We know that the Olympus E-P3 is capable in the field (see the latest DP Review test). That's the first environment that most think of when considering a micro four-thirds system camera. But what about in the studio? Could you use an E-P3 with the kit 14-42mm zoom (f/3.5 - 5.6) for a model shoot? I decided to find out.
The Set Up
I set an appointment with Ashley Tuttle, who will be one of the models for the TDS Sonoma Coast Workshop on Aug. 25th, to test the E-P3. I set a Olympus FL-50R flash in a softbox as the main light, then added an Olympus FL-36R as a fill light using a Rogue FlashBender to help shape the environment. I controlled both flashes wirelessly using the E-P3 - no additional lighting accessories were needed.
I added the Olympus Electronic Viewfinder VF-2 to the E-P3 during the shoot so I wouldn't have to use the LCD to compose. Quite honestly I did this for two reasons: 1) it's easier to compose during live action, and 2) it looks more professional than holding the camera like a regular point and shoot. What I liked about the viewfinder was the ability to really concentrate on the subject. What I didn't like was that the image was artificial looking in terms of exposure and color, especially for review. So I would switch to the wonderful 614,000 dot, 3" LCD to gauge the quality of the shots.
The autofocus was extremely fast during the shoot. The E-P3 had no problem keeping pace with Ashley and me. The flash system also worked quite well, and the FL-50R fired consistently, even when in the softbox.
I set ISO to 640, and had a typical speed/aperture setting of 1/15th at f/5. I would have liked to push the ISO a bit higher to give me more speed. But since this was a portrait, I wanted to maintain as much image quality as possible. I used Jpeg/Fine mode, mainly because my imaging software doesn't support RAW yet from the E-P3. The picture size was 4032 × 3024 (12.2 MP).
The Image Results
I processed the Jpeg as I normally would in Aperture 3. As expected, the color balance and exposure from the E-P3 was consistently good. At 100 percent (as shown below), I did notice some smearing of detail in the hair and on the skin. There was also some slight ghosting on the finger nails and other edges. I attribute the ghosting to the kit lens, and the detail to having to use Jpeg mode instead of Raw.
The Bottom Line
For a casual portrait, I thought the E-P3 with stock zoom performed OK. The autofocus speed was terrific, off-camera flash system was reliable, and overall exposure and color was quite good.
But this is not a set up that you would want to use for professional portraits, at least without a few modifications. I would switch to one of the prime lenses (12mm, 17mm or 45mm) to give me a faster aperture and more detail. I think RAW would also be essential to retain as much detail and image quality as possible, especially at the higher ISOs.
The Olympus E-P3 is what I carry in my backpack when I'm traveling light, but still need the versatility of a system camera. And it's nice to know that in a pinch I can also use it for portraits with controlled lighting. I want to get my hands on the new 45mm f/1.8 prime. I'm also looking forward to RAW support in both Aperture and Lightroom. There's a lot of potential here.
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