Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography

Olympus Pen

How does the Canon 6D compare with Olympus micro 4/3?

It’s been nearly six months since I got my Canon 6D and have “gone full frame”. Has my world changed? Not really. But after a half a year’s use, I feel like I know the 6D well enough to make some comparisons. It may sound odd to compare a full frame DSLR to a smaller, mirrorless 4/3 camera, but stick with me. After all, they are both just cameras and the difference may not be as big as you think.

Image Quality

There are certainly obvious differences comparing a full frame sensor to a much smaller one. You have the potential for a lot shallower depth of field — the bigger the sensor, the shallower the depth of field. The big sensor collects more light so my low-light, high ISO images are a lot better with the Canon 6D compared to the Olympus E-PM2.

How much better is the low light performance? Well on the Olympus E-PM2, my newest Pen camera, I’m generally satisfied up to ISO 3200. On the 6D, I feel fine using ISO 8,000 to ISO 10,000. ISO 12,800 feels a bit grainy, depending on the situation. So I get about 2 stops of additional low-light performance.

Women in Red, Congress Avenue - Austin, Texas

Women in Red, Congress Avenue – Austin, Texas

I also feel that the color on the 6D is a bit more vibrant. Not significantly so but when compared next to each other, there is a very slight difference. It almost comes down to a feeling more than something qualitative. Seen in isolation, there is nothing lacking in the Pen’s color performance. And comparing HDRs from both cameras, the color difference disappears.

Colorful Bar, Mi Tierra - San Antonio, Texas

Colorful Bar, Mi Tierra – San Antonio, Texas

When viewed at 100%, I notice a bit more detail in the 6D. This is mostly likely due to the slightly higher resolution 20MP 6D vs 16MP on the Olympus.

Things that I expected to be better on the 6D, aren’t. That would include the dynamic range. The 6D nicely pulls out shadow detail but the highlights don’t recover very well, at least in Aperture 3. I find that, surprisingly, the E-PM2 does equally well for dynamic range. At times, it almost seems better. What also helps is that the Olympus consistently exposes a scene better that the 6D. I will talk about that in the next section.


ROT Rally Parade, 2013 - Austin, Texas

ROT Rally Parade, 2013 – Austin, Texas

One of the biggest annoyances for me on the Canon 6D is its matrix metering. It generally seems to under expose, which I can easily compensate for, however, a small bright area in the frame can really throw off the metering. The exposure gets very dark. I have to add 1 or more stops to compensate. A good example is a photo from the ROT Rally parade. The headlights from the motorcycles really wreaked havoc with exposure. I needed to add + 1 1/3 stops to this image to have it come out reasonably.

The Olympus, on the other hand, handles these conditions a lot better. I rarely need to add more than a 1/3 of a stop possibly 2/3 in these cases. Take a look at the two photos below, taken at the same place. The Canon 6D is on the left and the Olympus E-PM2 on the right. The framing is slightly different since I used a 35mm on the 6D and a 28mm equivalent on the E-PM2. But they illustrate the behavior I get frequently. In fact, the Olympus has a -1/3 exposure compensation while the Canon has compensation upped by +1/3. You can see how dark the Canon is.

Canon 6D
Olympus E-PM2

And it will be OK if I could just always add +2/3 or so of compensation consistently on the 6D, but that doesn’t work either. For even lighting, that would overexpose. I’m wondering if Canon added this behavior because it knows that the 6D doesn’t handle highlights very well. After all, I guess it’s better to preserve the highlights than get something that’s unrecoverable.

This means, of course, that I constantly have to ride the exposure compensation dial and adjust my settings, sometimes by a large amount. Being a DSLR, where I shoot through an optical view finder, I constantly need to chimp on the back LCD to see if the exposure came out correctly. Compare this to the free-flowing way I can use the Olympus. Since I can shoot off the back LCD, I can see before I shoot, whether the exposure looks good. And usually, it nails the exposure properly. At most I might move my exposure compensation up or down 1/3 of a stop.

