My First Sunday Afternoon with the Olympus EPM-1. Yes, the EPM-1. I'm "Pen Ready."

When the e-mail arrived I assumed that I was being scammed.  The return address was a G-Mail address instead of an Olympus address.  I picked up the phone called the number on the e-mail and talked to a live person at the Mullen Company (the PR firm for Olympus USA).  He confirmed that the e-mail was legit.  Here's the deal:  If you get invited to participate in the Pen Ready Initiative you fill out  few forms on line and they send you a brand spanking new camera.  In particular, the tiny EPM-1.  You also get the 14-42mm kit zoom (revised from the original one that came with my Pen EP2 to be quieter when shooting video), a tiny little flash that uses energy from the camera battery, a 4 gigabyte Sandisk Extreme SD card,  all the usual manuals and papers and disks and a really cool little backpack to store it all in.  At the bottom of the card board shipping box I also found a medium size "Pen Ready" T-shirt which made me smile.  I smiled even bigger when I realized that, rather than send out the ubiquitous large or extra large shirt (American demographics nightmare!!!) they sent along a medium.  I can actually wear it an not look like it was meant to be a small pup tent.  I won't go into the details of the contest they are holding but you can always Google it.  They'd like each person to whom they have given a camera to upload twenty or so of their favorite shots but it doesn't seem to be required.  One way or another the whole package of goodies is free and I mention that because I want you to keep that in mind as I write about my experiences.  Free camera.  Full disclosure. 

First I want to comment about the size.  It's about as small as the ZX-1 but it feels bigger and much better constructed.  It also takes the bigger, BLS batteries.  That means the batteries are interchangeable between my EP2,  EP3,  EPL1 and the EPM-1.  The camera is a bit tiny for me but my wife's eyes lit up when I showed her the camera and I can tell you right now where the whole thing is going to wind up.  She picked up the camera (she has small hands, but not freakishly so.....)  and declared it "perfectly sized."  That means it's not to heavy to lug around and it will fit somewhere in her purse.

Technobabble:  The sensor chip seems to be identical to the one in the EP3 which is purported by test sites to be an improved and newer version of the sensor in the EP2.  The EPM-1 showed the same performance characteristics of the EP3.  Since I'd already worked for a while with the EP3 I was familiar but still not completely comfortable with the menu in the EPM-1.  When I shot downtown this afternoon I kept the camera in the RAW file mode, auto white balance, Aperture preferred, single shot AF mode,  and I mastered the exposure compensation (hit top of control wheel, turn control wheel  to increase or decrease exposure compensation).  The same controls work with the aperture but you push the top or bottom of the control wheel as though there were buttons there to change your settings.

I know some of you will scream and shout and gnash your teeth when I tell you that I immediately put a VF-2 in the accessory shoe because I refuse to hold the camera out in front of me like a stinky baby with a dirty diaper.  The VF-2 functions perfectly with the EPM-1 and makes it comfortable to shoot by providing a sharp, clear image as well as diopter correction for those not blessed with perfect eyes.  You may use the camera in any configuration you like.  The screen on the back is big and bright and I suppose you could use it to put together a shot.  My wife videotaped Ben running a cross country event with the camera on Saturday and did the whole thing with "arm's length" composition in bright sunlight.  Since she too has aging eyes I'll assume the screen is fine for this purpose.  

Speaking of video, Belinda was able to capture good video of the running event and the lens was able to adjust focus to compensate just like a dedicated video camera.  We watched the resultant "footage" on a 50 inch LED TV and it was pretty darn good.  She doesn't drink coffee so her results were much less shaky than mine would have been...I'll say more about the video when I've actually had my hands on it for that purpose.  This is just a first day overview of the whole package.

I put a fresh battery in the camera.  Clamped on the VF-2.  Stuck an extra battery in my pocket along with a 60mm f1.5 Olympus Pen F lens.....just in case.  I never needed the extra battery even though I shot nearly 300 images, using the EVF for everything.  The camera still shows a full charge.   I used the 60mm for several photos but mostly stuck with the kit lens.

