occasionally technical tuesday: the olympus pen e-pm1, and point-and-shoots vs. slrs

Olympus PEN E-PM1


Nikon D300


Remember Occasionally Technical Tuesday? Where I would occasionally share photography thoughts, tips and tricks?  I also, apparently only occasionally do them on Tuesday!

Ahem.  Anyway.

For most of this month I've been shooting exclusively with an Olympus PEN E-PM1 kindly given to me by the Olympus people as part of the PEN Ready Project.  My plan has been to give a review of the camera at the end of the month, and then, that would be that.  But as I was trying to think about what I would say, I realized that in a lot of ways it would be impossible to write this without a comparison between these little 4/3 hybrid cameras (which ostensibly give you "the creative freedom of a sophisticated digital SLR with the simple controls and portability of a point-and-shoot") and my big Nikon D300 SLR.  So this weekend, I went outside and shot a few things around my neighbourhood, twice:  in each of the couplets in this post, I framed the best shot I could, first with the PEN, and then with the D300.  Then, I processed each of them the best way I possibly could in Photoshop.  So as you read my thoughts, you can also take a look at the difference in images (keeping in mind that the Nikon has a superior lens to the lens that came with the Olympus, and will account for the difference in the depth-of-field, but not in overall image quality, if you catch my meaning).


Olympus PEN


Nikon D300


When I first got the Olympus, I was really excited about the prospect of having, essentially, a tiny SLR camera.  I mean, really excited.  You see, while I love the concept of having a camera on me at all times (and when you're a photoblogger, a camera is something you'd really like to have on you at all times), my desire was tempered by the fact that my Nikon is a heavy bugger.  The thought of lugging it around everywhere was sometimes disheartening, but I often did it -- and in the odd instance when I decided I didn't want to take it with me, I would invariably come across the most perfectly photogenic moment on the planet that would continue to move into the past, never to be recorded by me (I do have an iPhone, and with apologies to my incredibly talented iPhoneographer friend Stephanie, I've never been able to get an image out of it that was of similar quality to what I could achieve with my Nikon).  And so, based on the "creative freedom of a sophisticated SLR" language from the Olympus site, I jumped at the chance to use the camera just like I use my Nikon.

This was, frankly, a mistake.  The PEN, it is true, has all of the controls necessary to adjust white balance, ISO, aperture and shutter speed, but dear Lord in heaven, it is a pain to do.  As one reviewer I read said, it requires almost an archeological-style dig into the menu to adjust those four things -- so much so, that when you finally get it right, the moment has passed (and if you get it wrong and have to go back and adjust, the moment has really passed).  My Nikon is built so that you can adjust all four of those attributes quickly and on the fly -- the PEN just isn't.  In my mind, it's truly a point-and-shoot camera:  where you, at most, set the ISO, and maybe put it on aperture-priority, and then just let the camera do all the thinking for you. 

(And incidentally, for time comparison's sake, it took me just as long to frame and shoot each of the PEN images you see in this post, with the camera on aperture priority, as it did to shoot each of the D300 images fully manually, making adjustments on the fly with each subject.)


Olympus PEN


Nikon D300


Once I figured that out, and started really treating it like a point-and-shoot, honey, I really fell in love with this camera.  It really is, by far, the best point-and-shoot I've ever shot with:  the image quality (and by this, I mean, the crispness and clarity of the shots) is really amazing (see also: the images I took of some tulips earlier this month.  Every time I go back to that post, I'm blown away by how sharp the petals look).   The images are always invariably sharp, the colour is always beautiful, and as long as I have really good light, the shots I get are indistinguishable from the kinds of shots I can get out of my Nikon. (Note, again, the aperture of the lens that it came with isn't all that impressive.  But they do sell a 1.8 lens for this baby, and considering the price, they're proud of it, too).  The camera is tiny and light and imminently portable, so I've had absolutely no issue with having it on me at all times.  To be honest, I shouldn't be surprised by this:  in my mind, Olympus has always made great point-and-shoots.  My first point-and-shoot was an Olympus, and I loved it -- far more than I loved the Nikon Coolpix I got in recent years.  Olympus just got this right.

