Honey, I Have Shrunk the Camera !!

Side Note:
All photographs in this entry were taken with Olympus E-PL1 and 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 kit lens (old version).
My opinions are based on my initial impressions and observations, and should not be taken as conclusive.
I obviously need time, and more shooting sessions to explore and understand this sexy PEN more.

I must say I was astounded by the overwhelming response I received from my previous blog entry: the teaser on my new acquisition of the Olympus PEN E-PL1. For some unexplained reasons I have been unwillingly labeled as the guy who uses the Olympus E-5, and the thought never crossed the minds of many that I too, am human, and have desires for other cameras also, other than the beloved Olympus E-5. I have calls, texts, emails, and even spiked up blog comments, with questions of all sorts being thrown to me left, right, front and back. I have not felt this hectic since my days of reviewing the loaned unit of Olympus E-5 in October 2010. This was crazy, but extremely fun as well.

Gloves come off.
1/15sec, F/4.1, ISO800
(wow the IS really worked well !!)

Wooden Chopsticks
1/50sec, F/4.4, ISO200

Hakka Noodles at Pudu, perfect breakfast to start the day off !!
1/100sec, F/5.2, ISO200

Alright, now to answer everyone’s questions.

Why did I get a PEN?

1) Safety

I have been weighed down a lot lately, not by the weight and bulk of my E-5 and the few selection of favourite lenses I usually carry around for street shooting, but the thought of my own SAFETY. Every single time I walk the streets, I always have to watch my back, preparing for any risks of mugging or snatch theft. The places I usually walk around are not exactly that safe, they are all well known for high crime rates, due to the high density of drug addicts, homeless people and beggars, it is only natural that a huge camera such as the E-5 would scream “grab me grab me !!”. If I were to lose the whole bag of camera and lenses, I don’t think I will be sleeping for months !! These thoughts were starting to wear me down weeks after weeks, after each shooting session. It is not doing myself good, though I still could concentrate on my usual shooting, but the constant barking at the back of my mind prompted me to do something.

Therefore, PEN is the best solution for this matter. I got the E-PL1 for a really good deal (almost half of its original price during release) and the price was as if I was buying a new compact camera, a higher end one. Walking with PEN on the streets would definitely be safer: firstly it does not attract too much attention due to its much, much smaller size, and the cost itself was not too scary a thought to lose, in comparison to the E-5 and HG lenses !! Less attention, and less worries means I can have peace of mind while shooting. I wondered what I was thinking all this time, walking around with more than RM10,000 worth of gears on the streets. It was not very wise, and certainly, the E-5 means a world to me.

2) Everyday Camera

I have the compact point and shoot camera Panasonic Lumix LZ-8, which is a really good compact camera. The problem is, it does not encourage me to take photos. I carry it with me almost everyday, to work, and to most other places where the E-5 can’t go with me. I rarely whip it out, and at one point, I just decided to leave it at home because I never even touched it any more. Yes, I was not very happy with the painfully slow and unreliable AutoFocus of the Lumix, as well as its not so impressive image quality. Coming from awesome Olympus E-System, my expectations have gone a notch or two higher. I have more technical expectations from the camera, and the Lumix just did not measure up. Oh I hate Panasonic colours, that answers the question why I did not go for GF1 or GF2, and opted for PEN.

Comes the PEN. Still compact enough to just stuff nicely into my everyday carry bag to work, or a backpack that I can bring out during weekends. PEN offers DSLR like quality, arguably better than many entry level cameras (DPreview comparisons and a few other reviews show significantly better image quality over Canon 500/550D, Nikon D3000/D5000) and yet it is priced a lot lower than those entry level DSLRs. Having usable high ISO up to 1600 and beyond really helped during low light photography, and it has a lot of DSLR qualities in such small package, that I can truly being around. Oh and then there is that great Olympus Colours that I have always been bragging about. Having used E-520, and then the much heavier and larger E-5, now the PEN just seems almost weightless and non-existent on my hands !! The feeling of freedom was really a welcome.

Now I have no excuse of not being able to capture that moment that happens so spontaneously, because I have PEN that I can carry with me everywhere I go to. We all know that the best photography opportunities happen at the most unexpected times and places. Being prepared is important !!

3) It is an Olympus. Enough said.

Eyes gorged out
1/30sec, F/5.6, ISO400

Discharge of waste material
1/50sec, F/5.6, ISO800

Lock mechanism
1/60sec, F/5.2, ISO800

1/200sec, F/4.0, ISO1600

Adding Sugar.
1/60sec, F/5.2, ISO1600

Rolling the dough
1/200sec, F/4.0, ISO1600

What are my thoughts on Olympus PEN System (Micro Four Thirds) as a whole?

