Second City Stroll-About (with the Pen-F)

The Cloud Bean.  Yes, it’s a self portrait.

Friends and followers of this blog know the drill.  I travel for business and as I’m making plans, I have two knee-jerk reactions: immediately search for (1) nearby photo spots and (2) holes in my schedule so I can take advantage of such spots.  Last week, Chicago called and so an Olympus Pen-F and two teensy lenses (Olympus 17/1.8 and Olympus 9-18 wide zoom) answered.  I had a fleeting hour one night and then a half day subsequently to fit it all in.

First, how did the Olympus kit fare?  For a Fujifilm shooter, I would say quite admirably, with one quantum exception — see below.

Alleyway underway.
Famous building in background (from a movie I’m told – Batman Begins?).
Underpass biker.

I’ve been to Chicago on a few occasions, including once some fifteen years ago to visit my brother and his family when they were living there.  Despite these prior trips, I never really had a chance to walk around, to get to know the place.  My short stroll-about last week changed that… a bit.

What a beautiful city.  Large but without the gritty bustle of Manhattan.  Drivers stop to let you through the frequently signal-less intersections.  Pedestrians say hello.  Strangers held doors open for me.  On a less positive note, the homelessness problem in Chicago is staggeringly huge.  I’m inclined to notice those who live on the street, to say hello… to spare some change whenever possible.  But the overwhelming numbers of homeless eventually left me passing them by as though I did not notice, did not care.  That didn’t feel particularly good.  To them or to me.

On Navy Pier; longish exposure and art filter maxed out.
Through a walkway toward Michigan Avenue.
At the base of a Trump building.

Anyone who knows the city will spot that I traversed Michigan Avenue from these images, passed over to Navy Pier and then looped up to Millennium Park.  Anyone who knows me will surely guess that I stopped by Garrett’s for some Chicago style popcorn (cheddar, caramel mix – if you have not tried it, it may seem like an odd blend, but it’s amazing!).  Twice.

And anyone who knows the city will also understand the lure of the deep dish or stuffed pizza.  I did a quick Yelp search and found a spot: Giordano’s.  It’s a chain, I know… but it was good.

Sculptures honoring those lost to gun violence.  Moving and odd.
Long exposure trickery.  Wish I had set my left head against a darker backdrop.
Station entrance.  Many nice textures and tones.
Holy Name Cathedral.  Grand and colorful.

Regarding the Olympus Pen-F, what a great piece of kit.  The Pen is solid, confidence inspiring.  Knobs are nicely machined, the tension in the dials precisely calibrated, metallic surfaces convey the impression that this is a shooter’s instrument.  Japanese designed and constructed but Germanic in feel… if there is such a thing.

Images are sharp and contrasty.  And the creative dial which allows you to fine tune your jpeg adjustments and filters seemed like gimmickry to me.  Before I used it that is.  In the field, I enjoyed having the ability to quickly select monochrome, then move back to color.  There are three black and white pre-sets which can be easily toggled.  The same dial allows you to jump to the art filters which I tend to avoid, though had some fun with a few of them (see the amusement ride image above).

I found I could wander up to about ISO 1600 without noticing the fact that I was shooting with a smaller sensor than I’m used to.  Much is made of sensor size but in many (but not all) shooting conditions, it matters little.  No scientific testing here but the new 20mp sensor performs as well as the earlier 16mp one in terms of higher ISO shooting.  More resolution though was welcome, especially for cropping which many of these images took advantage of.

The problem?  Olympus recently offered an upgrade to firmware version 2.0 for the Pen-F which I installed a few days before the trip.  [I know… dumb.]  In Chicago, I noticed the camera had a tendency to shut down at sleep and then not come back to life when the shutter was depressed.  Flicking the on/off switch also did not remedy this.  Instead, it required a full battery pull.  The camera essentially dies.  I thought I must have had a bad battery, faulty leads or perhaps a motherboard fail.  Some on-line research reveals that this is happening across the user base, all prompted by the firmware upgrade.  I presume Olympus will fix this… hopefully soon.  When that happens, the Pen-F could likely become my favorite walk-around camera.  Might it replace the Fujifilm?  Hmmm….

Western view from high above Northern Michigan Avenue.


  1. So, did you go with the Pen-F? It’s a great camera, been good to me. If I wasn’t already with Olympus, I’d consider the Fuji X100, but it needs an articulating screen.


    • I enjoyed the Pen-F but ultimately gravitated over to Fujifilm. If the Pen was weather sealed and there were a few good sealed lenses to go along with it, I’d still have it today. Just got an X-Pro3 and will share impressions soon.


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