Which brings me to a general discussion of point-and-shoots vs. SLRs:  I often see people with really beautiful SLRs, but they never move the camera off of "Program" (that is, fully automatic) or Aperture-Priority.  Don't get me wrong:  I've certainly shot my Nikon this way, and there are some instances (like shooting weddings or children playing) where things are happening so quickly you don't have time to change settings.  But, to be quite frank, if you never even attempt to shoot manually, I would say that you're missing out on at least 50% of the creative things that you can do with photography and the manipulation of light in your shots.   Of course, I understand that not everyone has the inclination to learn the technical side of photography -- and obviously, cameras like the PEN prove that you don't have to, and you can still get insanely good shots -- but if you are interested in photography, learning about the relationship between ISO and aperture and shutter speed will give you a ton of power over your resulting shots.

(And for what it's worth, I've written extensively about the relationship between ISO, aperture and shutter speed right here.)


Olympus PEN


Nikon D300


And so, my final conclusion:  if you

(a) are someone who is in the market for a good camera that will take amazing photographs, but really couldn't give a whit about the technical side of photography; or

(b) are a photographer who has a big huge SLR and you know and understand photography, but you also want a nice small camera that's really portable, but enables you to take shots of equal quality to your SLR

then run, do not walk to buy yourself this little camera.  The Olympus PEN, in my opinion, is perfect for these types of uses, and I'm certain you won't be disappointed.

If, however, you are not a photographer, but you're someone who already has a point-and-shoot, and are looking to learn about photography, then I would really give this PEN camera a pass.  Trying to learn the different settings that you need to learn with photography would likely prove very exasperating with this camera, and I think your $500 would be better spent on a true SLR, even if it's second-hand.  SLR's are just designed to better access the settings you need to change on the fly, and you'll learn and understand photography far more easily this way.  I think, anyway.

(And also for what it's worth, I've written a lot about how to purchase an SLR camera here.)

As for me, if I'm traveling somewhere I've never been before, or am going somewhere that I know will be chock-full of photo opportunities, I'll continue to lug my Nikon D300.  But this cute PEN will be my always-in-my-possession camera for sure, whether the Nikon is with me or not.  It's an awesome little camera, and I'm very grateful to Olympus for including me in their PEN Ready project.

And with that, happy shooting friends. 


SongF-stop blues by Jack Johnson

gratitude (and more pictures from the white house)



Dr. Jill Biden attends a roundtable with USAID Administrator Raj Shah and National Security Council Senior Director Gayle Smith and a group of mom bloggers to discuss their recent trips to Kenya and ongoing work on global development, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, October 24, 2011.   (Official White House Photos by David Lienemann)

These official White House photographs are being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. These photographs may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the White House

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Well, then.  There's certainly a lot for me to be grateful for this week, yes?  And as always, this week, I wrote about everything I'm grateful for over at Bliss Your HeartPlease pop over and take a look.

Speaking of Bliss Your Heart, I also have a new post that talks about how Marcus configured our family computer, to introduce Alex to the internet and maximize her online safety.  Please click here, take a gander, and if you're in the US and would like a shot at winning a brand new computer, leave a commentToday is the last day to enter, so go! Fight! Win!

And finally, have a great weekend, friends.  See you next week.

wordful wednesday: parentage & patronage

"People don't rise from nothing.  We do owe something to parentage and patronage.  The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves.  But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot ... Biologists often talk about the 'ecology' of an organism:  the tallest oak in the forest is the tallest not just becaue it grew from the hardiest acorn; it is the tallest also because no other trees blocked its sunlight, the soil around it was deep and rich, no rabbit chewed through its bark as a sapling, and no lumberjack cut it down before it matured.  We all know that successful people come from hardy seeds.  But do we know enough about the sunlight that warmed them, the soil in which they put down roots, the rabbits and lumberjacks they were lucky enough to avoid?"

~  Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers:  The Story of Success


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Today is the last day of registration for the Chookooloonks Path FinderYou can read more about it here, and then once you've decided to join us (and I hope you do), you can register here.

Also? I have another tech post up at Babble.com.  Check it out here, and leave a comment for a chance to win a brand new desktop computer.


Image:  The Jefferson Memorial, photographed from the Martin Luther King Memorial, Washington D.C.  Shot with the new Olympus E-PM1 camera given to me by Olympus as part of their PEN Ready Project (I'm #874).

the visit to the white house

On our way.




Standing outside the Northwest Gate, waiting to go through security.


The White House, from inside the gates.



The Presidential Seal over the main entrance to the West Wing.


To be honest, I don't even know where to begin to tell you about today's trip to the White House with the ONE Moms.  The experience, as you might imagine, was completely surreal -- I mean, seriously, who gets to visit the White House, right?  Not me, is what I'm saying.

