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I had a terrible time deciding between two cameras in the Micro Four Thirds system. Both cameras have impressive features and excellent quality and both use the same lenses and can be adapted to use Leica M lenses. Naturally the only way to decide was to buy both and try them and ebay the loser. 😛
Panasonic Lumix GF-1 & Olympus E-P2
The executive summary: I like most everything better on the GF-1 and would choose it over the E-P2 with nearly no thought except for one little thing that is important to me because of my desire to use Leica M mount manual lenses. If I wasn’t into that, the GF-1 would be my no-reservations choice. I used firmware 1.1 with the GF-1 and 1.0 with the EP-2.

Panasonic Lumix GF-1 & Olympus E-P2

The Lumix GF-1 is a solid feeling camera, constructed so that front and back half are joined with a vertical seam on the sides. It feels solid like a brick, there is no “give” when you hold it tightly, no creaking, no anything. Very nice construction. It looks a little boring compared to the E-P2 but feels wonderful. The E-P2 is constructed differently. There is a thin metal sheet that wraps around the camera horizontally and if you hold it in your hand with your fingers on the sides you can squish it. I don’t like the way that feels compared to the GF-1. It is a much more handsome camera IMO, the retro style is quite attractive. Both feel good in the hand. I’m right handed and they work well for me, not sure if they would be as comfortable for a left handed person.
Panasonic Lumix GF-1 & Olympus E-P2
I prefer the power switch on the GF-1. It is a slide on and off type of switch where the E-P2 has a pushbutton toggle. I much prefer the unambiguous nature of the slider, especially when you are operating the camera out of view (like down at your side as you prepare a stealth shot.) The E-P2 also has a fairly bright green ring around the power button which is too bright in low low light shooting. Not sure if that can be disabled or not, I’ve not found a way.

The bottom door for the battery and memory cards is better on the GF-1. It forms the right side of the bottom of the camera with a solid slider that clicks to lock and unlock. When you unlock it the door spring-loads open without help. The E-P2 door is embedded in the bottom right and opens front to back after clicking a recessed switch. The door is not spring loaded and needs to be pulled open, sometimes with a fingernail.
Panasonic Lumix GF-1 & Olympus E-P2

The GF-1 has a dedicated movie button on the top right which is really nice. No mode changing, just push it to start and stop recording a movie instantly. A really nice feature. The E-P2 uses a mode on the main dial for movie shooting. The E-P2’s dial is on the left and recessed under a protective cover accessible only from the back. The GF-1 has the main dial raised up on the right side. I slightly prefer the GF-1 because I can change it one handed.

I didn’t want these cameras for fully automatic point and shoot photography, but it is a nice feature to have if you are in a hurry or feeling lazy. The GF-1 kicks the E-P2’s ass in intelligent automatic mode. It is a bit embarrassing for the EP-2. The EP-2 constantly fails to select the “interesting” subject and is quite a bit slower than the GF-1 in all aspects of operation. In more challenging lighting it will just fail not only to pick a good program, it fails to focus lock and won’t fire the shutter. You can set it to fire the shutter anyway in the preferences, if you want.

I have been using the EVF (electronic viewfinder) on both cameras and while quite a bit larger than the GF-1s, the E-P2 is better. The extra size is spent wisely and gives a better experience overall. Both have diopter adjustments and both will swivel up so you can look down into them instead of “through” like and SLR. Invaluable when sneaking shots without being noticed. I find that people tend to be less aware of being photographed if I’m looking down.

The E-P2 famously doesn’t have a built in flash but I personally don’t care about that because I don’t use it. I guess GF-1 would win on that point if I cared.

I’ve shot hundreds of images now with each body and the battery life on the GF-1 is quite a bit better than the E-P2 using the batteries that came with the kits.

Lumix GF-1 with Voightlander 50mm f1.1

I became interested in these two camera bodies because I wanted to use them with Leica M lenses. Particularly ultra shallow depth of field monsters like the Voightlander Nokton 50mm f1.1 and 35mm f1.2. I would really like to use them with the Leica Noctilux f0.95 but I don’t have $11,000 laying around for lenses.

This is where the rubber meets the road for me on these two bodies. The E-P2 has in-body image stabilization that works with any lens you put on it. The GF-1 uses in-lens stabilization so only lenses with that feature get stabilized. This feature trumps everything else for me. I want this body for hand held, low light, ultra thin depth of field photos. The in-body stabilization gives me at least an extra stop of hand-held goodness and it also gives you rudimentary leveling on-screen or in the EVF.

Using either of these bodies is frustrating with these lenses. It is nearly impossible to tell if you got the shot until it is on the computer. I end up having to use the focus assist mechanism (the EVF or screen zooms in 7x and lets you focus on the patch). The GF-1 is easier to use manual focus assist with because you engage it and focus then tap the shutter release half way to turn it off and frame. The E-P2 you engage the focus assist and then have to disengage it before framing and shooting. I find it annoying, I would much prefer having the shutter button disengage the focus assist like the GF-1.

Custom settings are essential to using manual non-system lenses on these bodies and the GF-1’s custom settings system is much better than the E-P2. There are two custom settings on the main mode dial labeled C1 and C2. You can program these to be whatever combination of settings you want. There are actually sub-sets for each position, but I only ever used 2, setup for my preferences for the lenses I was using at the time. Really nice.

Custom settings on the E-P2 requires a trip to the menu to do a custom “reset.” Kind of clunky compared to selecting C1 or C2 on the main mode dial.

I use a mac and neither raw format RW2 or OVF are supported by the native applications, happily Adobe Camera Raw handles both with ease (wtf Apple … geesh).

The f1.7 20mm kit lens on the GF-1 is beautiful. My favorite lens when I’m not torturing myself with the Noktons. The Olympus 14-42mm kit zoom lens is cool in that it retracts into itself for more compact form factor when not in use, but I don’t notice any particular quality difference over the kit zoom from Panasonic.

As far as HD movies, the E-P2 stores the movies in an AVI format container and the GF-1 uses some sort of MPEG stream format that I have to convert. Both are fine quality, don’t really see a difference in the two bodies however but just like most of the auto focus features on the E-P2 it is so easy to get out of focus movies on the Olympus because IT SUCKS AT AUTO FOCUS and you need to be sure and check that it is recording in focus. So annoying.

So bottom line. If you use the system lenses and don’t torture yourself with ultra low depth of field focus manual lenses, my personal opinion is that the GF-1 kicks the E-P2’s ass around the block. Because of the in-body stabilization, I am choosing the E-P2 because I’m primarily using it for adapted Leica M lenses and the extra wiggle room (hahaahah) the stabilization gives me is worth it.

I’m not a professional photographer, hell I’m not even that great a photographer. I just keep practicing and trying and having fun. These are just my opinions about the two cameras after using them side by side for 3 weeks both at home and on vacation in the Bahamas. Got any questions, comments? Just leave them below or contact me!