Another Olympus Weekend Downtown Experience. Old stuff is still the best.

So, I'm sure you know exactly what I mean when I talk about needing to get out with my camera and shoot on the weekends.  The work week can be such a drudge.  Clock in,  get to your desk and the first thing you know the asshole in the next cube starts talking about how micro four thirds sucks because you can't "get no good bokeh" and "you can only get you some good bokeh with them FF cameras" and you want to punch him in the face until you realize that you're a photographer and you don't work in an office and it was all a bad dream....  But seriously, after a week of shooting receptions and pointy-boot wearing Governors and healthcare executives it is nice to get out and shoot.

With all the hubbub about the new Olympus cameras I found my self in a consumer frenzy.  I just knew I wanted to get my hands on an EP-3 and that new 45mm 1.8 lens.  But then an unusual calmness came over me.  I sat on the floor and quietly meditated on my gear lust and then,  like a flash of lightning, I had a full fledged, new wave style epiphany!  I knew why that 45mm sounded so good.  It's because I have an even better version in my hands already.  Do you remember me talking about the old Pen F style, manual focus lenses I've been hording?  Well, there's one that I only take out of its special mahogany and gold case on special occasions.  It's the 40mm 1.4.  Yes.  two thirds of a stop faster than the new lens.  Why I'd be stepping backwards if I got the new gear.

I was so happy with this realization that I grabbed my EP2, broke the seal on the gold and mahogany box and put the 40 right onto the front of the camera and I ran into the house to announce to my wife and my dog and anyone else who would listen that I was heading downtown to shoot some cool stuff.  The dog licked herself.  My wife looked at me with that special look that said...."here we go again."

And with these positive affirmations I left on a photo adventure.  But I was sneaky.  I also brought along the 70mm f2.  Another lens that they already made and will probably make again if they are savvy enough....It's pretty awesome.

Now the first thing you've got to know is that these lenses don't auto focus and also that you are focusing and looking thru them and seeing the effects of whatever aperture you have set.  It's like having a built in, full time,  automatic depth of field button.  I think the fast lenses are pretty easy to focus but if you are a true focusing wimp you can punch the "info" button on the back of the camera until the green rectangle appears in the middle of the finder screen.  Push the center button in the middle of the control wheel and weeee, presto, you get 7X magnification for super easy and accurate focus.   

I liked this image because it's like the trick they do at the circus where they saw the pretty girl in half.  The EP-2 nailed the exposure.  The frame is as cluttered as my mind but what are you going to do?

As I strolled along in the 110 degree heat coming off the downtown blacktop I tried to find stuff that I wanted to shoot.  But I couldn't find the coffee house currently hosting the amazing goddesses that dot the Austin landscape.  I think everyone was inside, praying to the air conditioning gods today.....except for this one......

When I started out my afternoon I was a bit rusty with the Oly controls.  Too much time with those clearly laid out Canon menus....but in ten minutes or so I got the hang of it.  And then I started to find stuff I thought was funny or fun or weird.  Like the bicycle below.  Love the mirrored disco ball.  And the 40mm proved to be a good all around lens.

These people may have been visiting here from the surface of the planet Mercury (the part that faces the sun) but I just don't get the appeal of eating food outside on a brutally hot day.....right next to the street. I took a photo so I could make a little sign for my desk that would remind me not to be those people. New rule of thumb:  Outdoor dining should only occur in the temperature range of 48 to 82 degrees.  Unless you are at the beach.  That's the only exception.  You are paying for the air conditioning you might as well use it.  

Of course I'm not as sensible about dealing with the heat either.  I ducked into Cafe Medici just to grab a cappuccino so how crazy is that?  While I was photographing the cappuccino I started to get antsy to try the 70mm lens so I shot a few more images with the 40 and them pulled the 70mm out of my tiny bag.

One of the beautiful things about the EP2 is just how quiet and unobtrusive the sound of its shutter is.  I hope that they didn't "fix" that on the EP3....just to make the AF faster.  I mean afterall, if you buy the really cool Pen FT lenses you'll be spending your time manually focusing anyway.

This is image is the last one of the day done with the Zuiko Pen FT 40mm 1.4 lens.  It's not sharp enough wide open but by f2 it's pretty good.  By f2.8 it's excellent and by f4 it will give any of the new glass a good run for the money.  I hope you took my advice a couple of years ago and started snapping them up.

Dark, dark restroom.  The first shots of the day with the 70mm f2 which is sharp enough at f2 and just gets better and better.

