Night Walk with the E-P3 and Olympus 45mm f/1.8 Lens

By Michael Gakuran | | Photography | 23 Comments |

Finally! It’s been 2 long, infuriating years, but the lens we’ve all been waiting is finally here! A bright f/1.8 portrait lens for the micro 4/3 format with delicious bokeh. It arrived on my doorstep a few days back and I’ve been just positively itching to take it out and give it a whirl. Here’s my first set of shots.

As per my usual habit, I decided to first take the lens out on a night walk around the city. It’s a demanding environment for the E-P3, even with this bright f/1.8 45mm lens snapped on. Most of the shots I took creeped up to ISO1600 (using auto ISO), which as many will know, is the rough limit for reasonable quality pictures out of the camera. All were shot at f/1.8. Let’s dip under the curtain and out into the streets of Japan!

One of the first points I always like to examine on bright lenses is the quality of the bokeh. A subjective topic of course. The type of blur and look of the pictures will vary form lens to lens; some people like the more angular look, or love lens with subtle idiosyncrasies. I personally like my bokeh soft and rounded. Just like the Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 lens I looked at last time, the Olympus 45mm doesn’t disappoint. Beautiful, circular orbs and smooth defocused colours in the background.

What is even more impressive is that this level of quality comes at a rather astonishingly low price – less than 30,000 yen here in Japan, and one of the cheapest m43 lenses available, especially for a prime.

Some interesting shadows dancing on the wall here. Pity the bright light burnt out the flower in the foreground.

This next shot of the neon sign at a Chinese restaurant came out at ISO 200, and looking closely, I can see the tiny, individual wires coiled around the tubes. Very nice.

Even at higher ISOs, the level of detail in the shots is quite pleasing. Here’s a portrait capture of yours truly taken at ISO 1000 by a friend after a Business English class this evening. Note too that the camera was set to face detect mode – all my friend did was click the shutter. This is especially helpful when asking other people to take photos with the camera. Inevitably I’ve found in the past that the average person without any photographic experience cannot focus and re-compose. Before face-detection, so many of the shots I asked other people to take of me and friends were focussed on the background. It’s incredibly nice to be able to hand the camera to anyone and get sharp photos. Now just implement an automatic composition mode, and we’d be sorted!

Another reasonable capture and good detail at ISO 1600. I should note that all photos in this post were shot in raw and processed in Lightroom. Tweaks for saturation, contrast, fill light and clarity were made. The average sharpness setting I used was around 70 with luminance noise reduction set to around 30.

An attempt to capture movement on the street. The 45mm was extremely quick coupled with the E-P3’s snappy autofocus, but the lack of light meant this shot was ISO 1600 at 1/60 second, so perhaps not quite enough to nail it. Detail is also lost in the darker shadows. We could definitely do with good quality images at ISO 3200 on the E-P3.

I love vintage signs, and Japan is full of them. This one was mixed in amongst the izakaya and other eateries near the station. Nice isolation from the background with the 45mm lens.

A rather atmospheric place below. I love the pockmarked grain in the wood and frosted glass window. I think this shot might be worth playing with a midtone contrast filter to bring out the gritty detail even more.

The 45mm lens is extremely lightweight too. Having been using the Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 lens as my general purpose attachment recently, I have come to find it a touch heavy (although nothing on a DSLR camera). The 45mm f/1.8 and Olympus’s other new lens, the 12mm f/2.0 feel much better balanced on the PEN camera, which is a bit of a pity, because the 25mm lens is a very nice chunk of glass!

Finally, one more bokeh shot. Can’t get enough of that creamy smooth bokeh, as the cliche goes. I need a new metaphor… That fluid, silky bokeh, perhaps?

What are your favourite shots? If you have any questions about the lens, drop them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them :).

23 comments on “Night Walk with the E-P3 and Olympus 45mm f/1.8 Lens
  1. Hi – how are you doing?

    I have an Olympus PEN E-PL2 with the standard 14-42mm lens. Now then, a friend of mine has asked me to take photographs at his nightclub event. I know this is all a bit off topic – but – what settings would you recommend?

