Category Archives: Equipment Reviews

A thousand versus a dozen

I don’t need a thousand images to make me happy. I just need a dozen. I am super frustrated looking through the thousands of digital images which I snapped without the worry of wasting film, trying to select and delete them. What the hell? I don’t need this pain! This is another one of those times when I just feel like giving up all my digital cameras and concentrate on film.

I am already using digital cameras much like I am using my film cameras without snapping mindlessly and constantly previewing. But somehow, they still end up thousands. I understand the advantages of digital cameras in capturing action and expressions, the supreme advantage of clean high ISO for lowlight shooting, but I still prefer film.

The limitations of film cameras, the lack of film choices today made the craft of photography more enjoyable. Yes, “craft” is the word. It’s not just about moving your finger behind the computer to get what you want with some sophisticated photo-imaging software. It’s about a lot more hassle (and fun!).

After so many years in photography, I still get more “wow” pictures from a roll of 12 or 15 shots from a medium format camera than a memory card of images. I end up happier shooting film than digital. I don’t need the previews, they are distracting. I don’t need batteries. Remembering to charge them up and the fear of not having enough batteries for the day is painful. I carry “enough” film for the day and if I finish them, I stop. It’s no longer about “missing the moment” but “capturing the shot”. Like I said, I don’t need the thousands of repeated, similar, mindless, mediocre images to make me happy.

But the mindset of shooting digital makes you keep wanting to shoot more, shoot another frame, just in case. And so, we end up with 3-4x more images than usual, maybe more. We lie to ourselves we are good when we post a worthy shot out of a few hundred lousy shots. The only person who knows the truth is the photographer.

The above shot was taken last week at a waterfall with my Mamiya m645 and I accidentally fell into the water with my camera. The first thing which crossed my mind when I got out of the water was “Thank God I wasn’t shooting with my digital cameras!” The Mamiya m645 is a fully mechanical camera and it operated just fine after I dried it with a towel. (It was just a quick dip but a non-weather-sealed electronic camera wouldn’t have survive it.) I continued on with another roll.

Having said all that, I know my digital cameras still come into good use for some commercial purposes. I am always treading on the thin line of pleasing myself and my clients. And I am thankful that most of my clients don’t really care what I use to shoot with. They just want “The Images”.



Smallest 300mm and 600mm Lenses in the World

I am so sorry for this long-awaited post. The current status of Olympus micro four thirds lenses have been updated to be ALL MSC (Movie-Still-Compatible) except the pancake 17mm F2.8 and the discontinued 14-42mm mk1 kit zoom lens.

This is a visit I made to the Singapore Zoo not long ago. I must say these are currently the world’s SMALLEST 80-300mm and 150-600mm (equivalent) MSC lenses available! You can hold them in ONE hand.

On the left, E-PL1 with m-zuiko 40-150mm and to the right, m-zuiko 75-300mm.

They do not have great apertures for those longing for F2.8 or F2. The 40-150mm comes with F4-5.6 and the 75-300mm comes with F4.8-6.7. But common sense tells us that if they are made with F2-2.8 apertures, the sizes would be considerably larger. As usual, ALL images you see in this post are SOOC (straight out of camera) with no editing done other than adding watermark and black border.

shot with 40-150mm at 94mm, ISO1600, 1/60sec, F5.1.
shot with 75-300mm at 234mm, ISO3200, F6.4, 1/125sec.

By now, in the world of the mirror-less systems, it is obvious that Olympus faces tough competition from the Sony NEX and Panasonic GF series. The market share of Samsung is still quite negligible. When it comes to buying cameras, the general consumer usually follows the larger crowd BUT the discerning consumer will look more into details like Image Colors, Sharpness and Distortion, AF speed and the practical need of image stabilization (I.S.), etc.

shot with 75-300mm at 75mm, ISO3200, F5, 1/160sec.
shot with 75-300mm at 164mm, ISO2000, F5.8, 1/160sec.

In today’s digital photography world, it’s common for consumers to choose cameras based upon looks rather than actual performance. At the same time, consumers want instantaneous feedback regarding which camera they should buy, either from their friends, the internet or from the salesman they deal with. We gotta remember NO Review is completely accurate on the internet and NO camera’s LCD screen is totally trustworthy!

shot with 75-300mm at 300mm, ISO2500, 1/160sec, F6.7.
shot with 75-300mm at 300mm, ISO3200, F6.7, 1/160sec.

Some tips on choosing cameras:

1. NEVER just based upon the looks

2. Bring your own memory card to the shop/showroom and test shoot with the camera

3. NEVER trust the LCD screen, always judge the images using a reasonable computer monitor (most modern monitors are okay, and the MACs have the best colors)

The MOST RELIABLE way to check for Focus-Accuracy and Sharpness is “zooming” in at your computer, NOT on the camera’s LCD screen. That’s also the way I compared GF1, NEX-3 and E-PL1’s AF accuracy in my previous posts. Just click a word in the top left hand corner “SEARCH” box and you will easily access my previous posts.

4. Test shoot both in natural daylight and indoor artificial lights (white balance), test shoot on both still and moving subjects (AF-accuracy), test shoot the minimum focusing distance and infinity focusing at widest aperture (sharpness of images and closeup magnification factor), test shoot at high ISOs (cameras today have no problem with low ISOs but it’s good to check out what’s the maximum useable high ISO).

5. NEVER rush in your decision-making.

shot with 75-300mm at 208mm, ISO2000, F6.3, 1/160sec.
shot with 75-300mm at 300mm, ISO200, F6.7, 1/160sec. (this image is slightly adjusted brighter due to my own metering mistake)
shot with 75-300mm at 75mm, ISO500, F4.8, 1/160sec.

