Olympus Pen Digital And Maybe A New Way Of Thinking

Do you recall the story of my uncle’s war camera – the little Olympus Pen half frame? Well, looks like they’ve reinvented it (read here) digitally using the new micro 4/3 sensor technology and it got me thinking.

Since you know by now I believe deeply that the best camera is the one that’s with you. And since I’m an advocate of keeping a camera with you at all times, it’s obvious that small cameras are easier to haul around than large ones. As such, this little Olympus–and potentially a huge wave of cameras following this path (ahem, Nikon and Canon?)– could drive a revolution of small, high powered cameras with interchangeable lenses. I mean, c’mon, check out this sweet little 17mm 2.8 on this Pen. This camera clearly fits into your shirt pocket. If these micro 4/3 sensors can get noise issues figured out and they can add an array of lenses… [Click ‘continue reading’ link below]

…might we be onto something?

Don’t get me wrong, those of us that have them, we love our D3x’s and H3D’s for the majority of large scale commercial work–and that level of camera is certainly here to stay–, but it seems we could be in for a real polarization of technology in the very near future. At one end, the really big and buff – the big dSLRs I mentioned + DSMC’s like the forthcoming RED camera system; and at the other end of the spectrum a new standard–perhaps even professional quality–of highly effective micro cameras.

And it’s what this begets that interests me: Might we then also see a new era of professional photographer, a backlash in the spirit of Terry Richardson who lands large commercial commissions but who’d rather shoot Kate Moss with a point and shoot than with a Hasselblad?

The only thing that’s constant is change.

38 Responses to Olympus Pen Digital And Maybe A New Way Of Thinking

  1. edmond terakopian June 7, 2009 at 5:21 pm #

    I'm in total agreement Chase; I love the design of this thing and that pancake lens looks sweet and totally pocketable. Alas, they haven't put in an optical finder! So close to a perfect design, but so far!
    Come on Olympus, lets make sure you build in a good and large optical viewfinder on the next one!

  2. luke June 7, 2009 at 5:24 pm #

    I've been watching this space with interest, while being impressed with what the Lumix LX3 gives me as a pocketable camera … but if interchangeable lenses are going to become the next big thing in these cameras, I couldn't be happier.

    Thanks for posting this :)

  3. Zak.Shelhamer June 7, 2009 at 5:24 pm #

    Looks like it would be fun to carry around!

  4. James Duncan Davidson June 7, 2009 at 5:35 pm #

    Oh yah. I think the PEN is going to be a nice moment in the evolution of cameras. Something that has a reasonably sized sensor, great interchangeable lenses, has potential.

    I'm super hopeful on this one.

  5. tom June 7, 2009 at 5:54 pm #

    Why note Chase? We are already to witness a rather large return back to film. Seems old is new and the megaflopel pixel wars have finally calmed down, now that folks are bored with it. Could it be now folks are actually looking for quality???? Are hobbyists not trying to outdue Mr. Rocket next door and purchase the D4sx?
    It's going to be an interesting 18 months ahead of us.
    The more things stay, the more they stay the same….
    Study History and you shall agree.

  6. David Redding June 7, 2009 at 5:55 pm #

    Really, I have been screaming for a full frame rangefinder camera. If they were to take all the bells and whistles out of the camera and go with a nice manual RF the form factor wouldn't be that big and it would produce images the likes of a D3.

    There is a reason the Leica rules PJ work.

  7. Anonymous June 7, 2009 at 6:00 pm #

    Couldn't disagree.

  8. Kirk Lau June 7, 2009 at 6:21 pm #

    I have to admit that i've been following on this since they show up with some concept shots. i can see a few plus and minus side on this.
    comparing with the current "higher end point and shoot" like LX3 or G10. This has the advantage of switching lens. however, keep in mind that crop factor stills comes into play, and this time is about 2. also it is really depends on where they set their price.

    however, this one definitely got the "look"!

  9. Jason June 7, 2009 at 6:36 pm #

    My biggest concern is depth of field, but I haven't shot with a micro 4/3 camera like this yet. If it can handle doing some nice narrow DOF, it could certainly be a major step forward, but if it can't, there will be some huge gaps in which it is simply not worth it.

  10. Mike Folden June 7, 2009 at 6:45 pm #

    This is the first I have heard of these. I always struggle when going out at night for drinks and not wanted to lug my camera bag around with me. Then my point and shoot which is great for some things just doesn't do what I want all the time. This new hybrid could develop into something really useful. Thanks for the heads up!

  11. Sayoga June 7, 2009 at 7:03 pm #

    i think this camera really great stuff for street photography, small and nice design…

    warm regards

  12. Bec Thomas June 7, 2009 at 7:16 pm #

    LOL you know part of the reason DSLR's are still bulky is because so many photog's (both some pro's and hobbyist) out there think that the bigger the camera the better it must be. They are still bulky not because they need to be but because the consumer market has been driving it.

