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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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