The Black Hole Of Babakin

Plus One by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Plus One – a winter spider orchid (Caladenia drummondii) and its visitor. Sorenson’s Reserve, Western Australia. Canon EOS 6d with Canon EF 100mm f2.8 IS L macro lens. Exposure: 1/250 sec, f11, at ISO 400.

 

Yesterday I decided to go on a little road trip to Babakin in search of the winter spider orchid. You’ve got to be mad to do a round trip of 320Km in the hope of finding one very small flower. It was a good day for it, the weather was cloudy and overcast, perfect for this type of photography, and I had nothing else scheduled. So packed my camera gear into the car, made sure the mobile was loaded with music and set off to the teeming Wheatbelt metropolis of Babakin. Now Babakin is in the local government area of Bruce Rock, which according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics covers an area of 2,727 square kilometres (1,053 sq mi) and has a population as of 2015 of 939 people. Babakin itself has a population of 25 – it is safe to assume that the local canine population out numbers the people – so there’s not a lot out there except wheat fields.

 

The drive was great, a lot of it on dirt track so plenty of red dust, and the time and distance just flew by thanks to the music. The shuffle play threw up some golden oldies – the best being Crazy On You by American group Heart. Put that one on full-bore. I wasn’t exactly head banging but lets say that the bouncing around of the car wasn’t entirely due to the road surface.  Oh that took me back to the Chichester RocSoc at the New Park Road Community Centre.

Now these days we rely an awful lot on technology, I’m no exception,  I was using my mobile phone for music and navigation. As I got close to my destination the phone just cut out – no more navigation,  no more music. No mobile network coverage could explain the first but not the later. I switch to my TomTom SatNav and that packed up – couldn’t get a signal. OOOOeeeeeerrrrrr! Luckily I was nearly there. When I got to the nature reserve I did what I normally do and that is switch on my handheld GPS and mark the position of the car. These reserves have no facilities of any kind, not even paths or tracks, so I do this so I can just wander around in the bush and then when I’ve had enough I just follow the GPS to get me back. So off I walk. After an hour and a half I eventually find a single tiny specimen and proceed to photograph it. I use off camera flash fired by radio triggers to light my pictures of orchids. I set everything up as usual took a shot and noticed the flash didn’t go off. Tried again – nothing. Checked everything was firmly in place – nothing. Changed the batteries in the transmitter and receiver – still nothing. Bugger! Had a rummage around in my camera bag and found an old TTL cable so that got me out of the fix. Eventually I packed up and started walking to the car.  I looked at the GPS screen and saw that it was blank. Bugger! I replaced the batteries – nothing. Another set of batteries and still NOTHING!!! Buggeration with bloody great knobs! A rising tide of panic starts to wash over me. Wash? No it was more like a tsunami. After a little pep talk I heard a truck go past. Now remember how I said earlier that this was a sparsely populated area? Yes? Well I can tell you I have never been so glad to hear a truck. I walked off in that direction battling through the scrub and eventually hit the road about 300 metres from the car. Phew!

The drive home was quiet – no phone, no SatNav, no music. When I got there after an hour and a half I carried everything into my office and started my usual post shoot ritual of zeroing all the camera settings, downloading the images and checking batteries prior to packing everything away. I almost jumped out of my skin when my phone beeped and started to play music. I checked the SatNav and it was picking up a signal, as was the handheld GPS. I tentatively got the flash triggers out and checked them and they were working just fine. WEIRD! Perhaps there’s just something about Babakin.

I can’t go without putting a YouTube video up for Heart’s Crazy On You. It’s a cracking track and this time I’ll put up a live recording from 1978 and from 2013 so you can see how the band has fared over time. All I can say is that Anne and Nancy Wilson can still strut their stuff in their sixties. Respect!

 

Leica Look

Leica want you and everyone around you to know that you are using one of its cameras.
Leica want you and everyone around you to know that you are using one of its cameras.

 

First off a big thanks to Saul Frank and the nice people at Camera Electronic who very kindly awarded me a Leica D-Lux Type 109 in a recent in store competition.

It's all about the lens. Forget the red dot, the Leica DC Vario-Summilux 10.9-34mm f1.7-2.8 is the star of the show.
It’s all about the lens. Forget the red dot, the Leica DC Vario-Summilux 10.9-34mm f1.7-2.8 is the star of the show.

