Rewind: Olympus PEN E-P1

Olympus PEN E-P1 was the first Micro Four Thirds camera released by Olympus in the year 2009. This was a significant product for the company, marking the first step into Mirrorless Interchangeable Camera (MILC) world, and shifting of priority from the Four Thirds DSLR system to Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds. When the PEN E-P1 was launched, I was still happily shooting with the Olympus DSLR E-520, an entry level DSLR, even before I did my blog review for the E-5. Being the second released mirrorless camera in the world (first was Panasonic G1, about half a year earlier), this E-P1 obtained considerably huge amount of attention and scrutiny from everyone. 

The Olympus PEN E-P1 is now six years old. I was holding, and shooting with a six year old camera. I found it in the cabinet in office, and the camera just screamed at me, grabbing my attention. I was immediately attracted to the beautiful, retro, yet modern design of the camera. The metal build of the body was solid and reassuring as I held the E-P1 in my hands, and I like the smooth, cool feel of the metal. It was not a light camera, it has some heft, and as I slotted the battery in, turned the camera on, I just knew I must bring this E-P1 out for the weekend, and forget about all my other cameras at the moment. Who cares if the camera is a six year old dinosaur? The desire to test it out was unexpected, but I guess why not try out the first ever Micro Four Thirds camera from Olympus? 

I brought the E-P1 out for a quick shutter therapy session at Petaling Street, and with me everywhere I went throughout the weekend. I brought along with me some great M.Zuiko lenses, 25mm F1.8, 45mm F1.8, and a compact, slim 14-42mm EZ pancake zoom kit lens, just in case I needed something wider. The majority of my shots were taken with either the 45mm F1.8 (how I miss using this lens!) and the 25mm F1.8. 

The images I managed to get out of the camera is fantastic. Yes it has only 12MP and the high ISO performance was not great, and the dynamic range is limited. Who cares? When I was shooting mostly with ISO200 (and not getting over ISO800) the E-P1 produced beautiful colors and the images straight out of camera was just fantastic. The signature Olympus colors is evidently there, and I am amazed by how consistent Olympus has been about their faithful, realistic color reproduction in all their cameras throughout different generations.  

Honestly, I do think that the images I shot from the E-P1 blow the Fuji X100 out of water.

I was surprised to find this, and I would have thought the Fuji X100 would fare better given that the camera was launched 2 years after the E-P1. Yes, at higher ISO the Fuji wins, and the Fuji is better in terms of dynamic range, but if you just put these technicalities and quantitative measurements aside, and just look at the photographs, you will see that Olympus E-P1 produced superior images in terms of contrast, sharpness and how "life-like" they generally look. 

The autofocus is painfully slow, and with the gigantic focusing boxes, it is difficult to achieve critical focus, so for street photography Olympus E-P1 is not the best camera, considering at that time DSLR has much faster AF. That low resolution LCD screen is terrible to work with, and I will just have to trust that the camera nails the focus, as it was quite difficult to judge focus accuracy through the obsolete screen. I particularly dislike the implementation of the control dials, though there were two dials (one at thumb rest area, one around the arrow pad) I feel that the traditional DSLR position, like the ones on the newer OM-D cameras work much better and more naturally for quick adjustments. The single fact that the Olympus PEN E-P1 does not have a built in Electronic Viewfinder was sufficient for many online photography reviewers to slam it, pulling down the overall final scores in conclusion. I think that was a big sin, and was redeemed with the release of an external viewfinder VF-2 for the successor E-P2. 

Being the first Micro Four Thirds camera, there was much to improve on, and E-P1 was not perfect. Nonetheless, setting all the issues and complains aside, taking the camera out and shooting with it was quite a fun experience. I think that was the main objective of PEN photography, just go out and have fun shooting. 

The images that this camera produced was nothing short of amazing. 

