Olympus Has Fallen

Not the dreadful film, but the camera company. On the 24th June 2020 Olympus announced that they were in talks with Japan Industrial Partners to divest themselves of their camera business after three continuous years of losses despite numerous restructuring attempts. I’ve got no idea what all this means from a practical point of view, but from an emotional point of view it is quite a sad day. I’ve always considered myself to brand agnostic and have used over the years Praktika, Pentax, Minolta, Canon, Leica, Voigtländer, Sony, Panasonic and of course Olympus. But I’ve got to say that over the last 38 years I’ve always had at least one Olympus camera. More than just a few key moments in my life have been documented by an Olympus camera.

 

My first Olympus camera was an XA2. This is the XA4 I bought later to replace it, they look very similar, the major difference being that XA2 had a 35mm lens while the XA4 had a 28mm macro lens.

 

 

Portrait of me in Majorca taken in March 1986 by my father in law, Brooke Spencer. Probably taken with a Leica R4 with a Leica 135/2.8 Elmarit-R on Kodak colour negative film. I’m holding my OM1n with 35-105 lens.

 

I bought my first Olympus camera in 1982 after returning back home from an extended stay in Israel where I got into taking photos. Previously I had a Kodak 110 cartridge camera and when I got the films back from the processors I was dismayed with how crap they looked. I was determined that on the next trip I would take a much better camera. So after a trip to the newly opened Whibys camera shopping Chichester and a long and informative chat with the owner Derek Whitby I left with an Olympus XA2 – a unique 35mm clam shell compact camera. I kept going to Whitby’s until 1988 which was when I migrated to Australia. In that time Derek went on to sell me an OM20, OM1n, OM2n, OM4 and my partner an OM40. Along with those cameras was wheelbarrow load of lenses, some very specie flashguns for the time and a shed load of film. I’m glad their business is still going although Derek and his wife Jacqui no longer run it. The cameras kept marching on and were perfect for my travels being small, durable and highly featured for their time. The lenses were also compact and gave great image quality. I’ve still got most of the lenses and still use them, and I’ve written about them on this blog ( 21mm f3.5, 24mm f2.8, 35mm f2, 50mm f1.4,135mm f2.8, and 35-105mm f3.5-4.5).

 

Believe it or not that’s me in Red Square, Moscow in January 1987. The temperatures were -40ºC. You can just about see my camera bag slung over my shoulder. In it is an OM1n, an OM2n, a 35-105mm, a 50mm f1.4, a 200mm f4 lens a T32 flash and a T20 flash. We went to document the plight of Russians in Moscow and Leningrad (now St Petersberg for a human rights campaign that was to be launched later that year at the House of Commons in London). The cameras worked flawlessly in the cold. The photo was taken by my wife on an Olympus AF1.

 

 

My earliest selfie – taken in September 1987 while I was staying with my in-laws just prior to departing for India and Nepal. The camera is an Olympus OM4 with an Olympus OM Zuiko 35-105mm lens. Originally shot on Ektachrome 200 but converted to black and white because of fading.

 

Yours truly on a house boat on Lake Dal in Srinagar, Kashmir, India. I’m wearing a Camera Care Systems pouch with my Olympus OM4 in it. Taken by my partner with her OM40 and 35-105 lens.

 

In 2003 I shot a couple of weddings and my OM4s developed problems, one the shutter failed and the other the film advance jammed. I took them to the local camera whisperer but he broke the bad news to me – there were no new spare parts. He said I could by up some old models and use them as donor cameras but there was no guarantee as to the condition of the parts and how long they would last. To say I was gutted would be an understatement. This came a a particularly bad time for me, I was recovering after a bad accident and was pretty broke. I had enrolled at college to study photography as a form of therapy and now I was pretty well camera less. My late father-in-law (Brooke Spencer) in an act of supreme kindness stepped into the breach. He had just bought a Canon EOS D60 digital SLR and he sent me his old EOS3 film SLR and a couple of lenses. I now had a camera to complete college with and had inadvertently changed system. I went digital with Canon but I wasn’t really happy with it. I found the Canon EOS system to be large, heavy and cumbersome. About this time I fell into writing about and photographing outdoor activities and then was commissioned to write a walking guide. Well after a year lugging a Canon 5d and three lenses on over 1000Km of walks I knew I needed something lighter.

