OM-D High ISO Shooting: Paperplane Pursuit and Darren Ashley

High ISO performance of a camera has always been the overrated issue debated by virtually every online photography groups and forums, and it was as if the only thing that mattered in photography. I never overemphasized on the importance of high ISO noise control, but I do acknowledge the importance of being able to push that extra bit of sensor ISO numbers just to gather a bit more light. In the case of last night, I was shooting live performance at The Bee, Publika, a place known for showcasing local talents in a stage setup with rather poor lighting conditions. High ISO was necessary, so how did the now not so new OM-D E-M5 performed?

I had with me only two lenses: M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 and 45mm F1.8, which I utilized mostly on the 45mm for the longer reach. The shooting of the live performance happened rather spontaneously as I bumped into a friend, Albert Ng (click to check out his awesome blog) who is an avid Sony fan, as well as a local gig frequenter. Should I have known about this event earlier, I would have brought along the amazing M.Zuiko 75mm f1.8 for even better reach. Nevertheless being able to move closer to stage, I was able to utilize the 45mm f1.8 to achieve sufficient reach. 

The OM-D performed very well, and I was pleased. The focusing was extremely fast and I nailed 99% of my shots in focus (can't say about composition, that is something rather unpredictable with the constant movements). The lighting was horrendous, casting a strong cool magenta cast on the performers, which I corrected via post-processing, an advantage I had by shooting everything RAW in the first place. I used mostly ISO3200-6400 for all shots in this entry, mainly to attain adequately fast shutter speed to freeze movements. It was a rather dynamic performance with the lead singer moving really fast, hence I needed shutter speed above 1/250sec. The images turned out still very clean (at least to my eyes) and retaining high level of usable detail. Coming from the 45mm F1.8 lens images were very sharp and I had some control over shallow depth of field, shooting wide open at F1.8. 

If you have not checked out Paperplane Pursuit (click) and Darren Ashley (click), you can find out more about them at their Youtube Pages. 


  1. It looks like so much fun! And damn, you're efficient as always.

  2. To me, all these high-ISO-performance-wars (coupled with the "sensor size" nonsense) on the forums are complete and utter nonsense -- it is "noise" indeed generated by amateurs, posing as seasoned pros, worrying constantly and waging endless bitter battles about trivialities. Yet another reason why I stopped frequenting such venues, apart from the occasional sarcastic remarks. We never had it so good as with digital! Film was really bad a high ISOs - although some true artists used it to add character as well.

    Considering these (in my eyes) extremely high ISO's, these pictures look very, very good indeed. Digital has come a long way in it's first decade-and-a-half, and I must say that Oly squeezes an amazing quality out of these sensors.

  3. Hi Robin. The images looks very well. Could tell me, base on your experience, what is better for E-M5: shoot at higher iso, or underexpose ar 1600 ISO and correct it later during post processing?

    1. Never, never underexpose a high ISO image. In fact I actually overexposed a little. The nasty noise appears in the shadow region.

    2. Hi Robin. Can you develop a bit this concept? I have a PEN EP-5, supposed to be close to the EM-5 in term of noise, but I get much noisier pictures than yours with the same ISO level and lens (45mm). I admit I often underexpose when the light is low, in order to maintain the speed to an acceptable level. This knowing how easy it is to recover -1 or even -2 exposure when developping RAW files in post-production. If I follow you, you suggest to even overexpose in low light and balance the speed by increasing the ISO level, right?
      Can you share your settings for these pictures and tips for low light/low noise? I'm not talking about landscape but people (moving), like in your pictures above.
      Thanks in advance.

  4. Admire your photography and have learned so much from following your blog. Thank you!

  5. Yes, expose tothe right (ettr) for digital. My tests indicate a two stop! Advantage in noise levels. Thats like a noise advantage for applicable images (not all lighting conditions are suitable for ettr) for a camera that doesnt yet exist below full frame specs.
    Whatever it is, I always feel that noise performance is important, if you dont print larger than 8 x 10, then it doesnt matter.
    If you pixel peep, then it matters, if you use electronic mega-displays and state of the art projection then it matters.
    In the near future in Malaysia, mega electronic displays will also be the norm.