Olympus E-P5 and San Francisco Street Photography

Best Friends, Market Street - San Francisco, California

Best Friends, Market Street – San Francisco, California

I was all set to do a standard review of the Olympus E-P5. Charles, the Olympus representative based out of Dallas, was nice enough to lend me the E-P5 for a week and a half. I was heading out to California on a business trip so I decided to bring it along. I played with it for a couple of days before the trip and already had a good idea of what I was going to say about it. That all changed when I began shooting it in a real environment.

I headed to downtown San Francisco, Market Street, directly from SFO. This was the heart of downtown and would be an excellent place to do some street photography. It has a mix of tourists, business people and colorful characters. The perfect spot to find some great subjects.

Bicycle Commuter, Market Street - San Francisco, California

Bicycle Commuter, Market Street – San Francisco, California

Hop, Skip and Jump - San Francisco, California

Hop, Skip and Jump – San Francisco, California

While I usually shoot aperture priority, I’ve started to shoot shutter priority for these street shots. I set a minimum shutter speed, set it to Auto ISO and have the camera do the rest. As it gets darker the ISO automatically goes up but I maintain a fast enough shutter speed. I’ve used this technique very effectively in Austin, on 6th street. Except I made some mistakes. Chalk it up to inexperience in the big city.

I started with a 1/125 per second, which worked fine in Austin. But in the faster pace of San Francisco, I got too much motion blur. People were walking briskly and I was also moving so it was hit or miss with this shutter speed. Over time, I increased the shutter to 1/160s and finally to 1/200s. I started getting more keepers with the higher speed. Of course it was getting darker so the ISO eventually hit 1600.

Enjoying a Street Performance - San Francisco, California

Enjoying a Street Performance – San Francisco, California

Promotions, Market Street - San Francisco, California

Promotions, Market Street – San Francisco, California

OMG. I’m here to tell you that the Olympus E-P5 is amazing for street photography. Sure the camera looks good and that was going to be the focus of my review but after shooting in San Francisco last night, I needed to talk about this camera differently. The E-P5’s speed, the flip-up LCD and the unobtrusive size make it the perfect street camera.

I currently own 4 Olympus Pen cameras, two E-PL1s, a E-P3 and E-PM2. With over 20,000 frames with these cameras, I’m quite experienced and knowledgable about Olympus micro 4/3. The E-P5 is the best. Not only is it the most beautiful and balanced Pen camera, it’s the most fun to shoot. I’ll go into the aesthetics in a future post but it certainly has a premium feel to match its premium price.

Checking In, Market Street - San Francisco, California

Checking In, Market Street – San Francisco, California

Cable Car Operators - San Francisco, California

Cable Car Operators – San Francisco, California

The Olympus OM-D and the E-PL5 both have flip-up LCDs but the E-P5 is superior because of the better ergonomics. The controls fit well in hand, the camera is smaller than the OM-D and the “kit” 17mm f1.8 works great on the street. To keep the lowest profile, I took off the VF-4 electronic view finder. There was no direct sun so I had no trouble using the LCD for composing. I flipped up the LCD and shot it at waist and chest level. Many people didn’t know I was shooting — others just ignored me — probably because it wasn’t a big honking camera. Try that with a DSLR.

Plugged in - San Francisco, California

Plugged in – San Francisco, California

Being Tourists and Enjoying it - San Francisco, California

Being Tourists and Enjoying it – San Francisco, California

I often do street portraits where I ask permission before I shoot. This time, I did classic street photography, I shot away without asking. It also felt a bit strange doing this outside the confines of an event. It is one thing to shoot this way in a parade or the ROT Biker Rally, it is another to do so on a regular city street. Unlike my usual photos, these were shot in JPEG (actually I shot in JPEG and RAW) since Aperture 3 still does not have a RAW converter for the E-P5. I only did some light post processing on the JPEGs.

As it got dark, I set the max Auto ISO from the default 1600 to 3200. The camera continued to focus quickly and bang away shots flawlessly. This camera has the same sensor and image processor as my E-PM2 so I wasn’t expecting too much, just an upgrade to the fit and finish. I was wrong. The camera is a whole lot more enticing that I ever imagined. Curses, I wasn’t budgeting for another camera.

Stay tuned. More E-P5 coverage to come soon.

Casual Apparel - San Francisco, California

Casual Apparel – San Francisco, California

Missing the Tram - San Francisco, California

Missing the Tram – San Francisco, California

Waiting for the Tram - San Francisco, California

Waiting for the Tram – San Francisco, California


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14 thoughts on “Olympus E-P5 and San Francisco Street Photography

  1. I’m impressed that you were able to use auto focus so effectively evenin low light. I have the same 17mm on my OM-D but usually opt for manual zone focusing. What were you AF settings, especially center or multiple focus point selection?

    Ed

    1. Hi Ed, I was using center, single point focusing. I had face detection on which worked pretty decently but ultimately, I should have turned it off. It conflicted sometimes with the composition and focus point I wanted.

  2. When you acquire it permanently (as you must) try upgrading the firmware on one of the E-PL1s and see how the VF-4 performs in comparison with the E-P5.

    I knew it would yield a lower quality image — even Olympus readily concedes the VF-4 will produce a “slightly degraded image” on cameras earlier than the E-PL5, the earliest model, I believe, for which it is a native device.

    On my E-PL1, though, the viewfinder was basically unusable: thin, somewhat blue image with vague contrast, excessive brightness, and colors which were simply unrealistic. No amount of fiddling with the camera’s EVF brightness and color controls would help.

    Bless B&H for its return policy. Back it went.

    Only by asking others will I ever know if it was simply a bad copy or if the E-PL1 and the VF-4 are fundamentally a bad combination.

  3. Michael, I’ll see if I can update the firmware before I return the VF-4 and E-P5. It’s nice though that Olympus is still issuing firmware updates for an older camera.

    I did update my E-PM2 and the viewfinder works great, though it requires the manual switchover to the EVF. But, as you mentioned, this is a new camera which came out at the same time as the E-PL5.

  4. Seems like you are really enjoying the E-P5. It’s certainly a lovely camera and by far the nicest m43’s in my opinion. Ergonomics go a long way into the enjoyment of a camera and ‘downgrading’ to the E-PM2 (as nice as it was) from the E-P3 I actually stopped enjoying m43’s and ended up selling my whole kit! Saying that, my m43’s gear essentially paid for me to have a 6D and a nice compliment of lenses for it. Also had a complete re-arrange of all my gear in general and really happy with my setup now as I didn’t ‘fall into it’ or let it evolve, I planned out each bit of gear and just got all the stuff I wanted/needed. Barely cost me anything (other than some time to offload the old gear and purchase the new) and I couldn’t be happier!

    Though every time I look at the E-P5 I get just a little bit weak at the knees 😉 Thanks for your write up, I value your opinions greatly because I think overall we value similar things in our gear.

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