The last Sunday Blog/Rant of 2010.

I gave this camera and lens to my wife about 20 years ago.  It's an Olympus Pen FT with a 40mm f1.4 standard lens.  The kit came with a 50 to 90mm zoom lens as well.  She loved the camera and took it along on trips many times.  But eventually she abandoned it for a little zooming, point and shoot camera.  She got tired to trying to explain the whole "half frame" deal to labs.  Sometimes they'd get it right, other times they'd just print two frames up on a 4x6 and in worst case situations they'd cut the film in odd places.  Her little Olympus 35mm full frame camera, with zoom and built in flash, fixed all that and this little beauty got filed away in a box in her office.  Long story short.......she re-gifted me and I was thrilled about it.

The granddaddy and inspiration for the Olympus Pen digital cameras. With one of the grooviest lenses,  the 140mm 1.4.

While the zoom lenses from the mid-1960's to the early 1970's were no great shakes these little standard lenses really rocked and the esoteric ones are getting harder and harder to find.  So what?  Who's going to shoot half frame film anymore? Well, the film shooting is another story but the reason some photographers care is that they love putting these fast little optics on the front of the new generation of Olympus Pen's (with adapters) and Panasonic G cameras and getting to shoot with fast, fast primes and all that entails.

I glomped the 40mm onto the front of my Olympus EPL-1 12 megapixel super mini camera and shot these test frames:

Did I shoot raw?  Of course not.  It's an Olympus camera so I don't need to.  Are the three frames I'm showing you a fair test?  Gosh no.  They're shot in direct sun.  Sun that's coming at a nice hot angle from the south.  And the lens is stopped down to f5.6 or f8.  How could they not look sharp?  But for a lens that's older than most of the people who frequent Flickr, cobbled to a camera it was never intended to be mated with, it's got a lot of promise.  Tomorrow I'll do a worthwhile test and shoot it in the studio with some of those LED panels I keep talking about.  I'll shoot it at f1.4 and 2, 2.8 and 4 and we'll see just what this baby can do.

It was Sunday here and I'd been entertaining, being entertained or finishing up projects all week long.  I spent vast hunks of quality time with my loving family but I'm cognizant that they can only take so much of my bubbling enthusiasm in one long sitting so I decided to get out of the house and take a good, long walk.  I started at Whole Foods because I love looking at all the fresh produce and making silent resolutions about just how much healthier I'm going to be in the next year.  It's also a convenient and accessible bathroom stop if you're heading out to walk thru a downtown that's otherwise pretty closed down for the holiday.

I meant to spend the day shooting with the 40mm lens and leaving it at that but I brought along the Olympus Pen 20mm f3.5 just for balance.  The 40 is fun but if you're going to shoot one nearly wide open on a Pen digital camera, and you want the results to be sharp you'll want to make use of the magnifying feature and really pop the image up to at least 7x to fine focus.  But that gets old quick when you're walking down Congress Ave.  I pulled the 20mm out of my pocket and started shooting with that instead.
Olympus EPL with an ancient 20mm Zuiko lens.  Beyond retro.

Two thoughts popped into my head:  The first came as I stuck the 40mm, with metal hood, into the front pocket of my jeans.  "Wow.  I have the equivalent of an 85mm 1.4 in my pants pocket." Amazing.  The second thought was this:  "What is wide angle, really?  Is there a demarcation line between standard and wide that's measured in mm's?  Or is wide totally contextual?  To the guy who shoots birds in flight with a 400 or 500mm lens I would guess that 100 or 200mm's seems wide.  To an architectural photographer who shoots interiors all day long with a 17mm or 24mm shift lens on a full frame body I would guess that only 15 and shorter really means wide angle. I tend to shoot in the portrait range a lot and lean on my 85mm and 100mm lenses for so much of my work that the 20mm on the Olympus Pen EPL felt wide.  And since just about everything in the omniverse is in focus at f8 (with the lens set to the proper hyperfocal distance) I could set the lens once and be assured that everything was going to be pretty sharp.

