It's designed for more casual use, but can the new Olympus Pen Mini shoot action? Olympus took me to the US Open to discover the surprising answer.
As I was led to the Photographers' dugout at center court at the US Open, I felt rather under-equipped. I was sitting next to sports shooters who'd lugged in big glass—50-pound rigs on top-line pro DSLRs to capture the action up close and super-sharp. I'm there with a small group of photography writers and editors on the Olympus US Open Photo Safari, holding a camera whose weight can be measured in ounces. The 75-150mm lens I was issued had a 35mm equivalent of 150-300mm. Were the looks I was getting from the pros looks of anger or envy?
Clearly, by handing us the world's smallest Olympus interchangeable-lens compact at the US Open (our group of a dozen photography writers was the first in the United States to try this camera, which was announced along with the E-P3 and E-PL3 back in late June), Olympus was trying to make a point: This lineup of cameras, even the least expensive model ($499 with kit lens) was blazingly fast.
A sports photography stress test?
But why shoot sports? The target buyer for this camera is the photo enthusiast and point-and-shooter, and in most cases, Olympus expects users to use the iA modes and occasionally experiment with the art filters. Only a small percentage of users will switch the camera to full manual exposure and focus, and even fewer will try to stress the camera out by shooting fast action subjects. But it's nice to know it is there, and for those who can't afford the pricier E-PL3 or E-P3, the Pen Mini becomes a tempting introduction to compact interchangeable-lens photography.
We were all issued a Pen Mini , a trio of lenses (14-42mm kit lens, 12mm wide-angle, and 75-150mm) plus the new, lower-cost (around $180) VF-3 EVF, which is essential for the combination of candid and sports photography we would try out over the course of the day. We were taken on a chef's tour of the US Open facility, including visits to the stadium rooftop, time shooting at ground level in the photographer's pit behind the line judges in center court, and a heady experience shooting from the photographer's dugout alongside the pros from Sports Illustrated, Sporting Times and other pro outlets.
We were guided around the halls under the stadium where we rubbed shoulders with pro photographers and champion tennis players. I am told I accidentally literally bumped into Venus Williams shortly before she announced she was withdrawing from the tournament, as the group was walking to one of our destinations. I hope this wasn't a cause and effect.
And indeed, except for searchy autofocus when the 75-150mm zoomed all the way out, I was very pleased with the Pen Mini's performance and felt it was on par with the near-zero-lag time operation of its high-end sibling, the E-P1, which I reviewed in depth here .
I'll have more to say about the Pen Mini soon. Meanwhile, take a look at the photos below. Did Olympus prove their point? Is the Digital Pen Mini truly a sports shooting machine? Judge for yourself!
E-PN1 Portfolio: One Day at the US Open
The sports outfit: I shot the sequence below with the Zuiko 40-150mm (80-300mm equivalent) f/4-5.6 lens:
Photojournalist's delight: We were taken into the Stringing Room, where racquets are custom-strung to the players' specifications. I captured this fascinating, little-known aspect of the US Open with the 12mm f/2 lens, below. No guts, no glory!
View from the top: Our inside tour of the Arthur Ashe Tennis Stadium took us to the roof, a place few are permitted to visit, for a stunning view of the stadium as well as Flushing Meadows Park, where the old World's Fair was located back in the 60s. It was a good place to play with the Diorama mode.
The Money Shot: While everyone else was shooting ultra closeups of the players at Center Court using their 300mm lenses, I switched to the 12mm to get the panoramic sweep of this unique view of the main stadium, turned the camera to the “Dramatic Effect” filter, then waited for this player to go airborne.