I do not write reviews based on test charts, curves, diagrams, etc. I write reviews based on my personal experience with the cameras and lenses. We have to understand that at many times, reviewers online (including me) are not given much time with the equipments to share the most balanced view about them. That’s why I make my own purchases when necessary.

As I walked into the zoo with my family, the 75-300mm lens became my main lens instead of the 40-150mm due to it’s 600mm (effective) telephoto capability. I did not have to squeeze with the many tourists to get a front view of the animals, my camera and lenses were the smallest among all tourists who were using DSLRs, and I had the BEST reach at 600mm effective!

I did not see anyone use the same equipment as me. It’s kinda sad that I saw more NEXs and Panasonics. But of course, DSLRs still dominated the entire zoo.

shot with 75-300mm at 300mm, ISO320, F6.7, 1/160sec.
shot with 75-300mm at 300mm, ISO320, F6.7, 1/160sec.
shot with 75-300mm at 300mm, ISO320, F6.7, 1/160sec.
shot with 75-300mm at 300mm, ISO320, F6.7, 1/160sec.
shot with 75-300mm at 300mm, ISO250, F6.7, 1/160sec.

Having tried the Sony NEX, the Panasonic GF1 and the Samsung NX-10 and NX100 (briefly), I would say the Olympus PEN produces the best colors straight out of camera. Among the mirror-less systems, Olympus PENs are still the smallest in size, having the smallest lenses among all.

The more knowledgeable people may argue about the limitations of a small sensor but we have printed out enlargements up to 50 inches wide with no problems.

The way I believe in photography is about using the right tool for the right job, and most importantly, in overcoming each camera’s limitations and still make outstanding images out of it.

The digital Olympus PEN, being the smallest interchangeable lens system camera which produces DSLR-like quality images with NO shutter lags like the compact point and shoots, is a great camera for anyone, to photograph your daily lives, to travel the world with it or to photograph your family snapshots.

shot with 75-300mm at 300mm, ISO250, F6.7, 1/160sec.
shot with 40-150mm at 150mm, ISO250, F5.6, 1/160sec.
shot with 40-150mm at 124mm, ISO250, F5.4, 1/160sec.
shot with 75-300mm at 75mm, ISO250, F4.8, 1/160sec.

The mirror-less system today is NOT for those who “need” to hang DSLRs on their necks to prove that they’re professionals or professionals-to-be, or for those who require 6-12 frames per second in shooting sports/birds/etc.

To me, images you make speak the loudest, NOT what you carry on your neck or shoulder. Like I said, the right tool for the right job.

This system is for those who don’t want to break their backs by carrying heavy equipments. It is suitable for light travel. It offers a great deal of opportunities for discovery, for example, the use of old manual focus lenses with F1 aperture on it. (Here)

It is ironic to see in general that newbies want big professional cameras, but the seasoned working photographers want smaller cameras.

In general, active street photographers love small unobtrusive cameras. A seasoned professional wedding photographer would not mind exploring into the use of smaller unobtrusive cameras to shoot weddings. I have personally shot weddings with a PEN and am now using one rangefinder camera alongside a DSLR for weddings and private functions. I also know of other working photographers who love their GF1s, PENs, etc. These professionals sure know the hidden photographic opportunities in the use of small cameras. DSLRs, Rangefinders or PEN, they serve different purposes.

shot with 75-300mm at 300mm, ISO2000, F6.7, 1/160sec.
shot with 75-300mm at 150mm, ISO2000, F5.6, 1/160sec.
shot with 75-300mm at 300mm, ISO3200, F6.7, 1/100sec.


Advantages of these two lenses:

1. Small and portable. I love it when I am actually shooting the Baboon’s ass, standing at the back of some tourists holding big DSLRs with their huge telephoto lenses. LOL.

2. MSC (Movie-Still-Compatible). They are absolutely quiet in focusing when recording video unlike current DSLRs when AF sounds are easily recorded.

3. Sharpness. These lenses are absolutely sharp! Look at these 100% crop for example…

ISO3200, 75-300mm at 234mm.
ISO1600, 40-150mm at 94mm.


1. These lenses do not auto focus well in low light conditions due to their small maximum apertures of F4 and F4.8. Be prepared that they can’t find focus in low light.

2. When zoom is extended the maximum especially, it’s advisable to use the optional external electronic viewfinder VF-2 to help stabilize camera on your face. Looking at the Live View can make you giddy.

shot with 75-300mm at 300mm, ISO800, F6.7, 1/160sec.

My overall experience has been good.

1. The option of using the external viewfinder VF-2 is necessary when it comes to using long telephotos as such. So far, only Olympus has such a bright and sharp electronic viewfinder. The Panasonic one still sucks. It’s not even half as good as the Olympus one. The NEX has no such option.

2. The Olympus in-body I.S. is still most amazing. It offers opportunities for using slow shutter speeds without lugging a tripod. The NEX has no I.S. The Pannys limit their I.S. to only a few lenses. The Olympus I.S. works on ALL lenses which can be mounted on it, and that includes all legacy lenses.

3. The depth of field of these two lenses are sufficient for my usage at the zoo. I don’t need too shallow depth of field when capturing close up shots of animals. I’d rather all the hair and whiskers around the face to be sharp! (these are definitely NOT paparazzi lenses!!! They aren’t efficient in low light )

In my opinion (IMO), the 75-300 is good for travel, for safari. The 40-150 is a much lighter option. You can opt for the 14-150mm with the 75-300 in your bag, and these two lenses will be more than sufficient for traveling the world. Total weight? Less than a DSLR with a 18-200mm lens and you get coverage from 28mm-600mm (effective range). Woohoo!

Olympus E-PL2 Review . Part 1

The E-PL2 (SOOC image from XZ-1).
The E-PL2 (SOOC image from XZ-1).
The E-PL2 (SOOC image from XZ-1).


