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The Olympus PEN

"Travelling Light - One Camera, One Lens"

Article by John Curgenven

It soon became clear that my Olympus PEN was the only camera I could take with me.

Somehow we had to pack two sets of snorkelling gear plus sufficient clothing for Sally and me on our three week trip to Sri Lanka and Fonimagoodhoo Island in the Maldives and keep within the weight restrictions on the sea plane - the surcharge for excess baggage would have been enough to buy another lens. (Now there's a thought, but don't tell Sally!)

Olympus PEN - Travelling Kit

Weight was not the only consideration of course; today's limitations on bag sizes meant one camera and one lens. I chose the E-P2 and my brand new M.Zuiko 14-150mm lens (delivered one day before departure) which fitted into the Small Retro Bag leaving enough room for SDHC cards, spare battery, battery charger and electronic viewfinder (I'm trying to get used to composing on the rear screen but haven't quite mastered it yet!). All of this packed easily into my cabin bag with room to spare.

There are more compact cameras in the Olympus range but I prefer only to use cameras with a 4:3 sensor, never sure when I might just grab that winning image which needs to be enlarged to barn door proportions.

Whenever I take a trip, I like to have a photographic project in mind. On this occasion, I wanted to try out some of the PEN's functions I had not really used before - ART Filters and movies. Before departure I experimented with the ART Filters and found that I could easily apply the filter to a RAW image after taking it. This suited me as I prefer to shoot RAW. I also brushed up on Will Hutchinson's DSLR Video articles and considered how I might include some clips in a slideshow.

As we were visiting Sri Lanka, "Tea" seemed the obvious choice as the main project theme, although I wanted to keep an open mind and accommodate any other photo opportunities that occurred.

First stop was the central city, Kandy. Aching a little after an eleven hour flight, a four hour car ride and a sleepless night in a hard bed we chose to take a walk in the city's botanical gardens -

Olympus PEN - Kandy Botanical Gardens

No sooner had we walked along this path than the first opportunity to try out the Pop Art Filter was ahead -

Olympus PEN - Normal Shot
Olympus PEN - Pop Art Filter
Normal Shot
Pop Art Filter Applied

A colourful image in it's own right but I would have boosted the vibrance, if not the saturation, in Camera Raw or Photoshop when back at home. The Pop Art Filter enabled me to do the job in camera whilst the envisaged end result was fresh in my mind. Olympus PEN

Around another corner to the Orchid House to try out the close-up capabilities of the lens. No need for Pop Art or any other Filter here -

Olympus PEN - Kandyan Dancer Olympus PEN - Banded Lady
Olympus PEN - Kandyan Dancer Olympus PEN - Lilac Glow
Olympus PEN - Morning Pink Olympus PEN - Purple Rain

Excellent resolution of the lens, as shown by the enlargement of a single bloom of the Kandyan Dancer. The distracting backgrounds for these shots were easily removed with the Colour Range Select Tool in Photoshop.

So what about the main theme? Well after another day's sight seeing, a few cocktails and another night we left Kandy to head south to the mountains and the tea plantations. Olympus PEN

Olympus PEN - Tea View

View across the Hethersett Plantation in Nuwara Eliya

Photographed just after sunrise, this is a composite of two shots - one exposed for the sky and the other for the foreground. There was a 5EV difference between the two so there was no chance of retrieving all the detail from a single RAW file. Using Photoshop CS5, I layered the foreground exposure on top of the sky's and masked out the overexposed sky in the top layer with sufficient feathering to give good gradation across the image.

Olympus PEN - Tea View
Olympus PEN - Tea View

I often use this method when the brightness range of a landscape requires it. Most of the scenes I shoot do not suit the straight line of an ND gradation filter and I find HDR processing to give an artificial, surreal look.

Before returning home to work on the above image, I tried out the in-camera processing capabilities of the PEN on another exposure, selected because the "blinkies" and the histogram revealed that not too much information had been lost - Olympus PEN

Image selected for the Trial.

Compared with the scene itself, the colours looked a little dull and, of course, the foreground was very underexposed. A candidate for a silhouette scene if cropped perhaps, but not what I was looking to achieve.
Olympus PEN - Tea View
Olympus PEN - Tea View

1 - Shadow Adjustment applied 3 times to bring up the foreground.

2 - Saturation increased to boost the colours closer to the original scene.

As is often the case when increasing Saturation, the resultant image looks a little pixelated and banding begins to occur.

1 - Pop Art Filter applied to boost the colours closer to the original scene. A little overdone, but it's all or nothing with the ART filters.

2 - Shadow Adjustment applied 3 times to bring up the foreground.