The Canon EOS system full monty. Three bodies, seven lenses, two flashes, flash meter, filters, cables, flash triggers, and reflectors. It is a hernia inducing load.

 

This is the camera kit I used on my first walking guide book. Less hernia inducing than the Full Monty, but still coming in at 7Kg including filters and batteries.

 

When I saw the Olympus Pen EP1 in 2009 I was smitten, but it didn’t have a viewfinder so I held off buying one. Less than a year later Olympus introduced the EP2 and I got one. The next guide book was done with an outfit based around that camera and a a few lenses and I was much happier.

 

Coming in at under 2Kg complete with batteries, filters, microphone and assorted cables for video. This kit still gives me coverage from 24emm to 300emm with 1:1 macro and a smallish prime. All that’s missing is flash.

 

Here I am pausing to take a photo with EP2 while walking up Frenchman Peak in Cape Le Grand National Park, Western Australia.

 

Over the last ten years I’ve heard a lot reasons from keyboard warriors on various photographic forums why the micro four thirds format that Olympus and Panasonic used was inferior to full frame sensors and that you couldn’t get work published if you used it. Well after three books, two exhibitions and loads of print sales no one has ever said the image quality was not up to snuff. Unfortunately photography is an activity dominated by very conservative men who see a small camera, no matter how capable, as being an affront to their masculinity. So Olympus was sandwiched by the small minded conservatives that wanted big cameras and at the other end the onslaught of the do anything mobile phones which now have very good photo and video capabilities.

 

The Canon EOS6d with Sigma 150-600mm lens compared to the Panasonic G85, which uses the same sensor format and lens mount as Olympus, with the Panasonic Leica 100-400mm lens. The Panasonic has great reach, better video, the same number of megapixels, weighs less and costs less.

 

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. Both produce amazing images, but the Olympus is a lot nicer to carry through the bush all day.

 

 

As I said at the beginning of this piece I have no way of knowing what will happen. Maybe JIP will turn the company around and make it it profitable and innovative. Maybe they’ll just asset strip and close it down. The company does both. I hope it is the former, but if it is the later I guess that this a eulogy for Olympus. But whatever may happen my current Olympus cameras have plenty of mileage left in them and if I can get another 10 years out of them, and at this stage I don’t see why not, then I’ll be very happy.

 

COVID 19 Easter Chick

 

COVID 19 Easter chick.

 

Sorry for the absence of blog posts. On 30th March Optus cut off our phone and internet connection and we have been without ever since. We have been unable to contact them, they don’t answer emails, texts or anything. So over the next few weeks I’ll try and post but at the moment I can’t promise anything.

New Book

The cover of “Australia’s Best 100 Walks” to which I was a contributor.

 

As a fledgling photographer many years ago I used to look at copies of National Geographic and daydream about one day being a one of their photographers. Many years later that still hasn’t happened, but I have managed Australian Geographic. I happy to announce the launch of Australia’s Best 100 Walks published by Australian Geographic for which I was a contributing photographer, writer and researcher. It is available fro good bookshops such as Boffins Books for a smidge under $40 AUD.

 

Bathurst Lighthouse on Rottnest Island, Western Australia. One of my photos from the book Australia’s Best 100 Walks.

MIA

 

I’ve been missing in action over the last few weeks. Partly due to health reasons (which I won’t bore you with), partly due to computer meltdown when I upgraded to Mac OSX Catalina (what an unmitigated disaster that was and still isn’t solved) and partly because some chump cut through the telephone line while digging a hole. The whole experience has meant that I’ve been seriously considering going retro i.e. reading books, watching DVDs, listening to CDs and shooting film again. So I’ve ordered some books off of Booktopia, dug out the CD collection and loaded some film into an old camera. I’ve even found myself looking at kits to develop film at home. Scary stuff. Don’t know how far I’ll follow through with idea, and I don’t know if it’s still possible to get my favourite film and developer, but I’m certainly keen to give it a go. So I thought todays pic would be appropriate – a photo of a digital camera taken with a large format film 5×4 camera shooting Fuji Provia.

Goodness Gracious…. *

 

The Kangaroo Tick (Amblyomma triguttatum)

The Australian bush is a dangerous place for the intrepid orchid hunter. Poisonous snakes and spiders are the least of your worry. Nope the thing to worry about is the Kangaroo tick. Size is not an indication of dangerousness. At 4mm in length one of these horrid little beasties can cause a lot of pain and suffering. A lot! When we were away on our little jaunt to Nannup the other week unknowingly I picked up a couple of hitchhikers. Shortly after getting home they began to make their presence felt – quite literally. I woke up to find that my love spuds felt like they had been trapped in a vice and then set on fire. Very quickly it felt like I was walking around with a space hopper stuffed in me jocks.

My happy sack now resemble a space hopper thanks to kangaroo ticks.

Not for nothing are ticks referred to as “the dirty needles of the bush“. Each tick is like a little syringe loaded with all sorts of nasty toxic bacteria and unfortunately the process of removing them can inject even more of that horribleness into your bloodstream. Now after a few days of antibiotics and ibuprofen things are starting to improve. So if you are an orchid hunter let this be a salutary warning and please take precautions.

Funnily the word orchid  comes from the Ancient Greek ὄρχις (órkhis), literally meaning “testicle”, because of the shape of the twin tubers in some species of Orchis. In England between the 11th and 15th century orchids were called bollockwort with bollock meaning testicle and wort meaning plant. In medical lingo inflammation of the testicles is orchitis.

The tuber of the Red Beak Orchid (Pyrorchis nigricans) showing its testicular shape. Photo by Ken Macintyre 2010.

Here are some recent  pics from the suffering artist.

 

Lemon Scented Sun Orchid by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Lemon Scented Sun Orchid, Thelymitra antennifera, also known as the vanilla orchid. Wambyn, Western Australia.

 

Wandoo Beard Orchid by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Wandoo Beard Orchid, Calochilus stramenicola. Wambyn, Western Australia.

 

Custard Orchid by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Custard Orchid, Thelymitra villosa. Wambyn, Western Australia

 

*  Today’s song reference seemed very appropriate. It is of course Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire”

 

Tyger Tyger, burning bright…

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 
In the forests of the night; 
What immortal hand or eye, 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
William Blake 1794 from “Songs of Experience
Tasmania does not have a monopoly on the thylacine. Many people believe they can be seen in Western Australia’s Blackwood Valley. Nannup is the focus of Thylacine tourism in Western Australia.
William Blake when he wrote his famous poem was thinking of the Bengal Tiger. We have/had tigers in Australia. Well kind of – hmmmm  not really. The Tasmanian tiger or to give it its proper name the thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) once roamed all over Australia. But by the time the island continent was colonised it was restricted to the rain forests of Tasmania. I wrote a blog post about them a while ago. The thylacine is a tourist draw card in Tassie and it has become an icon for the tourist industry, but they don’t have a monopoly on it. Down in the South West corner of Western Australia, in the Blackwood Valley is the sleepy town of Nannup. Many of the locals are convinced that the Thylacine roams the forests in the valley and consequently it is now part of Nannup’s tourism campaign.

 

As it would happen we found ourselves in Nannup the other week. We weren’t looking for the tiger, but we certainly found them as we walked up and down the main street. Again like in Tassie the thylacine has been “gnomified” and can be found in front gardens all over the shop.

 

Frida was none too pleased with her thylacine encounter in Nannup.

 

It’s not the first time we’d visited the town, but we’d not been for a while and it had changed quite a bit. With the winding down of the forestry industry Nannup is seriously chasing the tourist dollar and the place has been titivated to reflect that. Once you were hard pushed to get a decent coffee now it seems that every other building is a cafe. It presents as a nice up beat place with a friendly vibe.

 

One of the Nannup locals, a Western Brush Wallaby (Macropus irma) also known as the black-gloved wallaby. Nannup, Western Australia.

 

… and they proved to be very friendly.

Our accommodation was ideally located in the forest and only a stone’s throw from Kondil Wildflower Park. The park consists of new growth forest which contains an incredible diversity of flora. There are three walking trails within the park and I walked two of them. The Woody Pear Walk which is a 1 Km easy walk trail and the the Wildflower Wander which according to the information board is 3.5 Km but according to my GPS is 4.9 Km – either way it’s an easy walk on well sign posted trails.

 

 

Below are some of the orchids I found while walking around.

 

Bird Orchid by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Bird Orchid, Pterostylis barbata. Nannup, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM 1 mk ii with Olympus m.Zuiko 60mm f2.8 macro lens. Exposure: 1/125 sec, f4 at ISO 1000.

 

Leaping Spider Orchid by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Leaping spider orchid, Caladenia macrostylis. Nannup, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM 1 mk ii with Olympus m.Zuiko 60mm macro lens. Exposure: 1/60 sec, f8, ISO 3200.

 

Albino Silky Blue Orchid by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Albino Silky Blue Orchid, Cyanicula sericea. Nannup, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM 1 mk ii with Olympus m.Zuiko 60mm macro lens. Exposure: 1/125 sec, f4 at ISO 200.

 

Silky Blue Orchid by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Silky Blue Orchid, Cyanicula sericea. Nannup, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM 1 mk ii with Olympus m.Zuiko 60mm f2.8 macro lens. Exposure: 1/100, f5.6 at ISO 1000.

 

Warty Hammer Orchid by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Warty Hammer Orchid, Drakaea livida. Nannup, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM 1 mk ii with m.Zuiko 60mm f2.8 macro lens. Exposure: 1/30 sec, f8 at ISO 64.

 

Croquetwest Grip and Grin

Beloved Significant Other collecting an armful of trophies from Emma Cole, mayor of the City of Vincent, at the recent Croqetwest awards presentation for 2018-9.

Well Beloved Significant Other (BSO) Helen Amyes had a stonker of a year on the croquet front and was invited to attend the Croquetwest 2018-9 trophy presentation. Yours truly was tagging along as the +1 with aim of taking just a couple of photos for her clubs Facebook page. The inevitable happened. Turn up with a camera, couple of lenses and a flash and suddenly you are the “official” photographer and taking the photos for the press and social media. As I’ve said before grip and grin is not my favourite form of photography. There wasn’t a lot of wriggle room for an alternative approach this time so it was pretty basic event photography. At least it was helped along in the form of a jolly jape where fake awards were interspersed with the real ones. Even the recipients were left wondering what they’d actually just won.

Brett McHardy and his partner Janine were winners of Golf Croquet Under Age Doubles. Brett is trying to work out what he’s just won.

 

Chris McWhirtter receiving the prize for being the winner of the Golf Croquet open singles from Emma Cole.

 

All in all it was a fun afternoon

Muerte e Impuestos…

… which translates from Spanish as “Death and Taxes”, which is in itself a paraphrase of Christopher Bullock’s line from the The Cobbler of Preston written in 1716:

“’Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes”.

 

Well all I can say is that Bullock had never been to Spain or he’d have added solicitors and notaries to the quote. By now regular readers will be well and truly confused. Well I shall try and explain.

 

Cóbdar is a small village of 140 situated in the Sierra de los Filabres in the Spanish province of Andalusia.

 

Nearly forty years ago my partner’s father moved to Spain, initially to Mallorca, but later he moved to the small Andalusian village of Cóbdar in the Sierra de los Filabres where he happily lived for about twenty four years before succumbing to old age just a few weeks ago. For my partner the news of his passing produced both visceral grief and a great sense of relief. The grief being a natural expression of sadness at loosing a parent and the relief that the anxieties of his predicament regarding Brexit were over and that he was able to pass away in his own home with his partner by his side. The feelings of grief were nothing compared to depths of despondency that ensued when trying to navigate the murky waters of the Spanish legal system. The long and the short of it is that in Spain everything bureaucratic in nature requires the use of umpteen solicitors, legions of notaries and of course taxation like you would not believe. Spanish solicitors charge like a wounded bull, being a Spanish notary is a licence to print money and the government has a tax for just about every eventuality. Just when you feel that navigated the system in it’s entirety then you find out that if your inheritance includes any property – no matter how small a share – then you have to write a Spanish will, whether you are resident or not, so you can inflict the whole process on your descendants. A Spanish inheritance is the gift that keeps on taking. It is not surprising that nearly 40% of Spanish inheritances are passed over.

 

Cóbdar is laid out more formally than other villages in the region. Although small and isolated it continues to be a working village.

 

Brooke and Helen walking along Río de los Molinos in Cobdar. Cóbdar is situated at the base of a mountain that is quarried for marble. The marble gleams white in the sunlight and can be seen in the background of the picture.

 

Helen taking a break in the shade under an olive tree. Cobdar, Spain.

 

The Rabit man’s house on the edge of the Andalusian village of Cobdar.

 

Every time I think of the situation I have the mental image of Basil Fawlty erupting in rage and frustration.