Just like the Olympus XZ-1 Review earlier, this review IS gonna be about the SOOC images! Some may think that SOOC images aren’t important cause they choose to shoot in RAW anyway, BUT RAW does not mean “unprocessed”. It basically means “UNCOMPRESSED”! That’s why Nikon D3x’s RAWs are different from Sony Alpha 900’s RAWs even though they have the same sensors. And having a Good Image Processor saves you more than half the trouble, whether you shoot in RAW or JPEG.

Image Sensor + Image Processor + Optics = Image Quality.

Good image quality does not just rely on one element.

Before showing you the selected images (MORE are in my flickr, kindly follow my instructions at the end of this review), I will like to share my short verdict of the E-PL2. I have used the first digital PEN E-P1, then the E-P2, E-PL1 and now this pre-production E-PL2 and what I have to say in a short conclusion is:

1. THIS IS NO E-PL1 mk2!!! Even though it has the same image sensor and processor as the E-PL1, it’s ergonomics are DIFFERENT. Finally, I have back the DIAL which I personally think is indispensable. Next, it feels much more solid than the plasticky E-PL1. It definitely has a better grip with that nice textured rubber on the side. It is so much better looking than the E-PL1! It’s Matt Black!!! (Not glossy… I hate glossy)

2. The NEW 14-42mm mk2 kit lens has a Remarkable Improvement in AF speed! It is MSC (movie-still-compatible), which means AF is silent and fast, totally no sound recorded in video when lens is zoomed in and out! This is not just as claimed by Olympus! The Difference IS EVIDENT!

3. The E-PL2 has included so many variations to it’s Art Filters, which I personally am having a headache as to what to use in what situation. BUT I fell in love with it’s Grainy Film II Mode which renders the image lower contrast as compared to the often too-overly-contrast grainy film mode which existing PEN users are experiencing. And my favourite workflow which I developed with the E-PL2 shortly in these 10 days is shooting in the Grainy Film Mode II with Art Frame ON and recording it both in JPEG and RAW at the same time. The RAW is my backup in the case when highlights are blown.

I have also been using the NEW Olympus Viewer 2 software to convert the RAW files when necessary and I must say this is the easiest software I have encountered in my years of using different digital cameras. Results from the software are also excellent. The main setbacks of the software which I have found are:

a. Art Filter Variations NOT included. Things like Grainy Film II, Pop Art II, Art Frame, etc.. ONLY the basic Art Filters are included and that includes the Dramatic Tone Art Filter. (I know many “die” for this…) Will there be any hackers who would hack the software and make these Art Filters available to all other RAW files… that I don’t know, I am not a software geek.

b. Certain corrections can’t be done, like Contrast, Picture Tone… this could be due to the pre-production E-PL2 I’m using… so it may be too early to draw a conclusion.

Grainy Film II Mode, with Art Frame, ISO200, F4, 1/50sec.
Grainy Film II Mode, with Art Frame, ISO200, F10, 1/250sec.
Another variation of the Pop Art Filter. This is shot in Pop Art Filter II with Soft Focus Effect.

4. The NEW 14-42mm mk2 lens is designed for fitting the NEW macro converter, wide converter and fisheye converter. So if you think these new converters can be fitted on your existing 14-42mm lens, you are wrong. Soon we’ll see the old 14-42mm kit lenses flooding the used market at dirt cheap prices! The macro converter allows 0.28x magnification at 24cm with the 14-42mm lens at 42mm. The wide converter turns your 14mm to 11mm wide. The fisheye converter gives 120 degree view.

I personally think that the “perfect combo” could be using the m-zuiko 14-150mm lens with a step up ring 37-58mm (available from Olympus) to fit on the NEW macro converter! You can also do the same for the m-zuiko 40-150mm lens since it also has 58mm diameter!

5. Macro Arm Light: This is innovative! It is a pair of alien-looking flexible arms with LED lights for use in macro photography. Now macro photography has gone to a new level of excitement.

However, if you are getting the macro arm light, it’s better to use it with the macro converter, unless you have a short specialized macro lens. Reason being: the arms are NOT long. (in this case, I doubt the compatibility with the 14-150mm and 40-150mm lenses. I haven’t try, so I can’t say for sure…)

Shot with macro arm light attached to the hotshoe with 14-42mm lens zoomed in at 42mm. No macro converter was used as it has not arrived from Japan at the time of shooting.

6. PENPAL: a bluetooth transfer device. I was told that this is NOT compatible with the APPLE iPhones/iPads. Sad… I am still wishing a bluetooth transfer technology to my iPhone for me to upload images on the go to facebook and flickr (which has automated resizing capability).

The following are the rest of the selected images:

iAuto Mode, ISO200, F9, 1/250sec.

Dramatic Tone Art Filter
Dramatic Tone Art Filter
iAuto Mode, ISO200, F10, 1/500sec.
Pinhole Art Filter, ISO200, F4.5, 1/50sec.
iAuto Mode, ISO200, F5.6, 1/200sec.
Shutter Priority Mode, ISO200, F3.5, 1/3sec handheld.
iAuto Mode, ISO400, F3.5, 1/60sec.

With SO MANY FEATURES packed into the E-PL2, this is obviously NOT a E-PL1 mk2!!! To view full resolution images with EXIF data, please have a flickr account, add me (click here), and send me a message. I’ll make sure you see them!

Olympus XZ-1 Review . Part 1

XZ-1. (Shot with E-PL2, SOOC)
XZ-1. (Shot with E-PL2, SOOC)
XZ-1. (Shot with E-PL2, SOOC)


I am reviewing the XZ-1 compact point and shoot digital camera from a professional photographer point of view. All my opinions are entirely personal. I always do my best to be fair, to point out the weaknesses I find. I may not be the fussiest person on earth to nick pick on each camera’s weaknesses cause I am a strong believer in “Overcoming the Limitations of your Camera”. I am NOT writing this review in the most technical engineering way like

I’m writing this as a user, with a background of using various formats film cameras, various brands of DSLRs, mirrorless digital cameras and digital compacts. My first DSLR was the 6MP Canon D60. (NOT the current 60D in case you got it mixed up). My first camera was the Canon A-1.

