Being originally from England I automatically associate Christmas with cold weather, and by association Robins as they are part of iconography of the festive season. So when walking along the Avon River on a 40º C day seeing these Red-capped Robins seems a little incongruous. For such a small bird they are as bold as brass and will let you approach quite closely. The other confusing thing about Australian robins is that they don’t just come in red.
When we were in Tasmania we had proper winters with snow, and that meant we had robins in their proper setting, but not at Christmas. Oh it’s all very confusing!
Perhaps a bit of hyperbole but depending on you your usage the Olympus Pen series of cameras could suit you better than a dSLR.I mentioned in my blog post Olym-Puss that I had got an EP5 and I thought that I would write about my experiences with it. This is not a review, it’s a little late as the camera is probably about to be discontinued as it is being heavily discounted. So if you want a cheap second body for your m4/3 system or a newbie considering dabbling your toes into the m4/3 pool then it would be a good choice.
A little history. Regular readers will know that I’ve had a long-term relationship with Olympus cameras since I bought my first in 1982. I ceased to use them long after the company dropped the OM range of film cameras and I could no longer get them repaired as there were no longer any available parts. I moved over to Canon, not because I thought that they were any better than other brands but because my father in law very generously gave me a Canon EOS3 film camera and two zooms that were surplus to his requirements and I stayed with the brand well into the digital age. While I liked the results my 5d gave me, the user experience was somewhat bland and dissatisfying, so when Olympus announced the micro four thirds concept with Panasonic in 2009 and unveiled its first camera the Pen EP1 I was intrigued. I found a local dealer and had a long look at one. The camera felt lovely in the hand but there were two major problems that stopped me buying one:
there was no viewfinder just a rear LCD screen and that was for me at the time a major sticking point
I was financially embarrassed at the time and so could not afford it.
In 2010 Olympus released the EP2 which had provision for an optional LCD view finder. So my major objection to owning one had been overcome. In 2011 I was kindly given an EP2 kit consisting of the body, the LCD viewfinder, a 14-42 kit lens and the 17mm f2.8 pancake lens. I was smitten, it quickly became my favourite camera. The 12Mp sensor was not the greatest, but the experience of using it made want to wring the last drop of image quality out of it. I still have it and use it.
In 2012 Olympus announced the OMD EM5 a camera that harked back to my beloved OM4 film cameras. The major features of that camera were the new 16Mp sensor and the 5 axis in body image stabilisation (IBIS). This camera ignited the imagination of the photographic community and it was a deserved success for the company. A year later the Pen EP-5 hit the market and it was essentially an EM5 without the built in viewfinder. Unfortunately the camera was poorly received, and after the website DPReview gave it savage write-up exposing the problem of shutter shock sales tanked and rumours have since circulated that the EP5 would be the last premium Pen camera. So given that why would I recommend one? Well Olympus was stung into action and issued a firmware release for the camera which enabled an anti shock setting, which is a kind of ersatz electronic first shutter and this helped enormously, in fact it inclusion makes it an entirely different camera. This and the same 16 MP sensor as the Olympus OM-D E-M5, an improved 5-axis in-body image stabilization, 9 frames per second continuous shooting, and a tilting rear touch screen, a HDR bracketing mode, a minimum shutter speed of 1/8000 sec, a maximum shutter speed of 60 seconds, focus peaking to assist manual focus, and built in Wi-Fi for connection to smart phone or tablet. Put this into a beautifully crafted body that feels absolutely lovely in the hand (confession time – I know its wrong but I could just sit and fondle the EP5 for hours on end) with a bloody good sensor and you have a delicious photo taking experience.
Talking of the sensor, the 16Mp sensor used by Olympus has as many conspiracies about its origins as the birth of President Obama does. Some believe it made by Panasonic and others by Sony. I don’t give two hoots as to who made it, all I know is that it is packed full of goodness. For a small sensor the dynamic range is impressive and you can pull up shadows and recover highlights nicely. There is noise at the base level ISO of 200, but it doesn’t look too digital, some would say it has an organic quality akin to that of film. I wish this aspect were better as I do a lot of copy work of paintings and illustrations and feel that the ability to render fine detail is a little compromised. The Olympus True Picture imaging processor gives this beautiful colours that Olympus is famous for and it would be entirely possible to just shoot jpg with it and get excellent results straight out of the camera. When I got the camera I thought that primarily I’d use it as a street and travel camera with a small prime like the afore-mentioned 17mm f2.8 or the wonderful 25mm f1.8. I have changed my mind on that and use it for landscape and macro work. Noise is well controlled up to 3200 and the sensor handles long exposures very well.
The AF system is largely good. Single point AF is faster than a whippet on ICE and being a contrast detect system reading straight off of the sensor there are no front or back focus issues which makes using fast glass wide open incredibly accurate. It’s so good that I’ve not bothered using face detect or eye detect AF modes. The continuous focusing with subject tracking is absolutely pants, a sports beast this camera ain’t, but having said that I have photographed the local surfers using ordinary continuous AF and set to the low frame rate of 4.5 fps it does a very good job using the cheap but sweet 40-150mm lens. The touch screen enables you to select an AF point and trigger the shutter making tripod work for landscapes, and architecture a sublime experience. While on the subject of tripods it’s a shame the tripod bush is not located on the lens axis, no big deal if you don’t shoot panoramas or stitch, but it is an inconvenience if like me you do.