The first set of photos below came later in the day.  I'd already sorted out how to change settings and figured out the minor operational differences between the EPM-1 and the EP-3.  I stopped by Cafe Medici on Congress Ave. to take a break as it's the halfway point in my walk.  I ordered a Cappuccino and sat down at the bar when I looked up and noticed a very beautiful woman just a few seats away.  Remembering my recent post about permission I got up from my seat, approached her and told her what I was doing.  To wit, I was out testing and shooting a new camera to make this blog post.  I asked if it would be okay to take a few shots.  She agreed and, over the course of our shooting and conversation, it came out that she is a friend of Emily who worked with me on my fourth book, Photographic Lighting Equipment.  I gave her my contact information and thanked her.  With some luck I'll be able to hire her to be one of my models in my (long overdue) books on Minimalist Video Production.  

 The image above is of "Dani" who graciously agreed to be photographed.  One of the technical things I did differently than I've ever done before was to set and use the "auto-ISO" setting.  I set limits so the camera would only use the range between 200 and 800 ISO.  The shot above was my first attempt but I didn't like the broad lighting so I started directing Dani into the big wall of light coming from the big windows facing east onto Congress Ave.  The camera seemed to like shooting at ISO 800 for this series.
 Once I got the camera and the light up and running I shot a whole series of images and, on several I substituted the 60mm for the kit lens.  I let you figure out which is which.

I'm glad I got over my shyness and asked Dani to pose because it was a good test for flesh tone and general portrait parameters.  She has exactly the kind of face I love to photograph and is also very beautiful.  Most of the shots were in the range of 1/50th to 1/80th of a second and I had the IS enabled.  

Earlier in the day I went by the Texas state Capitol to see what was new.  I think the camera does very well with blue skies and bright sun....but then few cameras seem to have trouble with this kind of shot.

 The dome was a great subject.  I was able to tilt the VF-2 toward my eye so I didn't have to tilt my head back to shoot straight up at the dome.  The relaxed posture and IS helped keep the shots sharp.  I was shooting in mode 3 (iEnhance) which tends to open up the shadows.  That introduces a bit more noise as the shadows are electronically amplified.  I only see the effect at 100% on my monitor and you can cure that noise by "crushing" the blacks as a normal exposure would have done or you can just live with it.  The noise was not the "color speckle" noise we see in many similar cameras.  It looked more like monochromatic grain and was not intrusive.  For the most part I'm very happy with what I'm seeing between ISO 200 and ISO 800 and that's where I stayed today.  I'm not in a hurry to see what the camera does at high ISO's.  But I'm sure it's much like the EP3.  I'd be happy to use 1600 as long as I can shoot raw but I'd rather not have the noise "cooked in" in the Jpegs.  So, my new rule of thumb with this whole class of cameras is to shoot up to 800 if I'm using Jpeg and up to 1600 ISO if I'm using raw.
Column Detail at Capitol.  Kit lens.  800 ISO.

Open inner courtyard at Capitol.  ISO 200.

I kept looking in Lightroom for the Olympus lens corrections.  They aren't in there.  (Yes, I'm using the newly released ACR 6.5 raw module).  Then it dawned on me that the camera and lens talk to each other electronically and automatically correct lens issues, making the same auto corrector redundant in the RAW converter.  You are still welcome, of course, to do as much correction manually as you might like.  I find that, geometrically and in terms of corner shading, that the onboard program does pretty well.

 Just giving the IS a good workout in a gallery space.  Big space, sparse show.  The ultimate in Minimalist aesthetic satisfaction.....

 Of course I'm very shy but I get over it from time to time.  I saw this couple walking down Congress Ave. and immediately asked them to pose for me.  They were more than happy to do so.  I guess the camera seemed less than lethal...
Of course, once you open Pandora's box and start photographing strangers on the street you'll have em lined up to pose.  This was a group in from Dallas.  They came to party.  This is how I found them at 3pm on Sunday afternoon.  I obliged and took several images of the whole crew on someone's iPhone and then asked them to pose for me.  I hope they found the party they were looking for.