I believe Images SOOC (straight-out-of-camera) is the BEST way to show.

Even before going into details… I CAN’T WAIT to TELL YOU that: “Finally I have found a compact digital which can give me ABSOLUTELY CLEAN ISO1600 file, and at F1.8, focusing at night IS FASTER than the Olympus PEN E-PL2 with it’s NEW 14-42mm mk2 lens! In fact, there were situations when the PEN could not achieve focus and the XZ-1 DID at the snap of fingers!!!”

shot in lowlight mode, ISO320, F1.8, 1/30sec
Aperture Priority, ISO1600, F1.8, 1/30sec.
Aperture Priority, ISO1600, F2.5 at 112mm, 1/1600sec.
100% Crop from the above image, I can't find any noise!
Amazing Image Stabilization!!! Shot is Shutter Priority Mode, 1/2sec, ISO100, F4.5.
Pinhole Art Filter
Genting Highlands, iAuto Mode, ISO100, F2.5, 1/200sec.

I assure you, ALL images are SOOC. The only thing I did was adding watermark. I have selected a few images to put here. There are MORE in my flickr site in High Resolution for pixel-peepers! However, due to restrictions from Olympus to post original resolution pre-production images online, you will need to have a Flickr Account, ADD me, SEND me a message, and I’ll make sure you can see them.


Sneak Peek: Olympus E-PL2 and XZ-1

I am very fortunate to be selected to help Olympus Malaysia launch the Olympus PEN E-PL2 and Professional Compact Digital XZ-1. Today, at 1100hrs local Malaysia time, these 2 NEW cameras are launched worldwide. Having tested the cameras over a 10 day period, I have quite a number of shots taken around Malaysia and I must say this: Olympus is gonna have an exciting 2011! This is a sneak peek. I shall be posting more detailed reviews of the two cameras very soon.

Olympus PEN E-PL2, image shot with XZ-1, converted B&W.
Olympus XZ-1, image taken with E-PL2, converted to B&W.
SOOC image by E-PL2, Dramatic Tone Art Filter.
Taken with XZ-1, ISO1600, F2.5, at 112mm, mind you... It's a COMPACT Point and Shoot!!!

I’m Impressed By the E-1…

… … Yes! It’s Olympus E-1! Not the latest E-5… Hahaha…


Digital sucked when I switched from film to digital more than 10 years ago and today, it still sucks when it comes to straight-out-of-camera images when I compare with my lab film scans in terms of colors and brightness…

Okay, I’m speaking in general terms here… the Nikon D60 is alright… the Canon 5Dmk2 when mounted with my old Zeiss lenses is alright… the Olympus E-30 and E-620 are quite good… the Olympus E-P1/2/L1 are slightly better than the E-30/620… the Nikon D700 is “clinically perfect” with not much character I know how to appreciate… the Leica M8/9 maintain that Leica look with stunning optics BUT auto white balance can be cranky…

If I look back at all the digital cameras I have used before, NOT ONE impressed me like this Olympus E-1 I just touched few nights ago!

This is a Year 2003 Camera! The detailed review can be found HERE.

I’m mad! No one is gonna read this post! But I am writing it. Cause I don’t write for money. I write for my own passion.

Camera images taken by Brandon Eu:

Image taken by Brandon Eu using Nikon D3, 50/1.8, Photoshop minimally-corrected.

It’s a 5MP Camera with a “whopping” 1.8inch LCD!

Image taken by Brandon Eu using Nikon D3, 50/1.8, Photoshop minimally-corrected.
Image taken by Brandon Eu using Nikon D3, 50/1.8, Photoshop minimally-corrected.

The ergonomics of the camera is perfect! I love the way the CF Card Compartment Door gently springs open with a twist… I used it without the extra battery grip and it’s perfect… It sits perfectly in my palm and works as if it’s a part of my body!

It’s shutter sound is as quiet as my Leica M6! This is shocking!

I like how luminous-landscape describes it’s ergonomics.

Do you believe that a camera has a “soul”? I do. It basically means you can feel the “spirit” of the designer, the amount of effort put in, the intricate thoughts put into each detail of the design meticulously, the direction and belief of the designer, whether the designer is an artist OR just someone out to make money from consumers… …

Let’s look at what the great Olympus Designer Yoshihisa Maitani once said:

“A photographer’s duty is to improve and increase his techniques! For knowledge of technique is the only tool for ensuring that the camera may be used to its maximum capability. So many photographers overestimate the function of the camera by itself – but I’m afraid a cook who relies on nothing but a sharp knife has no guarantee of producing excellent dishes.”

another quote would be:

“Even if your camera can capture shots of outer space or bacteria, it’s useless if you don’t have it with you …”

Yoshihisa Maitani is a legend.

A camera is not just a camera. It’s used to take photographs. And it’s the person behind it who does it. And it’s the individual soul you see reflected in each person’s works.

The photography process is emotional! It’s NOT just about holding a photograph in your hand or looking at a 72dpi image on the screen! It goes far beyond that! It starts the moment when we hold a camera!!!

Why do I love Leica? It’s NOT because it’s a luxurious brand. It’s purely because I could feel the spirit of the Leica designer Oskar Barnack!

The same goes when I hold my Olympus OM-1, the PEN FT, and now the E-1. Though the E-1 was not designed by Maitani, it definitely followed after much of his spirit.

The entire process into making a photograph should NOT be restricted just to the final image.

I’ve always believed, if you hold a camera you love in your hands, you are naturally a happier person. A happier and more confident person already has half the battle won!

