Olympus Test and Wow: A Weekend in Portland, Oregon with the Olympus 25mm f/1.2 Pro Lens

✍️ 🕑 September 23-26, 2022 • Tags: gear reviewsconcertseurovisioneurovision 2022flowersrosesgood eats & 2 More Tags • Places: Doug Fir Lounge International Rose Test Garden, Washington Park Mt. Tabor Park

When Chelsea and I first sat down and watched all of the entrants for the 2021 Eurovision song competition, Maro was one of our favorite entrants. Her soulful voice made its way into our hearts.

When Chelsea saw that she was playing a show on a particular friday night in Portland, the decision to spend a weekend down there was an easy one. I hadn't really given Portland a proper visit, only stopped by a now-closed storefront for a chocolatier, so I was eager to get to know the city better.

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Meanwhile, I had a great experience borrowing the 300mm f/4 PRO Lens through the Olympus Test & Wow Program. The program has a few other lenses available that I wanted to try -- mainly the f/4 zooms. But, I was also interested in the 25mm f/1.2 prime lens.

I used this lens for all of my photography around Portland, from flowers to woof-woofs to the concert. Man, was I impressed!

Just like my last Olympus Test & Wow Post, all of my images (more than I've embedded in the post) can be found in a Flickr album.

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The Lens

I'm mainly a prime shooter. I like fixed focal length lenses. I like thinking about how I would frame the world around me with a given focal length, rather than fussing around with zooming. (At least, for day-to-day shooting -- zooms are nice for travel.)

The creme de la creme of prime lenses for the Micro Four Thirds system are the Olympus f/1.2 Pro lenses, which have the widest apertures of any autofocus lenses in the system. There are three lenses in the set: 17mm, 25mm, and 45mm. (Equivalent to ~34mm, 50mm, and 90mm in 35mm film terms.)

A self-portrait of the lens in Chelsea's car's visor mirror. Why I have a flash mounted is anyone's guess.
A self-portrait of the lens in Chelsea's car's visor mirror. Why I have a flash mounted is anyone's guess.

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The wider 17mm would be the lens I would be most interested in, but since the 25mm lens was the only one available to test and be "wowed" by for free, I figured I'd pick that one up from the program and see how it rendered and handled.

It has a 62mm filter thread, weighs 410g, and is weather-sealed against the rain and the like. Some reviewers have cautioned that a larger body with a more robust grip would be necessary for nice handling, but I had no issue using it on my E-M5 III camera.

Olympus advertises their lens as being sharp wide open, with a special "feathered bokeh" for beautiful rendering of out of focus areas. But how is it in actual practice? Is this the best lens I've ever used? Is it worth the "supply chain adjusted" ~$1,400 list price? 🤑🤑🤑🤑 (Or roughly, half that used? 🤑🤑) Stay tuned!

An apartment building in Capitol Hill
An apartment building in Capitol Hill

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To best show actual, full-size lens performance, as well as to make my images widely available under an open, non-commercial license, I am again using Flickr for image hosting. The images render with Flickr's standard compression by default, but you can download or expand to get the big ones.

All pictures are straight out of camera JPEG's with absolutely no post-processing even including basic things like levelling horizons. Woo!

Close up of a local neighborhood plant. The lens's close focus ability combined with its wide aperture really blows the background out of the water, but the sharpness and fall-off of focus is also just very pleasant, I think.
Close up of a local neighborhood plant. The lens's close focus ability combined with its wide aperture really blows the background out of the water, but the sharpness and fall-off of focus is also just very pleasant, I think.

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The Journey

I took the train down to Tukwila, where I met Chels.

Tukwila International Blvd Station
Tukwila International Blvd Station

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A murder of crows soaring above.
A murder of crows soaring above.

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From there, we drove to Portland, doing battle with the ferocious traffic that lays between Seattle and Tacoma and Olympia, truly a dreadful area to pass through at rush hour.

(By "we", I mean Chelsea. She drove. I snapped bad photos with an expensive lens out of the car windows.)

