Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Pen Light Saga

Detail of the Olympus E-PL7, with the lovely 17/2.8 pancake.
The first annoucement to anticipate the coming Photokina is the E- PL7 by Olympus. It has been dubbed the Selfie Pen, for its tilt down screen, allowing an optimal, plunging angle of view. The sensor is the by now unremarkable, but excellent 16 Mpx sensor that has been gracing Oly for the last three years. It has almost 13 stops of Dynamic Range,  25600 sensitivity limit, and a per pixel sharpness that rivals Full Frames like Leica.

Please see two excellent reviews here:

However the real news is for the Europeans. While the PL7 with kit will cost $ 700 in the US, ilt will be only € 499 in the EU, this reflecting the true exchange rate - a first however for Olympus.

The E-PL7 with selfie screen. Note the pancake zoom, and the second wheel around the shutter button, under the index. Body only the camera is € 399!

This reminded me that  the PL1, the first of the saga, was my first buy into m4/3 and mirrorless, some 4 or 5 yrs ago (how time passes!) for € 350. Before that the Pen line had been an unapproachable € 900!

Additionally it had a plug for an EVF, which changed completely the useability of the little one. Yes it was also much smaller, it came only in black like the Ford T, and it was with it that I began the joys of Street Shooting, nobody taking any notice of the little 'toy' sized camera.

the E-PL1. CC by Benoit Marvhal. The Ugly Duck, now in Silver :)

The PL1 was a big success, followed by the PL2, PL3 (I had that one too) all 12 MPx, and then followed by the 16 Mpx PLs.

The Pen Lights rested on a paradox. Designed for P&S, thy had a secret software switch, which made them  serious second cameras, by showing the full configurability of the camera in the menus.

They rested on another paradox. While marketed in the West as Volkscameras, Cameras for the People, they were bought by adventurous males - but in fact they had been designed in Japan, especially for Camera Joshi, the Girls with A Camera!
I tried to divulge the notion but it was v. poorly received by Western machos at DPR  :)

Whatever, today the Pen Lights are the mirrorless top sellers in Japan, and by now I can hardly walk in Rome without seeing a Camera Joshi tourist with one!

A couple of months ago I bought an E-PM2 (for a paltry 150 Euros!) which is the smallest of Oly, not even having a tilting screen, although it has a touch one.

In the recent Pen Lights you can also focus in any point of the screen, and focus/shoot by touch. Priceless! (E-PM2)

Fact is that it has the same 16 Mpx of my Queen, the E-M5, but it is really pocketable, therefore I use it much more!
Even, the PLs suggested me a series called 'Citizens of Rome', based on my shooting blindly from the hip with one of them, and thus becoming the Invisible Man.

Behind its desultory, but shiny appearance, the E-PL7 is a dragster of a camera. It has the fastest AF in the Industry and a pancake 12-42 which is prodigy of design. It has  3 axis IBIS stablization, meaning that your old adapted MF lenses will be stabilized too. It shoots at 8 fps. It has good movie speed at 30 fps, with 3-axis stabilization making it a breeze even without a tripod.

And last but not least it has an array of Art Filters that will allow you to pre-program the camera in all the crazy ways that photographic ingenuity has designed over time.
My favourites are the Pin Hole, like the piccie above, and the Dramatic Tone B&W:

The two new filters the PL7 adds to the array are Partial Colour, and Vintage, resembling Snapseed and Instagram.

In the next episode, I'll review the GM5, which is the Panasonic equivalent of the Pen Light.

It will have the big advantage of a built in EVF, and silent electronic shutter. We'll see however how big and expensive it is. People around the Web are protesting that it might be a replacement for the well loved but bigger GX7.  Unfortunately GX7 sales were spoiled by the OM-D series by Olympus. But Panny might still take a vengeance with the diminutive GM5.

This leads me to  a last consideration.
Smartphone sized, WiFi, connected little cameras are replacing the old dSLR paradigm. Size is not anymore a guarantee of quality. Even, smallish might become not only the trendiest, but also a synonym of the best quality: the true Leicas of the XXIst century.

Camera Joshi discovered it years it ago: Light comes from the East :)


Here is how I set a Pen Light. First I activate the Super Control Panel (SCP) from the Menus:

This gives me a matrix of controls that I can activate by touch. In P like Program, I leave the defaults, except that I choose Auto ISO, and Center Focus.

Secondly, I usually set the camera for high or low contrast days. This entails correcting  EV for Brightness, and/or setting Auto Gradation, instead of 'Norm', for relighting plugged shadows.

 I also made a preset B&W with high contrast and orange filter.

If I want to go into WoW! territory I use B&W Dramatic tone, or if I am moody, Pinhole or other Art Filters.

Oly's colours out of camera are extraordinary, and I was regularly losing them when doing RAW, so I went back to Jpeg. I am told the same happens with Fuji, and its Film Simulation modes.

I can now activate or not the 'Keep Warm Filter' from the Menu, according to the season. And I can fine tune the WB according t the light, if it's warm or cold: there are may presets, and you can devise yours.

So as you see there's a lot of interpretation allowed even by using the camera controls. You can do all at the scene, and compare with your eyes, if they fit.

Of course I aim to maximum resolution, and can consider increasing brightness to the limit to lighten up shadows, but basically I am after quick content, so I usually rely on auto exposure (ESP), and change settings only after a set of shots, not to create tone or colour discrepancies.

I usually shoot in Jpeg Super Fine, but of course many will be happy to use RAW, or both.

If you are into landscape, don't forget that you can add a VF-4/3 to any Pen:

This 2,36 Megadots beauty should cost you around $ 250 (€ 200?), but you can carry it across bodies when you change cameras. It will show you all the tone subtleties and details of a Landscape. Note that in the menus there is a Tone Control Curve, that can be split in two, for better effect.

Don't forget that by activating the built in  WiFi you can duplicate the camera picture, and use some same controls in your smartphone, as if the camera was tethered to it.

And you can instantly send a Jpeg from the Artic to your friends, if your ship has WiFi! Think a Selfie in front of an Iceberg :)