Olympus E-PM2 and Low Light/Night Photography

Discussion in 'Olympus Cameras' started by dbzkid777, Jul 26, 2014.

  1. dbzkid777

    dbzkid777 Mu-43 Regular

    Jul 26, 2014
    Hi everyone,

    My current setup is as follows:
    1. Olympus E-PM2
    2. 12-40mm f/2.8
    3. 45mm f/1.8
    4. 40-150 f/4.0-5.6

    I am having real difficulties taking photos in dim/low light. I am a noob and I always use AutoFocus.
    However, AutoFocus is absolutely terrible in low light conditions (in my opinion).
    I feel like I've wasted money on the 12-40mm f/2.8 because I have a supposedly amazing lens but I don't know how to use custom settings ugh!

    Everytime I take photos, the photos are very dark and the longer exposures suck because I have shaky hands; I even have the image stabilizer on.
    Do I keep aperture constant and adjust ISO and Shutter Speed? I heard my ISO should either be 400 or 1600 in low lights, is this true? What shutter speeds are recommended?
    Can someone help me with how to take photos in low light/night PLEASE?
  2. MarkRyan

    MarkRyan Instagram: @MRSallee

    May 3, 2013
    (1) You'll need steady hands. The 12-40 is pretty decent in low light, but your 45mm will be much, much better. Don't even try shooting the 40-150 in low light without a tripod.

    (2) Go into A-mode (aperture priority). Rotate the circle dial on the back of the camera until the aperture is wide open (will read "1.8" if you have the 45mm attached).

    (3) Set the ISO. I usually leave mine on auto, and have the auto-max set to 1600, but for really dark scenes (or when using the 12-40), bump it up to 3200 or maybe even 6400.

    Buried in the settings somewhere, you can adjust the max ISO that "auto" will go to. In a scenario where I need more than 1600, I usually do not change this buried setting -- I just set the ISO manually to 3200 instead of relying on "auto" to bump it up for me. 6400 will show more noise for sure, but if it's a difference between grainy and blurry, I'll take grainy any day.

    (4) At this point, as you start framing your shots, you'll see the shutter speed your camera picks to make the right exposure. As long as the shutter speed is over 1/60, you should be able to get a good handheld shot. Below 1/60, you'll need to be very steady indeed -- the stabilizer in the EPM2 isn't nearly as good as the stabilizer in newer Olympus cameras.
    • Like Like x 1
  3. RickinAust

    RickinAust Mu-43 Regular

    Feb 9, 2013
    The only thing I would add is that if it is a little dark or too light adjust the exposure compensation. On the EPM2 the back dial has a +- symbol press up towards this and then left or right to darken or lighten the pic.

    This may not be much use for low light but it It also has a Shadow / Highlights function that indicates areas that are over or under exposed. If you go into the menu and go to the Gears symbol and choose D then LV-Info turn highlights and shadows on. When taking a pic that does not look correctly exposed press the info button to scroll through to activate this.
  4. dbzkid777

    dbzkid777 Mu-43 Regular

    Jul 26, 2014
    So to summarize:
    Go to A-Mode, if Shutter Speed isn't good, go to M-Mode and adjust Shutter Speed?
  5. phigmov

    phigmov Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Apr 4, 2010
    Kind of. What you select depends on how you want the image to turn out - what (for you) qualities define a good picture (simplistically, the moment (shutter speed), a smooth image (low ISO), or a particular look (aperture)) ?

    You need to make a trade off decision on the magic triangle - you generally get to pick two and then trade off on the the third (the camera helps automate these decisions if you're in 'Auto', 'A', 'S' or 'P' mode) -
    • Like Like x 1
  6. MarkRyan

    MarkRyan Instagram: @MRSallee

    May 3, 2013

    Go to A-Mode. If shutter speed dips below 60, stay in A-mode and bump up the ISO (you can adjust ISO in any mode). If shutter speed is still below 60, stay very still :)
    • Like Like x 1
  7. Jonathan F/2

    Jonathan F/2 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 10, 2011
    Los Angeles, CA
    Aperture mode, auto ISO and steady camera support are your friends. :wink:
  8. RichardB

    RichardB Snapshooter

    Nov 19, 2012
    Maryland, US
    Real Name:
    I've recently discovered that I can improve my low-light shots by using negative exposure compensation to darken them. The camera is programmed to take a photo that has normal brightness, even in a dark room. If I set exposure compensation to -1, I can get a more natural looking photo in dim light, and also less blur due to the faster shutter speed.
  9. Ulfric M Douglas

    Ulfric M Douglas Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 6, 2010
    There has been a lot of complicated advice already in this thread,
    but this bit leads me to believe you are actually preventing your camera from working properly in low-light ;
    (My own e-pm2 has excellent AF in low-light and produces bright sharp results unless I tell it to do something else or restrict its behaviour.)
    Go into the menu and find the factory/default reset. Reset your camera.

