Yup – you’ve guessed it. Spent another day loitering in the alleyways of Perth. Saw it as a good excuse to give the Sigma 16mm f1.4 DC DN lens in micro four thirds mount a good workout.
* Today’s musical reference is a bit obscure. It is the theme tune for the 1972-3 British TV series “The Protectors” and was sung by Yorkshire lad Tony Christie. It was produced by Gerry Anderson of Thunderbirds fame and was only his second production using real people as opposed to the puppets he was famous for, and his only production that wasn’t scifi. It was sponsored by Brut the aftershave people which explains a lot looking back at it.
South of the Swan River is a string of lakes known as the Beeliar Wetlands which are a chain of twenty six lakes stretching from Manning Lake in Hamilton Hill to Madura Swamp near Mandurah Wetlands. Nineteen of those lakes and associated wetlands have been incorporated into the Beeliar Regional Park. This extensive belt of wetlands that has been widely acknowledged as a biodiversity hot-spot having a greater number of endemic species than most other regions in Australia. Within this the Nyoongar with their hunter-gatherer life-style managed the land with their fire-stick farming and survived by hunting and trapping a variety of game, including kangaroos, possums and wallabies; by fishing using spears and fish traps; as well as by gathering an extensive range of edible wild plants, including wattle seeds. Since colonisation three-quarters of these wetlands have been drained for urban development. What remains has suffered untold damage through the introduction of feral animals and plants. Thankfully Australia is a signatory of the Ramsar Convention and several key wetlands on the Swan Coastal Plain have been set aside for conservation. Bibra Lake is the fourth lake (heading southwards) in that chain of lakes that makes up Beeliar Regional Park. Whitefellas believe that they discovered the lake in 1842 and named it after the bloke who bought the land in 1843, one Benedict von Bibra. The Nyoongar say they have known about the lake since time began and to them it known as Walubup.
I first went to Bibra Lake about thirty years ago and thought it was a bit boring and hadn’t been back until the other week. I was called upon for driving duties for the Beloved Significant Other (BSO) and I was left with a morning to kill. So I looked in my copy of Birding Sites around Perth by Ron Van Delft (sadly out of print and unavailable now) and saw that Bibra Lakes was nearby and rated as a good location for birding. The down side to this was that we were experiencing the first major cold front of winter and that meant it was bucketing down and blowing a gale. So suitably swathed in Gore-Tex and equipped with a suitably weather resistant camera I headed off to walk around the lake not expecting to see much.
Initially I thought that with it raining I had more chance of photographing ducks as it was the perfect weather for them. There were quite a number of different species on the shore and the water. I was quite taken by the Shovelers and the Pink Eared Ducks. The Shovelers are quite a string looking duck with colouring and almost disproportionately large bills. They can often be seen foraging in shallow water where they filter water through their bills insects looking for insects, crustaceans and a variety of plants. Such a specialised mode of feeding means that they are limited to certain types of habitat such as freshwater swamps and lakes with large reed beds. Shovelers also tend to hang out with pink-eared ducks which are so called because of the patch of pink feathers on the sides of the drakes head. Like the Shovelers they too are filter feeders. As the walk moved through areas of paperbark and sheoak trees then smaller insect eating birds were seen such as Willie Wagtails, Grey Fantails, Silvereyes, and various types of wrens. Over all as I did the 8.5 Km walk I saw 18 different species of bird which I felt was a pretty good haul considering the weather conditions. So I’ve revised my opinion of Bibra Lakes and will not wait another 30 years before my next visit.
