Olympus Pen

By UrbanAnthropod, May 17, 2010 10:36 pm

My first dSLR was an Olympus E500. It was a great camera. It was inexpensive and came with 2 lenses. I was won over by the 4/3 industry standard. I was very hopeful that the adoption of 4/3 as a standard across many companies would result in diversity in the lens market. This idea never really took off and I went on with my 2 kit lenses. True, I could’ve bought another lens, but the ones that existed never really appealed to me. I eventually switched over to the Canon Rebel systems since third party lenses were so easy to come by of sufficient quality for my needs. Then the µ4/3 systems came out. Both Olympus and Panasonic put out these mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. Without the mirror, these rangefinder-like cameras were slim and light. I started to salivate when Olympus put out the retro E-P1 as the first in it’s electronic Pen series. I anxiously awaited for the E-P2 to get the E-P1. But the thought of purchasing a first generation device was off-putting. The price never came down a whole lot since the E-P2 was so expensive. Then the E-PL1 was announced this year. An affordable Pen camera was finally released, but of lower build quality.

Mostly, I’d been looking at the Canon T2i. It’s a great system and my investment in EOS lenses meant I should naturally gravitate towards this new Rebel.But the pricing on this camera never went down much so I finally took the plunge and bought a secondary camera… the E-PL1! I finally received it and had little opportunity to try it out.

So how did I come to desiring the E-PL! over other micro 4/3 cameras? As already stated, cost was an issue. Panasonic has a similar form factor MILC µ4/3 camera –GF1. The main difference (after price) is the image stabilization. Panasonic makes stabilized lenses for their systems and do not have in-body stabilization. After spending much more money on stabilized lenses on the Canon EOS front, I thought it would be nice to use an in-body stabilized system to give me greater flexibility in buying lenses. I prefer lens stabilization since the shake at the business end of the lens can be great, and I feel like the in-lens systems better compensate for this. Since the lenses are so much smaller to begin with in the µ4/3 systems, the amount of proportional shake out at the front of the lens is much smaller. As opposed to when I purchased my E500, there are 2 companies making these cameras and putting them out to the general public. Coopetition from the µ4/3 companies means that there will be more diversity in the field and better competitive pricing. The Panasonic GF1 looks fantastic, but the in-body stabilization and price of the E-PL1 won out in the end.

Preliminary thoughts

It’s a great little camera. It’s little. I can change out the lens when I buy new ones. I can even buy an adapter to use my EOS lenses in manual with maximum open aperture, if I wanted to. The flexibility of size coupled to lens options sold me on the system. The large sensor of the 4/3 systems means that the light sensitivity and quality of the pixels would be drastically improved over a similarly sized point and shoot camera. The E-PL1 already has a new firmware that adresses the issue of slow autofocus. After updating the firmware and registering the device, I took a quick stroll outside for a couple of shots.

Here’s a test shot below:

Bumblebee on flowers. E-PL1 test shot

The continuous autofocus option is a little strange as the lens juts in and out while constantly losing focus of an object. Even stationary objects would be lost in focus with this option. Otherwise, the normal autofocus option works fine. The peculiarity of the E-PL1 over the E-P2 comes from the loss of knobs and buttons. I’m used to quick access to ISO and focus controls on the dSLRs I’ve owned. Having a knob for changing Aperture and Exposure Compensation was always very rapid action for me. On the E-PL1, however, active pushing of buttons makes these options a little cumbersome. In fact, the way they’re handled on this camera reminds me of the manual mode on my Canon Powershot A720IS. While I’m used to this on the Powershot P&S, if feels really awkward on the E-PL1. I suppose I’ll get used to this over time. But nothing beats out the knobs on the SLRs.

So far, I’m pretty pleased with the test shots. Another problem I’ve encountered was with the handling of RAW. While Ubuntu seems to grab the embedded JPG from the ORF file to display a thumbnail in Nautilus, dcraw can’t handle the file properly. Last time I checked dcraw worked with the E-P1. The difference in the sensor means that dcraw decodes the image too dimly. At first, I thought this was an issue with my version of dcraw, since I was using a Hardy Heron system. After moving the files over to a system running Karmic Koala, the underexposed image opened in GIMP. This was clearly not a dcraw version issue. There’s a really easy fix for this problem though. It turns out that the latest Adobe Camera Raw handles E-PL1 ORF files… under Mac and Windows. Fortunately, Adobe DNG Converter for Windows runs great under WINE in Ubuntu (Hardy, Karmic and Lucid). So, to open and edit RAW files from the E-PL1, I convert them to DNG using Adobe’s software (can be done in bulk) and edit the DNG file. The next problem came from editing the EXIF of the camera generated JPG’s and raw files. I typically use exiftool from the CLI, but I was unable to update the files. I was able to overcome this issue by changing the model from E-PL1 to E-P2 using exiftool.

exiftool -m -q -q -model="E-P2" filename

Last minor note/gripe about this camera. They’ve removed the orientation sensor. Shots taken in portrait orientation are not labeled so in the EXIF. This means that when they appear in Nautilus (or any window manager) or EOG (or any other display program), they’re sideways. I thought I was done with manually rotating images years ago. It’s not terrible or that inconvenient. I just find it a little odd.This really is a little odd. But the package is so small, I suppose they had to remove something.

That’s all I’ve come to for now. I’ll have to do some tests on the limits of the stabilization. But for now, I don’t have a long focal length lens to really test it on. Perhaps this feature will work well in video mode. More thoughts on this camera and roundabout workflow to come. So far, things are a little clunky. But the camera is working OK. I like the quality of the images and the form factor. That’s enough to keep me happily clicking away with this camera.

*On the Wishlist

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