(this I learned from a good friend named Joe Meng)

Now, let’s continue my madness into searching for the old and forgotten…

Let’s look at how I managed the E-1 with the zuiko digital 25mm F2.8 pancake lens, with the restriction of ISO400 (I was told that ISO800 is not really useable by David Ching who lent me the E-1), shooting in a Pasar Malam (night market)!

I shot ALL wide open at F2.8! And the E-1 has beautiful TIFF files! The shutter is so quiet that I managed to take a couple of really close distance shots of strangers and NOT get caught.

The following images are resized as jpegs for easier uploading/downloading. Do email me if you are interested to see the full res images. (If you even bother to read this far regarding a 2003 model… LOL…)

If you would like to use my images, please inform me via email, CREDIT and LINK to my site. Thank you!

(NOTE: I just realized that the 5MP TIFF files are so “BEEFY” that I need to resize them much further due to WordPress restrictions! I’ll be really curious to try how large an enlargement I can make next… stay tuned for future posts…)

waiting for food. accidentally set to F3.5, and minus 1EV, brighten up a little in Photoshop, A-mode, ISO400, 1/15sec, AWB.
Handicapped Performer. A-mode, ISO 400, F2.8, 1/13sec, AWB, EV-1.
Clothes Seller. When the camera was handled to me in the dark, it was at EV-1 by accident, so I brightened up this shot a little in Photoshop. A-mode, ISO400, F2.8, 1/30sec, AWB.
Kids, A-mode, ISO400, F2.8, 1/30sec, AWB, 0EV, absolutely no touch-up done except resizing.
Baby. A-mode, ISO400, F2.8, 1/25sec, AWB, 0EV, absolutely no touch up except resizing.
Fruit Seller. A-mode, ISO400, F8, 1/10sec, AWB, 0EV, absolutely no touch up except resizing.
Dog. A-mode, ISO400, F2.8, 1/200sec, AWB, 0EV, absolutely no touch up except resizing.
Moving Kid. A-mode, ISO400, F2.8, 1/13sec, AWB, 0EV, absolutely no touch up except resizing.
Moving Car. A-mode, ISO400, F2.8, 1/2sec, AWB, 0EV, absolutely no touch up except resizing.
Lady considering what to buy. A-mode, ISO400, F2.8, 1/25sec, AWB, 0EV, absolutely no touch up except resizing.
Piggy Back. A-mode, ISO400, F2.8, 1/60sec, AWB, 0EV, absolutely no touch up except resizing.
Man. A-mode, ISO400, F2.8, 1/30sec, AWB, 0EV, absolutely no touch up except resizing.
Mail in Danger. A-mode, ISO400, F2.8, 1/10sec, AWB, 0EV, absolutely no touch up except resizing.
Counting Cash. A-mode, ISO400, F2.8, 1/25sec, AWB, 0EV, absolutely no touch up except resizing.

Now, a search on eBay shows a MINT condition E-1 body is around USD450.00.

Like Maitani said, “… … a cook who relies on nothing but a sharp knife has no guarantee of producing excellent dishes.”

Will you consider restricting yourself to ISO400 or maximum 800, 5MP TIFF files and a 1.8inch LCD?

For all I know, I love this camera, and I shoot it like a film camera, with absolute confidence of getting what I want out of the camera! And I think the E-1 with the 25mm pancake is a perfect combination!

Enough Is Enough!

NOTE: (This post is not intended for professionals who require different tool for different job. It is meant for end-users).

For all of you who have been following my blog, I have taken 2 days rest from my Daily Photo Series. Since the Olympus E-5 has been circulated around for reviews in Malaysia, I have also not spoken much about Olympus yet. (I requested to be the last to touch the E-5)

There are much rumors out there that the four-thirds system is dead/dying, that E-5 might be the last Olympus SLR, etc. and etc.  The Nikon and Canon fans never fail to bash Olympus through the years for it’s small four-thirds sensor.

Now, the mirrorless Micro Four-thirds PEN system is also under fierce competition from Panasonic, Sony, Samsung and soon Nikon and Canon…

In the world of photographic gears, we love to compete. Who has the biggest sensor, who has the highest megapixels, who has the fastest frame rates, who has the quickest AF, who has the fastest lens, etc. and etc…

We seem to have let technology taken over us. We grew highly dependent on what technology can do for us.

Soon, we will have electronic shutters on high resolution digital cameras doing more than 100 frames per sec. The photography concept may evolve into the “Motion-Jpeg Concept”, where photographers literally sit down in front of their 60inch HD TV, pausing images for screen captures.

Photoshop already has auto-color, auto-tone, auto-contrast and soon we might have auto-crop since more 21MP 5Dmk2-alike DSLRs are likely to surface, when photographers can crop to a small part of the image and with 21MP, it’s still useable. And the auto-crop function might have the computer diagnose and crop the images for us…

With the amount of photographic software available today, it’s not difficult to see that a batch-processing program of “art filters” would probably surface too. Photographers don’t even have to spend much time thinking and doing what they want to their digital images as such software can diagnose and batch-process for you. Maybe you just need to do selective re-processing.

If you like bokeh, here is an excellent plug-in for you: BOKEH 2. (Now you save yourself some money buying L lenses…)

Now, can we just come back to photography, photography as a craft, photography as a D.I.Y. craft instead of letting technology take over our work?

The Olympus followers are a strange crowd. They do not follow the “Big Numbers Game”. Some of them might whine about the restrictions they face with Olympus gear at times but they come back to making images. I know of at least 2 fervent users who stick to their Olympus E-1.

The specs of Olympus’s AF and frame rate per sec may lose out to the big boys BUT the Olympus users carefully compose each shot, knowing that they can’t be overly dependent on the automation.