People whine when I tell then to buy the VF-2 finder for their Pen cameras but I think they are babies.  It's part of the deal.  I couldn't imagine a real, grown up photographer using the screen on the back of the camera at arm's length. (unless the camera is on a tripod and you're shooting architecture or products.)  It's almost as stupid as using an iPhone for serious work.  

No.  It's not out of focus.  Look at the caps in the second row.  And isn't all the black space fun?

I don't think the line of Pens was introduced really to be "econo-cams" I think it was meant to continue where the half frame cameras of the 1970's left off.  And that was to provide shooters like the legendary Eugene Smith with a tool that was small, subtle,  and unassuming but which could deliver professional results.  One of the benefits of the original film Pens was the fact that a 36 exposure roll of film automatically became a 72 exposure rolls of film.  Less reloading.  Less time lost from concentrating on what's in front of the camera.  And, in a way, I think Olympus's idea of keeping the camera at 12 megapixels is an extension of that principle.  True that SD memory is dirt cheap these days but smaller file sizes also come in handy during the post processing stages.  And I don't think we're compromising quality to the degree that the forum-lurking-pixel-peeping IT boys squawk about.  If you work as a journalist or you just want to make 13 by 19 inch prints with your cameras you'll find that 12 megapixels is a sweet, sweet spot.  Better people than me were making incredible prints from the fine four megapixels in the Nikon D2h and wedding photographers were singing the praises of big-ass prints from the Canon original 1D (4 megapixels) just a few years ago.  Just ask Dennis Reggie.  His initial work the the 4 Meg 1D cameras made it okay for everyone else to jump into the pool.  Yeah, after twelve megs it's largely either high end advertising people who see and potentially want the difference, or your garden variety navel gazers who are quick to pontificate about what "the pros do!"  Which is all so much bullshit since most pros I know will use anything that works and tend to keep, and use, camera gear a lot longer than well healed amateurs.

That being said, the big argument against using micro four thirds (could they have picked a stupider name for a new standard???????) is that the sensor is too small.  And because the sensor is too small you can't do all kinds of depth of field effects with the cameras.  Like dropping the background out of focus.
But really.  You just need to the right lens and you just need to be standing in the right spot.

Here's a shot of the trees on 2nd street taken with the 70mm f2 lens.  This shot is at 2.8.  

Here's the same angle and position at f11.  Looks different to me.

On the way back to the car I thought I'd do one more of the flowers but this time I used the 70mm f2.  I seem to have gotten the background out of focus even though I was using an f-stop of somewhere between 2.8 and f4.  I also like the colors.........

Just another shot of Belinda because she dropped by the studio while I was playing with the camera.  I should get some model releases from her......just in case.

Don't fear the Pens.  Just because we used to use nothing but big complicated cameras doesn't mean the future is going to look like the past.  Everything changes.  And now, more than ever, the real issue is whether or not you showed up and shot.  Not what you shot with.  Except for iPhones.  That's silly.


Andrew said...

What a great post! Thanks! And I do not miss that Texas heat one bit!!!

Kyle Batson said...

My 40/1.4 is one of my favorite lenses. It's really perfect for portraits. I do have to admit that I occasionally long for autofocus. Though perhaps that's because I only have the E-P1 without that lovely VF-2 viewfinder to help me focus.

Oh, and don't rag on the iPhone too much. It comes in really handy in a pinch, such as when I was in the grocery store recently and didn't have a 'real' camera on me. http://www.flickr.com/photos/95931944@N00/5809850128/

Mail Order Mystic said...

Personally, I don't even have an iphone, and I certainly wouldn't advocate doing anything too serious with it. But next time you see Don G, ask him to show you some of the stuff he has taken with the iphone. I don't know if he has it posted on line or not, but he has done some nice work that does not look like it was taken with a phone. Of course, most things look good when Don does them.

efix said...

Great post, Kirk - I enjoyed your pictures and comments very much! It's great to see that you put those old Pen lenses to such good use. I'd love to have the 40/1.4 or 42/1.2 myself, but it seems prices are rising and rising and rising ... so I'll probably go with the new 45/1.8 once it's out :-)

Frank said...

Good reading. But why is in the 2nd trees shot at F11 not everything sharp? I have the Lumix 20mm and I never go further then F6.3 with that lens, and then everything is razor sharp from 2 meters till infinity. It is not necessary to stop down to F11, that is for the bigger sensors, I think it is already diffraction. Or maybe you should hold your camera still :) Or is it the lens?

Anonymous said...

