Thursday, January 28, 2016

I'd be lying if I said the new PEN-F wasn't compelling...

All of the recent coverage of the new Olympus PEN-F, by reviewers who've been sitting on pre-production models especially, have effectively confirmed that Olympus' reimagining of the PEN line is exactly what everyone wanted it to be. The equation of specification, design, and price point is so refined among the folks at Olympus that the PEN-F never needed to be a revolutionary entry, simply an evolutionary sort with a few minor feature additions splashed in for mass market testing (in this case, it would be the new color/mono/art mode dial on the front of the body featuring a wide assortment of film profiles for quick access to unique JPG profiles).

From everything I've read, all reports indicate the PEN-F is an engineered embrace of online sharing culture, largely designed around a JPG centric workflow and an already refined WiFi app for image download to cell phones. Personally, I've been using my PEN cameras (E-P3 and E-P5) in exactly that very vein for years at this point, so it's wonderful to see Olympus embracing the workflow and expanding it with intuitive control over their JPG engine (which many herald as the best in the business regardless of format). It's disappointing to some degree that the body is not weather sealed, but thinking practically, the likelihood of religiously mounting weather sealed PRO zoom lenses on the camera to complete the seal is distant. PENs are for primes and stuffing into a jacket pocket, not for bulky zooms and overstuffed backpacks. Otherwise, the imaging potential of the camera is spot on with the EM1, EM5 Mk. II, basically all other Olympus cameras (the jump from 16 to 20 megapixels is barely noteworthy), so it's basically an out-of-the-park hit.

That said, I'm not likely to pre-order it. Not yet, at least, and for a multitude of reasons (plus, with plenty of time between now and March, the hint of another critical release may change my interest entirely).

First comes the practical reason: I just bought an EP5. On deep discount, no less, and it's nearly equivalent an imager in practical application (or at least how I intend to use it). The PEN-F is an upgrade, but it introduces redundancy and it's not that much of an upgrade for my uses (I've often thought of the EP5 as an orphaned camera, a great design and implementation marred by a minor issue that was overblown by review sites to the point of sales castration. Like the Nikon V1, I'm curiously fond of such bastard cameras.).

Second, and in relation to above points about the PEN-F not being enough of an upgrade to warrant my purchase, there is a missing element that actually would have tipped me the rest of the way, and that is the upcoming f/1.2 prime(s). Ultimately, I know nothing about the size and weight characteristics of these coming optics, but assuming they will properly balance on the PEN-F (at least with the grip attachment), a paired package would have instantly sold me. The logic might seem inane, but it works out in my head as the beginnings of a new system, a new gear set to complete.

Beginning with the original PEN EP3, my first complete kit was an assortment of great f/1.8 primes in normal focal lengths (and the 12mm f/2.0 for flavor, I suppose). Those lenses are of varying health these days, having endured years of abuse (and abuse from me typically involves being dropped, banged, fallen onto, lots of nasty stuff), so now the kit is mostly limited to the 17mm f/1.8 and 45mm f/1.8 which is just fine for my intended use cases for the EP5 (basically an incidental use daily carry camera).

Last year I completed my OMD EM1 kit, my "pro/working man's" kit, with the 12-40mm f/2.8, 40-150mm f/2.8, and 7-14mm f/2.8. Vertical grip in tow, it's my bulky I'm going out specifically to shoot a photo for a reason gear. It's all still more or less new, though showing some wear already (I said I'm hard on gear...), so it needs no immediate maintenance or replacement.

Building a PEN-F system with f/1.2 primes would be a sort of bridge. With the imaging capabilities of the EM1 (and then some), it would easily replace my standing impulse to carry the EM1 kit on hikes and assorted adventures (the EM1 is, now and forever, mentally allocated as strictly a money maker). A grip-equipped PEN-F makes more ergonomic sense to mount, say, the 12-40mm f/2.8 onto for a little gear set crossover. But more importantly, with an f/1.2 prime (especially one of either a normal 50mm or basic wide 35mm equivalent focal length), I see potential for a treasured adventure kit like the PEN EP3 kit used to fulfill until usurped by the imaging prowess of the EM1. Not to mention, it's far too appealing to carry a second body when shooting with primes, and a pair of PENs makes more sense to me than one PEN with 2 or 3 primes in the bag (far easier to go from one camera with a 17mm f/1.8 to another camera with a 42.5mm f/1.2 than trying to swap lenses between the two). It might seem overkill to most people, and it probably is to some degree (why not just get another EP5?) but I'm still enticed.

I'm waiting patiently for the f/1.2 lens announcements. I'm sure they're months out, but the first focal length announced will decide any future equipment decisions I make this business year. I'm actually pretty happy with my loadout right now, and introducing something new is unnecessary without a compelling use case. In the meantime, I'd be better served by shipping my worn f/1.8 primes off for service than acquiring anything new.