    Now set it to AUTO.

    Job done.
    Report back on how it's working in low light with your two good lenses. Do not use your 40-150mm in low-light.
  10. tjdean01

    tjdean01 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 20, 2013
    The PM2 has image stabilization (IBIS) and that will blur photos just a touch. This might be what you're seeing. Try it it with IBIS off.

    Your best lens for low light is the 12-40 at 12mm if you're hand-holding. At this speed, 1/30 shutter speed should not be blurry with IBIS off (A). If you have steady hands like I do, 1/10 second will give you a nice shot. With IBIS on, 1/4 second at 12mm. But I'd have to shoot a few shots to get a good one!

    With your 45/1.8 you'd need 1/100 for scenario A above. For me, steady hands don't help as much with long lens so with my 50mm lenses, even with IBIS on, I don't shoot much slower than 1/30. With IBIS on, however, 1/30 is usually pretty bad.

    Like I said, IBIS should be turned off so you can learn about what does what at what shutter speed. IBIS isn't that good on the PM2.

    As for focus, I usually do it manually so no issues there.
  11. jjinh

    jjinh Mu-43 Regular

    Jul 6, 2014
    I agree with tjdean01 above.

    - Use the 12-40 wide open at 12mm
    - I never use IS on the EPM-2
    - Hold the camera properly and support the lens with your left hand
    - I find ISO1600 acceptable
    - You could set EV -1
    - Burst could be useful; one of the resulting images should be sharp (or at least sharper than the others)....
  12. sgreszcz

    sgreszcz Mu-43 Veteran

    Oct 7, 2012
    Like others have said, shut ibis off on the e-pm2 and use camera support and higher shutter speeds.
  13. Klorenzo

    Klorenzo Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 10, 2014
    dbzkid777 you could pick a few of the pictures that are blurred and check these three parameters: Aperture, Shutter speed, ISO.
    Almost any image viewer displays these somewhere, sometimes you need to do right click->properties on the image.

    So we can have a starting point: are we talking about 1/30s or 1/2s? Static or moving subjects?

    In low light, as told, you need a fast lens, high iso and hope to have enough shutter speed as a result. Otherwise you need a tripod or a faster lens. The 12-40 is fast, but there are faster lenses (primes, not zooms) that sometimes can make the difference.

    The E-PM2 can use very high iso settings so should be able to shoot in any "normal" condition if you are willing to give up some IQ.
    You can also check this out (another camera, almost the same sensor/processor):

  14. usayit

    usayit Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Why be in A-mode if your going to constantly keep an eye on shutter and ISO? You are essentially mentally working in shutter priority while the camera is in Aperture priority.

    Go to S-Mode. Given what you know about your abilities to hold steady, your camera's IS, lens focal length, and the conditions, determine the minimum shutter you are willing to work with. Sometimes its as simple as 1/focal length. Less if your confident with steady hands and IS. I'll go 1/60th if the subjects are people casually walking about. Let the camera determine the ISO and aperture. What you DON'T want to do is obsess or allow priority to lower ISO settings over shutter speed. You CANNOT work motion blur or blur via hand shake in post process. You CAN work noise to a certain extent in post process.

    That's pretty much what I do except my primary camera doesn't have shutter priority so I'm working in manual. In addition, be very careful of your exposure and how your particular camera handles it. Its deceiving but low-light situations generally are very contrasty environments.. we tend to associate contrasty scenes with bright daylight but it does occur in the dark as well. Think of a dark room with people lit by a candle. The candle itself is the highlight and by nature of that type of light things drop into shadows very quickly at short distances while the rest of the frame is in the dark. Determine your subject.. letsay a persons face. Meter it. Then "place it" +1 or +2EV and let the other exposures in the surrounding environment just fall as they may. The key is that you meter for your subject and "place" it in the range you want it (often towards the highlights)

    Another last thing... I tend to make this mistake. For my cameras that have shutter priority, I will sometimes allow the camera to choose the widest aperture; letsay f/1.4. Then I forget about DOF (the lack of it). When taking group shots, what you often end up with is a single person in focus while the rest of the group falls out of focus. In these cases, I will set the aperture (smaller more DOF) and shutter myself.... force the camera to choose a higher ISO and work the noise in post.
  15. MarkRyan

    MarkRyan Instagram: @MRSallee

    May 3, 2013
    It's a bit different. I don't want a shutter speed of 1/60, I want a minimum shutter speed of 1/60. With the aperture set to the widest possible in A-mode, I will get the fastest shutter speed possible for the conditions.

