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Roaming Around LA: Chinatown!

20 Apr

Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M. Zuiko 12mm f/2.0, f/5.6, 1/800, ISO 200, Aperture Priority Mode © G Bernabe

The last part of my day was a quick trip to Chinatown, roughly around the area between Hill and Broadway and Bernard and Ord. The current Chinatown was established in 1938, but Chinatown history in Los Angeles dates back to 1852 when the first Chinese arrived. The original Chinatown was located where Union Station currently is but was demolished in the mid 1910s due to a poor state of upkeep. 

Los Angeles Chinatown

The Old Chinatown Central Plaza located at 943 North Broadway is a good place to start exploring. Here you’ll find lots of buildings with Chinese facades, with colorful paint jobs and decorations.

Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M. Zuiko 12mm f/2.0, f/5.6, 1/640, ISO 200, Aperture Priority Mode © G Bernabe

One of the pianos from British artist Luke Jerram’s Play Me I’m Yours public art campaign was centrally located in the plaza. People stopped by to play, but unfortunately nothing memorable.  There are lots of shops for souveniers from, and, if you’re so inclined, you can have your fortune read by an old time fixture in the plaza.

Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M. Zuiko 12mm f/2.0, f/5.6, 1/800, ISO 200, Aperture Priority Mode © G Bernabe

There are also plenty of rides for kids that take quarters, so bring some change along if you decide to bring your children.  If not, you can use your coins to throw into the Seven Star Cavern Wishing Well.

Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M. Zuiko 12mm f/2.0, f/4, 1/4000, ISO 200, Aperture Priority Mode © G Bernabe

However, the real fun for me is doing street photography while strolling along Hill Street or Broadway Avenue. Since Chinatown attracts mobs of camera-toting tourists, the local merchants and local residents are almost desensitized to all the picture-taking.  Most folks are preoccupied with shopping or eating that they hardly pay attention to photographers.  This makes Chinatown an ideal place for street photography.

Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M. Zuiko 12mm f/2.0, f/4, 1/250, ISO 200, Aperture Priority Mode © G Bernabe

Having said that, I try always to be discrete and shoot “from the hip.”  With the Olympus E-PM1, I was mostly using  the entire 35 zone focus area to let the camera decide what to focus on.  Alternatively, I could’ve set the camera to f/8.0, shot in aperture priority with the lens set to about 7 ft, and probably would’ve gotten things in relatively good focus.  Though I chose not to go this route.

The one thing that you might notice walking up and down Hill or Broadway is that there are lots of Vietnamese businesses.  In fact, it almost feels like Chinatown should be called Little Saigon.  If you’re into Pho noodles, there are many restaurants in the area from which to choose.

Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M. Zuiko 12mm f/2.0, f/4, 1/2000, ISO 200, Aperture Priority Mode © G Bernabe

Again, give yourself a few hours to stroll around Chinatown.  You might find a market or mall in the area that piques your curiosity and sidetracks you.  I tend to stay out of those markets just because so much happens outside, and I’ll be the first to admit: I can’t stand shopping unless I’m shopping for photography stuff. A good example of the unexpected that you might see in Chinatown would be the street performer with what looked to be a homemade instrument (above).  I spent 15 minutes listening to him play and watched passersby pick up different percussion instruments that were around him to play along with him.  I also took several photos of him then went on my way.

All in all my day spent taking photos throughout downtown Los Angeles was a success!

For my other shots taken in Chinatown, click on the images below:

Roaming Around LA: Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels

19 Apr

Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M. Zuiko 12mm f/2.0, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO 200, Aperture Priority Mode © G Bernabe

After our quick jaunt to MOCA and saying goodbye to my friend Rick, I jumped back in the car for a quick drive over to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels (often called COLA), a Roman Catholic church located at 555 West Temple Street in Los Angeles. The cathedral itself is an interesting example of postmodern architecture, designed by the Pritzker Prize winning Spanish architect Rafael Moneo.  The building, completed in 2002, has no right angles!  I was expecting a lot of photo possibilities.  Like the Walt Disney Concert Hall, which was the first stop on my excursion to downtown LA, you could spend the whole day photographing the building and its surrounding environment. 

