In September of 2009, I had the privilege of traveling to South Africa for 14 days to document the making of a short film my friend Tim was working on. My role was to shoot the behind the scenes stills of the crew in action in and around the Motherwell Township near Port Elizabeth.
At the time I had the option of taking my Canon camera, but the idea of hauling a larger APSC camera and the lenses that went with it seemed like a pain in the ass. Actually more like a pain in the back. So I started looking for something smaller with enough features and image quality to take as a replacement. I ended up settling on the Olympus PEN E-P2, the second PEN camera Olympus produced for the new Micro 4/3 system they had jointly pioneered with Panasonic. In retrospect, I probably should have gone with the Panasonic GH1, but the little Pen did a fantastic job.
The kit that I took was small, light, and compact. It was great for not standing out and allowing me to disappear as much as possible into the background. (Not an easy feat for a 6-foot 4-inch 225-pound white guy in Motherwell Township)
Let’s fast forward 2 years to the point when my house was broken into. My Canon gear was stolen, but the thieves missed my Olympus PEN and the small arsenal of lenses I had acquired.
With the Canon gone, I decided to stick with Micro 4/3 systems and rather than replacing the Canon gear I picked up the newly released OMD EM-5 and made it my primary camera. I had never bought into the whole Full Frame or nothing attitude, or the idea that Micro 4/3 cameras didn’t take as good a photo, couldn’t produce a shallow depth of field shots, couldn’t produce decent bokeh or any of the other myths.
Over the next few years, I replaced the EM5 with an EM1 adding the battery grip, additional lenses and accessories to build out a decent set of gear for my photo habits. I’m not a pro, I don’t shoot studio shots or weddings. Mostly I take landscape and nature shots around the state that I live in and on my annual trip to Colorado with friends. I also take the EM1 when I travel, but it feels large sometimes and it’s not something that I can stuff in a jacket pocket. That means having to bring my Ona Union Street messenger bag and frankly, I don’t want to carry that much stuff.
This got me to start looking at an additional camera I could use for a trip to France that we took back in April, and for an upcoming trip to Spain in November. Since I have several Olympus Zuiko lenses, I knew I was going to pick up a new Micro 4/3 body which narrowed my choices to just 2 brands – Pansonic, or Olympus. Both are solid choices, but my familiarity with the Olympus menu system and the in-body image stabilization had me leaning to Oly from the start.
To get something that I would call a travel camera I started looking back at the PEN series. Olympus makes a number of Pen models but there was one that I have been smitten with since it came out in 2016. The Olympus PEN F. The camera is gorgeous, it has the same 20-megapixel sensor that the EM1 Mk II has, award-winning 5 axis image stabilization and so much more. It has one of my favorite features of any camera I have ever used – “Live Composite” mode. (I don’t get why no other camera maker hasn’t come up with something similar to this. Especially for mirrorless camera bodies.)
Having settled on a model I began looking for either an excellent+ used body or a reconditioned body from Olympus to keep the costs down. I was fortunate enough to find an Olympus Certified reconditioned body at a much-reduced price and went for it. I didn’t get it in time for France, but I will have it for Spain.
I couldn’t be more pleased with this little guy. Diminutive in size but extremely capable and feature-packed. It has most of what the EM1 Mk II has in terms of features, and it has somethings I thought I would never use, but find myself playing with all the time. The Color Profile adjustment on the front Creative dial, the Monochrome setting on the same dial, and the Color Creator. All three of these give you the option to tweak and adjust color balance or create custom profiles that can be assigned to one of the 4 Custom Modes on the top dial of the camera. I have 3 of these set to a specific color or monochrome modes I can call up at any time.
While it might sound like a gimic it’s not. These are not the same as the goofy “Art Filters” Olympus has on every camera they make. The Art Filters are like built-in retro modes for Instagrammy looks. The ones I mentioned earlier are true color or monochrome modes you build that allow for more creative approaches to the desired look you want. And while these modes shoot in JPEG, you can set the camera up to shoot JPEG + RAW allowing you to have an unaltered image you can edit in post at a later time.
If you want to know more about the PEN F there are a ton of reviews on this camera. Just Google it and you’ll find plenty to read or watch. The verdict for many is going to be the same, great looking but there are newer and better cameras on the market. This is true but for me, I’d rather have this little guy. Stunning to look at, solid features, excellent output. And it even feels nice in my big hands without needing a grip or a case (although I am considering the Gariz leather half case for it)
For the trip to Spain, I’m taking the PEN F, the Zuiko 14-42mm pancake zoom, my all manual Samyang 12mm, 3 batteries, and a single 128-gigabyte memory card. All of this can fit in jacket pockets making travel lighter and freeing me up from having to carry any kind of bag around if I choose.