IBIS is bloody fantastic. In fact it is so good there must be magic involved. This makes handheld macro and telephoto work a delight. Shooting in low light with static subjects is a breeze. With moving subjects bump the ISO and deal with the grain once you go over 3200.
Video performance leaves a lot to be desired. Lets be honest and up front here. Olympus suck big time when it comes to the implementation of video and the EP5 is not an exception to this. The codec is nasty and not good for any subject that has a lot of movement or fine detail and it is NTSC centric only offering 30fps. There is 1080, 720 and VGA, the best quality 1080 is 24MBps which is not really going to cut the mustard if video is your thing. The video clip below was shot with the EP5 and clearly shows its short comings. I’m seriously hoping that since the release of the EM5 ii and with Australian cinematographer John Brawley on board as a tester and advisor that the video side of things will improve in later models.
So to sum up. The EP5 is a very fine camera. Now it is being discounted at the $400 AUD mark it is a steal. If you already have a m4/3 camera system snap one up as a second body. If you are m4/3 curious then get one and explore the world of mirrorless photography. I bought mine as a back up to my EM10, the EM10 has now been relegated to back up duties, or occasions where I need a built in viewfinder. This is a camera which on release should have got a lot of love. Unfortunately Olympus shot themselves in the foot by releasing it with such an obvious shutter shock problem. I think had they sorted the camera properly prior to release it would have sold like hot cakes. Now the problem is fixed and it is at bargain prices I think it should go on to become a cult classic. I think about buying another Canon dSLR but honestly now I’ve gone mirrorless with all that entails I can’t go back.
There was no post last weekend as I was wagging web duties and out on the Tasman Peninsular. The peninsular is the sticky out bit on the bottom of the eastern coast of Tasmania. It is an area of outstanding beauty, it has a wild and dramatic coastline, incredible wildlife and an emotionally charged colonial history. It is a photographers paradise with seemingly unlimited possibilities. If you are visiting this part of the world please don’t do the usual tourist itinerary – visit Port Arthur, the Tasmanian Devil Park at Taranna and then head back that afternoon to Hobart. Certainly visit the afore-mentioned attractions, and also treat yourself to the Pennicott Tasman Island Cruise (which is just brilliant), but take a few days to explore the region and you will be rewarded with a memorable experience.
As always clicking on an image will take to my online gallery.
After my post on familiarity and Chichester Cathedral I got a few comments about the use of Cokin Filters and after answering them I thought it would be fun to dig them out again and shoot some landscapes. There’s no HDR or tone mapping each photo is the result of a single exposure. Processed in Adobe Lightroom 5 and Alien Skin Exposure 3 to simulate Fuji Velvia 50.
A bloke I know has just got into photography and has bought an Olympus OMD EM1 with the 12-50 kit lens. By his own admission he knows very little about photography and hasn’t settled into any specific genre. He now wants some more lenses, specifically the so-called Olympus Holy Trinity of f2.8 zooms – the 7-14mm f/2.8, the 12-40mm F2.8 and the 40-150mm F2.8. Nice lenses and in Australia you expect to pay around $4000 for them, and that is the problem. He is pretty convinced that he “needs” these lenses to be a good photographer and has read countless gear oriented forums about them. The major hurdles are that he can’t afford them, and he doesn’t know what to do with them. All he knows is that he wants to post the shots on a photo sharing web site and maybe make the occasional 10×15 cm print. Pushed hard he said that if he were to only have the one it would be the 40-150, but the reality is that he can’t afford even that on its own. I suggested he look at the 40-150mm F4.0-5.6 R which can be picked up for around $200 AUD, sometimes less if a white box special. The look on his face gave the impression that he thought I was stark raving bonkers. He then went onto to site all the usual internet complaints about the lens – its cheap and nasty, slow maximum aperture, unpleasant bokeh, plastic body and lens mount, soft at the longest end. My answer was that the f2.8 model costs around 8 times more than the cheaper one and I doubted whether he would see 8 times difference in terms of optical quality.
I don’t own or have access to the 40-150 f2.8, but I do own the 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6 R and I then decided to test it against a comparable lens from another manufacturer that costs nearly $3000 AUD. The pictures were processed exactly the same way in Lightroom and because the non m4/3 camera had a different aspect ration its image was cropped and sized to same as that from my Pen EP-5. I’m not saying which is which, that’s for you to decide. All I will say is that the 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6 R comes out of the test quite well.
