Camera Review: Olympus E-P1

olympus-e-p1 review by professional seattle portrait and wedding photographer cory parris

The Olympus E-P1 created quite a stir when it was introduced three years ago. It provided what many considered the holy grail of cameras. Small in size but with a large sensor. Almost small enough to put in a pocket, but making images similar to a much larger camera.

I wanted one very badly when it first came out, but I couldn’t come up with a business reason to buy the camera, and being around $800, I couldn’t justify it as a part time vacation camera. However, three years after it’s release, I was able to pick one up used on eBay for around $270 including shipping. For that, I could justify buying a vacation camera!

I took my “new” Olympus E-P1 to Disney World with me. There were many things that I liked and a few that I didn’t. Let’s start out with the good.

I love the size and feel of the camera. It is a small camera with a good amount of external controls that allow me to quickly and easily change the settings. It is a metal bodied camera with a nice heft to it. It does not feel like a cheap point and shoot, but rather a serious tool. Plus, it looks really cool and retro with the brushed metal and styling similar to a 60’s rangefinder!

The image quality is somewhere between my professional equipment and a nice point and shoot camera. Which is exactly where I would expect it to be. Perfect for vacations, going places with the family, or when I don’t know if I even want to bring a camera. It also does an excellent video (720) that is far better than any point and shoot cameras that I have used or seen video from.

The kit lens that came with the camera is very cool. With one spin you can collapse it down into a space that is half the size it takes when extended. It has the typical flaws associated with kit lenses. Slow performance, too small of aperture, and cheap construction. As part of the cheap construction combined with the cool collapsing mechanism, the end of the lens is rather wobbly. Literally, you can see it waggle back and forth if you touch the end of the lens barrel. A rather low quality signature “feature”! It was pretty sharp, however.

The internal Image Stabilization system in this little machine absolutely rocks. I quite often took images of still objects at ⅕ or ⅙ of a second. Well below what I can normally handhold my larger cameras.

The E-P1 lacks a flash. Not a big deal to me most of the time, but occasionally, I wanted a little flash indoors for just some snapshots in really poor light. Not a deal-breaker for me, but could be for some people.

Another thing that is both good and bad – depth of field. Many of you that have followed my work know that I am a big fan of shallow depth of field to make the subject stand out from the background. It is a bit harder with the Micro 4/3 format of sensor, and was especially hard with the kit lens. Between using the smaller apertures offered by the lens and the greater depth that is inherent in using a smaller sensor, there was much greater depth of field than I would normally have with some of the photographs. However, it is much better than a small point and shoot or cell phone.

The autofocus system is probably the worst thing about the E-P1. It doesn’t well at all if you use the default settings. You don’t really know where it is focusing, you can’t check focus very easily, and it is rather slow. Once I learned how to set the camera focus point, it worked much better for me. I was able to choose the focus point I wanted it to use (rather than the random point the camera would choose), then recompose how I like. This works great on still subjects. As far as moving subjects of trying to use the continuous AF a different camera.

Overall, for my purchase price, I am quite pleased. I had a great time using it, was pretty happy with the quality of images, and I loved the small size. If I had paid full price three years ago, I may not have such a positive review.


Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L–A Gear Review-Seattle Wedding Photographer

I have to start by coming clean.  I’m a geek.  I love stuff, electronics, gear, and feel out of sorts if I’m not in possession of the remote control (preferably matched up to a nice HD TV).  When I complete my taxes and it asks for my position at the company, I write in “Photogeek in Chief”.  So…I love photo gear.  With a rather unhealthy passion.

That being said, I also used to be a Finance Director for a small non-profit.  That means, there has to be a reason for every purchase, and the reason has to be more than “I REALLY want it!” (say it in again your head with a nasally whine, it will sound more realistic – “I REALLY want it!”). 