Except of course, I did, and it was one of the most rewarding hours of my life.  Our meeting was at 2 p.m, and after going through a pretty extensive security detail (as you would expect), we were whisked away to the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing.

(An aside:  do not believe for a moment that I didn't scope the place out to see if the folks who did the set design for The West Wing got it right.  I would've taken photographs for you, but I wasn't allowed. For the record, though, not exactly.  But they got the vibe right.)

The first people we met were Gayle Smith of the National Security Council, and Dr. Raj Shah, of USAID.  Let me begin by saying that Ms. Smith is a force of nature:  she's tall, with close-cropped hair and eyes that twinkle so much you have to believe that a joke can't be far behind.  But make no mistake:  she's a woman with a keen intellect and a prodigious ability to simplify incredibly complex concepts.  And Dr. Shah, the Administrator of USAID, was warm and welcoming and it was immediately clear that he was a man who cared deeply about the work USAID does around the world.

Ms. Smith and Dr. Shah showed us to our seats, and after watching a brief video, Dr. Biden entered the room.  She's slender and elegant, down-to-earth and immensely approachable.  She made her way around the entire room, taking care to greet each of us personally and shake our hands before taking her seat.  And once we were all comfortable, she began to share her story about the her trip to Kenya.

The time flew -- we had an hour, and it honestly felt like about twenty minutes.  There was so much that we talked about and shared, but these were the highlights (considerably paraphrased, and as close as I can remember):

Dr. Shah, on the current famine in East Africa:  When we were there, about 50% of the kids we saw were suffering from acute malnutrition.  And it's funny, because people think well, of course, famine is awful, but once the rain comes, the food will grow, and everything will be all right again.  But of course, this isn't the case:  when the rains come, waterborne disease are going to wash over these weakened children, and even more will die.  This is why it is important to get the right information out.  When people have the information, and realize that it is within their power to help alleviate famine, they become our most powerful advocates.

Ms. Smith, when asked if there was any correllation between investing in foreign aid & national security:  Well, obviously outside of the fact that helping others is just a good thing to do, it's also important to invest in foreign aid because there are three issues that we are dealing with:  first, we know that deeply unstable countries where there are vast ungoverned areas are dangerous.  Terrorists move in to these areas, and become dangerous for our national security.

Secondly, at its heart, this is about dignity -- by investing in foreign aid, famine relief, and so on, we help restore dignity to the people of these countries.

And finally, investing in foreign aid simply helps in foreign trade -- ultimately, countries which can get on their own feet become trade partners, which overall, helps the global economy.

Then, of course, we were able to ask Dr. Biden, Ms. Smith and Dr. Shah questions of our own.  I picked a question that came to me via @nicoleblades on Twitter:

"In this time of knee-jerk cynicism and fear, what one thing can moms/parents do to instill a greater sense of compassion and tolerance in our kids?  Or more to the point, how can we help raise kids to be critical thinkers, and not just critics?"

Dr. Biden laughed, and responded, "That should be the subject of a dissertation!"  Then she continued:  "I'm a teacher, and still in the classroom, and it seems to me that kids don't go home and talk to their parents anymore.  Communication is a big part of it:  parents need to be talking to their kids, and kids need to be talking back to their parents  ...  to create passion, you have to be informed -- you have to know there are problems out there that are bigger than simply getting the latest iPhone.  So my advice is to just keep talking to your kids."

Obviously, I was really impressed with everyone we met at the White House.  We walked in sort of stunned that we had even been invited to the table, and thanks to Dr. Biden's, Dr. Shah's and Ms. Smith's warmth and openness, we walked out feeling like it was the most natural thing in the world for us to have been there.  It was an incredible day, and one for which I'll be forever grateful to them, and to ONE.

On that note, I would be remiss if I didn't suggest to you that if you'd like to help, if you haven't already please watch this video and sign the petition at ONE.org.  As always, your voice is ONE's most valued asset.

And with that, I'm off to sleep.  Thanks so much, friends.


(P.S. We're in the last 48 hours that registration for the Chookooloonks Path Finder will be open -- will you join us?)


Image:  Shot with the new Olympus E-PM1 camera given to me by Olympus as part of their PEN Ready Project (I'm #874).

and here we go

Today's the big day:  today I meet with Dr. Jill Biden at the White House.  Thank you all so much for your questions (both on yesterday's post and on Twitter) -- I'll definitely let you know which question I asked and what her answer is on tomorrow's post.