A result which does not incur the problem characteristics in TRIAL A.
Olympus PEN - Tea View

Neither of these two trials gave a final image of the quality achieved by the Photoshop layering method. But for anyone who does not wish to acquire image processing software and then spend the time necessary to learn and perfect how to use it, the In-Camera processing capabilities of the Olympus PEN give a result that would simply not be possible with a brightness range similar to this particular scene.

The journey through the mountains presented a variety of photo opportunities and I continued to be pleased with the lens because of it's zoom range. Not just for the stills but for the movies as well. I have included a couple of movie clips in the slideshow which can be seen at the end of this article.

There is a another major advantage to using the Olympus PEN which I had not appreciated until this trip. Because the camera has no internal mirror, you can use the VF-2 electronic viewfinder for composing and shooting movies. For all DSLRs with a mirror this is not possible - the LCD screen is the only option and like many others, I much prefer to use a viewfinder. olympus pen

Olympus PEN - Ramboda Ella Waterfall
Ramboda Ella Falls

One of the numerous waterfalls that adorn the mountain terrain. 1/8 sec shutter speed to show the motion of the falls. The good dynamic range of the camera's sensor captured the highlights in the water without being "blown out".
Preparing the Fields

A shot grabbed quickly from the roadside right across a wide valley. Once again the zoom range of the lens, this time set to 150mm, came into it's own. Superb clarity in the limestone cliffs above the fields and razor sharp detail thanks to the Image Stabilization of the Olympus PEN body. Olympus PEN
Olympus PEN - Limestone Cliffs
Olympus PEN - Tea Tip
Tea Tip

Well you can't have a portfolio of images without a close-up of the raison d'�tre for the project.

Strong wind. hand held, 1/1250 sec, sharp as I could ever want.

As we entered one of the plantations, I asked a group of tea pickers if I could photograph them at work. They kindly agreed and seemed to appreciate the opportunity. They graciously accepted the modelling fee I offered them afterwards although it was clear that they had no expectation of it.

Olympus PEN - Pick of the Day

Such was their enthusiasm, I checked the aperture to blur the background and grabbed the moment to take a couple of portraits.

Olympus PEN - Happiness in Disguise
Olympus PEN - Tea Picker

The Blue Field Tea Plantation is fully operational and welcomes any visitors with a freshly brewed cuppa and a tour of the factory. I had never really considered what process was involved between a picked tea tip and my morning drink. This visit introduced me to some fascinating machinery and the skill with which it is used to produce the many varieties and grades of tea. Whilst this might form the basis for another article some day, I will not leave it at that without discussing a couple more of the Olympus PEN's ART Filters.

The Factory is an impressive building and is a testament to the fine building and engineering of Victorian British Colonial days. A straightforward "Normal" photograph was fine as far as it went but seemed to lack any sense of the time when it was built and, for that matter, the capabilities of the cameras of its day.

Olympus PEN - Tea Factory Olympus PEN - Tea Factory
Normal Shot Grainy Filter Applied
Olympus PEN - Tea Factory Olympus PEN - Tea Factory
Pin Hole Filter Applied
Pin Hole then Sepia Conversion
Again, this could have been a project for Photoshop requiring the necessary skill but it was a bonus to be able to produce the result I was looking for in the camera on the spot and show it to the factory staff (who then asked for a print of the Grainy version).

Olympus PEN - Tuk Tuks

Pop Art Filter applied to a shot of the local Tuk Tuk Rank

After a couple of nights and some excellent dinners in a tea factory which has been converted into a hotel, we retuned to Colombo to embark upon the next leg of our journey. Olympus PEN

A jet flight to the Maldivian Capital, Male is totally overshadowed by the thrill of the sea plane trip to Fonimagoodhoo Island. The flight path crosses many beautiful islands and the occasional photograph cannot be resisted.

Olympus PEN - Island Approach

Straight out of the Camera - not a filter in sight but needed Photoshop.

It was this photograph that first revealed what I consider to be the only criticism of the lens. There is slight though detectable vignetting at longer focal lengths, even at the mid apertures. There is also minimal chromatic aberration at shorter focal lengths. Nothing too serious and easily fixed by profiling the lens in imaging software. Olympus PEN

That said, this is a very versatile lens representing excellent value and it would be unrealistic to expect perfection without doubling the price at least.

So there we have it ... a superb trip ending in total relaxation on an island paradise sipping the drink of all nations ... and sometimes a glass of something a little stronger ...
Olympus PEN - End Product
Olympus PEN - Ardea cinerea
... watching a local who reminded me of home, albeit briefly ...
... before departing for another cooling swim. Olympus PEN Olympus PEN - Gone Swimming

How could a holiday on a remote island end without a sunset ? ...

Olympus PEN - Overboard

... now, did I use the Pop Art Filter on this one, or not?

Finally a slideshow with a difference, all because of one camera and one lens.

Job done, thanks to Olympus.

Click here to make your own free video.

When I suggest a store it is because I have found it to offer a very competitive price on a product.

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