So here is some of my gear buying criteria…

  • -How does it help me create better photographs, and does it let me do something that my current gear doesn’t allow me to do?
  • -Will the difference that this piece of gear will bring to my photography allow me to increase my sales and profits?  This usually takes the form of allowing my to create more dynamic work and increase the demand for my services.
  • -Will the new piece of gear inspire me to create new and better work?  A common thing that happens with gear for me is that it will make me find new ways to use that particular piece.  That, in turn, gets me to use the gear in different ways than I normally do.
  • -And finally, is it cool?  Of course it’s cool, otherwise I wouldn’t have wanted it in the first place!

Once I have all that information, I make a presentation to my Chief Financial Officer.  More commonly referred to by myself and others as “Leslie”, or (mostly by me) “hey, beautiful wife". 

This normally comes in the form of, “Hey, I was looking at this (lens, flash, etc.) today…” 

“Oh.  No…” says the Chief Financial Officer.

“…and I’m thinking…” says the Photogeek.

Conversation continues with the big, mean CFO grilling the poor Photogeek (Leslie, I’m kidding!).  Then it ends with…

“You know your going to buy.  Just do it now instead than worrying about it for a month!”  says the beautiful, loving CFO.  About a month later, Photogeek buys said piece of gear.

Anyway, that was quite the revealing tangent, wasn’t it?  Here is my first in a new series of articles that I’ll call, “My Favorite Toys!”

My first toy that I’m going to talk about is the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L.  This may be my most loved lens, and that is really saying something.  I use this lens constantly.  It makes up about 40% of all the images in my portfolio.  I should mention that I use a full-frame camera, so this quite a wide lens.

Canon 24mm 1.4L lens review by seattle wedding photographer cory parris

Here is a photo of the lens itself.  (Lovely studio product image taken with a couple of small Canon strobes and a piece of white posterboard).

It is a medium sized, but very dense, rather heavy lens.  It is a polycarbonate body that can take some abuse.  You can see some signs of past little incidents on the lens hood.  I think the lens hood is actually designed to show every time it’s touched by anything.  I have the version one of the lens, but there is a version two out.  If you look at my criteria for buying above, I can’t come up with a reason to sell my version I and get a version II.

This lens has the rather unique characteristic of being both a wide angle lens and having the ability to have very shallow depth of field.  If you don’t know what depth of field is, you can look below and see how the subject is sharp and the background is blurred and out of focus.  That is called shallow depth of field while if everything was in focus, that would be a deep depth of field or greater depth of field.

Another great benefit is the amazing low light capabilities.  To give you an idea, with each full stop, the lens cuts the amount of light in half.  This lens has an aperture of 1.4 which allows you to take images in one-fourth of the amount of light of a lens with the aperture of 2.8.

Now for what everyone wants to see…the samples!

wedding couple praying during mass at blessed sacrament by seattle wedding photographer cory parris

This is an excellent example of what this lens can do.  This couple was married during mass at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Seattle.  Because the couple was married during mass, they did not know most of the people around them.  I wanted them to stand out from the crowd, so I made this photograph with a shallow depth of field with the couple sharp and the surrounding background soft.

wedding photograph at SODO Park by Herban Feast in Seattle made with a 24mm 1.4L by photographer cory parrisgroom and beer at woodmark hotel by seattle wedding photographer cory parris

This smart groom is watching his waistline on his wedding day.  This is another example of the sharp subject and shallow depth of field that I love from this lens.

wedding shoes at newcastle golf club by seattle wedding photographer cory parriswedding couple in front of the seattle fire station by seattle wedding photographer cory parrisgroom waiting to see bride on the dock at the woodmark hotel by seattle wedding photographer cory parris

Groom waiting for his bride to see her for the first time that day.  I love the sharpness on his face and the out of focus detail of the bride coming up behind him tells the story.

wedding portrait in u district in seattle by photographer cory parris

Wedding couple kissing in an alley at in the U District.  I love the

back of bride's dress as bridesmaids help her get readywedding couple strobist with sky and clouds behind them at the woodmark hotel by kirkland