For many years Leica aficionados have talked about the “Leica look”. They weren’t talking about the design of the camera, but the way Leica lenses render an image. Many would say that they can look at a photo and tell whether it was taken with a Leica or not. Non Leica users scoff at this and generally accuse Leica owners of being people with more money than sense and with no knowledge of photography. Roger Hicks, the noted English photographic author, once attributed the Leica look to older Leica lenses, film with no anti-halation layer, and over exposure. This allowed soft light to reflected from behind the film and cause bright edges in the image. So that brings us to modern digital Leicas and in the case of the D-Lux those that are built by Panasonic. Do they exhibit the “Leica look”? I think the answer is emphatically no! Modern lenses, even those made by Leica, are inherently more contrasty and digital sensors behave in a completely different way to film.

The Leica D-Lux compared with the Panasonic Lunix LX5. Looking from the front there is not a lot of difference in the size despite the D_Lux have a sensor much larger than the LX5.
The Leica D-Lux compared with the Panasonic Lumix LX5. Looking from the front there is not a lot of difference in the size despite the D-Lux having a sensor much larger than the LX5.

 

The Leica D-Lux compared with the Panasonic Lunix LX5. From above the size difference is more apparent.
The Leica D-Lux compared with the Panasonic Lumix LX5. From above the size difference is more apparent.

So lets talk about the D-Lux, or should I say the Panasonic Lumix LX100? It’s not the first time Leica have re-branded a Panasonic model. The Panasonic Lumix LX5, which I own and have sung the virtues of on this blog, was marketed by Leica as the D-Lux5 and there were many others before that. So what does paying the Leica tax get you over the Panasonic? Leica say they have had the firmware tweaked to their specification and that differentiates it from the LX 100.  Both cameras have a Leica DC Vario-Summilux 10.9–34 mm f/1.7–2.8 ASPH zoom lens which gives a 35mm equivalent of a 24-75mm lens. I doubt very much that the lenses are made by Leica, it is more likely that Panasonic have licensed the Leica name in the same way that Sony have with Zeiss. The only thing that really differentiates them is the design of the outer shell. The Panasonic has a grip and a faux leatherette covering while the Leica is smooth with no grip. I’d have to say I prefer the look of the Leica, it is to my eye a very sexy looking beast. The only thing that lets it down to my mind is that the shell is plastic, and although the body has a very pleasing heft it feels disappointing not to have the cool feel of a metal shell. Technically the camera is a m4/3 camera with a 16Mp 17.3 mm × 13.0 mm sensor, but the reality is that the camera uses a smaller portion. This has enabled the manufacturer to provide a fast zoom lens in a small size and the image circle created by the lens is smaller than the sensor. The upshot is that you get a multi format camera (4:3, 3;2, 1:1 and 16:9) with a good fast lens. The down side is that you only get 12Mp out of a 16Mp sensor which means even at base ISO of 200 grain is apparent. Having said that thanks to the lens the image quality is good enough for an A3+ (13″ x 19″ or 329mm x 483mm) print which is great for a compact camera. The lens has some corrections applied in camera and is distortion free and suffers from minimal chromatic aberration. I only shoot RAW so can’t comment on the jpgs.

The top plate shows the camera was designed by a photographer. aperture, shutter speed, and exposure compensation all handled by dials. To switch to aperture priority put the shutter speed dial on "A". To go to shutter speed priority switch the aperture to "A". Want programe mode put both the aperture and shutter speed dial on "A". Simple.
The top plate shows the camera was designed by a photographer. aperture, shutter speed, and exposure compensation all handled by dials. To switch to aperture priority put the shutter speed dial on “A”. To go to shutter speed priority switch the aperture to “A”. Want program mode put both the aperture and shutter speed dial on “A”. Simple.

 

Everlastings on Mount Brown in York, WA. Exposure: 1/400th sec, f8 at ISO 800. The close focusing capability made this shot a doddle as did the evaluative metering and the dynamic range of the sensor.

 

St Mary’s Cathedral, Perth, Western Australia. Exposure: 1/320th sec, f8 at ISO 200. The lens is still very good, showing minimal distortion and very little chromatic aberration. Again the metering and the dynamic range combined to handle this scene with aplomb.

