Coming home (A tale of two systems)

So i recently switched away from Fuji back into the warm embrace of Micro Four Thirds (m43). I really enjoyed shooting Fuji and the XT-1 is a cracker of a camera, but I really wanted to carry around a suite of primes and a zoom in as small a package as possible. With the tiny Olympus prime lenses I would be able to achieve this goal for a reasonable price.

I thought it would be a tragedy to exit the Fuji world without trying the much acclaimed x100 series. So after selling my X-T1 I found a gently used black x100s package. I used it for a couple of weeks before deciding that I just can’t live with one lens. The camera is very nice, output looked great, I had fun shooting 35mm only. I even took it to 2016 resurrection of the Singapore Open, not exactly a sports camera but it performed admirably in the bright, harsh, and humid conditions. It’s a little slow, I wouldn’t recommend it to a 1 camera family given the focus and re-charge speed.

Moving On

It was the Pen F hype that tempted me back to m43 and Olympus, which I had thought not to use again because I hated their menu system. But times change, and with things like the E-P5’s 2×2 control dials, the menus become infrequently required.

I actually started collecting the lenses first, even before I had a body, finding the Olympus 45mm f1.8, 25mm f1.8, and a 14-42 EZ collapsable zoom. I was using the local, and excellent, m43 marketplace at the camera enthusiast site ClubSnap. There is a very vibrant used camera market in Singapore and since I was looking for specific lenses (small olympus primes) in a specific colour (black) I thought it best to start sooner rather than later.

It wasn’t until a week or two later I found a body that I thought would hold me until I had a chance to find, test, and consider a Pen F. I got a good deal on a black E-P5 that looked unused, not a mark on it, still under warranty. Having owned an E-P3 long ago (review here) I was pretty familiar with the form factor and basic control layout, so thought it a good choice.

But I barely had the E-P5 for a week when I had the opportunity to try the Pen F over at Funan Centre. Surprisingly, it feels lighter than the E-P5 although the dimensions are very similar. It feels great in the hand and the build quality is outstanding. The dials are all machined aluminium and are suitably stiff, and the PASM mode selector has a locking mechanism similar to the ISO dial on the X-T1, very handy. And the viewfinder was just right, not quite as big as the X-T1 but it looks fantastic. Coupled with a wonderful shutter sound (or a completely silent mode) you have the makings of a truly classic camera.

I couldn’t resist and ended up purchasing it right then and there along with the 17mm f1.8 which was offered at a substantial discount when purchased with the Pen F body. There was something about this combination I felt even out-classed the Fuji x100s, it really just felt right in the hand and was blazing fast in all its operations. I’ve been very happy with the default JPEG output so far and have even played a little bit with the ART filters accessible through the controversial front dial, I love it, especially the mono modes.

So my E-P5 review will be posted shortly and I will update with a link here, and expect a Pen F review in the coming weeks, I haven’t even had it 24 hours yet.

 

GF1 all dressed up

…and no place to go. I have finally found my long term replacement for my trusty GF1. It’s like the end of an era. So I took it out for a shoot with my lenses on hand. This is the camera I used just back in August for our trip to Japan without any regrets. It’s still a great little camera.

But I have to make some room, so this will go to a great new home (I hope). Stay tuned for my next post featuring it’s successor (or “Son of GF1” as is most fitting).

GF1 with 20mm II and LVF1
GF1 with 20mm II and LVF1

 

GF1 + Olympus 17mm
GF1 + Olympus 17mm
GF1 box with manuals and software
GF1 box with manuals and software
The full GF1 kit
The full GF1 kit
GF1 + Olympus 17mm +metal hood
GF1 + Olympus 17mm +metal hood
Panasonic's famous 14-45mm zoom
Panasonic’s famous 14-45mm zoom
Looking down the barrel of a 14-45mm gun
Looking down the barrel of a 14-45mm gun
Panasonic's famous 14-45mm zoom
Panasonic’s famous 14-45mm zoom
Panasonic's famous 14-45mm zoom
Panasonic’s famous 14-45mm zoom
White GF1 +14-45mm
White GF1 +14-45mm
White GF1 +14-45mm
White GF1 +14-45mm
White GF1 +14-45mm
White GF1 +14-45mm
GF1 +20mm II in a dinner jacket
GF1 +20mm II in a dinner jacket
GF1 +20mm II in a dinner jacket
GF1 +20mm II in a dinner jacket

Lens in Black: Olympus 17mm f1.8 on the GF1

The black version of the Olympus 17mm f1.8 lens are finally hitting the street. They are not available as a seperate purchase yet but the first E-P5 kits that bundle this dark horse started delivering this weekend. I picked one up to see how it would look and perform on the old GF1.

My love for the GF1 has been recently reinvigorated as my frustration with poor body controls on rangefinder style micro four-thirds cameras continues. None have done it better than the GF1, which will be the subject of my next post.