  13. Paul Swortz June 7, 2009 at 7:18 pm #

    Couldn't agree more. I'd LOVE to see more smaller cameras with better quality high-ISO performance than more megapixels. Gimme a G10 that can shoot ISO 6400 as well as my D700 and I'm a super duper happy camper. Interchangeable lenses? All the better!

  14. Wouter Brandsma June 7, 2009 at 9:45 pm #

    And the best of all. You can get adapters to use M-mount lenses on this camera, just like the Panasonic G1/GH1.

  15. Brian Legge June 8, 2009 at 12:10 am #

    So what is the fundamental tradeoff with cameras of this scale?

    I imagine a smaller sensor means lower resolution or more noisy images. Perhaps the compromise will be to halve the megapixels?

    Obviously larger lenses run counter the intent. I imagine that would mean either lower quality optics, more primes or slower glass. If you are using a 50-200, the size of the body is probably not that big of a deal beyond a certain point.

    Batteries, storage and CPU take space but I doubt they'd be that big of a deal.

    Basically, what is the market? It seems like this is either where the point and shoot market is going to evolve or this will become a small niche camera, popular with more serious photographers or with an audience like Holga users.

  16. mtreinik June 8, 2009 at 1:17 am #

    Tiny sensors and interchangeable lenses mean that the dust in your brother's DLSR will become a log on your own sensor. Beware the dustbunnyzilla!

  17. n1x0n June 8, 2009 at 1:31 am #

    Speaking of pocket cameras – Sigma DP/DP2 is a good camera too. The only major drawback is the lack of interchangeable lenses, but it's a great pocket camera anyway.
    Seen a couple of 40x60cm prints from it yesterday – great quality, really changed my mind on such cameras…

    Hopefully the Olympus E-P1 will take care of the few shortcomings of DP/DP2.

  18. Andrew Higgins June 8, 2009 at 1:54 am #

    The smaller the better for me with cameras, and the new Olympus could be a great thing. Now that full-frame sensors are available, and APS sensors are in the 10-15mp ballpark, the true potential of the FourThirds sensor is in really small cameras that can deliver good quality. I've borrowed an E-420 and it's a neat thing. I own a GRd which is great, so a blend of the two would be perfect. At a working pro level, I wish Nikon would do a digital Nikon FM, small and tough.
    The D90 is the size, but not the tough!
    But at the end of the day, it's the picture, not the camera that counts.

  19. Sleepless In KL June 8, 2009 at 5:01 am #

    I'm new to DSLRs and the one thing I definitely don't miss about point-and-shoots is the speed…or to be more accurate, the lack of it. So until they figure out how to get over this speed bump (at the very least, at startup), I'd gladly haul around the extra bulk with me.

  20. Don June 8, 2009 at 8:52 am #

    I think there's quite a few of us waiting for a small camera w/interchangeable quality lenses and a decent sensor. Although I'd happily purchase this product I'd love to see a Nikon response with a similar camera system with built in i-TTL and Commander Mode.

  21. Matthew Plummer June 8, 2009 at 10:08 am #

    Funnily enough I've just listed all my Canon gear on ebay and have bought a Leica M8.2. Great little camera -the digital files might not be up there with the latest FF DSLR stuff, but the digital M brings its own stuff to the table, particularly given that the editorial portraits I do tend to be out of the studio. Far less intimidating for the people I'm shooting! And of course the digital sensor will be improved in generations to come. Anyway – great post chase – M4/3 looks fabulous!

  22. CarBlog June 8, 2009 at 12:16 pm #

    Now thats small. As technology gets beter, we can expect things to become more small and Nano.

  23. Debra June 8, 2009 at 1:26 pm #

    Here's a fascinating article on what MIT envisions for camera sensor capability in 10 years:


    Your iPhone may be capturing images that take a few gymnastics moves in PS today……….

  24. jon madison June 9, 2009 at 9:38 am #

    i've been looking forward to this camera for a while.

    i'm an avid point and shooter; and this thing *looks* great as well as looks like what i'm lokoing for. i'm with edmond however in that i hate not having an optical viewfinder, but i may be able to live with it, particularly given it supports interchangeable lenses!

  25. Dean Casavechia June 9, 2009 at 6:48 pm #

    I picked up the P6000 which I didn't hear good things about. The camera store let me take it and try it, it is a great camera. Best part is the lens pulls into the camera when off and it feels like a real slr camera more so then the LX3 and G10. I have some images on my flickr site http://www.flickr.com/photos/62976154@N00/
    shoots raw and has ISO ranges you can set for walking around. Love it.

  26. brandt abner June 10, 2009 at 7:05 am #

    The micro-four thirds standard is revolutionary, in that it is TOTALLY conceived/designed from the ground up, for digital photography. There is no pentaprism.
    Combine the size, with the flexibility of removable lenses, and we have a viable contender to the Leica M.8 throne.
    It certainly makes more sense than the M.8, as it's quite a bit cheaper, and shoots 720P!
    I think good photographers can handle noise, as hardly any camera is noise free.
    Checkout the Olympus Pro Page:

  27. Anonymous June 10, 2009 at 8:27 am #

    "I'm new to DSLRs and the one thing I definitely don't miss about point-and-shoots is the speed…or to be more accurate, the lack of it. So until they figure out how to get over this speed bump (at the very least, at startup), I'd gladly haul around the extra bulk with me."

