Pipe Dreams

Big Pipes
Stopped off at Tarraleah to admire the pipes and electricity pylons as they cross the valley.

 

There’s no doubt about it Australians love a dam. Build one and the accompanying recreation area will be full of happy Aussies burning sausages while commenting sagely on rainfall and water levels. On our recent jaunt around the Tasmanian North West we stopped at Tarraleah to admire the hydro and the Art Deco cottages that were built to house the workers when being constructed. They are now part of a swank resort where you can admire massive pipes and electricity pylons as they cross the valley.

 

Big Pipes
Big Pipes

 

The building of the dams polarised the community and gave birth to Australian green politics and the conservation of the Tasmanian Wilderness. Sounds odd doesn’t it? Renewable energy is supposed to be good for the environment, but not when you destroy the wilderness and make entire species extinct in the process. The Hydro Electric Commission (HEC) was set up in 1914 to capitalise on Tasmania’s topography and high rainfall which made it eminently suitable for the generation of hydro-electricity. The whole thing progressed smoothly until the HEC wanted to build three dams on the Upper Gordon River with the aim of attracting industry to the State with the incentive of cheap energy. In December 1982, the Franklin River dam site was occupied by protesters, leading to widespread arrests and world-wide dismay and condemnation. The Hydro and the Tassie government were dismissive of any criticism and saw it as outsiders meddling in Tasmanian affairs. As happened in 1930’s America where the photographs of the High Sierras by Ansel Adams were paramount in changing public opinion and convincing politicians to do more to conserve the natural environment, the photographs of Peter Dombrovskis brought the spectacular Tassie wilderness to the attention of the wider public and they were used in a media campaign that helped bring down the government of Malcolm Fraser at the 1983 election. The new government, under Bob Hawke, had promised to stop the dam from being built. The resulting stoush between the Tasmanian State government and the Australian Federal government ended up going all the way to the High Court which ended up as landmark decision in favour of the federal government. The building of the dams gave birth to Australian green politics and the conservation of the the Tasmanian Wilderness.

Moody Monochrome

Much is written about “Tasmanian Gothic” – a dark soberness that has its roots in the landscape and the colonial history. Personally I’m not a fan as I feel it colours much of modern-day Tasmania and restricts progress. But, there is no doubt that the weather and the landscape do particularly suit black and white or monochrome photography.

Beached
Wooden tender beached at Pirates Bay, Tasmania. Canon EOS 5D with Canon EF20mm f/2.8 USM lens. Exposure: 1/30 s at f/16.0 ISO 100

When I worked with film I loved the whole process for black and white photography. Picking a film and developer combination, then choosing a paper and then finally whether to tone the image or not. The whole process was magical and working in the darkroom, whether it was a commandeered bathroom or a purpose-built one was like a going back to the womb to create something wonderful. Admittedly an awful lot of the time I seemed to turn out a lot of dross, but it was an enjoyable process. To misquote  Kilgore’s eulogy in the Coppola classic film Apocalypse Now “I love the smell of fixer in the morning,”.

Kite Surfing #3
Kite surfing off Park Beach in Tasmania. Olympus E-M10 and OLYMPUS M.75-300mm F4.8-6.7 II lens. Exposure: 1/1600 s at f/6.3 ISO 200.

I would love to work with black and white film again – but living with a rainwater tank for our supply and with a septic tank for waste water management means that I cannot develop film at home and there are no labs in Tasmania that develop the film. So for now it is the digital option, which is not as magical and mystical as the darkroom, is in its own way just as satisfying. No longer following the Zone System laid down by St Ansel, I now expose to the right (ETTR) to get the maximum amount of tonal information in my RAW file and then process in Lightroom. The final black and white conversion is done in NikSoft’s Silver Efx Pro 2, which is always done the same way and mimics what I used to get with Ilford Delta 400 developed in Rodinol and then printed on Ilford FB Warmtone Multigrade paper. My Canon Pixma Pro9000 does a fantastic job of monochrome printing on Harman Gloss Baryta Warmtone. I’ve done two exhibitions using this combination and been delighted with the results.

Murdunna Moorings
Yachts moored on King George Bay Murdunna, Tasmania. Canon EOS 5D with Canon EF28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens. Exposure: 1/640 s at f/11.0 ISO 800.

Thankfully working digitally means that we can work in both colour and black and white at once, just making the decision of which way to go at the time of processing. It is a great time to be a photographer.

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

Olympus EM-10 Redux

 

It's Wet
It’s been raining – a lot! Most unusual for the Wheatbelt.

 

Well here I am back with another look at the EM-10 now I’ve had it in my possession for a month. First I’d like to thank reader Mike Hendren who set me straight about the bracketing feature. Thanks to him I’ve found that if you go into the HDR function then you can find lots of bracketing features. The camera is capable of in camera HDR and it processes the images as a jpg. The camera shoots a burst of four shots each with a different exposure and you have a choice of two settings for the output – one is more “dramatic” than the other.

