Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The Return of the PEN

Firstly, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to you all beautiful people who have shown your support and encouragement towards myself and my beloved country. Special thanks to Kirk Tuck and Ian Davis for featuring my BERSIH entry on your websites, it means a lot to me. For those of you who have shared the photographs and spread the word, thank you for the effort, I am sure in the long run, Malaysia will be reformed into a better nation and we all hope for the better tomorrow. The world needs to know the truth, and I am doing my small part, together with your help to spread the awareness that Malaysia needs change. I am deeply moved and touched by the encouragement and kind words from you all, and this is a strong reason and inspiration for me to keep my shutter clicking, and this blog rolling on. Again, from the bottom of my heart, thank you very much. 

The Malaysians have made a bold move to march on and protest on the actual day. In history, we have not seen any event of such scale and magnitude: estimated 300,000 Malaysians regardless of race, class, religion and age, came together on the BERSIH rally, setting side our diifferences, in hope to fight for a better and cleaner nation. For my own safety, I shall not continue to blog on the BERSIH topic. Malaysia is not exactly a country that tolerates freedom of speech, there have been many cases where bloggers who were politically vocal being detained with no proper justifications. I have so much I wanted to say and blog here, but I know best that I can only fight, if I am not in jail. I shall thread carefully and not do anything foolish. The fact that I have shared out so many photographs from the actual day BERSIH Rally itself was a dangerous risk, but it was an action worth taken. Therefore, I sincerely wish you understand my situation, where it is best not for me to be too "extreme" in my opinions raised here. 

Lets move on to what this blog has always been about: shooting, and sharing more images. 

I have loaned the batteries of my Olympus PEN E-PL1 (the tiny BLS-1) to a friend lately who traveled far, and the batteries have been missing from me for months. That explained why I have not been shooting with my beautiful PEN at all lately. Having the batteries back, I was very eager to make the shutter click. 

Together with a large group of friends, we attacked the Petaling Street this morning. 

All images in this entry were taken with Olympus PEN E-PL1 and 14-42mm kit lens. 

Morning Light


Mascot Little




I think I can hear some people say "WHAT? Robin, seriously, kit lens?" With all the hype and craze of faster and sharper prime lenses: the Olympus 12mm F2, the Panasonic 25mm F1.4 and the Olympus 45mm F1.8, people were shocked to find that I used neither of those lenses and only the humble, much looked-down upon kit lens: 14-42mm. Some people hated the lens so much they sold it off immediately and replaced it with better prime lenses. 

I do not disagree that the kit lens may not be a wonderful lens to work with. I admit the AutoFocus is rather slow, hesitant at several occasions, and I did miss quite a number of shots because of the poor AutoFocus of this old kit lens on the E-PL1 (all the newer PEN cameras from E-P3 onward have blazing fast AF). I also admit that the F3.5-5.6 did not give me much freedom to use my conventional style of blurring everything in the background off, when I shoot my usual street portraits. The sharpness of the kit lens is not bad, but nothing to write home about. Then why did I not just throw this lens away and spend my hard earned money on the other wonderful lenses?

To me, my PEN will be my secondary camera, a camera which I can bring with me everywhere I go to, due to its small size, and almost non-existent weight. However, I shoot primarily with my DSLR E-5, and lovely Olympus Zuiko lenses. That being said, when I shoot with PEN, I did not expect it to outperform my E-5. When I need to get serious, and when I expect the camera to deliver, I will use my main gear. When I took out my E-PL1, all I wanted to do was to have fun, and shoot without thinking too much. The 14-42mm kit lens, for what it is, does wonders and it does its job very well. I have little complains, and for a mere kit lens, I am very happy with what it can do. It provided me with versatility: wide angle 14mm, 3x zoom for a little medium tele-photo work, shooting from far, and decent close up shooting, to get close. 

Avoiding the sun

Seeing the future

Moving on

Olympus PEN cameras: Original Version

Super Wide Lens

Luke and GR Digital

Will I ever change to micro 4/3 fully, perhaps using the OM-D? Maybe I will, but now its not the time. After coming home from shooting BERSIH Rally, I realized how important zoom lenses were to me. I cannot live without good zoom lenses. Olympus did it right in the first place when they designed marvelous Zuiko 4/3 DSLR lenses: they have some of the best zoom lenses in the world. I may not be using their legendary 14-35mm F2 and 35-100mm F2, but shooting with the 11-22mm F2.8-3.5 and 50-200mm F2.8-3.5, I know, with those two zoom lenses, I was given the flexibility to do almost everything I wanted to do. In such situations, prime lenses will slow me down. How I wish Olympus would start to concentrate on making fast, fixed aperture lenses for their micro 4/3 line. If they can come up with something like that, the number of people switching over to the OM-D bandwagon will be historical. 