 For some eery reason these random rocks looked 3 dimensional to me.  I leaned over and shot them so I could print them, look at them and divine their three dimensional secrets.  We'll see what we can uncover here in the Visual Science Lab.
The camera has very few dedicated buttons on the back and for the most part that's okay.  You come to depend on what Oly calls the Super Control Panel to make most of your changes and it works pretty well.  The one button that I kept hitting by mistake was the "info" button which sits just above the all purpose wheel on the right side of the back of the camera.  I tended to hit it with my thumb when using the top of the control wheel in its "button" mode.  All it really does is screw with how my finder display looks.  I like some information.  Like the aperture and the shutter speed.  But when I accidentally pushed the info button the next variation on the menu is a clear, uncluttered screen.  Sounds great but I hate to be left in the dark.

Looking at the images on my calibrated, super deluxe and ancient Apple 23 inch display I find that they look just like what I saw in the EVF and that what I saw in the EVF is just about what I saw when I looked at the scene with my own two eyes.  That's a good thing.

Bottom line?  You get the same imaging performance and focusing performance as the top of the line EP3 but if you pay for the camera and lens (EPM-1) you get all that for about $400 less.  Give or take a few bucks.  If you have small hands you'll likely love the ergonomics.  If you are over six feet tall you'll probably have to work hard to find some place to keep all your extraneous square hand footage under control.  The best compliment I can pay a camera is that it becomes invisible to you as you use it.  This one was starting to fade toward invisibility by the time I ended my walk and headed to Whole Foods for a wine tasting.  The camera and lens together weigh next to nothing and you won't notice them when you are out and about.

Of course, it's not a DSLR so there's no dedicated sync terminal and when you use the accessory shoe for the (nice) EVF you won't be able to use the flash....and vice versa.  If you are a dedicated street shooter this camera and a nice 20 or 25mm lens would be very unobtrusive while providing really nice files. It's really quite a lot of imaging performance for not a lot of money.  Add in the video capabilities and you have a nice production tool for unhurried projects.

When I walked back into the house Belinda was ready to have "her" camera back.  I'll pick it up again soon and give the video some time to show off.  But I find my blog readers are lukewarm on video, at best.

Final note:  I did not try pointing the camera directly at the sun while stopping the lens down.  I do not know if it will make the "red dots."  I didn't see them in any of the other light sources I shot. If you are concerned about the "red dot issue" you might check else where to see if someone has done a definitive test......


Bill Beebe said...

You asked a while back when I was going to get an E-P3. Soon. Very soon.

Frank Grygier said...

The little Oly that could. Definitely going to spend more time at that cafe.

kirk tuck said...

Frank, Good photography rarely happens in the office or at home. Gotta get out.

Bill, they're both good.

Anonymous said...

The only thing worthwhiel in this review is Dani. OMG, what a goddess!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this review Kirk.
I filled out the required forms and am waiting for confirmation that my PEN is on the way. I too thought I was getting scammed. Glad I wasn't the only one there...

Antonis said...

Thanks for this mini review, Kirk.
One question: do the Olys make the same annoying shutter noise like the Panasonics (GF1, G3 etc)?
It would be reason enough to pick up an EPM-1 despite the older generation sensor (compared to the G3 at least).

Mel said...

That square image of Dani - are you sure you didn't sneak in a Hassy shot/film scan? What great detail and fade to blur in the foreground/background. Great lighting, too. How many people are behind you holding reflectors?

Good review. Olympus' technical info is pretty consistent within their lines so read one, learn them all - you're giving the results of a good eye using a tool well. Thanks.

Ronald said...

Kudos to Olympus for a great marketing initiative in regards to giving away these E-PM1's. I do hope this camera is a big seller for them, and introduces a few more folks into the advantages of micro 4/3.

But I'm amazed that Olympus' extremely conservative, quality minded focus on building cameras is winning so many folks over. Instead of shoving in more megapickles and astronomical ISO performance into their cameras, they are sticking with a staid, old 12mp sensor that produces consistently good results, but is no barn-burner like the Sony 16mp wonder that came to market late last year, and has been upgraded further for the NEX-5n.

Could it be that people are finally getting tired of the megapickle / high ISO arms race, and instead just want a nice, dependable camera that's fun to use?

