INTRODUCTION Street photography is a demanding genre – both for the photographer and the camera. For years, I worked exclusively with film cameras.
As my professional work started to take over more and more of my time, I decided to get myself a capable, take-everywhere camera to keep my street photography going while at the same time cutting down processing/scanning times that come with film.
The key features I was looking for were: – small, stylish form factor – viewfinder (electronic or analogue – tilt screen – quiet operation – good autofocus, as well as manual focus options – reasonably priced
Shooting Olympus for my professional work, it was only natural for me to look at what they had to offer. Nonetheless, even if I were not an Olympus shooter in the first place, the OM-D E-M10III is the model that would have ticked all the boxes.
So I bought the E-M10III at a local camera shop about a year ago, and now, 20.000 shutter actuations later, it is time for a review, I’d say.
BODY, DESIGN AND BUILD QUALITY The body is well-designed and light-weight – the slightly retro look and the small form factor are perfect for street shooting, not intimidating the subjects and giving off a touristy-hipstery vibe.
It is mostly made out of high-density plastic, which does not feel as good as a metal body, but I have no complaints regarding durability so far. All the dials and buttons are still “clicky” like on the first day.
The camera is not weather-sealed, but I exposed mine to some raindrops and it still works fine. Either way, as most of my film camera bodies I use for street are not splashproof as well, this does not feel like a major drawback to me.
USABILITY The rear screen can be turned at an angle, making shots from the hip very easy. Combined with the touch AF, this is a truly amazing feature for any street photographer.
Olympus cameras are known for extensive customization options and complex menus. As the E-M10 is geared towards beginners getting into “serious” photography, Olympus decided to strip down the options. I would dislike that in their professional models, but for street photography camera, I actually prefer it.
With three BLN-1 batteries in total, I never found myself out of juice during one-day photo walks. In fact, I almost never needed the third battery, but it was always there for peace of mind. As the BLN-1 batteries are small in size, taking three of them along, is not an issue. They fit into every pocket.
IMAGING FEATURES & AUTOFOCUS The 16MP sensor hits the sweet spot for me – it records enough information to do a 2x crop and still get a decent print, while the files are still small enough to ensure smooth processing even on older PCs/smartphones.
A quick remark: Years ago, I shot one of my major projects with a 16MP OM-D E-M5. The photos for the exhibitions were printed 50x70cm at least and were sometimes quite heavily cropped – quite a few visitors (some of them photographers themselves) asked me which camera I used as the image quality was “so good” according to their perception.
Regarding noise performance, I would use it up to ISO3200 without hesitation and go up to ISO6400 if needed.
When shooting street, quickly moving the camera around to capture an interesting scene often caused me to accidentally blur a shot. Olympus’s well-known image stabilization is a great countermeasure to that and it works well in the OM-D E-M10III. The Autofocus is fast and very accurate. I found it to be more than adequate for street photography. It is important to note that I primarily use S-AF and manual focus, I have not really tested the C-AF performance.
OTHER The electronic shutter (silent shutter) is only available in the “Advanced Photo” mode. As I mentioned before, the E-M10III is the entry-level EVF-camera in Olympus’s lineup. To make things easier for beginners, some of the functions were moved to the “Advanced Photo” mode. This means that the electronic shutter can only be used in “Program” mode, as in the “Advanced Photo” mode no other exposure modes can be selected. While an understandable choice given the camera’s target audience, this is a downside for experienced street shooters, who might prefer other exposure modes like aperture priority. Good thing is that the mechanical shutter is not that loud, although louder than the mechanical shutter on the Olympus E-M1II for example.
To end on a high note, setting up a WiFi connection to a smartphone is hassle-free. Sometimes I like to share pictures straight to Instagram, so I’m happy that it works so easily.
THREE STREET PHOTOGRAPHY HACKS TO TRY WITH THE OM-D E-M10 III
1. TWO PRIMES IN ONE On the top plate, there is a small button with a magnifying glass. As a factory default, it turns on the digital zoom. This is not a feature any serious photographer would ever use, or is it?
My favourite prime lens for street/documentary photography is the M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/1.8, which gives you a 35mm-equivalent field of view. It is a gorgeous, all-metal prime lens that can handle every shooting situation you throw at it – but then I stumbled across situations when the 17mm (aka 35mm) was just too wide.
A quick tap of the button – boom – you just turned the 17mm into a 34mm (aka 70mm). This is not only useful for manual focusing, but gives you significantly more reach without changing lenses. And I always found the resulting out-of-camera 16MP JPG more than sufficient. Yes, you read correctly: The camera automatically interpolates the JPG to full resolution. How cool is that!
There is a loss of image quality, of course, but when shooting RAW, you can always “zoom out” to 17mm (aka 35mm) in post.
2. SILENT BUT DEADLY (AND FUN) I already complained about the “Advanced Photo” mode you have to select in order to use the electronic (noiseless) shutter. Now, here is a setup I had a lot of fun with:
– Set the camera to [Advanced Photo] and select [Silent] – Turn face-detect “ON”
That’s it – you just set up your camera to “care-free” mode – it will automatically choose the shutter speed and aperture (as it is in Program mode), the shutter is completely silent and the AF-mode is set to all-AF fields active.
When you focus, the camera should either focus on the closest face it is able to detect or clearly display you a couple of AF-points indicating which parts of the image are in critical focus.
This works very well and you are guaranteed to have a fun Point-and-Shoot street photo experience!
3. MANUAL FOCUS ZONE MADNESS Although the AF is fast, moving the AF-point around or doing the center-AF-recompose thing might take too long to get the shot. That is why I came up with the following setup:
– Choose manual exposure mode and set the camera to the desired shutter speed (e.g. 1/500 for freezing most movements on the street) and an aperture that gives you quite a lot of depth of field. I recommend at least f/4 when shooting a 17-25mm (aka 35mm to 50mm equivalent). Note that the longer the focal length, the further you have to stop down. – Set the camera to “Auto-ISO”. The camera now will only change the ISO ensuring a perfect exposure every time, while the aperture and shutter speed stay the same. – Set the AF to MF or engage the MF-clutch on your lens, if available.
Now, don’t bother with focus peaking or anything. Just look through the low-latency viewfinder, quickly focus so your subject looks reasonably sharp. Depth of field will take care of the rest, very similar to zone focusing your lens. I found this to be a quick, highly effective way of street shooting.
SAMPLE IMAGES – MONOCHROM
SAMPLE IMAGES – COLOUR
VERDICT After one year, I can definitely say that I love this camera – a lot! I have it with me almost every day, during every trip, it is my party companion, it is always there and always delivers.
Pair it with the M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/1.8 and you got yourself a classic, fun setup that will definitely perform and get the street photography job done, for comparatively very little money.
Influenced by his father, he came into contact with photography at the age of eight. His works are centered around the antipodes of the seemingly timeless and the irreversible fading moment.
Thomas uses a variety of photographic formats and mediums to capture these fading moments.