Nostalgia Versus Current Reality

Paul in Majorca
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 trusty Olympus OM1n with the Olympus Zuiko 35-105mm f3.5-4.5 lens. Those were the days.

Since the trans-continental relocation of the global behemoth that is Paul Amyes Photography (PAP) I have been hunkered down in the research lab deep in thought. To continue with my quest for photographic world domination I have been contemplating a new fine art project with a commercial bent that trades heavily on nostalgia for a bygone age.

While studying photography at art school I took two units in fine art photography and I was particularly taken with alternative processes, namely gum bichromate and cyanotypes. I experimented with taking digital images and then turning them into an A4 sized negative and using that to contact print onto papers that I had coated. To tap into that nostalgia thing and enjoy a retro photographic process I initially thought about capturing the new images on large format and using the resulting negative to make the contact print. There is something very beautiful about a large format contact but this is countered by the very damaging effect a large format camera has on your bank account. So this made me think about using digital capture and then making a negative from the file. It is not particularly difficult and at art school I experimented with paper negatives and ones made using overhead projector sheets. The paper negatives were best oiled with WD40 and they produced an image which was softened by the natural fibres of the paper. OHP transparencies gave a sharper image but the out put still looked like a modern image. Then I had a brain wave. What if I took older lenses and adapted them to a modern high-resolution digital body. The Sony A7r is now appearing on the second had market at very reasonable prices, and these will continue to fall as Sony introduces a new updated model every other week (a slight exaggeration perhaps). But before I splashed out some serious cash I thought I better find out whether the motley collection of old lenses I’ve got tucked in a shoe box in my equipment cupboard would be suitable. I decided to put them on an m4/3 camera and see how they perform.


A New Lease Of Life
Four of my favourite lenses; an Olympus Zuiko 35-105 zoom, an Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.4, a Voigtlander 75mm shot telephoto and a Voigtlander 35mm lens.


The test was relatively straight forward. I’d use my Olympus EM1 as the camera body and mount the lenses using the relative adapters. The camera would be hand-held with the image stabilisation set manually to the focal length. The camera would be in aperture priority at base ISO (which for the EM1 is 200) and I would shoot wide open and then stop down full aperture stops until f8 – any smaller aperture and the results would be clouded by diffraction. I’d use focus peaking to focus accurately and I would refocus after every aperture change to avoid focus shift.

Voigtlander 35mm f2.5 Color Skopar
Voigtlander 35mm f2.5 Color-Skopar mounted on an Olympus OMD EM-1 mirrorless camera.

The lenses were:

Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.4 MC. This was the third version of the lens and was introduced in 1984. I had fond memories of the lens and it produced some cracking images for me.
Olympus Zuiko 35-105mm f3.5-4.5. This lens was introduced in 1983, which is when I bought it. It cost me a small fortune, if I recall correctly £189, which at that time was two weeks wages. At the time I thought it was worth it and I used it as my every day do anything lens right up until 2003 when I switch to Canon because I could no longer get my OMs serviced. This was a lens that figured prominently in my plan.
Voigtländer 35mm f2.5 Color-Skopar. Introduced in 2004 this was another favourite lens, it was tiny, and very sharp. I loved using this with Ilford Delta 400 on my Bessa R2. Again a lens I had very high expectations for.
Voigtländer 75mm f2.5 Color-Heliar Introduced in 1999 this was a lens I feel I should have liked. It is wickedly sharp and with its ten aperture blades produced wonderful bokeh. But for some reason I just did not click with it – I think it was the minimum focusing distance which made it possible to only get a head and shoulders portrait rather than a full headshot.


The images were shot with the camera in RAW and then opened up in Lightroom and examined at full screen size and then at 100%. There was no post processing done. The results weren’t really a surprise, but they were somewhat disappointing as they revealed some uncomfortable truths and some pleasant surprises. Here are the results:

Olympus 50mm f1.4 – wide open there was significant colour fringing, low contrast, and overall the image was soft getting worse at the edges. Stopping the lens down brought about significant improvements – the chromatic aberration all but disappeared by f8 and the corner sharpness really started to improve from f4. The bokeh was nice and smooth. A good start.


Olympus Zuiko 35-105mm f3.5-4.5
Olympus Zuiko 35-105mm f3.5-4.5. Focal length 105mm f4.5


Olympus 35-105mm – at 35mm and wide open the colour fringing very apparent even before pixel peeping at 100% and it didn’t improve any by f8. At 105mm and wide open the CA was significant but it does improve by f8, but is still visible. Edge sharpness was nothing to write home about wide open but by the time it was stopped down to f8 it did improve. Surprisingly the bokeh was better than expected at both extremes of the focal range.

35mm Color-Skopar – chromatic aberration was quite well controlled wide open and just improved as it was stopped down. The edge sharpness was slightly soft wide open but improved dramatically once stopped down to f4 and kept improving past that. Bokeh was a bit iffy, something that Voigtländers are often criticised for on the inter web.

Voigtlander 75mm f2.5 Color-Heliar
Voigtlander 75mm f2.5 Color-Heliar. Aperture 2.5

75mm Color-Heliar – straight off the bat this was a very strong performer and for me was a real surprise. Wide open CA was virtually non-existent and disappeared by f4. Edge sharpness was very good from f4 onwards. The bokeh was just gorgeous. The 10 aperture blades produce very smooth tonal transitions and lovely perfectly round bokeh balls.


