#106. Photographing the streets of Paris with the Olympus OM-D

By pascaljappy | News

May 23

On a recent evening, Philippe and I met up on the banks of the Seine river in Paris to make pictures of Notre Dame. Sounds terribly exotic, doesn’t it? Except it was one of the coldest, wettest, foulest days in living memory and it took all of Philippe’s Patagonian training and my experience of 30+ British summers to muster the courage to get out there and shoot.

The idea was to pitch the little Olympus OM-D against such mighty adversaries as the Sony NEX-7 and the Canon 5DIII in low-light conditions and with a mouth-watering assortment of Zuiko, Leica and Zeiss lenses. We will report on this as soon as our SD cards dry-up. Watch this space, interesting things to come.

The French national flag floats over the Hotel de Ville and its lamp posts in Paris. Olympus OM-D & Digital Zuiko 45mm f/1.8

Vive la Rรฉpublique

OTHER EPISODES

With the testing over, we proceeded to dry ourselves in a lovely restaurant, had a great dinner and a interesting talk then went our separate ways back to our respective home and hotel. This post is about this second part of the evening.

It is about using this camera in the situation it was probably designed for : quick, nimble and efficient picture making in all sorts of conditions. While we did our best to protect and dry our lenses as efficiently as we could in the conditions, the Oly stayed 4 hours on a tripod in the pouring rain with absolutely no protection of any form. If you need reassuring that this is a very well built camera, look no further. It’s a trooper !

It’s also a very competent-low light camera (note that I didn’t mention High ISO …) thanks to its built-in IBIS stabilizer and fast Zuiko lenses. The picture above was hand-held in total darkness at ISO800 and 1/100th (the exposure makes the lamp look extremely bright, it wasn’t).

A major JPEG bug

But is it Olympus or is it LightRoom ?

Choosing a restaurant in the old streets of Le Marais, Paris. Olympus OM-D & Panasonic 14mm f/2.5

Choosing a restaurant

When I tried to import my pictures into LightRoom 4, it recognised some of the JPEGs and none of the RAWs. Half way through the evening, the JPEG import stops. I must have done something, but what?? So all of the pictures on this page were copied into Photoshop Elements (don’t have the full version with me here) with only minimal resizing and edition options. What you are seeing, then, is mostly strait out of camera.

Has anyone else encountered this import problem in LR4 ?

A very convenient camera !

IBIS, although I expressed minor reservations about the non-stabilized hand-holdability of this camera in my previous instalment, is very good indeed.

As are the bubble levels. Maybe my eyes aren’t level, maybe it’s my brain ๐Ÿ˜‰ Fact is my pictures are very rarely strait. Particularly when no convenient reference point such as a horizon is available. Not so with Lill’Ollie. The levels in the viewfinder are absolutely wonderful. Here is an example where I’m pretty sure 5 degrees of slant would have made recropping necessary and would have lost 10% of the image’s pixels. Not so here. Strait out of camera.

A red interior inside a 500 year old restaurant in Paris, said to be full of ghosts. Olympus OM-D & Panasonic 14/2.5

Inside the Ghost Restaurant

The combined effect of a snappy and accurate autofocus, the stabilized image, decent mid-high ISO performance and in-camera levels feels little short of miraculous in situations like these. To the point you actually forget there are actual laws to physics and post-desert hand-tremor that no amount of technology can counter (yet). And the picture above is in fact a tad unsharp. No big deal, but you couldn’t really print this. When all comes together and the after effects of caramelized orange clafouti subside, the results are pretty special. And the colours are just so gorgeous.

A large wall covering ornate mirror in a 500 year old restaurant in Paris. Olympus OM-D EM-5.

The Mirror Shows No Ghost ?

You probably wouldn’t notice a slanted picture in these surroundings where not a single wall is strait. The 500 year-old building may have felt like Liberace’s boudoir, but the history was quite a bit grimmer. The enthusiastic waiter entertained us all during the meal with the gorish stories of other ancient houses in the street where child sacrifice and other niceties of the time had been going on and told us all about the ghosts that are supposed to roam the place. Philippe and I didn’t see or feel no ghost, but you may have a different experience, should you ever dine there one damp evening ๐Ÿ˜‰

GHOST UPDATE:Enlarge the picture and take a close look at the right side. Notice the people in the mirror. Just beyond the chandelier in between the curtains. See them ? Now take a look at their table completely at bottom right. See them ? Me neither!! So, it is now official. Ghosts are for real, and Olympus has made the first camera that makes pictures of them. The OM-D E-M5!. How about that for reviewing ? Better than pixel count and high-ISO noise, right ? Like, Share & Subscribe, people ! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Auto ISO

I rarely use auto ISO because it scares me to never know what rating is going to be used. But for quick-snapping conditions, it is quite useful. And very well implemented in the OM-D. A quick click on the general menu setting (more about this later) lets you select a fixed ISO setting or Auto ISO. It litterally takes a couple of seconds to change. Ergonomically, this camera is heads and shoulders above my Sony NEX-5n. A deeper peep into the menus lets you select min ISO and max ISO for that Auto setting. The jump from one setting to the next highest one happens when the shutter speed is lower than a preset value which you set in the Flash-synch speed.

