The new Sony RX 1R II 42mp full frame compact fixed lens camera – a lovely but pricey serious photography tool

Written by admin on November 1st, 2015

Sony has just announced their upgrade to the 2012 world’s 1st full frame compact fixed lens digital camera – the Sony RX I and the new camera is the Sony RX 1R II and packs some very important improvements, albeit with the same excellent Carl Zeiss 35mm f/2 lens, but the RRP of $US3300 may be just a touch too high for most people!

Firstly, these cameras are fairly unique in packing such a high quality lens and full frame sensor into a small package much the same size as a Micro Four Thirds Olympus OM-D of equivalent field of view.

Leaf shutter:

Not only that but the shutter is a leaf shutter in the lens which gives 2 very important advantages over shutters at the sensor:

  • it is more quiet
  • it allows flash sync at full flash output at shutter speeds up to 1/2000th sec  (ie. no need for power sapping high speed sync modes such as HSS or Super FP)

Fast flash sync:

A fast flash sync is extremely useful in 2 particular circumstances:

  • allowing wide apertures to be used in bright outdoor situations at a distance – eg. wedding groups
  • allowing one to over-power the sun if the strobe is powerful enough and it’s full output flash has a very brief duration such as 1/800th sec or shorter – unfortunately many flashes require 1/300th- 1/500th sec duration for maximum flash output which does limit the benefit of fast flash sync somewhat.

Improvements over the Sony RX 1:

  • 42mp sensor and image processor as for the Sony a7RII E-mount mirrorless interchangeable lens camera
  • a much needed improved AF system now with 399-point hybrid AF system and C-AF capability
  • built-in flash replaced with a superb popup built-in EVF – 2,359,296 dot OLED TRU-finder EVF with 0.74x magnification, a 19mm eyepoint and a -4.0 to +3.0 diopter adjustment
  • rear LCD now tilts but still no touch control
  • new variable optical low-pass filter to allow user to decide upon maximum detail or minimal moire artefacts
  • 5fps burst with AF between each frame
  • shutter now to 1/4000th sec
  • can now define a minimum shutter speed for the Auto ISO sensitivity option
  • 50Mbps XAVC S movie mode at 1080 full HD at 24, 25, 30, 50 or 60fps
  • WiFi, NFC, smartphone remote control

What does it miss out on?

There are a few features missing which really should be available on a camera at this price point such as:

  • weathersealing – this is a pity as I could imagine bushwalkers would love this camera if it was weathersealed
  • image stabiliser – this is a real pity as hand held, the camera shake is likely to waste all those 42mp of data and mean that low light street shooters would not get the maximum out of it
  • shutter speed to 1/8000th sec – another problem means one may need a ND filter to use f/2 in bright sunlight, although an option is to drop ISO to 50 and give up some dynamic range
  • 4K video which is now becoming the video to have
  • touch control of rear LCD screen – given this is such a small camera, touch control would be handy indeed

Why not just use an Olympus OM-D E-M5 II with 20mm Panasonic pancake lens?

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 II kit gives the following advantages at 1/3rd of the price and is only a touch larger and heavier:

  • camera is weathersealed (although this pancake lens is not)
  • can use almost any lens ever made
  • the world’s best image stabiliser which is just magic in video mode as well
  • touch control of rear screen which not only tilts but swivels
  • mechanical shutter speed to 1/8000th sec
  • 40mp HiRes mode without moire for static subjects with camera on tripod
  • 77mbps HD video with incredible image stabiliser
  • PC sync port
  • don’t need to pop up the EVF
  • some great in-built features such as Live Composite mode, etc

BUT the Sony does give a few benefits which may make it worth it for some people:

  • the shallower depth of field and lower high ISO noise of the full frame sensor
  • 42mp detail – although one really needs a tripod, fast shutter speed or flash to realize this detail
  • fast flash sync – but you need a short duration flash unit to make the most of it
  • 399 AF points instead of 81 points may provide some benefits

Or for a similar price, the Sony a7R II camera:

The Sony a7R II is only a little more expensive and substantially bigger and heavier, and lacks the leaf shutter, but gives you the following benefits:

  • camera is weathersealed
  • can use almost any lens ever made
  • a very good image stabiliser
  • mechanical shutter speed to 1/8000th sec
  • 4K video

Note that at present there is no dedicated AF lens for the E-mount which equates with this lens, the nearest are the Sony Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 ($US799) and the new Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 (~$US2000). There is a manual focus Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 lens at $US1250.

