Sounds simple, right? In this age of higher and higher ISO and cameras that can shoot in the dark I think it’s easy to forget that. My Nikon D3S can shoot in relative darkness with ease and make beautiful files. The Olympus PEN E-P3, not so much. The Oly makes a decent image in lowlight, but it is not the camera’s strong suit for sure. For me this is not all together bad news…
I am still learning the strengths and weaknesses of the Pen. Like any tool, it works better if you understand it and don’t ask it to do things it’s not good at. I took the E-P3 to eastern Tennessee recently and I am becoming more familiar with the workflow and what to expect from the files. I am saving a RAW and a jpeg from each frame at this point, but I will probably stop saving the jpegs soon. Some of them look great out of the camera. The color and contrast are pretty darn good. I would advise turning the noise reduction down or off if you are only shooting jpegs with the Pen. The default noise reduction tends to smear fine details.
Since Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 doesn’t ship with RAW profiles to match the camera settings on the E-P3, it has taken me a while to get my default RAW settings the way I want them. I used the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport to create a base profile and I have been tweaking color and contrast settings to try and fine tune it. In fact, I have been trying to match the “look” of the in-camera jpegs. So why not just shoot jpegs? The dynamic range in the Pen’s RAW files is considerably wider than the jpegs. Shadow detail and (especially) highlight detail is preserved much better in the RAW files.
Back to my original point… In good light the Pen gives me nothing to complain about. Proper exposure at the base (200) ISO gives me sharp images with good color and contrast. Even long exposures are no trouble as long as the exposure is right on. Even up to ISO 1600 the Pen makes a nice image. Of course there is more noise at higher ISO, but there is also a lot of detail. If the exposure is right the high ISO shots are great. The underexposed areas of an image show more grain, even at ISO 200, but that is to be expected. Is my D3s better in this regard? Absolutely. Is it usually a problem with the Pen? Nope.
Shooting with the Pen has helped me slow down my shooting and be more deliberate with my exposures. I know that I can get a great image as long as my exposure is right on. The Pen has handy tools like a live histogram to help make the right exposure decisions. It has also helped me concentrate on seeing the light. I know that this camera does great in great light, so I look for that and don’t really bother with those shots that MIGHT turn out to be something. As silly as it sounds, I feel like a photographer when I’m shooting with the Pen. I wait for the right conditions, make specific decisions about exposure and come away with nice images.