Olympus PEN Mini & Panasonic 14mm Pancake Combo

I made a video recently discussing a budget alternative for Ricoh GR III, in the form of the smallest Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera body paired with the most compact Panasonic 14mm F2.5 pancake lens, which I obtained for less than RM600/USD150. I can't afford to keep buying a new camera that I want so I have to make do with cheaper alternatives. Of course the PEN and pancake combo is not exactly the same as the GR III, there are some drawbacks and compromises, but also a few advantages to this interestingly cheap setup! Video here (click). 

The key advantage of a Ricoh GR III - being small, compact and truly pocketable, a dream street photography machine with wide angle 28mm equivalent lens coverage. To mimic this, the Pen Mini seems appropriate, still truly small and being paired with the slimmest Micro Four Thirds lens, the Panasonic 14mm pancake, it is still quite pocketable. The best part - this combo costs me merely RM600 (lens RM500, body RM100). 

There are some advantages that work for the Micro Four Thirds cheap alternative - you can still change lens, which is a big deal if you don't want to be stuck to wide angle at all times, and Micro Four Thirds has plenty of affordable great compact primes to choose from. Another advantage is the ability to attach an electronic viewfinder, something that the Ricoh GR lacks. Having EVF is a game changer in some scenarios, especially if you are doing a lot of light and shadow play in your street photography. And the AF on Pen Mini is still miles ahead in terms of speed and accuracy - it is just more reliable and I can nail critical moments more confidently using the Pen Mini. 

Of course, Ricoh GR III has earned its reputation and the 24MP APS-C image sensor is already a win - double the resolution of what the PEN Mini is offering, and having more dynamic range and better high ISO. The Ricoh GR III lens is also better - the Panasonic 14mm is not known to be a good lens, having severe purple fringing issues and flare issues. Then undeniably the Ricoh GR III is truly slim and more pocketable than the PEN Mini and Pancake combo. Having said all that, the Ricoh GR III costs so much more, and there is no way I am spending my hard earned money on something that does not add value to my professional work. 

I brought the PEN Mini and Pancake combo out for some shutter therapy sessions and I got to say, on the street it performed really well. The images are more than good enough, better than even the best smartphone camera today in terms of color tonality and dynamic range. 12MP may not sound like a lot in 2022 but trust me the pixels are optimized and I'd take high quality 12MP files from the PEN Mini over some 100 over MP over processed images from some flagship smartphones. And the AF was good enough to mail some interesting moments!

I am sharing these shots taken with Olympus PEN E-PM1 and Panasonic 14mm F2.5 in this blog entry. 

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  1. I always thought that the Ricoh GR series looked almost ugly in all the reviews: like a cheap consumer product or a piece of office equipment, the latter one might expect from Ricoh. I don't necessarily go for the retro aesthetic that Fuji emphasises, but I will note that my Fujifilm compact from fifteen years ago is a thing of beauty, so maybe Fuji will rediscover that side of things eventually.

    But aesthetics aside, I can't say I could get on board with the whole fixed focal length, large-sensor compact trend. Obviously, Fuji, Ricoh and Nikon (and Sigma, too, if I remember) pursued this and got decent reviews for various products, but it seemed to me like the target audience was people who had already spent a lot of money on DSLRs wanting to spend yet more money on something "compact".

    I remember seeing the E-PM2 back in 2015 (or thereabouts) and thinking it would have made a nice replacement for a compact camera, paired with the right lens. It's a shame that Olympus didn't keep that line going, even though all the manufacturers now seem to have decided that the money is to be made with more expensive products for enthusiasts and professionals.


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