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.

 

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.

A Walk Back Through Time – the Hobart Rivulet

Hobart has a fascinating colonial history which on many levels can be seen from the the buildings of the era, but they don’t really tell what life was like during that period. Wouldn’t it be great if you could go back through time and see Hobart and how the people lived? Well you can – sort of. No this doesn’t involve travelling back through time à la Doctor Who, but rather a short walk of just over 5.5Km (or 3.4 miles) return and a morning of your time.

Hobart Rivulet Park
Following Hobart Rivulet upstream from the city to the foot of kunanyi / Mount Wellington, this trail has a gentle uphill grade and is well suited to bikes and dogs on lead.

The starting point for our time travelling adventure is the Collins Way Car Park situated on the corner of Molle and Collins Streets. Walk through the car park to the start of the Hobart Linear Park and then follow the sign for the Hobart Rivulet Walking Track. The Hobart Rivulet was crucial to the establishment of Hobart as a city. Back in 1803 the Van Dieman’s Land colony was first established upon the banks of the Derwent’s eastern shore at what is now Risdon Cove. Its purpose was to a be a place where Nineteenth Century Britain could send its convict population and a defence against possible French colonial intentions in the region. Fresh water was a problem and after approximately twelve months the settlement was moved to its present location because of what Lieutenant-Governor David Collins described as ‘a run of clear, fresh water’ flowing down off of Mount Wellington (kunanyi, Unghbanyahletta or Poorawetter in the local aboriginal languages) into the River Derwent. The settlement, initially known as Hobart Town or Hobarton, was named after Lord Hobart, the then Colonial Secretary. From 1804 to the 1860’s the rivulet was Hobart’s primary source of drinking water, drain and sewer. Industry quickly established itself upon its bank using the force of the descending water to power the factories. In 1816 Robert Nash, was a miller who was convicted of breaking and entering (or B and E in the parlance) and had his death sentence commuted in favour of transportation for life to Norfolk Island and was then lucky enough to earn a full pardon and be moved to Hobart, established a flour mill near the Gore Street Weir. The mill had a short working life due to the high costs of maintenance and was closed in 1818 to be replaced by a windmill.

 

Hobart Rivulet
The site of one of the many sluices that were used to control the flow of the water so it could power the many factories that had set up on the banks of the Rivulet.

 

Milton House
Milton was originally the residence of George Wilson who settled in Hobart in 1831 with his family. Wilson opened Hobart’s first tobacconist and snuff shop. The house is a good example of Georgian colonial architecture.

 

After walking just over 500m you can see a rather nice specimen of colonial Georgian architecture on you right hand side. Milton House was originally built on a one acre allotment which was originally granted to George Wilson soon after his arrival in Hobart Town 1831. George Wilson was born in England in 1801 and he was, by trade, a tobacconist and snuff maker in partnership with H.B.Tonkin. Wilson was on his way to Sydney in 1831 with his wife and two daughters, but during his stopover in Hobart he was so taken with the colony that he decided to settle in Hobart. A few years later his partner arrived from England and they set up the first tobacco and snuff shop in Tasmania. Owning the colony’s first baccy shop was obviously a nice little earner for George.

 

Mount Wellington
Just before reaching Wynard Street you get the first uninterupted view of Mount Wellington.

At the 1Km point you get the first uninterrupted views of the summit of Mount Wellington if the weather is cooperating. By 1820 there were four or five tanneries operating along this stretch of the Rivulet. Leather was an essential commodity in the colony and was used not only for saddles, horse tack, belts, and shoes it also was used to replace metal in the manufacture of buckets and hinges amongst other things. Leather tanning is a water intensive process and after it was finished with it was returned to the Rivulet along with the tanning agents it had dissolved. Now there is only one tannery in existence which supplies leather to Blundstone the Tasmanian boot maker.

 

Hobart Rivulet Park
Until the 1860s Hobart Rivulet was the main source of fresh water for the new settlement and so the colony grew up along its banks.

Walk past the C3 Church complex, or if you’re in need have a drink at the Rivulet Cafe (open Monday to Fridays between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm) and on to Degraves Street. Here on your right is the Cascades Female Factory. Back in the penal colony days the male prisoners were segregated from the female ones and initially the women were held at the Macquarie Street Gaol. This was only seen as a temporary arrangement and the facility soon became over crowded. Between 1788 and 1853 around 12,000 women were shipped to Tasmania, mostly for what we would now consider petty crime and anti-social behaviour. But in 1823 it was a big problem and the Cascades Female Factory was set up as a workhouse and it remained in operation until 1856. There is not much left of the original buildings, just the matron’s cottage really, but it is worth going in and having a look. Take the tour and learn about what happened to these poor women and the depravations they lived with while there.