Thus the Sony RX 1R II gives you similar image quality in a much smaller package and the benefits of fast flash sync and 35mm f/2 and if these are more important than the other features then it maybe a camera to buy but for most, the Olympus OM-D or Sony a7R II would be better options.


A surreal view of Australian surrealism with the Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens

Written by admin on October 31st, 2015

Fisheye lenses are rather unique creative niche lenses and until I went to Palm Cove I didn’t really think I had a need for one – but up there, a fisheye was the only way to capture the tall palms on the beach with the ambience and field of view I wanted. For those images I used the cheap Samyang/Rokinon fisheye but it is manual focus and the front of the lens isquite close to the camera body meaning I often imaged my left hand in the shot inadvertently, nevertheless, this is a great lens if you are on a budget.

Now that Olympus has created a superb weatherproofed pro quality Olympus f/1.8 fisheye lens, I just had to test it out, and what better test is an indoor art exhibition of Australian surrealism at Melbourne’s Ian Potter in Federation Square titled Lurid Beauty – Australian Surrealism and its Echoes. I highly recommend anyone interested in art to see this very affordable exhibition, I really enjoyed it.

These were shot hand held without flash using the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera.

A fisheye view of Lurid Beauty:


Anne Wallace Sight Unseen:


Tom Moore Self-preservation 2014:

still life

Dusan Marek Equator 1948:


Herbert McClintock Three Faces 1940:



Tim Schultz :


Hein Heckroth Australia painted whilst a “German enemy alien” during World War II at the camp in Hay, NSW 1941:


There are many more wonderful works including more from James Gleeson – do yourself a favour and check it out.

Architectural uses:

Melbourne’s Regent Theatre in Collins St which is so contrasty it is very hard to photograph:



Melbourne’s Federation Square:


and to show how well the lateral CA is controlled:


Melbourne’s famous back alley ways:

alley graffiti

the very popular Hopetoun Tea Rooms:

alley graffiti


Obviously I have applied some post-processing on the above images to make them a touch more surreal still.

This lens is not for everyone, but does add another very useful tool to a photographer’s kit.

I am looking forward to shooting some Milky Way Astroscapes with it as the f/1.8 aperture plus wide field of view should allow nice long 40-60sec exposures without star trailing.

If you do not like the fish eye effect, there are some de-fishing processing options to flatten the image out to a more natural looking image.


Tropical north Queensland – the Daintree wilderness rainforests, beaches and Cape Tribulation

Written by admin on October 27th, 2015

This will be the last on my current series of posts of the wet tropics of north Queensland – previous posts were:

Daintree wilderness rainforest is in far north Queensland and as far as mobile phones, TV and internet goes, one is mostly off grid once you cross the ferry on the crocodile infested Daintree River.

It’s tropical climate, relative isolation and unique rainforest flora and fauna and lovely beaches make it a must see destination – see earlier posts on tips on time of year to go, etc.

The road is bitumen up to Cape Tribulation so you will not have issues with normal cars although an SUV is nice to give a bit more ground clearance, especially if you are renting a car. The new  2011 Q5 bridge across Coopers Creek allows all year access to Cape Tribulation (apart from major storm/cyclone/5 yr floods).

The road from Cape Tribulation north to Cooktown has been sealed since 2005 but travel past Cape Trib may NOT be covered by your rental car hire insurance! You can check current road status here.

When calculating drive times, assume an average speed of around 60kph – there are many speed humps to reduce risk of killing southern cassowary birds.