Great fun working post on non-working day. There is absolutely no doubt that this camera is the one to carry with you at all times, given it's size and virtual match to any dslr as far as speed is concerned. Quality of your shots speak for themselves.

Robert said...

Some people don't know what a view finder is, I asked my sister to help me with a picture, and she just looked at the lcd, and asked "how do I see what I'm shooting?"

Anonymous said...

Kirk, thanks for a read that reminds us that sometimes, new cameras are not about the most MP, fastest AF or lowest noise, but about a sublime photographic experience.

Wolfgang Lonien said...

Yeah. Got my wife that VF-2 for her E-PL1 as well, which I consider essential - it should be calculated into the price right from the start. Played around a bit with it today, and made an unscientific comparison - see my blog at


and download the images from Flickr for pixel peeping if you wish. And I also agree with Felix (efix) above about that 1.8 45mm - that should be a good one for her, since the prices for these original Pen lenses are really high by now.

Rick said...

Hey I am that guy in the cube it’s not a dream … except they are all complaining that their digital compact camera does not take pictures as good as their old film compact camera. I remind them that film is not dead; they have the option to use their old camera.

Nice post. Glad you were able to get out and enjoy the old stuff.

Craig Yuill said...

I've had a thing for Olympus cameras ever since I bought my first "serious" camera, an Olympus OM-1, back in 1980. I was a reluctant adopter of Nikon gear when my OM gear got stolen in the mid-90s. I want to upgrade to digital gear. I have a collection of mostly high-quality manual focusing lenses, and a couple of older-style AF lenses. I would like to use most of these lenses with any digital camera I buy. The PENs are almost as compatible with these lenses as Nikon's DSLRs. You've had experience manually focusing with both PENs and DSLRs. Do you think that a PEN with a VF-2 will be as suitable for manually focusing older lenses as a DSLR?

steveH said...


I've been using an E-PL2 with some Voigtlander M-mount rangefinder lenses for a few months. With VF-2, you bet manual focusing works well with these lenses (28/2, 40/1.4 and 75/2.5). It takes a little practice, but not much, and in low light, focusing is, I think, easier than it was in similar conditions with my old Canon F-1n.

I keep looking between my bank balance and the E-P3. And back. And forth...

Dave Jenkins said...

I really like this kind of post. An enjoyable mix of gearhead stuff and philosophy.

Until his death at age 90, my dad busied himself with a couple of flea-market-mall booths. He obtained his stock by going to yard sales around the area several days each week.

When I inherited most of his photography stuff, I looked through the boxes in a cursory way, but that was before I got my E-PL1. Now I'm looking again with an eye to what I can use on the Pen.

So far, in addition to 50/f1.8 and 75-150/f4 OM Zuikos, I've also found a 40/f1.8 Hexanon pancake and a 38/f1.8 original Pen Zuiko, both in pristine condition. I think there's also a Pentax 110 SLR 3-lens kit in one of the boxes, but haven't found it yet.

Bill Beebe said...

You have cute legs.

kirk tuck said...

Thanks Bill, they are my best feature...

Camarillo Brillo said...

Just plain fun and interesting to go through...thanks for the work you put into it and sharing with us...I've got my eye on one of those new Pens for sure...thanks again1

Jessica said...

Ah, every time you write about gear I have this itch to go price it on Amazon. Fortunately at the moment I'm not likely to buy anything else.

But I admit, I've been kind of dogging smaller sensors (in my head, no one listens to me talk about cameras in real life) so it's good to get a reminder that I can be wrong about these things. Those lenses look yummy. I wouldn't mind if you posted some more photos taken with them.

Nick said...

There are different tools for different jobs, and different tools for different people. While I completely appreciate what other people can do with them, I don't like or understand blurred backgrounds in my own photos. Unless I'm struggling with light (like when I'm taking pictures of my kid indoors) or shutter speed, I generally shoot at f/8, and want everything in the frame to be as sharp as possible. A full-frame camera would just get in my way.

I do think that Kirk overstates the value of an EVF. I will certainly get an EVF for the E-P3 that I will buy when the check with my Jeopardy! winnings arrives in the fall, but I view it far more as a luxury than a necessity.

And I am as jazzed as can be about the 45 mm f/1.8. I have been longing for a short-tele stablemate for my beloved 20 mm f/1.7, and I was expecting a 50 mm f/2; I am thrilled that the real product is a bit shorter and a bit brighter than that.

kirk tuck said...

While Nick and I may disagree over the aesthetic value of a background rendered out of focus I stand steadfastly by my strongly held opinion that a viewfinder is necessary for my effective practice of of Pen photography. I refuse to compose and shoot at arm's length. It's bad form.

