Olympus E-P1 “Pen”

Yes, I do seem to be developing my camera geek tendencies. I was decidedly intrigued when the Micro Four Thirds format was announced last year. The concept was to use the relatively large sensor[1] and interchangeable lenses of a DSLR, and the fancy processing circuitry of a DSLR as well in a body more the size and shape of a compact camera. This was to be achieved by omitting the mirror and prism of a DSLR which would allow for a shorter light path and a smaller body. Oddly enough, the first cameras to appear were surprisingly large and looked more like DSLRs than compacts.

Then Olympus announced the E-P1. They marketed it as the “Pen” in a reference back to a classic half-frame 35mm camera which was very popular in its time, though reviewers did point out that it was more akin to the well-known Olympus Trip 35mm rangefinder camera. Now that’s not a bad thing – as a proto-geek many years ago, I used to look at adverts for the Trip with various degrees of longing..

Anyway, after a bit of dithering and muttering, not to mention considering some other cameras, I decided that an E-P1 would be a nice thing to have. I did the usual shopping around, and found that the excellent Warehouse Express had the best deal from a known source with stock, so I ordered (after a little more dithering) the bundle with both the 17mm f/2.8 “pancake” lens and the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens.

It all arrived, complete with the memory cards I added to the order, the next morning, and the battery was charged in time for me to take it for a short walk on Friday lunchtime.

First impressions, before I’ve really got to grips with the controls and numerous settings available are that this is a really nice bit of kit. I went out with the 17mm lens, which with the 2x crop factor of the Four Thirds system is equivalent to a moderately wide 34mm lens on a full-frame camera. The camera itself is solidly built – lots of metal in the construction and none of the flexy plastic you’d get in a typical compact. The control dials are nicely designed – there’s a wheel and a vertical cylinder which is nicely positioned for quick changes of aperture or exposure, depending on the mode you’re in at the time.

I’ve muttered before about the pleasures of wandering around with a prime lens rather than a zoom – quite apart from the generally better quality of image, it’s a useful challenge to have to think about your composition and where to stand rather than just zooming in. The 17mm lens offers a different field of view than any lens on my Canon beasties, which adds to the interest.

There’s a clip on viewfinder (purely optical, no fancy information displayed) which is designed to work with the 17mm lens, but I’ve been using the screen to compose – something I’ve never done with any of my cameras before[1], which is another added challenge.

I’ll upload some images over the next few days so you can see what I’ve been doing with the new toy…

[1] Unless you count the iPhone…