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......