How I started photography with the Olympus E-P1
Hi! Let me introduce myself! My name is Martin Schmid. I am a 22 years old student in Arts and a former student in Foreign Languages, from Metz, France.
I have been asked to write this article today, to talk about my first (and only) camera: The Olympus Pen E-P1, a 2009 mirrorless digital camera and the first model from Olympus to support the Micro Four Thirds system, which has been following me in all of my adventures since 2 years ago.
I will present you this awesome little camera from my point of view, in parallel with my own experience and relationship with photography since they are all linked in some ways, the E-P1 being the body with which I learned how to click the shutter.
When I was a kid, drawing was an important part of my artistic life and later this was replaced by, well… Photoshop… On which I spent hours to do lots of collage, montage and scenery from scratch.
Besides, I was, and still am, passionate about music for more than 12 years today. I learned to play guitar, piano and singing at a music school then drums and bass by myself. I played in a lot of bands and did a great number of gigs throughout the years. Music was my everything, my way to express myself easily and fight my shyness. But at certain times of my life, I maintained kind of a love and hate relationship with the musical art because of a lot of questioning and lack of inspiration.
During one of those harsh periods I moved to the south of Italy for six months as part of my studies, I had no instruments to practice and it was hard to maintain my passion and my skills on a daily basis. I was forced to put aside the music for a few months and I think that it was when my new passion began and I took my first step into the world of photography.
I was in Lecce, a small town in Puglia, Italy, 11km away from the Mediterranean sea, the place was beautiful and I felt so good there, like I’d never felt before. That is when I started to take hundreds and hundreds of pictures of the new landscapes I saw everyday with my iPhone 5 since I had no camera. Then in the evenings I spent hours selecting and editing the shots I took hours before.
When I came back in France at the end of my degree, I started to look in several shops to find a camera on a budget on which I could learn the rudiments of photography (manual mode, exposure, framing, focal length, all of that.. )
I found quite easily a second-hand Olympus PEN E-P1 for a little less than €90. I asked the employee to see the camera, he tried so hard to sell it to me while I faint my expertise trying to understand how the thing worked. I decided to buy it without hesitation mostly due to the few letters on top of the lens: “Olympus”.
I didn’t know a lot in terms of photography, camera and gear, but I knew for sure that Olympus was a well-known brand that I could trust without second guessing. I mean… everyone knows Olympus and their reputation, no need to be a photographer.
Since I still consider myself a newbie, I assumed that I didn’t need an extremely powerful and high-end camera. With the little knowledge I had in photography and camera when I bought it, I only knew that I was looking for a camera that I could use in Manual, with interchangeable lenses and before anything else… on a budget.
Although it’s not the best on the market, for its price and its age, it is a surprisingly good camera, at least for a beginner like me. It is quite easy to use once you’ve been through the scary menus. The quality of the image is very good and it can be very sharp (manual focus for best results), and the autonomy of the battery allows me to shoot all day long.
Of course, the E-P1 is far from being perfect. I tend to regret the lack of built-in viewfinder for when the sun is too bright during outdoor sessions, add to this the quality of a 2009 LCD screen and you’ll find yourself taking photographs blindly and praying for the best once you import your work on the computer.
Last but not least, the sensor is not really efficient in low light due to the M4/3 system, and the results can be very noisy once you go beyond 800 ISO (fortunately that is where Lightroom can really do wonders). But sometimes these imperfections give the shot an analog look that I really love. On the opposite, when the conditions are “good”, once you look at the results of your hard work, there is no way to tell that this PEN is ten years old.
Concerning the lens, due to my budget, I stay faithful to the one that came with my E-P1: a Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 (which is actually the 35mm equivalent of a 28-84mm). The fact that it is the only lens I own is not really a problem since I’m still learning how to use my gear and the different focal lengths.
It is a polyvalent kit lens which allows me to shoot many different things, from landscapes and streets to portraits and close-up shots. With it I have the possibility to experiment the most common focal lengths: at 35mm mostly for landscape, at 50mm or at 80mm mostly for portrait and close-up shots.
Of course, the sharpness and the maximum aperture are not as good as on a prime or a more expensive lens, but at my level of experience and for my needs right now, it does the job perfectly.
At the moment, it’s been like 2 years that my interest in photography began. So I’m still at the “shoot everything you can” stage and my Olympus follows me in every situation with no problem. That way it trains me to take photographs in all kind of conditions. I try to take advantage of every opportunity to improve my skills, for instance during fireworks or sporting events. I try a little food photography here and a little street photography there.
But right now, what I enjoy the most is shooting landscapes, portraits and fashion photographs for the same reason I started photography in the first place: to make the effort to really observe what surrounds me, to look for, and highlight the beauty of our world in all its forms. The beauty of the earth, the beauty of people… the beauty in general actually.
Photography taught me to see the world with new eyes and to be aware of new things, to observe more the places and things I’ve never really paid attention to before.
For the few lifestyle photos I took, I’m just looking for events of everyday life that are worth capturing and immortalizing. Precious and temporary instants to trap in time. That explains why I don’t have lots of lifestyle shot since it is extremely difficult to capture these instants.
Concerning my portraits and fashion shots, my main inspiration is my girlfriend (@perrinereuter): My one and only model at the moment.
She is really beautiful and, through my camera, I try to show her how I see her, how amazing and beautiful she is to me.
Moreover, we have lots of projects together and the photos we make, on one hand, allow me to improve my skills in every aspect of photography and, on the other hand, will help us in our different projects.
Regarding the last step of my creative process: for a very long time I used Photoshop, when I used to enjoy doing a montage, collage, creating impossible realities through the software. But since I do my own photographs and enjoy even more representing or magnifying the reality through the lens of my camera, I am now spending way more time on Lightroom for its simple and intuitive interface adapted to photo editing.
Of course sometimes I have fun creating weird effects on my work on Lightroom, but the more I edit the more I try to limit my modifications. I usually just try to edit in order to match the photo with the reality since the colours of a RAW file straight from the camera are usually kind of dull. But, honestly, it also depends a lot of the project and our intentions.
99% of the time I use my own presets. I have a huge collection since I tend to create a few for each series I make. However, I also tend to use the same 10 presets for most of my “finals”.
For the photographs I take with my girlfriend, we usually create the presets together to lead to the visual identity we want for the kind of project we are working on.
Still, in every aspect of photography, I am at the very beginning of my apprenticeship, I am still searching myself and searching my style, but I trust my curiosity and thirst for knowledge to help me make progress.
In short, I would say that this camera that follows me for 2 years now, has aged very well, produces results that most of the time could be confused with a 2019 camera, and would fit perfectly in any novice’s hands. Shooting with this one is a lot of fun while teaching perfectly the basics of the photographic art.
This cheap little body allowed me to begin my journey into photography, maintained my interest for the art and has even turned it into a passion. And if I am curious to test others brands and models of cameras like the Sony A7, Canon EOS-R or the Fujifilm X100F, I think that the E-P1 – which fulfils all of my present needs – will follow me for a long time.
Martin Schmid, 22, is a self-taught photographer and student in arts, based in Metz, France. Focusing in Landscape, Fashion and Portrait Photography, Martin’s goal is to capture ephemeral moments and beauty that surround him in order to share his vision of the world, focalizing on a sense of freedom and carefreeness.
Also musician for more than 12 years, he tries to establish a relationship between music and photography in a way that the two complement one another.