How to use the Olympus Pen E-PL3 for street photography

As always, if you have questions, objections, worries or praise, and especially if you found your picture and want it removed, feel free to contact me. I will get back to you as soon as possible. You can also read my full disclaimer, if you are interested.

 

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

Olympus Pen E-PL3 | © Lilly Schwartz 2013

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

Berlin | © Lilly Schwartz 2013

Update 07/10/2013: Originally I wrote this article after a month of using the E-PL3. It has now been half a year and I’ve gained some more insight which I wanted to share with you. The core information stayed the same, but I’ve added some more information about ISO settings.

For a while now I have been using the Olympus Pen E-PL3 for my work. After having some time to get used to it and optimise it for my usage I thought I’d share my experiences with you. Primarily I got the E-PL3 because I needed a smaller camera for street photography. I wanted to be able to take it with me everywhere and I wanted a camera that is less obtrusive than my big DSLR. Yes, street photography with a DSLR can work as well and I used one for quite a while, but the longer I was forced to use it the more cumbersome I found it to carry my big and heavy DSLR everywhere. People also tend to react negatively to a DSLR, so I needed a change. My third reason was that the E-PL3 is compatible with all sorts of lenses. With an adapter it takes just about anything, even Leica M glass! This is definitely something to think about if you already have a selection of lenses or are planning to upgrade your gear.

After half a year of using the E-PL3 I think I’ve made an excellent choice. Here are my insights on how to set up your E-PL3 for street photography.

First of all, some technical details: The E-PL3 is a Micro Four Thirds camera with interchangeable lenses. It is reasonably light, provides decent image quality up to ISO 1600 – especially if you reduce the noise in post-processing – and has a quiet shutter sound. It also has a tilt screen and can shoot HD videos, but so far I haven’t used either of those functions much. Additionally you can also get it for a bargain, since there are already newer models around like the E-PL5 and the already announced E-PL6.

To use the E-PL3 for street photography you should make a few adjustments to the settings:

  1. Locate the advanced settings menu and have it displayed in the main menu. You find this in the main menu under the wrench symbol -> Menu Display. You want to display the menu with the little cogwheels. In this menu you can make all further adjustments that I suggest.
  2. Turn off the focussing sound. People will notice and it will ruin your candid moments. You find this in the cogwheel menu D on the second window. The symbol you are looking for is a typical volume symbol. Set this to Off.
  3. Turn off the AF illuminator. This function typically uses a little red LED to help the camera focus in dark lighting conditions. Having that shine into someone’s face is rather rude. You find this function in cogwheel menu A on the second screen -> AF Illuminator.
  4. Put the display illumination on one of the function keys so that you can easily turn it off to save battery power when shooting from the hip. You find this option under cogwheel menu B under Button Function. There the function key is by factory default set to Live Guide, which is a pretty useless function anyway. Set this to “Backlit LCD”.

After making these adjustments you have now minimised all the factors where your camera alone might annoy people by offensively beeping or shining a light into their eyes. You can still decide to just shove the camera into someone’s face to annoy them, but at least you’re a little less obtrusive when you’re not doing that.

One more basic thing: You can already use this camera for street photography with the kit lens, but I suggest that you get a fast prime lens if you can afford it. A prime lens has the advantage that you can also shoot inside with a relatively fast shutter speed. You will want this if you want to shoot pictures in malls, on the subway or in train stations. Additionally it is easier to estimate the distance to your subjects without looking at the screen if you have a fixed focal length. I use the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7, which has great image quality.

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

Berlin | © Lilly Schwartz 2013

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

Berlin | © Lilly Schwartz 2013

So, now that we’re done with the basic settings, let’s look at the specifics: I tend to use this camera to shoot from the hip. I’m used to having a viewfinder and on a bright day the screen tends to get a bit hard to judge. It’s a decent enough screen, but the technology is just not made for bright direct sunlight. Therefore you can imagine me with the camera hanging from my neck and my right hand always on the shutter. I walk and when something or someone tickles my fancy I just press the button. Since this doesn’t involve looking at the screen I tend to turn it off via the function key that we just set up for this. When the backlight is off, the camera will still display the picture you just made for a set amount of time so that you can check out the picture right away. Don’t worry, the backlight will automatically turn off again.

This is just my way of working though. If you prefer to use the screen, go ahead. You can tilt it to shoot from the hip or the ground, hold the camera up above people’s heads or shoot at eye-level. With the tilt screen everything is possible. You can also get the rather expensive electronic viewfinder, which could help a lot in bright daylight when you’re trying to compose a shot. I think it also might be useful if you’re using lenses without autofocus. Manual focussing becomes impossible on the screen when there is bright light.

As for exposure settings: With my Panasonic 20mm I tend to shoot in shutter priority mode with a shutter speed of 1/500. You can go slower, but it might cause shake when walking. 1/250 can work as well, but if you get too much shake then you can go to 1/320 or even higher. In good lighting conditions 1/500 works fine. Inside 1/250 is pushing the limit with the 20mm lens, which is why I usually stay at this setting when shooting in the subway. I tend to forget to change it when I come in or out of the subway though, which can be annoying as well. For the Kit lens I work with 1/80 inside, which definitely only works when you stop to take the picture.

