Wandering Around Woodman Point

 

My latest pootle took me to Woodman Point south of Fremantle. It’s a very pleasant walk around an area with important Aboriginal, historic and environmental significance. Well worth a visit.

Woodman Point by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Woodman Point, Western Australia. Panasonic G85 with Panasonic LEICA DG 8-18/F2.8-4.0 lens with a Cokin Harmony variable neutral density filter. Exposure:: 1/3 sec, f16 at ISO 200.

 

 

Woodman Point by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Woodman Point Jetty. Panasonic G85 with Panasonic LEICA DG 8-18/F2.8-4.0 lens with a Cokin Harmony variable neutral density filter. Exposure: 1/3 sec, f16 at ISO 200.

 

This walk was also from my book Perth’s Best Bush, Coast, and City Walks,  published by Woodslane (ISBN 9781921606793 )  in 2010. It’s available from all good bookstores.

Hell Or High Water

Hell or high water is the new motto for the Avon Descent and was adopted because recent years have seen decreasing amounts of rainfall falling and competitors have had to carry their craft where there was insufficient water. This year, 2017 and the 45th occasion of the race, the water levels were high which meant potentially new records could be set. The Avon Descent was first held in 1973, and there were only forty-nine competitors. This year there were 370 competitors with many coming from interstate and overseas. In more ways than one it deserves the title the “world’s greatest white water event”. The 124 km or 77 mile two day event starts at Northam and finishes at the Riverside Garden in Bayswater with an over night stop at the Boral Campsite just outside Toodyay. For the majority of entrants the aim is just to complete the course, but for the elite athletes it is a chance of competing in a unique endurance race.

The beauty of this race is that you can pick out a few vantage points from a list put out by the race organisers on their website and follow the whole event documenting the whole story rather than just getting an isolated snap shot. In previous years I’d covered the race for magazines shooting stills and then writing the story. This year I had intended to cover the entire event from start to finish and it was to be first time I’d covered it shooting video. Having planned my weekend around the race it was time to check the maps and the approximate timings for each stage. For instance there was no point heading to the first stage after the start as I would not have had time to get there by car, park, and then walk along the river to find a good location to set up. Also I had to think about the weather conditions, because at some of the viewing points you are bussed in and that would mean I’d have to carry everything with me. As the forecast for the weekend was a cold start it was thermals, and fleece. he key was light layers that could be added or taken off as conditions permitted. Camera and lens choice was hard, and I found it difficult to make a decision. For the Friday shots I could work from the back of the car and it was all to be people shots around Northam and for the sake of mobility using either a monopod or a gimbal. In the end I decided to use the Sony A7r and with Olympus OM Zuiko lenses – the 20mm, 50mm and 135mm. This and the gimbal went in a belt pack. Saturday involved shooting at three sites and I wanted to shoot some time-lapse as well as video footage. So I chose the Olympus OMD EM 1 with 40-150mm f2.8 lens for the video work and the EM10 with 12-40mm f2.8 for the time-lapse. I couldn’t set up a tripod at the start as I was going to shoot on the swing bridge so I used a monopod for the video and for the time-lapse I clamped the Syrp Genie Mini to the bridge safety barrier with a Manfrotto super clamp. All this went into my photo back pack. Sunday was the biggest problem with no car access to Bells Rapids everything had to be carried. So I took the Canon EOS6d with 24-70mm, 70-200 and a x2 converter. I’d also need plenty of batteries and memory cards as there would be no nipping back to the car. I decided to carry all this in pouches on a belt as I needed to be able to scramble up some rocks to get a good vantage point. At Bells I mounted the camera on a tripod but at the finish line I shot just using a monopod.

The race happens on the first weekend of August every year. It kicked off on the Friday with the competitor registration at the Northam Swimming Pool and then their craft were taken down to the race marshalling area on the banks of the river. Late in afternoon and into the evening was the Avon River Festival with a huge fireworks display on the Avon River, stage shows featuring a variety of local talent, a family fun zone, rides for all the family, sideshow alley and roving entertainment, a community street parade, markets for avid shoppers, and food. On Saturday morning the event kicked off proper. As I arrived I could see hot air balloons drifting lazily above the river. The power craft were away quickly and smoothly and then it was the turn of the paddle craft. I was surprised to see that someone was competing for the first time on a Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP). Barely had half the paddle craft left than the news came through that the first power craft had reached Toodyay. It was going to be a very fast race with little hope of getting shots of the power craft. I spent a total of an hour and half standing on the swing bridge -it is a wire suspension bridge that bounces a lot, the police constable standing next to me complained of feeling seasick from the constant motion. It didn’t effect me but it really made me glad that I had the in body stabilisation activated on the cameras. After the start I went to Williamson Weir stayed there for an hour and a half. The Weir is man-made and its concrete lip and rock wall are hazardous to boat and paddler alike so around half the competitors choose to portage around it. Thankfully the other half run it and you get the thrills and spills with plenty of encouragement from the watching crowd. Finishing up in Toodyay for the day is great. There is always a great vibe with a tremendous crowd and a party like atmosphere. When I got there the town was packed and in full on carnival mode. It took an age to find some parking and get down to the river. Here there was a team change over area, and along the riverside were lots of anxious looking paddlers all staring up river for any sign of their team mates. As the first canoes started to come round the corner and pass under the timing gate they got their first sight of their team mates and their faces would burst into a huge grin of relief. The spectators would burst into rapturous cheers as the fresh team-mate paddled away heading for the Boral Campsite that marked the halfway point and the end of day one.