The bottom line is that with the Canon 6D, I either have to constantly adjust my shooting and/or I do a lot more post processing to have the images look the way I want. This takes some of the enjoyment away.


While the DSLR still has the edge, in general, over mirrorless in fast action sports shooting, for everything else, it no longer matters. At least on the Olympus, the single shot focusing is so fast that I no longer think that the DSLRs have an advantage. The 6D’s center point focusing sensor is more sensitive to lower light, which works better than the Olympus. However, I need to focus and recompose more often.


There is an obvious size difference between the two cameras. I prefer smaller cameras especially since I like to use small prime (non-zooming) lenses. For people using long telephotos (zooms or primes) the beefier grip on the 6D will work better. So the ergonomics will depend a lot on your hand size and attached lenses.

The entry-level E-PM2 has minimal controls but step up to the E-P5 or better yet the OM-D E-M1 and the available buttons and dials equals or bests the Canon 6D.

Blue Cello from the Street, 6th Street - Austin, Texas

Blue Cello from the Street, 6th Street – Austin, Texas

Of course for people carrying cameras for a long time, the attraction of mirrorless is the light weight and less bulk. The 4/3 sensor on the Olympus strikes a nice balance between image quality and body / lens size. What people often overlook is that a smaller sensor shrinks the lenses a lot more than the body. So it’s really the smaller lenses that are more significant.

What I enjoy the most, however, which I talked about earlier, is the difference in shooting style. With the old fashion DSLRs, you have to compose and shoot through the optical view finder. Then you need to look at a separate LCD screen to see if the image came out properly. If you are under controlled lighting, it’s less of an issue. Adjust your settings at the beginning and shoot away. However, if you are shooting on the street under changing conditions, the back LCD becomes more important.

Bat Bar Interior, 6th Street - Austin, Texas

Bat Bar Interior, 6th Street – Austin, Texas

With the mirrorless cameras, you compose either with an EVF (Electronic View Finder) or the back LCD. Either way, you get an exposure and color preview before you take the picture. See something you don’t like, you can adjust it before you take the shot. The active preview makes all the difference. This, more than even the light weight of mirrorless, makes me enjoy photography more.

I guess you can say I got spoiled by the mirrorless cameras or perhaps you can say I got lazier. The bottom line, however, is that I enjoy shooting the Olympus a lot more. The Canon 6D, in comparison, really feels primitive and so last century.


Sure the Canon 6D is capable of wonderful photographs, particularly at high ISOs. It’s really fun to do street photography at night, something that is hard to do with many other cameras. For somebody like me that likes the evening and night, this is a fantastic capability. And this is where I think the 6D excels. Given relatively even lighting at night, I can make images that I would be hard pressed to create with the Olympus.

Cafe Life, Congress Avenue - Austin, Texas

Cafe Life, Congress Avenue – Austin, Texas

But the Olympus, surprisingly, is no slouch at night, especially if you are shooting things with less action. Freezing active people at night is a challenge but for still-lifes, the modern 4/3 sensor cameras come darn close. How is this possible? Well, the Olympus has in-body image stabilization which the 6D lacks. If I use the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 (a 50mm equivalent) plus the image stabilization at ISO 3200, which can offset the nearly 2 stop advantage of the 6D. Consider too that optically the Panasonic Leica is superior to the Canon 50mm f1.4.

Meaghan at Javalina Bar - Austin, Texas

Meaghan at Javalina Bar – Austin, Texas

For most situations, I prefer using the E-PM2 or the other Olympus micro 4/3 over the Canon 6D. They’re smaller, lighter, more fun to shoot and gives excellent image quality (up to ISO 3200) with less fiddling during shooting and post production.

So when do I use the Canon 6D?

Whenever I get a new tool, it takes me a while to figure out how to best use it. I have no regrets selling my Canon 7D and replacing it with the 6D. I rarely touched my previous DSLR. The 6D, however, has several district uses. Here are the cases where it comes in handy.

1. Street shooting at night, as I mentioned earlier. With its great, high ISO performance, it allows me to make images that the Olympus won’t be able to match.