Have you read the official review on DPReview.com? For the first time ever, Olympus received a GOLD award from DPreview. Well played, Olympus !! The OM-D E-M5 is a game changer indeed. I felt a strong relief when I saw the reviews there, and I believe it is well deserved for Olympus. 

Scott Chung, and we had Japanese Ramen for lunch. 

I have so much more I wanted to say here, but lets just have a pause here. There have been some very interesting debates on photography philosophies, such as film vs digital, black and white vs color, or even how to define a good critic being discussed amongst the photography communities I am currently active in. I have things to say, and I will share my thoughts here. 

Until then, my sincere thanks again to you all for being here with me, and I know in my heart that this blog would not have come this far, and I would not be here, without the support from you all. Cheers !!


  1. Hi Robin,

    I just wanted to come over and say that you've got some wonderful images at the bottom of the post and that you're a huge inspiration.

    Thanks for all your hard work.

    -Chris Gampat
    Editor in Chief
    The Phoblographer

    1. Thanks Chris for the kind words !! Appreciated much.

  2. Donald W Leitzel5/01/2012 09:30:00 PM

    Love your blog I have been an Olympus user since 1984 and looking forward to getting an EM-5 later this year.
    As someone who lives in a country (USA) where freedom of speech is often under appreciated I feel for people who risk the freedom for expression of ideas.

    Feeling for all oppressed people.

    1. Thanks Donald for the show of support. Glad to know another loyal Olympus user, and wow, since 1984, thats a long long time.

  3. Regarding using EPL1 with kit lens: I prefer the larger buttons of the EPL1 compared to later models of Pen for my large hands and also the good grip of this wonderful little camera, and I sold the original kit and upgraded to version 2 kit, for a little faster AF speed. Not as fast as EPL3/EP3 models, I know, but fast enough for most photos. What the kit lens does is, with a little higher aperature at wide open setting over a prime, it is hard not to get it in sharp focus most of time, so you can just have fun shooting and composing very quickly for personal use and creative art use. I use the bigger bulkier cameras for the more serious paid work. However, an EM5 would likely be a camera I would get sometime in the future. For now EPL1 offers lots of fun shooting and good enough results. I have added lens though like my favourite Olympus 14-150mm, one of the smallest telezooms which is fairly sharp at variable zoom distances. Have any of your friends tried this popular telezoom lens? Within your shutter therapy good of Pen users what are their favourite lens.
    Good to see you taking out the EPL1 again.
    Best of luck with your country also.

    1. hello Adrian.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on E-PL1. Indeed, for most everyday use, E-PL1 is more than sufficient, and can deliver very admirable results. Yes, there are a few 14-150mm floating around. I do think that for my own use the 14-42mm is good enough.
      Thanks again for your show of support to our cause and my country.

  4. "WHAT? Robin, seriously, kit lens?" ....
    Right Robin, it happened the same to me when I recently went skiing at the border between Italy and France
    with my tiny Sony NEX-5 and its kit lens.
    (here some samples on flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/dasar/sets/72157627059810344/)
    Good work.

    1. Thanks for sharing your photos Dario. Glad to see another person using kit lens too !

  5. Both kit lenses I have (for the E-PL1 "Pen", and for the E-520) are the most useful lenses as well, and I have taken some good photos using them. Vision, technique, and just being there always trump some imaginary (or even measurable) better products you don't have at hand...

    And I agree that even with the HG series, Olympus has some of the best zooms of any maker. And yes, their SHG series are uncomparable.

    Good photos as always, Robin.

    1. Thanks Wolfgang for the kind compliments. Indeed, even the 1442mm on E-520, I have made many wonderful images with that lens. When I was using it I never wished I had better lenses, I only worked with what I have in hand, and most of the time, 14-42mm is good enough to deliver.

  6. Really enjoyed these E-PL1 shots. I took some fun shots with the E-PL1 and the kit lens when I still owned them. The camera is so unassuming that it feels like there is no pressure to take great images, it just wants you to have fun!

    Looking at the prices it's going for now, it is the best bang for the buck out there. I'm tempted to pick one up again as a back up to the E-M5, but there are so many exciting lenses coming out (like the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 and the Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8) that I will need every penny to afford at least one of those.

