York and its surroundings have have taken on a definite yellow tinge of late. This is mainly due to the canola crops in the fields but soursob and yellow daisies are also to blame. It’s not a warm and inviting yellow but rather a green tinged acidic looking yellow. Nevertheless it sends the tourists wild and as you drive round you can see countless people standing in canola fields having their picture taken or taking a selfie even though many of the fields have signs up asking people not to. I don’t know when this became a trend – I can’t remember people doing this when I grew up in Kent and Sussex. Mind you back then it wasn’t canola it was oil seed rape. I think it’s probably got something to do with mobile phones and Instagram, but as somebody who has only just started an Instagram account I can’t be too certain of that so don’t quote me.
Oh did I mention I’ve now joined the 21st Century and got an Instagram account? I’m not really au fait with it yet. That’s probably because I don’t really like messing about with images on my phone – I’d rather do it my computer but Instagram won’t let you upload from a computer. If anyone knows of a way to load photos to instagram from a desktop please let me know.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m always pleasantly surprised by the things I find while pootling along the back roads of Western Australia. Last weekend was a case in point. I was driving along the bucolic Ferguson Valley in the south-west of the state when I came across something that just expressed a sense of spontaneous anarchistic fun. That something was Gnomesville. We’ve all seen garden gnomes haven’t we? You know those kitsch garden ornaments usually made out of plaster and sometimes out of cement that can be found in gardens all over the world. Usually they are seen singly, occasionally in twos or threes. Sometimes you come across a garden that has maybe a couple of dozen and that is regarded as a bit OTT. So imagine a place with thousands of gnomes. That’s right thousands. The exact number is not known, but some reckon the figure could be as high as 5000. They are not in a garden, it’s not some commercial tourist attraction. Gnomesville is found on the verge by a roundabout in a very rural setting.
The whole thing is absolutely bonkers. So how did it start? Well there is the legend of Gnomesville which is as follows:
“A long, long time ago, a Gnome was travelling on an Australian country road. It was at night and far from anywhere. All around was leafy and green. A pleasant place.
By and by, he came to a fork in the road. He followed the road, which seemed to go around and around.
Now, being a little person, he could not see over the curb. If he did, the story would have ended here.
He walked all night with the feeling he was going nowhere. Roads branched off every so often. By the morning, he was exhausted. Then it was clear. He had come across a ROUNDABOUT—a circular intersection in the middle of (almost) nowhere.
This was something he had never seen as a country traveller.
But it was a nice place and reminded him of home. There was a bubbling brook and shady trees. So he stayed a while. And another while. Other Gnomes passed and visited, and many stayed. Word passed around.
Gnomes from far and wide left their gardens and came to visit. But they stayed. This was something new for the mostly solitary Gnomes. There was something irresistible about the place. It was as if the ROUNDABOUT was casting a spell.
For people who need the real actual true story well Kevin and Vicki Campbell were a local couple who played a large part in the creation of Gnomesville. The local shire had annexed some land from a neighbour to create a T junction at the bottom of a hill. The local residents weren’t too keen as they felt that it would be unsafe. So after a public meeting and some toing and froing it was decided that a roundabout would be built instead. Not long after a gnome appeared in a hollow tree by the roundabout. It was in fact the very spot where Vicki used to leave her bicycle when she caught the school bus as a child. It was the start of a gnome sit in protest. Soon there were twenty gnomes all showing solidarity. And so Gnomesville was born. I prefer the legend. Now people come from quite literally all over the world to leave a gnome. When I was there a young couple with their son had come all the way from Malaysia to leave a gnome. There are Dutch gnomes, gnomes from Japan, even from Finland. Gnomesville is a very cosmopolitan place.
So if you are in the vicinity of Bunbury and are kicking your heels wondering what to do take a drive out to the Ferguson Valley and enjoy the sights of Gnomesville. You could even stop off and buy a gnome to leave there.
*apologies to Wally Johnson and Bob Brown for corrupting the title to their all time Aussie favourite song “Home Among The Gum Trees”
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!
If you have slightly geeky bent, and to be honest if you are reading a photography blog it’s pretty much a given that you have, then Adobe’s Lightroom has several useful tools. One of the ones I’ve been looking at is the ability to look at your photographic work for a specific time frame, and in this case it’s for the year 2016. You can also look at the cameras and lenses you used for that period which enables you to see what patterns of equipment usage emerge. It might ultimately save you money i.e. if you have a hankering for an expensive lens you can look back on your past year to see if that focal length/s you used and whether the objective lens of your desires is one you’d actually use or not. This has actually happened to me – a while back I was working on my project Broncos and Bulls and I felt that the Canon EF 75-300 f4-5.6 IS was costing me shots as it wasn’t the fastest lens to focus and the images at the long end were pretty soft. I wanted a Canon 100-400 L IS but my then preferred local dealer didn’t have one in stock and after waiting nearly 3 months they informed they couldn’t get one. I allowed them to talk me into buying the Canon 70-200 f2.8 L IS with the Canon x2 converter which they had in stock. Their logic was that I’d end up using the 70-200 much more and would hardly use it combined with the teleconverter. Now looking back through my Lightroom library I can see that I’ve hardly used the 70-200 at all on its own and virtually all the times I have used it was in conjunction with the teleconverter. I should have stuck to my guns and gone to another dealer and that way I’d have a lens that met my needs gave and gave good image quality rather than put up with a convenient compromise.
