I recently received an Olympus Pen E-PM1 as part of the Olympus Pen Ready
promotion. My first reaction was surprise at how small the camera was in comparison to my E-P3. The other surprise was that I liked the E-PM1's looks much better in the hand than I did on screen.
The Olympus PEN E-PM1 (PEN Mini)
The knock on the E-PM1 and E-PL3 design is that dropping the grip has made those cameras less functional. However, I personally found it perfectly comfortable to hold and use the grip-less E-PM1. The camera both looked and felt better than I thought it would. While I was aware of the Franiec grip, but I didn't feel any need to add one to my E-PM1. Still, when Richard Franiec extended an offer to send a grip for me to get a feel for the difference, I was eager to give it a try.
Disclaimer: Richard Franiec, in addition to sending me the evaluation grip for free, is one of some 70 Mu-43 members who have donated to support this site. His donation was freely given, without agreement or expectation of advertising or review, but I should mention it in the context of providing my impressions of his product.
The Franiec grip is machined from high quality aluminum, feels very solid, and adds a small but noticeable bit to the heft of the PEN Mini. Installation couldn't be easier. The grip uses clear 3M™ VHB™ tape, which provides a firm, reliable attachment seal between the grip and body. You simply clean the surface of your camera body, remove the backing from the tape, and press it into position. If only screen protectors were this easy to apply!
Richard has been making these grips for other cameras for years, so we know they are built to last. The grip is simple to remove if you prefer the plain body without grip, but I don't imagine that many people will decide to remove it.
As you can see in the pictures, the grip comes in a black finish with a bit of texture to enhance the "grippability". Depending on the lighting, it can look look similar to, slightly brighter, or slightly darker than the E-PM1 finish.
Although the grip is nicely designed/finished and fits the E-PM1 contour perfectly, I personally prefer the minimalist looks of the "naked" E-PM1 to the "gripped" version.
Looks aside though, there is no doubt that the grip makes it easier to hold the camera, especially with larger lenses. Richard's grip also improves the comfort of using the camera, whether shooting with one or two hands. The grip suits my medium-sized hands just right, with the middle finger wrapping around the top part of the grip and the the ring finger curving around the lower portion. There is adequate clearance between my fingers and the lens barrel with all of my lenses, and I don't think any of the native Micro 4/3 lenses would pose a problem.
In summary, the Franiec grip is well-made, easy to install, and improves the usability of the E-PM1. I slightly prefer the looks of the grip-less Pen, but on balance the grip is a great upgrade for my E-PM1.
The Franiec grip for E-PM1 and E-PL3 is US$34.95 plus shipping and can be ordered here: http://www.kleptography.com/rf/
A less expensive alternative to Richard's grip is a silicone grip made by Flipbac
. While I haven't personally used a Flipbac grip, I've heard good things about them. Some people may prefer the rubberized feel of the Flipbac. On the other hand, they aren't custom made to fit the camera, and in contrast to the Franiec grip, they have a prominent logo on display. You can read Ray S' impressions of the Franiec and Flipbac grips here: Richard Franiec to Produce Custom Grip for Olympus E-PL3 and E-PM1