2. Portraits. When I want to get the maximum shallow depth of field to blur out distracting backgrounds, I’ll use the 6D. My Canon 70-200mm f4 IS or 85mm f1.8 are my preferred lenses.

3. Ultimate Detail. The 6D is my highest resolution camera. If I need to get the most detail for regular exposures as well as HDRs, the Canon will best the Olympus, though not by a huge margin. I guess I would need the 36MP Nikon D800 to get the ultimate in 35mm DSLR resolution (No, I have no plans of getting this camera, if you were wondering)

4. Sports. I no longer do much sports or fast action shooting, however, when I do, the 6D is what I will take.

5. Looking Pro. When I’m in a situation where “a pro” like camera is required, the 6D and its beefier lenses certainly makes me play the part better. Don’t laugh. People will judge you by your camera.

So that’s about it. For everything else, I would use the Olympus Pens. Which means that 80 – 90% of the time, I’m going mirrorless.

2013 Dia de los Muertos Parade
2013 Dia de los Muertos Parade

2013 Dia de los Muertos Parade

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My Olympus Pen photographs taken with my E-PM2 as well as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 that was on loan from Olympus. On the Canon 6D, I used the Canon 35mm f2 and 40mm f2.8 lenses.

Click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.

The Cancun Trip, lightening the travel load

Photography Gear for my Cancun Trip

Photography Gear for my Cancun Trip

I’ve given a lot of thought to what I’m bringing on this trip to Cancun, Mexico. I’m going to do some technology experiments in addition to photography so it’s making the gear selection even more challenging. I’m spending some quality time with the family and taking loads of photographs, of course, but for the first time in a while, I’m not taking my computer.

I use a 15″ MacBook Pro as my main computer. I take it with me on trips, certainly for work, but also on vacations so I have somewhere to back up my photographs and do some blogging. This time, I’m trying an experiment by not bringing it. Between the computer, the power adapter and cables, I save nearly 7 pounds of weight. Ironically, while I’ve downsized the cameras by going mirrorless, the backend post-processing infrastructure has remained the same.

My long-term goal is the continue to slim down the computer and the backup mechanisms so that I can travel as lightly as possible. This trip is the first step in figuring all this out. I will certainly blog about what I’m doing and how well it works, just in case you want to do the same.

Originally, I was going to bring only two cameras. I’m taking the Olympus TG-2, of course, that I mentioned yesterday. This is my new waterproof camera and I’m going to use by the pool and beachside — it should be a carefree way to take photos, in a harsh environment. My high quality camera is going to be the Olympus E-PM2. I’ll have the Panasonic 14mm f2.5 lens plus wide-angle adapter for my urban landscapes. I’m also bringing the Olympus 14 – 42 kit lens for versatility and the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 for low light situations.

After a test packing, I decided to add the Olympus E-P3 too. I wanted to have a back up high quality camera, and these Olympus cameras are so small, I can easily find space for another. The E-PM2 and E-P3 share the same batteries so I need only one charger. The E-PM2 will be for wide-angles and the E-P3 will have the 20mm attached. This way, I also minimize changing lenses.

The iPad Mini is going to be the post-processing computer. I’m going to use it to backup photos was well as do image processing and even some blogging — if it all works out. I bought this gadget that I think will make it all possible. I’ve done some tests and things look doable. But, I’m worried. I take a lot of photos and I’m concerned that this infrastructure, while good for an average number of photos, would collapse under the volume that I shoot.

After much thought, I’ve decided to hedge my bets. I got permission from my wife to take her lightweight MacBook Air. It still weighs about 3 pounds but I save half the weight compared to my 15″ MacBook Pro. I’m still going to use the iPad Mini as the primary device — run the experiment as planned — the Air is there just in case. After all, it’s counter productive to stress about the technology during a vacation.

So I’m taking bold steps to reduce the weight, but with a backup plan. I’m curious if it will work. Regardless, at least I’ll have more to talk about on the blog. And if the WiFi works in Cancun, I might post even some updates along the way. See you soon.

Click on the photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure detail.