© G Bernabe

From the cathedral, you will notice another interestingly designed building across Highway 101. The building is part of the Central Los Angeles Area High School #9, designed by the Austrian firm Coop Himmelblau.

Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M. Zuiko 12mm f/2.0, f/2.0, 1/60, ISO 320, Aperture Priority Mode © G Bernabe

Cathedrals and churches are interesting places to photograph.  While ostensibly places of worship, these spaces are also amazing for photography, often full of design features, objects, and sometimes even people on which to focus your camera.  But be aware, if you do decide to photograph people at these places of worship, try very hard not to intrude on their worship.  For the Cathedral of our Lady of the Angeles, I would suggets giving yourself an hour or more to explore, as there are plenty of interesting design details, sculptures, and art in the interior and exterior of the cathedral. The cathedral also has a mausoleum below the cathedral where some of the famous are buried like actor Gregory Peck.

Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M. Zuiko 12mm f/2.0, f/2.0, 1/60, ISO 320, Aperture Priority Mode © G Bernabe

To avoid interrupting people while they worship or if you just want to capture the interior or exterior of the cathedral without anyone accidentally finding themselves in your shot, try to avoid the cathedral around church services late Saturday or Sunday mornings . The church has a lenient policy about letting people wander about, even around the altar area. Although not specifically forbidden outside of official church services, try not to use your cameras flash as it can be distracting to those who might be in prayer.

Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M. Zuiko 12mm f/2.0, f/8, 1/320, ISO 200, Aperture Priority Mode © G Bernabe

The outside is nice and relaxing with lots of tables and benches where you can spend some time people watching. There’s a nice gift shop and snack bar, though I recommend bringing your own snacks and drinks. My kids love the little play area with the animal sculptures, and it’s also a nice space to take family photos.

Overall, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels is a worthwhile destination to check out in Los Angeles. I sometimes go without my camera gear just to clear my mind and relax.

Check out the rest of my shots from the cathedral:

Roaming Around LA: MOCA with the Olympus E-PM1 & Olympus M. Zuiko 12mm

17 Apr

From the Walt Disney Concert Hall, my friend Rick and I took a short stroll down to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) (250 S. Grand Avenue). On the way, I spotted a woman shooting with a Leica M8. Everything about her oozed “cool” … a German no doubt. She showed us her Leica and said it was fun. She glanced over at my Olympus E-PM1 and smiled. I wonder if she was impressed?

Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M. Zuiko 12mm f/2.0, f/8, 1/80, ISO 200, Aperture Priority Mode © G Bernabe

 While our goal at MOCA wasn’t to actually go inside to appreciate the contemporary art, which I highly recommend, by the way, if you are in the area, we were more interested by the happenings outside the museum. Street photography is more my thing and MOCA always attracts a crowd outdoors. The plaza has a cool sculpture of plane parts mashed together and all held by cables called Airplane Parts (2001) by Nancy Rubin.

Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M. Zuiko 12mm f/2.0, f/8, 1/250, ISO 200, Aperture Priority Mode © G Bernabe

The Olympus M. Zuiko 12mm f/2.0 is a nice little lens, equivalent in focal length to a 24mm lens in the “old” 35mm film format, most often referred to today as full frame. The lens is pricey, starting at $799, and the price doesn’t even include a hood! With that in mind, I use an aftermarket rectangular hood by JJC, which looks cool and does its job. Part of what makes the lens so expensive is the focus clutch and the metal build of the lens. With the focus clutch, you can pull the focus ring towards the camera body and use it like an old school mechanical lens. I think it feels silky smooth like an old camera lenses. However, unlike old prime lenses, there are no depth of field markings, which are very useful for figuring out hyperfocal distances useful for landscape or street photography. The lens also features Olympus’s movie and stills compatible technology, making autofocus fast and silent.

Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M. Zuiko 12mm f/2.0, f/8, 1/60, ISO 200, Aperture Priority Mode © G Bernabe

I’ve noticed a few annoyances with the lens that cleans up readily with post-processing, which, in my opinion, shouldn’t be there in the first place. First, I’m seeing some cyan chromatic aberration along some edges that borders really bright things or backgrounds. Second, it has noticeable barrel distortion. And last, it’s not as sharp as the 45mm lens. With all of these problems, you are probably wondering why do I even own it? For one: it’s sharp enough and is a rare Olympus prime lens with a fast maximum aperture of f/2.0. I’m actually more comfortable with the angle of view of the 17mm lens, but it’s maximum aperture is only f/2.8; and the quality, in my opinion, is not that much higher than the kit lens.

Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M. Zuiko 12mm f/2.0, f/8, 1/80, ISO 1600, Aperture Priority Mode © G Bernabe

After checking out the scene at MOCA, we got hungry. So we stopped into California Pizza Kitchen on Hope Street to grab a quick meal and ordered my favorite dish, the Kung Pao Spaghetti with Chicken.

Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm f/1.8, f/2, 1/100, ISO 1600, Aperture Priority Mode © G Bernabe

My friend Rick was sitting across from me so I decided to slap on the Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 lens to show off its bokeh.  The photo isn’t critically sharp, as he was moving, and I was chewing. But what’s important is the creamy blurred background.  This has been a rare thing in the past with micro four-thirds lenses. But now that Olympus and Panasonic are coming out with fast prime lenses, bokeh lovers get more options.

Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M. Zuiko 12mm f/2.0, f/2, 1/1600, ISO 200, Aperture Priority Mode © G Bernabe

After our late lunch, we stepped outside and into the Wells Fargo Center Plaza (across the street from MOCA) and discovered a guy playing what looked to be an out-of-place piano. It turned out to be a public art campaign by British artist Luke Jerram called Play Me I’m Yours, where pianos decorated by locals are placed throughout a region. In the Los Angeles downtown area, there are 10 pianos in various locations.

Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M. Zuiko 12mm f/2.0, f/2, 1/2000, ISO 200, Aperture Priority Mode © G Bernabe

John, a local musician, was playing some Scott Joplin and doing a pretty fine job. The piano had been in the rain most of the night before and some of the “ivory” on the keys were peeling off, but John was unfazed and was in a zone!

Overall, I enjoyed using the Olympus M. Zuiko 12mm f/2.0. Shooting with a wide lens for street photography can be a little challenging as you have to get really close to your subject to get anything really interesting.  And by close, I’m talking: within the personal space of the people you are photographing. For landscapes, there are sharper wide lenses for the micro four thirds format; since one would be stopping down the aperture most of the time for landscapes, the fast focal maximum aperture of this lens is mostly irrelevant for that use. I can see using this indoors as an event lens where I suspect it would excel. However, if I had to do it again, I’d save my money and buy the Panasonic 14mm f/2.5. It’s a lot closer to my ideal angle of view and a whole lot cheaper at around $329 on

Check out more shots of MOCA and the surrounding area:

All photos in this post were processed in Adobe Lightroom 3.6 and Nik ColorEfex.

Roaming Around LA: Walt Disney Concert Hall with an Olympus E-PM1

16 Apr

Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M. 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6, f/11, 1/400, ISO 200, Program Mode © G Bernabe

As my brother was exploring the Pacific Northwest over the weekend, I decided to do a little exploring myself closer to home. Los Angeles might be intimidating to the newcomer, but don’t let its vast size deter you from visiting.  There’s plenty to see, and plenty of pictures to to be had.  The day could not have been more ideal to take a stroll around downtown LA, specifically around the Walt Disney Concert Hall (111 South Grand Ave.).  You could use up your digital camera’s memory card just on the building itself, designed by famed architect Frank Gehry.  With its asymmetrical lines and textured metal facade and the sunlight hitting the building creating cool patterns of light and shadows around the building, the famed building offers too many photographic possibilities.  For me, this is definitely a good thing.  My inspiration for the photo shoot was “the tourist.”  I wanted to take photos like a tourist, who, not surprisingly, were already there when I arrived.  If you are passing through by car, there are plenty of street metered parking around the hall and in the surrounding areas. 

Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M. 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO 200, Program Mode © G Bernabe

All shots were taken in program mode, auto white balance, auto ISO, Image stabilization off, Medium Fine JPEG (2560 x 1920) with the kit lens (Olympus M. 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R), using my Olympus E-PM1 camera.

Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M. 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6, f/10, 1/640, ISO 200, Program Mode © G Bernabe

In general, I’m pretty happy with the auto white balance performance of the camera outdoors, in the daylight. Shots in the shadows are a bit cool, but nothing to complain about. Metering to my eyes seems to be doing its best to prevent highlights from blowing out by slightly underexposing shots by 1/3 to 1/2 stop. If you look at all the clouds in the shots, none are blown out and I much prefer this situation when shooting JPEGs than having to deal with white clouds where no details are recoverable.

Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M. 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6, f/10, 1/500, ISO 200, Program Mode © G Bernabe

All of these shots are out-of-camera JPEGs with minimal post processing done except slight cropping in some of the shots. I wanted viewers to see what Olympus’ JPEG engine is like as most people that buy this level Olympus really want a slightly more advanced point and shoot camera with the flexibility to only change lenses. On the whole, I am pretty happy with the cameras JPEG output. I typically shoot RAW, post processing snapshots can get tedious.

The camera has Image Stabilization (IS) for times when shutter speed slows to a point where unsteady hands causes blurring in photos. I had the feature turned off most of the day because shutter speeds were sufficiently high all day to prevent handholding blur, even at ISO 200. Now if I had gone in to the concert hall to watch a concert or to take images of the building’s interior and wanted to keep ISO below 1600 to keep image noise down, I probably would have turned on Image Stabilization.

Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M. 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6, f/9, 1/320, ISO 200, Program Mode © G Bernabe

The E-PM1 doesn’t have a tilting LCD screen. For that feature, one would have to step up to the Olympus E-PL3 for about $100 more. There were times that I wished I had the E-PL3′s tilting screen for low shots of flowers or when doing shots from the hip when shooting street scenes. The E-PM1′s 3″ screen can become invisible at certain angles when taking high or low shots and this is one drawback of not having a tilting screen. In bright daylight, the E-PM1′s screen sometimes looked washed out. I do have the external electronic viewfinder, Olympus VF-3, to overcome these drawbacks with using the E-PM1′s screen, but I didn’t use it on this trip.

I did find one flaw with my E-PM1 (and I hope my camera is the exception): the external flash hotshoe doesn’t work. It won’t trigger a standard flash. The accessory flash that came with the camera, FL-LM1, works fine but it gets its power and is triggered from the accessory port and not the hotshoe. Looks like I’ll have to send my camera in for repair.

Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M. 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6, f/9, 1/250, ISO 200, Program Mode © G Bernabe

Enlarged Area of Previous Photo, Kit Lens @ 42mm

The kit lens is pretty sharp and fast. The couple in the shot above passed me as I was shooting the building, and I really dug the guy’s scruffy look.  So I parked myself up high and took the shot. I was actually a little late pressing the shutter as I cut off the lady’s head.  But I did get the guy looking back at me wondering what the heck I was doing taking his shot. The contrast detect autofocus in this generation of Olympus’ Pen called FAST (Fast Acceleration Sensor Technology) coupled with the lens’ MSC (Movie and Stills Compatible) AF motor technology makes for dramatically snappier focusing. The E-PM1 has 35 focus zones but I typically only use the center. I know other reviewers online are raving about using the “face detect” technology when shooting street photography, and I might try that out on another trip.

Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M. 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6, f/8, 1/400, ISO 200, Program Mode © G Bernabe

Overall, I was fairly satisfied being “a tourist” with the Olympus Pen E-PM1 with the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm kit zoom lens. The camera is solid midrange camera, with enough features that would keep any tourist or amateur photographer amused. Loaded with the battery and SD card, the body and lens combo weighs in at a little less than a pound. While the camera comes with a strap, I didn’t use it at all. The lightweight camera makes you forget that you are holding it in your hands.


As for additional accessories: I used an accessory grip from Richard Franiec affixed to the body to make holding the camera with one hand easier. I also brought along a Domke F-10 medium shoulder bag with 2 additional lenses that I shot with later in the day, plus a Sigma DP2 compact camera. With all of my gear in there, the bag still had room for the E-PM1. I also installed a dedicated hard LCD protector from ACMAXX to cover the 3″ LCD screen. It’s a quality product, but it might feel slightly annoying for some users. The right edge of the LCD protector is pretty close to the Info, Menu and Play buttons; and since the protector is somewhat thick, pushing down on any of the buttons will cause your thumb nail to bump into the right edge of the protector first before getting to the buttons.

Check out my other shots from my stroll around the Walt Disney Concert Hall:

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