If you are interested in the birds that can be seen at Bibra Lakes, and indeed throughout the Beeliar Wetlands Birding WA has a useful webpage that gives info on the species that can be seen and where. Birdlife Australia put out a couple of useful brochures which can be got from regional visitors centres or downloaded as PDFs from their website. The brochures are:
On 7th October 2018 I put a video up of me unwrapping the Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400 f4-6.3 ASPH Power OIS and my initial impressions of it. Well after six months of use this is my opinion of the lens. I don’t know if it has won the title for having the longest model name, but if not it should be a contender. For brevities sake I’ll just refer to it hence forth as the PanaLeica 100-400. At the outset I’ll say that this is my lens bought with my money and I’ve only used the one copy of it
First off let’s set things straight – this is a very specialist bit of kit that you either have a need for or you don’t. I’ll also say that there is a very good argument to adopt the micro four thirds system just for this lens alone. No I’ve not stopped taking my meds, this lens should be a contender for anyone who shoots wildlife, particularly birds, and travels a lot. A long time ago someone said to me, and I’m not entirely sure who it was, but I’ll attribute it to Hugh Graham who’d been a Fleet Street photographer, that you should choose your camera system on the basis of the lenses you’ll use. I think Panasonic were very smart when they designed this lens because this leverages all the benefits of the m4/3 system. It uses the two times crop factor and small size to produce a lens that is just not available in the 35mm full frame world ie a compact lightweight 200-800mm zoom lens. Recently a muppet on YouTube pronounced that micro four thirds is dead but this lens proves that the system is very viable indeed. Lets compare the PanaLeica 100-400 to some of its rivals.
Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM Lens
Sigma 800mm f/5.6 APO EX DG HSM Lens
Sigma 300-800mm f/5.6 APO EX DG HSM Lens
Nikon AF-S 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR Lens
Or lets look at it another way. My Panasonic G85 with battery grip, two batteries, a memory card and the PanaLeica 100-400 weighs in at 1.829 Kg. A Canon EOS 550d with a Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Lens which has the same equivalent angle of view is 2.958 Kg and my Canon 6d with the same Sigma lens is 3.345 Kg and doesn’t have the same range. To get the same zoom range the 6d would need to be paired up with the Sigma 300-800mm f/5.6 APO EX DG HSM Lens and the combination would weigh 7.1 Kg. Now if you sit in a bird hide all day with your camera on a tripod then you might be prepared to sacrifice weight, expense and portability to get high image quality. But if like me you walk around anything up to 20 Km in a day looking for birds and are willing to work around the issue of the smaller sensor and it’s inherent poorer performance at ISOs over 6400 (and coming from the days of shooting slide film at ISOs between 50 and 400 I can’t believe that I see 6400 as a problem) then you will be very happy. The argument about image quality is very spurious if you only look at your images on an iPad or phone. So you can see why I think that this lens is enough to persuade people to adopt the m4/3 system – it has enormous reach, is lightweight and is very affordable.
100-400mm (200-800 35mm equivalent)
f4-6.3 to f22
20 elements in 13 groups
9 circular blades
Ultra sonic stepper motor
Close focus distance
The Leica designation denotes that Leica had input into the design but the lens is made by Panasonic at their Yamagata lens factory in Japan. The PanaLeica 100-400 retains the same design cues as Leica’s own lenses and the other Panasonic lenses in this series such as the 8-18mm f2.8-4 ie it uses the same fonts and the same ribbing for the focus and zoom rings. It features an all metal body construction and is listed as being weather proof. However, there is no rating as to the extent of the weather resistance. It is a very attractive lens to look at and has a satisfying heft to it which reinforces the fact that this a quality bit of kit. In November 2015 I blogged about the Olympus m.Zuiko 75-300mm f4.8-6.7 mk ii which I bought when I first started dabbling in wildlife photography, with its plastic construction it makes the PanaLeica 100-400 look like a luxury item.
With regards to the physical controls on the lens body working backwards from the built in mini lens hood (a separate full-sized one can attach to this but I have never used it) there is a narrow focus ring. As per usual with Panasonic this a fly by wire ring with no direct physical coupling to the lens heliocord. Behind the focusing ring is ring which locks and unlocks the lens mechanism to prevent zoom creep. This can be applied at any point in the focal range. The zoom ring is nice a broad enabling a good grip and is quite smooth with a little resistance to movement. It has a ninety degree throw and works very nicely when shooting video. The lens body extends outwards as you progress through the lens range. The front lens element, however, does not rotate which is good news for users of polarizing and variable neutral density filters. The tripod foot and collar is really a rather clever piece of design. There is no collar as such, the rear part of the lens rotates 90 degrees to allow users to change from horizontal to vertical orientation. The foot screws into the lens and can be completely detached. In another nice touch you don’t need the foot to attach a tripod plate as you can attach it directly to the lens body which reduces the profile of the lens considerably. Just before the lens mount there are three physical switches. The first is a focus limiter which offers two positions, full focus range and 5m to infinity. Below that is a switch for AF or manual focus, and below that a switch for the optical image stabilisation system. The lens mount is metal and there is an o ring that provides some sealing against water and dust ingress.