I want to start with this image, because of a few reasons. Firstly the colors, though looking vivid and overly saturated, was "alive" and just beautiful. You just do not get this kind of color rendition with any other cameras. Not even with the Fuji. I know color preference is subjective, but gosh, those of you who have experienced Olympus colors will understand how amazing it is. And this comes from a six years old camera! Secondly, I liked how Carmen expressed her "WTF" moment when we were fooling around while she was concentrating on getting a good food shot. Moments like this is worth shooting, and this may not win me any awards or sell prints, but it captured what we were doing together and surely showed the fun that we have had! This is my photo of the day! 

I think it has been quite a while since I last did a street portrait shot. Went up to this man and asked if it was ok to take his photo. He said yes! People are friendly in Malaysia. 


Connecting KL

Another portrait of a stranger. Olympus renders beautiful black and white images. I am not sure how to explain this, but this has been discussed in many forums and the black and white images have the "Leica" quality to it, and many have done comparisons before. I think this is a very subjective topic, but I know the black and white images from Olympus cameras come out beautiful. 

Morning Paper

Five Foot Way

Broken Faith

The country, as I have mentioned in my last blog entry, is falling apart

The windows, just like my beloved country, are falling apart too. 

The Lorry

Kuala Lumpur

The making of

My addiction

Smells soooooo good

Roti Canai

My friend Amir, has a visitor, Lynne from New York, who joined us yesterday for out shutter therapy session in Petaling Street. She shoots on the streets of New York, how cool is that? 

I also have a visitor from Germany! Hello Stephan! I am surprised to find out there are Germans who read my blog!

In the afternoon, I went to Publika, to attend a photography talk. Jeffrey Lim gave a presentation on his project, "Kanta". He made his own camera. That is right, the image above shows the camera that he constructed himself from scratch! 

Everyone was curious how the DIY camera works!

This is Jeffrey Lim. You can find out more about him here:

I also spent some time catching up with some friends, over delicious food. 

My Pork Burger with Char Siew

Ohhh yesssssss

Carmen's Pasta

Our Sweet Desert

It was quite a weekend for me. Had shutter therapy, met some new friends (one from New York and one from Germany), caught up with awesome people, went to photography talks, and plenty of good coffee and delicious food. That E-P1 made everything sweeter. 

I know some of you have had used the PEN E-P1 before, and some of you still have it with you! Share your experience. I want to hear your thoughts!


  1. You have loyal readers from Brazil, too ;)
    Your candid shots are an inspiration, you should work for Malaysia's Turism dept.

    1. Thanks for the kind words! I would love to visit Brazil one day!

    2. One more from Brazil, here. :)

      I already have my E-P1 - one of the best photos that I've taken was in Carnival here in Rio, which I brought the camera everywhere, with a Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 mounted. No magnification, no focus peaking, and even being very amateur in photography at the time, the photos were amazing.

      This was the one what I was talking about: (Olympus colors :) )

    3. Thanks Marcio! Carnaval seems like a fun festival to shoot! one day hopefully I will get the chance to do so

    4. One more here Robin. Yes come down for sure when you have a chance. A shutter therapy session in Sao Paulo would be awsome, please let us know! And keep up your amazing work!

  2. Replies
    1. I seriously wonder why are so many people reading my blog in Germany!

    2. Ever thought about your blog being in top 10% qualitywise? :)
      Your posts from user perspective are nice to read, more interesting than for example resolution charts and more useful in practical experience.
      So, once more, thank you for putting that much effort in your blog and sharing your thought and pictures with us!

      Greetings from Germany!

    3. So, if I ever make it to KL, I'd like to pay a visit to you.

  3. Dear Robin,
    I guess you have readers all over the word, especially street foto fans and Olympus fans :-)
    I have bought my first E-P1 secondhand in 2012 and loved it. You explained all the fantastic good side's from the camera and the "not so good" in your blog.
    The missing view finder and a friend made me buy a E-P2 also. I really like to use the E-P's in holiday in the city, but I also manged to shoot nice flower macro's with my E-P5 :-) (without auto-focus).
    It's a pleasure to read your blog. Have a greeat time!

