Hands-on with the Olympus EPM-1 (and other thoughts about cameras)

Recently I have had the huge pleasure of being invited to the PEN Ready Project, in which Olympus gave away 1000 Olympus EPM-1 cameras for people to shoot and review. I have always been a big fan of the Micro 4/3rds cameras, as they are small, compact, and take great photos. I tested an Olympus EP-2 a while back, and was quite impressed by the performance. I recently shot with the Olympus EP-3 and was quite pleased with the (even faster) autofocus performance as well as the image quality. If you have a micro 4/3rds camera and pick up a Olympus 17mm f/2.8 lens (~35mm equivalent), the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 Lens (40mm equivalent), or the  new Olympus 12mm f/2 lens (24mm equivalent) it makes a great combination.

Olympus EPM-1

When shooting on the streets with the Olympus EPM-1, I was really shocked how fast the autofocus is. It was lightyears faster than my old Canon 5D, and was incredibly accurate as well. When shooting in bright sunlight, I never missed focus even on moving subjects. I shot with the Olympus 14mm-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lens which the camera came with, and found it a surprisingly well-built lens. It was quite sharp, and zooming was nice and silky smooth. However the problem is with street photography, I found the zoom to make me too lazy when shooting. I highly recommend picking up a prime lens instead. Also at around only $500, the EPM-1 is a great bargain for those who want to get a micro 4/3rds camera at a budget. Got a bit more cash? Get the Olympus EP3 with more manual controls.

Olympus EP-3
Olympus EP-3 - the autofocus on this is so fast it is ridiculous

I also wanted to talk a bit more about cameras, lenses, and gear. To be absolutely clear, the camera you use when shooting street photography doesn’t matter. It is the photographer, not the camera, that captures decisive moments and great images. I have seen a ton of great street photography with the iPhone by some streettogs like Greg Shmiegel, Dominique Jost, and Misho Baranovic. You can also see more great photographers over at the Mobile Photo Group.

Sunshine, Melbourne, VIC
Copyright Misho Baranovic

However you still want to be comfortable with the gear you shoot with. Will you tell the difference in image quality between a Leica M9 and a DSLR when viewed online? I can’t. I shot street photography more-or-less exclusively with my Canon 5D for several years before making the jump to my Leica M9. Why did I do it? I loved the rangefinder experience and prefer digital. Of course the kit was expensive (it wiped out my savings and my wonderful mother helped me with the purchase). I am not rich by any regards– I grew up with my single mom and sister and worked my way through college and am still paying off student loans. However to my defense, I never have bought a new car or any other luxuries, so I felt the investment was worth it.

Ricoh GRDIII - best compact camera for street photography

If you are thinking of purchasing a new camera for street photography, first start shooting with the gear you have. Just make sure you are shooting with a 50mm or wider full-frame equivalent (I recommend the 35mm focal length). If you feel that shooting with your camera doesn’t suit you– check out the Fujifilm FinePix X100, Ricoh GRD III (the Ricoh GRD IV is coming out), or the Olympus EP-3. I feel that these are the 3 best cameras for street photography if you are on a budget. The X100 is great because it has an optical viewfinder and the fixed 35mm focal length. The Ricoh is perfect as it is compact and unobtrusive, and has a wonderful 28mm f/1.9 lens. The EP-3 has the fastest autofocus out there, and it has interchangeable lenses.

Fujifilm FinePix X100 - best bang for the buck street photography camera

So what camera are you currently shooting with– and does it fit with your style? Thinking of purchasing any new cameras or lenses in the future? Share your gear-related questions and thoughts in the comments below!


41 thoughts on “Hands-on with the Olympus EPM-1 (and other thoughts about cameras)”

      1. Eric: I really don’t like the fact that one cannot change lenses on the Ricoh. It does take great shots. But one is limited. I look at it as more of newbie starte camera. IMHO.

  1. Hey Eric, Photography has been my hobby and I love clicking photos. I think I know what I want to click but I am still at an early stage. I have a Panasonic DMC ZR1 Point and Shoot, and would want to buy a new camera, an SLR may be by November.
    I wanted some websites where I could first learn what each function does and then buy a new camera.
    I mostly click nature and some other abstract photos, use the macro mode. I havent tried my hands on emotions, and people.

    1. Bet you can’t wait to get a 4S? I have seen some comparison shots and it is really quite something – for a mobile device anyways.

  2. How does the E-PM1 handle zone focussing? I have been testing out a friends GF2 with 14/2.5 pancake and although there is a focus ring on the lens, there are NO distance markings which is kind of annoying. My worry with these M43 compacts is that they kind of assume they will only ever be used with autofocus.