Also keep in mind that in its factory default settings the automatic exposure prioritises for low ISO in shutter priority mode, so if you want to make sure you get a narrower aperture you will have to use aperture priority with these settings. A wider aperture can be a problem with a slow autofocus, like with the Panasonic 20mm or according to reviews also with the Sigma 30mm. However, most of the time even the slow autofocus of the Panasonic 20mm is manageable in the face priority setting. Occasionally you have to give it some time, especially when it’s relatively dark, but with a bit of patience it will work. The autofocus is generally much better than the one of my Canon EOS 450D which tends to focus on the background rather than on people in the foreground. Face priority is the reason and you should keep it turned on for street photography.

If you keep having problems with slow autofocus then I recommend setting the default ISO to 400. This will cause the camera to automatically stop down when lighting conditions are good, but won’t interfere with the automatic ISO in darker light conditions. With this you will limit autofocus problems to situations where the distance of your main subject is very different from one frame to the next, or when it’s very dark. You will find this function under cogwheel menu E as the menu point ISO-Auto Set. Set Default to 400 and High Limit to 1600. You won’t get too much noise with ISO 400 and the limited amount you will get is easily corrected in post-processing. I set the High Limit to ISO 1600, because this is really the upper bearable limit for noise in my view, even in black and white. The E-PL3 produces much more noise at ISO 1600 than my Canon EOS 450D, which is to be expected at this sensor size, but either way it is just about manageable in post-processing. As always when dealing with a lot of noise: black and white helps to let the noise work for you, since noise adds character in black and white. You can even increase the effect by adding simulated grain. Added grain also makes noise look less digital and therefore less annoying. I use Alien Skin Exposure for black and white conversion and grain simulation, but of course you can use any software you like or even use some real grain from a scanned negative previously exposed with a grey card.

After all this practical advice there are still a few quirks that I need to mention though: First of all, the backlight of the screen turns itself on again after the camera wakes up from sleep mode. I therefore set the sleep mode timer to 3 minutes. This way the camera only turns itself off when I’m really not shooting. Another reason to change this is because the autofocus tends to be a bit sluggish after the camera wakes up. You can find this setting under cogwheel menu D. 

And then of course there was my one big annoyance with this camera: The blue power LED. Yes, the blue is pretty and looks modern, but it is so bright that people tend to stare at it, especially when it’s relatively dark. There is also no option in the menu to turn it off, so you’re just stuck with it. Infuriating! In the end my solution was rather low tech: I taped a small piece of black and white film over it. This way I can still see that the camera is on but it’s not that bright. No, it’s not the prettiest solution, but it’s definitely better than this eye-piercing glare!

Well, I hope these tips helped and showed that the E-PL3 is a great camera for street photography. I’m very happy with it and it helped me take tons of great pictures that wouldn’t have come about without it. A quiet unobtrusive camera is really what you need for street photography and this is exactly why the E-PL3 is a fantastic pick.

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

Berlin | © Lilly Schwartz 2013

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

Berlin | © Lilly Schwartz 2013

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

Berlin | © Lilly Schwartz 2013

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

Berlin | © Lilly Schwartz 2013

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

Berlin | © Lilly Schwartz 2013

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

Berlin | © Lilly Schwartz 2013

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

Berlin | © Lilly Schwartz 2013

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

Berlin | © Lilly Schwartz 2013

Comments

  • It really seems you make a good use of this camera!
    robert
    PS: I like your “low-tech” solution to hide the blue led.

    • Lilly Schwartz

      Thank you Robert 🙂 Low tech is the best anyway. And I say that as someone who studied robotics 😉

  • wow, a great, informative post. the black tape solution is the one i use on my e-pl1, too. i don’t know what they were thinking with this blue light… the om-d has a nice dim green light there by the way.
    one question remains: why do the pictures look so much clearer here than on experimentsinexperience? or is it my eyes?

    • Lilly Schwartz

      Thanks, I’m really glad you liked the post! I thought you might be interested in it since you use the e-pl1. Yes, that blue light is mad. I didn’t know they actually took that one over from previous models. Didn’t anyone complain about it? I wonder whether the e-pl5 and 6 have that stupid thing as well!

      Strange about the clarity, but I think I see what you mean. Probably two reasons: WordPress resizes my pictures on experimentsinexperience and here it doesn’t. That probably has an impact. And also the white background might help, I don’t know. I always though black adds contrast though, not sure! It’s more likely that it’s the resizing.

      • as far as i know the e-pl5 does indeed have a blue light, too…
        regarding the clarity issue. i think you’re right with the resizing.
        but the difference is quite pronounced, that still surprises me a bit.