So I wandered around and shot a bunch of pseudo wide angle shots like these:

I can already hear some of you laughing as you might remember that I have the very well reviewed Panasonic 20mm 1.7 lens as well.  Wide angle?  Do I know that it's the equivalent of a 40mm lens on full frame 35mm?  Well.....yes,  I do know that but I chose to forget it until I got home.  I like the 20 Panasonic lens just fine but it doesn't have focusing scale and I can't get used to focusing that one by wire.  It's so nice to have a series of lenses with manual focusing rings marked with depth of field hash marks.  We used this technique all the time in the days of film Leicas.  It works so well.  Leaves the brain free to concentrate on composition.

 In some ways the depth of field determines what my brain likes to think of as wide angle.  I rarely want more in the frame.....it's just that sometimes I want more of my frame in focus. And that's what these twenties do for m4:3rd's cameras.  Eventually I found my car and headed out of downtown.  When I finally stopped shooting I realized that I was hungry so I went by P.Terry's Hamburgers on S. Lamar and went with a Veggie Burger Combo. Can you believe that they fry their french fries in canola oil?  That they have whole wheat buns?  That jalapenos are only twenty five cents extra?  That their Dublin Dr. Pepper is made with cane sugar instead of high fructose sugar?  It was just right.  So much so that I stopped eating to take a quick snap.  Was I eating outside today?  Of course.  It's Austin, Texas.  We schedule our cold weather for night time.  That way we can sit out in the sun and the mld, 50 degree days to better enjoy lunch.....
One the way from P.Terry's to home I went by one of our very original "trailer food" establishments, Flip Happy Crepes, just to take a late afternoon shot of their trailer.  

Now I'm back home and getting ready to hit the ground running.  One of my favorite models is coming over to help me develop more content for my ground breaking LED project.  We're going to see how thinks look when the panels get ultra close to the subject.  I'm planning on giving the 40mm a bit of a work out.  I'll let you know how it all looks.

My analysis of the 40mm Zuiko?  From f2.8 on to f8 it challenges any of the offerings from Panasonic or Olympus in the m4:3rd's space.  I like the focal length and it's sharp enough to take advantage of the EPL's incredible 12 megapixel sensor.  Finding a clean 40mm 1.4 is tough.  I've seen them go for as high as $325 when you can find them.  My take on the 20mm 3.5?  It's a fun lens to have when you really get tired of AF all the time.  It's not as critically sharp as the 40mm.  On my current "watch list" for old Olympus lenses are:  The 25mm f2.8 and the 25mm f4,  the 42mm 1.1.2 and the 100mm 3.5.  I have the 60mm 1.5 and the 70mm f2.0 and both are exquisite.  I wish I were consistently brave enough to use them on jobs.  Maybe when the economy recovers a bit more I'll feel comfortable taking a few more challenges.......But know this:  m4:3rds really does work well.

To follow up on my discussion from the previous blog,  many people have written in to declare the Leica M9 the 2010 camera of the year and I'd be inclined to agree (where image quality in the only determiner) but I do need a camera that I can put a macro lens on.  Oh, and a lens longer than 75mm  (don't even start about the 90mm's and the 135.......that rangefinder doesn't have the chops to focus them well wide open and you know it.  I'm a big Leica lover and have been since the 1980's but I think of the M's as 24mm-75mm cameras only.....).  If you're going all out with your pick you might as well do as I declined to do and choose the S2.  It really is fabulous.  But my intention was to call out a class of cameras that is both very high performance and at the same time accessible.  I like the 7D because I'm shooting Canon right now.  I'd be equally happy, I presume, with a D7000 from Nikon or the Pentax K5.  It's really the class of these cameras that appeal to me.  Potent, great image quality and affordable.  That's what makes all three of them wonderful.

All the best, Kirk


Ed Lara said...


