Apparently looks do matter: the Olympus PEN

In an image creating industry it would be interesting to see if a camera could manage to sell itself more on the basis of its looks, rather than the images it takes? Well, it’s happened. Olympus released the Pen E-P1 camera, and deliberately styled it on one of their most popular cameras from the 60s-80s. They even resurrected the name.

Here are the two side by side. The throwback to the past is a very clever ploy. It lures those who have  memories of film cameras that were small, but produced great images, at the same time putting 21st  century technology into a brushed metal body.

To their credit Olympus have built the new PEN as brick like as the original. A welcome thing in an industry dominated by plastic.

The PEN is essentially a mini SLR. Olympus have taken the internals of their E-620 SLR, removed the mirror and the prism viewfinder, popped it into a magic shrinker and the PEN is the result. At the same time they have made a selection of tiny lenses to go with the PENs.

Panasonic released a compact system camera at the same time. At release the Panasonic had faster autofocus and shipped with better lenses. Theoretically the professional photographer in me should have considered the Panasonic the better camera, but the PEN reminds me of the camera that introduced me to photography. And as far as many customers were concerned that was what mattered too. The size of the PEN is making me consider swapping my Canon G11 for one. For all its excellent qualities the G11 has serious shutter lag and in combination with its painfully slow autofocus and tiny sensor means that I hardly ever take photos of people with it. As I’m traveling to America next month, and I can guarantee my other half will want multitudinous photos of her and her friends from across the pond, perhaps it’s time to retire the G11?

To give you an idea of how tiny the PEN is here is a to scale image. Far left is the Canon G11, next Panasonic’s rival to the PEN, the GF1, then the world’s smallest SLR camera and finally the PEN.

It would appear that looks do matter in the camera world. However the PEN does produce lovely images as well. Olympus are famous for their out-of-camera jpg files. The PEN is, apparently, one of the best cameras in the world for producing great images straight out of the camera that don’t require editing. This is another tempting prospect for me, I’d quite to go on holiday and then print the photos, rather than spend days editing and treating it like another shoot.

The best thing about the PEN and the new compact camera systems is their accessibility. It’s now easier than ever to take really good quality pictures. Everything else aside this in itself is an excellent development, but the PEN is such a pretty little thing…

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