    Check out the Ricoh CX1. It has a CMOS Sensor and can shoot at speeds up to 4FPS.

  28. PAUL TREACY June 10, 2009 at 9:05 am #

    I'm giddy with excitement about this little Olympus thingy. So long as it has manual control, I'll be as happy as a pig in shite. Back to the street.



  29. Paulo Rodrigues June 11, 2009 at 4:53 am #

    Alex Majioli suggested this type of camera a good 4 years ago back in 2005 when he was shooting with Olympus C5050z cameras. ( a great little camera with an f1.8 lens)


    Although I think 4/3s doesn't take the concept far enough. How about using an even smaller sensor like the one on the C5050z

  30. Anonymous June 11, 2009 at 3:17 pm #

    What is great about Olympus E-P1 is that it has a DSLR sensor and electronics (same than Four Thirds DSLR) in a point&shoot-size; body, with interchangeable lenses. In other words, it will be as quick to start up and function as a DSLR, as good the noise as the last Four Thirds bodies, as good the DOF as Four Thirds DSLR, and as good the lenses as DSLR lenses. That means, miles above the best point&shoot; camera!

  31. Anonymous June 11, 2009 at 3:44 pm #

    Thanks a lot for this very interesting testimony.

    To Edmond Terakopian:
    Seems there will be an external, optical viewfinder.

    To David Redding:
    Current sensor technology doesn't permit FF rangefinder camera beause of the angle of incidence of light in the corners. That's the reason of the crop factor of the Leica M8. In DSLR, angle is much smaller.

    To Yalborap:
    In terms of DOF, there is about 2-stop difference between (m)FT sensors and FF sensors, and half a stop between FT and APS sensors. In other words, f/2.8 on mFT will have about the same DOF than f/3.5 on APS-C or f/5.6 on FF.

    To Brian Legge:
    This camera doesn't have a smaller sensor. It has the same sensor size as the Olympus DSLR.

    To Mtreinik:
    Again, this camera doesn't have a tiny sensor but a DSLR-size sensor. Moreover, Olympus (and Panasonic) is the only manufacturer with an efficient dust-cleaning system. So dust won't be a problem.

    To Sleepless In KL:
    This camera will be as quick to start up as a DSLR because they share the same electronics.

    To Debra:
    An cellphone-size sensor could get in the future the resolution of today's large sensor, but will never get their limited DOF. Even the MIT cannot fight the Laws of Pysics ;-)

    To Paulo Rodrigues:
    A P&S; sensor cannot offer the limited DOF of DSLR-size sensors. I think FT size is a good compromise between sensor size and DOF capabilities.

    Thanks again!

  32. Will June 12, 2009 at 11:21 am #

    This new Olympus, the micro-four-thirds design featuring a big DSLR-sized sensor in a compact body, will indeed be the revolution that the compact camera world needs.

    We saw this happen before — compact film cameras used to use 126 film, while the larger 35mm film was only available in bulky SLRs.

    Then Olympus and others managed to make compact cameras that could take 35mm film — and 126 cameras (and 110 cameras for that matter) vanished.

    The revolution will be a bit slower this time since many people actually believe the pinky-nail sized sensors in today's compact cameras are "good enough".

  33. kiran June 12, 2009 at 1:07 pm #

    Change is the only thing constant. I shoot with Olympus dSLRs and if this has same features as the dSLRs, it will be an easy purchase. Oly's Live view and Dust reduction system are really effective. This camera will probably come out with a few new lenses. But with an adapeter, it can make use of all the film as well as digital lenses I believe.

  34. kcjewel June 13, 2009 at 7:49 pm #

    researching the new iPhone and stumbled on your website and blog. certainly glad i did!! you make music with that iPhone!!

  35. Will Foreman June 15, 2009 at 11:08 am #

    Of course we are all going to find fault with it, there's always going to be a bell or whistle missing. But who in their right mind is NOT going to want one of these!!!!!! Gimme gimme gimme

  36. gruby September 7, 2009 at 10:29 am #


  37. Peter Schinzler July 24, 2011 at 12:53 am #

    The MFT system is for me the first digital camera system that make sense. Perfect compromise between size and image quality – the lenses are good and !!! small. All the existing DSLRs are only big ang heavy digital copies of the old film cameras. I bought 2 Panasonic GH2 cameras for filmmaking -since then my canons stay at home more and more even for stills. I bought the G3 one week ago and i am more than happy with it – perfect size for street photography. I like the huge viewfinder, i can see all the different formats in my viewfinder as well as black and white, i can put the AF point where i want, i can switch between viewfinder and screen in a second, and both are fast and usable. I can use the lenses of Olympus as well and i definetely hope that more companies like fuji will join the MFT system. So – forget the APS-C cameras. The only DSLR i will keep is the full format camera because of its better image quality – but i will sell my 7D. Best. Peter.

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