Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ipoh Street Shooting with Olympus E-PL1

This marks my first ever shutter therapy session officially with an Olympus PEN E-PL1, where I brought the camera out for a whole day long shooting on the streets of Ipoh, Perak, which is about two hours drive north from where I currently reside in Kuala Lumpur. Ipoh still maintains its old town, where the streets are full of old shops and people living in cultures resembling what we found in the olden days, still well preserved and remained untainted. Such beautiful opportunity arose when I joined the PEN Lovers group's outing, hence a day trip was made speficially for photo-shooting in Ipoh.

I decided to just bring the PEN and the kit lens, mainly because this was a PEN outing, and of course, to fully try out the performance of the PEN on the streets. Only through real life shooting that I can honestly comment further on what I think and feel about this camera, and find its strengths and weaknesses (or confirm the many running theories or preconceptions I have had in mind for a while now on the PEN). Indeed the PEN did not dissappoint. In fact, it was the total opposite, I found myself immersed so deep into it, and I was really impressed by the PEN in almost everything it offers.


Eight-Wheeled Monster


Tilted windows

Space saving window


What I do love about the PEN:

1) So Tiny !!! Weightless !!

I know I have mentioned this a couple of times, but seriously, shooting with PEN for a full day was liberating for once. I did not feel any weight at the back of my neck or shoulder at all, and my fingers and wrists stayed flexible and unstrained. I feel so comfortable running around (ok, more like slow walking) and not having something pulling me down really adds up a lot to user experience, shooting with the PEN. We started shooting after breakfast, and we continued shooting all the day till near sunset time covering different spots of Ipoh town. If I have used the Olympus E-5. I might have died of exhaustion, because my usual shutter therapy sessions never lasted more than 2-3 hours each.

2) AutoFocus good enough. With reservations

The autofocus was not extremely fast, or anything near to DSLR level, but it was a lot better than compact cameras. In difficult situations, I have complained in my previous writeup on the hunting issues, and the reluctance of the lens to lock focus, or giving up completely at times. I did not encounter much of this issue during my street walk, mainly because I was shooting mostly under broad sunlight or bright shaded areas. Contrast and textures were abundant. No, the focusing was not fast enough like I have mentioned, and I did miss quite a few important "decisive moments". I also missed some shots entirely. Was I frustrated? Hell no !! I did not put up too high expectations, and knowing the slowness of the AF, I worked my away around by doing a lot more pre-focusing than usual. I locked my focus on target and anticipated action. It worked, most of the time. And at times of lost opportunities, instead of crying over spilled milk and rattle on and on about the camera's fault, I would just quickly move my eyes to another location and scout for the next coming possible subject to attack, and ready my camera for that next opportunity.



Boiling noodles

Peeling Onions in the Open.

Parked by the closed window

Pure burst of laughter

Crossing windows

And old printing shop.


3) Superb Image quality

Some people have speculated that E-PL1 image quality is better than E-5, no thanks to those unreliable and unjust laboratory tests and comparison shots posted by DPreview. E-PL1 is not even close to anything from E-5, and there should never be a comparison in the first place. However, looking at the level of PEN, on what it is and where it is sitting, I would comfortably admit that it beats the crap out of many entry level DSLR cameras available currently on the market. I will not specifically name any models, but you get the gist. The ISO performance was really impressive for such a small camera, all the way up to ISO1600 (seriously if you want really better performance, why buy a small camera in the first place?), good sharpness and amount of details captured, and you just have to admit, the colours from Olympus is just stunning. I am very, very happy with the image quality of E-PL1. If I was really critical about all the technicalities like dynamic range, edge softness, distortion, and overall sharpness, I would have brought the E-5 instead !!

4) Less Threatening

With such a small camera, people are less shy to say yes when you asked their persmission to photograph them. Or even if you point your camera at them without asking permission, I did not even once, received any negative remarks or response. Ok, maybe this is not entirely true because people in smaller town away from big cities, are generally a lot friendlier and approachable. Ipoh folks are nice people, really, but I just cannot help but find the sense of ease to just walk up to people and shoot. That is what makes street photography so fun, just walk, see what you love, and shoot, minus all the fear of rejection and "what ifs" concerning on people's reaction on you pointing your camera and lens at them. Less considerations on securing yourself from angry screams makes a world of difference, and I felt really comfortable in this regard with PEN.


Big and Small

If only the phone was an old one, the scene would have been perfect.

Blue on blue

Filling in Chicken Rice Chilli in packets.

Thank God for blue skies on Holy Saturday

Waiting, insecurely.

No sales.


5) Composing with Live View.

No, I do not have that expensive electronice view finder, nor do I find myself needing one, or wanting to buy one. I have never had any issues composing with the live view, because I started photography in the digital age, with a compact camera. In fact I have killed three compact cameras in the span of four years before I bought my first DSLR, and all those time I have never complained about issues in composing with the live view. I know many people would prefer a dedicated viewfinder, may it be true optical, electronic or some weird-ass hybrids that Sony came up with, same here, I agree, but don't you feel tired squinting your eye through that hole all the time? Taking your eye out from the viewfinder allows your eye to see the scene as a WHOLE and that tiny screen is just a frame that did not block away the edges, but you are fully aware of everything around you once you make that press of shutter button. I love it this way, and considering it is a small camera, holding the PEN like a compact camera makes it so much more likable while shooting, with the live view.

