Back to its roots, featuring the Olympus PEN EP-1 by Illya Reddy

Back to its roots, feat. Olympus PEN EP-1

By Illya Reddy

“The photography is all about me, not the camera, but me, me, me…” – I have been repeating these words in my mind. It was too hard for me to leave the cameras and go to photography itself, because I used to be a huge camera geek. Though I didn’t have a lot of cameras I spent all my time thinking about the gear, about how it limits me, about how I need a new camera. And it was really bad period in my photography life. I was stuck for 1,5 years worrying about the gear and not paying any attention to photography. During this period I got interested with street photography and fell in love with it immediately. That was a turning point and I realized that the only problem was that I didn’t want to actually LEARN.

My requirements to cameras have changed, and I also realized that I didn’t need all the DSLR power that much. I decided just to pick up the right one for me and leave it up. Well, I went back to its roots and choose the first digital PEN – the EP-1. However I can’t say that DSLRs are bad – no! They are actually great, but not for my particular needs. I need just a simple tool to study the art of photography. And EP-1 is the way to it.  
And it would be pity of me if I didn’t mention my feelings to this camera. I LOVE it. Though it can’t be called a perfect one. But the thing is when something kind of suits you, you can easily get through its weak points. I love almost everything about it. Despite reasonable price, this camera is made quite well and I like this nice solid feeling in my hands. Compact size, discreet body, it does not look like you are going to shoot someone with a gun. And I completely agree with Steve – this camera is really fun to use, I just can’t stop shooting.

Street photography requires a fast camera. And in this respect Olympus really does NOT stand out. You can hear a lot of complains about the slow autofocus speed. And it is slow indeed, although it is MUCH faster with 17mm pancake than with the kit zoom. By the way I quite often stop 17mm one down to f/8, pre-set the focus at 3-4 meters and then almost everything will be in focus – that is the way to get through EP-1 slowness. I have both of kit lenses and Arsat 50mm f/2 lens with a Nikon>M4/3 adapter. Most of the time zoom is just resting in the bag. The 17mm and 50mm lens couple gives me nice 35mm and 100mm equivalent. And kit zoom is used mainly to get a 28mm equivalent. Pancake is quite a good lens: fast f/2.8, reasonably wide 35mm focal length and incredible small size make it really great carry-around lens. And the 50mm Arsat one is also worth mentioning. Well. It is actually a Ukrainian-made lens for Kiev cameras, which have the Nikon F bayonet. I used it with my Nikon DSLR and kept it with me after selling the camera “just-in-case”. And voila: it perfectly suits EP-1, makes it well-balanced all-metal body and delivers this nice 100mm equivalent which I love using for portraits and far-away landscapes. Though it is a Soviet-designed lens, it is pretty sharp wide open and produces nice creamy swirled bokeh. Obviously as an old, cheap lens it has some weaknesses like bad handing against the sun, but I don’t care about it. If you do, then there are plenty of nice manual Nikon, Pentax, Canon 50mm lenses, which are almost as affordable as mine one. And nice thing about these lenses is that metering does work, so you have to just focus and shoot. Manual focus with this lens is just a pleasure: smooth focusing ring gives that classy like-the-Leica feeling. This Arsat is probably my favorite lens for the PEN in terms of feelings.

Anyway, I got distracted, let’s get back to the street photography. I started it 1 year ago. It became a big part of my life. It helped me to fight off my shyness. It is something like a special lifestyle, when you are not just walker-by on the street. You are kind of storyteller of what you see, and what will never be repeated. Walking down the street you can see many people or one person or no people at all, but almost everywhere there will be something special and your mission is to capture that. It’s interesting to capture some emotion, geometry and mood of the street’s life. I’m still looking for my own style; hope I will work it out soon.

It’s always like a small trip, a little adventure to go to the photo shooting. You’ll never know what kind of people you’re going to meet, what kind of places you’re going to visit. Maybe it’ll be a successful day and you’ll get a few nice shots, maybe it won’t and you’ll come back home a bit disappointed. But the next day, if you have some time, you’ll just grab your camera bag and go wherever and obviously this time you will get a few good pictures.


Check out my Flickr page:

Also check out those beautiful guys’ work, that inspired me a lot and helped with priceless advice:


  1. Such a great post. Bringing us out of the camera geek thinking and back as a photographer. I also just started using micro 4/3 system and totally in love with it. I’m planning to use it to sharpen my street photography technique and also as main camera for weekend and family vacation. Since the DSLR is my bread and butter I prefer it to stay in the cabinet and out only for work purpose. Your post come at the right time for me to feel inspire…. Thank you 🙂

    • thanks! The key is “what is the right tool for you”