With this image, I used the 24 and a smaller aperture to make the clouds and background sharp.  I also used a flash to light up the couple.

engagement portrait of a couple at olympic sculpture park by seattle wedding photographer

This image was taken from a viewpoint at the Olympic Sculpture Park.  I used the shallow depth of field the 24 1.4L creates to make the background beautifully out of focus. 

couple kissing after their wedding at the main post chapel at Fort Lewisgroomsmen at the seattle court house by seattle wedding photographercouple kissing beneath a tree by seattle wedding photographer cory parrisgroomsmen on the dock at woodmark hotel by kirkland wedding photographer cory parris

Another image using the shallow depth of field to make the groom stand out.

bride drinking tequila at willows lodge by woodinville wedding photographer cory parris

This image uses the great light-gathering of the 24 1.4L.


Equipment for new photographers

One of the most common questions I get from budding photographers is what equipment they should buy. Most of these people are owners of a relatively low-cost DSLR such as a Nikon D40 or Canon Digital Rebel that they bought with a kit lens. The cameras that come with these kits are great. Any digital SLR that is currently in production is capable of professional quality results, which is a big difference from even just a couple years ago. There are three problems that people have with these great little cameras. The first is that they don't really know how to use it, which is a much longer subject than I'm going to cover in this short blog post! :) The second is that the kit lenses basically aren't very good. And the third is that the little flash that is so handy on the top of the camera produces horrible light especially when used in the fully automatic mode.

Canon 35 f2.0, which is what I put on my daughters Rebel XTi.

Since problems two and three can be solved by throwing a little money at the problem and that is what this post is about. The first thing I recommend for any DSLR owner is to get something to supplement the kit lens. I recommend a 35mm or 50mm lens. These are excellent, cheap, small lenses. The big difference is that they let in so much more light into the camera. To give you an idea, the lower the number for the f-stop or aperture, the more light is coming through. A typical kit lens is Canon's 18-55 3.5-5.6. That means that at 55mm you are at f5.6. A 50mm f1.8 would let in around 10 times as much light. You could be creating photographs in 1/10 the light. That is a pretty incredible difference. It would also allow you more control over your depth of field, which means you can control what is in focus and what is out of focus. But that falls under "how to use" rather than "what to use".

Next is the flash. I hate on-camera flash for the most part and the built-in flashes on the little DSLR's are one of the worst offenders in the "unpleasant light" category. Photography is all about light, so having unpleasant light (unless you are doing it on purpose), is not desirable. The solution - a bigger flash that you can bounce with. That means, you can point it behind you or to the side to bounce off of a wall or ceiling rather than pointing it right at your victim. I'd say subject, but direct flash makes them more of a victim. :)

Here are the specific items that I can recommend. Lenses Canon 28 1.8, 35 f2, 50 f1.8, 50 f1.4 Nikon 35 f1.8 (just announced and not yet available), 50 f1.8, 50 f1.4 Sigma 30 f1.4, 50 f1.4 (I just bought it and I love it)

Canon flashes: 430EX, 580EX Nikon flashes: SB-600, SB-900

Almost all of this stuff is available through my new Amazon store on my website. Convenient, huh?

Trees - A walk at the Mill Creek Town Center

I took a walk with my family at the Mill Creek Town Center. We each had a camera and took some images. Here are a couple I took and one by my nine year-old, Kyler. I will add some images from the rest of the family in the next couple of days. I'm helping each of the kids to process their images, so it is taking a little more time for them to get ready. Ky loves old cars, so he took an image of this old mustang as we walked by

I really liked this leafless tree.


