Sunday, July 18, 2010

Olympus PEN Workshop in collaboration with DCM & MPH, 1 Utama

Olympus Malaysia held an exclusive workshop in collaboration with DCM and MPH this afternoon at the MPH bookstore, 1 Utama. The highlights of the presentation were of course the presentation by David Chua and the introduction of the new 9-18mm and 14-150mm M Zuiko lenses.

There were 20 units of EP-1 Micro 43rds cameras available for loan to the workshop attendees on a first come, first served basis (You'll have to let them keep your IC though). Users are invited to bring the camera units out for a walkabout and to test its features.

This is not the first time I've encountered the EP-1. Nonetheless, its a well crafted item that does the job of taking wonderful images in a small, compact chassis. Nonetheless, one of the gripes which I had was the lack of user friendly features (eg. small buttons, fiddly AF system, etc). One of my friends in Melbourne owned an EP-1 before, but he was complaining about the lack of shots he could take with a single battery charge (about 320 according to CIPA standards). Thats definitely expected, because this camera uses live view exclusively on its 3 inch LCD screen and not an optical viewfinder like conventional SLRs.

The M Zuiko 14-42 lens is very compact indeed, and after disengaging the lock button, the lens extends to about twice its original length. Its a nice, sharp lens, but lacks the 'Leica quality' optics its Panasonic rival has. Oh well :s

On the top panel, its easy for you to flick the switch to change from the conventional modes (eg. Aperture / shutter priority, manual mode) to the different art filters and scene modes. I seem to like the grainy film, light tone and pin hole art filters. Nonetheless, do be warned that when you use these art filters, the camera's live view will lag substantially, because of the longer processing times required to update the live view, as well as the resultant JPEG output.

Olympus staff giving the welcome speech, while David rushes behind to take a few snapshots of the participants.

Yes, we may all have our fanciful 40D, D300s, D3s and 1DIV, but all in all, you don't need a very fanciful camera to take photos. The Olympus PEN series takes out all the complicated settings we commonly fidget about (eg. ISO, aperture, shutter speed), and helps lets us concentrate on just taking great looking photos.

Indeed, the PEN has its own limitations, but for the casual photographer or avid street shooter, it has a lot to offer. Olympus jpegs are arguably the best in the business, requiring little post processing straight out of the camera. It's compact size makes it less probable for you to be intimidated when you shoot your streets shots. Now, everyone is jumping on the bandwagon - Sony with its NEX series, and Samsung with the NX 10.

Even low light street shots utilising ambient light only are also possible with the Olympus m43 cameras. David showcased his examples of decent images which had shutter speeds of 1/8 seconds, or even 1 second. Of course if you are a pixel peeping purist, you'd have a tripod with you at all times. But in times of 'emergency', the in-body IS does wonders :)

David was very helpful with regards to sharing his experiences with the PEN (specifically the EP-1 and the newest EPL-1). They're very capable cameras in capturing images and videos. Although the last season of House was filmed using the 5DmkII and various L lenses, the Micro 43rds consortium has definitely taken a lead in the autofocus and video quality department, producing less noise and faster autofocus with their newest 9-18 and 14-150 lenses. (Truth be told, the AF isn't really there yet. It still hesitates a little in the dark, but its way better than the noisy AF performance of the Canon 550D, for example).

The Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 14-150mm 1:4-5.6 (28-300mm zoom equivalent) is definitely one of the most versatile lenses around with a 10.7x zoom ratio in a very compact body. The autofocus is very fast and silent, and the image quality from the lens is quite decent for a superzoom. You may read more about this newly released lens on dpreview.

The Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm 1:4-5.6 is also currently the most compact ultra wide zoom in its class (compared to offerings from other brands with mirrorless systems). It's currently going head to head with the Panasonic 7-14mm f/4 ASPH LUMIX G VARIO lens, which is also a stellar performer. Having trouble choosing between both lenses? In short, if you have a lower budget, choose the Zuiko. :)

*A small note about the product team speech - It's OK having some bland slides showing that the Zuiko M 14-150 is 50 percent smaller and lighter than its 18-200 lens from 'N', but it does get a tad boring after a while. Although I do enjoy reading data on MTF, distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberration, I would ultimately prefer to look at some nice images done by the Olympus staff instead to showcase its abilities and to perhaps entice me to purchase that lens.