    Any light you could shed on the subject would be fantastic. Thanks in advance.

  2. Hi!

    Very nice photos. 

    I came across your blog because i’m still undecided which PEN body to buy, the E-PL2 or the E-P3. But I definitely would be using the 45mm f1.8 for night shots. I see how superb the lens is on the E-P3 basing on your photos. How about on the E-PL2? Would it give the same result?

  3. zonjineko says:

    Great pics as always. Not sure if it’s my imagination but to my eye the contrast and general look of the 45mm doesn’t get near the Leica-Panny 25mm?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Very nice bright photos. Very nice – wow, really shows that with the right glass, the micro 4/3 cameras really give up nothing to the full DSLRs. I’m already sure that with the very nice ISO performance on the GH1, this lens would come out VERY nicely… 

    The first three shots all stand out to me – very clear, very bright, sharp. Very nice. The flowers and the vending machine one showing a little ISO strain, but honestly, if you had told me this was all shot with a full sensor camera, I’d totally have believed you.

    I guess my main point of hesitation, even with a great lens like this, is my need for the lens to be good with video – this is where Panasonic’s continuous autofocus features on its lenses really shine for me, although one really nice piece of glass like this dedicated to the purpose seems well worth it looking at this.  Nice showcase – I shall look into this further.

    A question for you – I do get it, you have more than double the lens space gathering light, but the lumix f1.7 is still a wonderful compact lens, and the ISO performance on the GH1 I am finding compensates well for low light issues. What do you think would be merits of getting this as another bright fast lens?

    • Gakuranman says:

      Hey Hiko.

      I haven’t tried the lens with video yet, but from what I’ve read, it has internal, silent focussing, so I think it would be suitable for your GH-1.

      The merit of this lens over the fantastic 20mm is the shallow depth of field. You may have noticed that, for most ordinary subjects, the 20mm lens just doesn’t quite cut it for soft, defocussed backgrounds. It’s certainly not bad, and you can get reasonable bokeh effects like you showed us yesterday, but they tend to be in specific scenarios where you focus on something very close to the lens.

      The 45mm is a portrait lens, and in the shot of me you can see, there are lovely orbs of defocussed light in the background which you wouldn’t be able to get with the 20mm very well. The other big factor is the amount of compression you’ll have in your shots. The longer focal length of the 45mm (equivalent 90mm) is classic length for a portrait lens. It squashes the features of the face up so that they look very natural, whereas the 20mm is a wider lens, so if you take pictures of a face close up, you’ll see wide-angle distortion. It’s not so noticeable when you’re only shooting with one lens, but when you compare the two, it’s quite obvious which is more pleasing.

      In short then – 20mm, all purpose walk around. 45mm, portraits and defocussed backgrounds.

  5. Anonymous says:

    So I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time (and tweets) and noted your love for the PEN. Obviously it is an easy camera to handle, and does an outstanding job. To have something the size of a point and shoot that takes these kinds of photos is really convenient. The thing that’s always been a bother about this camera is the hefty price tag and the lack of lenses and general cross-compatibility (and huge prices) of add-ons such as flashes and anything hot-shoe. I guess my question is, why not a DSLR that would end up cheaper for better photos?

    Also, do you post-process your photos at all, beside the watermark?

    • Gakuranman says:

      Hi, thanks for stopping by.I do have a soft spot for the PEN cameras, yes :). As for lenses, the lack thereof is now a thing of the past. Pretty much all the holes in the m43 system have been plugged and it’s as good as a mid-range DSLR, with perhaps the exception of there not yet being a bright zoom lens. Add-ons to the system don’t seem to be any more expensive than accessories for DSLRs (although perhaps the electronic viewfinder is). The flash, for example, is exactly the same one used on the four thirds DSLR cameras.My basic reason for not choosing a DSLR is the size and weight. Now that m43 cameras are on par with DSLR cameras of 2-3 years ago, I’m pretty happy with the quality. One final push in the sensor and a couple of bright zooms, and there will be virtually no difference between the m43 system and regular consumer DSLRs in terms of photographic quality, in my opinion. Although as you note, you do pay a premium price for this new, small and lightweight technology. Nothing surprising there.

