I’ve got some good news and some bad news about this ‘review.’
The bad news first.
I’d been waiting to do this review because I didn’t have any photos. Literally, I didn’t have any time since I promised this review to even take photos. Not even a spare hour to walk around. Feck.
My days most often look like above. Having recently bought a house here in Korea I haven’t really had much time for anything else. A fixer-upper would be being kind. That said, I’m loving the process of re-building. I will remember the blood, sweat, and tears that went into making it a house.
You might say, why not photography the process? There is one main reason for this:
- This is Korea and people here work.
What do I mean? Well, if I am walking around taking photos while other people work then I look lazy. I should be working just as hard as the people around me. If my wife is working harder than me I can’t help but feel guilty. Also, I’ve never done anything like this before and I think that the process of “doing” is more important than the “documenting” of the process.
I’ve taken some photos of the stages, but very little. I guess I’ve come to realize this experience is better experienced,
As it were.
So, the good news! I have taken some photos during that time. I think I’ve taken enough to illustrate my thoughts on both the cameras in question. So, in the next 2000 or so words I’ll tell you about my experience with both the Olympus Pen-F and OM-D EM-1. I’ll tell you why I eventually got rid of one and kept the other. I’ll also talk a little about the system as a whole.
So, can you guess which of them I kept? In all honesty, it wasn’t a difficult decision in the end. Not even slightly.
Let’s start with the Pen-F.
Let me say this first, I think the Pen-F is one of the prettiest digital cameras I’ve ever seen. I’ve used a lot of pretty cameras -Leica Ms, Leica Q, almost all the Fujis – but I still think the Pen-F is as pretty as any of them. It’s a beautiful thing to look at.
In use, I found the Pen-F to be fast and competent. That “dial” on the front to change from colour filters to black and white filters never bothered me and I even found myself using it now and then. I did find the Pen in general a bit uncomfortable to hold for long periods of time without the optional (and expensive) grip which I eventually borrowed. When I was using the Pen for a job about halfway through my hand started to cramp a little. The grip seemed to solve this, however.
The photos from the Pen looked great to me, but I have always been a huge fan of Micro Four Thirds cameras in general. I find this sensor size to be the absolute best compromise between depth of field and image quality. When shooting on the street, I love smaller sensors. The deeper depth of field makes things easier and allows for more context. Of course, when shooting full frame (or film) I just stop down and get a similar thing. That said, light becomes a bit of a problem in that case. It’s strange but, I think being able to get the light of f/4 with the same depth of field as f8 on film is a real plus to me. I’ll cover “bokeh” later if that is a reason you’ve decided this sensor might not be for you.
The M43s sensor also seems to process better than any other sensor I’ve used. The photos take almost no work in comparison to files from a Ricoh, Sony, Fuji, or even Leica. They seem to look good almost straight out of camera a lot more often than anything from those other brands. I know, you’ll be thinking I’ve sang the praises of those other brands often enough. Fair, enough. All I can say is every time I use a M43s camera I am always surprised by how little the photos need. All my presets seem to be way “too much” for the photos. I like this a lot as I can do a lot more a lot more quickly. As you can see from the above photo, the original and the one processed to match my normal look aren’t far off each other. You’d find a much greater difference from something like a Ricoh for example.
So, the big question regarding image quality that I most often get about M43s is something like this:
“Is it still possible to get bokeh like I can with a full frame camera?”
First, let me say that I think bokeh is the most overrated cop-out of a photographic effect there is. It is for lazy people that don’t want to compose an image with “thought.” When I’m feeling really lazy I use it to get rid of distractions in the background of a photo. Otherwise, I just don’t get it. Anyway, I digress.
The answer is simple. Yes, it is easy to get bokeh from a M43s sensor. In fact, I find it almost laughable when people talk about it. It’s laziness that creates this argument. Let me explain (apologies in advance for my terrible understanding of this – bare with me):
So, my Leica Summilux 50mm lens looks at 1.4 like 2.8 might on a full frame camera. That is to say, the depth of field is doubled? Doubly deep? Trust me when I say technical aspects of cameras are not my thing. How most people explain this to me the “bokeh” will be – ahem – half what it might be on a full frame camera. But then, the Summilux becomes a 100mm 2.8 (effectively in terms of depth of field) on M43s. A 100mm lens has more “bokeh” than a 50mm lens by double (assuming everything else is the same) as far as I understand it so what is the difference? Aren’t they the same then…? At least, to me, I can’t really tell the difference aside from compression.
Well, I guess lazy people will say they have to walk back twice as far to frame something. Sounds like laziness pure and simple. Sure, some situations won’t allow it but then that’s where that thing between your ears is supposed to come into play. Creative constraints have allowed me to make some of my favourite photographs.
Take the above photo for example. I had left my Leica M5 and Summilux in the car. I had brought an ND filter in the thoughts to make a pretty bokeh-ed out portrait. Left with nothing but my compact camera, I had to think and compose the photo in such a way where the “distractions” worked in my favour. I had to elevate to frame her head against the road. That turned out to be one of my favourite photos of the year. The context that was captured here would never have been possible with my initial plan. Creative constraints “created” this photo.
Recently, I took some photos of my film director friend Dong-bin in Seoul with the Pen-F and the 50mm Summilux attached. Even in the tight streets of Seoul I never felt “trapped” by the lens being 100mm on this system. In fact, it gave me an appreciation for a focal length I would never normally use. I’ve always sworn by wide lenses. I’ve evolved a bit though and now I kind of subscribe to the mindset that I should be able to get a photo with whatever focal length I have.
