40 Years of Imaging Technology Development – how much difference has it made?

An earlier post saw me going on about how good the Olympus Trip was.  So in the interests of  ‘putting my money where my mouth is’  I got to thinking – how does it compare to a relatively recent digital equivalent – an Olympus PEN? Both are aimed at roughly the same group of  photographers, even if they are separated by a generation or two. How much has technology really improved photography at the ‘consumer end’ of the market?

Olympus PEN and EPL3

So, armed with an Olympus Trip (loaded with Agfaphoto APX100) and an Olympus EPL3 on a fine winter’s day I took the same pics with both and did a comparison – it turned out to be more of a challenge  than I anticipated.

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Trip on the left, EPL3 on the right. Not bad for the Trip but the EPL3 has a bit more dynamic range.

The EPL3 has a smallish micro 4/3 12 Mp sensor, the Trip uses full frame 35mm film so can be scanned to 20 MP, it’s only advantage. The Trip has no autofocus, no image stabilisation and only has simple metering. It’s also only equipped with ‘P’ program mode, the EPL3 has all the bells and whistles – aperture priority, ISO 200 (the lowest setting) and mid aperture were used for this comparison.

The film pics are nearly all crops – it’s surprisingly difficult to compare the field of view between a LCD and a basic viewfinder when taking comparison shots. Good fun though… This is a monochrome test because – well, I like black and white. No other reason!

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EPL3 Top, Trip bottom. More even this time – the Trip has a slightly better look but it’s only a personal preference.

To do a fair comparison, the EPL3 pics were taken in RAW and converted using default settings to JPG and desaturated in Photoshop, the Trip shots scanned, then noise reduction, ‘dust and scratches’ and unsharp mask applied which seemed fair for comparison purposes.

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Trip left, EPL3 right. The EPL3 has managed to capture more DR in the water but only marginally.

The EPL3 has a nice 14-42mm (28-84mm equiv) zoom lens, the Trip a faster fixed focus 40mm lens. this meant the ‘defining’ shot had to be taken with the Trip, then an approximation with the EPL3.

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Trip left, EPL3 right – these were framed as the same shot the same to me on the day. This was more difficult than I’d initially imagined!

As much reduced images size can only give a basic impression – so here are some crops:-

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Detail crops from the above shots – Trip left, EPL3 right. Not much in it but the EPL3 has just won this one on sharpness (and no scratches).

The APX100 film was developed in Rodinal 1+50 for 12 minutes.

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Trip left, EPL3 right. The Trip is better based on personal choice here – more subtle midtones.

It’s significant that these shots were taken in good light – the EPL3 would have such an advantage in low light that the test wouldn’t be worthwhile.

There are so many film/developer/post-processing variables that any number of answers could result from this test – I like film and digital so I’m not trying to force any conclusion – just come to a general one.

The surprising thing is that for these two ‘consumer grade’ cameras the differences aren’t that great. The Trip needs slightly more experience to get the most out of it – especially estimating focus distance, and it’s results aren’t immediately available like its modern digital equivalent. However within the restrictions imposed by its age the Trip can put up a decent performance against its modern digital descendent which surprised me.

Maybe it shouldn’t though – film technology had many decades of development before it was widely dropped in favour of digital 10 to 15 years ago. The EPL3 is a very capable camera for all everyday uses, as was the Trip in its day. I’m really surprised that the Trip can still – just – hold its own against a much younger rival.

Is the inconvenience (some might say fun) of using film worth it versus the convenience and sharp clarity of digital? B/W film + home processing is £3 for 36 (more carefully) taken shots so you’ve got around 3000 shots before the cost equation is equal (the Trip was £50 refubished, the EPL3 £300). I’d personally say yes – on aesthetic as well as cost grounds, but many would say no!

Hope you find this interesting and thanks for looking – I had loads of fun doing this!

How to Improve an Olympus OM1N – an OM2N?