Having not more than 13MP on a small four-thirds sensor also means that Olympus users MUST compose each shot carefully, to avoid post-production cropping. I bet you see lotsa lame shooters firing away with their 21MP 5Dmk2. I know of those who proudly proclaim that they own a camera with “2-sensors”, a crop one and a full one literally, and they crop 90-95% of their shots at post-processing. This practice only produce sloppiness.

With the restriction of Olympus high ISO noise through the years (which has since been solved in the digital PEN series and the E-5), Olympus users are known to use tripods for their shoots, and that again trains our discipline in the whole composition process.

With it’s amazing in-body I.S., which also requires users to hand-hold the camera stably, Olympus users are trained to stop breathing for seconds. LOL…

See? Restrictions can be beneficial!

The following are some shots I have done at a birthday party with the Olympus PEN E-P1, mostly shot at ISO1600. I am still amazed at it’s sharpness and color rendition, it’s consistency in auto white balance, it’s IQ at handling mixed lighting and hotshoe flash. I can tell you, even the Leica M8/9 doesn’t quite have such IQ in AWB.

E-P1, 14-42mm kit lens, ISO1600.
E-P1, 14-42mm kit lens, ISO1600
E-P1, 14-42mm kit lens, ISO1600
E-P1, 14-42mm kit lens, ISO1600
A crop of the above. Look at the sharpness and detail at ISO1600, simply amazing!
Client's Sony Alpha "waxed". Shot with E-P1, 14-42mm kit lens, ISO 1600.
Shot with E-P1 with Olympus hotshoe FL36R Flash attached.

Enough Is Enough! Let’s get down to making images!

As I have quoted in my facebook sometime ago…

“Photography: there’s more than one way/tool/camera/lens to get what you want. Just choose one and start creating.”

Have you started yet? When was the last time you shared a really proud piece of work you did?

My Dream PEN (as of now…)

NO, this is NOT a digital camera, neither is it the upcoming E-P3. This is my Olympus RC film rangefinder. I just hope Olympus will remember they ever made so many FAST and legendary lenses in history and why should they stop doing it? The other collectibles are the Olympus 35SP: 40/1.7 and the Olympus 35RD: 40/1.7.

Since the announcement of the Fuji X100 which made so many photographers drool for it (including me), I started thinking what I would like the next PEN to be. This is my wish list:

1. To have the dials on the E-P1/2

2. MUST have “auto-rotate” feature

3. 3-inch high resolution LCD with 360 degree tilt and swivel capability

4. Back LCD display to show filename, ISO, S, A, WB, Quality, format, date and time all at once. I like the way the NEX’s display shows the necessary info. I find the E-PL1’s display of pixel dimensions, in-camera sequence number unnecessary and the fonts too big.

5. Same MF assist system like the NEX (half-press shutter to exit magnification)

6. Useable ISO6400

7. AF infra red assist beam option

8. Full HD Video

9. Weather-proof body as an option (E-P3 tough?)

10. NEW collapsible kit zoom lens: m-zuiko 12-42mm F3.3-4.5 msc internal focusing type

11. External electronic viewfinder VF-2 can still be separate as I would like to keep the body small

12. Better AF capability in lowlight

13. 5 frames per sec

14. Lens hood bundled

15. Additional hook by the side with option to strap camera sideways

16. Additional accessory: leather hand strap

I think I am expecting reasonable improvements to the current PENs available which Olympus is well capable of producing. Personally, I am willing to pay MYR2500 (USD800) for a normal body and MYR3500 (USD1133) for a weather-proof body bundled with the NEW kit lens with hood. (well, the new kit lens can have a weather-proof version). I do hope the price of the VF-2 can be reduced to MYR800 (USD260).

This is the list of lenses I hope Olympus will produce other than the new kit lens I hope for mentioned above:

1. mzd 17/1.8 msc (effective 35mm great for street-shooting)

2. mzd 50/1.8 msc (effective 100mm great for portraits and candids)

3. mzd 30/2.8 macro msc (effective 60mm great for close distance macro)

My first preference setup (since I ‘m not a hardcore macro guy) will be E-P3 with 12-42/3.3-4.5, 17/1.8, 50/1.8, 9-18(spare), if necessary 75-300(for safari). The kit zoom will be able to do general macro which is good enough for me.

All the above is just my dream. My fingers are always crossed as to what Olympus will produce next. Being a lover of Olympus’s Jpegs, I do hope for the best in the development of Olympus.

Sony NEX-3 vs Olympus E-PL1

NOTE: This post contains unedited images from both cameras. ALL images are straight-out-of-camera (SOOC). Only resizing has been done to speed up downloading time. You can click on individual images for a bigger enlargements. But for original resolution, you will have to email me.

Finally, I have in my hands the NEX-3 with it’s 18-55mm kit zoom lens to test out against the E-PL1 with it’s 14-42mm kit zoom lens! The NEX-5’s main difference to the NEX-3 is just better HD video and better build quality. So, let’s take a look at the NEX-3 versus the E-PL1. For detailed specifications and original resolution image comparison, please refer to

I am basically sharing my personal experience with both cameras here and I do my best not to be bias.

Olympus E-PL1 and Sony NEX-3, front view.

My style of testing is focused on the practical usage of cameras rather than comparing technical charts. So I brought the cameras along with me in my recent trip to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, East Malaysia.

First, I like the NEX-3’s finishing. Though the design looks awkward with a really small body and a big lens, I could quickly get over it by holding the lens instead of the body. It’s finishing gives me a high-tech feeling. It feels like a very advanced toy with swift responses, intuitive dials and electronic sounds.

Sony NEX-3 and Olympus E-PL1 back to back.

But the first frustration quickly came when I took more than 15 mins and still could not find how to format my SD card in it. In the end, I just packed the camera for the trip and my friend solved the issue for me, fiddling with it on our way to Kota Kinabalu. First impression: Deep “Menu-Diving”!