A row of green Vel'Lib lights against a backdrop of multicolour out of focus street lamps showing the great bokeh of the Digital Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 on the Olympus OM-D E-M5

Vel’Lib Intimacy

This seems a bit weird. I’m no flash expert but I’d be surprised if there weren’t situations in which you’d want a very low sync-speed without compromising image stability.

Still, it works wonders. Olympus’ default settings are 200-1600 which seems perfectly right because, in spite what the test blogs say, things get a bit ugly above that value. But trust me, with IBIS, ISO 1600 and fast lenses there aren’t many street shooting situations you won’t get away with. And if you’re not grabbing quickies, you should be on a tripod at base ISOs anyway. So … sweet !

And talking of sweet, let me throw in a little spoiler before the next lens-testing installment of this review : that Digital Zuiko 45mm lens is a gem. It’s cheap, small, sharp and has the loveliest bokeh. Who said you need full-frame and a Summilux for great out-of-focus effects. I rather like the picture above ๐Ÿ™‚

Great JPEG

When it comes to technicalities, I’m the laziest man on the planet. I think there is a version of LightRoom that deals with the OM-D’s RAW files. The update search feature in my sample of LR4 tells me no updates are available. I just can’t face the fight to prove it wrong, search the forums for clues and download whatever patch is available.

UPDATE : There is indeed a beta version of LR4.1 available for download here : http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/lightroom4-1/ (see comments).

If someone knows whether some elusive version LR can indeed deal with OM-D raws, in the sake of science and my human right to laziness, please put me out of my misery.

Red and white lights at night in a Parisian barber shop. Olympus OM-D E-M5

Red Projects White

Thankfully for the Pandas, Koalas, Sloths, armadillos and myself, out of camera JPEGs from Lill’Ollie are simply stunning. The JPEG engine is so good I really doubt there would be any point in using the RAW option – in goog light and at low ISOs – unless you’re a pro shooting on assignment with strict orders.

It’s not just the sharpness, white balance and colours. Dynamic range is really special and let’s you recover from some pretty absurd lighting very gracefully. Kudos Olympus. Given the other features on this camera, I think this makes for a very consistent approach to speedy shooting.

More street

One feature that is largely absent from the street photography title is … the street. So here are a few more pictures made on the street that night or the following morning and that again illustrate the OM-D’s assets for fast shooting.

Not being much of a street photographer myself, I have no idea what makes the quality of the genre. All I can say is that all the pictures including people were made without aiming at all. I pointed the camera in the general direction and clicked in full auto everything mode. Then rotated and cropped like mad ๐Ÿ˜‰ Not really my cup of tea, but the camera exposed and focused admirably. Again, cropping aside, images are largely untouched. Grotty weather do not always me tired colours or lack of contrast, it seems ๐Ÿ™‚

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  • Niklaus Daeuber says:

    Hi Pascal

    Lightroom RC 4.1 supports raw files from the OM-D. You can download it here:

    http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/lightroom4-1/

    On my PC version 4.1 is less stable than 4.0 but generally works.

    Thanks for your comments so far about the Olympus OM-D. I read all with great interest and am looking forward to read your view on the raw quality.

    Niklaus

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Niklaus,

      thanks a lot for that info! I’ll give LR4.1 a try. Since most of my pictures were made in JPEG+RAW mode, it should be interesting to compare the differences in tought lighting.

      Cheers,
      Pascal

  • terraff says:

    Sorry, but I haven’t seen any EM-5 review with such terrible sample images as this one. None of them really supports your statements with regard to DR, image quality, JPEG engine and so forth. The EM-5 is a very good camera (I own one), but based on own experience, it is bad to advise people that the JPEG engine is sufficient not to shoot RAW. It is not. RAW still produces significantly superior results than the JPEG engine, which I find myself rather ordinary (there is too much detail smoothing, even with NR off).

    It is a shame for a reviewer, that he is not able to find out about the current raw support status of LR 4. It isn’t that hard to find out that since about three weeks there is a release candidate 2 of LR4, which has EM-5 support and that release candidates aren’t available via auto update. A few minutes research would have uncovered that for you. The rlease candidate is perfectly usable, by the way.

    In my opinion, there are already enough blog / review sites who try to bring another of the endless, boring and uncritical “reviews” about the EM-5 into the web space, and this was another one of the useless category.

    Bloggers, meanwhile, we know that the EM-5 is a great and the best m4/3 camera, so don’t waste your time with this, unless you have to show some really nice images or have something to report, which others did not already have.

    Sorry, for the rant, but sometimes one has to say this openly.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi terraf, sorry you feel this way, mate.

