My life in cameras: Part 4a Olympus PEN E-P1 and M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5 – F.5.6 (How I fell in love with mirrorless) review

It has been seven years now with my trusted Canon EOS 20D and my little stable of lenses. At this point in 2011 I was working all day and did not really have the time to go on proper photo tours. I would rather just grab my camera whenever I left the house. You can guess that a few kilograms of gear was not really comfortable to lug around.

The Olympus PEN E-P1 and the beginning of my mirrorless journey.

I was reading photo magazines and I saw something about the Olympus PEN E-P1 and was quite intrigued. Not only due to the stylish looks but it was so small because it did away with the mirror and prism assembly of regular DSLRs. It was I think the second M43 camera on the market.

It weighed less than 350g and with one of the smaller lenses I could keep it under 500g. This was an almost pocketable camera. At minimum I could grab a small over-the-shoulder bag and carry the camera, a spare battery and another lens or two and come out less than my big old Canon. Also the PEN E-P1 had a built-in image stabilizer. Something that was of immense interest due to me being too lazy to carry a tripod.

So I bought this camera as kit with 14-42mm kit zoom and 17mm pancake lens. There was also a clip on viewfinder (just glass) to emulate the classic rangefinder feel but this turned out be rather more a gimmick than really useful.

This being a first generation product the camera hat it’s flaws. It was a bit sluggish and the autofocus was not great. Something that DSLRs would continue to have an advantage until really just recently. Also having no viewfinder using the camera in sunlight was..well..challenging.

But I really did enjoy this camera. It was so light and comfortable to use. The image stabilizer was great and the image quality was generally better than the old Canon. We went on holidays to the Baltic Sea and I brought along my camera backpack. Two little compartments were used by the Olympus plus it’s lenses and charger. The rest was taken up by the DSLR. I thought I would buy the PEN as secondary camera but after this holiday I saw that it would serve my needs perfectly and soon after I sold all my Canon gear.

Olympus PEN E-P1: Examples

Winter Beach
Winter Beach at the Baltic Sea near Warnemünde shot with the Olympus PEN E-P1
“Winter Beach” (2011) Olympus PEN E-P1 + M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5 – 5.6@14mm F5 1/160s ISO 200

This was taken on the just mentioned holiday to the Baltic Sea. We went there in winter. I really like the sea in winter (or any other season than summer). Summer beaches are terrible with the heat and sun and the all the people. But in march no one was there, it was quiet and calm. Almost serene were it not for the cold winds. The little PEN was also easier to protect from the elements. I just put it into my winter coat’s pockets.

Tree Lined Beach
Tree lined beach at the Baltic Sea near Warnemünde shot with the Olympus PEN E-P1
“Tree lined Beach” (2011) Olympus PEN E-P1 + M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5 – 5.6@14mm F5 1/160s ISO 200

The same holiday as above but another day with pleasant weather. In march the sun was already beginning warm the place. I love the spot where the beach ends and the land begins right behind the tree line. Suddenly the wind and noise are gone and you are in calm area. Take a step forward and you are back with wind and waves.

Bus Stop
A bus stop in Burgstädt, Germany shot with the Olympus PEN E-P1
“Bus Stop” (2011) Olympus PEN E-P1 + M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5 – 5.6@34mm F5.1 1/1600s ISO 200

We visited a small town in Saxony. It is a really beautiful town but like many of it’s kind only the old people stay while the young move into cities for education and work. Some come back to buy a house for their families but not enough keep the population up. It is so sad that some communities simply die out. This town is near enough bigger cities so it will survive but other ones have sadly not a bright future ahead. I do hope that the proliferation of home office, delivery services and remote medicine makes it more viable and attractive for young families to live in these smaller places. They do have a something to offer. A sense of community, a calm environment, more nature and less anonymity.

Drunk Station
Two empty bottles at a train station shot with the Olympus PEN E-P1
“Drunk Station” (2011) Olympus PEN E-P1 + M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5 – 5.6@27mm F5.1 1/1600s ISO 200

In contrast to the above. A train station in central Berlin. Grey, dirty and trash everywhere. These empty bottles of hard liquor are ubiquitous. They are mostly consumed by the many alcoholics and homeless people gathering in and out of the public transportation system. It is not a nice place to be or travel especially at night. Unfortunately since 2011 the situation has not improved in fact it got worse. The city is quite dysfunctional nowadays and many long time residents move out into the country. Still many people (and many from abroad) are still lured in by the city’s cachet even though it is mostly gone.

Prometheus at the Alte Nationalgalerie
Prometheus sculpture in front of the Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin
“Prometheus” (2011) Olympus PEN E-P1 + M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5 – 5.6@17mm F4.5 1/160s ISO 200

One thing that Berlin has still going for itself are the world class museums. Although they are still stuck in the past and the use of digital media is not really user friendly. While other museums made wonderful guided tours during the Corona pandemic the Berlin museums Youtube channel looked decidedly amateur. Nevertheless I love to visit the Alte Nationalgalerie because they show the artistic periods I most like. From the 18th to 19th century. Here we have Prometheus greeting every visitor next to the entrance.