Mt. Rainier, like Portland, is south of Seattle. Don't worry, I'll get back there some day...
Mt. Rainier, like Portland, is south of Seattle. Don't worry, I'll get back there some day...

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The Concert

Chelsea and I had a bite to eat and some drinks pre-show.
Chelsea and I had a bite to eat and some drinks pre-show.

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Maro was playing the Doug Fir Loungue in Burnside, with Nuria Graham as an opener. Fortunately for us, the show started at 9PM, with Maro coming on at 10, so there was no rush for us.

Nuria Graham opening.
Nuria Graham opening.

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A closer view of Nuria playing.
A closer view of Nuria playing.

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Both sets were rather minimalist in instrumentation with three musicians on stage. Graham sang, and sometimes played guitar, whilst accompanied by a bassist/guitarist and a keyboardist. Maro was accompanied by a keyboardist and drummer for part of her set, but also performed several songs solo, mainly with guitar accompaniment.

Maro playing, towards the start of her set.
Maro playing, towards the start of her set.

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During Maro's set, I was struck by her skill in composing songs with simple, but memorable melodies. She engaged the audience a lot with requests for singing various repeated lines, and they all just worked remarkably well. Something about her soothing, melodic voice definitely helps her pull this off.

It was a lot of fun to sing along, especially when she pointed at me for doing a particularly good job of (loudly?) singing a melody line that happened to actually be perfectly within my (narrow?) range.

Maro's drummer also appeared to be having a lot of fun!
Maro's drummer also appeared to be having a lot of fun!

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She also had a lot of fun in between song banter, and was quite entertaining in her body language and such.

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Maro, part way through an anecdote.
Maro, part way through an anecdote.

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In all seriousness, Maro has a lot of really good songs and I'd definitely recommend giving a few of them a listen. Like, say, "Am I Not Enough", "Still Feel It All", "I See It Coming", or her Eurovision tour de force "Saudade" -- which made an excellent encore.

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For concert photography, the 50mm equivalent focal length is not as long as I would like for concert photography -- I have too much foreground with other people's heads and yadda yadda, but otherwise the lens is great for this task.


Around & About

As a general walk-around lens, the lens is a lot of fun.

At night, walking back from the concert, it was easy to take some really nice pictures.

Burnside street art, after the show.
Burnside street art, after the show.

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Even fire hydrants are not safe from Portland denizens' sticker game!
Even fire hydrants are not safe from Portland denizens' sticker game!

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The following morning, there was plenty to photograph in Portland.

Let's start out in Old Town, near the Chinatown Gate, on the way to Powell's Books.

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Why is the dragon eating dead flowers?
Why is the dragon eating dead flowers?

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Powell's itself is a destination, and despite living near a sizeable two story bookshop in Seattle, I still found myself blown away by its selection of new and used books. Since I had the extra incentive of lower sales tax, I picked up a few, which you may eventually hear about on this blog.


Portland is also home to numerous open air markets, with a variety of art work.

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We wandered through the main market and some of its offshoots, eventually picking up a deck of cards.

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Meandering around, the city seemed very photogenic to me. It would be fun to spend more time here.

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The back of the iconic Portland sign in daylight.
The back of the iconic Portland sign in daylight.

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This modern building has a great directive.
This modern building has a great directive.

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Bert & Ernie joined Antifa
Bert & Ernie joined Antifa

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A dog chillin' on a residential sidewalk.
A dog chillin' on a residential sidewalk.

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The Munchies

The food in Portland was excellent. I was really happy with all of the restaurants we checked out, which included...

Top Burmese

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Portland has a surprisingly large number of Burmese restaurants, and I was super eager to try the cuisine. With some deliberation, we settled on two samosas, shoo share laphet, and chicken curry with paratha.

Samosas -- should have gotten more than two!
Samosas -- should have gotten more than two!

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All were excellent!

Laphet
Laphet

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The laphet had an excellent blend of flavors and textures, and the fermented tea leaves were truly delicious. The chicken curry had a lovely smokiness to it, and the samosas were crisp and delicious.