 

Graffiti under the Great Southern Highway traffic bridge in York, Western Australia. Exposure: 1/640th sec, f2.8, at ISO 1600. Wide open the lens is sharp and contrasty. The sensor is noisy at high ISO, but appears very organic and film like.

 

Nature trying to reclaim the CBD. Northbridge, Western Australia. Exposure: 1/640th sec, f16 at ISO 3200. The lens is quite resistant to flare which is just as well as like other premium compacts the camera ships without a lens hood.

 

Defacing Reclaim Australia notices in Northbridge, Western Australia. Exposure: 1/2000, f2.8 at ISO 200. A combination of large sensor and fast lens means that shallow depth of field shots are possible. The lens renders subjects very well with a nice fall off in tones and sharpness.

 

Wall mural at the North Metropolitan TAFE Campus in Northbridge. Exposure: 1/1000th sec, f8 at ISO 200. Panasonic aren’t as accomplished with colour science as some other manufacturers so it is safe to say that Leica’s secret sauce has delivered some really nice colour profiles.

 

The patterns on a pruned grass tree. Balladong, Western Australia. Exposure: 1/125th sec, f8 at ISO 250. This file prints out fantastically at A3+. The edge to edge sharpness and detail are amazing

 

Watching the large screen in the Perth Cultural Precinct. Exposure: 1/250th sec, f8 at ISO 200. With its small size, great lens, and good AF performance the Leica D-Lux makes an excellent street camera.

Video quality is very very good. The camera shoots 4K video at 25p 100Mbps and HD at 50p 28Mbps, but specs aren’t everything. For example my phone can shoot 4K video but it is horrible looking and very brittle when processing. The D-Lux gives you a good file that will stand some post processing. I’ve really enjoyed shooting movies and time-lapse sequences with the camera. This is where the DNA proves Panasonic’s paternity. There are only two things that lets it down. First is sound – there is no mic input. With this small feature added the camera would really rock as discrete video cam. Second some form of built in ND filter would really make the camera perfect enabling lovely wide open shots possible in bright sunlight. The wide shots in the video below were shot with the D-Lux.

 

 

The rear of the D-Lux is very tidy and well organised.
The rear of the D-Lux is very tidy and well organised.

 

My Leica D-Lux pimped out with its accessory grip, tripod adapter and Peak Designs Anchor Link.
My Leica D-Lux pimped out with its accessory grip, tripod adapter and Peak Designs Anchor Link.

 

So to sum up. This was a prize that I won, not a purchase. To be honest if it were my money I would have bought the Panasonic LX100 which is over $500 AUD cheaper. Leica try to talk you up by saying their version thanks to its Leica firmware produces better images and they throw in a copy of Adobe Lightroom. But honestly Lightroom is less than $200 and if you shoot RAW you can get the look you want easily enough. I found the body too smooth and sprung for the accessory grip which made life a lot better. The EVF ain’t crash hot – it is a field sequential LCD which means that it is subject to tearing with moving subjects or moving your eye around the viewfinder. This doesn’t bother some people as much as others, but it may be a deal killer. There’s no floppy touch screen and no mic input. On the plus side the camera is responsive produces good stills, very good video and is compact enough that it can be taken anywhere. When I got the camera I initially thought I’d use it for a few days and then sell it on Ebay. Instead I’ve had so much fun with it I’ve decided to keep it.

UPDATE   Well I wrote this before Photokina, the big camera industry trade show in Cologne, Germany. I was hoping for a new updated model from either Leica or Panasonic to be announced with some of the changes I’ve talked about. Panasonic announced the  launch of the  LX10/LX15 (depending on which region you live in) camera. There are some worthy upgrades in the form of a tilt touch screen, an improved image stabilisation system, increase in MP to 20 and Panasonic’s very spiffy 4K photo mode which allows users to record video at 4K 30fps and extract stills from the clip. But the downsides are the loss of the viewfinder and the smaller sensor.

To Print …

Faversham
The Faversham vintage van in Avon Terrace, York, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM1 with Olympus OM Zuiko 35-105mm f3.5-5.6 zoom. Exposure: 1/200 sec, f5.6 ISO 400.

 

… or not to print. That is the question.

