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.

 

A Gnome Among the Gumtrees*

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.

 

Gnomesville by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Welcome to Gnomesville. A small gathering of the inhabitants. Western Australia. Sony A7r with Olympus OM Zuiko 35mm f2 lens. Exposure: 1/60th sec, f8 at ISO 320.

 

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.

But that is another story…

So Gnomesville was born.”

© Gnomesville, Peter Terren.

 

Gnomesville by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Peak hour in Gnomesville. Western Australia. Sony A7r with Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS. Exposure: 1/200th sec, f4 at ISO 200.

 

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.

 

Gnomesville by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Gnomesville attracts gnomes from all over the world. This is the Japanese contingent. Gnomesville, Western Australia. Sony A7r with Cosina Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide-Heliar lens. Exposure: 1/60th sec, f8 at ISO 400.

 

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.

 

Gnomesville by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Warning – gnomes crossing. Gnomesville, Western Australia. Sony A7r with Olympus OM Zuiko 35mm f2.0 lens. Exposure: 1/160th sec, f2.8 at ISO 200.

 

*apologies to Wally Johnson and Bob Brown for corrupting the title to their all time Aussie favourite song “Home Among The Gum Trees”

If you are not an Aussie and you are left somewhat puzzled by the lyrics then an explanation can be found at http://alldownunder.com/australian-music-songs/home-among-the-gum-trees.htm

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.

 

Olympus OM Zuiko MC 35mm f2.0

Some years ago I was going through a phase I called “delusions of Bresson“. It involved hanging around on the street corners of Perth with a range finder camera fitted with a 35mm lens. It enabled me get close enough to my subjects but not ground them. In modern terms 35mm is not considered a wide-angle lens – in fact quite a few photographers brought up in the digital age think that wide angles start at 20mm (35mm full frame equivalent) – 35mm is seen more as a widish standard lens. Either way it is how I have come to see the world and I consider a 35mm prime (or its equivalent angle of view depending on format size) to be an essential item in my camera bag and this brings me to the Olympus Zuiko 35mm f2 lens.

Olympus OM Zuiko MC 35mm f2 lens
Olympus OM Zuiko MC 35mm f2 lens

 

Olympus OM Zuiko MC 35mm f2 lens
Olympus OM Zuiko MC 35mm f2 lens

There are again multiple versions of this lens. The first silver nosed single coated version was 42mm in length, 230g in weight and had a filter thread of 49mm. This MC version is 43mm in length, 240g in weight and has a filter thread of 55mm. It has an optical construction of eight lens elements in 7 groups and a minimum focusing distance of 0.3m.

 

Olympus OM Zuiko MC 35mm f2 lens
Olympus OM Zuiko MC 35mm f2 lens

There is slight barrel distortion evident in the test image. CA is present when wide open and clears up on stopping down Wide open the lens is quite soft and lacking in contrast both in the centre and at the edges. Both sharpness and contrast improve in the centre when stopped down to f8. The edges show some signs of improvement but not as much as the centre. Wide open there is some vignetting but that quickly disappears as you stop down. The lens is quite prone to flare, especially ghosting flare, when there is a point light source in the frame. The solution is to use a lens hood or you can do as I sometimes do and use my cap as a French flag. The alternative approach is to embrace the flare and use it creatively in your photos and videos.

 

In Loving Memory
One of the heritage grave sites in York Cemetery, Western Australia, Olympus OM Zuiko 35mm f2

 

Eternal Rest
Eternal Rest. York Cemetery, Mount Brown, Western Australia. Olympus OM Zuiko 35mm f2. A good example of the ghosting flare produced by this lens.

 

Weeping Angel
Weeping Angel . York Cemetery, Mount Brown, Western Australia. Olympus OM Zuiko 35mm f2. Bokeh balls ahoy!!

 

Canola
Canola and Patterson’s Curse at sunset. Mount Brown, York, Western Australia. Olympus OM Zuiko 35mm f2. The relatively fast aperture of f2 and a minimum focusing distance of 30cm makes throwing backgrounds out of focus easy.

If you can find a good clean copy of the multi-coated version of this lens at a good price then I recommend you pounce on it. It is a wonderful characterful lens that makes its modern counterparts look sterile and boring.

My reviews of the Olympus 24mm f2.8, 35-105mm f3.5-4.5 and 50mm f1.4 can be found by clicking on the links.

“I Like Driving…

…in my car”*

Willys Knight
Willys Knight
York Motor Show. Avon Terrace, York, Western Australia.

Last weekend was the York Motor Show, it has been held every year since 2004 and usually draws a big turn out of cars and visitors. This means that a walk down Avon Terrace  can be a hazardous matter as the pedestrian is blinded by the sun glistening off of the duco and the gleaming chrome trim. Unfortunately this years event was marred by the weather – it was a cloudy grey day with occasional drizzle. Drizzle is a weather form I don’t really associate with Western Australia, it’s more a dank dour dreary weather form for the UK, or Tasmania. Western Australia is all about big blue skies with occasional heavy rain storms in winter. Anyway I digress – 18 months in Tasmania has meant that I think and talk about meteorological conditions far more than I should. So despite the fickleness of the weather those who did turn up were very enthusiastic and had a good time.

Sunbeam Rapier
Sunbeam Rapier

Although my late father worked for many years in the car industry selling luxury cars such as Jensen, BMW and Mercedes , I must confess that I have virtually zero interest in them. What I do enjoy is the spectacle of events such as these and the photo opportunities they present. I enjoyed a fun couple of hours walking up and down taking photos and talking to people. At events like this people are only too happy to talk about their pride and joy and photographing it is a form of showing how you appreciate their efforts. It’s almost rude not to take a photo. Photographically speaking shooting events like these is akin to shooting fish in a barrel. I used one body, a 15mm ultra wide-angle, a 35mm moderate wide-angle and a 75mm short telephoto. The two wide-angles seeing the most action. A couple of spare batteries (not needed despite over 300 shots taken) and a large empty memory card completed the kit. Travelling light means that walking up and down is an enjoyable experience.

York Motor Show 2016
The members of Dunrooten Racing study the form of the competition. York Motor Show 2016. Avon Terrace, York, Western Australia.
Bugatti On Avon Terrace
Bugatti On Avon Terrace
Stutz 8
Stutz 8

Todays musical reference was a single by British group Madness.  The band burst on to music scene in 1976 as part of the ska revival channeling such influences as Prince Buster and their first hit in 1979 directly referenced him and their later track Al Capone was another reference. By the time “I Like Driving In My Car” came out in 1982 the band had abandoned their Jamaican inspired groove and had become more mainstream pop occasionally breaking out into quirky songs such as this one.