  2. I enjoyed the story so much, it kind of mirrors mine in the end. I got to photography, to try to understand photography thanks to the ep-1. I used for a very long time a Werlisa color (film manual camera), but I never got beyond Sunny 16. Then I got an Olympus compact film camera and a digital one later (Olympus D580 – C460)… point and shooting all the time but starting to enjoy the mode ways like night mode and others. Then I bought an Oly mu1010 for my father and started borrowing it for my vacation trips (grate compact to me). Since borrowing could not last forever, I found all the hip on the ep-1 on 2009 and I made the move that I will never regret: buying such a camera force me to try to take the most out of it and I discovered a new world of posibilities … that expands every day.
    ep-1 allows you to understand the light and to try new things, the hip on the net helped me to read about photography and what matters, and then you are looking forward to going out and taking some pictures, and this camera makes it a lot of fun.
    Of course, there is a hunger of new cool machines that you have to put down just going out and shooting, and that is what I do to avoid spending money on ep-2, ep-3, and the new temptation OM-D5. I just was all the time thinking about the new gear and the leica gear and the Fuji cool stuff…..
    I put down my hunger with shooting pictures, and eventually with a lense to continue my learning. The panasonic leica 25mm helped me a lot to stop thinking about new cameras, and to realize that I have a lot to learn with my ep-1.

    Keep shooting!

    My stuff: oly ep-1, M.Zuico 14-42mm (only used for working), M.Zuico 17mm + oly viewfinder, Panasonic Leica 25mm (the jewel), Zuico OM 50mm 1.8 (made in Japan) with fotodiox adaptor.

    • thanks for response, Pablo!
      I see you own oly VF1. What can you say about it? I was thinking about getting it, but do you think it costs 100 bucks?

      • Hi Illya,
        I use the VF1 to compose under bright light, you know what happens with the lcd of our ep-1. Shooting with a viewfinder helps also to stabilize the camera, although the ep-1 has the body IS wich works great. I personally enjoy it.
        I got it second hand on ebay , and now you can get it for nearly half the price you are saying if you hold your bid till the last second.

  3. Great pics 🙂

    I have an EP-2 and the slow focus does drive me nuts sometimes…. I love everything else about it – though its hard to resist Steve’s praise for the OM-D and stay away from the camera stores…

  4. Illia:

    These are great shots and I really like your story. I’ve been shooting all this winter with my Fuji X10 and E-PL2 and have been enjoying every minute of it. When I’m not working I visit Steve’s site for my doses of “Daily Inspirations”, camera news and to hear from fellow Bloggers from around the world. IMHO I think this site provides a little of everything. Most of all stories like yours encourages me to get out and shot more. Life and nature provides a zillion images for the taking. The camera is just your brush the sensor your palette….whatever camera we use.

    Thanks For Sharing,

    • I agree with you. This site is kinda golden middle between “camera-geek” and “photographer”

  5. Great article and nice photos. I agree about getting tired of “GAS” but judging by the responses blogs like this get advertising new gear, its obviously far more lucrative talking about the next camera than the last one.

    • Which is a shame coz there is plenty of awesome kit available, I can’t help feel manufacturers are watering down the pool and making people afraid to invest in new kit as it’ll be out of date too quickly.

      • True, but we all have a choice don’t we? We don’t have to behave like sheep and bah and bleat every time the manufacturers, review sites & bloggers tell us to all rush out to buy “THIS WEEKS” all new greatest, singing all dancing computerised light tight box.

        Frankly, *personally* I’d father rather spend my money on film & shoe leather and going out to take photographs rather than waste it away on new gear year after year after year. Now that is just madness – and expensive madness at that. The all time great photographers whose work is still as valid today as it was when they took those shots could take a photograph with almost ANY camera. Their greatness came to them by learning their craft and SEEING *NOT* buying, that is what it all boils down to at the end of the day.

  6. This was an interesting post, thanks!

    I’m glad you got the attitude right after all. That should really inspire people!

  7. Great, guys, I’m glad that you’re agree with me. Thanks!
    And now, just stop sitting at home and go out and shoot!! Nice sunny day here in Kyiv, Ukrane!)

  8. Nice shots, love the one with the two elderly ladies on the bench.

    Always nice to hear stories of ppl settling back into their photography groove.

    • Yeah, me too. I’m getting tired of reading about “the new best camera yet” every time. It’s kind of wearing me out. And since new cameras are released at an unbelievable pace now, it has become increasingly difficult to keep up. I also still love my EP-1. Thanks for the article and the photos.

      • Too right Ron, Eric Kim’s recent blog post sums it up nicely where he described the current digital era we live in like computer buying – as soon as the latest, greatest notebook is launched you just know a new even better one will be out in 6 months time and so it now goes with digital cameras too. He got more response for getting out of the ratrace, concentrate on improving his technique, selling his Leica M9 and returning to film and using just a simple M6 + 1 lens than any other blog he’s ever made …. so much so it brought his site down with the traffic! Why???

        So many sites/blogs totally dismay me at times (this one included) as there is far too much emphasis put upon buying the latest gear instead of helping people advance by teaching them better technique which is of far more value ….. surely?

        Some nice shots Illya, looks like you are enjoying your photographic journey and have quickly learned the more you shoot, the better you will get and enjoy the art of photography far more compared to the act of buying.

  9. Pretty cool stuff… I am glad to see someone shoot some color! And, for some reason, the photo with the couple talking and the little girl standing off doing her own thing is cool… kinda’ has something that draws me into the photo — what is going on?? Love it! Nice job!

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