  6. Frank says:

    Love your photos! With my E-P1 I go no higher than iso 640, I shoot always raw and develop in CS4. Do you think that the E-P3 has better high iso performance than the E-P1 when you develop the photos in raw? Should I upgrade just for high iso raw image quality?

    • Gakuranman says:

      Hi Frank. That’s a tough question for me to answer. When I first started shooting with my E-P1, I was exclusively a Jpeg shooter, only moving into Raw in the later days until the camera was stolen. I then got the E-PL2 and was shooting Raw and now the E-P3 Raw as well. There does seem to be a slight improvement over the E-PL2, but I honestly couldn’t say how much of an improvement over the E-P1 it is really as I cannot test it.

      My feeling though, is that it is better, and where i would hesitate to use ISO 1600 on the E-P1, on the E-P3 is feels quite useable. Hope that helps :).

  7. Dear well done, Olympus is always Olympus because the “class is not water!”. Frankly, but I think in street shoot test are inprecision. First all in the night light is too different from daylight. More contraste, collapse shadow too dark, in other word: in this case is pure philosophy shoot one smooth photos. Viceversa If so the street life interesting for photographer to make a virtue of necessity, as large aperture and moderate ISO is, in this case, a god job possible. I repeat night is different., and for me of course, shadow light are not ” problem”. Last of all please not juxtapose the lens with large aperture for other modeste f scale. It doesn’t exist paragon.
    Large, yes boken light or shadow in night is narration ad not technicality..The night above all is poetry, if possible….
    Michele Annunziata

  8. Rainer says:

    Great pictures, I hope you show even more in the next Time!!!
    I am waiting for the lens, but it only comes in 3 weeks in Germany on the Market.

    Greets, Rainer

  9. Kenneth says:

    Nice pictures. The lens is a must have – I see that. Right now I just have the 14mm Panny, but are going to Hong Kong soon. I can’t decide if I should buy a 45 olly or the the new 45-175 Panny to be my companion on this trip. I can’t buy both. The 45 Olly are probably much better, but the 45-175 gives me more room to play. Hard choice, but the system is on the right direction now. Really liked your pictures. Favorite must be the one with the sign (man with bottle).

    • Gakuranman says:

      Hey Kenneth. Thanks for dropping by :).

      Hong Kong… Hmm. I would say the 45mm simply because I envision the nightlife and city lights to be wonderful. The zoom would be nice during the day, but I always pictured Hong Kong as a city after dark, and you’d be better off with a nice, bright lens for that!

  10. Daniel Pua says:

    Every time I see sample pics taken with this lens, it makes me want it more. It looks like a very good performer and I like how well it does at f/1.8. I love the size of it too. It might be time to sell most of my manual focus 50mm lenses.

    How does it perform at around f/4 to f/5.6? Have you had much of a chance to use it during the day?

    I like the new site design by the way :)

    • Gakuranman says:

      Hey Daniel. Cheers for the comment. Unfortunately I’ve only tried the lens at f/1.8 at night and handheld, but I’ve no doubt from seeing other pictures around the internet and general lens performance that if the sharpness is this good at f/1.8, then it’s likely to be better at f/5.6.

      It is indeed a very small, nifty lens! Hardly weights anything! My only small complaint is that the casing is not made of metal and it doesn’t have Olympus’s new ‘snap autofocus’ system that the 12mm f/2.0 lens has. I would happily pay for a premium version of this lens, but I’m glad there is an affordable version to help capture the imagination of more potential users!

      • Daniel Pua says:

        Yeah I’m sure I’d see day time pics from other people but I do enjoy your Japan photos :) I’m guessing I’d mostly shoot it wide open anyway unless it’s super bright outside.

        I think I also would’ve liked a metal version of it. Maybe they’re saving that for the f/1.4 version? One can hope…

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