For the photo-oriented, I shot with a 5D and my new 50 1.4 Sigma. I am very impressed with the Sigma 50 1.4. It is much sharper than the Canon 50 1.4 at f-stops more wide open than 2.0. The Canon is pretty good at 2.0 on and it is a toss-up there with a tie or slight edge to the Sigma at every f-stop I have tried. Ky's were taken with an old point and shoot. He's nine. :)

Photography - Basic Exposure Controls

I was having a conversation with my daughter, Alyssa, the other day about photography and I thought others might benefit from it, too. We were talking about the most basic controls on the camera. A camera records the light that hits the film or sensor. There are three controls on the camera that you can adjust to control the amount of light that the film or sensor is exposed to. There is the shutter, the aperture and the ISO.

The shutter controls how long the light hits the sensor or film. This affects the final image in several ways. A fast shutter speed with freeze action while a slow shutter speed allows fast-moving subjects to become blurred. Also, a slow shutter speed may become a problem if it gets so low that the shaking of your hands blurs the entire image.

Fast shutter speed to freeze the rose petals in the air Here I used a faster shutter speed to freeze the falling rose petals.

Bride waving in a 1966 mustang I used a slower shutter speed to capture the motion of the car in this image.

The aperture controls the size of the hole that the light will be coming through when it is exposed to light. Obviously, the larger the hole, the more light will come through it. When you are using a larger aperture, besides letting in more light, it also controls how much of the image is in focus. This is called Depth of Field. A shallow depth of field helps in making the subject pop from the background and is commonly used in fashion and sports photography. A deeper depth of field keeps more of the image in focus and is commonly used in landscape photography.

188.jpg I use shallow depth of field all the time to create separation of the subject from the background. In this image the groom is in focus and his groomsmen are not.

618.jpg This image has a lot of depth of field so that everything in the frame is sharp.

The third component is the ISO, which used to be called film speed. With film, you set the ISO to whatever the film was rated at. With digital cameras, the ISO can be changed at any time. It basically adjusts the sensitivity of the sensor to light. This can be very helpful in low light situations, but it can come at the price of some extra noise or digital grain. It is as the light level gets lower that it makes this important to change. For outdoors in good light, you probably want to leave it at the lowest ISO, usually 100.

840.jpg Here is an example of using high ISO to capture an image of a little girl with a sparkler

All three are related in that changing one will require you to make changes to at least one of the others.

SOLD: Lens for Sale!

I have a brand new 24-105L f4 IS that came in a kit. It comes with the warranty card, hood and soft case. Since it came in a kit, it has a plain white box. Anyone that wants it can have it for $935 + $15 shipping. This lens goes for $1060 or more. 24-105-lens-1.jpg


Sony Camera?

Today at the PMA show (photogeek techno-show), Sony unveiled plans to create a 24 megapixel full-frame camera. And it will have Carl Zeiss (famed lens design company) lenses. They already have a 85 and 135, if they add a 24, it's something that I will be watching. I love Zeiss lenses. Here is an image from dpreview. Exciting times to be a photog! By the way, I think my geek meter below just isn't keeping pace with the things I'm geeky about.

Birthday in October!

My Birthday was 5 months ago.  However, I received some presents from myself today!  I had to share my extreme excitement!box.jpg The Box.

boxopened.jpg Opened.  Leslie was amazed at my restraint in taking photos of the process rather than ripping open the boxes!

boxesofgear.jpg Here's what I bought.  Canon 5D with a 24 1.4L and a 135 2L.  Yummy!

out-of-the-boxes.jpg Unboxed.  To tell you how excited I am at this point.  It was effort not to shake with excitement.  For non photographers, you just won't understand!

riley.jpg First image with the 5D and 24 1.4L.  The eye is in focus and the rest just goes to beautiful out of focus area.  Amazing Bokeh!  (Bokeh is the uptight, artiste photographers way of saying, "the out of focus areas," and sounds like "bouquet".)

rileyremote.jpg Little Riley with his remote.

hippybus.jpg Remote control Hippy Bus as Riley calls it.

riley-window.jpg Riley standing inside with his remote smiling as he runs the hippy bus into my foot!  Taken with the 135 2L.