 

Cascades Female Factory
The entrance to the Cascades Female Factory Historic Site in South Hobart. The factory was essentially a workhouse where female convicts were held, educated, put to work and finally placed in indentured labour for the term of their prison sentence.

 

Cascades Female Factory
Just inside the main gate of the Yard 1. The guide is explaining what happened when the women first walked through the gates. This is where the women would be processed. The words on the wall are descriptions of the prisoners taken from their prison records.

 

Cascades Female Factory
The matrons quarters at the Cascades Female Factory. Originally built in 1850 the it was a simple four room cottage. Three of the rooms were assigned to the matron – the parlour, bedroom, and kitchen – the fourth was used messengers. It is the only surviving building from the convict era on the site.
Cascades Female Factory
The parlour of the matron’s cottage in the Cascades Female Factory.

On leaving the Female Factory keep walking up Degraves Street until you get to Cascade Gardens and the Cascades Brewery. The brewery was opened in 1832 as an adjunct to the Macintosh and Degraves Sawmills. The early history of the venture would probably make the basis of a good TV drama. Hugh Macintosh was a retired East India Company officer who migrated to Australia in 1824 with his brother-in-law Peter Degraves. Degraves was a bit of a rotter and scoundrel being a thief and an undischarged bankrupt. The law catches up with Degraves and from 1826 to 1832 he ends up in debtors prison. Macintosh does the right thing by him and dissolves the partnership and pays out the debts and then moves to New Norfolk to farm. Degraves on his release takes over running the brewery. All fairly amicable and straight forward at this stage. Unfortunately Hugh Macintosh dies in 1834 and his share in the business passes to his son William who was in Madras, India. The dastardly Degraves offers to buy William’s inheritance off of him and run the booming business himself. Degraves reneges on the deal and poor William dies a pauper in 1840. Degraves rewrote the history of the firm saying that he was the sole founder of the company and that remained that until 2011 when historian Greg Jefferys discovered the truth. The brewery is now owned by Fosters and produces a range of beers, homebrew, apple cider and non-alcoholic beverages including apple juice, blackcurrant syrup and carbonated beverages. The brewery has a visitor’s centre and runs two tours: the brewery tour which takes you round the brewery and have a tasting; the heritage tour takes you round the gardens and museum and it is more family orientated.

 

Cascade Gardens
Cascade Gardens. Autumn is probably one of the best times to do the walk as the tree leaves start turning a wonderful golden colour.

 

Cascade Brewery
Australia’s oldest brewery situated near the Rivulet, the stream that was the reason Hobart was built.

 

Cascade Brewery
Cascade Brewery

 

Messing About In Boats.

“What?” cried the Rat, open-mouthed: “Never been in a—you never—well I—what have you been doing, then?””Is it so nice as all that?” asked the Mole shyly, though he was quite prepared to believe it as he leant back in his seat and surveyed the cushions, the oars, the rowlocks, and all the fascinating fittings, and felt the boat sway lightly under him.

“Nice? It’s the only thing,” said the Water Rat solemnly as he leant forward for his stroke. “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolute nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,” he went on dreamily: “messing—about—in—boats; messing—”

“Look ahead, Rat!” cried the Mole suddenly.

It was too late. The boat struck the bank full tilt. The dreamer, the joyous oarsman, lay on his back at the bottom of the boat, his heels in the air.

“—about in boats—or with boats,” the Rat went on composedly, picking himself up with a pleasant laugh. “In or out of ’em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you’d much better not. Look here! If you’ve really nothing else on hand this morning, supposing we drop down the river together, and have a long day of it?”