I picked up the latest edition of my fave photo mag (Black And White Photography ) and it had a short snippet of news that made me sit up and pay attention. Jessops  the large UK photo chain commissioned a survey which found that 20% of British adults have NEVER had a photo printed, 8% of British adults printed a photo at least once a month, and a whopping 44% have lost a digital photo they wish that they had printed. Amazing stuff.

It maybe an age related thing, but, I have always liked prints. Even when I shot slide film I had prints made. To me prints are the ultimate expression of my photographic endeavours. I realise that for many people who came to photography post the digital revolution prints are anachronistic hang over from a bygone era, but for me printing is an essential part of the photographic process. I think many people are put off by the apparent complexity of the process – look on the internet and it all looks so hard, but actually it is relatively simple to get good prints. The first step in the process is to profile your monitor – this ensures that are no strange colour casts. I use a ColorMunki Display  which is ridiculously easy to use and is relatively inexpensive. For the second step you can either send or take your image files to a lab and have them do the next bit, or like me print your own at home. I choose to print at home because I live in a rural area where there is no local lab, I’m impatient and want to see the results immediately and the surge to print often happens at odd times. I chose a Canon Pixma Pro 100S  as it is an A3+ sized dye based printer. I prefer my prints to be on glossy paper and dye based inks look better than pigment based ones. Also dye based printers are less likely to clog. I don’t profile my printer for the paper I use I just use the canned profiles from the paper manufacturers website. The video below shows how easy the whole process is.

 

 

Shortly after reading the piece in Black and White Photography I was perusing the BBC website when I came across a piece on the science pages that was warning that the world was facing a ‘digital Dark Age” . Apparently Dr Vint Cerf  an internet pioneer and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google (and yeah I had to Google him to find out who he was) has become famous for his predictions on how technology will affect future generations. He reckons that a lot of the digital images created in the early Twenty First Century will be lost as current hardware and software become obsolete so future generations will have no records of the period. I find this ironic considering Google is really pushing Google Photos as an in the cloud archive system. Anyway Google are apparently spending shed loads of money to try to prevent this with some you beaut techno solution. Personally I think the answer is obvious. The one material we know a lot about with regards to its archival properties is paper. In fact I’ve got quite a few family photos that date from the later half of the Nineteenth Century. So if you want to make sure your precious photos survive print them. Use good quality papers and inks and a lifespan in excess of 100 years is easily attainable. The Wilhelm Institute  gives archival ratings for most ink and paper combinations and advice on how to store your prints. If you print at A4 then should your digital archive disappear into oblivion with a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth then you can scan your prints and salvage the situation.

So there you have it. Now you’re not only making art but you are protecting your precious images from a digital apocalypse.

 

Photographic Print
Photographic print on Canson Infinity Photo High Gloss Premium RC by a Canon Pixma Pro 100S printer. Shot on a Sony A7r with Voigtlander 35mm f2.5 Color-Skopar lens.

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.

Happy Birthday

The Mobile Kit
The Canon EOS5d – the first “affordable” dSLR with a 35mm sensor.

On 22 August 2015 the Canon EOS 5d turned ten years old – my own 5d turned 10 last week. Now they reckon dog years are seven for every human year. In terms of digital photography I reckon ten years equates to over a hundred human years as technology has advanced so fast. Despite that the original 5d, or if you want to really annoy the anally retentive Canon fan bois over on the DPReview forums the 5d Classic, is still more than a capable camera, in fact I would go onto say that if you don’t shoot video and don’t print any larger than A3+ you don’t need anything else. If all you do is post shots on Flickr and Facebook then I would say you’re over gunned and look for a Canon EOS 300d! Why was it so special – well it was the first “affordable” dSLR with a 35mm sized sensor. That meant a lot back in 2005 because a lot photo enthusiasts and pros had cut their teeth shooting 35mm film and had got used to a certain look with particular focal lengths. The advent of the cropped sized sensor (APS-C for Canon and DX for Nikon) meant that we couldn’t just look at a scene and say that calls for a 85mm lens, or a 24mm lens. No we had all these funny focal lengths and the other annoying thing was the camera and lens manufacturers didn’t populate their lens line ups with high quality cropped factor lenses – a fact that is still true today. So when the 5d was announced I thought at last I can get my favourite focal lengths back. I literally ran to my then favourite retailer PRA and placed my order. Since then my 5d has been in constant use, there are some 14,000 images in my Lightroom catalogue taken with that camera and it hasn’t missed a beat. It still gets used on a regular basis because those 12.8 Mp render an image beautifully. Many of the cameras detractors said that it had an atrocious auto focus system but I never had any problems with mine.

