Those of you who have followed my blog, know of my long quest to find the best mirrorless camera for travel photography and everyday carry. This has been a very long process spanning many years and I have pretty much done this out-of-pocket. My travels included many parts of the United States and Europe. It has been a lot of fun and a labor of love. I would like to think that I have been documenting, in my own way, the evolution of the mirrorless camera from a niche product to a viable system for amateurs and pros alike. These are the cameras that I have tried and tested so far (in order):
- Sony NEX-7
- Olympus OM-D E-M5
- Fuji X-E1
- Olympus OM-D E-M1
- Fuji X-T1
- Nikon Df (OK this is not strictly a mirrorless camera, but it is a great travel camera)
I have also recently switched my workhorse camera from the Nikon D800r to the Sony A7 II. And while the A7 II is indeed mirrorless, it is also a full-frame camera which means big, fat, heavy lenses. Yes, I have traveled with it and it takes spectacular images, but the weight of my kit was very oppressive so I quest again for a lighter system for everyday carry and traveling.
Which brings me to visiting Olympus for a third time. In 2008, Olympus and Panasonic launched the Micro Four-Thirds standard for mirrorless cameras. The goal of m4/3 was to produce high quality, mirrorless, interchangeable lens cameras that were much smaller than DSLRs.
Various iterations of m4/3 cameras have been produced by both Olympus and Panasonic. Blackmagic Designs even made a Pocket Cinema Camera that mounts m4/3 lenses. The latest from Olympus is the Olympus Pen F.
Named after the classic half-frame SLR of the late 50’s – early 60’s, the camera’s design, while it evokes a retro design aesthetic, bears little resemblance to its film ancestor:
Two features that it does share with its ancestor is the integrated viewfinder and front control knob. The knob on the original Pen F was the shutter speed dial, but on the digital Pen F it controls various art and filter modes including switching from color to monochrome. It is, however, a virtue of the m4/3 sensor and its 2x crop factor that brings me back to Olympus: small, high quality lenses – in this case 50mm f/1.8 equivalent prime lenses:
The difference is even more startling with pro level 24-70mm f/2.8 equivalent zooms:
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not jumping ship from my Sony gear. In fact, I look forward to expanding my system. However, Sony lenses, being full-frame, are always going to dwarf their m4/3 equivalents. Big, I can work with, but I want small to travel and carry with me. Don’t get me started about the Cambo Actus + Mamiya RB67 lenses I am planning to add to my Sony!
So What’s the Plan?
My travel/walkabout kit will include:
- Olympus Pen F (Black version) + Kit Flash
- Olympus M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.8
- Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8
- Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8
- Two (2) BLN-1 Spare Batteries
- International Battery Charger with interchangeable plugs
- Gariz HK-PENFBK Leather Half-Case
- Small Kit Bag
And, of course, memory cards and my personal effects.
The acquisitions have begun! I also ordered some generic metal lens hoods as they are way cheaper than the Olympus hoods.
The lens, hood and kit bag arrived today. Amazon Sunday delivery is a perk when you live 2 miles from the warehouse. The hood turned out to be superfluous (and ugly) but I am not going to cry over that as the 25mm included a hood. The kit bag is a bit smaller than I expected so I cannot put the camera bag insert I had lying around to good use. The bag is fairly padded and looks water-resistant, so I have ordered a pair of small neoprene lens pouches to hold the other two lenses when they arrive. Here’s what it looks like:
Nissin has recently announced their new i60A flash with a small form-factor, compatibility with their Air controller and a guide number of 60. An m4/3 version is expected in April 2016.
My camera has arrived and it is every bit as nice as I have read everywhere else. The included flash is tiny and Nissin won’t have the i60A available for a while. Plus, my budget is tight due to having to purchase all new kitchen appliances as ours have decided to give up the ghost (ouch). So, while I was futzing around with my Godox/Neewer flashes, I remembered that Meike makes some pretty small, yet potent flashes. As it turns out, their MK320 comes in a Micro Four Thirds version and only costs $79 on Amazon. Here’s a shot of what it looks like on my camera:
It has a guide number of 32 and can tilt up and swivel. A diffuser is included. It is powered by 2 AA batteries and if you use a pair of rechargeables, you can juice them back up without removing them from the flash via a micro-USB port and any tablet charger. Best of all, it supports TTL metering! I used it Friday night at a gallery exhibit opening and it worked great! However, I am required to prove my ownership of a new camera by posting a cat picture, so here is one shot in near total darkness, lit by the Mk320 flash:
I have cancelled my order of the ECG-4 grip plate in favor of a Gariz HK-PENFBK Black Leather Half-Case. This will add a little thickness to the camera body plus a small ridge to increase my ability hold on to the tiny thing. Plus it’s a lot classier: