Birding On The Avon

 

Like many people at this time I’ve had my movements curtailed. Where I live we are allowed out locally for exercise so I’ve been going out for walks along the river to photograph and video the birds that can be found there. This is the third time I’ve tried to video wildlife and it is very hard.I don’t work from a hide so I have to set up quickly and quietly and often the birds will move on before I can get filming. Shooting mainly just after dawn or just before sunset has meant using high ISOs and made focusing difficult. But, the more you do it the better you get. The purpose of the video was to make something, learn something new and help keep me thinking positive thoughts during this time.

Just out of interest I’ll put the stills up below. They were shot on either a Canon EOS6d with the Sigma 150-600mm f4.5-6.3 Contemporary lens or the Olympus OMD EM1 mk ii with the Panasonic Leica 100-400mm f4-6.3 lens. I wonder if you can tell the difference at web size without enlarging to 100% or checking the EXIF data?

Rufous Whistler by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
A male Rufous Whistler (Pachycephala rufiventris). York, Western Australia.

 

Laughing by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Laughing kookaburra, dacelo novaeguineae. York, Western Australia

 

Yellow Rumped Thornbill by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Yellow Rumped Thornbill, Acanthiza chrysorrhoa, York, Western Australia.

 

Yellow-billed Spoonbill by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Yellow-billed Spoonbill (Platalea flavipes), Avon River, York, Western Australia.

 

Great Egret by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Great egret, Ardea alba, feeding on the Avon River. York Western Australia

 

Tatty Robin by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Tatty robin. Red-capped Robin (Petroica goodenovii), York, Western Australia.

 

Brown Honeyeater by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Brown Honeyeater, Lichmera indistincta, York, Western Australia.

 

Yellow-billed Spoonbills by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
A pair of Yellow-billed Spoonbill (Platalea flavipes) feeding on the Avon River in York, Western Australia.

 

Dawn Hunt by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
A great egret (Ardea alba) and a white faced heron (Egretta novaeholladiae) hunting in the early morning light on the bank of the Avon River in York, Western Australia.

 

Great Egret by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
A great egret (Ardea alba) hunting in the early morning light on the bank of the Avon River in York, Western Australia.

 

Red-cap Dawn by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Red-capped Robin (Petroica goodenovii), York, Western Australia.

 

 

In The Bag

The video is the short version of this article with a slide show of the best of this year’s orchids at the end.

 

 

It’s not for nothing that Western Australia is referred to as the “Wildflower State”. There are over 13,000 species of plant to be found, with new discoveries added every year. If we narrow it down to my particular area of interest – orchids – there are 394 species of terrestrial orchids in the South West Corner of the state. Some of these species are so specialised that are confined to very small areas and found nowhere else. Some species will not bloom unless there has been a bush fire the summer before, others if the winter rains are delayed or are insufficient will not put a show on either. This means that no two years are the same. An example of this is my favourite spot near where I live is prolific with the number of orchid species found there. When I first went I was simply amazed by the number of fringed mantis and white spider orchids that were flowering. Over the ensuing ten years I’ve seen such a display of those species since. This year there was a carpet of purple and pink enamels like I’ve never seen before. So this not knowing quite what you are going to find adds to the whole experience. On a few occasions I may be lucky enough to be able to access the flowers by car and a short walk, but most of the time I end up walking through the bush for anything up to four hours.

 

Pink Enamel Orchid by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Pink enamel orchid, Elythranthera emarginata. Mokine, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM 1 mk ii with Olympus 60mm f2.8 macro lens. Aperture priority, exposure: 1/800 sec, f5.6 at ISO 400.

 

Purple Enamel Orchid by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Purple Enamel Orchid, Elythranthera brunonis. Mokine, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM 1 mk ii with Olympus 60mm f2.8 macro lens and Metz 64AF-1 flash. Exposure: Aperture priority mode, 1/40 sec, f8 at ISO 200 with -1 stop exposure compensation.

 

The Canon EOS 6d camera with 100mm f2.8 macro lens that I used to use for photographing orchids alongside the Olympus EM 1 mk ii with 60mm f2.8 macro lens that I use now.

 

I approach photographing orchids as I would shooting a person’s portrait – using off camera flash and reflectors to fill shadows, separate from the background, bring out the shape and textures. Too many botanic studies show indistinct photos where the subject does not fill the frame and the background is intrusive. To that end I use a macro lens of around 100 -120mm (35mm equivalent). It’s not because I’m necessarily shooting at a 1:1 ratio, it’s just because I’ve found there are very few zoom lens that focus close enough and have a fast aperture to allow control of depth of field.I used to use a Canon DSLR with a Canon EF 100mm f2.8 IS L lens and carry around a Manfrotto 143 Magic Arm Kit to support the lights. I made a video about using that setup some 7 years ago and that can be seen just below. Since making that video I added a full frame 6d, the Canon macro lens, and extra light and a set of TTL wireless flash triggers and consequently found myself schlepping 10-12Kg of kit into the bush on longer and longer forays. Something had to give – and my back did! So fast forward 7 years and I’m now using an Olympus OMD EM1 mk ii with Olympus 60mm f2.8 macro lens. I’ve not given anything up in terms of image quality with this change because I’m generally working at a base ISO of 200 with lighting which means all the usual objections to m4/3 about excessive noise and poor dynamic range have been taken out of the equation. The Olympus 60mm f2.8 is easily the optical equal of Canon’s EF 100mm f2.8 IS macro L lens at less than 1/2 the price and about 1/3 of the weight. The Manfrotto Magic Arm got binned as it was very heavy at 2.7 Kg and replaced with a Manfrotto Table Top Tripod Kit 209, 492 Long which weighs 454g. As far as lighting goes I’m using a Metz 64AF – 1 and an Olympus FL-600R flash with small soft box, snoot and honeycomb grid. The only thing that I have given up is radio TTL triggers for the flash, I’m using a TTL flash sync cable at the moment. I prefer to use the Metz unit when doing a lot of high speed sync work as it is the more powerful of the two. This may change in the New Year, it may not.

 

Lighting diagram for my basic lighting of an orchid.

 

The FL-600R is a flash with a guide number of of 50 (ISO200/m). In addition, it comes with a LED lightt for use when shooting video.

 

Other things in the bag include an 80cm 5 in 1 reflector – I only use the white reflector as the silver is too strong, the gold too garish. Some times I use the diffuser over a plant to cut down on ambient light levels. A Vittorinox CyberTool L is there. It has a good selection of small screwdriver bits that can most screws on a camera body, a set of pliers, wood saw, metal saw and file and a host of other doodads. I once re-assembled my Voigtländer 35mm f2.5 Color-Skopar with it while in on holiday in Beijing. Water – this can be in a 1L bottle for shorter expeditions or a 3L water bladder for longer ones. Extra clothing if needed, sunscreen and insect repellent to avoid nasty encounters. Batteries for camera and flash. Wallet of memory cards. That’s it. The whole process is very simple.

Crazy Golf

Hitting the greens at Wanneroo Botanic Gardens.

 

It’s not all beer and skittles at the huge multinational media empire that is Paul Amyes Photography (PAP), but it comes close when we get out to play crazy golf. Last week we managed to sneak off for a game at Wanneroo Botanic Gardens. The aim of the game is to have fun and I took along my Leica D-Lux Type 109 to record the proceedings. It was well suited being small and light and shooting 4K video meant I had some freedom to play around in the edit.

 

Time Flies In York

York Town Hall by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
The town hall in the historic Western Australian town of York in pre-dawn light. Sony A7r with Olympus OM Zuiko 35mm f2 lens and Cokin 3 stop graduated neutral density filter. Exposure: 2.5 sec, f8 at ISO 100.

The other morning I got up at stupid O’clock to shoot a dawn time-lapse of the York Town Hall. So what do you do while you’re hanging around waiting for it to finish? Why take photos of course! So while the Leica D-Lux clicked away doing it’s time lapse thing I set up the Sony A7r and started taking snaps of the town hall. Good job I did as the time lapse wasn’t that crash hot.

 

Poetry In Motion

 

Last Saturday I found myself in town wandering around with my Olympus Pen EP-5 and the just 3 lenses (17mm f2.8, 25mm f1.8, 45mm f1.8) when I found myself outside the building that is home to Jan de Jong Martial Arts Fitness in Hay Street. I knew the fun day demonstration was about to start as I had received the flier from them a few days previously so I thought I’d pop in and say “Hello” for old times sake. I started attending the school in the early 1990’s as a solution to a problem with work place violence. I had no idea I would become completely fascinated by the martial arts taught by Shihan Jan de Jong OAM and that continues to this very day. Over the years I’ve tried many times to photographically capture what it is that appeals to me. I’m not after a static record shot, but something that shows the grace, beauty, refined power and energy that is inherent in bujutsu. Under equipped and ill prepared I had another go shooting first stills and then some video footage. One day I’ll actually get something close to what I see in my mind’s eye and feel in my heart.

FlatPack Hell

To visit and buy Ikea furniture is an experience that sears the psyche, but assembling it is a journey to the deepest and darkest levels of Hell itself and threatens your mortal soul.

Having fun with the time-lapse function of the Leica D-Lux. It is so much easier to use than the one in Olympus m4/3 cameras and will even generate the movie file for you at the end.

When The Saints…

 

This wasn’t intended to be a video project – I’d just gone along to take some photos using my Olympus EM1 and EM10 with the 12-40mm and 40-150mm f2.8 zooms. Then right at the end I’d realised that I had never shot any video on the EM1. So without a tripod or monopod I filmed one song hand-held using the 12-40mm. Luckily I had my Rode VideoMic Pro in my bag and I just mounted this in the flash hot shoe and hoped the sound was good enough.  I just love the built in image stabilisation – it did a fantastic job here.

The Long And The Short Of It

The Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II mounted on an OMD EM-10.

 

The Olympus m.Zuiko 75-300mm f4.8-6.7 mk ii (which shall now on referred to as the 75-300) is an updated version of their original super telephoto zoom for the micro four thirds format.Yes I said super telephoto zoom because that is what it is as it is equivalent to a 150-600mm lens in 35mm sensor terms.

The Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II mounted on an OMD EM-10.

 

The Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II compared with Canon EF 75-300 f4.5-5.6 IS for comparison. The Olympus gives an equivalent focal length of 150-600mm.

Keeping up with the m4/3s promise of smaller cameras and lenses this lens does not disappoint. It fits comfortably in the hand is quite a bit smaller than my Canon 75-300mm f3.5-5.6 IS which only covers half the focal range when mounted on my EOS5d. There are rumours on the various forums that the lens is designed and built by Sigma, but there is no evidence of that fact when looking at it. The 75-300 is largely constructed from engineering plastic and has a metal mount. There is no weather sealing. The lens extends while zoom, roughly doubling its length, there is no lens creep which is nice. While not heavy it feels reassuringly dense in the hand and not at all cheap and wobbly like some budget zoom lenses.The filter diameter is 58mm which it shares with the 40-150mm f4-5.6 and means that filters won’t be too pricey. Optically the lens has 18 elements in 13 groups, two of which are ED glass and one is Super ED (extra low dispersion). These exotic elements are there to minimise chromatic aberration throughout the zoom range. They certainly do the job for when I open up images shot with the 75-300 in Lightroom they are remarkably free of CA. The lenses elements are coated with Olympus propriety ZERO (Zuiko Extra-low Reflection Optical) coatings and I’ve found the lens to be quite resistant to backlit flare, however flare can be induced by bright light sources just outside of the frame so I would heartily recommend the use of a lens hood. Unfortunately Olympus does not include one in the box.

 

Cracticus tibicen hypoleuca is a subspecies of white backed magpie found on Tasmania, King and Flinders Islands.

 

A pink and grey galah at our bird table.

 

Performance wise the 75-300 is remarkably good for a lens of this price and zoom range. The AF is quick and precise when shooting stills on both my EM-10 and EP-5, and quite a lot slower when shooting video. Optically the lens is very sharp up until the 200mm mark and then it does soften slightly, but this is not at all unusual with zoom lenses, which is unfortunate because this lens will be bought more for its uses at 300mm than 75mm. There is not a lot of love for this lens on the internet forums where it is harshly criticised for it performance at the long end, but from my experience with it it’s not as bad as people make out. I wonder whether camera shake is a contributing factor here. While Olympus bodies have In Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS) there is a limit to what it can achieve and we have to remember that this is the equivalent of a super telephoto 600mm lens in full frame terms and not many people would expect to handhold one of those and get tack sharp results. When using the lens on a tripod and monopod it certainly delivers the goods. When handholding I would certainly recommend not using a shutter speed of lower than 1/300th sec even when using IBIS.

 

Kite surfing off Park Beach in Tasmania.

 

Kite surfing off Park Beach in Tasmania.

Downsides of the 75-300. Well the slow maximum aperture will be a drawback for many, and I’ve read many threads where people have stated they would have preferred a constant f4. This all very well but lens design is a compromise and such a lens would be very large and heavy and cost considerably more. Personally I don’t mind using higher ISOs to keep the shutter speeds up as I’m happy to clean up my images with Niksoft’s Denoise. Another downside is when shooting video – this is not really a lens for run and gun style shooting, it is much to long to effectively control shooting handheld. Even on a tripod the lens showed up the failings of my fluid head for when panning there was quite a pronounced shudder when using it at its longest end.

Overall I feel that the few drawbacks are outweighed by the positives and I like this lens a lot. It is a very good lens when one considers the price. In Oz a full frame equivalent will cost at least double. I would recommend the 75-300 to anyone who was prepared to accept the trade offs involved i.e compact size and affordability versus the slow maximum aperture and the slight softening of the image at the long end. At the time of writing this there is only one other alternative, the Panasonic Lumix G.Vario 100-300mm f4-5.6 OS, which is at the same price point and has a similar performance. I would only consider the Panasonic over the Olympus if I was shooting on a Panasonic camera which has no IBIS. Both Olympus and Panasonic are introducing higher performance lenses at the 300mm focal length at some time in the near future, but I think we’ll find they are considerably bigger and more expensive.

 

Two black faced cormorants, a little black cormorant, and a little pied cormorant hang out while a silver gull watches on. Lewisham, Tasmania.

 

Frida giving me a cheeky grin while waiting for me to catch up.

So if you fancy doing a bit of sport or wildlife photography then I would thoroughly recommend this lens to all Olympus users.