I believe the Micro Four Thirds system is the future, no doubt. However, many work still have to be done, there is still plenty to improve on the system.

1) We want NEW sensor

Staying with 12MP is not going to please many of the fans for very long. We know there is no need to go beyond 12MP for the needs TODAY, but what about TOMORROW? Since when do we live just for today and not think about the future? We want a system that can sustain at least to the coming few years, to satisfy minimum requirements of the consumer market. The question is simple, if all other manufacturers can do it, why can’t Olympus? Yes, more MegaPixels is important, we are not asking for dramatic increase, but small increases like 14MP or 16MP would be sufficient to show that this micro 4/3 system that we believe in so much and put so much faith into is indeed progressing and moving forward.

One of the biggest dissapointment ever, voiced out by many Olympus fans/users, would be the fact that they have been using the exact same sensor for ALL their cameras since more than 2 years ago, from E-30, E-620, E-P1, E-P2, E-PL1, E-5 and now the new E-PL2. Come on, we WANT something NEW !!

2) Fast PRIME lenses

I think Olympus notices this, and everyone else knows this very, very well, Panasonic 20mm F1.7 is selling like hot cakes. Almost all PEN users I know own one, or are planning to get the lens. Why? It is affiordable, it has large aperture which can achieve two significant things: better bokeh and better low light shooting capability. Why can’t Olympus produce the same thing? If they have come up with at least a 30mm F2 I (at a reasonable price please !!!!!) I am sure more people will complain less. We know Olympus is capable of producing GREAT lenses, the problem is, they are NOT making enough of them !!

3) Advancement of technology

Olympus is hinting that Contrast Detect AutoFocus system (as used in compact cameras and their PEN systems) will advance to a stage that they will surpass the performance of DSLR Phase-Detect Autofocus. At the rate of their improvements over the last four PEN cameras, I don’t see that objective being fulfilled anytime soon. Such small improvements are almost negligible !! Autofocus is crucial in any photography, how fast the camera locks the focus determines how high your chance of hit rates, to grab the moment as you see it happen. The promise of faster AF was sweet, but the how soon can the promise be realized?

I admit that there are many flaws in the system that is yet to be ironed out. I have my grumbles, but I still do love the system all in all.

My group for the RAGE street shooting, Wan Mei, Pei Ji, Zanna and Kate. Obviously the guy in the middle if yours truly !!
1/40sec, F/3.6, ISO1600

Infamous Jasonmumbles, going all in !!
1/125sec, F/3.5, ISO2000

Huey Yoong and Smashpop. Both really good photographers.
1/160sec, F/3.9, ISO2000

So Olympus E-PL1 and what?

I found a good deal from a local buy and sell forum, and managed to have a really good bargain from the seller. The used unit of Olympus E-PL1 was really in good condition. The total package included E-PL1 body and just the humble m4/3 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 kit lens (old version). No, I do not have the 4/3 to m4/3 lens adapter. No, I do not have the EVF (electronic viewfinder). And I surely do not have any other lenses or accessories with me at the moment.

I do not intend to invest too much in the PEN system, but I do WANT badly to get a Panasonic 20mm F1.7. It is only time before that sexy slim little lens slips right into my camera bag. Unless Olympus comes up with some interesting lenses, like cool fast primes, I am not going to purchase any other lenses. I am not too keen on getting the adapter to use back my Olympus 4/3 lenses such as the 50mm f2, 11-22mm F2.8-3.5, or even the 8mm F3.5 fisheye, mainly because all those lenses that I have do not have contrast-detect AF support, hence the autofocus on PEN would be excruciatingly slow. I am not a fan of slow AF. Those lenses can stay comfortably and happily in the same bag as the E-5.

If I needed external flash, I can chuck my current FL-36R, which works really well with the PEN. Using manual and old lenses? Manual focus? Not my game. Film like image outcome? Also not my game.

There is a reason AutoFocus was invented and REVOLUTIONIZED the photography world. Same reason why fork and spoon were invented. Hell I am not going to throw away my fork and spoon and use my hand to eat my meals instead.

A reflection of KLCC.
1/40sec, F/9.0, ISO200

Twin peaks. Shot at 42mm, furthest zoom tele-end of 14-42mm kit lens.
1/400sec, F/11, ISO200

Lenovo and Intel
1/40sec, F/3.6, ISO1000
Direct Flash (Built-in pop up)

Harvey Norman
1/40sec, F/3.9, ISO1000
Direct Flash (Built-in pop up) 

1/40sec, F/4.3, ISO1000
Direct Flash (Built-in pop up)

How is the Olympus PEN E-PL1 so far?

