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First Impressions: The Olympus PEN E-PM1

Last week I received my Olympus PEN E-PM1 and began putting it through the paces last weekend. Having quickly fallen in love with the image quality and focus speed of the E-P3, the E-PM1’s bigger brother, I was eager to see if the E-PM1 could serve as an all-purpose camera for capturing everything from adventure sports in the wild to my son’s first steps.
In the hand, many of the compact, mirrorless cameras feel insubstantial. Not so with the E-P3 and the E-PM1. The aluminum construction in both camera bodies is lightweight, yet solid, and comfortable to grip. I certainly don’t worry about them being too delicate to take out into the wild.

A Hike in the Hills
For my first excursion with the E-PM1, I set out on a hike close to home with my father in-law and my dog Laika. The 14-150mm lens is rapidly becoming my favorite micro 4:3 lens for its image quality and versatility.

The sun dipping low along the horizon highlighted the contours of the foothills along trail and I was able to zoom out to use the shadows as framing devices to capture mountain bikers traversing the trails below us. The autofocus was very responsive and accurate, picking up the mountain bikers from a significant distance, even when focusing in the the shaded parts of the trail.

Artsy Baby
Pleased with the E-PM1’s performance outdoors, I thought I’d turn my attention to probably the most challenging of photographic subjects, an active baby. Capricious, uncooperative and always on the go, photographing babies indoors is one of the more challenging tests for a camera’s focus, responsiveness and low-light performance.

I set the camera to Raw+JPEG (a nice option to have in a consumer-level camera) and played with the Grainy Film and Pin Hole art filters. Both lend an Instagram-esque feel to one’s photos. Having the RAW image ensures  you aren’t locked into the art filter’s interpretation of the scene-you can always reprocess the raw file for any look you desire.

Like the E-P3, I’m pleased with the results from higher-ISO images. In this case, I had to boost the ISO to 1600 because the 14-150 isn’t a very fast lens (f4-5.6). While the raw files aren’t noise free, they look very good and more than suit mine, or my client’s needs.

The Art Filters are especially cool when used for shooting video. Not only does the video have the art filter applied to the footage creating a unique visual look, but the frame rate drops creating an effect that looks like a cross between a video and an animated GIF.

As you can see, I’m pretty smitten with this new little camera, which my wife also says, is “quite a looker.” But, I would be amiss to not mention my only real complaint about the camera—I couldn’t figure out how to change the camera’s ISO when working in the Art Filters. I think this could be solved by a read of the owner’s manual (a novel idea) and perhaps customizing a couple of menu settings. Still, I like to see cameras set up so the common tasks (like changing ISO) are easily discoverable without needing the manual.

The other features and menus are laid out well and while geared for beginner users, still provide easy access to the fully manual features advanced photographers seek.

My first experiences with the E-PM1 have shown it to be a compact, yet capable all-purpose camera. Shooting the Wasatch 100 short film forced me to shed much of the gear I typically carry and bring only the essentials. In this mindset, I see the E-PM1 being the camera I’ll bring with me on my travels this fall and it will be the camera I’ll grab when I’m walking out the door to visit friends or take a short hike. I also see the E-PM1 as a very capable backup to the E-P3 for shooting both stills and video in the backcountry, rounding out an ultra-compact multimedia setup.

I’ll be posting more shots with the E-PM1 and photos taken with the E-P3 at the Wasatch 100 on my new Tumblr blog.


2 comments for “First Impressions: The Olympus PEN E-PM1”

  1. When you attach four thirds lenses to these newer micro four thirds cameras, is autofocus practical or do you end up manually focusing most of the time?

    Posted by Merrick | September 27, 2011, 1:51 pm
  2. Merrick, When using the 4:3 lenses with the Olympus adapter they are fully autofocus. I’ve had great success with the 4:3 lenses on the PEN bodies. Probably 80% of the time I’m shooting with the PEN I’m using the 4:3 lenses. This is slowly starting to change with some of the faster, new micro 4:3 lenses, but I’m so accustomed (and love) my bigger lenses and have a hard time giving them up.

    I think you’d be pleased with the responsiveness of the 4:3 lenses on the PEN with the adapter.

    Posted by Jay | September 27, 2011, 2:34 pm

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