24.jpg The 24 taken with the 135L.  See the way it goes from sharp to out of focus so quickly and renders the background completely soft?  Hmm...Yummy bokeh.  Okay, did I ever say that I was not an uptight, artiste photographer?

coryphone.jpg Then Leslie and I went on a field trip to Starbucks, since I was clearly not going to get any work done for a while.  She took this of me on the phone with the 24.  I should sell it as stock!  Well...if I looked more like a model!

cup.jpg Leslie then shot the coffee cup.  Nice job.  She needs to come with me more often.  But then I'd have to share my toys!

cupofjoe.jpg Me giving the cup to Leslie.  I love the way I am so far out of focus.  Have you figured out why I bought these incredible lenses.  Let's say it together, "Nice Bokeh!"

New 50 year-old camera!

Check out the "classic" I picked up.  It is a Petri 35 made by the Kuribayashi Camera Corporation in the late 50's.  It seems to be in fully working condition.  I can't wait to run a roll of film through it.  It will be the first roll of film I've shot in almost four years! petri-4.jpg The original leather case has seen better days! petri-3.jpg Leslie actually commented that it looked good enough that people might not realize how old it is! petri-2.jpg Shutter speeds of 1/10 to 1/200 plus "B".  Definitely can't change the settings without looking at the camera! petri-1.jpg I actually love the fact that someone took the time to engrave their name on the camera!  Also notice the exposure scale on the top.  No built in meter here.  In fact the exposure scale is for 50 ASA film.  They barely make anything that slow anymore!

Superbowl and geeky photographers!

What do geeky photographers do on superbowl sunday? They get together, take photos of the beer, check out the minimum focusing distance on their lenses and eat. Oh...and we did watch the game, too. It was my friend Mat, wedding photographer and restuaranteer, and Chad who runs the US operations of the Fotolia micro-stock agency. Oh, and our families were there, too! chips.jpg Chips & salsa. Tastes good, but makes you thirsty.

beer1.jpg AAhhh...much better.

eye.jpg Leslie assisting me with showing off the minimum focusing distance of my 35mm f2 prime lens. She loves to have her photograph taken. j/k

beer2.jpg Think globally, drink locally. Just to reassure everyone, I don't drink much or often. Two is pretty much my limit as I've developed a bad case of "lightweightedness".

All the photographs above were taken with a Canon 30D and 35mm f2 lens. I had a great time watching the game. My guess was 27-24 Colts, which wasn't too far off. Mat did a little better with 34-17 Colts. Chad, however, was way off with his 48-7 Bears theory!

Buying Camera Gear II

Here are some recent questions I've had about camera gear and my answers. I know what I'm trying to say, but if anything is unclear, please let me know so I can fix it! I want a better lens, what should I buy? There are so many different ways to answer this question. Most people start with a crop camera (something besides a Canon 5D or 1 series) with a kit lens. Pretty much any lens you buy will be an improvement over that!

50mm fixed focal length lens. Beginning photographers often overlook this lens. However, it is one of the sharpest lenses you can buy and it is a very good value. Both Canon and Nikon have an f1.8 version that is less than $100 (and really great versions at $300 for the f1.4). Whenever I suggest this lens, I get asked why anyone would want a lens that doesn't zoom. The simple answer is speed. A fast lens lets you take available light photographs in less light, or extends the reach and power of your flash.

The lens that comes with most kits is something like an 18-55 f3.5-5.6. What this means is that the f-stop (aperture) at 18mm is f3.5 and it slides to 5.6 at 55 mm. Lets compare that to the cream of the crop lenses that are available. The 17-55 2.8 IS lens that Canon makes is 2.8 the entire way. That means that at 17/18mm the 17-55 needs 67 percent of the amount of light to get the same shutter speed. At 55mm, the 17-55 needs only 25 percent of the amount of light. Now, let's compare even the amazing 17-55 2.8 IS to the $80 50 f1.8. The 50 f1.8 needs 33 percent of the light that the 17-55 2.8 needs to reach the same shutter speed. Compared to the kit lens at 50mm, it needs a mere 8 percent. You can get even more light if you go with the 50 1.4 which sits at 6 percent of the kit lens, which is a significant improvement over the 1.8.

