Olympus unveiled its first Micro Four Thirds camera in Berlin this week, and while we're excited about this milestone, we're troubled by one nagging doubt. What do we call it? Oh, we know it's called the E-P1. But what is it?
The E-P1 joins the Panasonic Lumix G1 and GH1 in a new market segment: compact cameras with interchangeable lenses and feature sets closer to dSLRs. The true distinguishing feature of these cameras, and the E-P1, is that they do away with the optical viewfinder and mirror mechanism that puts the single lens reflex into SLR. This means they're potentially smaller, and to us are true digital cameras, rather than digitally recording a film-era light-capturing system.
So they're not dSLRs, but they do need to be distinguished from the point-and-shoot compact. So far, press releases seem to be leaning towards the word 'hybrid'. PR mavens delight in the word hybrid because it sounds like Two! Products! in One! But hybrid of what? SLR and non-SLR? We don't like this, because these cameras are expressly not SLRs.
Interchangeable lenses and full manual control are not fundamental SLR features, it's just that nobody puts them in any other cameras (except the likes of Leica at the northerly ends of their price ranges, or prosumer models such as the Canon G10). So while the pun-lover in us hopes that SmaLleR, dSL-aren't or -- given our recent position less than a mile from Checkpoint Charlie -- ersatzLRs, catch on, none of them is accurate.
In truth these cameras are a new form and need to be named accordingly. Our favourite suggestion currently wafting around certain forums is Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens: abbreviated, gloriously, as EVIL. Still, can't see that showing up in too many press releases, can you?
Besides which, the E-P1 doesn't even have a built-in viewfinder. In fact, Olympus is attempting to sidestep the name issue completely. According to its marketing, the E-P1 is "not a compact, not an SLR: it's a Pen". The original Pen cameras were so named to describe how simple and ubiquitous they were to carry around, with no more fuss than carrying a pen. It was silly then and it's silly now. Still, at least it's not EVIL. We'll keep thinking -- any suggestions, stick them in the comments.