Wind In The Willows, Chapter 1 by Kenneth Grahame

2015 Australian Wooden Boat Festival Hobart
The MyState Australian Wooden Boat Festival is held every two years and Hobart’s historic waterfront comes alive with the colour and excitement of Australia’s rich maritime culture and history.
2015 Australian Wooden Boat Festival Hobart
There were hundreds of wooden boats, from magnificent tall ships to classic sailboats, rugged working boats to superbly detailed models.
Madoc, Hobart
The Madoc is a Fenwick Williams “Annie”. The MyState Australian Wooden Boat Festival is the largest wooden boat festival in the Southern Hemisphere .
2015 Australian Wooden Boat Festival Hobart
2015 Australian Wooden Boat Festival Hobart
Hop The Wag
Hop The Wag is an old English saying which means to play truant.
The Black Pearl
Captain Jack Sparrow has docked and gone walkabout at 2015 Australian Wooden Boat Festival in Hobart.
Hanging From The Yard Arm
Hanging From The Yard Arm. The captain of the Lahara deals with pirates very seriously as pirate Ted found out.
Tasmanian Gilbert & Sulivan Society
The Tasmanian Gilbert and Sulivan Society get all swash buckling at The Elizabeth Street Pier.
Tasmanian Gilbert & Sulivan Society
A Member of the Tasmanian Gilbert & Sulivan Society at the Elizabeth Street Jetty.
Ride the prancing ponies
The much-loved 1880 Steam Carousel was whirling all weekend in the Princes Wharf Forecourt.
Single-oar sculling
Single-oar sculling is the process of propelling a watercraft by moving a single, stern-mounted oar from side to side while changing the angle of the blade so as to generate forward thrust on both strokes.

Thylacine Sighted In Richmond

I went to the touristy olde world town of Richmond a little while ago and saw a Tasmanian Tiger or Thylacine. It had been turned into a garden ornament – “gnomified” if you like, just like the Buddha has been.

Tasmanian Tiger, aka the thylacine, spotted in a front garden in Tasmania’s historic town of Richmond.

Tasmanians have a very complicated relationship with the Tassie Tiger. Images of the thylacine can be seen everywhere, it’s on beer labels, the state coat of arms, the coat of arms for Launceston, the logo for Tourism Tasmania. In fact it is everywhere. You might, therefore, come to the conclusion that it is a much-loved animal. In a way it is, but the truth is it wasn’t.

The Tasmanian Tiger roams in Salamanca, Hobart, Tasmania.

The Thylacine was a shy reclusive animal, the last of its kind – a carnivorous marsupial that was an apex predator and whose relatives went back into the mists of the mammalian era some 5 to 23 million years ago (the Miocene). Computer modelling has shown that the thylacine was not a very strong animal and would have been incapable of handling anything larger than 5Kg and it is now widely believed that they were ambush predators who preyed on small animals such as bandicoots and possums. When the first aboriginal people crossed to the Australian Continent via a land bridge some 40,000 years they brought with them the first dogs, the descendants of what we now call the dingo. The dog was simply a much better and more adaptable predator than the thylacine and by the time British colonisation started they were already extinct on the mainland. When the first settlers in Tasmania saw the thylacine they named it the Tasmanian Tiger or Tasmanian Wolf. There was an apocryphal tale appealing to Victorian gothic drama that can be traced back to just one source that the Thylacine was a blood drinker which preyed on sheep and poultry. That sealed its fate and a bounty was placed upon it and it was hunted vigorously.

A particularly moth eaten stuffed thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, in the Tasmanian state museum.

The bounty of £1 for a dead adult and 10 shillings for a dead pup meant that by the 1920’s it was rare to see a thylacine in the wild. In 1930 a farmer by the name of Wilf Batty shot the last wild one. This was bad enough but the tale takes a more tragic turn. In 1933 the Hobart Zoo acquired a thylacine, which was later referred to as Benjamin, which lived there for three years. Inevitably the animal died not of old age but because it was locked out of its shelter on a very cold Tasmanian night. In effect killed by neglect. The last of a species going back millions of years killed because somebody couldn’t be bothered to make sure it was sheltered safely for the night.  So after 133 years of settlement, thirty years after a conservation movement was founded seeking its protection and just 59 days after the Tasmanian government signed a conservation order to protect it the last thylacine had died. Optimistically it remained on the endangered list until the 1980’s , but with no confirmed sightings for 50 years it was declared officially extinct.Every now and again there is some crack pot scheme to clone it from DNA harvested from remains in museums, or some millionaire will put a reward for the capture of a live one, but the reality is that the thylacine is long gone because of an indifference to its plight.