Without a doubt the PanaLeica 100-400 is a very complex lens with 20 elements in 13 groups, 1 ultra low dispersion element, 2 extra low dispersion elements and 1 aspheric extra low dispersion element. From this we can see that it is corrected against chromatic aberration and optimised to produce high contrast, high-resolution images whilst maintaining a compact form factor. Although each group is positioned precisely within the lens barrel it is impossible to do this perfectly so the three lens groups that are most acutely effected by tilt and centring defects and therefore impact most upon image quality are the only ones that are adjustable. This has meant that repair or adjustment of the lens is very difficult and only Panasonic’s Yamagata factory is able to do this which means warranty repairs are sent back to Japan for assessment and then are usually replaced. If your lens fails outside of the warranty period customers are offered a refurbished lens at a discount rather than a repair. To further complicate the issue Panasonic in most countries contracts out its customer service and it is very difficult to access and there have been quite a few accounts of poor service on various camera forums. So my best advice would be to buy this lens from a bricks and mortar store with a good returns policy and then thoroughly test the lens, because if you have a problem it could be quite difficult to resolve.
The image quality is very good from 100-300 and just gets a little softer towards 400. This is not unusual for zoom lenses. At all focal lengths the edges of the frame are a little softer wide open but sharpen up nicely as you stop down. Diffraction becomes apparent at f16. There is next to no chromatic aberration, and the only times that I did observe it a simple click in Lightroom fixed it. Flare is remarkably well controlled on a lens with so many glass elements. I have shot a lot of frames into the light and have found that I don’t need to use the full-sized screw on lens hood, I just use the mini sliding hood that is built into the lens. Filter users be aware that this lens is very fussy about filters as many long lenses are. I’ve had no problem with multi-coated B+W and Heliopan filters. For giggles I tried an uncoated Fotga variable neutral density filter and using a combination of the lens on both a G85 and an EM1 could not get focus. This is not a fault of the lens but shows the effect that using cheap uncoated filters can have on lenses. My Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS L does exactly the same with the Fotga filter. I’ve never understood why people will spend $2K on a lens and then slap a cheap $10 filter on it. If you are going to use filters use good ones.
After six months of use and a few thousand exposures I think I’ve got a good handle on this lens. The inbuilt optical stabilisation combines with Panasonic’s Dual IS bodies (at the time of writing the GH5, G9, G95, G85, GX85, and GX9) to give impressive results, around 5-6 stops. When shooting 4K video with the G85 it is very impressive being able to shoot handheld with such a long lens. The video below has footage using the lens on both the G85 and EM1 as well as more stills examples. Unfortunately the OIS does not combine with the IBIS on Olympus bodies so it’s a case of either or. I have my EM1 set up with the IBIS permanently on and have selected Lens IS Priority in the custom functions. This means that when a lens with inbuilt stabilisation is detected the camera switches IBIS off. The reason for this is with shorter lenses IBIS is more effective, but with longer telephoto lenses lens based stabilization works best. The OIS works well enough to get fairly good handheld 1080 video with the EM1, but it’s obviously not as smooth as the G85. The hybrid AF system in the EM1 (a combination of contrast detect and on sensor phase detect) is more confident than the DFD (depth from defocus) of the Panasonic. With small subjects against busy backgrounds I’ve found that the G85 and the PanaLeica just hesitates that little bit as it tries to acquire focus and with small birds that slight hesitation is difference between getting a shot or not. The EM1 is very quick to acquire focus and that is why I’ve ended up favouring it more for bird photography. Now I’m perfectly happy to accept that this just might be a shortcoming of the AF system in the G85 and having read the Lumix GH5/Gh5s/G9 AF Guide Book things might improve significantly if I were to use one of those bodies. But for now I have the quandary of superb image stabilisation versus better AF and I’d sooner have better AF and use faster shutter speeds.
