Cameras

I’m Taking a Pen to Spain and Not Writing a Thing with It

A PEN in the hand

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.

David making movies at Kwadick. Shot with my trusty Olympus EP-2 about a decade ago.

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 E-P2 with the original 14-42mm kit lens

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.

The EM5 with the outstanding 45mm portrait lens and no batter grip

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.

The PEN F next to my EM1 with the battery grip attached

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.

The PEN F sporting the 14-42 pancake zoom compared to the EM1 with the 12-40 Pro. I’d love to take the Pro lens with me, but I don’t want to haul that much glass or carry a camera bag.

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.

Taken with the EM-1 and the 12-40mm Pro Lens

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.

Gem Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park taken with my EM5 and the Zuiko 17mm f/1.8

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.

Give Me a “T”. Leica Has a New Camera.

Photo websites on the internet have been burning up with news about the new Leica T mirrorless camera system today. I have to admit it is a stunning piece of industrial design. The thing looks gorgeous, but will it make you a better photographer? Probably not. You are only as good as you are, and you improve with practice. This is why a pro photographer can get a pretty impressive image from an iPhone.

The real kicker for me with this camera is the price. I did a recent Pounds to Dollars price conversion using the prices shown on DPreview and the entire set up, not including the case will set you back $7807.00 before taxes. For that kind of money you can get a hell of lot more gear that is equal to or better. It might not look as pretty, but will still take a photo and get you behind the lens time. The second part of that sentence is what helps you to become a better photographer.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by the price Leica has set. All their gear is outrageously over priced. They are a premium luxury brand, and people will pay just to have a camera with that red dot on the front. And, Leica lenses are some of the best in the world, so the price you pay for good glass kind of makes sense.

OK, I’ll admit it. The video above makes me kind of want this camera like everyone else. I do love good visual design, and the Leica T has it in spades.

It’s a Super 8 Retro Camera Inferno.

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In the last few years there has been a massive surge in retro-styled cameras. Fuji and Olympus lead the way with their micro 4/3 camera lines, but even Nikon has jumped in with both feet releasing the Nikon FD. On the video front, retro-styling of camera gear has been slower but still on the rise with cameras like the Black Magic cinema, and the digital Bolex. One recent entry into the fray is the new Chinon Bellami HD-1 Super 8.

The Bellami, was Inspired by the 8mm film camera of the same name from the 1970s. The shape, control systems, ergonomics, weight, optics placement and more mirror the original.

The Bellami HD-1Digital Super 8 shoots full HD, 1080p at 30fps. The frame rate might put off some who swear 24fps is the only way to shoot. Frankly I’m not one of them. I think the whole 24fps vs 30fps needs to be put to bed. It’s a Mac vs Windows argument. The thing is, this camera isn’t designed to be a workhorse. It’s a retro-styled camera with digital capabilities. The look is designed to appeal to the nostalgic, not compete with a Canon C300.

What the Bellami does offer is a screw on lens mount that let’s you slap a ton of full manual lenses on the front. It shoots RAW DNG files which allow the cinematographer to tweak the footage in post to create a stylized vintage look by creatively tweaking color balance, temperature, and exposure.

The Chinon Bellami HD-1 is available for about $850 USD depending on exchange rates with the Yen. Currently available only in Japan, it can be bought online if you’re willing to pay for shipping.

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I’m Lusting ILLOT this Friday Afternoon.

I have a thing for retro styled digital cameras. Its one of the things that attracted me to the Olympus EP and OMD series cameras. I don’t have a thing for film anymore. I have moved fully into the digital camp and this is where I’ll stay. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have a soft spot for retro film cameras though. Especially cameras like the ones that are being done up by ILOTT Vintage.

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ILOTT collects and restore select vintage rangefinder cameras taking great care, time and pride in refurbishing each camera that they acquire.The cameras are put through a series of rigorous tests to ensure that they are field ready before being sold.

Taking the cameras to a new level, ILOTT replaces leather body coverings with premium quality wood veneers tailored to each camera for a unique vintage appearance. Since no two cameras ILOTT creates are exactly the same, they continue to restore cameras rather than rely on the collection they already have on hand.The cameras are wrapped in Mansonia, or Mahogany which is applied by hand after the camera has been restored. I love the Argus C3, but I have to say the Mahogany Canonet QL 17 has me all lusty this afternoon.

“We love the mystery of not knowing where the cameras have been before, who has used them and what photos they might have taken.”

Hasselblad + Ferrari = Hasselrrari.

As I sit here waiting for my Olympus OMD to ship from Amazon, I keep wishing I had played the Mega Millions lottery. If I had won, I could have flown first class to Japan, picked up the new Oly, and then skipped on over to Europe to grab a new Hasselblad Ferrari edition camera. I know it costs $30,000, but when you are worth mega millions 30k is chump change.

So what does 30 large get you? It buys a limited edition camera with a 40 megapixel medium format sensor. produced in a limited edition of only 499 cameras, and done up in Ferrari red. (Ferrari “Rosso Fuoco”). It comes with an 80mm prime lens and the camera is housed in a special display box with an engineered glass top. The case also features  a luxurious lining, dual storage layers, and the distinctive Ferrari Racing Shield.

It does not come with any super models to photograph. It won’t make you Richard Avedon. It will tell everyone that sees you shooting with it, that you have scads of money and very little sense.

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What’s in the box…

  • An exclusive hand-made glass topped case specially designed for the Ferrari camera. This attractive case features a luxurious lining, dual storage layers, and the distinctive Ferrari Racing Shield.
  • A specially designed camera strap.
  • A Ferrari Welcome Brochure that includes a customized Inspection Certificate.
  • A Phocus Quick Software DVD made specifically for the Ferrari Edition.
  • A hand-signed personal Welcome Letter by Hasselblad Chairman and CEO Dr. Larry Hansen.