In the mid 1990’s a biologist by the name of Nick Mooney gave an interview to the Hobart Mercury newspaper. Mooney was concerned that the attention the thylacine was getting was diverting the attention away from Tasmania’s other iconic animal – the Tasmanian Devil. He argued that the Devil should be researched and protected. Many people thought that he was barmy as there were more Devils in Tasmania then than at the time of first settlement and farmers were claiming that they were at plague proportions and were a threat to livestock. Fast forward twenty years and the devil is now on the verge of extinction from a combination of devil facial tumour (a transmissible cancer), habitat destruction, traffic fatalities and environmental pollution caused by high levels of flame retardant chemicals found in consumer electronics. These chemicals are banned and were phased out in the 1980’s but their effects are still being felt and it is thought that they play a part in devil facial tumour disease. Because devil populations are declining the gene pool is also diminishing this had laid the Devils very vulnerable to  disease.

The devil is an iconic symbol of Tasmania and many organisations, groups and products associated with the state use the animal in their logos. It is seen as an important attractor of tourists to Tasmania.

Today Tasmanians mourn the passing of the thylacine even though there are very few people who are left alive that actually saw one. All that remains are a few preserved specimens in museums, some black and white photos and some grainy film footage. Tourist operators say that the extinction of the devil will severely impact their industry and slowly people are starting to wake up to the fact that the devil is likely to go the same way if something is not done. There has been some research on the on devil facial tumour disease which is fantastic. So is devil saved? Well some scientists believe that the only way for the devil to survive is to quarantine healthy devils in captivity and let the wild population die out. Even if the wild population could survive the current Tasmanian state and Australian Federal governments are working to open up Tasmania’s national parks and world heritage areas to commercial logging. The federal government is also not prepared to fund research into Devil Facial Tumour Disease. So at present your best chance of seeing a Tasmanian devil is either at a zoo, animal sanctuary or dead beside a road. In another twenty years all we could be left with is some video footage and some memories. I would urge every Australian and prospective visitor to Tasmania to write to:

Matthew Groom the Tasmanian minister for the environment

and

Greg Hunt the federal minister for the environment

asking that more funding should be given to ensure the survival of the devil and to ask them not to open the Tasmanian national parks to logging.

 

They’re not the most loveable of creatures but the world would be a worse place without them.

A Small Surprise

The Olympus 25mm f1.8 standard lens. Small but beautifully formed. Olympus even give you a lenshood!

The other day I was sitting at my desk just idly surfing the net when a courier van pulls up and leaves a small box. Once unwrapped it revealed an even smaller box containing  the Olympus m.Zuiko Digital 25mm f1.8 lens. Now for a long time I’ve always believed that every photographer should own a fastish standard lens. In fact I also believe that if should ever find yourself in the photographic doldrums then just committing to use a standard lens for a period of 12 months will see your photography improve no end. I had one for my OM film system (and still have and use it) and I have one for my Canon EOS digital kit, but a little while back I had a dalliance with film range finder cameras and I eschewed the fast 50mm in favour of a pancake 35mm moderate wide-angle. In fact I was so smitten with the focal length that when I adopted the m4/3 system the Olympus 17mm f2.8 pancake was a must have, and if I look through my Lightroom catalogue over half the picture I’ve taken with my Pen and OMD have been with that lens. So now I’m in possession of a fast standard again.

No obvious lens distortion.

My initial impressions are that although it has a plastic body it is well made, although not as well made as say the 60mm f2.8 macro. It continues with the clean modern lines that Olympus adopted with the launch of the EM-5 and it feels well-balanced on both my EP-2 and EM-10. The other small thing that makes feel very positive about the lens is that Olympus have finally stopped being tight and are including lens hoods. The hood is hard plastic and bayonets securely on to the lens after the front cosmetic rim of the lens has been removed. Nice – a good lens should have a lens hood to get the best out of it. After a couple of days of shooting stills out and about I found that the focal length took a little adjusting to, it is a bit narrow for my tastes, but I quickly adapted and started looking for subjects that would play into its strengths.

DOF comparison 1 Olympus Zuiko 25mm f1.8 lens wide open at f1.8
DOF comparison 2 Olympus Zuiko 25mm f1.8 lens at f8
DOF comparison 3 Olympus Zuiko 25mm f1.8 lens at f22

So optically how did it fare? Very well. There is no distortion worth talking about and although shooting wide open there is some slight chromatic aberration but this disappears very quickly and by f4 it is gone. Sharpness is good with the centre of the lens performing very well wide open with some softening towards the corners again things improve quickly as you stop down, but get down past f11 and things start to soften up again as diffraction rears its ugly head. Diffraction isn’t a fault of the lens it is a problem with the size of the sensor, and all sensor and film sizes suffer from it. The lens isn’t what I would call “clinically” sharp in the way a lot of modern lenses are, it renders nicely and has a nice fall off from sharp edges to the out of focus areas. I’m not by any means a bokeh slut but this lens does render out of focus specular highlights in a very pleasing way. It made me want to go out and look for images that would give me those velvety smooth transitions.