If you are already invested in the m4/3 ecosystem and are interested in photographing birds then this is a no brainer. The PanaLeica 100-400 is streets ahead of the Olympus 75-300 and I would imagine the similarly priced Panasonic 100-300mm. It’s absolutely the muts nuts for walking around in the bush photographing birds and larger insects. Now if you’re interested in wildlife and nature and either don’t have a camera or have another brand I’d really recommend giving this lens and a micro four thirds camera some serious consideration. The image quality is very good as long as you’re not a pixel peeper and are honest with your self on what you’ll do with the image. It is very liberating to walk through the bush unencumbered by heavy camera kit that cost the equivalent of the annual GDP of a small Pacific Island nation. My only wish is that there were more compatibility within the micro four thirds system so that the image stabilisation worked across brands, the zoom rings turn in the same direction and that Panasonic adopt the clutch mechanism on their lenses for manual focus with hard stops.
Time to promote the achievements of Beloved Significant Other (BSO) via the wonderful medium of video. I didn’t intend to shoot a croquet video. No. I was enlisted as a logistical consultant (alright driver!) to take aforementioned personage and a friend to a croquet competition at the Cambridge Croquet Club. While the event was happening I was going bird watching at the nearby ornithological Mecca of Herdsman Lake with the hope of photographing nankeen herons. Alas the herons didn’t know that I was coming to see them and weren’t at home. Couple this with the fact that I was suffering from a deadly combination of Ebola, typhoid, bubonic plague and cholera (BSO says it was in fact a head cold) I went back to the croquet club to find a quiet corner in which I could drown in snot. Somehow news that BSO had made it to the finals penetrated my fever fuelled delirium and I leapt into action to record the event. I was not really equipped to do so as although I had the Panasonic G85 with me that shoots lovely 4K video I only had two lenses. The Panasonic Leica 100-400mm a great lens for birding but a bit long for court side croquet. The Sigma 16mm f1.4 which is another fantastic lens, but being a fixed focal length not as useful as standard zoom for the grip and grin at the presentations at the end of the tournament. All I can say is thank goodness for the magnificent stabilisation which enabled me to get good handheld footage, although it was defeated by my violent sneezing although it wasn’t as bad as that depicted below.
Australian summers are hot and dry, and while we are not in a drought cycle like the Eastern States, it does get very warm here in York. 45º C is not unheard of. The hot weather and the lack of rain means that the Avon River largely dries up with the exception of a few deep pools, and so I often go walking along the dry river bed with Frida my faithful canine companion as it allows me to view quite a variety of wildlife that congregates around the pools.
It’s not just birds we see, there are small fish in the ponds (difficult to photograph) and masses of different insects like this damselfly below.
Frida usually takes my photographic hijacking of her morning walks with good grace. She usually waits for me either in some convenient shade or as shown below standing in some water. She’s not as daft as she looks!
The other morning we were quite surprised to have a fox pop out of the long grass on the river bank and on to river bed. Initially it took off, but when it saw that Frida wasn’t in hot pursuit slowed down and turned back. The fox and Frida then played a mad game of chase up and down taking it in turns to be the chaser and the the chasee. Quite delightful to watch. It was like the canine equivalent of Kevin Costner’s film Dances With Wolves. Unfortunately by this time the battery in the camera had run flat so I was unable to take any photos of this rather special occurrence. Although this being a predominantly farming community most round here would not regard it as such as they belong to the “only good fox is a dead fox” brigade. A couple of days later we went back to see if the event could be repeated and I had a pocket full of batteries to ensure that I got some photos. We did find the fox in the same location but this time both it and Frida were indifferent to each other and the fox disappeared into the undergrowth on the opposite bank. Again I stuffed up the photography and all I got was the slightly blurred image below. Perhaps we’ll try again.
The soundtrack for summer in the Western Australian bush is provided by Broome based band the Pigram Brothers and their track Dry River Bed provided the title and inspiration for this blog entry.
