"Molly Ivins" and the Olympus EP-2. A study in black and white.

Last Sunday I finished up my review of the EPL2 camera and put it back in the shipping box to send back to Olympus (disclosure:  we don't get to keep review cameras unless we send Olympus a check or a credit card number.  And with cameras that are in short supplier for review, not even then!).  Later that afternoon I went over to Zachary Scott Theater to do a "running shoot" of the dress rehearsal of the new, one woman play, "Red Hot Patriot."  It's a one woman play about journalist, Molly Ivins.  

I took a Canon 5D2 to shoot with as my "serious" camera and, just for fun, I also took my stalwart companion, the Olympus EP-2 (no "L" in that name) with the VF-2 finder and an ancient 40mm f 1.4 Olympus Pen lens.  The old fits and focuses manually on the camera and works in both the "A" and the "M" mode.  I shot 400+ color shots with the Canon and during the course of the 90 minute play I also banged off 70 images with the Pen.  The color stuff looked great (shot at 3200) and that's what I turned into the marketing department.  All week long I've seen e-blasts and postcard mailers and newspaper ads from those shots.  They all look great.  But I forgot about the black and white stuff because I had so many things going on last week.  Today I brought the camera along to lunch with Belinda and I took a cursory peek at what was already on the card.  Eureka.  The B&W rehearsal shots.

While I was waiting for another gallery of photos to upload I pushed the "Molly" images into Lightroom and began to look around the take.  Here's what I noticed:  I used the black and white setting when I shot the Large Super Fine Jpegs.  I really like the Olympus take on black and white.  It's pretty much what I'd aim for if I were shooting Tri-X in my old Leica.  The lighting on the stage didn't change much.  Once I guessed at the right exposure I pretty much just shot everything around the same settings.  In case the Exif didn't make it intact the nerd words are these:  ISO 800, f2.5, 1/320th of a second.  Of course, no flash.

I'm including these images because people kept asking about the low light performance of the test camera.  I wanted to see what the low light performance was of the previous generation.  At 800 the background starts to show some noise but it's certainly much better than my old Tri-X days.  I'm very, very happy with the texture and the tonality of the mid-range tones and happy that, under fairly contrasty light I didn't have to worry about highlight details.

On another note I actually find it easier to manually focus lenses with the VF-2 finder, using the "shimmer" technique, than it is to focus even fast manual focus lenses on the Canon camera (yes, I have the Eg focusing screen installed.)  The "shimmer" effect is basically just an interference pattern that becomes visible when you achieve correct focus with an LCD finder.  It doesn't work with optical finders in the same way.  Any images out of focus can be blamed on my poor manual coordination or my aging reflexes.  For an 40 year old lens I'm very impressed and happy with it's nearly wide open performance.  Easily as good as my Panasonic 20mm 1.7, under similar circumstances.

And the whole experience reminded me why I like these little cameras for so many things:  They are small, light, responsive and balanced.  They're also very, very cute.

Someone took me to task about my recent review of the EPL2.  Their point was that much of the review seemed more like a review of the benefits and features of micro four thirds format machines in general and less a review of the name camera, specifically.  And maybe that's intentional on my part.  I feel like a lot of people miss  one of my main points:  These cameras aren't (at this point of development) meant to be a replacement for professional, full frame cameras used to create flawless work for clients.  They can do that in the right hands, and in the right circumstances, but they are really wonderful documentation cameras.  Cameras that go thru your day with you documenting cool stuff you see and cool people you meet.  And they do for me what Leica rangefinders did in the old days.  They provide me with the potential to take a camera anywhere and use it with aplomb.  I have the big cameras and I use them where appropriate but I came from a generation of visual artists who didn't necessarily have to have one tool do everything.

This is a camera I use because it has a small foot print.  A quiet and discreet demeanor and lots of imaging capability.

One more thing. I don't care which side of the political spectrum you live in, this is a play that will make you ask some hard questions.  And it's funny.  Very funny.  But I wasn't paying attention to the play, I was there to make photographs.  So let's not let the comments devolve into a political discussion or I'll censor them quicker than North Korean television (if such a thing exists....).


Anonymous said...

Hi Kirk.

Long time reader, first time poster! Always enjoy your refreshing take on photography and life in general.

I've been looking at the Olympus PEN for sometime as a more compact system for traveling, family events and the like (as you, I have my full fledge DSLR "tools" for my formal work). I have used a friend's E-P1 before and absolutely love the retro look - brings me back to my early photography days using my father's old Olympus PEN FT.

I have looked at the specs of the E-P1, E-P2 and the E-PL2 and on paper at least seem about the same. I am leaning towards the E-PL2 mostly because of the built-in flash for impromtu outdoor portrait fill-in but most importantly the integrated off-camera flash control.

Since you have experience with all of these models, which one would you recommend and why?


Art Reyes

FrankG said...

Very nice images. The PEN lens and the EP-2 work well together. Amazing sharpness at ISO 800 on the "little" Oly sensor.

kirk tuck said...

If I could only have one it would be the EP2. I love the heft of that body and the way the controls are laid out. It's true that the EPL1 and 2 are about 2% sharper but sharpness is contextual and I rarely need the sharpness I can already get out of most system. My second choice would be the EPL2 because of the flash control and bigger rear screen. I would not own the EP1 because I consider being able to use the VF-2 critical.