This is the most frequent question I have been asked since two days ago. Guys, I work on weekdays, FULL time, and I only have time for shutter therapy during weekends. I am sorry I could not answer many of your questions earlier, because I barely even touched the camera !!
Come Saturday, I have a few activities lined up. 1) Street Shooting at Pudu with RAGE, the Star, 2) Pikom PC Fair at KLCC.

Early morning today, I helped out the RAGE team this morning in guiding a group of young and fresh photographers on the streets of Pudu, one of my favourite hunting spots. Unfortunately, it RAINED and we had to stop the walk rather early. I did not manage to grab that many shots, but there were some usable ones, as shown in this entry. This was the perfect chance to test run the PEN on my street shooting. In the afternoon I went to the Pikom PC Fair to shop for a few items. The PC Fair is known for one things: Pretty girls in really weird outfits, ever ready to pose for passing random dudes with cameras (not the choice of words, NOT photographers). Here, I managed to try the built in flash and did some indoor people/portrait shooting.

It is still very early to come up with anything conclusive from my part. The thoughts on E-PL1 will come progressively as I explore the world of photography with the camera. Of course, I will share some of my initial thoughts on the camera:

Good Points:

1) Impressive image quality for such a small camera. The image quality beats Olympus E-520 (my old DSLR) hands down, there is no fight at all. Everything from amount of details captured, high ISO noise handling, dynamic range to colour tone, the E-PL1 is better.

2) Very reliable metering and auto white balance

3) Really COMFORTABLE to use !! Yes, it is small, and it does not have a substantial grip, so what, don’t use it like a DSLR, use it like a compact camera.

4) Loveable live view shooting. Shooting with live view is liberating for once. I am stuck in the world of the tunnel vision induced by optical viewfinder for years now. It is great to be able to just look at the screen and shoot without the need to squint my eyes. No, I still think shooting with Optical Viewfinder has very important advantages, but what the heck, it is FUN to use the live view. What, fun is not relevant? Photography SHOULD be FUN !!

5) Capable and Effective built in (internal) flash. At first, I thought the internal flash was useless, like any other DSLR or compact camera’s built in flash. It is not so much different, really, but having it is really useful. Knowing how to control the exposure manually (PEN allows you to do that of course) and having some basic understanding and control over lighting, I believe the internal flash can be a very effective tool in many situations. The skin tone produced by the flash was very pleasing and life-like.

View through convention center window frames.
1/160sec, F/9, ISO100

Closest focusing distance, thus largest magnification ratio of the 14-42mm kit lens.
Not bad, really.
1/125sec, F/5.6, ISO400

Silhouette. I initially intended to create the starburst effect, but failed.
1/2000sec, F/18, ISO200

Reflection on the pond
1/200sec, F/8, ISO200

Not so good points:

1) Autofocus is NOT fast enough. And, Autofocus is NOT reliable enough. There is a significant waiting time between the half-pressing of the shutter button, to fully releasing the shutter. As the lighting conditions worsens, such as in the dim halls of KLCC convention centers in the PC Fair, the focusing went erratic, and sometimes, refused to focus at all, especially being zoomed in to 42mm end. This is not good news at all !! Another unpleasant experience I can share is when I took the macro shot outdoors, I zoomed in the lens to 42mm end, and went really close to the subject, but the lens decided to lock focus of the background instead of the fore front subject. I set the focus point to the center, forcing the camera to just focus at the subject which I intentionally placed in the center, but the camera, for several times, stubbornly chose the background instead. After 4-5 trials, I just switched to manual focus (though I hate manual focus, but believe me, I can do it efficiently if I want to) and shot the image by manual focusing. Not a good experience !!

2) Layout/Arrangements of buttons. I just felt that the buttons were not really placed at the best positions. For example the video record button, at the top right corner, where the thumb rest is at !! Obviously, that button will get activated many times accidentally, and it can get frustrating.

3) Cheap kit lens feel. OK this is probably not a very valid complaint, since the kit lens is indeed a budget lens, but it felt wobbly especially when I fully extended the lens, as if it will fall apart any time.

The infamous twin towers.
1/500sec, F/9, ISO200

Circular bokeh. Delicious !!
1/30sec, F/5.6, ISO1600

How is the E-PL1 image quality in comparison to E-5?

I cannot give a definite answer, because both PEN and E-5 are using different lenses. Until I manage to borrow an adapter, and use the same lenses, at the same settings, shooting at the same subjects under controlled conditions, and subsequently pixel peep at the results, then I can tell you what I think.

