Moving on from the incredibly large Canon EOS 1D Mark III in my series of old cameras and their viability in 2018, brings us to the Olympus PEN E-PL1. Launched in 2010, it’s safe to say that this camera changed my life!
Back then I was using both a Hasselblad H3DII and the aforementioned Canon EOS 1D Mark III for all my work photography, but I wanted something for ordinary every day photos. Hipstamatic was huge at the time for iPhone, but I just wasn’t into using my phone for photography. I was really getting into tumblr and using that as a photo diary. It annoys me that I deleted it, because I was often uploading up to 10 photos a day every day, which is a lot, even by today’s Instagram standards!
I chose the Olympus purely because of the retro styling. I couldn’t justify the £700ish for the E-P1, so the E-PL1 (the L stands for ‘Lite’) was perfect. I wanted a 35-40mm equivalent focal length lens with a wide aperture, so with the 2x crop sensor, I looked at the 17mm offering from Olympus. Unfortunately, the widest aperture they did then was f/2.8, so I opted for the Panasonic 40mm f/1.7. It was a little bit longer, but the aperture was what was important to me at the time.
For 2 years, I pretty much carried this camera everywhere, photographing everything outside of my work life, but the closest I got to using it to work was blogging and fashion week.
Shooting almost exclusively in black and white, it wasn’t until Olympus Magazine offered me a chance to be on their cover if I could supply them with some images in colour that things changed. I always looked at the E-PL1 as a fun camera. Basically a toy, but nowhere near as capable as my bigger ‘professional’ cameras.
With a week to send some colour photos, I grabbed a bunch of models and put them in some silly t-shirts and shot them all one afternoon on the E-PL1. Lighting them only with the little pop-up flash, and using the kit lens, I was actually blown away when I looked at the photos on my computer. They were so much better than I was expecting. The cover shot below is actually cropped from the original image, and still looks good!
Even on the back of the camera they looked good!
From this point on, I started using the little Olympus more and more. I mean why carry around a big heavy camera if you don’t need to right? Amusingly, the Olympus has a higher resolution than my old Canon and a much higher ISO range, although there are places where it falls down, which I’ll get to in a bit.
It’s been a bit of a trip down memory lane pulling this camera out of storage. According to Lightroom, I shot around 15000 photos on my Olympus E-PL1, which is quite a lot considering I wasn’t really using it for photo shoots for the most part.
So is it viable in 2018? To be honest, yes. This camera is definitely viable. From a photographic standpoint, it does most things pretty well. It’s shoots at 12 megapixels and can do full manual control and shoot raw, but would I choose to use it in 2018? Almost certainly not.
Maybe I’m spoiled by today’s equivalent cameras, but things like a flip out touch screen and WiFi are important to me nowadays. Also, this camera is slow, like really slow. When I was shooting runway, I used to have to time the Models stride just right to allow for the delay between pressing the button and it taking the picture. There are hardly any focus points (something I use a lot), and if you want to do video, you can only go as high as 720p.
I love this camera. It changed the way I think about what’s important to me as a photographer. I changed from thinking that bigger always meant better and that I needed to have a huge camera to look professional. I now actively choose to use small cameras for both personal and professional photography, and it all started with this camera, but as with any technology, advances are made, and I wouldn’t want to give up the luxuries I’ve got used to on the cameras I’m using today.
Just for fun... my first ever Instagram photo was shot on an Olympus E-PL1 in 2012...