Nice to see your last post of the year feature fine Olympus vintage glass once again. I enjoy all your posts, specially the ones showcasing your great street photography as well as the Oly features (being a die-hard Olympus user for almost 30 years myself). Great shots, as usual. Quick question: do you have a custom grip on your E-PL1 or is that the standard grip?I have an E-P1 so wasn't sure.

Looking forward to seeing more great posts in the new year. I wish you all the best in 2011.


kirk tuck said...

Hi Ed,

That's just a standard EPL1, no grip attached. Love that little camera. It's soooo sharp. As someone mentioned in response to the previous blog, it's menu can be a bit tricky to get thru but I don't care. As long as I can get to the WB and the +/- I'm okay. Love the older Pen lenses on the front. They looks so cool.

Michael Ferron said...

Nice shots. If one can't find a pen 40 1.4 the Voigtlander 1.4 works great though it will cost more I'm sure. PS. Has the staging around the Capitol Building been removed? I wandered up that way on my last two ventures downtown and found it to be a photographic turnoff.

Godfrey DiGiorgi said...

Nice stuff, Kirk.

That lens ... the Pen F 40/1.4 ... inspired me to adapt a Konica 40mm f/1.8 for the Olympus SLRs. These two lenses are so similar its hard to tell them apart from the images. It's a wonderful focal length on FourThirds format. I eventually sold the Olympus Pen F lens and kept the Konica.

Best wishes for a great 2011!

kirk tuck said...

Dear Godfrey,

The Pen lenses are a rich treasure trove just begging to be mined. I've come to really appreciate what a good job those Olympus optic designers did. It's a sting to be ahead of your time......

Kyle Batson said...

The 40/1.4 is a fantastic lens which I was lucky enough to find for only $100 from KEH. Another characteristic worth noticing is it's relatively nice close-focusing distance.

I managed to grab a 20/3.5 recently as well for the same use you mentioned (stopping down to f/8 and getting everything in focus). I wasn't terribly impressed at first, it seems to exhibit odd blooming/flare even stopped down, but otherwise it does it's job. I plan on getting it out in some nice light soon and giving it a more thorough work out.

While I'd love to give a few of the other old Pen lenses a shot sometime, I haven't found any of them (25/2.8, 25/4, 65/1.5, or 70/2) going for under even $500, many over $600. Which is a bit rich for my 'fun' camera system.

As you said, though, the 40/1.4 and Pen combination really looks the part. It's a beautiful system.

If anyone would like any more samples,
40/1.4 image samples: http://www.flickr.com/photos/95931944@N00/sets/72157624316394906/

A few 20/3.5 images: http://www.flickr.com/photos/95931944@N00/sets/72157625280148093/with/5269135914/

kirk tuck said...

Cool links, Kyle. Keep em coming. If I had to pick one lens out of all the old Pen stuff to own it would be the 60mm 1.5. It's so good by f2.8 it's just silly.

stopkidding said...

Nice write up on these interesting gear mash ups! old working with the new, how cool is that?

Robert Schneider said...

Aw, heck. I was hoping to see some shots from the Pen FT. . . .

Anonymous said...

Robert, Do they still make film?

Curt Schimmels said...

Fun post. I have a 38mm F1.8 Pen lens (and some OMs, some Hexars, some MDs, etc) that I love to use. I find myself sort of dividing my approach to using the manuals for portraits/landscapes, and the modern lenses for everyday shots. I love the control I can have with the manual lenses, and it was something I was once very used to doing years ago in photography. On the other hand, it's awfully hard to keep my 2 year old grand daughter in focus with a manual lens unless I just go hyperfocal at F8, so then I use the 20 F1.7, or my newer 14-150mm zoom.

Ed Lara said...

Kirk - quick Oly pen lens question from your earlier posts---is the image quality good from the Pen 50-90mm zoom? Is it worth picking one up on eBay to use with my E-P1? Thanks


kirk tuck said...

Ed, in a word? No. Not that share and pretty flare-y. stick with modern glass for the zooms.