Olympus EP1 PEN

Rat Rods, Tatoos, Rock a Billy, and Gasoline. Greaserama 2010

This weekend marked the annual Labor Day festival known as Greaserama here in Kansas City. The event is held every year at the oldest continuously  operating drive in theater in America, the Boulevard Drive In, off Merriam Lane in the Rosedale neighborhood. This is the fourth year I have gone, and this was probably the biggest turn out for cars and people that I have seen. On a weather perfect Saturday evening I snapped 550 photos. Below are 110 of them.

All the images were shot on the Olympus EP1, with the 18 mm lens, and no flash. The images in the slide show have had the resolution dropped to make them easier to upload. If you would like to use any of the images, just shoot me an email and ask. I’ll send a high-res version to you.

The Grand Canyon via Helicopter

Saturday before I left Las Vegas, I took a helicopter ride to the Grand Canyon. I have to say if you ever get a chance to do this, it is completely worth it on every level. This post has 100 or so images that were taken on the way there, at the canyon, and on the way back. I have about 200 but something is up with WordPress today and I am having a hard time uploading anything. I’ll try and get the remainder posted later this week.

Designing Hot Rods

P9070237Last night I was having a discussion about design topics with a friend of mine and it got me to thinking about this years Greaserama car show at the Boulevard Drive In. The reason I started thinking about it is because my current desktops and screen saver is made from photos that I took at the show this year, and because the cars in the show are truly “designed”. I’m going to use one car as a specific example, partly because I have a number of images of it, and partly because the attention to detail is outstanding. It is that attention to detail that elevates this car to a status point that is many ways equal to a work of art, and that shows the design thinking behind it. I have no idea who created this. It was parked on the lot with all the other vehicles at the show, and the owner was nowhere to be found. This car in all it’s rusted glory, is a work of well designed hand crafted rolling art. Everything about it has been thought out and executed and styled with a keen eye. It is because of this attention to detail, and the unique theme that I am saying this qualifies in its own right as something that is well designed.

It has been said that everything is in the details, and this is true. What helps define the design quality of this car is the execution of theme from front to back and the level of detail in which that theme is executed on every level.

Lets start at the back of the car and work forward. Looking at the tail end, you notice a number of things. First off the car, while appearing rusted is solid, the color is a patina that has been applied to give it a unique look. framing the top of the open back window is tone on tone pin striping painted to look faded and burned in over time. The pin striping detail calls back to a classic period of American hot rod culture. Where the top of the car has been chopped and lowered a detail of welded wire wraps the seem to create a look like the top of the car has been stitched to the body much like the top of the Frankenstein Monsters head. Hanging out of the back window is a human skull sporting a pair of broken and tattered goggles. The top of the skull is sown on with wire just like the top of the car mirroring that detail. The licence plate holder is from a dealer in Las Vegas, it holds a 1935 licence plate bearing the number 666. All of this is designed to create a menacing appearance that says in its own way, “Trouble”.

As we move down the car you notice that the side windows are a unique orange color, helping to pull together a look that says this car is from a place that is hot. A place that is as much trouble as the car is itself. The rusted patina wraps around the back end and extends down the body panels and doors all the way to the front of the car. As you look inside the vehicle, the attention to detail explodes. Who ever made this car really thought about the overall look, and the selection of interior items in the build out. The floor is constructed of old barn wood planks, tacked to the flooring is an old Phillips 66 sign, placed to look as though it is covering a hole in the floor itself. The seats are made from steel tractor seating, and old leather horse collars. in the center of the floor where the shift lever would normally rise is a welded set of horse shoes, designed to create a unique bottle holder, enhancing a building western theme to the car. A flashlight is attached to the steering column with rusted baling wire. Hanging from the rearview mirror is a set of spurs. The mirror itself has an inset clock letting you know that this was a unique find brought to and installed in the car. Behind the mirror, bolted to the roof frame is a cast Frankenstein head with checkered flags on each side. I love how the Frankenstein theme is peppered throughout the car and repeated with small accents inside and out. The orange windows cast a unique glow inside the car, tinting floorboards and highlighting interior parts.

Just outside the driver’s side door is a vintage bottle opener with red paint flaking off of it. It sits just above another pinstripe that wraps around and over the front of the car just outside the windshield. The color of the pinstripe matches the orange of the windshield glass, and stands out against the sanded and rust colored black undercoat of the paint. Gauges protrude from the bonnet outside the cab designed to be visible from the driver’s seat. The whole car looks like it has been driven for a million miles, torn apart and rebuilt time and time again becoming its own Frankenstein Monster. It has a western feel that seems like it came straight from Death Valley, looking for trouble and eager to find it.

