Street Photography with the Olympus EM1 MKII

A self portrait of London street photographer Darren Lehane, taken with the Olympus EM1 mark 2 camera

Having bought myself the sexy new Olympus OMD EM1 Mark II I decided to go out on Sunday and give it a rigorous street photography try out around the mean streets of central London.

Now I have to admit, I did purchase the camera with my documentary wedding photography in mind, but I was really curious to see how it would stand up to some discreet candid street shooting.  Recently I’ve been using the Olympus EPL-5 for my street photography (with the Ricoh GR as my pocket compact go everywhere camera) and it would be fair to say that the EM1-II is a much bigger beast…the closest that the Micro Four Thirds system has come to a more DSLR type body. That said though, it’s still smaller and lighter than most DSLRs out there – which obviously makes is more discreet for street photography.

Going green on London Bridge

I paired it with my usual street lenses of the Olympus 17mm (EFL 34mm) f/1.8 and Panasonic 14mm (EFL 28m) f/2.5 and headed out, starting from London Bridge going across to the north side of the Thames before crossing back over the Millennium Footbridge, onto the South Bank and finally to Waterloo Station.

The weather conditions in London on Sunday weren’t the greatest – it was a rather drab, grey day (typical London weather I hear you say?) but I was definitely very impressed with EM1-II’s handling and image quality. And, of course, with its weather sealing you don’t really have to worry too much about the weather when out shooting street photography with it.

The camera really felt smooth in operation – although it did take a bit of getting used to the new button and menu set-ups.  As a street photographer I was really keen to try out the silent shutter mode.  However, I should say straight off, the Olympus EM1-II has most probably has the quietest shutter sound I’ve experienced anyway, so the silent shutter mode is really only necessary in ultra quiet settings…like a library? (Though it’s going to be great during wedding ceremonies!).  But the silent mode is exactly that, deathly silent!  In fact, at times I wasn’t sure if it had taken the shot at all.  I kind of found it unsettling, preferring to at least get a reassuring “click” of when a shot is taken. But I’m sure there will be better occasions when it’ll come into its own.

Lady in red on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral

One thing I have always loved about Olympus cameras, especially for street photography, are the flip out LCD screens.  These are great for discrete shooting and often makes for using the camera like a viewfinder, a la Vivian Meyer.  However, unlike the EPL-5 or EM5 the LCD screen completely flips out and over, making it a lot more versatile.  In fact to you can stand 45 degrees on to your intended subject and frame accurately.

The only downside is that the LCD has to totally flip out from the camera body, so is a bit more obvious, than the limited but more discreet up/down tilting of the EPL-5 and EM5. But it’s something I quickly learnt to live with.

With the dual SD card slots, you can either have an immediate back-up of your photos or, as I did, had one card recording RAW and the other recording JPG.  The beauty of this is, along with the wifi functionality of the EM1-II, I can quickly deal with JPGs on my phone or ipad whilst having the RAW files for a more detailed later editing.

Feeling flossy headed on the South Bank

Of course the Olympus EM1-II has a host of other features that will be really usefully to a street photographer that I didn’t get to try out this time.  The much improved continuous auto-tracking focus is going to be great in fast moving situations (though personally I prefer using the single auto focus set up for street photography) and the intriguing sounding Pro Capture mode is going to be great for getting those “decisive moments” where the camera actually starts burst shooting whilst you only half depress the shutter (and continually recycling those shots) until you finally commit to fully pressing the shutter…so the chances of being a split second out on capturing the image are massively reduced – though it does mean a lot more shots committed to your card (but not a problem if you use the extra SD card slot for continuous recording to it.)

All in all I was massively impressed with the Olympus EM1-Mark II both as a camera and for street photography.  It won’t necessarily make you take better street photos, but it definitely makes getting candid street photos an absolute breeze!

Here are a few street photos I grabbed with it on Sunday.


See my street photography portfolio at



  1. Thanks for reading and commenting. I’d been using OMD EM5 mark 1’s (3x bodies) in my wedding photography business and the EPL5 for my street. So upgrading up to the EM1-II was long overdue and a big advance for me. But you’re right, no camera ever makes the photographer, but it can make life a little easier. 🙂


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