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rnc Oct 19, 2006 10:19 PM

I'm new hereand just bought the E-500 after using a Nikon 5400 for a year or so. One of the main reasons for the new camera was to get better low light shots in our community theater (no flash). One of the other dad's has a Canon Digital Rebel and his pictures are great. I'm not having the same level of success. I've tried various speed and aperture settings, as well as ISO, but the pictures are still pretty poor. Are there any tricks that anyone would suggest?

Thanks for your help.

stowaway7 Oct 20, 2006 5:24 AM

While I proudly own a stable of Olympus gear (two E-1's, three lenses, etc.) I'll be the first to admit that low-light performance is not their strong suit. That is also evident if you read just about any serious review of the line (something I suggest for anyone before they purchase). That being said and having done shots of dramatic productions I'll offer two tips. 1) Get a tripod. It will steady your shots for better results. 2) Photograph dress rehearsals. Sounds corny but many times a director, knowing the shots will be used to promote the theater, will allow you to use flash during rehearsals since you can't during a regular performance. Simply tell them it will produce the highest quality results (and sell more tickets!).

Brent Gair Oct 20, 2006 9:38 AM

"Pretty poor" is a term that covers a multitude of sins. Poor because of noise, exposure, blurriness? A little more info is needed to give you solid advice.

Starting with the obvious, what lens are you using? You can adjust the aperature all you want but if you're using a lens that maxes out at F3.5, there will be a limit to you ability to get a hand held shot. And the problem is compounded if you are using a mild zoom.

One thing that may help, as an alternative to a tripod, is a monopod. I regularly use a monopod when I'm sitting down because it has a tiny "footprint". You can use it while in a row of seats and you can move it very easily if you are in the aisle.

rnc Oct 20, 2006 11:35 AM

Thank you both. I'll give the tripod or monopod a try.

In response to Brent's questions - I'm using the 17.5 - 45mm f3.5-5.6 zuiko lens that came with the camera. The problems with the pictures are that they are underexposed, or if not underexposed they are blurred and/or grainy. I am using the lense at full zoom as well.

A couple of the reviews that I read made it sound like low light was a strength, but maybe I misunderstood some of the more techincal points. I'm wondering if the problem is that I have the wrong camera for this application, or is it just user ignorance? I can still exchange it for another camera, but is it worth another $600 (almost what I paid for the E500 w/2 lenses) for a Nikon D80 or Canon 30D, both with 2 lenses? I'm just wondering if these cameras are that much better.

Thanks again!

Mikefellh Oct 20, 2006 3:21 PM

You have to learn the limits of can't shoot at night as if it was daylight (unless you had one of those Sony's with the nightshot mode, but then all your pictures will be green & black instead of colour).

There are plenty of tutorials online that explain how to do night photography that can be found by typing in NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY TUTORIAL into a search engine.

Also, assuming you got the kit lenses (14-45mm & 40-150mm) these aren't the brightest lenses (largest aperture opening) on the market. If I was serious about night photography I might look at the new Sigma 30mm f/1.4 (although I haven't seen a review of this lens on a 4/3 camera yet). But I would read up on those tutorials before buying anything.

One more thing, buying another camera brand won't magically make you suddenly a night photographer. Also if you again buy kit lenses for those cameras you will again be limiting yourself.

It's like learning how to start by doing daylight driving, then dusk, then nighttime, and eventually driving in snow (if you live in that type of climate)...each time you have to learn a few more skills and adjust your driving style.

Brent Gair Oct 20, 2006 3:46 PM

Personally, I think you may just be asking too much of that lens.

The low light limitations of the Olympus are largely regarded as the noise issue which is attributed to a somewhat smaller sensor used at higher ISO. Honestly, while some people are bothered by it, I just don't find it a big issue. This may account for your "graininess" (noise in a digitla is the approximate equivalent of excess grain in film)

However, your real problem would appear to be something different. In essence, I would diagnose the problem as the "oldest" of the classic photo difficulties...too little light going through too small a hole.