I couldn’t face getting up at 4;30am in the dark and freezing cold to get to the start at Boral Camp for day two so I just headed out a bit later and went straight to Bells Rapids in Walyunga National Park. You have to leave the car at the nearby state equestrian centre and then you taken in by bus. From there it was a quick walk to what I call the media rock. It’s a nice big rock that juts out into the river which gives a good view of the competitors coming under the bridge and through the rapids. I got there just as the TV crews were claiming their spots and setting up. I squeezed onto the end closest to the bank and put my tripod up to mark my territory. When the press photographers arrived they gave us a filthy look, but as they were shooting hand-held they didn’t need as much space. A little while later a hopeful photo enthusiast asked if could join us on the rock, one of the guys I know from the papers said it was OK if he didn’t talk about equipment – his or ours – and if he did he’d get thrown in the river. He decided that he couldn’t not talk about kit and took himself off somewhere else. After a couple of hours I knew that I’d have to get my skates on if I was to get to the finish line.

The finish line is in Bayswater a suburb of Perth. A huge screen had been put up and there was a live commentary being given. I positioned myself by the finish line as I find that the images taken as the paddlers beach their boats and walk ashore tells a very powerful story. It does not seem to matter whether they are newbie’s in their first race or veterans each face has a similar look etched upon it. It is a mixture of pain from the sheer physical effort, relief from finishing, and disbelief that it is all over. Some will swear that they will never do it again, but most know that even as they hit the finish line that they will be back next year.

So now a week later, I’ve edited the 50Gb of footage and made a 7 minute clip. As I write this I’m thinking about how things went and what I would change if I were to do it again. Well to start with I wouldn’t bother with the Sony. It produces very nice images, but the screen is terrible. It is winter here and the days aren’t as bright as they can be, but the Sony’s rear LCD panel is virtually unusable. The other thing that puts me off is that the user interface isn’t very intuitive and so adjusting some settings in a hurry is a pain in the nethers. The OMD EM1 mk i is constantly a surprise when shooting video. The touch screen is a pleasure to use and the phase detect auto focus does very well. It is tempting to run off and get a mk ii for the 4K and the improved focusing. The Canon EOS 6d was the surprise, the autofocus is crap, but Technicolor’s CineStyle Profile and Canon’s superb lenses produce gorgeous images. All it needs is a flippy flappy touch screen and dual pixel auto focus and it would be perfect. “The 6d mk ii has that!” I hear you say, but (and there is always a but) the mk ii’s video compression is worse than the mk i. What Canon give they take away! There is always the EOS 80d. I might try to hire one for the next project I shoot. I wish I’d used the gimbal more instead of the monopod, accepting the fact that I couldn’t use it for the long lens shots. Sound could be a lot better – it is the aspect of video I always struggle with. I’m also beginning to think that I’ve out grown iMovie – a better editor would give me some more options. I’ve downloaded DaVinci Resolve to give that a whirl on my next project. In many ways I’m no different to the competitors in the race – I’m already starting to plan for next year!

Guns and Roses

 

On the weekend of 19th-21st May 2017 I travelled with my significant other to the teeming Wheatbelt metropolis of Narrogin as she had entered the annual “Guns and Roses” croquet tournament put on by the Narrogin Croquet Club. Twelve of Western Australia’s best players (the “Guns”) would partner eighteen lesser ranked players (the “Roses”). Each “rose” would get the opportunity to play with a different “gun” at each round. The idea, which seems an excellent one I might add, is that inexperienced players can learn off of top players.  My role in this was the self-given task of producing a video documenting the proceedings.

Video is a fairly new medium for me, I’ve been playing around with it but I’ve really not got to grips with it. This was to be a complex multi day project and it wasn’t helped by the fact that it was bitterly cold and there was intermittent heavy rain (yes dear reader we do have cold wet weather in Australia). I ended up using my Olympus OMD EM1 mk i with the Olympus m.Zuiko 40-150mm f2.8 lens as the main camera, an Olympus Pen EP5 with the Olympus m.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 for wide shots, a Leica D-Lux for time lapses, and my iPhone for social video in the evenings. For sound I used shot-gun microphones (a Rode VideoMicro on the EM1 and a Rode VideoMic Pro on the EP5) to record straight into the cameras. No external audio recorder was used as I felt I had my hands full enough. By the end of the weekend I had got through nine batteries and ten 16Gb SD cards. The EM1 was used on a tripod (a Manfrotto MDEVE 755XB with Manfrotto MV500AH Fluid Video Head), the EP5 was on a video monopod (Manfrotto 562B-1 Fluid Video Monopod), and the Leica D-Lux was on a photo tripod (a very old Manfrotto 190 tripod fitted with an equally old ball head).