Unlocking the Custom Menu on your Olympus

The Olympus Pens and OM-D have a very powerful and flexible set of configuration options. Finding the right options, however, can be daunting. Reading the manual can help but can also be cryptic at times. I decided to write a series of blog posts to explain some of the finer points of Olympus Pen configuration.

The first place to start is to enable the Custom Menu on the camera. Through the Custom Menu you can configure an unbelievable number of settings to really customize your camera. I own 3 Olympus Pens, the E-PL1, the E-P3 and E-PM2. All 3 work pretty much the same way. The OM-D also has the same menu structure.

Olympus E-PM2 Setup Menu

Olympus E-PM2 “Mode Dial” (only on the Pen Minis)

Step 1: The E-PM1 and E-PM2 are the low cost cameras that lack a mode dial. The menu above is used only on these two cameras to set the shooting mode. Simply hit the menu button and click over to the “SETUP” option on on the right and hit the OK button to access the menu.

Other Olympus Pens models can directly access the menu without going through this screen. Just hit the menu button.

Olympus E-PM2 Setup Menu

Olympus E-PM2 Setup Menu

Step 2: Most Olympus micro 4/3 cameras (The Pen and OM-D) have menus that look something like this with 4 icons along the left side. If you have 5 icons, an extra icon with “2 gears” above the “wrench” icon, then you are set. The Custom Menu is already enabled.

If you only have 4 icons, as pictured above, then select the “wrench” icon by clicking down on the round control dial. The control dial is located in the bottom right corner on the back of the camera. It has 4 icons surrounding a center OK button. By clicking on the right side of the control dial, you can now scroll through the menu options on the right. Click down to the “Menu Display” option, as shown above. Then click the OK button.

Olympus E-PM2 Menu Display

Olympus E-PM2 Menu Display

Step 3: Clicking the OK button from the previous step should display the screen above. Turn on the top “Menu Display”, the one with the 2 gears, by clicking the control dial to the right. Then clicking up or down on the control dial will turn on or off this option. Click the OK button to set your choice. Once set, you can use the MENU button to back out of this sub menu.

Olympus E-PM2 Custom Menu Display

Olympus E-PM2 Custom Menu Display

Step 4: Confirm if the custom menu has successfully been turned on. If all worked properly, you should see a new icon, a “two gears” icon, above the “wrench” icon on the left side, as pictured above. If you select the “two gears” icon, you will see a lot of new options on the right — from menu item A through menu item J.

Congratulations, you now have the custom menu enabled. This is the first step to unlocking the myriad of customization options on your camera.

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As I shift to Mirrorless, why do I keep my DSLR?

A reader recently left a comment which asked why I still keep my Canon 7D if I’m so happy with my move to mirrorless.

There is one thing in your reasoning that sounds odd to me, if not contradictory. You think this is the time for most photographers to switch to a mirrorless, but, at the same time, admit that you keep your 7D for some special occasions. Where is the simplicity, if you actually need 2 systems to take care of all the situations?

Before I talk about my case, I should start with the broader market. There are valid reasons for using a DSLR and if you like yours and it serves you well, then by all means continue to use it. However, if you are itching for a smaller camera that takes equally good pictures, mirrorless may be the way to go — it’s worked for me and a bunch of my friends. But don’t misconstrue this statement to mean everyone should switch to mirrorless. DSLRs are old tech, in one sense, but old does not mean bad.

Despite the trend towards mirrorless cameras, DSLRs are not going to disappear. They will continue to be used in certain applications for the foreseeable future. Even Rangefinder cameras (like the Leica M series), which are long past their heyday, are still being sold. So when I say that DSLRs are an ancronism and mirrorless is the future, realize that this trend will take many years and some people will never switch.

Cameras, like life, are a series of trade offs — there are no perfect cameras. If you are an Associated Press photographer and shooting the Olympics, I would not recommend using a mirrorless camera. Pro-level DSLRs are really geared for that kind of shooting. That said, it doesn’t mean that mirrorless cameras can’t shoot sports, it’s just not the ideal camera. Heck, a photo journalist did a bang up job taking photos at the Olympics using his iPhone. Likewise, if you want to do street photography, need a travel camera or want a small everyday camera, DSLRs are not the best choice. It doesn’t mean, of course, DSLRs can’t serve that function, it’s just their size and weight tends to get in the way.