        • Lilly Schwartz

          Strange, for me it’s not that pronounced. Well, maybe it’s my eyesight or my screen, who knows 😉

  • Andre

    Hello, I also use E-PL3 with Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 ASPH for street photography, this kit fits well on the street but I never paid attention to foccusing sound and AF illuminator, which already have changed in my settings after reading what you wrote here, by the way great pictures,I greet and wish you a successful shots, bye

    • Lilly Schwartz

      Thanks Andre! I’m glad you liked the pictures and found the article helpful! Good hunting! 😉 bye

  • Sumit Sen

    I am a bargain equipment user and just ordered a Pen E-PL3 which was going very cheap mainly for street photography which is something I am trying to pick up. I am really tired of carrying my DSLR’s and my daughter usurped a bargain basement Canon S90 which I was using for a while. Having used the Canon, I wanted a mirrorless and the USD 250 price for the Olympus did not really seem like a big decision:)
    Thank you for your very practical and useful note which is beautifully illustrated. Happy to have found you on G+ , I hope to follow your work there.
    Cheers!
    Sumit

    • Lilly Schwartz

      Hi Sumit!
      Oh, I can totally relate to the DSLR weariness. I love my DSLR, but it’s just too heavy for every day use! I now only use it when I go out to take pictures that don’t fall in the street photography category. For street I use either the Pen or one of my Zorkis when I want to play with film. The price of the E-PL3 really makes all the difference. With that price even picking up a prime is no problem at all. I wasn’t really expecting to use it much with native lenses and bought it mainly for the compatibility with different lens mounts. However, my Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 prime really makes a huge difference and I love it! For street photography I can only recommend primes. It makes judging distances so much easier! I’m also planning to get another prime, the Panasonic 14mm f/2.5, which is supposed to be great for street photography as well. I’m sure you’ll have lots of fun with your new E-PL3. It’s a great little camera! Thanks for stopping by! #L

  • Sumit Sen

    Thanks Lilly. Very few people use Micro 4/3rds in India so getting stuff like new lenses and accessories is very difficult. I am Nikon user for the last 25 years and all my lenses are compatible with that brand. Given the difficulties of acquiring a suitable lens, I intend to use the kit lens for a while to make sure that the one I finally get from the US meets my need. At this time I am looking at the Sigma 30mm in addition to the lenses you have mentioned.
    Cheers!
    Sumit

    • Lilly Schwartz

      Ah right, not very common in India then! However, MFT has the huge advantage of being compatible with almost any lens mount, at least when manual focussing. You can probably get a converter for your Nikon lenses easily and cheaply (40€ over here)! The only problem would be the crop factor. You’d need a rather wide-angle for it to make sense on the MFT. Up to 35mm is still usable in most situations, although a 28mm would probably be better, because it would frame around 50mm. If you already have a 28mm or even a 21mm for your Nikon, then that would be perfect for street photography. Anything above would probably not work well for street photography. On my Canon my 50mm behaves more like an 85mm and it’s way too tight a frame to be useful for street photography. It’s more of a portrait lens. I prefer even wider lenses myself – 35mm equivalent or wider, which lies around 20mm with MFT – but most people are happy around the 50mm equivalent. For street photography when manual focussing on the E-PL3 you can either use zone focussing if you have focussing scales on your lens or you could get the electronic viewfinder. Manual focussing is a bit difficult on the screen I have to say. So, depending on what lenses you have you might be able to try the focal length out with a converter before deciding which native prime to buy. Of course, for anything wider than 21 you have to go native.

      If you’re still working on getting into street photography and don’t yet know how you’d like to work, then maybe it would be better to get a prime in between, neither the Pana 14mm nor the Sigma 30mm. The Pana 20mm is really a good compromise and gives you a nice wide view for street. You don’t have to get too close or step too far back with it either. I’m glad that I went the middle way and now that I’m comfortable with that I want to get even closer with the 14mm. I personally would find the 30mm really limiting, because the tight frame forces you to compose on the screen or viewfinder and I prefer to work from the hip with the E-PL3. Other people prefer to keep some distance in the street and for them the 30mm would be more useful. You have to try it out to know.

  • Sumit Sen

    Many thanks Lilly for the very useful and valuable pointers. I have Nikkors which are 28mm or wider, so that option is invaluable. For the sort of work I do I am happy with a lens that is somewhere in the 50mm range effectively.The nearest glass in the micro 4/3rds that I found was the 30mm. I read up the 20mm and it did not get flying reviews. I am not a big fan of wide angle distortion so I guess it is best to stay within 40-60mm effective. I am not a hip shooter, so those issues are not serious.
    Thanks again. Will keep this blog posted on how it goes 🙂
    Cheers!
    Sumit

    • Lilly Schwartz

      Happy to help, Sumit 🙂
      Agreed, the 20mm has its issues with the autofocus speed, but the image quality is really good. The distortion is also not a big problem unless you do portraits. As long as you’re working with enough light, even the autofocus speed isn’t a big problem either. You compensate by stopping down. It can get annoying in darker places for street, but outside it’s just fine. I have to say I’m not too impressed with the Sigma 30mm reviews either. Quality control seems to be a problem with the Sigma, but if you happen to get a decent one, then the image quality should be fine. The autofocus speed should be about as fast as the 20mm, which is not that great. The AF speed is the one bad aspect of the 20mm in my view. However, even the Pana Leica 25mm isn’t perfect at double the price, so whatever you choose, there are going to be some issues either way. And yes, let me know how you’re getting on! #L

  • Sumit Sen

    Thank you Lilly. Your points are well taken. Best to decide once I get to see what works well for me.
    The camera just arrived and is extremely cute. I’d carry it just for its looks! The battery is being charged as I write. 🙂

    • Lilly Schwartz

      Enjoy playing with your new camera, Sumit! Getting new gear is always so exciting! 🙂 #L

    • Mon Juan

      I have the E-PL3 as well. It came with a the 14-42mm lens, right? So why get a 30mm. It’s already covered by the 14-42mm? I’m saying this because I was to buy that Sigma 30mm lens but was told by a professional photographer to get a different lens instead. Not because the Sigma lens is not good but like I said, already covered by the 14-42mm.

