Using the Olympus 45mm f1.8 To Shoot Street Fashion

After hanging out on Tumblr, one starts to quickly see just how much the community and users really love street fashion. Indeed, since The Sartorialist took off, there have been many blogs that have tried to mimic Scott’s work. One thing that they also love is small cameras. When Olympus sent me the 45mm f1.8 to review, I started thinking about what I’d shoot with it. Everyone has shot some of the most random objects and things with it; but no one seems to have used it for exactly what it was designed for: portraits.

Until now: this is a post dedicated to my experience of using the Olympus 45mm f1.8 on my Olympus EP2 as a portrait lens and shooting photos of people with cameras that are dressed quite spiffy.

First off: please realize that I have total and absolute respect for those blogs and I understand that it’s all about knowing how to pose and work with people in order to get the photos that you want. But without the right gear, you can’t get the photos you want. This quick review will be followed by a more thorough and complete review later on. However, this tests my experience with using the lens to do what I needed.

Oh, and the strap in the opening photo came from this.

The Olympus 45mm f1.8 is the fastest aperture lens that Olympus has designed for their digital cameras; and that goes for both Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds. It is a small, well built, and super light lens with some stunning good looks. Indeed, when mounted on my EP2, it got lots of looks by other camera lovers.

The great thing about the 45mm f1.8 though is that you can often shoot wide open with the lens and keep the ISO levels down because of that. When shooting wide open, you’ll usually get most of a person in focus when shooting at around 6 feet away from them. They will also be super sharp.

For most people that love to shoot street fashion portraits (or want to) but don’t want to carry a DSLR, this combo may just be for you. Setting the camera to aperture priority, enabling face detection, and just shooting after some careful composition and posing will be almost effortless in the shaking hands of a newbie and the more seasoned veteran.

If you like muted color rendering from the lens, you’ll enjoy the 45mm f1.8. However, for the image above I tweaked the colors to be a bit more vivid. It was shot on an overcast day.

I actually thought that using the LCD to compose and shoot the image would seem awkward. However, no one complained or said that it looked unprofessional and the image stabilization on the camera kicked in for any major camera shake I may have caused.

The result are clear and crisp photos that required very minor editing in Lightroom 3. That means you can get back out and shoot.

What portrait lovers will love about this lens is just how sharp your subject is and then blown out by lots of bokeh. Note though that the bokeh isn’t the nicest looking. I’m surprised by this as Olympus usually has some outstanding bokeh to their higher end lenses.

When shooting subjects like this, it is often a good idea to ensure that they don’t come out looking distorted (especially when you first meet them on the street.) At 45mm, this lens exhibits very little distortion if any. Unfortunately, Lightroom 3 doesn’t have a lens profile for it; though I really think they should.

Though the Olympus EP2 doesn’t have the fastest focusing capabilities, for this type of subject matter you don’t necessarily need it. It focuses fast enough on the subject, and the typical time for me was about one second on the EP2. Do note though that this was after talking to the person, explaining to them what I wanted to do, and posing them. When you’ve worked to relax your subject, a second won’t matter at all.

A couple of things to note:

– The lens isn’t weatherproof. That’s where the DSLRs have their edge if you’re using the higher end gear.

– It is well built, but man does that thing feel like it can easily be smashed.

– The front of the lens has a ring that screws off in order for you to attach a hood. It sometimes feels a bit flimsy.

But overall, I can’t complain about it. The lens helped me get the job done, and done very well. I almost never want to stop the lens down, though it gets slightly sharper when I do.

More to come in the full review.

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.