6) Pushing myself with the Kit Lens

One of the things I have been wanting to do is going back to basics, which I have covered in a lengthy post recently. This particular shutter therapy session was all about going back to basics. No fast lenses, no creamy bokeh, no long telephoto lenses, no fisheye, no super wide angle lenses. I have nothing that I usually use on the streets, all I had was the humble 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 kit lens which is reputed for its strong barrel and perspective distortion issues, corner softness, bad focusing, and some other small issues. Did it trouble me to use just a meagre kit lens? Why should I be? It is still a lens, a very good one, and better than most (if not all) compact camera lenses by leaps and bounds, and I am generally pleased with my images. I was challenged to push myself beyond the limits of the camera, finding alternative ways to compose my shots (can't do bokeh) and daring myself to move closer to the subjects (no long tele-photo zoom). I have to physically move myself further away from some shots just to capture the overall scene (no fisheye of ultra-wide-angle). It was as if I started photography with my E-520 and the kit lens all over again, and this was a good thing. I needed to kick in the butt to really see the subject content, not just think about how fancily I can photograph them with probably a dozen methods. I should concentrate on the art of seeing, and be extra responsive to my surroundings. As a photographer, it is important to condition myself, and be more rigorous in such training to keep my mind sharp.


Morning paper with fruits

Picking up items

Stock incoming.

Making payment

Multiple Legs

Silhouette of a morning shopper.

City Council Building


7) It is an Olympus. I will say this again in coming entries.

I know I kept saying this, you would not know the wonders of Olympus cameras until you really try them. The beautiful skin tone, the unfallable JPEG engine, faithful Olympus Colours (seriously I do not get how people can rave about Nikon or Canon colours, no offense, but do take a DEEP and LONG look at what Olympus can do with colours), the quality kit lens (Zuiko, is the Japanese Leica). This PEN may be tiny and small, but it represents many Olympus traits and technologies collected throughout the years: Built in IS, Automatic Sensor Dust cleaning system, Live View, Art filters and many more innovations.


The walkabout in Ipoh was totally, an enjoyable one. I would actually plan to just take the train straight from Kuala Lumpur up to Ipoh Old Town, and do a one day walkabout there before heading back to KL the same day. The place is just so rich of photography opportunities, not to mention great, glorious food. The fact that the people in Ipoh is so unbelievably friendly made it an even more attractive advantage for street photography.

All in all, I am very satisfied with this purchase of PEN. Olympus E-PL1 will be my main camera for street shooting from now onwards. No, I have not neglected my dear E-5 just yet, I will still bring it out for shutter therapy when I want to. And believe me even at the moment of writing, my hands are itching for some actions with the E-5, and I might do some shooting later in the afternoon.


Broken and torn.

Fallen down flat.

Ipoh Old KTM building.

Converging lines. Returning to basics.

Unexpectedly stumbled on a Malay newly-weds, and we attacked them with our cameras.

Another pre-wedding shooting going on, at Kellies Castle

Dramatic Clouds.

E-PL1 may not be the latest PEN from Olympus (being superseded with the more superior E-PL2, which is one fine creature itself) but it suits my shooting style and my needs for now.

Do share your thoughts on my photos taken with PEN in this entry. Most of them were unprocessed, and even if I did post-processing it was very minor, and almost negligible. For more photos from this series, please visit my online photo album (with over 80 images) for this shutter therapy session at the following link:



Anyone wants to attack Malacca next?

10 comments:

  1. meow meow tired~ *yawns*
    meow~

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's like listening to different loudspeakers, at first sounds some speakers wows...

    The one wich is very very good and sounds natural doesn't wow... not at first sight.

    Needs time to figure that out.

    Pen Series other price level, and ... other customer, but still very very good.

    ReplyDelete
  3. all this with a pen? awesome product it is!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hello Rick,
    Indeed certain cameras/products would take time to warm up to. I fell in love with E-5 and E-PL1 instantly !!

    Hey Cyril,
    Yeap, all with the PEN. The image quality is the same with what you get from entry level DSLR. I have covered the drawbacks in my entry. On the whole, there is still a lot of room for improvement, but so far I am loving this camera !!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Robin,

    You have to look at

    http://olympus-e-5.blogspot.com/2011/04/maandag-26-april-heerlijk-slenteren.html

    This is real dutch ;-))

    Kind regards

    ReplyDelete
  6. I love these shots. I spent from about 8-16 years of age in KL and have some vague memories of Ipoh as a place we stopped when going up to the east coast and to Penang (have I got my geography right? It was a loooong time ago!) These pictures made the hairs on my neck stand up - so little seems to have changed in Malaysia, at least in the old parts of towns and I mean that in a very positive way. I know the country has come on economically in leaps and bounds but it's so good to see some things have been retained. Oh, and I have just bought an E-PL1 so will be experimenting.

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  7. Love what u did with the EPL1. Was thinking if I needed to get new lens for it till I stumble upon your blog and would need to reconsider the need to. :)

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  8. Hi robin, can i ask your opinion why the prices of oly epl1 is going down steadily since it was introduced. In fact here in the philppines you can get it for $357 a price rollback of 50% since it came out. Any idea? Is there something wrong with the camera?

    ReplyDelete
  9. A great (expensive) camera in the hands of a novice with no artistic ability is still going to produce boring photography. A camera that can still take good, albeit not perfect photos in the right hands can produce very pleasing results. You prove that point very well with this set. I enjoyed viewing them! First class all the way, Robin.

    ReplyDelete