      • Lilly Schwartz

        Hmmm … that’s strange. It is commonly known and also my experience that almost any prime lens is better than a kit/zoom lens at the same focal length. Why is that? First of all prime lenses are usually a lot sharper. All the pictures I took with the kit lens in the first month needed sharpening while pictures taken with my prime lenses only need sharpening if the focus is off. Secondly prime lenses are faster. The kit lens only has f/3.5-5.6, which means that you will need a tripod in darker places. My Panasonic 20mm has f/1.7, the 14mm f/2.5. Makes a world of a difference in places like the subway or after the sun goes down. I need those fast apertures which is why I never shoot with the kit lens anymore. Now I’m curious, what lens did your professional photographer friend recommend instead?

        • Mon Juan

          First of all, I would like to apologize to you and Sumit for giving an unsolicited advice. Actually, I asked for the photographer’s opinion on which lens to buy for my third lens. It was a toss up between a Sigma 30mm and a Tokina 300mm. Told him I am more of a landscape photographer but starting to like shooting birds and insects. He said I should get the latter then.

          • Lilly Schwartz

            Ah, don’t worry about that at all! Any comment is welcome here (well, apart from spam and abuse 😉 ). And how are you faring with your 300mm then? I have a 55-200mm for my Canon, but I hardly ever use it. In street photography it’s just not that useful. It was a good practice lens while I was learning though.

          • Mon Juan

            Thank you. I have not bought the Tokina 300mm yet. Reviews are not very favorable. Looking at Samyang/Rokinon 300mm. Reviews are better. Both are manual focus. With a bad eyesight, focusing will be a struggle. LOL Photographic equipments are very expensive in the Philippines. It’s now more than 45 pesos to a dollar. I buy my stuff mostly at Amazon. Have them shipped to relative/s in California. I get the items upon their return. Sometimes months from the date of purchase. It sucks but I have no choice. The E-PL3 I got for $259 last year. At that time it was $510 here.

          • Lilly Schwartz

            Oh dear, bad eyesight and manual focus? Do you have the EVF? I myself don’t bother with manual focus because I don’t have the EVF and none of my lenses have focussing scales. On film cameras I zone focus everything apart from my Rolleicord and that works a lot better than autofocus. However, not with a 300mm of course. I don’t really buy digital equipment anymore. All my other purchases are used cameras either via ebay or in second hand camera shops. The second hand shops in San Sebastian are expensive though, about a third more expensive than online. At the moment I’m not considering any purchases anyway though.

          • Mon Juan

            The Olympus EVF is $279 at Amazon. More expensive than my camera and same price as the Samyang 300mm. Need to save more or try the lottery. 🙂

          • Lilly Schwartz

            That’s precisely why I don’t have the EVF either. Too expensive! Since I mostly shoot from the hip I don’t really need it anyway, but I’d guess for manual focus it would be superior to the screen. Manual focussing on the screen can only be described as a nightmare. So, in the end I just don’t use manual focus lenses with the E-PL3. It would work fine with adapters, but also the 2.x crop doesn’t really make it too useable for street photography.

            (The best thing for manual focus in my opinion is still a rangefinder, but unless one wins the lottery rangefinder cameras generally use film. I have 4 of them by now, Zorki 3C, Zorki 4K, Olympus XA and Yashica Electro 35 CC. The Leica M is the only digital rangefinder I know and that’s way outside my budget.)

          • Mon Juan

            Fuji has a rangefinder camera. Uses 120 and 220 roll film. Price is $1,664. http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/678957-REG/Fujifilm_16019089_GF670_Rangefinder_Folding_Camera.html

          • Lilly Schwartz

            Oh, that one they just discontinued actually. For medium format I already have a Rolleicord. It definitely takes longer to focus with the magnifier in a TLR, but it’s such a beautiful camera and the IQ is great. I’m definitely staying away from bellows cameras, so if I ever get a MF rangefinder then probably a Mamiya 6 or 7.

          • Mon Juan

            Voigtlander has one for $2,999.

          • Lilly Schwartz

            Film rangefinders are no problem to find. As I said, I have 4 of them. Digital ones however are a different issue. There is only the Leica.

  • I used to shoot m4/3 and switched to Sony because of focus peaking I needed for manual lenses. I have lots of street shots http://www.digitalandfilm.com taken with m4/3.