 

2007 Boddington Rodeo, Boddington, WA.
Gotcha!!! 2007 Boddington Rodeo, Boddington, WA. The 5d in full on action mode, something a lot of people said was impossible.

 

2005 Perth H2O Gravity Games
2005 Perth H2O Gravity Games

A lot of people complain that Canon sensors are crippled when it comes to dynamic range, again it has never been something that has caused me any problems.

Photograph 2006 Avon Descent by Paul Amyes on 500px
Hot Air Balloons over the Avon River in Northam, Western Australia. Canon EOS 5D, Canon  75-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens. Exposure 1/1000 s at f/5.6 ISO 400.

 

 An Evening Walk Down The Lane. by Paul Amyes on 500px
A walk down the lane at sunset. York, Western Australia. Canon EOS5d, Canon EF 28-135 f3.5-5.6 IS lens, Cokin 2 stop graduated neural density filter, Cokin circular polarizing filter. Exposure 20.0 s at f/22.0 ISO 100 in manual mode.

 

Long exposures such as the shot above and below didn’t cause any problems, just a little judicious use of noise reduction software in post.

 

Photograph York CBH Nocturne by Paul Amyes on 500px
York CBH Nocturne. Train been filled at the York CBH grain handling facility in York, Western Australia. Canon EOS 5D with Canon EF24mm f/2.8 lens. Exposure: manual mode 20.0 s at f/4.0 ISO 800.

 

As I said earlier I’m still happily using the camera after ten years and in that time quite a few other cameras have come and gone. I think the EOS5d deserves the appellation Classic because it helped a lot of photographers recover their preferred means of working with focal lengths, it quickly became a mainstay of a lot of working photographers, and it established the idea of the prosumer full frame sensor in camera market. Will it last another ten years? I don’t think so as a working camera. The problem is that the spares are no longer manufactured to keep the camera going. I’ll still continue to use mine until it fails but not as a mission critical camera.

 

Tessellated Pavement
Tessellated Pavement. Canon EOS5d with EF28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens. Cokin filters – 3 stop ND filter, 2 stop grad, and circular polarizing filter. Exposure: 1.6 s at f/11.0 ISO 100.

 

 

As always clicking on an image will take you through to my online gallery.

 

The Pen Is Mightier Than The dSLR

The Olympus Pen EP-5
The Olympus Pen EP5 compared to the EP2. The family resemblance is obvious, but the EP5 is a much more refined product.

Perhaps a bit of hyperbole but depending on you your usage the Olympus Pen series of cameras could suit you better than a dSLR.I mentioned in my blog post Olym-Puss that I had got an EP5 and I thought that I would write about my experiences with it. This is not a review, it’s a little late as the camera is probably about to be discontinued as it is being heavily discounted. So if you want a cheap second body for your m4/3 system or a newbie considering dabbling your toes into the m4/3 pool then it would be a good choice.

The Olympus Pen EP-5
The camera has a flip-up touch screen that is nice and clear which is just as well for unless you pony up for an optional LCD viewfinder it’s all you’ve got.

A little history. Regular readers will know that I’ve had a long-term relationship with Olympus cameras since I bought my first in 1982. I ceased to use them long after the company dropped the OM range of film cameras and I could no longer get them repaired as there were no longer any available parts. I moved over to Canon, not because I thought that they were any better than other brands but because my father in law very generously gave me a Canon EOS3 film camera and two zooms that were surplus to his requirements and I stayed with the brand well into the digital age. While I liked the results my 5d gave me, the user experience was somewhat bland and dissatisfying, so when Olympus announced the micro four thirds concept with Panasonic in 2009 and unveiled its first camera the Pen EP1 I was intrigued. I found a local dealer and had a long look at one. The camera felt lovely in the hand but there were two major problems that stopped me buying one:

  • there was no viewfinder just a rear LCD screen and that was for me at the time a major sticking point
  • I was financially embarrassed at the time and so could not afford it.

