Why the PEN is mightier than the (i)Phone

Aren’t phones funny, lifechanging, wonderful things? Hermetically sealed to 94% of the world’s palms, they’ve turned our lives upside down with convenience. All the things we can do now that we could have never dreamt of; the shoes we can buy, the hotels we can book, the pictures we can take, the voice notes we can leave, all on the go. Technology has in so many ways triumphed, leaving our analogue times a distant memory. And yet. Now the dust has begun to settle, there’s a slight suggestion that the shine is tarnishing. Now we’ve moved past the complete awe, we’re starting to realise that all the glitters may not be 24ct gold. Aside from the mental health implications of being plugged into the matrix 24/7 (for more see my book Why Social Media Is Ruining Your Life), there’s also the fact that speed and convenience don’t necessarily deliver the best results.

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This is especially true when it comes to photography. The deluge of imagery which we’ve all been swamped in since the smartphone revolution has changed the way we understand a picture. Something which was once a moment caught for posterity is replicated to infinity, tweaked, smoothed and filtered often into something which actually never existed. It’s little wonder there’s been a yen for a return to the old days and the aesthetic of more traditional photography—in fact film is, at least in creative circles—enjoying a huge renaissance. And yet. Going the whole analogue hog isn’t easy, especially when you’ve been used to the convenience of smartphone photography. Surely there must be a middle way? 

As a camera refusenik, my Damascene moment came after borrowing an Olympus Pen from one of my girlfriends who works as a successful blogger. A brand I was working with had requested a professional shoot and even though my long-suffering Instagram boyfriend was going to be behind the lens, we knew we couldn’t pass off iPhone pictures for the real deal. We had found the compromise—a camera which incorporated many of the assets of an iPhone – wifi for image transfer, filter options and was lightweight enough to fit into your mini bag—but with a whole lot more to boot. The difference was immediately evident. Firstly, let’s talk about the cons, because for time-poor, patience-poor people like me, there are a few drawbacks. If you use a camera and don’t just set it on Auto, it takes a certain amount of time to get your settings right and adjust to the light. If you’ve been used to shooting on a phone, it can definitely feel like a faff initially. But the payoff is that you’re in control of the type of image you take. You can play with light, soften either the fore or background and really have fun with flash in a way that a camera phone can never compete with. 

There’s also a certain sense of unpredictability – but I’ve found that I end up shooting far fewer frames on my Olympus than I do on my iPhone – where on average I’d probably take between 100-200 frames per outfit. It’s excessive and the editing process can be extremely convoluted. I often feel lost in the iPhone images, almost unable to discern the micro-differences in a way I never do when we shoot on my Olympus.  Aside from those variances, there are other features which really change the game. For me, the self-timer—which you operate with an easy to use app (from your iPhone no less) is indispensable. I’m on my own most days, so if a shoot comes up midweek and I can’t work with one my usual photographers (or force my other half to spend his lunch hour taking pictures of me while my 18-month-old sits out of shot) I used to be up the proverbial creek. Now I have a really reliable and effective option, which would be so useful to any content creator.

If you’re thinking of changing the game for your blog or social imagery, but don’t want to be lugging around a massive kit of equipment, join the Olympus club—and you’ll never look back.