    • Lilly Schwartz

      I’ve had a look at the NEX as well, but the price was a bit steep for my liking. Focus peaking looks like a cool functionality though. For now I don’t use manual lenses at all, because I’d need the electronic viewfinder to manage manual focussing at all. For the price of the viewfinder I can already get a new native prime with autofocus and there is the Panasonic 14mm on my wish list. Maybe after that I play around with manual lenses a bit 🙂

  • Yuhnise

    Nice shots you had there ! I just bought EPL3 few months ago but seems like the photo that i shot either not sharp or blur when taking moving objects . I’m using the kit lens now. Is it something got to do with the lens or my setting . Or maybe lack of knowledge of fine tuning . Advice needed . Thanks

    • Lilly Schwartz

      Thanks Yuhnise! You can test your lens like this: The camera should be in P mode and you should be in a spot with good light – preferably outside. You should look at the screen while doing it, so that you see what the camera is doing. Press the shutter release button halfway down and the camera will focus. When it is focussed the screen will show a green square at the focus point and it will also make a sound if you haven’t turned that off. Only after it has focussed press the shutter release button all the way down. It might take a moment to focus, so be patient and don’t press all the way down before the green square appears. That way you’re sure that the camera actually had time to focus before taking the picture. Now you can look at the picture you took on the big screen and see whether it is sharp. If it is blurry and unsharp despite giving it time to focus, your lens might be the problem. However, the kit lens is normally perfectly sharp, so I suspect it might also have something to do with your settings or the way you shoot. If you just press the shutter release button all the way down without pre-focussing the camera might take a picture without managing to focus. This happens to me a lot in low light or when I shoot with wide aperture and the distances of the subjects vary. Give the camera time to focus before you press the shutter release button all the way down if you want to make sure that some part of the picture is actually in focus.

      Shake is a different problem than blur. If you get shake in a lot of your pictures, then your shutter speed is probably too slow. This might automatically happen if you shoot in P mode when there is not enough light. You can remedy this by using S mode and set the shutter speed to a faster value. The focal length of the lens usually also contributes to shake and blur, so the further you zoom in, the faster your shutter speed needs to be. The rule of thumb is: 1/(focal length*crop factor) when dealing with a lens without image stabilisation. For 20mm on the E-PL3, which has a crop factor of 2, this would be 1/40. The E-PL3 has image stabilisation as well, so you might be able to push it further if you hold really still. The image stabilisation only compensates for your own shaky hands and not for moving objects in the picture though, so keep that in mind. You have to compensate further for moving objects. For people walking while you are standing 1/250 is usually a safe bet. If you’re moving at the same time you have to also compensate for your own movement, so you should try 1/500 for this. This is what I use mostly with my 20mm lens. Fast moving objects like bikes or cars need higher speeds or you have to follow their movement with the camera while you take the picture. You can google “motion blur tutorial” if you need a full explanation on how to do that. Oh, and if all this focal length, aperture and shutter speed talk is still a bit difficult for you I recommend that you also look at a tutorial on aperture and exposure times as well. It’s confusing at first, but once you wrap your head around it, it’s actually very simple. Hope I could help you with this and good luck!

      • Yuhnise

        wow..this kind of info will be much helpful for me in the period of learning . But most important thing practice practice practice makes perfect right .
        I also have Olympus pancake 17mm f2.8 lens . what do you think about this lens?

        • Lilly Schwartz

          Indeed, practice makes perfect! I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it!
          I haven’t tried the Olympus pancake yet, but it looks like a nice lens. I’m pretty sure that the autofocus is faster with the E-PL3 than the Panasonic 20mm I’m using. At least I haven’t seen as many complaints about the autofocus speed as with the Panasonic. The focal length is definitely a nice one, also for street photography. However, for me it’s probably too similar to the 20mm. I’m thinking of getting the 14mm Panasonic next for some really wide-angle street photography. Should be fun to get really close.

          • Mon Juan

            I have the E-PL3 but I do not know how to take B & W photos with it. What it has is the grainy B & W.

          • Lilly Schwartz

            Hei Mon. Not sure what you mean with “grainy B&W”. You can find the monochrome mode of your E-PL3 in Shooting Menu 1 under Picture Mode. It’s called “Monotone”. However, I recommend that you continue to shoot in colour, best in RAW quality and then convert the pictures to black and white in post-processing. You will get much better results than with in-camera conversion. Maybe that’s what you mean with the B&W mode of the camera being grainy. I myself shoot RAW and then convert the pictures in Alien Skin Exposure.

          • Mon Juan

            Thank you very much for the swift reply.

          • Lilly Schwartz

            You’re welcome 🙂

      • wow, really nice explanation :'( ” I have the same problem ”
        You are really good and seems that you love what you do .
        Gracias

  • Pradeep Ghosh

    Thank u Lilly for your practical advise and also help me to select EPL 5 for street photography.
    .

    • Lilly Schwartz

      You’re welcome Pradeep! I’m glad my article helped 🙂 And have fun with your E-PL5!

  • Jerry

    Thank god i found your blog! i just bought Pen Lite E-Epl3 yesterday thinking of starting some photography technique and capture good shot.
    am not good in this but learning.. will use the original kit for now..

    • Lilly Schwartz

      Glad I could help you, Jerry. Good luck with your new e-pl3. You’ll get the hang of it quickly, I’m sure!