When your drifting on the ocean
and the sea is a perfect blue
But those storm clouds on the horizon
are keeping you true to who are you
So take me away ‘cross the spinifex plains
where the true mirage never ends
And the smell of the rain is a long way away
lay me down on my dry river bed
Don’t have no white picket fence,
don’t have no green english lawn
Just got heat waves dancing for me,
on the red dirt where I was born
Feel the heart of my country,
beating to them lonely blues
Gotta get back there, gotta get back there,
I’ll be back there real soon
Pigram Brothers – Dry River Bed Music and Words: ( S Pigram/A, D, G, P, S Pigram, P Mamid)
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!
There are quite a number of them along the Avon River here in York. They migrate from Indonesia, New Guinea and northern Australia to avoid the cyclone season and come to breed during our summer. They nest in burrows which they dig and I discovered them quite by chance. While walking the dog I noticed these brightly coloured birds literally nose diving into the ground. At first I thought that the bird must have been hurt and went over to look for it, but I found nothing. Over the next few weeks I watched several others repeat the behaviour so looking carefully at the embankment I found several holes which turned out to be their burrows. So ever since I’ve been trying to photograph them.
So far I’ve only managed to photograph them when they perch. They feed on flying insects and their acrobatic manoeuvring while chasing their prey are beyond my photographic abilities. Luckily I’ve noticed that they tend to favour a particular tree de jour as a lookout and they repeatedly return between sorties so it has just been a case of walking along the river finding that day’s favoured tree and waiting.
Just before Christmas my wife and I decided to mount a mission early one morning to observe them bringing food to the chicks that have hatched. We must have been a strange sight for any passers-by – my wife in her camp chair with binoculars aimed at an earth bank and me loitering in the foliage under a tree with a camera and very long lens. We spent a couple of delightful hours watching and photographing before heading off for morning tea.
There’s no doubt about it that micro four thirds cameras offer superb performance in a compact body. My favourite cameras have been the EM10 Mki and the EP-5 equipped with one of the excellent prime lenses such as the 25mm f1.8 or the 45mm f1.8. Trouble arises when you slap a bigger lens on such as the truly excellent Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm f2.8. It’s possible to use them but it feels unwieldy and uncomfortable for long periods. So the solution was to buy a bigger bodied camera such as the EM1 Mki. I was lucky that I managed to blag a good deal and it included HLD-7 battery grip. In day-to-day usage that grip has never left the camera. When I got the Panasonic Leica 100-400 I started using it primarily on the EM1 and it felt well-balanced, but I wasn’t getting the use of the 5 axis dual image stabilisation. So I thought I’d slap it on front of the G85 that I bought for video. Problem solved for the image stabilisation, but then I felt I needed a bit more real estate for the hands.
Looking online I saw the Panasonic BGG1 Battery Grip was $362 AUD. Now I don’t know about you but lately I think the camera manufacturers have been having a lend of us with camera grips. The new Canon EOS R’s grip retails for $599 AUD and the Fuji X-H1’s is $499 AUD. This is why there is a thriving market in cheap Chinese knock offs, but these tend to be for the best-selling cameras from Canon and Nikon. A lot of people regard these as crap, but back in 2010 I’d bought a Canon 550d and wanted a grip and I ended up buying one by Aputure from eBay for a whopping $40. It is still going strong, in fact it is in better nick than the camera body which I’ve had to superglue together on a couple of occasions. So I was definitely open to the idea of an after market grip, but I was under the impression that there wouldn’t be one as Panasonic don’t command a big enough market share. The other week I was trawling the internet looking for some batteries for my G85 and I found on Amazon Australia for the grand price of $61 AUD the battery grip DMW-BGG1 Battery Grip. So I took the plunge.
Ok first impressions. It’s made of plastic, but so is the body of the G85. It seems to be a pretty faithful copy of the Panasonic version right down to the recessed area for holding the rubber cover for the electrical contacts from the camera. The buttons and dials don’t feel as nice as those on the camera but they work well. The only downsides are that the tripod mount is not under the axis of the lens and it is obviously not weather sealed. For me these weren’t a big deal. In use the grip is comfortable and fits the contours of the camera body well. It helps provide a nice comfy grip, especially in the portrait orientation and the extra battery is a welcome addition when shooting video.I’ve been using it for a couple of months and it has been great. A good buy.