    1. Thanks for the kind words Armin! I really, really wish E-P1 had a viewfinder! even the e-P2, with a viewfinder external attachment, it is not that convenient at times.

    2. It seems I'm in a minority here, but I think the PEN cameras shouldn't have a viewfinder. It makes them sleek and it probably appeals to the more casual shooters who want to use a display only. I only started with an EPL3 in early 2013. A long time ago I had an analog point and shoot. Then an Olympus C770 compact. People (like me back then) who know nothing about photography probably dislike viewfinders (they were horrible in those cameras). I also considered bokeh a terrible physical limitation when I accidentally encountered it once ;)

      Now take the Panasonic GX7. It looks awful with that protruding viewfinder. When carrying the camera like a messenger back the rubber piece is really in the way. I have the VF4 and you can flip it up, which will mitigate that. When it came out I added an EM5-II. It's a great camera and my EPL3 is getting used a lot less now. I also admit that I use the OM-D almost always with the viewfinder, but this type of camera really lends itself to that. Still, with the rubber piece (and the terribly misplaced neck strap mounts, unfortunately a big fail by the Olympus engineers, IMHO) it is not nearly as nice to carry on the side as is the EPL3. The pen is also more comfortable in the hand. I don't like grips. The EPL3 is totally flat, looks extremely hot and with my way of holding it, it's just perfect for me. I used the 75/1.8 with it and had no trouble at all. When the circumstances require it (light, thight focusing) add the viewfinder and the combo is not just very usable but looks extremely good.

      So for the PEN bodies it is my opinion that having the viewfinder as a removable add-on is at the very soul of the series. The big disadvantage is the added price, however.

  4. Reader from Los Angeles, here. First, I think your photos of people are wonderful. The entry from Vietnam a while back was a particular photos. There are some very technically proficient photographers who don't touch your people photos. You clearly have a natural rapport with your subjects. Second, I'm not sure I agree entirely about Olympus color. I have an E-PL1 (now retired). I found that with an added viewfinder (VF-4, I believe) it was a much more usable camera, but the lack of a twin dial interface was was pushed me on toward an OM-D. (I found the E-PL1 image quality remarkably good, in fact, I didn't find the image quality of the OM-D that much of a leap, except for the high ISO of course -- the flexibility and usability of the camera was a quantum leap, of course.

    Anyway, back to color. I agree with Ming Thein on this one, who said Olympus colors are very pleasing, but not necessarily accurate. In my experience they tend to be a little on the warm side. In Lightroom, there is often a huge discrepancy between the "as shot" setting and "auto". That said, I'm very happy with my Olympus cameras. :)

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience with Olympus gear. Also thanks for the kind words, I have a long way to go in portrait shooting. Lots more to learn and explore!
      Color is a very subjective part of photography. I strongly believe that the audience do not necessarily want "real" colors, I think they want colors that they like. That is the main reason why Lightroom, Photoshop and all the post--editing software are so popular now. We want more than just reality, we welcome exaggeration (to what extreme that is another subject).

  5. oops - that was meant to be "particular favorite"

  6. Hi Robin,

    I never dropped you a line even if I really love your blog and I've been a long time reader. Your blog opened up a different way of taking pictures, and this will be always in my mind, very different from most blogs.
    So I can enjoy taking pictures and also motivate me to learn, push my limits. And that I don't need the newest and most expensive gear. A million thanks for this!
    The reason I stepped now out it: I'm a German reader, too, and I know that a friend of mine always reads here, too.
    And if you happen to be in the next years in brazil, drop me a line I'll show you arround (Sao Paulo).

    All the best for you, your family and friends!

    1. Thanks for the kind gestures! Yes, Brazil seems like an awesome place to visit and shoot!

  7. Hey Robin !

    You have also a reader from France ! :) This is also my first comment here. I started reading your blog a few months ago, when I was looking for information about the Olympus OMD cameras. I found your posts very interesting, technical enough to have a good idea of the gear and lenses but no boring at all. It really helps me to decide what gear was for me. :) I'm a proud owner of an Olympus OMD EM1 now and I find it amazing.