    If I switch to S-mode and fix the shutter at 1/60, the camera may shrink the aperture or lower the ISO because the scene has more light -- and I end up with a risky shutter speed when I don't need it and could instead be operating at 1/100.
  16. usayit

    usayit Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    If the shooter is going to be concerned about all 3 sides of the exposure, then why A-mode.. should just shoot manual. The idea is to minimize the effort/concern over exposure so that one can focus on composition and actually shooting.

    If the scene has more light you should have chosen 1/100th shutter... determining minimum shutter speed is the first step (as indicated in my post). Its not that difficult but does comes with experience. Before TTL metering we used to make a single reading with a handheld meter and simply shift from that point depending on conditions.... in most cases, the lighting conditions do not change that much from within the same location. Once you exit that location, a quick reading and adjustment take only a moment. In low light conditions, subjects are generally within 1-2 EV each other.. often less.. You won't see the difference between f/2.8 +/- 1 stop in either direction in aperture. The primary concern is to maintain that shutter in the light available.. .then make it your priority.

    Sure.. there is more than one way to skin a cat but sitting in A-mode while keeping an eye on the shutter and ISO seems counter-intuitive. I would rather be focusing on other things such as composition.
  17. MarkRyan

    MarkRyan Instagram: @MRSallee

    May 3, 2013
    It takes all kinds!
  18. kingduct

    kingduct Mu-43 Veteran

    Oct 12, 2013
    I was just looking at the thread. The image stabilization on the E-PM2 actually makes things worse?
  19. steve16823

    steve16823 Mu-43 Regular

    Sep 26, 2011
    Brookfield, IL
    I don't know how much truth there is to it, but it is a fairly well known rumor that the IS on the E-PM2 is less effective than other cameras of the same generation, presumably due to the low mass of the E-PM2 body.

    But even ignoring the relative performance of the E-PM2, image stabilization with any camera can often make things worse if you don't know what you're doing and what to expect from IS. I don't own any cameras with the current 5-axis IS system but in general I find that there are very few situations where IS turns an image from blurry loser into a sharp keeper. Awesome technology, but it's not a silver bullet.

    My advice for the original question would be to practice hand holding and shutter-release techniques to maximize steadiness and also look for opportunities to brace yourself and/or camera against something solid (or even better, use a monopod or tripod when appropriate). There is much good advice in this thread regarding the basics of watching minimum shutter speed and adjusting ISO to compensate but I think the approach can also be realized in "P" mode with the dial set for exposure compensation. The program curve will do exactly what people are recommending be accomplished in "A" or "S" mode, it will boost the ISO if a minimum shutter speed can't be achieved.

    I can't recall if this is possible on the E-PM2 but usually I have the AF-Lock button programmed to switch momentarily to spot metering to quickly bias my exposure in complicated lighting.
  20. kingduct

    kingduct Mu-43 Veteran

    Oct 12, 2013
    Interesting. I got my start with m4/3 when I got a cheap refurb e-PL1, which impressed me very much. When I sold it and got my current G5, I felt very much that my low light shots were being negatively impacted by the lack of built-in IS (since I mostly use the Sigma 19mm and 30mm lenses). Over time though, I've grown very happy with the G5's low light performance, despite that lack of IS.

    When I recently had the chance to test an e-PM2 in low light side-by-side with the G5, I had much more blurring in the e-PM2 photos than with the G5 (again, using the Sigma lenses), which was opposite of what I expected.

    It just seems really counter-intuitive that a feature designed to reduce blur would often increase it. Even accepting that the e-PM2's IS is not the best, you would still think that it'd be designed to make things better than no IS at all. That's why some of the comments in this thread surprise me so much. Is this a well-known problem with the e-PM2? Is the IS considered worse than much older designs, like in the e-PL1 (where it seemed to work well)?