Using that lens at full zoom is the equivalent of 90mm medium telephoto on a 35mm camera. At that focal length, the max aperature is 5.6. That's not a good combination for low light photography. Actually, it's pretty bad. If the lens is wide open, you'll lose sharpness but if it's stopped down to something like F8, you exposure problem gets even worse. You'll have very long exposure times which will guarantee blur at significant zoom.

There isn't really a good fix for that limitation. Let me say that I love the E-500 and it would take a lot of prying to get it out of my hands. Changing brands is an option but you should regonize the problem as largely LENS related (IMHO). No matter WHAT brand you use, a medium telephoto with a max aperature of 5.6 is problematic. Changing systems based on that lens might be seen as throwing the baby out with the bath water.

The best alternative would be a lens upgrade. Of course, that is never cheap. Olympus makes a couple of very highly regarded lenses (both about the same price) that would improve your situation. The 14-54mm is wildly popular and offers a somewhat wider aperature. The 50mm macro is a fixed lens (equivalent of 100mm in a 35mm camera, it doesn't zoom) with a max aperature of F2 which is siginificantly better than you current lens. Sigma has some new stuff but I'm not really up on what they have so I won't comment specifically.

Mikefellh Oct 20, 2006 3:54 PM

One more thing I wanted to add what I said about learning about night photography...personally I don't do that type of photography very often (maybe twice a year), but if I'm going out specifically for a night shoot a week before I'll dig through my collection of instructional videos for one that I have on night photography and watch it, then go out and practice, see my results, and then watch it again for anything I've missed.

rnc Oct 20, 2006 5:02 PM

Thanks guys. I'll try it at the widest angle and sit in the front row. There's usually a decent amount of light on the stage, it's just the seating area that's dark. It sounds like I'd be better off buying a better lense than a new camera. Other than the low light issue, I like the E500. For the price it seems like a great package to start out with.

I'll let you know how it goes.

gaggu Oct 20, 2006 6:24 PM

I think you should try both of the options ... and maybe post how they worked out
for you.

- Try the shortest focal length to get the bigger aperture.


- Invest in a tripod and remote release and try slow exposures.
That will cost you only a fraction of a bright lense.
(But ... theatre you said ? Slow exposures will capture the
motion of actors ... which won't be to your liking again)

And, one more thing ... I think your friend is using a bright lense
on his/her Canon. Did you ask your friend what lense it is ? I imagine
he/she is not getting good results by just shooting high ISO.

On the 14-45 ... if you were using full zoom ... its easy to see that
you were closed down at f5.6. If you bought the 40-150 lense as
well ... you are still shooting at f4.5 even at maximum focal length. Try
that lense ... (but you will absolutely need a tripod with the 40-150)


kenbalbari Oct 21, 2006 9:36 AM

The Canon would be a bit better at ISO 1600, but the difference really isn't that great. The lens is likely the much bigger difference.

Also, while most of the Olympus lenses currently available are very good, one thing still lacking is enough affordable prime lenses. For the Canon, there is a cheap but effective 50mm f1.8 for under $100. But there isn't too much choice overall yet for four-thirds primes. Another advantage with Canon is that it might also be easier to find lenses to rent, if you just want to try them out.

Olympus does have an outstanding 50mm f2.0 for just over $400. This lens is worth the additional cost. It's tack sharp throughtout, right from it's widest apperture. And it's really a pro level build quality, including being weather sealed. For what it is, this is actually a very good value.

Sigma has a very good 105mm f2.8, which is available for about $400. If you need a bit of telephoto, that's especially good value in four-thirds, because it gives a 210mm effective focal length.

For a more normal focal lengths, there is a Sigma 24mm f1.8 that may not be available yet but is on the way, apparently for around $330. Also coming is a Sigma 18-50 f2.8 zoom, which might be suitable in some cases.

All of the above are also macro lenses, though this brings with it the disadvantage of being a bit slower to focus at times.

For now though, try it at ISO 1600, with the kit lens at wide angle and at f3.5. If you are going to be doing very much of this type of shooting though, you might want to consider investing in one of the above lenses.

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