All this reminds me of a conversation I had many years ago with a work colleague Steve. We were chewing the fat one boring night shift and he let on that he had been a full on Hi Fi tragic and had spent an absolute fortune on buying the ultimate set up. I nearly choked when he told how much he spent on speaker cables. I thought that photographers were gear obsessives. Anyway after a while of swapping components in and out and reading lots of technical papers he had the realisation that he was forking out literally thousands of dollars to gain frequencies that only dogs and bats could hear. After that epiphany he settled on the equipment that he had and used it for what it was designed for – listening to music. It’s the same here, you could spend thousands on a lens and most people would not be able to tell the difference. Therein lies the problem for my acquaintance. He is new to the hobby and has been led to believe that to be any good he has to go out and spend a bucket load of whonga on buying the best lenses. He doesn’t have the cash and so he will probably give photography away as he will feel he can’t afford it. My advice was to buy the cheaper alternative and really use it. Push the lens as hard as you can in a variety of situations and then see is you like the focal range, and if that lens prevents you from getting any pictures. If after a year or so you feel that the lens is a must have and that you absolutely need the extra performance and can use it then buy the expensive version. Just to finish I’ll post a picture taken with a camera that internet forums love to hate – the Canon EOS 550d. Its plastic, has a slow frame rate, a poor sensor with little dynamic range, dog slow auto focus, and a minuscule buffer.
As you drive out of Hobart and past New Norfolk and you start to hit the upper reaches of the River Derwent and the landscape starts to become a little greener and looks more fertile. Thirty two kilometres north west of Hobart is New Norfolk which is the gateway for the region and it worth having a walk around before heading on up the valley. It was one of the first colonial towns and was originally settled by 163 people who were resettled from Norfolk Island in 1807. The town was originally called Elizabeth Town but the name was changed in 1825 to New Norfolk in honour of their former home. The town has Tasmania’s oldest Anglican church (St. Matthews built in 1823) and Australia’s oldest and continually used hotel – The Bush Inn, whose licence was first granted on 29 September 1825. There are other building that date back to this period. There is also a very pleasant scenic walk along the banks of the river at The Esplanade.
When we got to Westerway things took a familiar turn. I spent part of my childhood in the “garden of England” as the county of Kent is sometimes called, and in particular a village called Hawkhurst, it was the English countryside at its most bucolic and it was character was shaped by the growing of a very particular crop that shaped both the landscape and the architecture. The crop was hops, used in brewing beer, and they are grown in a very particular way in sheltered hedged fields. The architecture was dominated by oasthouses which were used to dry the hops after they had been picked. When I was a kid I could look out of my bedroom window and see the hop fields and there was an oasthouse in the distance. The crop at that time was picked by hand by teams of itinerant pickers who came down from London in late summer and early autumn. It was like something out of the HE Bates novel Darling Buds of May (trivia alert – it was the TV adaptation of that novel which launched the career of Catherine Zeta Jones). Well as you drive through Bushy Park you could be mistaken for being in an Ossiefied Kent for it is one of the last areas in Tasmania to commercially grow hops. The fields look just the same, however, the oasthouses are not made out of flint and brick, and the crop is harvested by machine, but it was a pleasant trip down memory lane.
Hops are essential for the brewing of beer as they give the characteristic bitter flavour and they were introduced to Tasmania to reduce the consumption of rum. In the Nineteenth Century alcoholic drinks were drunk all through the day, partly because of the lack of safe drinking water and partly to numb people out to the harsh realities of life. In colonial Australia rum was actually used as a currency and huge profits were made, so beer was thought to be a better drink because it was less alcoholic, could be made easily, and it would break the monopoly of the rum barons. Hops were first planted by Colonel Paterson in his garden at Port Dalrymple in 1804, but it was William Shoebridge in 1822 that made the big breakthrough that made them a viable crop in Tasmania. Ebenezer Shoebridge, William’s son, went to the Derwent Valley in 1852 and then established Bushy Park Estate in 1864. Today, although not owned by the Shoebridges anymore it is considered one of the world’s best hop producers and grows enough to flavour 1 billion litres of beer. That’s a lot of beer! The harvest starts in early March and can take about a month to complete. If you aren’t in a rush a look around Bushy Park at the fields and the hop museum in the local hall. The hall also has a bit of a market that sells local produce.
* The title for this blog post is inspired by the Pet Shop Boys hit “Go West”, which was originally written and performed by The Village People. I prefer this version and particularly like the imagery of the video. The song’s title is attributed to the nineteenth century quote “Go West, young man” commonly attributed to Horace Greeley, a rallying cry for the colonization of the American West.
“What?” cried the Rat, open-mouthed: “Never been in a—you never—well I—what have you been doing, then?””Is it so nice as all that?” asked the Mole shyly, though he was quite prepared to believe it as he leant back in his seat and surveyed the cushions, the oars, the rowlocks, and all the fascinating fittings, and felt the boat sway lightly under him.
“Nice? It’s the only thing,” said the Water Rat solemnly as he leant forward for his stroke. “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolute nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,” he went on dreamily: “messing—about—in—boats; messing—”
“Look ahead, Rat!” cried the Mole suddenly.
It was too late. The boat struck the bank full tilt. The dreamer, the joyous oarsman, lay on his back at the bottom of the boat, his heels in the air.
“—about in boats—or with boats,” the Rat went on composedly, picking himself up with a pleasant laugh. “In or out of ’em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you’d much better not. Look here! If you’ve really nothing else on hand this morning, supposing we drop down the river together, and have a long day of it?”