The front of the car is styled the same way. The radiator cap is a horse shoe that frames in a hand giving you the finger, letting everyone know just exactly what car and driver think of the rest of us. It sends a clear message, “Get out of my way.”  The grill looks like a snarling mass of shredded steel. The bottom a mess of broken tines, bent and shaped for maximum effect. Even the interior of the straight intake stacks coming off of the carburetor are painted an orange to match the color of the glass and the pinstripes. Every section of the car has been shaped, and formed in order to create an overall look. A theme that is one of a kind. This car has truly been designed in every sense of the word, and more over it feels like part of a never ending project. It is as though this car will transform and morph again as it ages with its owner.

So I guess the point of this is the fact that good design is all about the details. And good design comes in all shapes, sizes and themes. Look at the images and you will see what I mean when I say that this was “Designed” and that the attention to detail is outstanding.  By the way if anyone knows who the owner/builder/designer of this car is send me a comment so I can post it and give them credit.

Olympus EP1 PEN Hands on and First Impressions

The new PEN camera, with my older Lumix in the background.

The new PEN camera, with my older Lumix in the background.

Yesterday afternoon I received the new camera from Willoughby’s in New York. The Olympus EP1 PEN. I have to say that this is one of the sexiest looking cameras I have used in a long time. It has this amazing retro feel that makes me long for the old days of film and rugged cameras that were all metal with leather grips. Maybe part of my sentimentality stems from the fact that the first 35mm camera I ever owned was an Olympus OM1.

The revolutionary OM1 circa 1975

The revolutionary OM1 circa 1975

A revolutionary compact 35 mm camera with the most user friendly controls I have ever experienced. It was all manual, and shutter speed and aperture were located on two rings behind the lens mount. Pure genius, but I digress.

Lets talk about the EP1 Pen. I am not going to give a huge technical review here. Instead I am going to talk about my experience so far, 24 hours in to using it. My first impressions, likes and dislikes. As I use the camera more, and especially after the trip to South Africa with it I’ll post updates and sample pictures.

First a little background. The EP1 is the digital follow up to the PEN cameras from the late 50’s and early 60’s. It is a micro 4/3 camera which in very general terms means that it packs the features of an SLR into a more compact body that feels like a point and shoot. Yet it allows for interchangeable lenses. One caveat is that the reduced body size, and distance from lens to focal plane is about half of a standard SLR. Just 20mm, this has advantages and disadvantages. One plus though is an insane amount of depth of field can be achieved  in your shots. Olympus has been working hard under the hood in the development of this system. It has a 12.3 MP sensor that has had a bit of an upgrade to increase resolution and sharpness over other Olympus point and shoots – plus a few fixes that show they’ve been listening to their users. One nice feature is that image quality boost been achieved by the use of a lighter low pass filter and a powerful new TruePic V processor, which offers better moiré and screen removal and improved high level ISO performance In addition they have added the  ability to capture HD movie clips (720p). Otherwise the key feature list is pretty similar to Olympus’s latest DLSR offerings.

So here are the first impressions.

• It looks so sexy. The retro styling is just spot on.
• It feels great in the hand. The camera is a bit front heavy with the 14 to 42 lens though.
• The feature set rivals high end DSLR’s
• The range finder attachment could benefit from some sort of electronic input via the hot shoe. I’d like to change settings on the fly and get a visual
update in the range finder without having to look at the LCD on the back of the camera.
• The menu system seems a bit complex, but it could be I am just not used to it
• The shutter response time is great in continuous shooting mode.
• The external Flash is bright and controlled by the camera so it intensity is adjustable.
• From what I can tell so far all of my early test shots show amazing detail and tons of resolution.
• Excellent ISO performance up to ISO 3200
• The dual dial controls on the camera are intuitive and surprisingly functional.
• The auto focus can be a bit slow at times
• And I am kind missing an AF illuminator.

So my first impressions with the camera are this. Hats off to Olympus for getting so much right on the first Digital Micro 4/3 camera it has produced. The camera is stylish, and feels great in the hand. The construction is superb, almost all metal with limited use of plastic. The image quality is top notch and matches all the reviews I have read so far. Olympus has done an excellent job of squeezing a massive amount of features and functionality into a tiny form factor, with no compromise to  when it comes to handling, and camera operation. This camera is the kind that will appeal to serious photo geeks as well as the person looking for a solid point and shoot with more robust features. This camera isn’t perfect. It’s not a take it to the party and snap pics of all your friends kind of camera. It has a ton of features that will leave some confused about what all this camera can do. With that said, if you want to learn about photography this is a camera that will pave the way for anyone prepared to invest the time and effort needed to master it, and the end result will not disappoint.

For me this product has that rare ability to get an emotional response which is a salute to the folks at Olympus. A solid digital camera that makes me long for the days of film, and old school ways. As I use it more, look for updates in the future.

With the external Flash attachment installed.

With the external Flash attachment installed.