 

Marwick's Barn
Marwick’s Barn, a large stone and timber structure with a high-pitched iron roof was built in the 1870s. Single exposure with just a little sharpening in Lightroom.

 

 

Marwick's Barn
In camera HDR from Olympus EM-10 using the “dramatic” setting.

Not a lot of difference really, just a flatter image. Scrolling past the in camera processing you can choose to bracket your exposures and then process the images on your computer. You have a choice of 3, 5 or 7 frames at -/+ 2 stops,  3 and 5 frames at -/+ 3 stops.  The picture below was 3 5 frames at -/+ stops and processed in Lightroom and HDR Efex Pro 2.

 

Marwick's Barn
Using the HDR bracketing function of the EM-10 to make 5 exposures -/+2 stops and then process in Google’s HDR Efex Pro.

If HDR is your bag then I think you have a definite idea of how you want your photos to look and will choose to blend the images in software on your computer. However, the function could be just the ticket if you’re a confirmed jpg shooter. Speaking of bracketing and jpgs,  then the Art Filter bracketing may prove to be a boon if you ever feel a little indecisive about how you want an image to look. You can choose as many of the filters as you like, but bear in mind that you will need a bit of patience while you wait for the buffer to be cleared.

 

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I must say that I’m pretty impressed with the robustness of the files the EM-10 produces, they hold up to post processing very well.

Albion
Detail of a vintage car radiator grill. Avon Tce, York, Western Australia. ORF processed in Lightroom and then in the desktop version of Snapseed.
Curly
Curly wire on a fence post. Focusing the Color-Heliar 75mm f2.5 wide open using focus peaking.Raw file processed using Lightroom and Snapseed.
Two's Company
Two horses kept on a property on the banks of the Avon River in York, Western Australia. Shooting with a 35mm Color-Skopar lens wide at f4 with focus peaking. Raw file processed using Lightroom and Snapseed.

 

Ceramic Flock
Sheep garden ornaments. Color-Heliar 75mm f2.5 wide open focused with focus peaking on the new Olympus EM-10. Raw file processed using Lightroom and Viveza 2.

Noise, both colour and luminance, seem very well controlled as this shot Diego my cockatiel shows.

Diego
High ISO noise test. Diego my cockatiel at ISO 6400. No noise reduction applied.
Diego's beak
High ISO noise test. Diego my cockatiel at ISO 6400. Close up of Diego’s beak to show noise.

 

Olympus has always had a good track record when it came to metering systems. The OM 3 and 4 introduced multi-spot reading with shadow and highlight priority, which made them very popular with adherents of the Zone System pioneered by Ansel Adams. The Om 40 saw the introduction of ESP metering which meters from several areas of the image and it is a more sophisticated version of this using 324 areas is present in the EM-10. Spot metering,  high light and shadow spot metering are also present, but multi-spot metering is not present. The metering is very accurate and backlit subjects don’t fool it into under exposing.

Razor Sharp
The ESP multizone metering handled this well with good detail being maintained in both the shadows and the highlights. Straight out of camera jpg.

A few readers asked questions about the capabilities of the camera. Several wanted to know whether the EM-10 was suited to BIF. Sorry the only biff I know about is jujitsu and aikido. Seriously I don’t have a lens long enough to attempt birds in flight, and when I try with my 40-150 they certainly take flight but can only be seen as tiny specks. I do have a sequence of Frida, my English Bull Terrier, doing a “bully run” .

 

Bully Run
Twelve frame sequence on low continuous shooting of my dog running towards me using the 40-150mm zoom. On some of the frames the focus tracking lost focus but then quickly reacquired.

I mentioned in the previous part of the review that I had used the EM-10’s pop up flash to act as a controller for off camera flash and several people asked how I did this. Well the video below should answer that question.

Another reader asked about using the inbuilt WiFi function. This is the first camera I have used with this function and I have to say I think it is really great. I used my iPad and it was brilliant to use it as a gigantic screen to aid with composition and focusing. The only downsides are that it uses up the camera battery real quick and you can’t use to in movie mode.

 

So, as I’ve got to know the camera have my feelings changed? Well I have to say when I first picked it up I felt that the camera felt unnecessarily complicated and frustrating to use. Four weeks on I have to say that we’re starting to establish a relationship, I’ve largely set the camera up so I don’t have to do much menu diving which means I can just get on and shoot. The metering is reliable and the files are great, so for still photography I think the EM-10 has the makings of good camera. As for video, well I’m still out to lunch on that one. As I said at the beginning of this entry it has been very wet here and so I’ve not had enough time to get out and shoot anything. I’m hoping to get out in the next week or two and shoot a small project with it, so when that is ready I’ll post my thoughts about it. Stay tuned for the next thrilling instalment.