    Now I'm a regular reader and I really enjoy looking at your photos and read your reviews, I like your street photography style.

    Did you already try the Sigma lenses for Micro 4/3 (20, 30, 60 mm) by the way ? What do you think about them if you did ? I have the Sigma 60 mmm f2.8, and I'm quite happy about it. It is not a macro lense as the Olympus but it is much cheaper.

    Anyway, if you ever come to Paris, don't hesitate to contact me if you'd like.

    Best regards,


    1. Sophie,

      The Sigma 60mm is indeed a very good lens

    2. Hi Sophie,
      Hello France!! I have always wanted to go to Paris, seen so much from TV and the movies. And I am glad you find my blog reviews useful. Thanks for the kind words and I am sure you are enjoying MIcro Four Thirds.
      I do not have much experience with the Sigma lenses, so I shall not comment on this. However from my friends who have used the Sigma lenses they have only good things to say. The SIgma lenses are sure not expensive, and they deliver good results.

    3. Hi Paul,
      Thanks for chipping in! Appreciate the links.

  8. Hi Robin! Greetings from Portugal! I've started too with a Pen and now I'm a proud owner of an OM-D. Your blog is great because it has the right balance between practice and some more technical issues. And your photos are wonderful! It's really a pity that I'm so very far from KL... Keep on!

    1. Thanks for the kind words. If you do drop by KL please let me know.

  9. Char Siew? Looks like french fries to me. I think your blog is far more popular than you realize. Unfortunately, aging vision makes any camera without a built-in viewfinder a deal breaker for me. But, nobody is getting their hands on my E-M10.

    1. Oh the Char Siew is on the burger (char siew means roasted pork). I agree, indeed viewfinder is quite an important part of a camera that must not be excluded.

  10. Regarding the comment that Olympus colors are warm, it's set by default to "Warm" in the settings but you can disable that.

  11. Beautiful images! Kind regards from an Olympus user in Guatemala, Central America.

  12. Hello again Robin. Every time I see one of your articles I always think the same. This man always makes good pictures regardless of camera used. But you have an advantage, you're in Kuala Lunpur, a place full of life, color and exoticism. He is grateful for the photographer. Envy :)


  13. It was cool to have this retrospective Robin. The EP1 was my first M43 camera, coming from the E30/E3/E1/E500/E620. When I would look back at the colors from the EP1, they were definitely more vibrant and punchy...more reminiscent of fourthirds jpgs. Sadly, I only had the 17 pancake at the time and briefly the 45/PL25 before I finally sold it. The EP1 took decent photos, but not having the extra control wheel, I found, made me a lazy photographer. I never really liked composing with the screen only. Having a viewfinder was a must, so when the EM5 finally was released, it was everything I had wanted to convert to m43. The EM1 did so even more.

    If not for the crappy low-rez, high noise, low brightness LCD (bad in bright sunlight) and slow focusing I could have kept it longer. But it's so nice to have a nice LCD, EVF, Articulating screen and better high ISO...though the low ISO was quite nice and that is what I was used to at the time. When I first got my hands on it, I was amazed by the construction, but Olympus managed to improve upon that in later models even.

    1. OH yeah....and the shutter lag...that was a big disappointment. Don't miss that.

  14. A while ago I bought used E-P1 for £65. Nice. Hardly used it, and only have a couple of om fit manual lenses which I used with an adapter. I'm seriously considering selling my Canon 600D (and 50mm lens) to fund a 25mm and 45mm 1.8... And have it as my only camera..?! Do you have any thoughts/advice? Thanks

  15. Robin, I must admit, I like your E-P1 images better that the ones from the OM-D series. Don't you think that the old E-P1 produces somehow more 'lyric' pictures around base ISO than the new cams? (Great pics as always, especially the food pics.)