Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Olympus Pen E-P1

The Olympus Pen E-P1 represents a new generation of compact, interchangeable lens cameras on the micro 4/3rds lens mount.

Here, I have the equivalent of manual transmission on a car. That is a Voigtlander Nokton Classic (35mm, f1.4) manual focus prime lens mounted using a VM (Leica M mount to micro 4/3rds) adaptor. No information is transmitted via the adaptor to the camera. Metering works in stop-down fashion. Manual focus assist is available on the E-P1 using liveview.

The camera came with a neat Olympus standard zoom that collapses for compactness. Here is my 3 lens kit:

These are three different lenses all with different mounts. Two adaptors are used here.

Shown mounted: my general low light and portrait lens. Voigtlander Nokton Classic (35mm, f1.4) Leica M mount. VM Leica M to micro 4/3rds adaptor (no electrical contacts to transmit lens information, so manual use only).

Back left: general purpose mid-range zoom. Olympus micro 4/3rds 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 collapsible kit zoom. No adaptor needed (full range of functions).

Back right: my spherical panorama lens. Olympus 4/3rds 8mm f3.5 fisheye lens. Shown with Olympus 4/3rds to micro 4/3rds adaptor (information about lens communicated to camera, full range of functions).

Lenses made for micro 4/3rds and Leica M mounts are much smaller and lighter than regular DSLR lenses. For example, the regular 4/3rds format fisheye shown above is huge by comparison. I also have a 9-18mm 4/3rds wide-angle zoom lens (not shown here). And that is similarly large.

As more lenses get released in micro 4/3rds mount, there will be concomitant weight and size saving to be had without loss of image quality. There is a Panasonic 7-14mm wide angle zoom available now. Plus a 45-200mm telephoto zoom. (Double those focal lengths to get the 35mm equivalent values.) And rumor has it a pricey Leica Summilux 30mm f1.4 in micro 4/3rds native mount is coming.

The camera body is much smaller than my year-old Olympus E-520 DSLR yet has superior image quality. It's a breakthrough in terms of technology and versatility for cameras of this size.

[Unfortunately, my E-520 has a busted LCD display. That's my excuse for getting the Pen E-P1.]

In fact, it's not much bigger than my point-and-shoot (P&S) Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5.

It's pictured here with the collapsible Olympus kit zoom (14-42mm, f3.5-5.6) mounted (collapsed).

Given the 2x crop factor over full frame 35mm, it actually has the same maximum wide angle as the Lumix lens (4.7-47mm, f3.3-4.9) but does not reach anywhere near as far in terms of telephoto ability. The Lumix has a tiny image sensor by comparison, which allows for lens miniaturization but has other tradeoffs in terms of image quality.

In short, normalizing focal lengths to 35mm equivalent sizing, the Olympus kit zoom would be equivalent to a 28-84mm zoom, and the Lumix to a whopping 28-280mm zoom.

(According to the specifications, Olympus kit zoom also slightly slower in terms of max aperture than the Lumix lens, though that not a meaningful parameter here given the difference in image sensor size.)

As a hiker, I've been looking for lightweight but versatile equipment for taking landscape and 360° spherical panoramas. In terms of portability, I will carry on a belt the 3 lens kit setup shown previously:

Shown here is a tiny Kata DF 408 case surrounded by a pair of Lowepro lens cases.

One holds the 8mm fisheye. The other holds the Nokton 35mm/f1.4 and Olympus kit zoom. Padded belt not shown.

Going modular is the most versatile solution for me. For example, when hiking I will leave the Nokton behind but carry a lightweight Gitzo carbon/magnesium tripod and panohead.

I've re-organized and expanded the test shots that were here to a separate blog entry...


  1. Good writeup. Looking forward to hearing more.

  2. You'll probably have a useful opinion on this: do you think the E-P1 is portable enough to take along on bike rides? Probably it's too big for a jersey pocket, but maybe it would fit in a top tube bag?

    I've been eyeing a Canon G10 but I like the creative possibilities and potential image quality of the E-P1.

  3. Yeah, this is coming along on scenic bike rides with me. The camera body actually fits in a jersey pocket. And the tiny lenses can be carried separately.

    Or you could get the ultra-flat pancake lens, which is not available yet for another week or so.

  4. Thanks for the info. If I can stop buying bike bits, I may have to get one of these. I still have my Zuiko 50mm f/1.8 that I could adapt and mount up to an E-P1...that might be fun.

  5. Sandiway - Testing out the VM Leica M to 4/3 adaptor on my E-P1 with Leica 50mm lens. I have sent the lens focus to manual and I am using A (Aperture Priority) setting. With the lens wide open everything seems fine. When I stop down the lens the viewfinder gets darker - which is expected. However when I take the photo the image replicates what I see in the viewfinder - a darker image. Is that correct? I was expecting the camera to compensate by selecting the appropriate shutter speed. Am I doing something wrong? Any workarounds?

  6. Yes, you have the same adaptor as me, but a better lens :-)

    In aperture mode (A), when you rotate the aperture ring, the display will show the selected shutter speed.

    When I go click by click from f1.4 to f16, the shutter speed steps down in sync. That works for me. Does this happen for you?

    So the picture has the same overall exposure.

  7. Sandiway - You are correct. My initial experiment was indoors. It has been raining almost every day here in the Boston area. I just tried some shots outside in much better light and everything is working fine.
    I can see the shutter speed stepping down.
    Overall pretty amazing. Thrilled to be able to use my Leica lenses on a digital camera that is priced so much lower than an M8.

  8. Cool. Glad it's working for you. Can't afford an M8(.2).

    The M8 has a larger sensor though than the 4/3rds one. So the effective focal lengths are different. Which lenses work the best on your E-P1?

  9. Sandiway, can we see an image or two at high res? Seems like Leica and Cosina (Zeiss) would be falling over eachother´s legs to market their lenses for this type of camera... I mean they would be idiots if they don´t :-D