First Impressions: Using The Olympus E-PM1 Underwater
I recently got the opportunity to take the new Olympus Pen "Mini" camera, the E-PM1, out for a couple of test dives. The Pen "Mini" is a slimmed-down version of the previous model in the line, the E-PL3. I own and have been shooting with the E-PL1, which was the first Pen series camera to have an underwater housing, and I absolutely love it. To avoid confusion, I will just refer to the E-PM1 as the "Mini" from here on out.
Right off the bat I noticed several differences between the standard Pen series cameras and the Mini. Namely, the camera has been slimmed down, with Olympus doing away with the mode dial on the top of the camera, some of the buttons on the back and the internal "pop-up" flash. The flash is now a snap-on accessory to the hot-shoe for both the Mini and the E-PL3. The Mini is menu-driven for changing modes and several other functions. While this could seem like a negative at first, I found that it was not an issue. The menu is organized well - with one push of a button all the modes show up on the screen and you just have to scroll over to the desired mode. I found it easy to change modes underwater when I needed to. All other functions, such as adjusting shutter, aperture and white balance are done in the same way as all the other Olympus Pen series cameras.
The housing for the Mini has the same design, build quality and size as the housings for the other Pen series cameras. Olympus' durable polycarbonate housing has not changed its design throughout the different camera models, with the exception of adding a focus light option in the E-PL3 and Mini housings. The focus lights are not overly bright, and in my opinion you are better off going for the housing without lights. This housing will accept the dome port for the 8mm fisheye, after an easy customization, and costs less. Just like the previous housings, the housing for the Mini has tiered buttons, making it easy to use even while wearing thick gloves. All of the buttons are labeled, which I have always loved, making it easy to remember which button does what.
Playful harbor seal in the shallows at Anacapa Island, Olympus E-PM1 with Panasonic 8mm Fisheye at ISO 200, 1/125, F/5.6
In the housing the Mini functions just like the other Pen series cameras, changing your aperture or shutter speed, adjusting the flash mode or white balance are easy and are done exactly the same way. Like the previous models, aperture and shutter are controlled by the four buttons on the back of the camera, and ISO and white balance are contolled through the function menu, activated by the "OK" button in the middle of the button clusters. All of these features are accessible inside the Olympus housing. Other than the housing missing a couple of buttons, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference in operation between the Mini and any other Pen series camera.*
This little camera functions wonderfully. The focus is much faster than my old EPL-1, and equivalent to the more expensive E-PL3. I fell in love with the Panasonic 8mm fisheye lens immediately. The 180* field of view is fantastic, except for those times when you happen to capture the edge of your strobe in the photograph. The lens is clear and bright, and paired with the larger micro 4/3rd's sensor this set-up offers great quality that is very affordable for wide-angle shooting.
Close focus wide-angle of a red Gorgonian at Anacapa Island. Olympus E-PM1, Panasonic 8mm Fisheye at ISO 200, 1/160, F/16
Battery life on the Pen Mini is excellent, it easily lasted three long dives in the chilly California waters without an issue. All in all I was very happy with this new simplified Pen camera. It works as well as the other Pen models, for less money and without all the extras getting in the way.
Wide-angle shot of a red Gorgonian at Anacapa Island. Olympus E-PM1, Panasonic 8mm Fisheye at ISO 200, 1/160, F/16
Silhouette of diver, taken with Olympus E-PM1 and Panasonic 8mm Fisheye at ISO 200, 1/125, F20
*The only downside I encountered is that the loss of a few buttons meant that there is no way to review all of your pictures while in the housing. The camera relies on the scroll wheel to move back through your images, and there is no access to that wheel through the housing. You can still easily review the last image shot, as well as zoom in on that image to check focus.
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