In 2010 Olympus released the EP2 which had provision for an optional LCD view finder. So my major objection to owning one had been overcome. In 2011 I was kindly given an EP2 kit consisting of the body, the LCD viewfinder, a 14-42 kit lens and the 17mm f2.8 pancake lens. I was smitten, it quickly became my favourite camera. The 12Mp sensor was not the greatest, but the experience of using it made want to wring the last drop of image quality out of it. I still have it and use it.

Busking
Busking in Salamanca, Hobart. I intend primarily the camera to be used for street photography and travel with small primes.

In 2012 Olympus announced the OMD EM5 a camera that harked back to my beloved OM4 film cameras. The major features of that camera were the new 16Mp sensor and the 5 axis in body image stabilisation (IBIS). This camera ignited the imagination of the photographic community and it was a deserved success for the company. A year later the Pen EP-5 hit the market and it was essentially an EM5 without the built in viewfinder. Unfortunately the camera was poorly received, and after the website DPReview gave it savage write-up exposing the problem of shutter shock sales tanked and rumours have since circulated that the EP5 would be the last premium Pen camera. So given that why would I recommend one? Well Olympus was stung into action and issued a firmware release for the camera which enabled an anti shock setting, which is a kind of ersatz electronic first shutter and this helped enormously, in fact it inclusion makes it an entirely different camera. This and the same 16 MP sensor as the Olympus OM-D E-M5, an improved 5-axis in-body image stabilization, 9 frames per second continuous shooting, and a tilting rear touch screen, a HDR bracketing mode, a minimum shutter speed of 1/8000 sec, a maximum shutter speed of 60 seconds, focus peaking to assist manual focus, and built in Wi-Fi for connection to smart phone or tablet. Put this into a beautifully crafted body that feels absolutely lovely in the hand (confession time – I know its wrong but I could just sit and fondle the EP5 for hours on end) with a bloody good sensor and you have a delicious photo taking experience.

Mount Wellington
Mount Wellington viewed from the rivulet. No HDR here folks just one exposure and a good dynamic range from the sensor.

Talking of the sensor, the 16Mp sensor used by Olympus has as many conspiracies about its origins as the birth of President Obama does. Some believe it made by Panasonic and others by Sony. I don’t give two hoots as to who made it, all I know is that it is packed full of goodness. For a small sensor the dynamic range is impressive and you can pull up shadows and recover highlights nicely. There is noise at the base level ISO of 200, but it doesn’t look too digital, some would say it has an organic quality akin to that of film. I wish this aspect were better as I do a lot of copy work of paintings and illustrations and feel that the ability to render fine detail is a little compromised. The Olympus True Picture imaging processor gives this beautiful colours that Olympus is famous for and it would be entirely possible to just shoot jpg with it and get excellent results straight out of the camera. When I got the camera I thought that primarily I’d use it as a street and travel camera with a small prime like the afore-mentioned 17mm f2.8 or the wonderful 25mm f1.8. I have changed my mind on that and use it for landscape and macro work. Noise is well controlled up to 3200 and the sensor handles long exposures very well.

Moonrise
Blue Moon. Long exposures such as this cause no problems.

The AF system is largely good. Single point AF is faster than a whippet on ICE and being a contrast detect system reading straight off of the sensor there are no front or back focus issues which makes using fast glass wide open incredibly accurate. It’s so good that I’ve not bothered using face detect or eye detect AF modes. The continuous focusing with subject tracking is absolutely pants, a sports beast this camera ain’t, but having said that I have photographed the local surfers using ordinary continuous AF and set to the low frame rate of 4.5 fps it does a very good job using the cheap but sweet 40-150mm lens. The touch screen enables you to select an AF point and trigger the shutter making tripod work for landscapes, and architecture a sublime experience. While on the subject of tripods it’s a shame the tripod bush is not located on the lens axis, no big deal if you don’t shoot panoramas or stitch, but it is an inconvenience if like me you do.

Park Beach Surf #1
The continuous AF was able to keep up with this surfer using the cheap 40-150mm f4-5.6 lens.

IBIS is bloody fantastic. In fact it is so good there must be magic involved. This makes handheld macro and telephoto work a delight. Shooting in low light with static subjects is a breeze. With moving subjects bump the ISO and deal with the grain once you go over 3200.

Cabbage White Butterfly
A cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) on a lavender flower. A combination of IBIS and HSS flash makes macro a breeze.

