My new Panasonic G2 is beating up on my Olympus E-620

I have been happy with the Olympus E-620, and the purchase a few months ago of the Panasonic G2 was a spontaneous purchase prompted by one of those one-day deals on Amazon... body only for $290! Both cameras are built with the small "slr-look", and they share (I have read) the same 12mp Panasonic sensor. The E-620 is a 4/3 format (43) and the G2 is a micro 4/3 format (m43). The biggest difference (for me) is the optical viewfinder (OVF) of the Olympus versus the electronic viewfinder (EVF) of the Panasonic. The fact that the Oly does not shoot video is of no consequence to me.

I do not yet have any m43 lenses for the Panasonic, so I found myself comparing the image quality of the two bodies using my Oly 14-54II. On the Panasonic I needed a 43-to-m43 adapter to use this lens. I purchased the one made by Panasonic as it was a bit cheaper than the Olympus adapter. As I recall, the price was under $100.

Using my 24" computer monitor with HD resolution, I found that even at 100% magnification there was very little difference in image quality and noise levels between the G2 and E-620. However, I found this only to be true after I realized each camera "rounded" their ISO measurements differently. For example, F5.6 @ 1/100th @ISO400 on the Oly gave the same exposure as ISO200 on the Pany. Otherwise, if you shoot at identical ISOs you will assume the Panasonic is noisier. This conclusion was confirmed by the measurements at DXOmark which showed that both cameras would actually be shooting at ISO300 in the example described above. Each camera rounds its ISO numbers in opposite directions!

Once this was understood, I found that image quality was similar (all shots were in RAW and processed in Lightroom) when one adjusts for the different ISO rounding. I say "similar" and not "exact" because I found the 14-54II to result in slightly sharper images when mounted on the G2. I was expecting just the opposite; but my guess is that my results were due to the less aggressive anti-alias (AA) filter on the G2's sensor. That's just a guess based on what I have read on the Internet; in reality the difference may only be due to camera sample variations. Nevertheless, when printed as 8x10s I didn't notice the difference... well, maybe I noticed a slight difference, but it was only because I knew there was supposed to be a difference!

With the 14-54II attached, the E-620 is a pretty nice combo, as the Olympus body has image stabilization built into it. Panasonic body's lack image stabilization.  On the other hand after a one week vacation with the lens attached to the Panasonic I never found any shots out of focus. In my preferred P-mode or A-mode, the Panasonic nicely kept shutter speed at 1/focal length and I set maximum auto ISO at 1600. In the travel shots I took, the ISO remained at 400 or less perhaps 90% of the time. The lens itself weighs under 16 ounces and balances well on either camera. Anything heavier in my opinion would result in awkward ergonomics.

What I like about the E-620 that is missing in the G2

1) Auto ISO is enabled in manual exposure mode. I love this feature when shooting nature shots such as butterflies. With my Oly 70-300 I typically pick a speed of 1/250th and an aperture of F8. With auto ISO you can still get an automatic exposure, as the camera will pick the ISO required for a good exposure. This is a great feature now that most cameras provide ISOs in 1/3 stop increments and high ISO is getting better with each new generation of sensors. I don't understand why this feature is not available in the G2. I know its available on Nikon and Canon dSLRs, and I even have it on my Panasonic super-point-and-shoot, the LX5.

2) Camera build quality. The Olympus feels like it was built by a camera company. The Panasonic feels like it was built by a computer company.  For all I know the Pany is sturdier, but it has more of a plastic-y feel to it (to me). The Oly feels like quality.

3) Shutter sound. Oly's shutter sounds nice to me. Like a precision machine. The Pany has more of a "clunk" to it. The Pany sounds cheap to me, though I am getting used to it.

4) Vertical Grip. I have this. I like having a place for my pinkie finger to go, rather than having it curled up under the body.  The grip helps the ergonomics overall, because I shoot a lot of vertical landscapes. It is also helpful with the heavier 70-300.