I'm impressed how both Olympus (and Panasonic) are taking the "low road" in regards to digital photography: small, quality cameras that produce consistently good results at low ISO's, and an awesome assortment of small, very high quality lenses that make you feel like your buying into a 21st century Leica system.

Perhaps there's hope for the camera buying enthusiast yet.

kirk tuck said...

To the anonymous poster who liked the photos of Dani but found nothing else of value in my review: Please stop reading my blog! It's not nearly good enough for you to waste your time on.

Jeff said...

Don't let the rude anonymous people get a rise out of you. That's what they want.
I look forward to reading your blog every day.
Thanks for doing it.

MattakaDeimos said...

I see that the anonymous jerk got to you. I don't usually post responses but I do enjoy reading your blog, I have it subscribed and read daily.
Please ignore the anon, he didn't have the guts to show who he was so he should be treated with as much contempt.

Anonymous said...

I had been tossing around the idea of picking up one of these as a walk around camera based on the good things you've been saying about the Olympus Pen cameras in general.

I took the plunge this weekend and bought one for the family. What a surprise this morning to see you actually testing this exact model.

I'm pleased to see the positive review...it affirms my decision to go with it.

Your thoughts on using any sort of lens adapter for Nikkor or Canon glass?

Anonymous said...

Nice real world review Kirk. Just got mine from Olympus and have been shooting with it since then. It's a really good small camera with very good optical quality. My only comment is that with longer lenses you really need a grip....which can be purchased as an after market item. I also turned off the noise filter.

Nicholas Condon said...

I just bought an E-PM1 last week because I wanted a second body to go with my E-P1 so that I wasn't changing lenses all time. Both bodies and five lenses (my entire kit) fit in a little Tamrac shoulder bag.

I got to test-drive this arrangment at the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center over the weekend, and it worked pretty well. I had the E-PM1 with the 40-150 on a wriststrap and the E-P1 with the 20 around my neck. The E-PM1 is pretty small in my hand (I'm 6'4"), so I had some problem with pressing buttons by accident. (I did get one of Richard Franiec's little handgrips for it; based on just this weekend, I would strongly recommend them for large-handed users of small cameras.) The shutter is distinctly quieter than the one on the E-P1, but the autofocus seemed to hunt a bit in the mediocre light. I obviously haven't done any controlled tests, but it seemed as if the IS was more effective in the E-PM1 than in the E-P1. A cursory image review suggests that I got a few sharp photos (with a hit rate of about 1 in 5) under some pretty preposterous conditions (1/4 second exposure at 100 mm-e?!), and I have very shaky hands. This has not been my experience in the past using the same lens with the E-P1's IS. I'll be curious to see if others have experienced the same thing.

The other role for the E-PM1, and the one in which it will probably be most-used, is as a tool for photographing my kid; it'll probably spend most of its life with the 20 mm on it being carried about in a diaper bag.

Paul Amyes said...

Well after reading all the articles you've written extolling the virtues of the Olympus Pens I have taken the plunge and bought myself a heavily discounted EP2. If I can achieve with a fraction of what you have been posting I will be very happy.

As to the comment from "anonymous" , well the less said the better really.

Simon said...

Kirk, you're [normally] spot on perspective on all things photographic has, I think, let you down on this one.

By all means cut back on the blog - but I think that abandoning it to the extent your latest post seems to indicate would make you a less complete individual.

Besides taking photos you obviously love writing. I wouldn't - couldn't - give up such a vital part of my life if it was me.

Moderation in all things is a decent enough rule to bear in mind - less of a radical step such as this seems prudent here, although I confess a selfish interest in reading your balanced view of the commercial photography world coupled with a refreshing hands on perspective on what you consider makes a decent camera for a given lifestyle.

Reading the kind words of the people commenting above leads me to believe the VSL blog is worthwhile.

Take it easy and come back when ready.


Anonymous said...

Agree with Simon. Focus on what you have to do, but please don't let this blog die. You're too damny good at it :-)


Matthew said...