I like the EPL1 fine. In fact I was just out shooting a swimming pool at sunset with one and it works great.

Dave Jenkins said...

I thought your EPL2 review was just about right. Lots of good information. The EPL2 is a pretty little thing, much better looking than my EPL1. However, if I get another body anytime soon it will be another L1, especially at current prices. I would not buy the EP1 at any price – the system is only marginally usable without the electronic viewfinder, as I learned by going several months without one.

I did finally get a VF-2 (business hasn’t been so hot the last year or two) and life is much better. I also got an OM to M43 adapter so I can use some OM lenses I inherited from my dad. I have a 50mm f1.8, a 75-150 f4 zoom (a little jewel!), and a Kiron 28-85 f2.8-3.5. The Kiron is a heavy beast, which kinda defeats the purpose of a Pen outfit. Rumor has it that Olympus has a 12-60mm lens for the Pen system in the works, which, if true, will probably become my basic lens. The 12-60 and the 75-150 would make a light and lovely outfit for travel.

As much as I like the electronic viewfinder, it takes some getting used to, at least for me. You go back several years with your Sony R-1, so the adjustment was probably easier for you. How do the files from the Olympus EP series compare with those from the R-1? Gerald Brimacombe has done stunning travel photography with the R-1 and has apparently sold very large prints from the files, even though it’s only a 6 megapixel camera.

Anyway, I’m still learning the camera and having fun so far. Hate all the menus, though. Is there any way to make the histogram come up quickly when I want it and go away when I don’t without going into the menus?

Thanks for your blog. It’s one of the first things I check every day.

You are right about the shimmer thing, by the way. Way cool.

kirk tuck said...

Dave, the VF-2 finder is far superior to the one on the Sony camera and the high ISO performance of the Oly's is worlds better but at ISO 160 the Sony is one of the best cameras I've shot with. And it's actually 10 megapixels. 10 really good one. Shimmer is cool.

Thanks for reading the blog. And even more for commenting.

JohnL said...

Surely the VF-2 can be used on the EPL1. It is certainly advertised as such and I hope it is true because I hope to buy both in the very near future.

Regards JohnL

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply Kirk and Dave... yes, I forgot the VF-2 as the other main reason I am leaning towards the E-PL2. Since I travel with family a lot, having a built-in flash for quick fill in light on harsh daylight for those obligatory family shots, is important. I only want to lug around the camera and perhaps a second lens, not having to add an external flash is a plus. The bigger (higher-res) screen is also an added bonus in this model.

As for my primary lens, I plan on getting the Panasonic 20/1.7, have shot with it on the E-P1 and like it's diminutive size, optical performance and the 40mm equivalent angle of view. I first learned photography with a Canon F1 and a 50mm prime; I didn't get my first zoom until late 1990s.

As I understand, the E-PL2 also comes with a Mk II version of the standard kit zoom, which apparently improves the built quality, is more compact and per some reviews, better focusing speeds. Would use that as a secondary lens for additional perspectives when needed.


Art Reyes

Dan said...


Your postings have gotten me thinking about an Olympus digital PEN, but...don't the slow Olympus m4/3 lenses bother you? With a DSLR you can get an f/2.8 zoom or even an f/4 constant zoom and plenty of f/2.8-or-faster primes. There aren't many of any of these available for the Olympus cameras. What do you do, just crank up the ISO?

JohnL said...

Ah, my sincere apologies but I feel my yearning for the EPL1 with the VF-2 blurred your reference to the EP1 and I read it as the EPL1 - apologies again Kirk.

Regards JohnL

Joel said...


First, really nice images. Molly Ivins was one of my favorite journalists. She was funny, smart and bold. Never afraid to speak her mind. I miss reading her columns.

Staffan C said...

Thanks for your blog which I have been following for a month with pleasure. I particularly appreciate your comments about using old Pen F lenses with the EP2, and the pictures of course! A Pen F was my first real camera – I bought it in 1966 and used it until going digital in 2003. Now I have an EP2 and I love being able to use the lenses again.

But I am curious to know what lens adapter you use. I have a Fotodiox adapter which is excellent in all respects but one. It focuses past infinity, which renders the engraved distance scale on the lens useless and hyperfocal distance something of a gamble. Do you have anything that works better?

Bold Photography said...

Color noise? Go black and white. Simple but with amazing results. And, the actress' facial expressions are quite amazing... she has a wonderful ability to express the emotions of her character very clearly, and it's wonderfully captured. Indeed, the dark sections, with the little noise that's there, makes it look a bit misty and as if she's stepping out of a dream...

atmtx said...


Wonderful b&w images. Related to your post about small PEN cameras, I wrote a post last night called
Is the DSLR’s Domination Coming to an End?
. I even have a quote from you in it, hopefully that is OK? It's my amateur's take on the whole PEN, EVIL, mirror-less camera trend.


Rick D said...

Really nice, Kirk. The little mirrorless cameras are truly game-changers whether it's widely recognized yet or not.

I'll add the nation could sure use another Molly Ivins (and I'll wager Texas even moreso).



Anonymous said...

Hi Kirk:

Great stuff...Its sites like yours and others that have made me pull the trigger on the EPL2 today (Battery still on the cradle and I cant do anything about it for the next couple of hours:-( ) For the Molly session above, was there any particular BW setting tweaks on camera? At any rate it truly looks fantastic.

Cheers from Jakarta