In the meantime, I'll be closing registration on the Chookooloonks Path Finder on Wednesday.  So, if you think that you might want to join us, please click here to read more about the course and register.  This is the last time the course will be offered in 2011, and I'm not yet sure when I'll offer it again in 2012.

Thanks, friends.  More on the White House visit tomorrow.


Image:  Logan Circle, Washington DC, taken with the new Olympus E-PM1 camera given to me by Olympus as part of their PEN Ready Project (I'm #874).


another post that contains a sentence i would've never thought i'd utter

Hello from Washington DC!

So, get this:  ONE.org has arranged for me and my Kenya travel companions to meet with Dr. Jill Biden on Monday afternoon at the White House.

Like Dr. Jill Biden, wife of the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden.

Like the White House, the official residence and office of the President of the United States.

Needless to say, I'm beyond honoured to be a part of it.  And as it happens, Dr. Biden isn't the only person we'll be meeting:  also joining us is Dr. Raj Shah, Administrator for USAID and Gayle Smith of the National Security Council.  Dr. Biden, Dr. Shah and Ms. Smith recently returned from their own trip to Kenya, to visit the refugee camps and the famine crisis of East Africa up close and personal.   We're going to be meeting to share with each other the stories of what we witnessed.

Here's the announcement by the White House about our visit.

More excitement:  each of us has been invited to ask Dr. Biden one question. So we thought we'd open it up to everyone:  is there anything you'd like me to ask the Second Lady of the United States?  Simply leave a comment with your question below, and I'll pick one to ask.  Only respectful questions will be considered, of course -- remember folks, we're all about love and light here at Chookooloonks.

And naturally, I'll be back with a full report.


Image:  View across the Potomac River at sunset, taken with the new Olympus E-PM1 camera given to me by Olympus as part of their PEN Ready Project (I'm #874).


happy weekend

Today, I'm headed out of town, to the nation's capital:  I'll be attending the Blogalicious Conference in Washington D.C. over the weekend.  And then early next week I'll be spending time with the wonderful women with whom I traveled to Kenya, as well as the fine folks at ONE.org.  It's going to be so fun to see them all again, as we reminisce about our summer travels. I may even wear my anti-malarial mosquito repellent just for old time's sake.


Or am I?

Anyway, a few things before I go.  First, I want to share this brand-spanking-new video that ONE made featuring all of us who went to Kenya, and a few more familiar moms from the blog world:


Fun, right?

Secondly, as I always do, I'm noting all the things that have made me grateful this week, over at Bliss Your HeartIt was a lovely, heartfilled autumn week.

Thirdly, if you haven't already, you might want to leave a comment on this post and this post that I wrote about technology over at Babble.  Doing so might win you a brand new computer.  You like brand new computers, don't you?

And finally, The Chookooloonks Path Finder is rapidly filling up.  The next session (and last one of the year) starts October 31st, 2011.  I would love for you to join us -- it's a great course, and would be a wonderful way to set your outlook for 2012 (and I'm not entirely sure when I'll be offering it in 2012).  I'll be closing registration no later than midweek next week, but it might be sooner, if it fills up like the last session.  So please register soon!

And with that, have a great weekend, my friends.  See you from DC.  (And if you're going to be at Blogalicious, please tap me on the shoulder and say hi!)


Image:  Shot with my new Olympus E-PM1 camera, given to me by Olympus as part of their PEN Ready Project (I'm #874).

what is love?

Yesterday, I googled "love."  Here are some of the definitions I found.

Love is an emotion.

Love is a decision.

Love is an action.

Love is a personal attachment.

God is love.

Love is a choice.

Love is unconditional affection.

Love is sexual passion or desire.

Love is a beloved.

Love is an emotion arising out of kinship.

Love is unselfish loyal and benevolent concern.

Love is tender, passionate affection.


How do you define love?


(Reminder:  registration for the late fall session of Chookooloonks Path Finder -- the final session of the year --  is now open! You can read more about the course here, and register here.)


(Also, one more thing:  I'm writing about how I'm such a late adopter of technology over at Babble.com.  I'm showing a bit of love over there, too: go give it a read -- there's a highly cool giveaway going on over there.)



Image:  Shot with my new Olympus E-PM1 camera, given to me by Olympus as part of their PEN Ready Project (I'm #874). This photograph is for Kelly.


SongThat's the way love goes by Janet Jackson