Perfect Imperfection: The Olympus PEN-F vs. Sony A7 III

Perfect Imperfection - Austin, Texas

Perfect Imperfection – Austin, Texas

A few days ago, I mentioned that my friend asked me, what makes the Olympus PEN-F so special. There’s actually a few good reasons, but the most important for me is the creativity it has sparked in my photography. I thought today’s photo is a good example.

By almost every measure, this is an imperfect photo of what looks like a bar. But what if clean perfection is not what I was after? What if I wanted to create a perfect photo of imperfection — to capture a mood or evoke an emotion?

This is an out of camera JPEG from the Olympus PEN-F, set to my usual “Mono Profile 2” mode. This is what I saw through the viewfinder, which helps me create photos that I would have never made before. A photo that I wouldn’t have shot with a Sony A7 III. Why? Because the A7 III is a camera for capturing sharp images at the extremes. Extremes like low-light.

Let’s be clear, I can create higher quality images with the Olympus, if I wanted to. And, you can use the Sony to create low-fi images like this. But, would you? When a company, the media and people brag about perfecting images at the extremes, that’s what becomes expected. It sets a norm and it clouds options. Limits foster creativity. Reducing limits, reduces creativity.

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6 thoughts on “Perfect Imperfection: The Olympus PEN-F vs. Sony A7 III

  1. The PEN-F is on of my favorite cameras. It has a special something about it, not only in IQ but also in how it handles, feels.

    It gives me the same feels that I get when I use my Nikon Df.

    There is something also about the “grain” structure of the m43 files that also just feels way more organic to me, almost film-like. The PEN-F has that in spades, much like I saw in the EM1.

    At some point, even the sharpest of images falls flat if there is no emotion or story behind it. Technical precision in a poorly formed image will always be surpassed by a great story or the feeling of emotion in a less technically perfect image.

    Thanks for sharing this story with us!

    1. Hi Andrew, thanks for your visit and comment.

      Agreed. There is something special about the Olympus PEN-F. I never tried the Nikon Df myself, so I can’t comment on its haptics. But, I didn’t like the aesthetics of the camera. While it mimics the older Nikons, it seems way too big and chunky.

  2. Why do you think you think you wouldn’t have shot the same type of image with the Sony? Because it is more suited to low light and maybe you’d be more tempted to pull detail from darkness? It sounds like you shot it this way with the Pen more due to an aesthetic in the simulation you used that appealed to you. It seems more likely that the combination of WYSIWYG with an LCD/EVF while using a favorite black and white effect, along with the feel of a favored camera got you there, rather than it being anything specifically related to the technical capabilities of the Olympus vs Sony.

    Certainly, the tool of choice can have an influence on us that goes beyond technical capability to an emotional and haptic connection. While my Fuji X100F isn’t as strong as my X-T2 on paper for things like concert photography, it’s still the one I grab because it feels right. Other Fuji shooters think I’m nuts (probably true). I don’t care. No other camera I’ve used connects with me as close as the X100F. The camera of choice can also have an effect on the way we photograph and create. I’ve definitely seen that in your work. Your work with the Pentax Q is my favorite. Something really seemed to click in your head and I saw you producing some creative and emotionally charged imagery – more so than the technically superior Pen.

    100% agree on limitations. I’ve reserved my more versatile gear for rare commercial work. Personal work is with my X100F and even iPhone these days. Removing the burden of choices is liberating and frees my brain to problem solve and maybe be a little creative with what I have.

    1. Yes, I don’t think I would shoot with the Sony in this way (unless I really consciously tried) because of the two reasons you mentioned. The super low light capabilities and the predispositions it creates is certainly a factor. But more importantly, as you surmised, the PEN-F’s black and white effect is a strong influence.

      For all my initial grousing, I did end up liking my Fujifim X100s and shot a lot with it. It does have a feel that I prefer over the other interchangeable Fuji cameras. I don’t use my Fuji X100s anymore, especially with my PEN-F.

      The Pentax Q7 is a neat and unique camera. It’s a little too contrasty and the image quality lacks in some cases. But, it does produce moody images more in keeping with today’s featured photo. Since it’s super small, it does give a freedom that gives it a unique feel.

      I’ll need to revisit the Pentax Q7 and Fujifim X100s in the future, to see how it feels.

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