Nacho Cordova said...

Thanks for a great post Kirk. Full of interesting insights. I'd like an m4/3 and the Olympus is a possibility, although I also like the Panasonic DMC-GF1. I've used that one and it feels pretty good in my hand and does pretty much everything I need. Older, but less expensive now.

But... the Panny viewfinder is definitely not as good as the Olympus, and perhaps this latest Olympus incarnation is better all around. So, still saving and making up my mind.

Re the iPhone, I agree, it might not be for serious jobs, but I do lots of iPhone shooting for fun, and it is a good tool for creative expression and for exploring. There's a vibrant community out there putting it through its paces. Quick, easy, ubiquitous, and fun to play with. I'm sure a nice M4/3 would be the same in terms of fun. Certainly much easier to carry than my other dSLR gear.

And that is what I find most significant about how my attitudes have changed over the last few years: I am more reluctant to carry my big dSLR gear on a daily basis. I feel more resistance toward manufacturers of heavy, big, and super expensive lenses too. Glad for M4/3, the Fuji X100, and other efforts to simplify and smallify. : )

Thanks again,

Steve Jones said...

Ha!Ha! It's not what you shot with.Oh yeah? So how come everywhere you look these days pro photographers are writing articles about exactly that.... like it's the latest fashion? Sometimes i actually think they don't realize they're doing it. Writing about this week's favorite camera, i mean. like sitting near the beach and watching an endless stream of pretty girls walk buy and not being able to decide which was the prettiest.Not that that's a bad way to spend your time but seriously, these days i think professional photographers are having more love affairs with their photo gear than amateurs, and amateurs were oft ridiculed for that.Makes you think, doesn't it.
I liked it better when you had to choose between an OM1 and an OM2 and after buying it you could get on with photography for a tear or two anyway. now it's EP1, EP2, EP3, EP comingnextweek with not enough hours in the day to get to know the cameras before the next one is pressed upon us.In just a few years time we'll have the Olympus M on Monday, the Olympus T on Tuesday the Olympus W on Wednesday.. you get the idea. Products developed, packaged and produced before you even need them. Scary.
Thank goodness for Leica.
Ah!....that's better. i feel more relaxed already. Blood pressure decreasing..and thoughts returning to making pictures.

No, before you all start I'm just using the brands as examples. How can you use a camera well if you don't have enough time to get to know it before it's replaced? How long is enough time? More than a year of regular use for me, might be different for you.

Steve Jones said...

Sorry, LOTS of Typos. I think faster than I type!

Dave Elfering Photography said...

Public confession. I have a dysfunctional love affair with the Pen cameras. My head tells me they're not the right one but my right brain keeps calling me back to them. Wow those old Pen lenses really pop! They're too rare and expensive these days so I just use my old Nikkors. Strangely my favorite is the 75-150mm f/3.5. Odd pairing with the EP and Panasonic GH1 but the loose push/pull works great for movies also. At 300mm equiv & f/3.5 the DOF works pretty nicely as well.

I hope Oly succeeds with the transition from DSLR's to mirrorless. I never considered them until these magic little cameras, but they have me hooked now. Their jpg engine is like a fine wine, not always appreciated by the masses but superb to those who care to discern its qualities.

Nice, random series and post. That's why I stop by nearly every day. Thanks again.

Nicholas Condon said...

On the plus side, Kirk, composing and shooting with the screen lets me do things like hold the camera well above or below eye level while shooting. Bad form, perhaps, but useful and interesting. Besides, I've never been much for good form, which is probably why I suck at things like swimming.

Ed Lara said...

Hear , hear! Finally bit the bullet and decided to go for a 70mm F2 Pen F lens on eBay. I am NOT disappointed! Thanks for your reco,

Nice photos, as usual.

Patrick said...

I've switched over from a GF1(still have it and owned for a year) to the EPL2, and have been using it for about 2 months now during my travels, It's a fantastic camera. My set up consists of the 14mm and 20mm panasonic primes, and a 50mm summicron with EVF2 of course. Hopefully I'll get to meet up with you sometime when I get back to Austin.

The main problem I have with the EPL2 is that the default power saving or battery management seems to be really bad in comparison to the GF1. Do you have any battery saving tips? Is there any way to turn off the blue LED on the top? (using gaffer right now)

I don't use blogger anymore... my flickr is http://www.flickr.com/photos/moarbokeh/ All my pictures are micro 4/3 now, so it would be cool if you took a look.