Video performance leaves a lot to be desired. Lets be honest and up front here. Olympus suck big time when it comes to the implementation of video and the EP5 is not an exception to this. The codec is nasty and not good for any subject that has a lot of movement or fine detail and it is NTSC centric only offering 30fps. There is 1080, 720 and VGA, the best quality 1080 is 24MBps which is not really going to cut the mustard if video is your thing. The video clip below was shot with the EP5 and clearly shows its short comings. I’m seriously hoping that since the release of the EM5 ii and with Australian cinematographer John Brawley on board as a tester and advisor that the video side of things will improve in later models.

 

 

So to sum up. The EP5 is a very fine camera. Now it is being discounted at the $400 AUD mark it is a steal. If you already have a m4/3 camera system snap one up as a second body. If you are m4/3 curious then get one and explore the world of mirrorless photography. I bought mine as a back up to my EM10, the EM10 has now been relegated to back up duties, or occasions where I need a built in viewfinder. This is a camera which on release should have got a lot of love. Unfortunately Olympus shot themselves in the foot by releasing it with such an obvious shutter shock problem. I think had they sorted the camera properly prior to release it would have sold like hot cakes. Now the problem is fixed and it is at bargain prices I think it should go on to become a cult classic. I think about buying another Canon dSLR but honestly now I’ve gone mirrorless with all that entails I can’t go back.

The Olympus Pen EP-5
The Olympus Pen EP-5 compared with the OMD EM-10.

ActionCam!

 

Regular readers will have noticed that since Christmas that I have been putting up video and stills that had been taken with a fish eye lens. For a while I was considering purchasing a suitable lens for either my Canon or Olympus systems as I had been intrigued by the effect. I was also very mindful that having bought such an item I would quickly tire of it and see it as a gimmick and so feel I had wasted my money. So when Dick Smiths (a popular chain of electronic stores here in Australia) offered the Sony HDR-AS20 ActionCam for $120 AUD just before Christmas I bought one seeing it as an affordable way of trying out extreme wide-angle photography and videography.

 

 

So what are my feelings about the camera. Well I do believe every photographer should have one of these cameras. They open up a world of creative photography. The lens is outside of the protective case pretty decent. It has a 170º field of view which is roughly equivalent to a 17mm on a full frame 35mm camera, a minimum focusing distance of 30cm (12 inches), a fixed aperture of f2.8 and is pan focus. There is obvious barrel distortion and some chromatic aberration. The distortion is all part of the look of fish eye lenses and the CA can be easily fixed in still images in apps such as Lightroom with a single click. The camera only produces jpegs, which bright and contrasty without too many artefacts. There is no control over sharpening and there are only two pictures styles, normal and underwater. You can’t control the ISO, the shutter speed nor the white balance. All being said it produces nice files and the exposures and white balance were largely spot on requiring minimal adjustments in post. For video the Steadyshot image stabilisation while being software based produces impressive results and was one of the major selection criteria for me when purchasing the camera. It’s not got the best video codec in the world nor the best bit rate and compression but it edits reasonably well as long as you don’t push it too far. A very nice feature is that the supplied software for the camera is embedded as firmware so that you don’t have to mess around with downloads or install discs. So what’s not to like – well the optical quality of the lens port on the protective case is pretty appalling, the supplied software is pretty flakey and crashes a lot on my relatively new iMac. No matter what I tried I couldn’t get the WiFi function to work using either my Sony Android phone or iPad. The Sony mount system isn’t as comprehensive nor widely as available as that of the GoPro alternatives. No problem just get an inexpensive adapter and then you can use anything made for GoPro. A real annoyance is that Sony have made it very difficult to plug in an exterior microphone. You can’t use one with the LCD case nor the standard protective housing. The one you can use it with means you loose the LCD and the protection.

 

The Endeavour
The Australian National Maritime Museum’s magnificent replica of Captain Cook’s HMB Endeavour docked at Hobart in Tasmania.

 

Overall I’m very happy with the camera and have had a load of fun using it. The only thing is that it is totally addictive and I keep coming up with ideas for shots which inevitably means I have to buy another mount for it. Luckily they are cheap, but I have quickly acquired a bag full of them.

 

Shoreline
The beach at Verona Sands. The minimum focusing distance is 30cm which allows you to get very close up to subjects.

