Street Photography with Olympus 17mm and Optical Viewfinder

I have plenty of serious shooting on my dance card. But sometimes I just want to have fun with a camera. I wanted to take some candids at a street fair in Santa Rosa last weekend (an Oktoberfest at a local church), but what I was really after was a good time. I decided to go with an Olympus PEN and the 17mm f/2.8 lens, adding the accessory optical viewfinder.

With all of the latest innovations in micro four thirds, you don't read a lot about this combination. It was part of the original offering. And it's still one of my favorite rigs.

The optical viewfinder (VF-1 $80) pairs with the Olympus 17mm f/2.8 prime lens ($275). The effective focal length on the micro four thirds body is 34mm, perfect for most street shooting.

Now here's where the enjoyment comes in. I turn off the LCD, which is virtually useless in bright sunlight anyway, and compose through the beautiful optics of the hot shoe mounted viewfinder. The image is clear and crisp. (Ah, the joy of glass!) I can leave my sunglasses on. It's a total casual experience that yields great results.

An added benefit is that people don't pay much attention to me with that camera around my neck. I can compose quickly and get the shot, often without attracting any attention. Every so often I take a break in the shade, review the shots on the LCD to make sure I'm getting what I think I've captured, then go back to shooting.

The quality of the prime 17mm is quite good. I always shoot in Raw so I can tame the contrasty lighting later in post production. I let the camera handle the autofocusing, which it does well.

We all want to take great shots. But there are those days when I want to enjoy myself during the process. That's a good time to use this type of rig.

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I just recently picked up the Panasonic Lumix GF2 as well as the 14mm f/2.5 pancake lens. I'm loving it so far but find myself longing for an optical viewfinder. I promised myself I would stay clear of these low-res EVF's but I may not be able to resist.

I hear you Randy. I have the EVF for my Olympus PEN also, and there are times I definitely need it. For example, if you want to manually focus a lens or work in bright light, it's almost a necessity. However, when I shoot with the 17mm prime, I get to use the matching optical viewfinder. For me, that is the best yet.

May I suggest, Randy, that if you are using prime lenses rather than zooms, that you might consider using true optical viewfinders that match those lenses. That way you can look directly at life rather than seeing it on a murky screen. I'm using a Panasonic GF1 and 20mm lens. This lens is equivalent to 40mm, in old money, and I have found that Voigtlander's 35mm optical finder almost exactly matches its angle of view.I have even cemented a Nikon +2 diopter lens to it to allow for my somewhat eccentric eyesight! I'm sure Voigtlander has a 28mm viewfinder that would match your lens too. This is not a cheap solution, but you may well find it the best.