  • Jerry Amsterdam

    Hi Lilly, This is a great blog! The E-PL3 is a great cam for street photography. I used it a lot but since I got the E-PL5 it’s my backup. I recently discovered the great function of the touch screen on the E-PL5. You can flip out the lcd and look down on it like on an old 6X6 camera and just touch where you want the photo to be sharp so focus and release the shutter in one motion.
    This extra function together with the better IQ makes me prefer the E-PL5 above the E-PL3 as a streetcam.

    I hope Olympus will release the rumoured new 25mm lens the first months of 2014 so the E-PL5 will be paired with a fast focusing quality lens.

    • Lilly Schwartz

      Thanks Jerry! I tried the touch screen function of OM-D once and I liked it. However, I wasn’t shooting on the street and with the way I work, it probably wouldn’t be very useful to be honest. I usually just shoot from the hip without even worrying about the focus at all. If it focusses correctly, great, if it doesn’t, bad luck. For slowing down I use my Zorki although even then I mostly just zone focus. The better image quality of the E-PL5 would be the tempting thing. In good lighting conditions the E-PL3 is great, but when it gets dark it leaves a lot to be desired. Does the E-PL5 produce less noise in low-light?

      • Jerry Amsterdam

        Hi Lilly, Sorry to reply so much later. The E-PL5 is internally the same as the E-M5 except for the 5 axis stabilisation. So yes, it’s much better than the E-PL3 in low light. It has a very weak aa filter so it produces more sharpness too. The noise it produces has a kind of analogue grain look, organic. My best advise: shoot raw. I picked the E-PL5 body up for €249,- in Holland so I guess it’s a good choice quality/price wise.
        Perhaps it’s only me but I think the 20mm lumix is faster to focus if you use the lcd to tap focus and release.

        • Lilly Schwartz

          Oh, the E-PL5 is so much down in price? I guess that’s why I don’t invest in digital gear anymore, it just doesn’t keep the value. I still have the E-PL3, so I have even more issues with low light shooting. It actually produces more noise at 1600 than what I can achieve in grain when I’m pushing ISO 400 film to 3200 or 6400. That’s why I usually don’t shoot the E-PL at night. As for the focus on the Panasonic 20mm: It is actually appalling how slow it is and how much it forces me to “spray and pray”, as they call it. Nowadays I would probably encourage people to get the more expensive Olympus 17mm instead because that also has a focus scale and can be zone focused!

  • Randy Hauigen

    Wow great work,did you use the stock lens for these pics?

    • Randy Hauigen

      I should have said kit lens..Sorry.

      • Lilly Schwartz

        No worries, Randy, and thanks for the compliment! I’m glad you like the pictures! The first three pictures (after the shot of the camera itself) and also the last four pictures were taken with the kit lens. The others were taken with the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7 ASPH. Also check out the tags below the post – MZuiko 14-42mm and Panasonic 20mm. If you click on them you can see all posts containing pictures taken with either one of those lenses. I hardly use the kit lens at all now. The image quality of the Panasonic is far superior. Besides I always prefer prime lenses, because they are obviously more predictable when shooting from the hip.

        • Randy Haugen

          Thanks Lilly I have found the kit lens to be really pretty good in good light,in low light not great but still better than most P@S Cameras. Got mine here in the states for 190.00 and have very pleased with it,Going to try a adapter to use a Canon Prime lens using manual focus just for fun. Anyway thanks and happy shooting!

          • Lilly Schwartz

            Yes, I agree, in good light the kit lens is pretty decent anyway. The image quality is miles off from the Panasonic 20mm though. If you’re looking at adapters, make sure to get one with an aperture ring, since the aperture on the Canon is controlled electronically. Otherwise you can only change the aperture with the depth of field preview on the Canon body, which is probably a hassle. Haven’t tried to get an adapter myself by the way, because I don’t shoot much at 70mm (35mm on a 2.0x crop would be my widest Canon lens). Happy shooting 🙂

  • Jerry Amsterdam

    Hi Lilly, Love your blog and using theE-PL3! I found I need to do something different to switch off the AF light. Shouldn’t it be: Turn off the AF illuminator. This function typically uses a little red LED to help the camera focus in dark lighting conditions. Having that shine into someone’s face is rather rude. You find this function in cogwheel menu A on the second screen ->AF Illuminator. ?

    • Lilly Schwartz

      Hi Jerry! Glad you like the blog 🙂 And you’re completely right, I corrected it now. That little mistake must have been carried over from the previous item on turning the focussing sound off. Thanks for pointing it out!

