It was moments after the official announcement of the Olympus PEN-F. I just posted my review of the PEN-F along with a dozen journalists and bloggers, when the embargo lifted at midnight, last Tuesday. A group of us decided to go out to celebrate.
At the Chupacabra Cantina, on East 6th Street, Virginia was curious about the camera we were shooting. “What’s that?”, she asked. “Oh, it’s a brand new camera that was announced less than an hour ago.” Virginia was intrigued — she had just bought a classic Pentax film camera and loved black and white. With its retro looks and film simulations, I explained that the PEN-F is as close to film photography you can get with a modern digital camera. We did an impromptu photo shoot.
The Chupacabra was terribly dark, as is usual in places like this, and any existing light was supplied by funky and colorful LEDs. Monochrome Profile 2, which simulates grainy black and white film like Kodak Tri-X, was going to work well. With the flick of the front control dial, I quickly shifted from a saturated color simulation to black and white. I’m really happy with the portrait I made. Grainy, yes, but it imbued a texture and mood that I was after.
Beyond its good looks and film simulations, I think the PEN-F is perfect for Street Photography. Perfect for 6th street. Austin’s famous, low-rent entertainment district that caters to college kids and tourists. I go there often, at night, to shoot the street and to test cameras. Low light and fast action make it challenging, photographically. The PEN-F worked well, especially with my favorite the Olympus 17mm f1.8 lens.
I shot these over two successive nights. For some strange reason, Monday was more lively than Tuesday. Usually, the activity level ramps up as you go through the week. Friday and Saturday, as you can imagine, are the crazy nights.
As in my Olympus PEN-F review, I shot all photos in JPEG and did no post-processing — all images are straight off the camera. Even more than the grainy black and white (Monochrome Profile 2), I like the vivid chrome setting (Color Profile 3). I found that it matches my aesthetic for rich vibrant colors. My favorite feature on the camera is the front control dial that easily allows me to switch from vivid color, to black and white and even art filters or neutral color. Don’t like the preset profiles? You can customize them to your liking.
The crazy saturated colors work well, I think, on a party street like 6th. And the fast focusing and good ISO performance helps too in a place like this. Over the years, as Olympus’ high ISO performance increased, I’ve gradually ratcheted up my maximum ISO, currently set to 6400. Shot at f1.8 or f2, I can get 1/60 to 1/80 of a second shutter, more or less.
Because micro 4/3 is a smaller sensor than full frame or APS-C, I get more depth of field, which works great on the street. Instead of shooting Aperture Priority, I’ve shifted to shooting Shutter Priority. I adjust the shutter speed accordingly, depending on the situation. For static scenes, I might drop my shutter to 1/15s or 1/30s to maximize image quality. Auto ISO nicely adjusts lower.
I spotted these two down the street and had to make a photo — they were more than happy to oblige. I shot first in Black and White and quickly shifted to color. No fumbling through the menus, again just a quick flick of the front dial. That’s the great thing about 6th Street, you never know who you’re going to meet.
Here are more photos from the Chupacabra. I made a portrait of Virginia and Leo, as well as with her friend Erika. ISO set to 6400, but with the shutter down at 1/20 of a second. It’s dark in there but the in-body image stabilization helps a lot. I also found that, in darker conditions, the Monochrome Profile 3 works well with a +2/3 exposure compensation. That opens up some of the shadows and gives me an exposure I prefer.
Finally, after the Chupacabra, we made one last stop at a different bar, the Coyote Ugly. It was brighter here, but I forgot to increase the shutter speed. The ISO was a reasonable 1600. With the added grain from the Monochrome Profile 2, however, the ISO 1600 images and the 6400 images look about the same. The simulated grain does hide a lot. Perhaps I should have tested even high ISOs with this Monochrome setting.
Any additional tests will have to wait, unfortunately, I had to return the PEN-F to Olympus. I’m really missing the front control dial and the film simulations. My OM-D E-M5 Mark II is a great camera but the PEN-F is so much more fun.