For now, enjoy the pictures of this new lens before I it finds a new home…

GF1 with Olympus 17mm f1.8 in black
Black Olympus 17mm f1.8 is a sharp looking lens
Olympus 17mm doesn’t stick out too far, but not quite a pancake
Black 17mm looks good on the red GF1

Olympus 17mm f1.8 Prime lens

This is my first lens review so bear with me while I put together a review style. The 17mm f1.8 is the perfect lens to kick off my lens reviews with because, well, it may be a perfect lens! It is the latest addition to the (hopefully) growing stable of fast prime lenses from Olympus that already includes the 12mm f2.0, 45mm f1.8 and 75mm f1.8.

What’s in the Box

The Olympus packaging is barely bigger than the lens itself, yet somehow they manage to fit in a surprising amount of cardboard spacers. The net result is a small box that protects the lens very well. Of course front and rear caps are included as well. And what else… <crickets chirping>… now where did they put the hood? No hood is included with this $600+ lens, that is an extra item from Olympus that goes for another $80+.

Here is pretty much everything that comes in the box!
Here is pretty much everything that comes in the box!

As a fan of Olympus lenses and bodies it really feels like a slap in the face to be nickel and dimed like this. I would have no problem if they included a crappy plastic hood and offered their crafted aluminium hood as a step-up luxury item. I might even buy one for my favourite lens. But with the ridiculous pricing of their hoods across the entire prime line-up I feel screwed. So as many have done, its off to eBay (or Sim Lim square) to get a knock-off for a fraction of the price.

Handling

This is a small lens, but it is not as small as the 17mm f2.8 or the Panasonic 20mm f1.7. It protrudes out about a cm more than either. That really only makes a difference if you are trying to stuff your camera in your pocket though. The thing is that it is light enough you won’t feel the weight on your camera so it is natural to want to stick it in your pocket. Darn.

Lens is well marked with a distance/aperture scale for manual focus
Lens is well marked with a distance/aperture scale for manual focus

Build Quality

This is an all metal lens body that looks and feels great. The only exception is when you pull back the focus ring to reveal the distance scale there is a slight wobble in the slide, it doesn’t pull back straight. At first it was a bit disconcerting but after a while I was able to ignore it, it didn’t seem possible to damage the lens doing this.

Focusing

Olympus has figured out fast focusing and by all accounts this is reflected across their line-up of silver primes. Testing on an E-PL5 proved time and time again that there is no hunting, just focusing. Instantaneous response made stealth street shots much easier with a quick point and shoot. Only in the lowest light would I ever see any hunting and that is just the body struggling to find some contrast to latch on to, not the lens doing anything wrong.

Olympus also added the pull-back focus ring that was popularised on the 12mm f2.0 lens. Pulling back the focus ring reveals a distance scale to aid in manual focusing. Interestingly, when using manual focus my E-PL5 only showed the magnification box when the distance scale was hidden. On the E-P3 you could click a couple of function buttons to get it to show in the pull-back mode but I haven’t figured out how to do that on the E-PL5.

17mm f1.8
Focus ring pulled back to reveal the distance scale

I’m no good with the distance scale (poor depth perception) so I can’t comment much on that. What I can comment on is the manual focus ring turns very smoothly and was a joy to focus with. The one exception to the experience was the wobbly pull-back as mentioned above in the Build Quality section.

Shooting

I shot daytime in good and bad light, at night in bright and poor light and inside. I found the lens to be an admirable performer in all cases. I could not come up with a scenario where it did not deliver the goods in image quality. It certainly is leaps and bounds above its older sibling, the f2.8 model, in every way: colour, contrast, resolution, centre sharpness, corner sharpness, build quality, focus speed, noise level and even looks.

I used it a fair amount in the evening and I had little to no issue with flare even when I had bright lights right in the shot. It handled flare much better than my 12-35 f2.8 that you will hear about in my next lens review. Flare was a non-issue even without the hood.

Beautiful glass
Beautiful glass

Conclusion

I love this lens, it just takes really nice pictures. I found it stuck to my camera almost the whole time I owned it. I love the focal length for walk around shooting, which is how I mostly shoot in Singapore. And I found myself continually amazed at the detail that this lens can catch even at 100+ metres away, I never expected that out of a wide angle when shooting in a busy city street setting with varying focus distances.

Here are a few samples below. All are shot handheld, the first three with the E-PL5, and the last one (garbage salad) was shot with the GF3.

Flower Back alley Canal Salad

Pros:

  • Wide f1.8 aperture brings some DOF control to m43
  • Classic 35mm equivalent focal length
  • Very sharp, even into corners
  • Great contrast and colours
  • Good flare control
  • Pull back focus ring with distance scale
  • Small size

Cons:

  • Not quite a “pancake” lens
  • Pull-back motion on focus ring a bit wobbly

Panasonic GF3 Preview

Just a quick preview of my upcoming review of the Panasonic GF3. Panasonic packs a lot of performance into barely a handful of camera. See some pics below wearing the truly awesome Olympus 17mm f1.8. I have also added some shots with the 17mm f2.8 lens.  That combination makes a very pocketable high quality camera.

GF3 with 17mm f2.8 straight-on
GF3 with Olympus 17mm f2.8
Top of GF3 with 17mm f2.8
Top of GF3 with 17mm f2.8
GF3 w/ 17mm f2.8
GF3 with Olympus 17mm f2.8
GF3 with Olympus 17mm f1.8
GF3
GF3 with Olympus 17mm f1.8

Happy shooting!