Return to Olympus

editorial Feb 18, 2016

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):

  1. Sony NEX-7
  2. Olympus OM-D E-M5
  3. Fuji X-E1
  4. Olympus OM-D E-M1
  5. Fuji X-T1
  6. 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.

My Sony A7 II

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.

MFT Logo

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.

Olympus Digital 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:

Olympus Analog Pen F

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:

Olympus vs. Sony

The difference is even more startling with pro level 24-70mm f/2.8 equivalent zooms:

Olympus vs. Sony 2

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.

Update #1

The acquisitions have begun! I also ordered some generic metal lens hoods as they are way cheaper than the Olympus hoods.

Update #2

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:

Lens Pouches

 

Update #3

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.

 

NISSIN_i60A_2b640

Update #4

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:

 Update #4.1

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:

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