Anyway, in my humble opinion there is plenty of “bokeh” for those who like it available in this system. Of course, this is a pretty pricey Leica lens but there are cheaper options and literally any 50mm 1.4 lens can be adapted to these cameras and some of them are like $30.
It shouldn’t be an issue.
The other thing people often ask about when it comes to M43s is about the aspect ratio being natively 4:3. Well, this is a bit of a weird one for me. I find myself preferring 4:3 (for work) because it provides more context to me in a shot. I’m not sure why this is, but I find when I’m working on a job I prefer the look of 4:3 and seem to “see” that way a little better. In any case, purists who swear by 3:2 because it is the “same” as film are kinda off anyway. My negatives are never 3:2. Slightly wider from my M3, for example.
Another weird thing is I found that shooting the Pen-F in 4:3 felt weird whereas it seems to make sense to my brain with the OM-D. WEIRD, I know. I can’t really explain this aside from the fact that the form factor of the cameras might have something to do with my craziness.
Either way, I generally crop most images if I am posting them on Instagram to around 3:2 for continuity. This kind of thing doesn’t bother me very much anymore. Just, whatever works you know?
Anyway, I’ve gone WAY off topic. Back to the cameras. Have you been able to guess which I decided to keep yet?
Well, a lot of factors went into me deciding to keep the OM-D over the Pen-F. The Pen-F is obviously so much prettier. I loved to look at it. That being said, I already have a camera that is more beautiful to look at than even the Pen.
I’m fairly certain if I wanted to go out with a camera that looks good I’d still take this. So, that was the first thing that made the Pen-F redundant to me.
Secondly, I needed to consider what I needed for work. I am not a full time photographer but I do have some more serious projects I am working on. For those, I needed a camera that was better to “use” – not just better to look at. The OM-D, for example, is so, so much more comfortable to hold for long periods of time. The large grip just makes it so nice in use. Also, it generally just feels much faster. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but the OM-D feels more like a tool to me. Things are all where they should be. Settings just are where I need them. When I mount my 50mm Summilux the placement of the function buttons just makes the OM-D a much easier camera to focus and shoot. The viewfinder is also nicer to my eye (at least, bigger). I find the image quality to be about the same. Also, the battery seemed to last longer and the fact that the optional grip carries an extra battery (if I need) makes it a lot more of a “pro” experience. In Korea this is important as people expect a photographer to have a big camera. It’s funny, I used to show up to shoots with a 5D or an A7 and huge lens but take all the photos with an RX100 or X100. The other camera was just for show.
I used to prefer pretty motorcycles. These days, I ride this scooter around because it is reliable and literally just works. No one would argue it being pretty, surely. The OM-D is kind of like that. I never feel the need to baby it. While the Pen-F is built very nicely it feels nowhere near as nice in the hand as the OM-D. It feels like there is no way it would take the abuse that the OM-D would. The OM-D is also weather and dust sealed which is a great plus considering the dust and things I’ve been dealing with lately. I picked up the cheap 12-50mm lens which is also weather-sealed and together they make a nice tight package.
Another reason I decided on the OM-D is video. While it lacks the pop out screen of the Pen-F it has a mic-input which I find a lot more important. I’ve been putting together some vlog posts (planning to launch first with new house completion) and I just generally found the OM-D to work a lot easier to use for video. It isn’t the best camera around for video, obviously, but is more than enough for what I need.
All those things aside, the OM-D was just the one I reached for all the time. I love the fact that I don’t have to worry about it. I can toss it around without care or worry. This part especially fits into my lifestyle these days.
Oh, and I forgot this part:
The OM-D costs about one third the price of the Pen-F used here in Korea. That alone means I’d pick it every single time. Building a house has made me frugal so this is probably one of the most important factors in all of this. I could buy the 12-50, grip, extra battery, 17mm, and OM-D EM-1 body for about the price of the Pen-F body and grip. Doesn’t make sense to me anymore.
Also, for family trips and what not the OM-D can be handed to anyone to use and I never worry about it. I wouldn’t in a million years just hand my M3 over to a kid to play with. At least not while sober.
The one thing I forgot to mention that many people asked me was about the electronic shutter on both cameras. Well, to be honest I am not the type to shoot in silence. I quite like to be seen or heard. I did try it a little but as you can see from above it is quite difficult if the lights are the cycling variety. Unless, of course, you like that sort of thing. In my opinion the shutter on both cameras is quite quiet so this shouldn’t really be a deciding factor. I just thought I would add it since some people asked. I found the problem to be very similar on both cameras.
So, this wasn’t much of a review. I apologize.
I don’t have the time I once did. I do hope I can balance things a little more effectively once the house is finished. I also will be undergoing some changes in my job soon which should give me more time for this sort of thing. I have a couple of reviews I want to get done.
I recently picked up the Sony RX100V for example, for my mom and spent some time with it before sending it off. A really nice little camera, and the fact it is the one I purchased for my mother should say quite a bit about how highly I think of it. That will be the next mini-review I plan on doing.
I took Eric Kim’s longtime profile photo with an older version of that camera. Also used two phones for lighting, but that is another story. A rip-off of the Irving Penn portrait of Truman Capote. So stay tuned for that post. Should be done before 2028. Maybe.
Considering how bad this review was, I wanna open up the comments to questions about the cameras. I figure if you have anything you want to know that I didn’t talk about I am more than happy to answer! I think this type of back and forth might be better than what I actually wrote…
Finally, thank you so much to everyone that ordered my zine, Neverland: Korea Volume I. I was blown away by the support. So much so, I’ve already started putting together Volume II (suggestions?). It will be slightly shorter and slightly cheaper and probably will be available sometime this summer.
Volume I is still available here: