its bigger brothers E-P1 and E-P2 while at the same time being cheaper.
At the same time, I really want the Panasonic 20mm/1.7 lens and think I’d use that more than any kit zoom, and I realize that buying that lens separately ends up getting pretty expensive compared to buying it as a kit lens with the GF1.
Am I overrating the importance of IS here? It feels to me like buying any Panasonic m4/3 is a bad idea if you care about low light performance and want to also use the camera as a casual social setting camera.
It’s such a shame that Panasonic chose the in-lens IS route here, since it really makes me less interested in their cameras even though they seem to perform better in many aspects. At this point, I would even go as far as saying that I am hardly interested in what a future GF2 will look like, because I already know that it will force me to use 3-4 stops higher shutter speeds compared to any Olympus camera with the same pancake lens.