So what have I deduced about my photography for 2016? Well I’ll start with commenting on 2015 – for that year over half my photographic output was shot with a DSLR (50:50 split between full frame and APS-C). In 2016 that dropped to 10% the other 90% was shot on mirrorless. The DSLR was only used for some macro work (radio controlled TTL flash), some architecture (a specialised lens) and one event where I had a crisis of confidence and didn’t think the mirrorless cameras would cope with high ISOs and low light focussing. When I look at lens usage it comes as a big surprise that one-quarter of the images were taken using adapted lenses and these with a focal range of between 15-135mm in full frame terms. Hmmm well I knew I preferred shorter lenses than
longer already, the main thing is that I enjoyed using legacy lenses and was more than happy with them in terms of image quality. I don’t have to use legacy lenses at all as I have 20 to 600mm covered by modern dedicated AF lenses. For work where it is appropriate I will use the legacy lenses because they give a certain aesthetic that I like which is a less digital and clinical look.
Well what will 2017 bring. Well for 2016 I experimented with finding a certain look. For 2017 will be more project driven as I have found the style I wanted and now want to put it to practice. There will be at least one new book (work on that has already started) and there will be some multi media projects. So exciting times indeed.
I hope for my readers that 2017 will be all that you hope and that you’ll be healthy and happy.
This is my fifth look at classic Olympus OM Zuiko lenses and how they perform on a Sony A7r.
Many years ago I had a very basic camera kit consisting of an Olympus OM Zuiko 50mm f1.8 and 135mm f2.8 lenses with an Olympus OM20.One summer I made a series of portraits of friends down on the beach at Bognor Regis and shot a couple of concerts using the 135mm. The speed and shallow depth of field enabled me to get some shots that sold very well and that cemented the idea of my turning professional in my mind. Unfortunately I was seduced by the lure of zoom lens convenience and part exchanged the 135 for the Olympus 35-105mm. While the zoom was very good and became my photographic workhorse I regretted letting the 135 go.
Fast forward some 30 years and I’ve been re-appraising my OM lens collection by mounting them on a Sony A7r. The results have exceeded my expectations so a little while ago I found my trawling EBay idly when I found a brand new OM 135mm f2.8 lens – and I mean brand new, never used complete in its unopened box. So I hit the “buy now” button and waited patiently for the lens to arrive. When it finally got here it was like being re-united with an old friend. The lens feels gorgeous – reassuringly sold and just oozing quality.The detents of the aperture ring cause it to have a very pleasing click as the ring is turned, and the focusing ring has a wonderfully smooth dampened action. The built in lens hood is a delightful touch in this day of $100 options one has to pay to get one for many modern lenses.
The E-Zuiko AUTO-T 135mm f/2.8 was one of the first lenses released when the OM system was launched in 1972. It is easily identifiable thanks to the chromed front filter ring (the so-called “silver nose”). In 1977 it was replaced by the Zuiko AUTO-T 135mm f/2.8. Other than the improved multi-coated optics and some cosmetic changes (notably the loss of the silver nose) the lenses are largely the same with an optical formula of 5 elements in 5 groups and both versions come in at a svelte 360g (12.7 oz) The lens departs from the common Olympus filter size of 49mm and uses one of 55mm to allow a larger front element to facilitate the extra light gathering capability of this over the f3.5 version. This is a very modest size though in this day of 77 and 82 mm filter threads used on many modern lenses. Common to all Olympus OM prime lenses the aperture ring is forward of the focusing ring which makes the lens well-balanced in the hand and easy to use. In this day and age of F1.4 and f1.2 primes the maximum aperture seems a little pedestrian, but the aperture range of f2.8 to f22 allows for depth of field control when combined with the compression effect of a true telephoto.
So down to the nitty-gritty – how does the lens perform on a modern digital camera. The quick answer is very well. Barrel distortion is virtually non-existent. In term of sharpness wide open the lens is pleasantly sharp although lacking in contrast and this improves when the lens is stopped down to f8. At the edges at f2.8 predictably the lens is very soft and has poor contrast. This is not altogether surprising considering the very simple design with no exotic elements. Things improve by f8 although it does not reach the standards of the centre.Vignetting is obvious wide open and again clears up as the lens is stopped down and disappears at f8. There is some chromatic aberration but it is very mild and easily fixed in Lightroom. The bokeh is nice and smooth but with only 8 aperture blades the “bokeh balls” turn into octagons as you stop down. When stressed by shooting into the sun veiling flare is very apparent, the solution to this is use a lens hood and that is easy as it is built into the lens.
One of the things I noticed when using this lens is that the weight and the resistance of the focusing ring shows the short comings of the Fotodiox adapter. You can feel the lens moving in the adapter as you turn the focus ring. The cheap no-name Chinese version was a lot worse. I am thinking about getting some longer lenses, but after this I think I’ll have to investigate a better adapter such as the one made by Novoflex.
So to sum up – to get a better lens you’ll have to spend a lot of money on a more modern highly corrected design. With the softer edges the lens makes a very good portrait lens and you could make a strong argument that the decreased contrast in the centre at f2.8 and f4 would make it very suitable for glamour photography. The true telephoto effect of this focal length makes it a useful lens when you wish to compress perspective when shooting landscapes. The focus throw is a little over 180º and that makes finding focus a precise affair and would appeal to film makers. All in all if you want a manual focus telephoto for use on a full frame sensor then seriously consider this one.
So far I have looked at the following Olympus lenses:-