When it comes to specialised accessories for interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs), Olympus has really nailed it on the head with the MAL-1 Macro Arm Light. This peculiar-looking creature fooled much of our test audience into thinking that it was some sort of giant insect stuck on top of the camera, given the twisting and undulating curves of its arms.
It's a very interesting accessory, though, as it extends the capabilities of the Olympus series of Pen camera (any with an accessory port), as well as the XZ-1, quite dramatically. It provides an extra throw of two LED lights, in two intensities from high to low. Sitting in the hotshoe, the MAL-1 draws power from the camera's battery, although not too much to seriously deplete the reserves.
It's bendable, posable!
The MAL-1 is designed to illuminate small subjects when taking macro photos, such as coins, jewellery and flowers. In use, the arm lights add a great deal of illumination to spot areas, rather than the overall scene, so it's not designed to replace a flash unit. One advantage that it does have over a flash, though, is that the MAL-1 stays on constantly, so you can preview what the light will look like in your final photo, and it can even be used for video recording.
A 100 per cent crop of a photo taken with the MAL-1 on high strength. This shot could have been taken without the extra light, but it made it very easy for the camera to focus correctly on the flower's stamen.
We tested the MAL-1 in conjunction with a Pen E-PL3 and the kit 14-42mm lens. It's not a dedicated macro set-up (although there is a macro optic-converter available), but it performed pretty well for a standard lens. Being able to twist and manipulate the arms so easily makes for a particularly enjoyable shooting experience. The arms are so flexible that they can even be twisted so they sit under the lens in question.
In a darkened environment, the MAL-1 shines bright — literally. Without any other light source, the arms can be positioned in such a way to highlight the features of this tulip. Without the light, there's no way that the camera could have locked on and focused on this flower, or even have produced a blur-free handheld shot.
A great little accessory for your Olympus Pen camera, the MAL-1 lights will add a splash of illumination for anyone who wants to try their hand at macro photography.