Yesterday at work didn't go so well for me. I took each critical review to heart, felt like every snarky comment somebody dropped reflected the core of my efforts, and generally felt gutted by criticism at the end of the day. This morning, I got up, dug deep, blew it all off and decided to press forward with nothing but my sense of discipline and confidence in making my own calls. My inspiration? Among a handful of notable persons in my life, one Kirk Tuck, philosotographer extraordinaire.

It's not often that I feel like I can give knowledge or perspective to someone so much more experienced than I am, but here's that time. As I see it, this blog, this writing and development (and sharing!) of all sorts of your ideas - technical, gear, aesthetic, economic - is also a discipline, also a practice. You push through the negative just like you push through the uncultured reception of your work, just like you push through the muscle pain of a workout you almost couldn't get yourself to finish.

What you do with this blog is your own call, of course. But don't change because of nitwits and their blather. Change it because you've given it the same full consideration you give to everything else. Do what you will, but do it for the right reasons.

And don't forget about the rest of us.

John Robison said...

Don't concern yourself with the unappreciative. In an open blog there will always be those who are chock full of themselves and are eager to display their venom. Probably just jealous because your a well known photographer and writer and he's just .....well...anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Or, you could just turn off anonymous comments on your blog. Not all anonymous people are assholes. But most assholes are anonymous people.

Archer Sully said...

It seems that the serious readers are commenting here, so I'll at least pretend to be serious and follow suit.

Kirk, you once reacted somewhat negatively to a comment I made, and I made it a point to clarify my communication and keep reading. Anonymous posters will never do that, sadly, so its better just to blow them off. Most people who make genuinely negative comments on a blog, comments with no real content, have shrunk themselves so small that they can't see anyone else in the world except themselves, and so read everything as reflecting on their own unhappy worlds. I should know, I've been that person at various times in my life.

Your blog has been a breath of fresh air in a world of blogs that care only about whatever is new and shiny. I always enjoy your writing and photography, regardless of the subject. I've learned a lot just by looking at your photos, and I hope that you can find a way to continue to share your views, both verbal and visual, with the world outside of your clients. Ok, I suppose I can hop over to amazon (via TOP) and buy your books, but the blog is a great medium for you, and you do it so well.

And for the record, I immediately rejected the notion of telling the world of gear sites about this entry, as I know that the majority of those readers have no appreciation of art.

I wish you well with whatever you decide to do wrt the interwebs, and I hope that Belinda enjoys her new camera.

Mark Kalan said...

I'm PenReady #896 and I love the camera but I must mention this piece of advice: If you're not already an Olympus user and familiar with Oly interfaces then TOSS THE PRINTED MANUAL and READ the PDF manual THOROUGHLY!

I shot 200+ frames before I learned that i does shoot RAW and how to adjust exposure/AF settings.

Sorry you're going to retire from this blog Kirk, I'll miss ya!

Hans Ă–sterlind said...


Mr Kirk Tuck, you and your blog is cooler than the Captain of the USS Enterprise ;-), but to be quite frank I really enjoy reading your blog. You've given me a lot of inspiration, I have seen the strength and possibilities in using small and simple cameras and equipment. I can certainly feel your passion and that is highly contagious even though I sit on the opposite side of the "puddle"(the Atlantic Ocean) in Sweden to be more exact.

Please don not give up your terrific work!

Hans Ă–sterlind, Stockholm Sweden

Anonymous said...

Since I got back into my photography and went digital after a way too long hiatus,I discovered your blog along with Mikes at TOP.
I feel you both provide a truly refreshing intellectual platform that no others come close to matching.
Of course there is always Ken R. if I want an occasional chuckle but I'm at heart an Oly fanboy and proud of it.
I have a forum (internet) addiction, and have been spending way too much time on other photo related sites and forums for the past 4 years.
I fully understand your need to get a life back.I need to do the same.
I Enjoyed the last 4 years,thanks for all you have done.

Anonymous said...

Kirk - You're an authentic guy. Take your response to that comment as a gift! Life is short, time is lighter than air, the most valuable possession we have.


Rey Spadoni said...

Truly, truly a great blog. I check back every day. You've done us all a great service, sir. And the sane among us are most grateful.

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