Zanzibar with a PEN F by Robert Houle

Robert Houle is a documentary photographer, on assignment he carried his trusty PEN F, here are his impressions with some images of Zanzibar.

I was stoked to have the Olympus PEN-F I purchased arrive at my doorstep just prior to returning to Africa to document a medical & educational humanitarian effort in Zanzibar.

Being a fan of the rangefinder body style for some years now, I was eagerly awaiting for Olympus to make this camera and now I had an opportunity to give this little jewel a workout.


On Assignment


Olympus PEN-F’s small size traveled very well, especially with a compact prime lens attached.



Although I carried with 1 other Olympus body and several other Olympus lenses, 80% of the time I made images using the PEN-F w/45 1.8 mm lens mounted to it.



For street photography and environmental portraits this combo hit a real sweet spot for me. Perhaps its because I often used a 90mm portrait lens on a medium format body for years. I feel it gives me enough distance to subject to not intrude, yet close enough to make eye contact and interact with my subject when appropriate.



The PEN-F’s fully articulating screen enabled me to conveniently make images from unique overhead, waist-level, and low-to-the ground vantage points.




The fast auto focus made it possible for me to make candid environmental portraits so quick and fluid that my subjects had no time to react, allowing me to make an image before they changed their expression and or body position.



I kept this combo at-the-ready by mounting on the front strap of a Lowepro sling backpack via Peak Design capture clip. The PEN-F is a sexy looking camera with its classic vintage rangefinder styling…and it’s a serious image-making tool. A camera hasn’t come along for a while now that makes me want to pick it up, make it my constant companion, and go make images with it.




It fits my hand’s size and grip just right, and I like the tactile feel of the body’s exterior, including the thumb grip and back of the vari-angle screen. The dials have a nice feel of just enough resistance, and the placement of controls feels natural to me.



In the field under real-world use, the PEN-F with Olympus’ prime lenses mounted truly felt like a unobtrusive and intuitive tool which functioned seamlessly as an extension of my creative expression.



Words about the image “Snake Alley” (below)


I was on my way to the market when I passed this woman resting against a wall amidst the maze of stone-cobble alleys. I un-clipped my PEN-F from its capture clip while turning the camera on, and as I was unfolding the Vari-Angle screen I turned around facing her, and quickly made this single image from waist high.


Words about the image “The Sweet Man”(below)


I was documentary photographing at the Chuini Clinic which is adjacent to Chuni's School. When the school day was dismissed, I saw a man ride his bicycle past me down a path leading to the nearby neighborhood of cement block and mud homes.



He had a thermo-insulated camping cooler strapped to the back of his bicycle. When the school children saw him they swarmed after him like a cloud of bees. Curious me… I had to go investigate.



I rounded a corner to see children holding their shillings with outstretched arms to the bicycle man, who would take their coin and in return he would quickly retrieve a frozen popsicle from the cooler and hand it to them.



Right after making this image, I pulled a shilling coin from my pocket, and he handed me a banana popsicle. At the risk of getting a stomach bug from an unknown water source used to make the posicles, I decided it was worth the risk.



Ahhh Yes…frozen banana yummyness on a hand-carved stick when its 95% humidity and 90F hit the spot for sure.! I walked down the dirt street eating my frozen treat and dodging the occasional ox-drawn cart alongside the school kids eating theirs.


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5 thoughts on “Zanzibar with a PEN F by Robert Houle”

  1. Charles Barnard

    Love the photos, I am really curious about the Pen-F it looks so sexy, just wondering about the ergonomics of the rangefinder styling

    1. Hi Charles. I’ve been enamored with the rangefinder styling ever since a friend let me use his Leica M6 years ago. For the last few years I’ve been making images first with Olympus’ OMD EM10, then with the OMD EM5 Mark II. All the while I’ve been waiting for Olympus to make a rangefinder style camera with a built-in viewfinder.
      I feel it was worth the wait. I prefer the ergonomics of the PEN-F over the SLR style when using smaller prime lenses. For my size hands the PEN-F fits and fits and feel just right without the optional grip. Never does it feel like it going to slip from my grasp thanks to the gripiness tactile of its body, and I feel comfortable simply palming it if I don’t happen to have it mounted on my Peak Design Capture Clip.
      When using Olympus’ larger 12-40mm 2.8, or their 40-150 2.8 pro lens I prefer to mount these larger lenses on my OMD EM5 Mark II body with grip. Hope that answers your question Charles. Happy image making!

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