What I learnt from this exercise was:

  • the weather sealing on both the EM1 and the two lenses works very well. At times I got soaked in the rain and the camera just kept going with no adverse effects.
  • I should have used an audio recorder to get better sound and record some general background noise.
  • the 40-150mm f2.8 is not parfocal  (it is not sold as such) and the autofocus kept drifting and in some cases would not lock on at all. Trying to focus on the night games using just the rear screen and no peaking was hard. Either a camera that has focus peaking in video mode or a monitor that allows it would be really good.
  • I shot most of the footage at 1080 at 25fps except for that on the EP5 which only shoots 1080 at 30fps. I used Toast Titanium’s video converter to reconfigure it as 1080 25fps. On the whole it worked out well, but on two clips that I really wanted it dropped frames and lost the sound. So next time I won’t mix clips of different frame rates.
  • With four cameras, each having its own idea of what a neutral colour setting is, made life very hard during editing. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the 8 bit 4.2.0 files didn’t like being pushed too much in post as they would quickly fall apart. It would have been nice to have had a more video orientated camera with a flatter profile and more robust codec.
  • I did the slow motion in post, it would have been nice to have shot at 60fps or higher to get nicer slo-mo.
  • I should have shot more B-roll and tried to interview on camera some of the participants.

As a learning experience this was a very good exercise and I enjoyed the whole process immensely. If money were no object I’d get a more video orientated camera and a video field monitor and recorder, but being as I am fiscally challenged I’ll have to settle for some more memory cards and batteries.

 

Time Flies In York

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

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

 

FlatPack Hell

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

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

War Of The Roses

The White Rose of York from the Wars of The Roses

Last weekend you could be forgiven in thinking that the War of The Roses had broken out afresh in the Western Australian town of York. There were lots of grim looking men glad in chain mail and armour brandishing an assortment of fearsome looking weapons while women wafted around wearing hose, kirtles, gowns, surcoats, girdles,  and bonnets while listening to bards strum away on lutes.

 

York Medieval Fayre 2016
A grim looking man in chain mail with a fearsome looking axe.

 

Thankfully it was just the York Medieval Fayre and I like the many others had come to hang out by the Avon River and watch all manner of Medieval goodness with displays from the Grey Company, House Darksun and the Mad Tatters Morris Dancers.

The images were shot with an Olympus OMD EM-1, an OMD EM-10 with Olympus m.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 and 40-150mm f2.8 lenses. The files were processed in Adobe Lightroom and Alienskin Exposure X.

 

 

 

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.

On The Right Track

 

Beverley Station Arts
The entrance to Beverley Station Arts in the Western Australian town of Beverley.

 

Those who regularly follow my blog will know that I’m currently the artist in residence at Beverley Station Arts in Western Australia. So for this entry I’ll talk a little about the place. The town of Beverley is located some 130Km (or 80 miles for those still using imperial measurements) east of Perth in the Avon Valley in the Wheatbelt of Western Australia.  The Beverley Arts Gallery Committee was inaugurated in 1967 with the aim of establishing a venue for the fine arts in the town. Sir Claude Hotchin a noted arts benefactor donated work from his collection with the aim of starting the fledgling gallery off. The collection is now housed in what was the old railway station in Beverley.

 

Beverley Station Arts
Inside the exhibition space at Beverley Station Arts. Sony A7r, Fotodiox OM to Nex adapter, Olympus OM Zuiko 21mm f3.5 lens. Exposure: 1/400th sec, f5.6 at ISO 6400.

 

 

Beverley Station Arts
The old station master’s quarters is now where the visiting artists in residence are accommodated. Beverley Station Arts, Western Australia. Sony A7r, Fotodiox OM adapter, Olympus OM Zuiko 21mm f3.5 lens. Exposure: 1/400th sec, f8 ISO 400.

 

Beverley Station Arts also utilizes the former station masters living accommodation for the artist in residence program. This allows an artist to base themselves at the gallery and produce work, put on an exhibition, run workshops and generally interact with the community. Recently an open air stage was built which is suitable for all the performing arts. It has a seating capacity of 500 and local audiences enjoy music, theatre, movies and dance under the stars during the summer months. On Saturday 10th September 2016 the venue hosted the Voice Moves Country Choir Bash. This year there were eight participating choirs:

Born To Sing
Rossmoyne Community Singers
Beverley Station Singers
Strike A Chord
Voices In Sync
Two Up Two Down
The Semi Tones
Summerhouse

 

Beverley Station Arts
The Platform Theatre performing space at Beverley Station Arts, Western Australia. Sony A7r, Fotodiox OM to Nex adapter, Olympus OM Zuiko 21mm f3.5 lens. Exposure: 1/200th sec, f8 at ISO 400.

 

As is usual in country Western Australia a sumptuous afternoon tea was provided in the intermission. The event was great fun and enjoyed by both the audience and the participants alike. Below is a short video featuring the Beverley Station Singers.

 

Beverley Station Arts
The garden bench even has a railway theme. Beverley Station Arts, Western Australia. Sony A7r, Fotodiox OM to Nex adapter and Olympus OM Zuiko 21mm f3.5 lens. Exposure: 1/80th sec, f16, at ISO 400