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The restaurant also boasts an array of cocktails. I particularly enjoyed my Dragonfruit Whiskey Sour, which brought back (and obliterated bad) memories of the Dragonfruit Fanta I once drank outside a citadel in Albania.

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We ate outside, but this is part of the lovely interior.
We ate outside, but this is part of the lovely interior.

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Jam on Hawthorne

This was a recommendation from my friend Jim, who had been couchsurfing with me for a few days the week before the trip. Something something, lemon ricotta pancakes with blueberry compote.

Did they live up to the hype? They absolutely did!

The harsh sunlight though did not allow for nice food pictures, so they are omitted.


Coffee

Coffee is one of my favorite loves in this life, and Portland's coffee scene did not disappoint. I was glad to be able to actually visit Heart Roasters themselves in person after having their coffee brewed by so many third wave shops elsewhere in the country. They do indeed make a mean cup of coffee.

At last! Iced coffee!
At last! Iced coffee!

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In general, though, the coffees we had while out and about were of excellent quality. One highlight was when we stoped at a cafe for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up (after Mt. Tabor) that happened to be serving Cuban coffee.

Did I get me a cortadito? Hell yeah!

A cortadito
A cortadito

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How did my hair get that messy!? Photo credit: Chelsea
How did my hair get that messy!? Photo credit: Chelsea

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Viking Soul Food

The main ways that Portland differs from Seattle are... let's see:

  • Being smaller
  • Being grimier
  • Having character
  • Better food truck zoning

The last of these is what contributes to places like Viking Soul Food, a Scandinavian food truck that exists in a nice lil food truck zone on the South end of town.

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If you come to this truck, come here for the lefse, soft Norwegian potato flatbread. You can get them on their own, but they're excellent in wraps, particularly the pølse wrap, which fills it with pork & potato sausage, cheese, mustard and slaw. Wash the proceedings down with Lingonberry iced tea if you wish. You'll be happy you did.

It's a really solid option for a light supper.


A Rose Garden By Any Name

One of my favorite things about Seattle is the array of flowers that I see around my neighborhood, blooming year round.

Entering Washington Park...
Entering Washington Park...

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Portland shares a similar climate, one which is apparently so excellent for roses that calls itself the Rose Capital of the world. It's home to various rose gardens, including the International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park.

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Its purpose was initially to cultivate hybrid rose varieties from Europe that founders feared would be destroyed in bombings during World War One. Today it is home to more than 10,000 rose bushes of over 650 varieties, each of which have their own delightful appearance and smell.


f/1.2
f/1.2

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f/3.5
f/3.5

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f/1.2 - blur
f/1.2 - blur

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f/16 - sunstars
f/16 - sunstars

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Looking at Mt. Hood from the park.
Looking at Mt. Hood from the park.

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Park on a Cinder Cone

The city of Portland was constructed on a dormant volcanic field, known today as the Boring Lava Field. (They probably didn't want to construct their city upon the Exciting Lava Field, eh?)

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Many of the city's hills are extinct cinder cones, including Mt. Tabor, which is now the site of a city park. We paid it a visit. It would be a nice spot for fresh air or a jog if I lived in the area, but I wouldn't go out of my way to visit again.

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Conclusion

It was truly a lovely weekend, with lovely company and a lovely lens.

Shooting through a tree at the Louisa Boren Overlook, as I head up to Kenmore to return the lens...
Shooting through a tree at the Louisa Boren Overlook, as I head up to Kenmore to return the lens...

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Despite how much I enjoyed the Olympus 25mm f/1.2, I'm not rushing out to buy one. I already have the PanaLeica 25mm f/1.4 II, which I got a great deal on a long time back. Compared to the PL, the Olympus is twice as big, twice as expensive, but only a half stop faster. It's not a trade that seems worthwhile to me, even though the Olympus is sharper, and produces so much less purple fringing.

But, I do like the 50mm equivalent field of view, and it was fun to stick with it for a weekend.

Thanks for reading!

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