  • Hi Lilly! Best review for Olympus Pen E-PL3 so far!
    I use Olympus for a year already but still can’t find the best settings for Fashion Photography, do you have any advice, perhaps?
    Thankyou in advance! 😀

    • Lilly Schwartz

      Thanks for the compliment, Annisa, I’m glad you found it helpful. Your question about fashion photography is a difficult one, since I haven’t done any fashion myself. As far as I know most high fashion stuff happens on middle format, so I’m really curious as to what you’re up to there. Since I have only rather theoretical knowledge on the subject take my advice with a pinch of salt, I’m just guessing here from what I know about portrait photography. The most problematic thing you will encounter is in this case the light I think. In portrait and fashion people work a lot with off camera flash, diffusers and reflectors, so that all the little wrinkles, shadows and blemishes disappear. This also helps to stay at low ISOs where noise is minimal. The last point is especially important for the E-PL3, since its low light capabilities are rather limited in comparison to cameras with bigger sensors. In street photography a bit of noise doesn’t matter, but in fashion it’s usually a deal breaker. You should probably stick to ISO 200-400 in this case. Everything above that looks horrific, especially in colour. As for the specifics on flash: You can do quite a bit of that also with the E-PL3, look here for more information on the subject. I myself do only available light, so I can’t give you any more information on the subject. As for lenses: A fast lens would be the way to go, since that reduces the lighting problem and also helps you isolate the subject. I can highly recommend the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens, which delivers really excellent image quality. With fashion also the problem of the slow autofocus disappears, because the distance to the subject doesn’t change as much as in street photography. If you want more of a standard focal length then I’ve also heard good things about the Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens, which is even faster. It’s a bit more expensive and doesn’t quite live up to the Leica name tag, but it’s good quality nonetheless. The one big problem I can see with the E-PL3 is getting decent colours. Definitely don’t go to higher ISOs, because then the colours are really rather bad. Of course you should always shoot in RAW and best use a grey card on location so that you can adjust the white balance in post-processing.

      That’s all I’ve got in advice for fashion, since it’s really quite the opposite from what I normally do. Street photography is candid, gritty and rough, where fashion is posed, glossy and perfectionist. It obviously needs quite different techniques. Hope I could help anyway!

      • wow i didn’t expect to get such a long reply from you, Lilly! i really appreciate it~
        thankyou for the reply and i’m going to try my best to follow your advice! sadly i only have Nikon for the lens, i wonder if it’s gonna do well?
        anyway, thankyou, really! more success onwards in your career! looking forward for your updates on photography 🙂

        • Lilly Schwartz

          No problem 🙂 So, you use a Nikon lens with the Novoflex adapter? The quality should be fine, but of course you’re limited in frame size, after all the E-PL3 is a 2x crop. For me it’s not really an option because I prefer wider focal lengths. Is that manual focussing then? In that case I probably would try to get the electronic viewfinder for the camera. I find it so difficult to manual focus with the E-PL3 on the screen! Thank you for the good wishes 🙂

  • stanee

    is the PL3 good for taking night scenes ?

    • Lilly Schwartz

      Depends on your standards. I personally think that it produces quite a lot of noise at ISO 1600. With a tripod and long exposure this won’t be a problem, but if you’re planning to shoot handheld at night I would look at one of the newer models. The E-PL5 supposedly produces much less noise. Of course looking for a camera with a bigger sensor is also a good option. Hope this helps.

  • Great sharing from you Lilly, totally agree with you with the noise issue of E-PL3. That’s the reason I hate to shoot it in dark with my own hands all the time on the kit lens, until lately I force it to engaged with Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens. For me the kit lens only serve for landscaping as of now though I would to prefer a wider lens. I am excited of the rumor & looking forward for the Olympus mirrorless full frame camera in the up coming exhibition at Cologne. Have you heard of any?

    • Lilly Schwartz

      Thanks Dixon. If you like the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 you should probably also take a look at the Olympus 17mm f/1.8. It’s supposed to be great! I don’t really use the kit lens at all anymore, not only because it’s quite annoying to use for street photography, but also because it’s just not fast enough for the sensor of the e-pl3. Full frame mirrorless camera? So far only Sony is in the segment. To me it looks too big for street photography, so not really interesting for my kind of work.

  • Great post Lilly, you really helped me choose my camera. I chose E-pl5 since here E-pl3 isnt available anymore, and i am concerned if my camera is faulty and since its very similar to E-pl3 I hope you will be able to help me. In general it’s great camera but my concern is in SCN/Night+Portrait mode. Switched to that mode with flash mounted on when I try to take picture flash goes rapidly on several times before taking photo giving me unusable red photo. I don’t use that mode but problem is when iAUTO (which i use most decides to use Night+Portrait mode itself. I think i have figured out problem is in flash mode ”red eye slow”. Can you please tell me if you or anyone else have mentioned issues? If someone wants to help me please choose SCN/Night+Portrait mode, mount flash and take photo in some dark place and let me know. Might be i have defective camera. Thanks a lot.

    • Mon Juan

      I have the E-PL3. Unfortunately I don’t use the SCN/Night+Portrait mode so I cannot help you right now.By the way, the E-PL3 is still available at Amazon.

    • Lilly Schwartz

      I already replied to this elsewhere, but I put my suggestions here as well in case anyone else runs into this problem. I haven’t tried this out myself, because my flash somehow disappeared, but intuitively I’d try something like this: 1. You should probably use a different mode than iAuto. They all should have flash sync and one of the manual modes will probably let you change your flash mode as well. As far as I know flash sync has a fastest speed of 1/160 so choose shutter priority mode S, select a speed slower than 1/160, select a flash mode and then see whether the problem remains. In general you will realise that using one of the semi automatic modes will give you better results and more control than the fully automatic modes. 2. If changing the flash mode didn’t help then check whether your white balance is correct. Wrong colours usually point to a problem with white balance. The auto white balance function isn’t very good so you should use the correct mode for the lighting situation. If you shoot RAW, which I would highly recommend, then you can also change the white balance in post processing. However, for now make sure you select WB Flash when you’re using the flash. I hope this helps. And let me know how you’re getting on!