The new and shiny Olympus EPL-1 in a glass display cabinet. It's the newest Micro 43rds offering from Olympus with a very superb JPEG engine that produces files with exceptional resolution and detail.

Robin's eye was very quickly drawn to this scene. I'm sure he will make a blog post about this event soon.

The Olympus PEN series has a long history all the way back from 1959. The old PENs are currently collectors items, and are quite hard to source nowadays. They look great too, instead of today's tacky looking digital PENs (sorry, they just don't look as good as they were before). This above is an Olympus Trip 35, a fully automatic exposure 35mm film camera introduced in 1968. Ken Rockwell says "The Olympus Trip 35 operates completely without batteries. Its light meter and programmed automatic exposure system is solar powered! This makes it one of the world's most advanced cameras which provides fully automatic exposure completely without batteries or external electrical power !" Great stuff ain't it ;)

This is the exclusive, half frame PEN F series introduced by legendary Olympus designer Maitani (who has unfortunately passed away). It['s aesthetics are top notch, and the quality of finish is exceptional. Mounted on this camera is the prized Olympus E Zuiko 38mm f/2.8 lens as it reduces the already small camera to its most compact size. Wouldn't it be just wonderful to have a digital PEN that looks just like its predecessor?

Another great thing about the M43rds series is that you can play with virtually almost any lens on the market with the appropriate adapters. The old, manual focus lenses thats you see here come with insane apertures (eg f1). They are in the rave, and are becoming increasingly pricey on ebay.

David fitted an OM Zuiko 50 / 1.4G lens on his EPL-1 camera using an adapter. With the VF-2 electronic viewfinder, manual focusing is a breeze, and you can hand hold your camera more easily too.

Manual focusing using the LCD screen on m43 cameras isn't impossible, but it isn't that easy either. You've got to have a pair of steady hands, especially when you're using the lens at maximum aperture.

If you're adventurous, you can fit on a more recently produced Voigtlander 50 / 1.1 Nokton lens, which is 1/10th the price of a new Leica 50 / 0.95 Noctilux. It does equate to a 100mm f1.1 lens because of the 2x crop factor, which could be a bit too long a focal length for general purpose photography.

We gathered at a cafe downstairs for some refreshments.

Sausages rolled with bread, with a topping of thousand island mayonnaise.

Lettuce with potato salad. I like this a lot actually.

After tea, we went to the park opposite One Utama to take some images for the critique session later in the afternoon with David. I used the EP-1 exclusively instead of my camera and since they took back the memory card too, there was no chance for me to retrieve the images I took.

After about 40 minutes, we got back to MPH and returned our loaner EP-1s. We couldn't just risk going away without our Identification cards, could we?

After we chose our 3 best images, the Olympus staff downloaded our files to their laptop for the critique session. It was very insightful to say the least. So many of us just shoot blindly without thinking what are we trying to capture, and in the end we just get normal, or bland images. Are we just going to stop right there and be content with what we have?

The technique of learning to see creatively will only come through constant practise by placing the camera and lens to our eye, and previsualising the image that we'd like to capture. Only then can we practise our new found photographic vision and take it to much greater heights so that we can produce images with impact.

David's insights and witty remarks kept us inspired and attentive all the time. We all learned from each other the common pitfalls of photography, and how to capture more interesting images.

I used to think before that the PEN wasn't much of a camera. Sure, it did produce beautiful JPEG files but I couldn't really get my head around how to operate it because it behaves like a compact camera, albeit being a bit more sophisticated in nature. Today, I learnt a little more about the PEN cameras, and how they operate, and I've started to appreciate the way how it allows me to just concentrate on taking better photos without being too concerned about the camera settings. I'm not sure if I'll get myself one, but perhaps if there's some extra dough to spare.

Do leave some comments if you have some thoughts about this post.



AnandaSim said...

I would have liked to see the photos you shot on that session.

PENowiec said...

I support the training of the PEN. Very nice that someone is doing something.


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