    Also have you tested the program “P” mode on the E-PM1? With the GF2 it acts kind of weird in that it keeps the lens wide open at f/2.5 even when shooting in daylight and it selects too fast shutter speeds to compensate. P mode on the D700 (my regular camera) works just perfect.

      1. I was checking out that 12/2 and it has a real look of quality and would suit what you do as it works like a 24mm lens. The lens however is not cheap!

        Ideally they would also bring out a 14/2.8 or 14/2 in the same quality design for people who love shooting 28mm.

        I guess a “manual focus only” lens would be too much to ask ;-)

  3. FILM: Nikon F100 + 35mm f/2 fixed lense.
    DIGITAL: Nikon D700 + 35mm f/2 fixed lense. Wonderful camera, but I’m hoping to get a smaller and lighter one in the future, probably a rangefinder. I’ve taped the back in black so I can’t check the LCD screen while shooting in the streets.

    1. I have the D700 also. Just working out a system to get rid of the neck strap in favor of using a wrist strap that screws into tripod mount.

      Overkill on the screen with tape – ;-)

  4. The Panasonic G3 is great, really small with an electronic viewfinder. I’m sure I saw somewhere that it focusses faster then the new Olympus cameras. It’s much cheaper than having to buy the separate viewfinder for the Olympus. The sensor also seems to control noise well.

    1. I agree Steve. I went and tried it (actually the G2) recently – and brought along an old 50mm Leitz Summicron. The lens adaptor did its job!

  5. Eric, I just bought a used Ricoh GX100 for street photography, and I love it! It doesn’t have the superfast fixed lens of the GRD, but it has the ‘snap focus’ mode that I love, and at under $180 (US) it was a huge bargain! Doesn’t do well at high ISO, but with street photography, you can ’embrace the noise’ :-)

  6. Myself including a few others I know have sold off our DSLR platforms in favor of MFT offerings from Olympus & Panasonic.

    Me: Panasonic Lumix G3 w/ these AF lenses

    – Lumix 14mm f2.5 [ 28mm ] = Street; My favorite FOV
    – Lumix 20mm f1.7 [ 40mm ] = Lowlight
    – Oly M.Zuiko 45mm f1.8 [ 90mm ] Port

    * Thank you for the quick review/write up. I also plan to get an Olympus EPM-1 w/ Lumix 14mm f2.5 as well for my pocket/everywhere setup.

    Eric, Keep up the Great Work !!!

    btw: I still enjoy & like your orig. work/style the best

    1. Think about getting the lens adaptor. I tried it out with a 50mm Leitz Summicron. The shots were incredible! No auto-focus though.

  7. I always have to pat you on the back for reminding your readers that they can shoot with any camera they have and that they don’t need to have expensive gear to get quality photos. There is so much materialism and the belief that we as people have to have this or that to be successful and that simply isn’t true. Also you have mentioned that people shoot with what they have, again good advice, best to see what they like to use the camera for before purchasing. And while you recommend lens.. you should also remind them any lens can work. As they get more comfortable or more settled with street photography they can get closer. I like the review, always fun to see you try something new and share it with us. Thanks!

  8. Hi Eric,

    As usual, you do great reviews. I think it is because you are so laid back.

    I did have a look at the Olympus recently. And to be honest I did not like it all that much. It just didn’t feel very solid. At the same time I looked at the G2 (G3 not yet available here in Canada). It felt better in my hands. I can’t really explain it. The menu system was easier to navigate then that on the Olympus. It’s all academic I suppose. But what sealed the deal for me is that I can use the 50mm Summicron lens from my Dad’s M3 on the Lumix. I know autofocus won’t work. But hey at F16, I’ll figure things out pretty fast. And the G3 is smaller than the G2.

    Oh yes, I am using a D700 at the moment for my street shots with either an 18-35 or 50 mm lens. Not ideal at all.

    I did learn some tricks from you on how to make the camera more stealthy. But it is still a big chunk of technology!

    I am ubber excited about your class next week in Toronto! See you there.

  9. I tend to carry a GF1 + 17mm/2.8 for autofocusing grab shots, and an M6 with 35mm/2.5 CV Color Skopar for higher quality stuff. In the (small) bag there is also a m4/3 to M adapter, so with just 3 lenses (28, 35, 90) I can cover all 6 of the most used prime focal lengths (28/2.8, 35/2.5, 56/2.8, 70/2.5, 90/2.0, 180/2.0). All I need now is a 50/1.4, and it would be a straight flush.

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