If you found this post helpful and entertaining, consider using my affiliate links to make any purchases, anything, not just cameras. You get the same prices and I get a small commission.
Where can you get the Pen-F? There’s always Amazon. (here is my Amazon link). Better yet, if you live outside of Texas, get the camera tax-free from Precision Camera. (here is my Precision Camera link) They are a great local Austin camera store and their prices for the Pen-F should be the same as the big guys. If you’re from Texas, get it from Precision anyway and visit the store when you’re in Austin.
Ever since reviewing the playful Olympus Air, I’ve experimented with the in-camera Art filters. While I returned the Air to Olympus, I still have my OM-D E-M5 Mark II, which has the same filters effects. Olympus had these for a while, on their various models, I just never used them. Thanks to the Air, I’m doing something different.
Drink and Click is always a fun, social event and perfect for non-serious photography. Perfect for playing with filters. Olympus also sponsored the event and brought along a large selection of OM-D cameras. They’ve done this several times and their popularity continues to grow.
I suppose Art Filters are gimmicky, kind of like Instagram filters. Though Ironically, on my Instagram feed, I rarely use them. But not all photography needs to be serious and these filters add a certain mood. Mundane scenes can become more interesting.
As usual, at Drink and Clicks, there are models to be shot. Profoto brought lights, a skinny model contorted and photographers snapped away. It was a cold night for Austin, in the low 40s, and I was amazed at Eugenia resolve — unfazed in her slight, white outfit. She seemed Eastern European, which if so, might explain her hardiness. To her this may have felt like a spring night.
I had my often used 17mm lens which gives me my favorite 35mm equivalent view. It’s a nice versatile lens but hardly ideal for shooting portraits. In retrospect, I should have borrowed Olympus’ well regarded 75mm f1.8. That would have been perfect.
I made the best of it with the 17mm and made this very unorthodox portrait. I applied the Diorama filter which gives this blurring and glowing effect. Hardly textbook but I like it. At least it looks unique.
Of course, models aren’t the only beautiful things to shoot. Juan took a picture that afore-mentioned luscious 75mm f1.8 lens. If I shot more portraits, this will be the lens to get. It’s pricy but, even with Micro 4/3, you can get shallow depth of field and smooth bokeh.
I spent the last hour, in doors, with the owners of Precision Camera and the Olympus reps. After 25 years in Austin, I no longer have a tolerance for the cold. The Irish pub was warm and inviting. Moody lights and a Christmas Tree enhanced by yet other filter.
I’m not going to use the filters all the time. Yet, the more I shoot, the more I realize that photography for me is less about realism and clarity rather it’s about mood and emotion. Digital excels at clean images, yet some prefer the imperfections of film. The Art Filters digitally manipulate, though they somehow soften the perfection. Perhaps that’s the attraction.
My previous posting, The 2015 Austin Dia de los Muertos Parade, was in black and white. It was an homage to classic street photography and an acknowledgement of my growing interest in monochromes. But it would be a shame not to share the event’s wonderful colors and textures. I shot the entire parade in both black and white (JPEG) and in color (RAW), so I got to choose which I liked better.
I have a simple rule of when I use color versus black and white. I try to maximize impact. I like dynamic images after all, and if the color is not adding anything, I’m more likely, these days, to explore monochrome. Here, colorful textures and the deep blue of these costumes are more than enough to justify color.
Sometimes, I’m torn between the black and white and color versions of a photograph. You may remember this picture from my previous post where it was in monochrome. I like that image very much, it’s one of my favorites. This version works too, I think, though it changes the emphasis slightly. The costumes to the right distract somewhat from the central subject — but the layers of colors are enticing. Ultimately, I think the subject is strong enough to hold attention and the color enhances and does not completely overwhelm. Which do you like better?
Here is an example where color is a necessity and there is no doubt of its efficacy. The figure in green anchors the image and separates it from the other elements. I found that without the color, the center didn’t hold.