Decentering test on the Olympus 25mm f1.8 at f1.8.
Decentering test on the Olympus 25mm f1.8 at f5.6.
Beachside Bully Run. The autofocus is quick and accurate and was able to track my dog running erratically on the beach.

The lens focuses insanely quickly on the EM-10, which is as it should be on the latest generation of m4/3 cameras and is no slouch on my first generation EP-2. The worrier of DPReview now obsess over centring and on the micro four thirds forum the hysteria regarding the Olympus 25mm is something to behold. A few people there are expecting lens perfection from this lens and unfortunately no lens is perfect. Does the lens suffer excessively from being de-centred – well according my exhaustive testing of just one sample lens the answer is no. The lens is well within acceptable and I have seen much worse on lenses that cost ten times the amount this one does. My advice is that if you spend all day shooting pictures of brick walls and sheets of newspaper right way up and upside down then blow the resulting shots up to 3 or 400 % and then worry continually that you have a bad copy, or your rate of return rate of “faulty” products is so high that the customer service people know who is on the line just from the sound of your voice then you need a new hobby, therapy or both. Life is short, hobbies are supposed to bring enjoyment and fulfilment not create endless gear angst.

White flowers with bokeh balls. Dodges Ferry, Tasmania.
Tea Strainers
Banoffee pie Banjo’s Bakery, Hobart, Tasmania.
Liberal Party Hobart, Tasmania.
Coffee Lovers Hobart, Tasmania.
On location filming at the Bellerive Yacht Club with the Olympus EM-10 and 25mm f1.8 lens.

For video the lens is a very good choice. I shot the video clip below to test the lens’ resistance to flare, how it coped with continuous focus in video, close focusing and bokeh rendition.

Now there are some lenses which are so good that people buy into the system just to have a copy of that lens. Is the Olympus 25mm one of those? The short answer is no, but that is a disservice to this lens. It is a very capable performer and I think it should be given serious consideration by anyone who is already invested in the micro four thirds system. I really must say I was pleasantly surprised at how well the 25mm performed. It’s not the fastest lens, it’s not the most expensive, nor is it the cheapest. There are other m4/3 lens that are optically superlative and there are those whose performance is less than stellar to put it mildly. The Olympus m.Zuiko Digital 25mm f1.8 lens is a “Goldilocks” lens – just right.

Ouch! Don’t headbutt the buildings – it hurts.
Blowing in the Wind Bellerive Yacht Club, Tasmania.
The SS Kosciusko part of the facade of the Waterfront Hotel in Bellerive.
Looking out over the marina at Bellerive Yacht Club.
Stool Samples Hobart, Tasmania.

It’s Still Raining

 

Well in my last entry I said that it was raining and a week or so later it still is. The talk in the vast wheat belt metropolis that is York is all about rain gauges and how much has fallen in the last 24 hours. Serious stuff round these parts are rain gauges. We at Paul Amyes Photography (PAP) Towers don’t have a rain gauge as Frida, my bull terrier, ate it and so we’re now no longer able to participate in conversations about precipitation but just have to listen and nod sagely.

 

Lady Baron Falls in Mount Field National Park, Tasmania. Olympus EP-2 with OLYMPUS M.12-50mm F3.5-6.3 lens.

 

Speaking of things rain, this neatly segues  into rain forests – notably the temperate rain forests of Tasmania. Before I went to Tasmania the only experience I’d had of rain forest was of the tropical variety which have voracious thirsty insects the size of small helicopters making you anaemic and the heat and humidity has you drowning in your own sweat. So the temperate rainforest came as quite a nice surprise. Cool temperate rainforest is characterised by an open and verdant, cathedral-like quality; a silent, cool, dark and damp place where both the trunks of trees and the forest floor are festooned with a luxuriant carpet of mosses and lichens. The first of these forests we encountered was at St Columba Falls, which is really just a short walk to the base of the waterfall which is quite impressive. But the best bit for me was walking along the creek amongst the myrtle (Nothofagus cunninghamii) and  tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica) and rock hoping on the boulders in the stream. The creek is home to duck-billed platypuses (platypi?) and they make their burrows in the banks but we didn’t see any. This heavily forested area was once home to the thylacines, commonly called the Tasmanian Tigers, which was once Australia’s largest carnivorous marsupial and has been listed as “presumed extinct” since 1986, fifty years after the last documented thylacine died at Hobart Zoo in 1936. There have been some 4,000 reported sightings of thylacines over the past 50 years, many in the north-east region and St Columba Falls was the scene of one famous 1995 sighting, when a local ranger reported spotting a tiger sitting on a rock ledge near the falls. It is very easy to imagine that this incredibly primeval environment could be home to the last of almost mythological creatures.