      My blog isn’t a review site. For pixel-peeping lab tests, dpreview is th eplace to go. Here, we focus on making pictures, the sort that hang in other people’s homes and review cameras in their ability to support that goal. I really don’t care about measuring DR to the next percent. The fact is that several pictures you have seen have benefitted from the great dynamic range of th OM-D in that highlights were not blown. And the IBIS performance was used to great effect on the very first picture, which has received its fair share of acclaim. It’s not because this isn’t mentioned or measured by robots that it isn’t true. Maybe you should think twice before making rash comments.

      As for RAW, I sand by what I wrote. Having downloaded a beta release of LR (thanks to indications of a nice reader) I have now compared JPEGs and RAW files (most of my pictures are JPEG + RAW) on hundreds of shots. While there is a definite improvement in shadow management, in good light and low ISO (as I wrote in the review) I still see no advantage to RAW. Again, my goal is printing reasonably large, not huge, not with 100% colour fidelity, just like 99.9% of photographers do. So if you belong to that elusive .1% of the photography world, by all means look away from JPEG. The fact remains that the OM-D has one of the best JPEG engines I have used and Olympus have to be commended for it.

      Have a nice day

    • Forbit says:

      Gotta say, I agree with Terraff at least on the comment regarding the samples. The first greatly acclaimed photograph was taken at 1/100 sec.? At that shutter speed, the image SHOULD be sharp on ANY camera. It’s only 1/8 to 1/20 where things get interesting as far as IBIS goes.

      But thanks for the review and looking forward to seeing the rest of your observations.

      • pascaljappy says:

        Forbit, great acclaim is pushing it, but me and my mum like it ๐Ÿ˜‰ As for shutter speed, I have found that this camera requires much higher speeds than my NEX at the same focal lengths. While 1/100th is not exactly slow, it’s actually in line with what you’ll be able to use (remember this was 1AM after hours in the cold and rain, so maybe my hands were tired, but I needed that speed to get a steady shot). IBIS helps a great deal, but you’re starting from further back. You’d need incredibliy steady hands to get critically sharp pictures at 1/8 with a 45mm lens, even with IBIS. Even 1/20 would be *very* good going. I did some stats with the 14, 45 and 90mm lenses and will post my values soon. Sorry to disappoint, but they’re really not that encouraging ๐Ÿ˜‰ Maybe it’s my hands, maybe it’s my camera, maybe they’re all like that. I really don’t know. Cheers.

      • pascaljappy says:

        Oh, and one last thing. This was a post on street photography. The pictures are about the streets of Paris (and a restaurant) not about any kind of formal testing. But I did choose some of them to illustrate some points. For instance, the buildings were burned in the picture with the dogs and the great DR allowed me to pull the back cleanly, even in JPEG. The wall garden and flowers in the window also benefited from this. I shot three pictures of the guy with the bike and only this one is sharp. It shows how much help is needed to get sharp pictures (at least for me ;)).

  • Eric says:

    Pascal,

    I can’t speak for Lightroom, but know Aperture has been updated to handle E-M5 raw files. If you’d like, shoot me one of your problematic raw files via email, and I’ll try it out in Aperture.

    Eric

  • augustm says:

    For my curiosity where is the red boudoir restaurant- I have never come across anything quite like
    it in my many trips to the city. I certainly found the photos captured the spirit of the place
    as I know it!

    A.

  • […] still, my recent Street of Paris by night with the OM-D post, in spite of showing the first ever real photo of a ghost (2 in fact), attracted vehement criticism […]

  • I had no idea that the OM-D could be used as a ghost capturing device. Hmmm… perhaps this could be a useful scientific tool after all. ๐Ÿ™‚

    As for the write-up, I like it. It’s exactly the kind of thing that I like to read. Why? Because it’s easy to get all caught up in camera fetishism and trying to compare one camera against another.

    Really, all photography boils down to is images. Cameras and lenses, at that point, are nothing more than tools of creative expression. And the kinds of things seen here point to an artist doing their best to further their craft and share something of the experience.

    Well done, sir.

  • Chris says:

    I am a mountaineer who, approaching 60, is past the glory of peak-bagging and now seeks a slower pace in the mountains. I have always taken photographs when ‘up there’ but using a camera that is cheap to drop, lose, freeze. My latest was a Lumix FH1 which is probably worth 10francs. However… I have undertaken to traverse a few of the Alps around the planet and need a camera that is LIGHT… As in no DSLR. I was being talked into the Panasonic GX1 but rejected that in favour of the NEX-5N (censor). Now i am leaning to the E-M5 because of your (superbly individual) comments. I would be restricted to manual focus lense due to motors freezing but the camera will be in insulated drybag. And weatherproofness!

    Christoph

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Christoph,

      what a fantasic project ! My take on this is that if you are going to be using the EM-5 you need to use Olympus lenses. The camera is tough and really produces spledid pictures but my tests with legacy lenses (Leica & Zeiss) are really not very good. The NEX-5N is much better with those lenses, no contest.

      Thanks a lot for your compliment. I hope this helps.

      Cheers,
      Pascal

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