  • Hi, Lilly. When you say you “shoot from the hip” I take it you don’t mean that literally. (Kinda tough but acrobats could probably handle it.) Can you explain a little more? Do you mean you have the camera on a strap around your neck? If so, how low do you let it ride? I’m thinking of using a wrist strap. I started out hating them but now find I can whip the camera up to eye level pretty quickly with my finger still “on the trigger.”

    • Yes, I mean that I have the camera on a strap around my neck. The camera is usually at belly button level for me. Wrist straps are alright too – my Olympus XA has one of those. However, I find that I find it a little annoying with a heavy camera. No problem with the E-PL3 though, it’s rather light in comparison to my Leica.

  • Pavel P.

    Hi Lilly, I came across your web and this article about EPL3. I read it a couple of times already as I find it very informative and to the point. I am now trying to choose a camera for street. Your article is two years old. If you were deciding what digital camera for your style of shooting in these days. Would you recommand something? I am considering Oly EM-10, Panasonic GX7 and Sony A6000. Or some Oly PEN.

    I am now shooting with compact Oly XZ10. But it is too slow…

    Pavel

    • Hi Pavel, definitely a difficult question, mainly because I’m not up to date with any of the current digital gear. I went back to film a while back and have been shooting a Leica M6 since, which means that there isn’t so much choice for me in the digital realm which can keep up with that. Nevertheless, on a consumer level I still like the E-PL3 and the newer Pen models are obviously an improvement on the image quality. The E-PL3 is great during the day, but the low light capabilities are limited. This is much better with the newer models. If I had to go back to digital I would probably upgrade to the E-PL7 since I’m sort of invested in the MFT system now. MFT lenses are quite good by the way, but with those you really want to keep in mind the autofocus if you’re shooting street. The Panasonic 20mm is very good in image quality, but the autofocus is infuriating. I would probably go with the M.Zuiko 17mm 1.8 instead nowadays which wasn’t yet out back when I got the 20mm. The autofocus is supposedly a tad faster and it also has focussing scales, without which zone focussing is impossible on the E-PLs (zone focussing is faster than any autofocus could ever be). Not sure whether this helps, but maybe a little at least.
      Lilly

  • Rachael

    Hi Lilly
    I recently got a second hand epl3 and found your site after googling to find user reviews. I love your stuff, but especially the way you are so helpful to people asking advice!!

    I am a little confused though about zone focussing. You say you like lenses like the panasonic because of the low f number, but for zone focussing you must be closing the aperture a bit, no? Am I missing something?

    Thanks

    Rachael

    • Hi Rachael,
      You’re right, that might seem a little confusing! For zone focussing of course stopping down is necessary or you won’t be able to hit the target. What you also need are focussing scales or else it’s very difficult to do. The Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 is definitely the wrong lens for that because it has no scales. It’s primarily to be used with the infuriatingly slow autofocus, a real downside of the lens. The only redeeming qualities of the 20mm Pana are the really good image quality and the low light capabilities. If you don’t have fast moving targets it’s a very good lens, but for street it’s not ideal because of the slow AF. It’s not unusable, but nevertheless quite hit and miss. Nowadays I’d probably get the Olympus 17mm f/1.8 instead, which wasn’t available yet when I got the Panasonic lens. It has a slightly faster AF and markings for zone focussing. The lower f-stop is unrelated to the zone focussing though. It just means that the lens is more versatile, because you can also use it in low light with the autofocus – of course you can also use manual focus, but you will probably need the electronic viewfinder for that. Hope this clears things up 🙂

      Lilly

      • Rachael

        Hi Lilly
        Thanks for the reply. I am actually using an old Tamron 28mm f2.8 lens designed for 35mm film cameras. It has aperture dof markings so good for zone focussing. But it is BIG! I am thinking of getting a 28mm MFT lens but am I losing anything this way? Does the big old lens let me shoot better in low light?

        Thanks

        R

        • Hi R,
          Are you using that 28mm in manual mode then? The question is really how sharp your 28mm is at f/2.8 and whether you can find a lens of comparable focal length that is equally sharp at f/2.8 and maybe even at a wider aperture. In any case I bet you would already win with the handling though since I expect that a big old Tamron in manual mode might be a right pain to use on the E-PL3!
          L

  • Rachael

    Hi Lilly,

    It’s not so much a pain to use just heavy! And it seems pretty sharp to me.

    I guess what you are saying is that I don’t lose anything by going to mft except money! I agree, to get something better like Olympus 25mm f1.8, even second hand, prices are about ten times what my current lens would sell for on eBay. All that money and it doesn’t have dof markings….

    I think I will stick with my old lens for now. I’m looking forward to using the e-pl3 articulated screen for street work. And it has image stabilisation in camera which is a bonus if you are using an old lens like me.

    Thanks

    Rachael

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