 

Lady Franklin Museum "Ancanthe"
Sunrise at the The Lady Franklin Museum in Ancanthe Park, Lenah Valley. The auto white balance and exposure handled this scene very nicely.

Quite a few scenes in this video were shot with the Sony HDR-AS20. I was surprised that the camera proved parrot proof!

 

The Future Is Now

Over the last few months I have been sharing about some of the features that I have found interesting with the Olympus m4/3s system. To me personally the remote control of flash and the wireless control of the camera are exciting, not necessarily in the form that they’re in now but in what they herald for the future. I know I talk a lot about the old days but I think its important to know where we have come from in order to understand the potential of modern equipment. I am as I keep saying a very promiscuous photographer – I rarely stick to any genre for long and photograph what gives me pleasure and interest.  At the moment I’m taking photos of the wildlife we find in our garden to document it because my wife has joined gardens for wildlife and because I’m lazy and like taking photos close to home, The following are just some photos of birds that can be found in the garden.

Pink and Grey Galah
Pink and Grey Galah or Eolophus roseicapilla, the most common Australian cockatoo.

 

Noisy Miner Bird
The appropriately named the noisy miner bird, Manorina melanocephala leachi, is a vocal species with a large range of songs, calls, scoldings and alarms, and almost constant vocalizations particularly from young birds.

With the modern technology we have at our disposal taking these pics was straight forward. When we look at the work of pioneer ornithological photographer Eric Hosking and see the amount of kit he had to set up to take similar types of photos it is quite staggering. Examples of Hosking’s work can be seen here.

Eric Hoskins pioneer ornithological photographer and possibly the worlds first professional wildlife photographer.

Now an EM-10, a telephoto zoom, a couple of flash lights and an iPad takes the place of a van load of stuff. I decided to put the kit to the test and then Mother Nature sank my plans. Here in the island paradise of Tasmania we are in the middle of what is laughingly called summer. The last few days it has been sheeting down and blowing a gale. In fact the weather has been so bad that 120mm rain fell overnight and this morning on my daily perambulation I had to wear a fleece and a soft shell water proof. As you can imagine the local wildlife isn’t too keen at putting in an appearance and I doubt that any equipment setup outside would last long. So in place of the local wildlife you’ve got me showing you how to do a hi-tech selfie. My wife would probably say that there is no difference as I’m pretty feral!

OK having done this what have I learnt? Well first of all using WiFi and the RC function uses power like a trust fund baby spends money. Setting up is easy but the amount of control offered by the Olympus Image Share App is very basic. You can control the exposure but you can’t get access to the Olympus Super Control Panel and that means that you still have to access the camera itself if you want to change your lighting ratios or switch from TTL to manual or vice versa. Although the camera is connected to the iPad via WiFi you still have to physically touch the screen to trigger the camera. So in future what would I like to see, well to start I’d like to have access to the SCP via the app so I’ve got more control over the camera and lights. Secondly I’d like to have more options to trigger the camera. At the moment I can’t use the ioShutter™ as my Olympus cameras have a proprietary connection to allow the use of a remote cable, so I’d certainly welcome either Olympus or the makers of ioShutter to make a remote that allows me to trigger the camera via sound or with a light trigger. I really think that we’re just at the very start of connectivity when it comes to cameras. Back in August 2012 I wrote about shooting using my Canon EOS5d tethered via a USB cable to a laptop and using Lightroom. Now I can do the same and more but wirelessly using a mobile phone or tablet. I hoping that in 2 or 3 years time we’ll see the functions I’ve talked about here.

A Flash of Inspiration – part 2

Apologies firstly for the lateness of this follow-up piece – I’ve been having problems with my internet connection and also the technical support at my provider, iiNet, managed to disable my computer with a piece of remote login software. Anyway after a few anxious days  thanks to Apple support,  a re-install of OS X and then all my other software and I’m back in business. Secondly I’d like to apologise for the sound quality on the video. I had to use the reference sound recorded on camera for the soundtrack because the cable from my mic to my external recorder went bung. Technologically speaking it has been a trying week at the world headquarters of Paul Amyes Photography (PAP).

I would also appreciate some feedback. If enough people think it would be beneficial I am prepared to re-publish this and the last article as a free iBook available through the Apple iTunes store. Obviously the material would be mainly written and with photographic illustration and not have the video content you see here. So please let me know if this is something you’d like to see.