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.

 

2016 In Review

Faversham
The Faversham vintage van in Avon Terrace, York, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM-1 with Olympus OM Zuiko 35-105mm f3.5-4.5 lens. Exposure: 1/200 sec, f5.6 ISO 400.

 

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.

 

Gotcha!!! by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Gotcha. Steer roping, Boddington Rodeo Western Australia. Canon EOS 5D with Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS L and x2 converter. Exposure: 1/800 s at f/5.6 ISO 200
 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

 

Quairading Railway Station by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Aboriginal art at Quairading Railway Station, Western Australia. Sony A7r with Olympus OM Zuiko 24mm f2.8 lens. Exposure: 1/4000, f8 at ISO 400.

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.

 

York Mill by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
As you drive into York on the Great Southern Highway standing tall on your left is the historic York Flour Mill built in 1892, home to The York Mill. Sony A7r with Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide – Heliar lens. Exposure: 1/25 sec, f16 at ISO 100.

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.

 

Hillside Farmhouse by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Hillside Farmhouse was designed by Sir Talbot Hobbs, a leading architect and built in 1911 for Morris Edwards in the historic Wheatbelt town of York in Western Australia. Sony A7r with Olympus OM Zuiko 35-105mm f3.5-4.5 lens mounted via a Fotodiox adapter, Cokin circular polarizing filter and +3 stop graduated neutral density filter. Exposure 4 seconds, f16, ISO 50.

 

I hope for my readers that 2017 will be all that you hope and that you’ll be healthy and happy.

 

Everlastings by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Everlastings on Mount Brown in York, WA. Sony A7r with Olympus OM Zuiko 135mm f2.8 lens. Exposure: aperture priority with +1 stop exposure compensation, 1/1000th sec, f2.8 at ISO 100.

 

 

Quirky Quairading

Quairading Railway Station
Aboriginal art at Quairading Railway Station, Western Australia. Sony A7r with Olympus OM Zuiko 24mm f2.8 lens. Exposure 1/4000 f8 ISO 400.

 

Situated 166 Km (or 103 miles for the imperially minded) east of Perth is the small Wheatbelt town of Quairading. If you can’t pronounce it you’re not a local! Really it is just a blip on the map, one of countless small Australian country towns. Gazetted in 1907 the town was built around the rail terminus. Typical of many Wheatbelt towns is the CBH grain handling facility built near the station to ship the crop out at harvest time. The railway line has since closed and the grain moved by road. For many towns this would possibly be the last straw, but Quairading carries on. As you drive into town you are met

 

Quairading CBH Grain Bins
The land around Quairading was cleared for farming and in 1932 two grain elevators were built and wheat from the district was transported via rail. The railway shut in 2013 and now the grain travels by road. Canon EOS 550d with Sigma 17-50mm f2.8 OS EX lens. Exposure: 1/100, f8, at ISO 400.

 

by members of the grain family – cartoon characters based on grains of wheat created by local artist Lyn Whyte. Some of the businesses in the town centre shut down long ago but their buildings have been repurposed. The old bank is now someone’s home and has been called the Brass Razoo Bank, which is Australian slang for having no money and is kind of appropriate.

 

Wesley Wheat
Wesley Wheat a member of the Grain Family. He and his siblings Basil Barley, Ollie Oat and Lucy Lupin are the concept of local artist Lyn Whyte, the family can be seen in quite a few locations around the Quairading district.

 

One of the old shops has a huge street frontage and this now houses a collection of cars straight out of the 1970’s. Just a few doors down is the antique/collectables shop whose contents spill out onto the pavement. The items displayed are often arranged in odd juxtapositions which often cause passers-by to do a double take to see what is going on.

 

Flowers of Quairading
Flowers of Quairading. A street side shop display from the antique shop in Quairading. Sony A7r with Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide – Heliar. Exposure: 1/5000 sec, f16 at ISO 6400.

 

The Car Dealership From The 1970's.
The Car Dealership From The 1970’s. Sony A7r with Olympus OM Zuiko 24mm f2.8 lens. Exposure: 1/200 sec, f16, ISO 1600.

 

Mercedes Truck
An old Mercedes truck sits in a paddock slowly rusting. Quairading, Western Australia. Sony A7r with Voigtlander 75mm f2.5 Color-Heliar lens. Exposure: 1/4000, f2.5 at ISO 400.

 

100 Years of ANZAC
The Anzac memorial in Quairading. Western Australia. Sony A7r with Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide – Heliar lens. Exposure: 1/250 sec, f16 at ISO 1600.

 

The real highlight is the people – friendly, upbeat and generous. My partner walked into the local tourist office cum art centre cum civic museum and walked out with a free pumpkin. What more could you want?