    1. I agree with you Wataru, that the price has dropped so much it seems like a no brainer to have one as a back up camera. E-PL1 still delivers very good image quality for today's standards, no doubt.

  7. yeah lately i've been sticking the kitlens on my e-pl1 also....

  8. Robin, Love your photos and your dedication. In an age of increasing complexity and "the crazy one gets from too much choice," your masterful results from simple tools sends exactly the right message. The sepia finish in all but the last of the Return of the PEN article is superb. Would you be kind enough to share your process? At what point do you transfer to sepia - tone? I assume it's not in the camera. -- Blessings to you, -- Rev. Heng Sure

    1. Hello again Reverend,
      Thanks again for your kind compliments and encouragement. Most times, simplicity works best.
      My photographs were actually quite straightforward. I shot everything in JPEG, then I use ACDsee 7 (with powerpack, very old version) to convert to B&W in one click. After that, I open the color adjustments where you have sliders for Red, Blue and Green. I decreased the blue a little, and added some red and green. I did not have a standard preset for this, I just move the slider based on how I want the outcome for each photograph. After that, I finish the photos with quick standard contrast/brightness/saturation fine tuning.

  9. Robin, I missed the street and it's people as all my weekend will be packed until early August 2012.
    Thanks to you as your blog will definately ease my longing for the street.
    Thank you for sharing and I really appreciate your hard work, your images and your thoughts.
    John Ari Ragai (my name as writen in St Ignatius Church website's articles)

    1. Hello John,
      Thank you for your kind words, and do not worry, I do remember who you are. Do keep that shutter clicking !

  10. Robin, love all your photos and happy to see someone who enjoy using E-PL1 too!

    1. Hello Shee,
      Thanks for your kind compliments, and yes, I am loving my E-PL1.

  11. Hi Robin,
    Yes, images such as these have persuaded me to persist with my blocky E-PL1 and resist the E-M5's charms for a while.....I have so much more to learn about PP, composition and just plain noticing opportunities!AF speed has very little to do with IQ, and DR is no match for good composition and awareness of light.
    However, I'm not embarrassed to say I detested the kit lens. It felt like a kids toy, with the wobbly inner barrel when extended, and plastic mount. Reduced the pride of ownership for me! So I happily sold it, and used the proceeds to buy the 14/2.5 pancake. I bought the E-PL1 very soon after it was released, for about 3x what I would get one for now, so I still view it as a significant outlay. But, as you point out, primes are not the whole answer either. There are many times when a shot is missed while changing lenses (like when shooting with you and a rickshaw man wobbled past). Or I would like to change the perspective of a scene, but zooming with the feet isn't an option, and none of my primes quite get it right.
    For me, the charm of the fast primes are the ability to play with shallow DOF, and to take decent images in low light. Surprisingly, I think the first prime I would give up would be the 45/1.8, for the (hopefully) coming 35-100mm from Panny. I think that lens would be more useful as a portrait lens, for me. But I doubt I will sell the 45!
    Anyway, thank you for demonstrating the continuing strength of the E-PL1. I am very happy with mine. After all, it only came out 2 years ago!

    1. Hello again Tom,
      Thank you again for your kind words, really appreciated it.
      E-PL1 to me is still very new, I have not really used it that much, hence I intend to shoot more with it. No worries about selling off the kit lens, I do agree that in terms of image quality, sharpness, autofocus, and just about everything else, the prime lenses that you have can deliver much better results. So it was a smart decision to have more primes. The reason I am sticking to the kit lens is simple: the E-PL1 is not my main camera. If I am using it for serious tasks and photo-assignment, priorities would have been shifted, and I would not risk using the kit lens with its unreliable AF !!
      I would say keep that 45mm !! It is so cheap, and it is sooooo sharp !! You will treasure it, and believe me, when you need it, that lens is a Godsent. Capable of low light shooting due to F1.8, giving you good working distance away from the subject, and the BOKEH !! Those advantages alone should suffice to keep the lens in your bag. It may not be a lens to be used frequently, but when you need it, you need it.

    2. You're right Robin, I would be a fool to lose the 45/1.8. And it was not a particularly expensive lens. I am planning on selling a pair of Swarovski binoculars to finance the Panny zoom anyway!

