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A Classic Returns

July 6, 2009 - Dave Hecei
Photography has been a hobby of mine for many years. Back in the mid-70s I picked up a Pentax Spotmatic and was hooked on photography and cameras. Over the years I have owned many different cameras from several manufacturers – Yashica, Pentax, Rollei, Contax, Nikon, Olympus, and Canon. I have gone from B&W to Kodachrome and now digital. I have a love of photography, but I also have a love for the instruments themselves, the camera. One of the true classics in film cameras has now come to the digital age, the Olympus Pen.

Olympus has an amazing history. This Japanese company started out in 1919 as a maker of microscopes and soon got into making lenses for other camera companies. They produced their first camera in 1936, the Semi I, which use wide roll film. After the war, Olympus turned to the compact camera at that time, 35mm. In 1959 they introduced the first of a revolutionary camera line, the Pen series.

The Olympus Pen series was an amazingly compact camera that had a special feature – the Pen was a half-frame camera. Using 35mm film, the Pen shot a vertical image half the size of a normal 35mm camera. This allowed the camera and lenses to be much smaller, plus it allowed you to shoot twice as many pictures per roll. A 20 exposure roll would allow you to shoot 40 pictures.

The Pen evolved over the next several years ending with the PenF and PenFT models in the mid to late 60’s. These models were also half-frame 35mm but instead of an optical viewfinder these models where true interchangeable SLR cameras. The PenFT itself was quite advanced for its day, with a built-in TTL meter, exposure information in the viewfinder, single stroke lever film advance, and a built-in self-timer. The PenFT was very popular and used by many photographers through the 70’s and into the 80’s, a definite classic camera. As we flash forward to the present, Olympus still makes great cameras and currently has several point-and-shoot and DSLRs models.

Olympus recently introduced a new digital camera that pays homage to the classic PenFT, the new Olympus Digital Pen, also known as the E-P1. Looking at the E-P1 you can easily see the original PenF inspired styling. This is not a film camera but an amazingly compact, interchangeable lens digital camera. Because this is a digital camera there is no real need for a mirror and prism, meaning that this is not a true through-the-lens DSLR camera.

Because of a great sensor and the ability to change lenses, the E-P1 will can easily give DSLR results. The live view LCD screen definitely makes up for the lack of a viewfinder, giving you a sharp image with lots of information. An amazing digital leveler system will appeal to landscape and architectural photographers.

The E-P1 is based on the Four Thirds system, the same one used by the Olympus E-series. Actually, the E-P1 uses the new Micro Four Thirds lens mount so you will need to use an adapter for any existing lenses. Two Micro Four Thirds lenses are available now for the E-P1, the 14-42mm zoom and a 17mm pancake (thin compact lens).

The specs on the E-P1 are very impressive. It features a 12.3 megapixel Live MOS sensor that is said to shoot remarkable images, even at 6400 ISO, most likely due to its TruePic V image processor. There is built-in image stabilization, which works with every lens. Along with all these still image features, the E-P1 can also shoot HD (720p) video with stereo audio.

There are many features that put the new Olympus E-P1 in a class by itself. It’s not a typical compact camera since it has interchangeable lenses. It’s not a DSLR since it is very compact in size. This could become a digital classic (if that’s possible for a digital camera), but for the moment let us say it’s in a class by itself.


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