For the E-PL1 and NEX, it seems that the camera designers want minimum buttons on the camera. So, we end up with a lot more “menu-diving” due to one-button-for-all concept. This is something I am not used to as I have been accustomed to having aperture and shutter speed dials in most of my cameras since I started photography. Maybe this will appeal to the new generation? I am not sure.

Both the NEX-3 and E-PL1 do not have dedicated aperture/shutter speed dials. They are designed with digital interfaces for you to scroll in/out, up/down, left/right in their digital menu to figure out how to even change the aperture setting for example. After having got used to the E-PL1, fiddling with the NEX is not too hard for me.

BUT I still prefer to have the dedicated dials back like the E-P1/2! Before we go further looking at the images, I must say that at least the NEX comes with “auto-rotate” feature for it’s images at the price tag below RM2000. The E-PL1’s lack of “auto-rotate” in it’s images frustrates me constantly!

NEX-3, iAuto mode, ISO1600, 1/20sec, F5.6
Olympus E-PL1, iAuto mode, ISO1600, 1/25sec, F5.6.

My concept of using such small mirrorless digital cameras is for “de-stress”. I do not expect myself to spend much time post-processing these images at the computer after shooting. I want jpegs that are good enough for uploading to facebook and other sharing avenues almost instantly. (How I wish they come with wireless and bluetooth technology!)

I’d also like to spend more time shooting rather than editing my images. I’d like it to be small so that I can easily carry it around and reach for my camera before I miss a moment. Another attractive thing about these mirrorless cameras is the almost limitless kind of lenses that can go on them via adapters. So, you will never get bored!

NEX-3, Av mode, ISO6400, 1/400sec, F8.
E-PL1, Av mode, ISO3200, 1/200sec, F8.
NEX-3, iAuto mode, ISO200, 1/125sec, F5.6.
E-PL1, iAuto mode, ISO250, 1/100sec, F5.6.

The following shot is done at an exposure of 10sec by resting the camera on a wooden rail which shakes intermittently. The in-body I.S. in the Olympus E-PL1 is amazing! It is very useful. The shot I did with the NEX is simply blur.

NEX-3, ISO200, 10sec, The NEX-3's lowest ISO is ISO200.
E-PL1, S mode, ISO100, 10sec, F22, -2EV.
NEX-3, iAuto mode, ISO1600, 1/8sec, F3.5. Slight camera-shake due to lack of I.S.
E-PL1, iAuto mode, ISO1600, 1/8sec, F3.5. In-body I.S. has managed to help in achieving a sharp image.

Now let’s take a look at high ISO comparisons:

E-PL1, ISO3200
NEX-3, ISO3200
NEX-3, ISO6400.
NEX-3, ISO12800.

The NEX-3’s high ISO capability is impressive. Now, we look at some night street shots:

NEX-3, iAuto mode, ISO1600, 1/30sec, F3.5.
E-PL1, iAuto mode, ISO1600, 1/15sec, F3.5.

In the following comparison, the NEX-3 automatically brightens up faces, though it can seem a little artificial-looking at times (to me), but it can also be useful.

Obvious color processing differences, both shot at ISO1600.
NEX-3, iAuto mode, ISO1600, 1/30sec, F3.5.
E-PL1, iAuto mode, ISO1600, 1/35sec, F3.5.
NEX-3, iAuto mode, ISO1600, 1/15sec, F4.
E-PL1, iAuto mode, ISO1600, 1/15sec, F3.9.

In a more technical point of view, the following shots will show that the NEX-3 has quite bad barrel distortion and corner sharpness:

NEX-3, iAuto mode, ISO1600, 1/30sec, F3.5.
E-PL1, iAuto mode, ISO1600, 1/20sec, F3.5.

Next, I tried shooting through the peephole in my hotel room and found the advantage of the NEX-3’s internal focusing. The E-PL1’s lens kept pushing against the door due to it’s AF movement, causing difficulty in achieving such shots.

NEX-3, iAuto mode, ISO1600, 1/2sec, F3.5. Slow shutter speed is alright this time as I pressed the camera against the door.
E-PL1, iAuto mode, ISO200, 1.3ec, F3.5. It is weird that the E-PL1 gives ISO200 at iAuto mode for this shot, resulting in 1.3sec exposure, but amazingly it's still quite sharp due to it's in-body I.S.!

The NEX-3 tends to underexposed by about 0.5-1 stop in most cases, but can be an advantage when it comes to photograph bright lights.

Both shot at ISO1600.
NEX-3, iAuto mode, ISO320, 1/30sec, F3.5.
E-PL1, iAuto mode, ISO1250, 1/60sec, F3.5.

The E-PL1’s 14-42mm kit lens has a slight advantage in shooting macro over the NEX-3 due to it’s slightly longer focal length:

NEX-3, iAuto mode, ISO1000, 1/100sec, F5.6.
E-PL1, iAuto mode, ISO800, 1/80sec, F5.6.

Now, we take a look at some everyday life shots, note the difference in color-processing:

NEX-3, AWB, Av mode, ISO1600, 1/40sec, F5.6.
E-PL1, AWB, Av mode, ISO1600, 1/125sec, F3.5.
Both shot in Av mode, AWB, ISO1600, 1/30sec, F5.6. Now, this is weird! Both cameras' exposure is the same BUT Sony seems to have underexposed by 0.5 stop?