  12. Robin, terrific images and a informative blog. Thanks. I have an Olympus E-PM1 with the VF2. I am able to carry the camera, the Oly 9-18mm, the Oly 40-150mm, the Pany 20mm and the EVF in three of my pockets of my shorts. Any thoughts on whether the extra weight/size of the M5 would make this impracticable?

    Frank B

    1. Thanks for the kind compliments Frank. E-M5 is actually very small, you should see it for yourself in real life. It is no bigger than E-P3. Of course, your E-PM1 is much smaller.

    2. Frank, I was surprised to find that my E-PL1 (with VF2 mounted) is significantly bigger than the E-M5. I doubt that you would notice any difference in practice. I never take the VF2 off my camera, so the E-M5 would be a smaller package for me. Particularly in height.
      That said, if you keep the camera & lenses broken down and distributed between the pockets: the E-M5 will be heavier & bulkier. Go find one to try, I was very surprised by how small it was.

  13. Come on guys, use a proper camera bag !!! For better padding and protection !!!

    1. LOL! You know I do...actually was trying to figure out why Frank would rely on his pockets....maybe sneaking past concert security? That said, I do wander around sometimes with the 20/1.7 on, camera over my shoulder, and the 14/2.5 in my pocket. Maybe a 45mm pancake is what I really need!
      Only about 1/4 of my camera bag is taken up with camera gear!

  14. Robin and Tom thanks for your replies. My local camera shop does have the M5 in stock, but only in black and with a kit lens, which I do not want. I do not like to go there to see the camera and then buy it over the internet. Your comments have helped me and when it is in stock at B&H I will probably buy it (they have an excellent return policy) and see for myself. Robin, I really hate to carry my camera equipment in a camera bag, although I agree it would provide more protection. I have my E-PM1 with me at all times and I don't like to make it obvious to all. :)

  15. Tom, another reason I carry my camera and lenses in my pockets is that I find it much more comfortable than using a camera bag. I find that having the camera and bag (more weight) around my neck or on my belt causes neck/back problems. Even with the bulges, I feel less geekish then if the camera equipment were in a bag. :) Also, in malls, etc. it is less noticeable.

  16. hi robyn!
    these are beautiful pictures i came across your blog while reading reviews on the EPL1 because i am about to get one
    but are these pictures straight from the camera or was there post-processing??


    1. Hello Abisola,
      Thanks for your compliments. I did not do any reviews on E-PL1. Yes, all those photos have been post-processed.

    2. Yes i know you did not i just stumbled across your blog while I was surfing thru the web for reviews and pictures taken by the EPL1.. thanks for your response :)

  17. Proud that your OM-D review was widely read & referred to on various photo blogs. You really made Malaysian proud. Ditto your latest Bersih 3.0 coverage.

    I've been your regular blog follower & proud Olympus user (initially, bought Olympus camera by mistake, but now proud owner of E-330, e-30, EP2, EP3 & OM-D & a total of 12 lenses). Always looking forward your latest blog updates. Bravo Again.

    Nik RNH

    1. Thanks Nik for the constant support. I appreciate your kind words.
      Oh dear, you bought into Olympus system by mistake? That must have been a beautiful mistake !! Glad that you have the OM-D now, it is indeed a great revolution for Olympus, I am sure this is a turning point for many greater things to come.

  18. Robin

    I linked to your post on my blog Sunday May 6, 2012


    Keep up the good work

    Dennis Elam

  19. A tip for those that are not happy with the performance of the Olympus 14-42mm kit lens (version 1) with the EPL1. Reading the comments, some decided to sell it and go with primes instead. Although primes from Olympus are no doubt excellent choices these days, the versatility of the retractable kit zoom (making the camera a easy carry around camera with moderate zoom available) is well worth keeping a kit zoom.
    Version 1 kit zoom does hunt for focus a bit I found at times and sometimes misses accurate focus, however it was a sharp enough lens when it did. I found it worth it to sell the version 1 kit lens privately, and buy the newer version 2 lens for my EPL1 which was also sharp enough lens. My recommendation to EPL1 users, is for newer version with MSC and called 14-42mm II MSC (version 2) with new internal lens design, or pick version 3 "II R" as both are better than first one. Significant enough performance improvement on EPL1 and I found a lot less focus hunting than version 1 lens. The upgrade does not cost as much if a person sells off the original lens first. Just my review as a user.

    The kit zoom is still a popular Olympus lens. I think Panasonic took notice of Olympus successful retractable kit zoom and made their own, to keep their camera small.
    (The new Olympus 12-50mm also looks good but much bigger than the kit. Your review looked great with this lens.)