Along the way, I captured noteworthy spectators. The parade was held on Halloween this year and I found some costumes, on the sidelines, made for colorful image making.
Here’s my favorite character, this time in the middle of Congress Avenue, near the end of the parade. The red paint makes him look even more fierce.
We reached the terminus in front of a shiny modern office tower. These hand-made papier-mâché characters contrasted nicely against the sleek glass exterior.
I’ll finish where I started, women with their airy lace parasols. White outfits with a slash of red and its bold use of color. As much as I love color, I realized it’s not necessary to always use it. Photography, in once sense, is the art of exclusion. How do you simplify the image while still telling the story? I’ve come to realize that color can take away from the strength of an image, adding more complications without much benefit.
I’m not shying away from color. It’s definitely something to use when it adds benefit — sort of like those touches of red in the costumes. To be sure, in a richly textured event like this, it would be a shame not to explore color.
It was a busy Halloween for me this year, photographically. I went downtown for my 3rd Annual Halloween Portraits on 6th Street where I shot street portraits at night with a flash augmented with post processing — the portraits have sort of a studio feel. And earlier that same day, I was down on the east side shooting a parade in a more typical street photography style. I’ve been enjoying black and white a lot lately. I actually shot both color and monochrome, but for this post, it’s all black and white. Sort of a nod to the roots of street photography.
I think the key to these events is to get down there early. I was there at 11am, an hour before the parade started and was rewarded with the opportunity to document behind the scenes. Photographing the parade is fun, but I wanted to capture the candid, atypical views.
The event has become popular. This is my 3rd time and I’ve noticed a dramatic increase in photographers. Even compared to my last visit, 2 years ago, I noticed more pre-parade onlookers. The thing is, I didn’t want to shoot the same portraits, like most people. I was challenging myself to shoot things the other people weren’t.
I got close and searched for interactions.
I looked for gestures and patterns.
When I did portraits, I wanted them to look more casual
I also took pictures of the parade, of course. East Austin is changing rapidly with new apartments, gentrifying. Two years ago, I didn’t see any of these hip accommodations. Documenting this parade had the added benefit of documenting a changing east side.
I wasn’t content just shooting from the sidelines. It’s fun but challenging to use a wide-angle and get in close. I would jump in the middle of the action, once in a while, to get these. But I didn’t embed myself in the parade the entire time, since I didn’t want to get in the way of the other onlookers.
Finally, I was on the lookout for interesting people on the sidelines. I asked these sharply dressed women for a portrait and later sent them a copy (both in color and black and white).
After looking at my 2011 and 2013 parade posts, I’ve noticed a some shifts in photographic style but nothing dramatic. Perhaps a few less portraits but I’ve shot mostly candid street photographs. While I’ve changed cameras over the years my style remains intact. Not sure if that’s good or bad, maybe I’ve setted into a look that I like.
This is the 3rd year in a row that I was down on 6th Street for Halloween. I’ve grown fond of these street portraits and wanted to continue the series. While the technique is the same, every year brings a new cast of characters. Here are the Halloween portraits I did in 2013 and 2014.
I used the same technique and exactly the same equipment as years past, which I describe in this post. I briefly considered using my newest Olympus, the OM-D E-M5 Mark II, instead of the E-PM2, but decided to use the old camera for nostalgia’s sake. Since everything is manually set, the more advanced features of the E-M5 Mark II added no benefit.
I did make one minor change to the process. I used gaffer’s tape to make sure my controls and focus didn’t move. This made it faster and easier. I shot about 60+ portraits in record time, about an hour and a half. I was there by 8pm and done by 9:30. It started to rain and I was tired from my earlier photography event, so it was an early night for me.
Without realizing it, I framed the portraits a bit differently this year. I was further away, so I mostly captured from around the knee up. In previous years, I composed more from just below the waist. While I liked my compositions, the added distance made my portraits a bit darker and required additional post processing. Something to keep in mind for 2016 portraits?