 

Russell Falls in Mount Field National Park. Tasmania. Olympus EP-2 with OLYMPUS M.12-50mm F3.5-6.3 lens.

 

The next place we experienced the rain forest was in Mount Field National Park. The park is one of Tasmania’s oldest national parks and within its boundaries has a number of different ecosystems ranging from temperate rain forest, eucalyptus forest and alpine heath. The rain forest is located in the lower reaches of the park and probably the most visited area as there are a series of short easy walks that take you to such features as Russell falls, Horseshoe Falls, Lady Baron Falls and Pandani Grove. There is an excellent campsite within the park which allows visitors the opportunity to stay for a few days to really explore. True to its name – rainforest it was raining and my gore-tex was completely overwhelmed by the rain and I was soaked through to the skin. The sights and sounds were overwhelming. The sound of flowing water was never far away and this quickly turned into a roar as we approached the water falls. The tree ferns towered above us, I had always associated ferns with being pot plants and seeing these altered my perception. The tree trunks are so covered in lichens and mosses it is like they have a green fur coat on. These forests are the last remnants of those found the supercontinent of Gondwana and date back an incredible 110 million years. Again like Columba Falls this area was home to the thylacine and the last known wild one was captured in the park in 1933.

 

A particularly moth-eaten stuffed thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, in the Tasmanian state museum.

 

St Columba Falls State Reserve

 

Photographically speaking these were quite challenging conditions. Firstly under the tree canopy not a lot of light reaches the forest floor so high ISO and or tripods are the order of the day. Occasionally you’ll frame up a scene that has a small clearing which allows sunlight to shine through and this plays havoc with your metering as the highlights in the clearing to shadow can exceed 13 or 14 stops far beyond what any camera sensor or film (if you’re old school) can record. If you meter for the shadow the highlights are lost forever, and if you meter for the highlights the shadows block up. I’m quite addicted to HDR photography at the moment (as if you hadn’t noticed!) so I was easily able to overcome those problems. The other problem is that there is a fair amount of moisture in the air especially near the waterfalls. I don’t baby my equipment at all, and have never cocooned my equipment in plastic and have never had a problem. The was beads of water forming or condensation on the front element of the lens. The only solution is to keep wiping this off with a lens cloth. I was wearing shirts by Rohan and one of the ingenious features of these shirts is that on the shirt tail on the button edge they have sewn in a lens cloth. They market the feature for glasses wearers but I reckon it is great for photographers. It means I can never lose my lens cloth as nearly every shirt I have has one built in. Brilliant!

 

St Columba Falls State Reserve (295 ha), where the cascading waters of St Columba Falls plunge nearly 90 m from the Mt Victoria foothills to the valley of the South George River.A short walking track through a forest of tree ferns, sassafras and myrtle takes you to the falls. Olympus EP-2 with OLYMPUS M.17mm F2.8 lens.

 

 

Why I Love Tasmania

On the last weekend of our trip to Tasmania we got the weekend paper and saw they were running a video competition on the theme “Why I Love Tasmania”. Bugger! If I’d known I would have taken a lot more kit, recorded in 1080, used an external recorder with better microphones and written a proper story board and script. Why didn’t I find out about this at the beginning of the trip.  Ah well I thought you’ve got to be in it to win it and I put together a short video with what I had shot on my Olympus EP-2 with the SEMA-1 mic which is only marginally better than the built in camera mic, and the four lenses that I always carry when on holiday – the Olympus 17mm f2.8, the 12-50mm f3.5-6.3, the 40-150mm f4-5.6 and the 60mm f2.8 macro. This trip was the first trip I’d taken my tripod, thankfully with a fluid head, and my video monopod (which I happen to think is one of the best accessories I have bought for doing run and gun video). In my wildest dreams I don’t expect to do well in the competition let alone win it, but it was a bit of a larff doing it and it was good experience to work to a deadline on a project.