Well, it’s just possible to improve an OM1N – Yoshihisa Maitani put an auto exposure mode in a body of the same size and weight but kept to the same design ethos. Olympus didn’t just put a simple ‘aperture priority’ mode in the OM2N, they put the most advanced exposure control system for its time in place – more sophisticated than most even today.

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Basically the same as an OM1N from the front – the film rewind release to the left along with the self timer ratchet.

Flick the top plate switch to ‘manual’ and the OM2N is essentially the same as an OM1N. Push it into ‘Auto’ mode and the  OM2N’s ‘Off the film’ (‘OTF’) exposure control takes over. The exposure indicated in the viewfinder is an approximation – the final exposure is determined in ‘real time’ by the OTF exposure system. Variations in light during exposure, from natural or from multiple flash systems is all taken care of. Exposures of from 1/1000th of a second to 120 seconds will be used – however film reciprocity failure is not catered for (how could it be?) so beware. Pretty amazing nevertheless.

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Standard OLY 35mm controls – from top to bottom – aperture, focus and shutter speed. The blue shutter speeds indicate the risk of camera shake which is a bit superfluous but looks pretty. Exposure compensation/film speed dial and film winder on the left of the pentaprism, main mode switch to the right.

So what changes were made? The basic controls stay the same. The film speed dial is incorporated into a dual ISO/exposure compensation dial on the top plate – in ‘auto mode’ you might need dial in exposure compensation. The only unfortunate omission is the lack of a mirror lock up – something which is useful on the OM1N but wasn’t possible with the dual metering system.

OM2 Metering Display

The 3 metering mode displays available in different exposure modes. The displays seem to be transparent plastic and slide in and out of view as the mode switch is moved.

One significant feature is that it’s possible to use the camera even when it’s mode switch is in the ‘off’ position. The ‘OTF’ exposure system trips in and sorts it all out , limiting  the shutter speed to shorter than 1/30th of a second as a safety mechanism against battery drain during accidental activation. The ‘B’ mode is only available via a release switch and is the only mechanical shutter speed.

If you plan on using slow film – Adox CMS20 for example – the lowest ISO rating is 12 which is one of the recommended ‘box speeds’.

As the shutter is electronically controlled and is dependent on battery power, there’s a check/reset setting on the main control lever just in case the batteries run out, the shutter is tripped and the mirror locks up.  When the batteries have some charge this setting provides a battery check from an LED on the back plate. As an added extra there’s somewhere to push the card film box top into to remind you what film’s loaded – very sophisticated!

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Back plate showing – well not much other than wear and tear! The battery check LED is to the left of the viewfinder, and the film reminder thingy in the centre of the back plate. This pic shows the black paint wearing through to the metal body under the film winder – I hadn’t noticed that before…

The OM2N is 100% compatible with the OM1N – the complete range of small and fast OM lenses, motor drives and focus screens etc. It shares the same massive, clear viewfinder, smooth shutter release and lovely handling.

Problems?

None really other than those of an obsolete system. The seals may need replacing which is a cheap and easy job. I’ve got two OM2Ns, and they both just keep going faultlessly – bought not as collectors items but as working cameras ‘earning’ their living.

The batteries are cheap 2xSR44’s silver oxidies – don’t use alkalines as their charge drops slowly over time. If they run out of power the OM2N is dead – unlike the OM1N. Rumours abound that the camera will still fire at 1/60th of a second without power – I’ve tried it and it’s not true on the OM2N but is apparently on the OM2SP (which is where the confusion has arisen). The dependency on batteries isn’t really as much of a problem as I used to think it was – I change them every year and have had no problems.

So all in all a real pleasure of a camera to shoot with. Put it into ‘auto’ mode for average scenes or when you’re feeling a bit lazy. Where the lighting is more tricky switch to manual or stick to ‘auto’ and use the exposure compensation dial.

Cheap, simple and rugged, adding a bit of sophistication to an OM setup – though for some reason I still prefer the OM1N but only by a whisker! For those who dislike ‘pure manual mechanical’ cameras it’s worth a look, and at under £100 for a good working example definitely worth a try.

Thanks for looking – hope you find this useful if you’re considering one.