This year, my splendid (and obviously very smart and attractive) husband surprised me with pretty much exactly what I wanted for my birthday, and I didn’t even drop any hints! I had been checking out small mirrorless cameras online for quite a few months (I’m the world’s best procrastinator when it comes to any purchase over $50) and had finally decided to say ‘Hey, I’d love to get a new camera’, but he beat me to the punch and asked me a few weeks before my birthday if I’d like to go camera shopping for my birthday.
After all my research, I pretty much knew what I wanted, and after I phoned around to see who had them in stock, we picked up a beautiful Olympus PEN E-PL8 in tan. After years of only using my phone to take snaps, it’s taken a little getting used to, but I’ve settled into it, and now absolutely love it! It’s a gorgeous bit of gear, and the tan leather detailing really goes well with my tan Kate Spade everyday cross body bag – and of course, that’s very important! With Wifi for exporting photos directly to my phone, remote shooting function, flip-down selfie screen, and compact but powerful lens, it was exactly what I was after – although I had no clue how to use it!
My big confession here is that none of the advice I’m about to share is my own, nor is it original. We bought my camera from Ted’s Cameras in Maroochydore, and the staff there let me know about a complimentary workshop offered instore by All About Photography with every camera purchase from Ted’s! This was SUCH a great incentive to buy the Olympus camera, because I knew that I’d actually get the chance to ask all the dumb questions which were rattling around my brain, and I would be able to really get the most out of my camera.
The three hour workshops are held on Saturdays, and the week after we purchased the camera, I trotted along to learn from Rich and Jay. They customised the workshop for each different participant’s camera type, and I felt super-comfortable asking questions about how to make my camera work for me (and for selfies)!
Here are my top tips for flicking your Olympus PEN E-PL8 off auto mode, along with a couple of handy-dandy cheat sheets:
Get used to touching the screen
If you haven’t already, turn your touch-screen on. To do this, check the little on-screen tap icon in the bottom lefthand corner. If this isn’t showing, press Menu and then go back to your active camera screen. If the ‘finger tapping a rectangle‘ icon is showing, then you can focus your shot by tapping once. If you want to tap the screen to take your photo, tap on that icon and it changes to ‘finger on two lines‘, or tap it again to turn off, the icon will go white.
Never crop again!
You can change your aspect ratio to square to take shots specifically for Instagram. I actually always have this set to square, because Instagram is of course my favourite place on the internet! To access your aspect options, press Menu, then scroll down through Shooting Menu 1 to get to Image Aspect, then select 1:1 for square.
Apertures and F-stops
So apertures and F-stops have always confused me, but attending the workshop really helped me understand what they do, and now I think of aperture as the controls for the pupil of an eye – the wider it gets, the more light it lets in.
Aperture is measured using something called the F-stop scale. Once you’re in Aperture mode (A on the big dial on the top), you’ll see F followed by a number on the bottom of your screen. The most important thing to know about these numbers is that, from each number to the next, the aperture decreases to half its size, allowing 50% less light through the lens.
With Rich and Jay running through a bunch of great settings for different types of shots, I made the following notes (and a handy cheat sheet below – save it to your phone for reference):
- f/2.8: Good for low light situations, but allows for more definition in facial features as it has a deeper depth of field.
- f/4: As autofocus can be temperamental, this is the minimum aperture you’d want to use when taking a portrait photo– you risk the face going out of focus with wider apertures.
- f/8: This is good for large groups as it will ensure that everyone in the frame remains in focus. Call it the party f-stop.
- f/11: This is often where your lens will be at its sharpest so it’s great for portraits.
- f/16: Shooting in the sun requires a small aperture (less light going into the iris, remember), making this is a good safe bet for most bright daylight conditions.
ISO is another manual setting that always terrified me, but it turns out that once you realise that it is the sensitivity of the film or sensor to light, it’s super-easy to manage! A higher number means higher sensitivity to light. If you’re in a dark place where you can’t or don’t want to use flash, increase the ISO. (Beware going too high however, as high ISO numbers increase the graininess in your images.)
Here’s another cheat sheet for you to save!
Import your photos directly from camera to phone
With the free Olympus App, you can easily import your photos directly to your phone to upload on social media on the go. The App also has the great option to use your phone as a remote to take photos!
Use the Scene setting
Pretty much all digital cameras now come with a Scene (SCN) mode, which is actually more of a menu than a mode. On the Olympus PEN E-PL8, you’ll find Portrait, e-Portrait, Landscape, Sport, Hand-Held Starlight, Night Scene, Children, Candle, Sunset and many more presets which means you can quickly flick to what you need without having to go into your menu and change your aperture, white balance and the rest. I try not to use Scene mode too often, but when I’m out and about and trying to snap on the go (such as going to Aussie World or Australia Zoo and being in constantly changing lighting) and don’t want to constantly be fiddling with camera settings, it’s a great failsafe option.
Have you upgraded your camera lately? Got any great tips or suggestions for me? I’d love to learn more!