But what If I want to shoot it all, you say, street photography, travel photography, sports, kids and weddings? Well I’m sorry to say that you will need to compromise. You will have to weigh the relative uses of each function and decide for yourself what the main purpose of the camera will be. Yes, it is hard sometimes, especially if you want just one camera to do it all. My friend, Mike, is contemplating selling his Canon 5D and the Fujifilm X100 to get one camera, possibly a FujiFilm X-Pro 1. There will be tradeoffs. He will need to compromise and give up some flexibility to do this. But Mike is an experienced photographer so he is savvy enough to make an intelligent decision.

For me, I decided to take the opposite tack. I don’t struggle to find the perfect camera for all situations since I decided to use multiple, different cameras. Yes, most of what I shoot is now done with my Olympus Pens — they are perfect for the type of photography that I enjoy and post on mostlyfotos. But, I don’t expect my Olympus Pens to handle 100% of my photographic needs. I use my Canon 7D and even point and shoots to supplement my Olympus. And truth be told, while the photography comes first, I am also a camera enthusiast — I enjoy shooting with different types of cameras. That is probably one of the main reasons I keep my 7D around as well as my older Olympus E-PL1s and my Sony NEX-5.

But this multi-camera approach has its downsides too. It is also a compromised solution. I need to learn multiple different interfaces. It costs more money. It takes up more space and adds more clutter. Having that one perfect camera would certainly makes things simpler but it’s something that doesn’t exist for me just yet. Perhaps in the future, as technologies improve and I increasingly specialize on a particular type of photography, I can begin to shed cameras. I may however, struggle to overcome my love of using many different cameras. At least for now, you the reader will benefit from me playing with different models and contrasting their strengths and weaknesses on this blog.

Colonial Williamsburg: The U.S. history theme park

Governor's Palace, Colonial Williamsburg - Williamsburg, Virginia

Governor’s Palace, Colonial Williamsburg – Williamsburg, Virginia

Colonial Williamsburg was a puzzle to me. I’ve heard about the place but never went there, even though I lived on the East Coast. I heard conflicting reports that it was a made up place while some claimed it was a real town. So when I had the chance, I decided to start our winter vacation there. And even after looking at their website and brochures, I still didn’t understand Williamsburg until I actually got there and started exploring.

Colonial Williamsburg is sort of like a theme park for American history. Buildings have been moved and rebuilt to simulate life in the American colonies around the time of the American revolution. But it is also the real deal — the town really did exist from way back. The Governor’s Mansion and Capitol, the centerpieces of Williamsburg, were rebuilt on their original foundations as close as possible to the original specifications. The Courthouse and The Magazine, where they kept the arms, are original structures.

Virginia Colonial Capitol - Williamsburg, Virginia

Virginia Colonial Capitol – Williamsburg, Virginia

While there are actors in costume, in fairness to Colonial Williamsburg, this is no ordinary theme park — there are no cute mascots and amusement rides. It’s more of a living museum to American History. Also, unlike a typical amusement park, you can get in and walk around in the town without a ticket. Paying the entrance fee entitles the visitor to tours of the trophy buildings and seeing the demonstrations of the craftsman, such as the blacksmith and wig makers. There are no blatant food stands but there are restaurants in recreated Taverns that line Duke Of Gloucester, the main street.

In Costume, Governor's Palace - Williamsburg, Virginia

In Costume, Governor’s Palace – Williamsburg, Virginia

In Costume, Virginia Capitol - Williamsburg, Virginia

In Costume, Virginia Capitol – Williamsburg, Virginia

Next to Colonial Williamsburg, there are the Market Square Shops, a shopping area done in the Neo-Colonial style. And beyond that, lies the College of William and Mary. Colonial Williamsburg buses, that allow ticket holders to get on and off at several places, make it easy to get around. The main Visitor’s Center complex is where you can buy the tickets. It also has additional shops, restaurants and is the logical place to get started. Everything is done in a classy way and I have come to realize the price of admission is well worth it.