Nevertheless, my initial impression is that, the ISO performance on E-5 is clearly ahead of E-PL1. I did not remember seeing that much noise on ISO1600 image on E-5, as seen on E-PL1 images. Also, the grain of the noise is different, the noise of E-5 is somehow, more “fine”, and “smooth”. The E-PL1 noise is really course, and textured. Again, it is not fair for me to put up direct comparisons with different lenses, because they capture light differently.

I will still use the Olympus E-5 for my paid assignment, and of course, when I feel like it for my usual shutter therapy sessions. I have grown to love the E-5, and I am sure it will be my workhorse for a long time. However, the PEN is something that I can use when I do not think of “work”. PEN is a camera I can use as if it did not exist, with its light weight and tiny size. How well it can perform on the streets, I cannot tell you yet, probably after a few more sessions, I will write a blog entry on E-PL1 and how it fares on the streets.

For now, another thing I wanted to do was to take a step back, and start from the basics all over again. No big camera, no unfaultable and blinding fast AutoFocus, no professional “aura” (anyone looks professional holding a DSLR), no HG super sharp lenses with large aperture. Just the PEN and kit lens. There are tones of restrictions, I know, while overcoming the limitations of the current system setup, I am also opening myself to newer opportunities. We do have to slow down sometimes, to take a good look at where we are at, what we are doing, how we are progressing, and where we are heading in photography. Stripping myself away from everything can help me to do just that. One camera, one lens, and all I have as a weapon now is photography artistic vision. It takes time to happen, and I have the patience.

I am a PEN lover. I believe a PEN is mightier than the sword.

Will you join me in discovering the wondrous world of photography with PEN?


  1. Bartosz Dawidowski4/17/2011 02:46:00 AM

    I would disagree about the need for highter MP count. 12 MP is enough, even for very large prints. What this camera needs is better higlights retention. I agree about slow AF - it is an issue. My Fujifilm compact is 2-3 times faster than the E-pl1.

  2. Hello Bartosz,
    What is, higher MP with better dynamic range? With today's technology, I believe that is more than possible !!

  3. Having tried the E-PL1 before, I agree that the autofocus speed is really painful. But it was a tremendous joy to use and I loved it from Day 1. But the question was, would I buy it? The answer was simple, it just wasn't good enough for me.

    Then came the E-PL2. On paper, the changes made were minor but during real world usage, it was like night and day. Without hesitation, I bought the twin lens kit and it is superb. Coming from using a budget DSLR and later a semi-pro one, this was a revelation and I simply love it right now.

    You should try it.

  4. Hello francis,
    indeed the epl2 has improved tremendously especially the AF but I do not have the cash to spend on it. The epl1 will have to suffice for now. It is a good camera, and I am loving it!!

  5. Meow~ Meow Meow at PC fair too today, Meow~

  6. Good day Robin,

    Glad to see another PEN user and knowing despites limitations, creativity will always prevail.

    I was at the PC fair on friday and tested ALL the lenses at the olympus booth with my E-P1. The newer 14-42 kit lens was definitely leap and bounds of what the original was made. More so on the E-PL2. In fact I was trying to convince an Old uncle why he should stop travelling with his d90 and giant 18-200 lens but alas he just walked away. But knowing he shook my hand and thank me for explaining make me happy to know another one might join the mirrorless future group :)

    Anyway I just bought a 40-150 and was hopping I can join ur many street photo shoots. Just let Jason mumbles know Gabriel is around. Glad to see you are well since our last Shogun Buffet visit.

    "poison"Get the 20mm 1.7!! "end poison"

  7. Hope you will still do a lot with the E-5 ..... I learn a lot from you Robin.

    We are goin to the zoo tomorrow, taking the E-5 /Leica 14 150mm set with me ... my wife with the E-620 with the kitlens.

    Will place the pictures on my website..

  8. Hello gabriel!!
    Oh my goodness, we did have a brief encounter at Shogun!! That was more than two years ago!!
    Thank you so much for your compliments I really appreciate it a lot. I am glad to find another PEN user.
    Surely I will let jasonmumbles know, we should do some street shooting together. Hope to see you soon!

    Hello rick!!
    Wow, I have not been to the zoo for ages!! It must be a really fun and exciting trip. I am sure more beautiful photos will follow.
    Do not worry, I still love the e-5 very much, I wont neglect it.

  9. The final 3 photos look gorgeous!

  10. Hi there, seems like everyone here are Olympus fans. I have no idea about camera stuff. Planning to learn now so currently looking for simple camera. btw GF2 and EPL2 which model shud i choose?