Lastly, bringing the NEX-3 out is like bringing a SLR lens out with a slim body:

This is my initial review of the Sony NEX-3 vs the E-PL1:

1. Price is attractive. The zoom lens comes with a hood. (maybe the reason why the E-PL1’s kit zoom lens has no hood is probably Olympus has calculated that flare isn’t an issue with it’s lens… but I have no “flare” issue with the Olympus MZD 14-42mm lens so far)

2. Formatting card is troublesome and menu requires quite a bit of “diving”!

3. Finishing is nice, sleek and fashionable.

4. Ergonomics: Holding it is awkward. You gotta hold the lens NOT the body. The ergonomics of the camera is really bad. I kept accidentally depressing the menu button as well as the rec button on the NEX. As for the E-PL1’s “rec” button, it can be deactivated in it’s menu.

In addition, I also kept accidentally sliding the battery compartment door open. This is quite annoying.

5. Size is considered huge for a mirrorless camera. It’s even bigger than the Panasonic GF1. The kit zoom 18-55mm feels like a SLR lens to me. Only when you use a small prime lens on it that the NEX become much smaller.

6. iAuto is very intelligent, and it seems more intelligent than the E-PL1. It detects type of scene quite well, automatically brightens up dark faces quite a bit (but can appear slightly artificial at times). It’s more intuitive and responsive than the E-PL1. But it also tends to underexpose a little, and color-processing is more towards the cold tone.

7. Lack of in-body I.S. (image stabilization). There are many occasions in lowlight situations when handholding the camera at 1/8 sec could have achieved the shot that the NEX-3 wasn’t capable of and the E-PL1 did it. I must say Olympus’s in-body I.S. is really impressive!

8. Impressive lowlight AF with or without infra red assist beam. Infra red beam can be intrusive for shooting strangers in lowlight situations (night street shooting).

There’s a ergonomics problem again here. My index finger tends to cover up the infra red beam emission when using AF in lowlight. However, the NEX-3’s AF can find focus in dimmer situations better than the E-PL1, with or without the infra red assist beam. I blocked the infra red assist beam and did a test on this.

9. Camera automatically activates AF searching before user semi-depress shutter button. This is impressive!

10. Camera shoots even when focus is not achieved in Single-shot AF mode. User must remember that only when the AF confirmation box shows up with the beep sound, focus is actually achieved. The AF really seems a lot faster than the E-PL1 BUT it may not get the focus right all the time.

If you want really good AF, you should still go for a high end DSLR!

The E-PL1 is more stubborn in activating it’s AF as it will NOT shoot when focus is not achieved. This is something that Olympus users MUST understand. It’s a different system after all.

Some people actually prefer the camera to “fire off” without such restrictions and take chance on getting that ONE shot, in which probably the NEX is more suitable for you. And bear in mind, when using the “continuous/sequential shot mode” in both the NEX and the E-PL1, focus is locked on your first shot ONLY.

11. The rotating dial is great for changing aperture and shutter speed. This is what I miss badly on the E-PL1, which exists on the E-P1 and E-P2.

12. Sweep Panaroma feature is impressive. This is a useful feature. For the E-PL1, you need to use Olympus software to do it.

13. High ISO on the NEX-3 looks good up till 6400, and useable at 12800.

14. Olympus E-PL1 still produce better jpegs than the NEX straight out of camera.

15. The barrel distortion and corner sharpness of the NEX-3’s 18-55mm lens is pretty bad. But if you are not photographing straight lines subjects with lotsa details, you probably won’t notice.


I feel that the NEX is more suitable for slightly advanced users who knows how to do some minimum tweaking with softwares like Photoshop, Lightroom… If you do some tweaking on it’s exposure and white balance at post-processing, the files can really turn out quite nice.

The bigger sensor on it gives you better high ISO performance, more depth-of-field. You also have to get used to it’s poor ergonomics and troublesome menu interface.

As for the E-PL1, it’s more suitable to people who don’t wanna mess with Photoshop/Lightroom. It produces beautiful jpegs straight out of camera for immediate sharing.

The E-PL1 is small and compact. It has legendary in-body I.S. which saves you from carrying a tripod. As you can see from the above images, it’s images ARE sharp, not at all losing to the bigger sensor NEX!

In fact, there is no visible barrel distortion and it’s sharp corner to corner!

The ISO1600 on the E-PL1 is smooth and sharp. Though we really hope Olympus can give us good ISO6400 one day.

The E-PL1 does have issues that really bothers me.

It’s lack of a simple “auto-rotate” feature. It’s slow in finding AF, and even unachievable in lowlight situations.

My personal thoughts and advice:

1. If you want the best images from the smallest camera you can find, get the Leica M8/M9. But you have to live with manual focus and some post-processing.

2. If you want the best SOOC jpegs, get Olympus.

3. If you want the smallest 1.5x crop sensor camera, get the NEX. It offers you depth of field from a 1.5x crop sensor, better high ISO and you can also adapt Leica lenses and other manual focus lenses on it via adapters. But I’ve yet to test it’s MF capability, so I can’t say for sure how useable it is. But, you have to do some post processing to make the files look good.

4. If you want FAST AF, go for a good DSLR like the newly announced Nikon D7000. (It’s amazing how dependent we have become to AF that it’s no longer the photographer shooting BUT the camera shooting in most cases today)

5. If you want great HD video, get the Canon 5Dmk2.

6. If you want ultimate bokeh, the shallowest depth of field, get the full frame Leica M9 with the 50mm F0.95 Noctilux OR the full frame Canon 5Dmk2 with it’s 85mm F1.2L lens or any other full frame digital bodies with fast optics.

If you can afford, maybe you should get a Medium Format Digital Camera or a Large Format Sinar 4 by 5  Digital! Now, we are talking about world class bokeh!

But I only have one word to say, “If your shot sucks, it sucks. It doesn’t matter about the bokeh.”

In my next post, I shall write about my dream Olympus PEN, which I hope Olympus will listen. I shall propose something well within Olympus’s ability to produce. Though I doubt they will listen to what Olympus users want (it’s been proven), I will still write for my own pleasure’s sake.

Related Post: E-PL1 vs GF1