However, having a fixed focal length lens does make it hard when you want to include more or less in the photograph (sometimes this is called the human zoom because the photographer has to move forward or back). Therefore, I also recommend the 17-55 2.8 IS lens for Canon users. Nikon also makes a version, but without the internal image stabilization. These are exceptionally high quality lenses that are capable of creating amazing images in the normal (for a crop camera) zoom range. If you can't afford the Canon/Nikon version or if this is just one of many hobbies, I have heard good things about the Tamron 17-50 2.8. When you switch from one the kit lenses to one of these, you will suddenly start seeing an increase in good photographs. Those using a full-frame sensor (5D & Canon 1 series), I suggest the 24-70L.

In addition to the light gathering advantages that these lenses offer, they also produce more "out-of-focus" areas. This is a huge advantage. Many photographers, like myself, love this. It enables the photographer to isolate the subject from their surroundings.

mckenna-out-of-focus-areas.jpg This photograph of my daughter's friend was taken with a wide aperture to make her stand out from the background

A lot of people also want to be able to take photographs of their kids sporting events. Depending upon the type of sport, you will need different equipment. For inside sports such as basketball and gymnastics, I would recommend the 50mm 1.8 (or 1.4 for a better built lens) or the 85 1.8 (or 1.2 if you have an extra $2000 to invest in your hobby). For outdoor sports, it's hard to beat the 70-200 zooms. The Canon 70-200 2.8 L IS (VR for Nikon) lens is fantastic. If you don't want to spend that much, I suggest the 70-200 4.0 L or the 70-200 2.8 HSM Sigma.

The last type of lens that someone would need would be a wide-angle. These are great for landscapes, architecture, group portraits, and for creating interesting images. I personally love wide angle lenses, but I didn't so much when I was first starting. The lenses I would suggest in this category would be the Canon 10-22, Nikon 12-24 and Tokina 12-24. For those that have a full-frame sensor, I suggest the 16-35L.

Are there situations where I wouldn't want the 2.8? I was taking pictures with it on auto and sometimes it would set to 4.0 - Should I set it to 2.8? What does 2.8 really mean?

Okay, there are several related questions here, so I will start with the most basic and work my way through them.

In the simplest terms, the aperture (f-stop) number represents the amount of light that the lens allows through to the camera. Each f-stop difference means the light allowed through is half of the f-stop before it. In the olden days when I started in photography, the numbers of the f-stop were engraved on the lens, so it was easy to remember them. The full f-stops are 1.0, 1.4, 2.0, 2.8, 4.0, 5.6, 8.0, 11, 16, 22, 32, 45, etc.

willows-large-depth-of-field.jpg This image was taken with a smaller aperture to make everything from the wood post to the Herb Farm in the background in focus

The obvious question at this point would be, "So what does that do for me?" What it means is that the lower the aperture number, the more light a lens can gather, which allows for higher shutter speeds, less camera shake causing blurry images, less need for flash, and when you do use flash you have greater range and options with your flash

Something else that changes with the aperture is the Depth of Field, or how much of the frame is in focus. If you are taking an Ansel Adams type landscape, you will want to shoot at something like f22. If you want to isolate your subject from the background, you will want a very fast aperture (like 2.8 or faster) to throw everything else out of focus.

stclair-out-of-focus-areas.jpg This is another example of a shallow depth of field.  Her eyes and mouth are in focus, but the tip of her nose and her ears are out of focus, ensuring that when we look at the photograh, we look at her face and aren't distracted by the background.

Next time I'll tackle the question most often asked of me at weddings, "Why is your flash pointed sideways?"