This month I decided to upgrade my camera – that is, buy a new gadget. Again. My friends and family know me for having something of a problem when it comes to buy shiny, new things and it had been at least a month since my last guilty pleasure…
The result is the beautiful Olympus E-PL1, otherwise known as the PEN: A Micro four-thirds system camera. I won’t go into the technical details, because frankly I don’t understand them. But I do feel that this camera has taught me a few great truths about photography already.
I bought this camera as something to grow into. Some time ago I owned a Nikon D40 SLR – an entry level SLR for amateur-enthusiasts. I found it too much to understand when I just wanted to take a pretty picture of something I spotted in the park, or wanted a nice snap of my friends at University. Plus, its bulky/professional look was frankly quite embarrassing. I found that I left it at home even when I knew that I would be going somewhere where I would want to take pictures, and it began collecting dust in my ‘electricals’ drawer.
After about a month of research I bought a Ricoh GX200 – a stunning compact camera and not simply a point and shoot. Many of the photos on my Flickr account are from the Ricoh. It has incredible specs and the opportunity to gain control over everything you might want to – aperture, shutter, ISO, white balance, flash and exposure compensation, as well as my favourite feature of all – the manual focus option. This allowed you to focus on a detail as close as 1cm away. That’s right – 1cm!! For a macro enthusiast, this was a lot of fun. In addition, everything about using the Ricoh is easy and painless, and exactly what you want from photography. The trouble was, it still didn’t fulfil the need for a camera that could take easy quick pictures whilst on holiday, with friends and even at parties or gigs. I took this camera to Latitude festival and thankfully have enough nice memories to allow for the fact that the pictures that I came back with were awful. What the Ricoh GX200 needs is love and patience – and a great deal of forgiveness for the noise which appears in pictures on even the lightest of conditions and lowest ISOs.
This leads me nicely to the Olympus. In between preparing for Christmas and starting a new job, I’ve been trying to get to grips with the vastly different interface and a whole new load of jargon. I’ve taken some new pictures which I uploaded on Flickr, and I think the most amazing thing about this camera is the ease of use. Shamefully, one of the big attractions to this camera was the art filters – the ability to apply pinhole, grainy film, and pop art effects to your shots. What is great about this feature is the fact that you can apply a mood to a picture before you’ve even taken it. I took a wonder down the waterfront in Ipswich where there are a whole host of battered and decaying urban structures alongside the fancy restaurants and bright lights and grainy film worked perfectly for this – you can see this in some of my uploads of Flickr.
It also has all the features which you would expect to see – the ability to adjust aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance etc, as well as presets for when it is essential simply to capture the moment. The other feature which this camera boasts is in-built flash (something which its predecessors lack) which is also tiltable to some extent, allowing you to move away from the garish flash of normal point and shoot cameras.
The fact that it is essentially an SLR camera also means that I have snappy, quality pictures that I can be proud of. The Olympus E-PL1 is the newest addition to the PEN family, a cheaper model aimed at an amateur, aspiring photographer like myself. What this camera has taught me is that it is okay to rely on what the camera does well and to focus on making interesting and creative shots.
I hope to follow this with what is a more informative review in time to come, when I work out how to use the camera…