Journeying through photography


Olympus EP-1 as a Black & white Camera

I promised last time to talk about how I shoot with the Olympus EP-1. I bought the EP-1 at the beginning of last year as stocks of it in the UK where being sold off.

The drive for a smaller camera came about from not wanting to carry my DSLR when going out, but still wanting a good quality camera. I looked into compacts, but couldn’t get away from the poor quality of the images in varying light and started to sway towards the Canon G12. The G12 wasn’t a bad camera, but it just felt like a brick in my hands. It was at this point that I started to look at the micro four thirds cameras and the Samsung NX100. The NX100 although a nice camera was easy to dismiss purely on the availability of lenses (or lack of), which left the micro four third cameras.

It was a hard decision as to which micro four thirds camera to buy and I was torn between the Panasonic GF2 and the EP-1. In the end it came down to the kits available at the time, either the 14-42 with the Panasonic or the 17mm pancake lens with the Olympus. The pancake lens and the EP-1 dual dials swung it for me. The dual dials on the EP-1, allows me to have aperture controlled on one dial and the shutter speed on the other. This sits well because I’ve become used to dual dials on my DSLRs.

So EP-1 in hand, what next? Well a Panasonic 20mm f1.7 of course, because although the 17mm is quite fast at f2.8, it wasn’t quite fast enough. No points to the person that suggests I should have bought the 20mm with the GF2, because I’d have only had one dial still 🙂

Anyway, my first opportunity to shoot with the EP-1 was on holiday, and I soon developed a penchant for shooting it in black and white. There is just something really nice about the EP-1 and black and white that I can’t just put my finger on. Trouble is every now and then I want a shot in colour, but it’s a real pain to have to consider that when you’re shooting away, so I now always shoot in RAW+JPEG. The JPEG is always black and white, but if I want to get a colour copy I can always go back to the RAW file and use that. It does slow the writing to card down a little bit (but not that much) but I plan to eleviate that by getting some class 10 SD cards.

So would I recommend this set-up? hell yeah, although not to Mr Blurry, but he doesn’t know what he is missing yet. The 20mm is a cracking lens coupled with the EP-1. If you want a cheap set-up, you should have a look at it or maybe one of the GF3+14mm kits floating around in the UK at the moment for £200.

Bottom line – small cameras & large sensor rock. Maybe next time we’ll talk about cheap £20 CCTV lenses on micro four thirds.


They call him Mr Blurry

Last year, I bought an Olympus EP-1 in an attempt to have a camera that was more portable than one of my Nikon DSLRs. The goal was to have a camera that I wouldn’t balk at carrying because of it’s size. The EP-1 came in a kit with the 17mm f2.8 Olympus pancake lens, which is both light and equates to a reasonable 35mm.

Quite soon after I happened across the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 which has now replaced the 17mm full time on the front of the EP-1. I have only used the Panasonic 14-42 lens I have once on a family day out, but since then I’ve switched back to the 20mm. Why have I done that? Just because the 20mm seems to be a really great lens and I’m just loving shooting it wide open! Is the 14-42 a bad lens? Nope, I just prefer the 20mm, but I’ve always been a sucker for fast primes when shot wide open.

Anyway, what’s this got to do with blur? I’ll tell you. I’ve only ever got blurry shots from the EP-1 when I’ve ignored the settings and ended up with a shutter speed of 0.8s or some other speed. If I pay attention to the settings, just like I do on my Nikon DSLRs I never get a blurry shot. But here is the thing, I have a friend who decided to look at small cameras to complement his DSLRs and eventually got round to renting an EP-2, a 14mm and a 20mm Panasonic lens set for a trip they were taking. So was he successful? Nope, most of his shots were blurry, and I’ve struggled with this – I can only assume either he was snatching the camera or ignoring the shutter speeds. Neither of which I would expect from him. The solution, rent the Nikon V1, and this time he had no blurry pictures! So unhappy with the cost of the Nikon V1, he has decided to rent a Fuji X1 – I’ve not told him yet, but it’s a brick (UPDATE: he found out).

I have a feeling he will plump for the Nikon, and I think this is probably more out of familiarity and comfort than anything else, but that is probably the most important thing with a camera – to feel comfortable using it. Me, well I’m sticking with micro four thirds, and starting to think about the 45mm f1.8 – Primes seem to be where it’s at with the m43 cameras and it fits with my self imposed rule of not buying a lens slower than f2.8 – maybe I’ll do a post on VR vs aperture.

If you want to read about his experiences, and I recommend you do, have a look here and here.

As for the picture above, this is from the EP-1 and 20mm Panasonic, shot handheld in the Natural History Museum in London. I shot it in black and white, but used the raw to recover the colour – I’ll explain about how I shoot with the EP-1 another time.

Do you spend hours on retouch?

How long do you spend retouching an image? 15 minutes? 30 minutes? an hour? a day? How long do you think it took me to retouch the image on the left to become the image on the right?

It might surprise you to learn that the transformation from the left image to the right took less than a minute in Photoshop including the loading and saving of the image! Really I hear you ask, how did you manage that? Around three years ago I went along to a Photovision road show and watched in amazement as one of the seminar presenters took image after image and blindly (literally) retouched them in less than a minute at a time. This included in one instance a complete replacement of the sky, including dealing the the sky reflection in a lake. The presenter was called Guy Gowan and he really did open my eyes to a superb way of processing images that doesn’t take a lot of time, but produces superb results 9 times out of 10.

I won’t reveal his secret sauce, although one of the foundations is detailed in a previous post, but I do urge you to go check out his web site ( and have your eyes opened to another way of processing that is straightforward, logical and produces great results in no time at all. Obviously in some instances you will want to take the images further and add textures etc to them to bring out the artistic side, but in 90% of your photographs his techniques will nail you the image you were after.

Levelling out

Photoshop puts a really useful tool at your disposal that can automatically change the levels in an image, but most people seem confused by how it works. They’ve read various books and web sites that suggest that one of the first things you should do when starting to edit an image is to apply automatic levels to it and then in dismay they watch the colours in their image shift all over the place only to be left with a crappy looking image. So whats going on? I hear you ask, why has Photoshop decided to shaft all the colours? Well by default it will auto level each of the RGB channels independently rather than applying the levelling to the luminosity of the image.

You can see this effect in the image below where the left hand side has been auto levelled using the per channel method and the right by the monochromatic method. The image on the left has a colour shift towards green giving the skin a green tint, whereas the one on the right doesn’t, maintaining the natural colours in the image (ignore the fact that it was shot with auto white balance etc). So how do you fix this, don’t despair, it is simple to fix this from the levels dialog.

Open the normal levels dialog by clicking on the menu “Image > Adjustments > Levels…“at which point you should see the dialog below.

Click on the “Options” button and you will now see the “Auto Color Correction Options” the following dialog.

By default this dialog has “Enhance Per Channel Contrast” selected, which as the name suggests performs the auto level operation on each RGB channel independently causing the colour shifts. Select “Enhance Monochromatic Contrast” instead remembering to select the “Save as defaults” checkbox. If you don’t select the checkbox, Photoshop will forget the change! Click on the “OK” button and the “OK” button for the “Levels” dialog.

From now on when you perform an auto levels operation, Photoshop will apply the level operation to the luminosity of the image as a whole and won’t end up colour shifting the image.