Merchant Square Shops - Williamsburg, Virginia

Merchant Square Shops – Williamsburg, Virginia

Colonial Williamsburg Bus - Williamsburg, Virginia

Colonial Williamsburg Bus – Williamsburg, Virginia

We spent 2 relaxed days there but there is more than enough to fill 3 days. There are resort style hotels right next to the historic buildings but we opted to stay in a more conventional hotel several miles away. The greater City of Williamsburg is like any small city with the usual sprawl. Drive down Richmond Road and you can find a large selection of standard, new restaurants with modern 21st century food.

The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art museums, both under the same roof, are surprisingly good. The museums are included as part of the general admission ticket. Entrance to the museum was a bit confusing — you can enter the primarily underground complex through the Public Hospital of 1773. Since we were during the winter vacation, there was a magnificent Christmas Tree in the restaurant area.

Christmas Tree, Rockefeller Folk Art Museum - Williamsburg, Virginia

Christmas Tree, Rockefeller Folk Art Museum – Williamsburg, Virginia

Big Cat, Rockefeller Folk Art Museum - Williamsburg, Virginia

Big Cat, Rockefeller Folk Art Museum – Williamsburg, Virginia

Exhibits, Rockefeller Folk Art Museum - Williamsburg, Virginia

Exhibits, Rockefeller Folk Art Museum – Williamsburg, Virginia

Colonial Williamsburg is a must for history buffs especially if you are into early American History (the Historic Jamestown settlement is also fairly close). I think the 13-year-old was old enough and knew enough history to appreciate the place. For my 9-year-old, it was more of a stretch. He liked the optional Tavern Ghost Tour we took at night and he was mesmerized by the blacksmith’s handicraft. There are activities geared towards kids that we didn’t strictly follow. Perhaps if we did, our younger son would have like it even more. The Fife and Drum parade down Duke of Gloucester, while not exactly the Disney Electric Parade, did add a nice closure to our stay.

Blacksmith, Colonial Williamsburg - Williamsburg, Virginia

Blacksmith, Colonial Williamsburg – Williamsburg, Virginia

Fife and Drum Parade, Colonial Williamsburg - Williamsburg, Virginia

Fife and Drum Parade, Colonial Williamsburg – Williamsburg, Virginia

Of course for me, any new place is a chance for photography. I enjoyed Williamsburg and its history but I like the architecture the most. It’s not the big city and there are no shiny lights but finding texture and compositions entertained and challenged me. If anything, I would like to spend more time shooting photographs deliberately but the family schedule didn’t allow for that. My small bag carried two cameras with lenses attached. My new Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 and the Olympus E-P3 with the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4. That’s it. I also had a Panasonic wide-angle adapter that I can attach to the 14mm but I had no other lenses. This kept the photography gear to a minimum and let me enjoy the experience without being weighed down.

The Carriage and Courthouse - Williamsburg, Virginia

The Carriage and Courthouse – Williamsburg, Virginia

The Magazine, Colonial Williamsburg - Williamsburg, Virginia

The Magazine, Colonial Williamsburg – Williamsburg, Virginia

Historic Jail Cells - Williamsburg, Virginia

Historic Jail Cells – Williamsburg, Virginia

Reflection on Duke of Gloucester Street - Williamsburg, Virginia

Reflection on Duke of Gloucester Street – Williamsburg, Virginia

Sunset at the Capitol - Williamsburg, Virginia

Sunset at the Capitol – Williamsburg, Virginia

My wife, who doesn’t know much American History, also enjoyed Colonial Williamsburg. We vowed that sometime in the future, perhaps when we are retired, we will return to this place. We can take our time and savor the details especially since we won’t have young kids in tow. Sounds good to me since I’m always up for more photography. I wonder what kind of camera I’ll be using in the distant future.

Photographs taken with the Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 lens. I used the Panasonic wide-angle adapter for 3 of the photos. I also carried a second camera. The Olympus E-P3 with a Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4.

Click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.


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