Olympus E-620 + vertical grip + 70-300mm zoom

5) Presets. The E-620 has two "presets" that can be programed through the menu system.  Unlike custom modes on the G2 which are accessed through the command dial, presets on the Olympus require diving into the menu.  I counted 9 clicks of either the 4-way arrow pad or the "OK" button to access a preset.  Terrible.  On the other hand, it does have an advantage, and this is why it is listed here.  A preset can be programmed with all your preferred settings, and when accessed, the preset preferences can be used in any mode on the command dial (P, A, S, or M).  (Note:  with the custom modes on the G2, you need to program whether it will be operated specifically in P, A, S, or M.)

What I like about the G2 that is missing on the E-620

1) Viewfinder. The G2's electronic eye-level viewfinder (EVF) is larger than the optical viewfinder (OVF) on the E-620 and I find this a huge advantage. The difference is especially noticeable to me because I wear glasses. This results in my eye being further away from the viewfinder, rendering it smaller. With the G2's EVFEVF and the 3" LCD when shooting or for playback. One big advantage of this EVF is that you can magnify your image (there are actually two magnification levels). This is very helpful when focusing manually, and manual focusing is required with legacy lenses (see #5 below). On the other hand, you do give up clarity. The EVF is nowhere near as sharp and crisp as an optical viewfinder, because an OVF allows you to view your subject directly through the lens, rather than on a little television.

2) Direct Bracketing Button. To bracket with the E-620 you have to go into the menu and set two parameters: the sequential shooting speed rate and the bracketing desired. This is a real pain. The workaround is to use the "preset" function (see #5 above) but this must still be accessed through the menu, and about nine clicks.  Then nine more clicks to turn it off. On the other hand, the G2 has a slider (not actually a button) on the top plate with bracketing being one of the choices. I have it set for 5 shots at 1 EV intervals. I bracket a lot of my landscape shots, so the G2's slider is a real bonus for me.

3) Custom Modes. On the control dial on the top plate there are three Custom modes available. The Olympus has none. I have C1 set up with settings I prefer when using an external flash (fixed ISO, flash WB, A-priority, and center-weighted metering, for example). C2 is set up for my preferences while shooting legacy lenses in aperture priority.

4) Better automatic exposure settings. (This conclusion is based on my preference for P-mode or A-mode, and auto ISO.) I like the fact that the G2 exposure programming protects a speed of 1/focal length. For example, with a 100mm lens, the camera will maintain a speed of 1/100th sec. even if it needs to increase the ISO to the maximum you have set it for (my maximum is set for ISO 1600). Yes, I know about image stabilization, but I prefer to shoot at 1/focal length and not less, and would rather have the ISO increase than have the speed decrease. The E-620, on the other hand, will drop the shutter speed before maxing out at ISO1600. I don't like that. Other folks do.
5) Legacy Lenses. Using the appropriate lens adapter (my Nikon to m43 adapter was about $20), you can use all kinds of old manual focus lenses. You just need to be sure that the lens has an aperture ring. Because of the EVF, even if closed down to a small diameter aperture, the viewfinder will "gain up" to provide the brightness needed to see your subject. And the magnification feature can be very helpful with manual focus. I have loved using my old 5.8cm (58mm) Nikkor F1.4. This lens was inherited from a friend of my dad's back in the early 1970s. Based on the serial number it was built in Japan in approximately 1963. That makes it nearly 50 years old! I have had so much fun with this system (camera-adapter-old lens) that I've now bought three other old Nikkors on EBay: 50mm F3.5 micro, 105mm F2.8 micro, 85mm F1.4.

Panasonic G2 + Cowboy Studios lens adapter + Nikkor 56mm F1.4 circa 1963

Final Comments:
There are plenty of differences between these two camera bodies, but the above are the main ones for me. If I had to pick just one camera, it would easily be the G2. However, I have kept the E-620 for use with the 70-300. With a lens that big (21 ounces and 5+ inches closed) I want the image stabilization provided by the Olympus body. Interestingly the lens actually focuses faster on the G2. But without image stabilization, the G2 body is not the best solution for this lens.  I own the vertical/battery grip for the E-620 which makes using the 70-300 delightful. On the G2, this lens is a bit heavy. Also the ability to shoot with auto ISO in manual mode is a big help to me with the E-620/70-300 combination when shooting flowers and butterflies. That's because I can get an automatic exposure while at the same time determining manually my desired shutter speed and desired F-stop.

There's lots of new stuff coming out from Olympus and Panasonic, and I am looking forward to lusting over all of it!