Olympus Zuiko 35-105mm f3.5-4.5
Frida. Olympus OMD EM1 with Olympus Zuiko 35-105mm lens.


Olympus Zuiko 35-105mm f3.5-4.5
Avon Terrace – York. Olympus EM-1 with Olympus 35-105mm f3.5-4.5 lens.

Of the 4 lenses the poorest performer is the 35-105 zoom. In reality this should be expected in a thirty year old zoom lens design, but it is disappointing to me as I had such a high regard for this lens based upon my extensive use of it. Countless rolls of Fuji Velvia and Kodachrome 64 over a twenty year period had convinced me that it was a good performer. However slap it on a digital camera and the results are quite frankly so-so at best and absolutely pants at worst.

The 50mm has a lovely creamy dreamy quality to it that would make it very suited to fashion and beauty portraiture. The 50mm has a very nice smooth tonal fall off which now makes me question whether sensor size is as significant factor for this and that perhaps lens design also plays a considerable part.

The 35mm Color-Skopar was OK – meaning it wasn’t good or bad. I’d be interested to see what it does on a full frame sensor.


Voigtlander 75mm f2.5 Color-Heliar
Frida on Mount Brown taken on an Olympus EM10 with Voigtlander 75mm f2.5 Color-Heliar.


Voigtlander 75mm f2.5 Color-Heliar
Pig melons on Mount Brown. Olympus EM-10 with Voigtlander 75mm f2.5 lens.

The 75mm Color-Heliar was a revelation, and it is certainly the standout lens here. It was when introduced an underrated lens when introduced with the Bessa rangefinder film cameras and was quickly replaced with an f1.8 version. But since then this lens has developed quite a following with people adapting it for use on digital cameras. Voigtländer took a classic lens design, gave it modern glass and coatings, boosted the lens aperture blades to 10 and produced something rather special. For shooting studio portraiture it would make anyone look good. Definitely a keeper lens and quite possibly the kind of lens you’d buy a camera body for just so you can use it. If only the 35mm was that good – I’d go out and hit the camera shops and dent the credit card straight away.

Modern lenses are technically very good, most of the problems with vignetting, corner and edge sharpness and colour fringing are now corrected in camera by software. They are sharp and contrasty which appeals to a great many photographers who have only known digital imaging. The legacy lenses are sharp in the centre of the frame, but they have lower contrast and this doesn’t give the edge acuity that many digital photographers want. But this also makes them more attractive because they have character and render images in a more 3D way with smoother tonality. The test has shown that the Olympus Zuiko 35-105mm is really not up to the demands of a high-resolution digital sensor. Nostalgia destroyed by the brutal reality of modern digital imaging. The other three lenses could stand some further experimentation.

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.

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.

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



Wood Scorpion
Cercophonius squama, commonly known as the forest scorpion or wood scorpion, is found over much of Australia. It is, however the species of scorpion found in Tasmania.

I opened the door the other morning to find this little fella sitting on the door step.  Photographed with the Olympus EM-10, Olympus Zuiko 60mm f2.8 macro and the Olympus FL-600R (which I’m currently testing and I’ll be writing about it and the Olympus and m4/3 flash system). Exposure 1/30 s at f/8.0 at ISO 3200 aperture priority mode with -1 stop FEC. No animals and more importantly me, were hurt in the making of this photograph.

Blood Moon

The “blood moon” or the red lunar eclipse brought out the apocalyptic in me.

According to Wikipedia…”A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes directly behind the Earth into its umbra (shadow). This can occur only when the Sun, Earth, and Moon are aligned exactly, or very closely so, with the Earth in the middle. Hence, a lunar eclipse can only occur the night of a full moon… the red colouring arises because sunlight reaching the Moon must pass through a long and dense layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, where it is scattered…Several cultures allude to the lunar eclipse as being a good or bad omen. For example, in some Chinese cultures, people would ring bells to remove wild animals that bit the moon. During the Zhou Dynasty in the Book of Songs, the sight of a red moon engulfed in darkness led them to believe the sign as a foreshadowing of famine or disease.”  SPOOKY!
Thankfully we all woke up happy and well the next morning.

The weather conspired against me. I had planned my shoot using The Photographer’s Ephemeris, got my angles and location sorted out and then just half an hour before heading out I stuck my head outside and we have thick cloud cover. Bugger! What to do? I didn’t want to drive out to my location, walk to the point and stand in cold wind coming straight off of the Antarctic for nearly 3 hours with the chance of getting nothing. So I decided to set up my cameras on my deck and only start filming when there was a break in the cloud cover. So out of 3 hours and 20 minutes of potential eclipse action I got in total about 30 minutes.  Ah well I shall wait until the next one on the 04/04/2015.

Filmed using the time-lapse movie function on the Olympus OMd EM-10 with a 75mm f2.5 Color-Heliar and a Zuiko 40-150mm f4-5.6 lens. Additional footage filmed on a Canon 550d with 70-200mm f2.8 L IS lens

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.

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 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.

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.