The Olympian Olympus.
Is the Pen F mightier than the sword? I went to the Far East (London) to see if it's a gold medal standard.
Ah. The 2012 Olympics. Possibly the last time (barring the 2018 World Cup footie fun) that Great Britain felt cohesive in any way, shape or form.
We went to the Paralympics in the Stadium that year and it was one of the most exciting events I've ever been to - inclusive, forward-looking and best of all, a celebration of a dogged spirit and plucky enterprise that we like to think we own on this island.
Whatever you think about what's happened to Britain in the 6 years since (spoiler: it's not good), the old Olympic site is in pretty good nick and as an ex-East London resident, I'm amazed I've never been back properly to take some shots apart from a few friends get-togethers.
But it wasn't only in this sense that I was winding the clock back.
For the love of retro.
My camera history is Fuji, the Nikon (a much-loved D300), then a fallow period of some Lumix (Lumi?) and then - before today's Sony A7r ii behemoth - a little bit of Olympus. It was the latter that I decided to pull out of the camera bag today.
Let's get this out of the way early doors: the Olympus Pen F is a proper sexy looking camera. If Steve McQueen had been able to rock a modern digital this is the one he would have picked.
Retro styling. Nobs and buttons in all the right places. Brilliant tiny lenses. Bright EVF and decent menu system - there's a lot to love.
However, in today's turbocharged full frame obsessed camera market is it a serious tool or just a really nice camera that looks cool? Well, it's a bit of both and like most things in life, it depends on your end goal.
If you're a street photographer who doesn't need massive files (the Pen F provides around a 20mb vs my Sony's 42mb + jobs) then it might be just right. It's small-ish and people seem a little less intimidated than if you're loafing around with a DSLR with a zoom. It's perfectly possible to set it to f8 and just shoot on the street. Also - and this is a massive plus for us of middle-aged years - it's really light so you won't get home after a day pounding the pavement with a backache. Begone Nurofen.
However, it's not just the physical sizings that might cause you to pause for thought. The Olympus is built on the Micro Four Thirds platform hence it's sensor is quite a lot smaller than a full frame (e.g 35mm equivalent) mirrorless or DSLR camera.
Now, there's nothing wrong with that - you still get great images but due to extremely boring science stuff, the downside is that you don't get the much lovely creamy 'bokeh' and shallow depth of field that everyone (including yours truly) gets all weak at the knees about.
Yes, you'll get some blur but you'll never get the same sharp foreground to fuzzy background you'll get from say a f1.8 lens on a full frame camera - the 45mm f1.8 I used on lots of shots below is actually equivalent to a 90mm f3.6 in 35mm terms. You can roll your own maths here.
Also due to that smallish sensor and the number of pixels stuffed therein, the darker the scene you're in the more noise will become apparent - and much sooner than a full frame camera.
Anyway, enough science. Basically, it's horses for courses. If you're going pro or semi-pro and expect to need large files for print, think you're going to be involved in lots of low light situations or really love, love, love shallow depth of field then go full frame, but for everyone else, this retro looking hot rod might be very tempting.
Back out in the East End, via Paddington station and some low flying pigeons, I put the Pen F through the same sort of situations I'd usually be subjecting my Sony too. It did a pretty fair job. Capturing fast moving candids, I definitely got fewer keepers than the Sony as at longer focal lengths I've been spoilt by all the internal image stabilizing gizmo's sorting out my unsteady hands on my Zeiss lenses. However, for more static shots of scenery and less fast moving objects it did a stand-up job.
Daresay if I'd spent a bit more time reacquainting myself with it, I'd have got a bit more comfortable and got more shots I was happier with (for instance I think I needed to up my minimum shutter speed a bit) but there were certainly somethings that I prefer. The biggest one (apart from the aforementioned size and coolness of design) is focusing. It's lightning quick. Quicker than Usain Bolt quick. Quicker than David Cameron resigning quick.
If I could put whatever magic Olympus have on that element into my Sony (which isn't bad by the way) then I'd be a really happy bunny.
A little legacy.
But what of the Olympic Park? Is it a great place for pictures?
Well, once you've got out of the consumer heaven/hell that is Westfield and into the main Queen Elizabeth Park area (as it's now called) then it's a case of two elements. Firstly, for a weekday lunchtime it was pretty quiet and desolate apart from the odd bunch of whooping hipsters whizzing by on those new 'Bird' electric scooters and secondly, if the sun goes in it's a bit bland, but you've got some ace architecture including the fantastic Zaha Hadid designed Aquatics Centre which is really photogenic and allows for some excellent Pink Floyd cover style shots.
However, after a bit of walking around, I got a little bored with wide open spaces with the odd cyclist, so I jumped on the tube and gave the Olympus a little run out via Covent Garden (narrowling avoiding lots of beery PSV Eindhoven fans) and my keeper rate started picking up a bit.
On a sunny day with friends and family and something going on in the Olympic Park, I think it could be really photogenic, but at the moment it's a bit 'new' and synthetic meaning everything you take picture-wise feels like it's lacking a bit of story and soul. YMMV of course, and it's certainly worth a visit with lots of new things opening there soon including V&A East.
The Pen F. Gold medal or runner up?
I really enjoyed dusting off the Pen F and getting out somewhere new with it. I'd dragged it around Australia previously and got some great shots so I know it's a cracking camera. However, it's not for everyone - for instance it's not cheap for what it is and you're paying a lot for 'cool', plus as previously mentioned if you need something which can produce big files full of luscious depth of field then it's not going to win that race. However, if you want a small nicely made retro-styled package which doesn't shout 'Dad camera' with its baby Leica vibe and proper Olympic speed autofocus then this one is a real contender for a medal position.
Olympus Pen F
Olympus 45mm f1.8
Olympus 17mm f1.8