Alexandra Lookout – looking south east towards Snapper Island and the mouth of the Daintree River:

Noah Beach

Golden Orb spider the size of my hand on the Jindalba Boardwalk in the rainforest (Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens on Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera):

Golden Orb spider

There are 3 well maintained short boardwalks which you must do as each give access to different ecologies:

  • Jindalba boardwalk through the rainforest
  • Marrdja boardwalk  through mangrove swamps – very nice and perhaps the most likely place to see a southern cassowary
  • Dubuji boardwalk another coastal walk but this one takes you through tall fan palms

Bushwalks include the very steep walk from Cape Trib to Mount Sorrow for those who are fit – you are advised to start the walk no later than 10am and to allow 6-7 hours.

Swimming holes are available at Cape Trib Grocery Store and at Emmagen Creek north of Cape Trib (take the inland track from Emmagen Beach).

Sea kayaking is available just north of Cape Trib provided by Paddletrek, and also in Cow Bay / Snapper Island in the southern area, provided by Tropical Sea Kayaks.

If you want to snorkel with turtles then Ocean Safari‘s Great Barrier Reef tours take you 20km out to the to Mackay Reef or Undine Reef (25min fast boat ride) and depart from Turtle Rock Cafe at Myall Beach and also from Cape Trib.

There are quite a few nice accommodation options and a few restaurants and cafes and a pub or two, although grocery stores and fuel are not plentiful. Thankfully there are NO fast food chains such as Macdonalds. Make sure you stop for lunch at Lync Haven cafe – very nice lunches and they have some parrots to interact with and caged pythons as well as accommodation. Alternatively, the Whet Cafe Bar and Restaurant makes for a nice lunch or dinner spot near Cape Trib.

Camping in the beach-side camp grounds such as at Noah Beach is popular during the dry season (June-Oct) but be warned, in the wet season it rains hard and for much of the day although I am told it generally stops between 10am and 4pm unless there is a cyclone or tropical low really dumping rain. Also the local nocturnal giant white tailed rat (Uromys caudimaculatus) which can chew through the husk of a coconut, can also chew through tents, plastic, canvas, leather electrical wires and even into cans. They can damage car fan belts and radiator hoses!.

I stayed at the Heritage Lodge and Spa which is well situated in Diwan, half way to Cape Tribulation and near Thornton Beach and Cooper’s Creek. The cottages set within a rainforest environment are very nice indeed although en suites are tiny and there are no baths. The Cooper Creek runs within the site and allows walks and swimming in the crystal clear water. It has a very nice restaurant and a continental breakfast of cereal, toast, juices, fruit is provided.

The lower reaches of Coopers Creek is crocodile territory and boat tours are available from the bridge a couple of times each day – the walk along Thornton Beach to the inlet does make a newbie’s heart stir seeing the crocodile shaped shadows in the water (but these appear to have been sandbars although I didn’t wade in to find out!).

There is a kiosk serving fish and chips and burgers at Thornton Beach and there are some convenient affordable beach cabins opposite (Thornton Beach Bungalows).

Thornton Beach (Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens on Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera):

Noah Beach


Noah Beach

I had been worried about annoying biting insects on the beach such as sandflies (aka midges/midgies which cause persistently itchy allergic reactions to their bites and which are important in the pollination of cocoa plants and thus chocolate!) but in October it seemed there were no nasty bities even without DEET insect repellents except for the occasional March fly in the mangrove beach area of Cape Tribulation (Oct-Nov is apparently the time of march flies in the Atherton Tablelands so I guess it applies on the beaches too).

North of Thornton Beach is the lovely remote Noah Beach with its nice camping ground.

Aerial view of Noah Beach courtesy of Tourism Queensland:

Noah Creek

Cape Tribulation:

Butterfly (Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens on Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera):


Lace monitor lizard goanna on the beach (Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens on Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera):


Cape Tribulation beach with fisheye lens:


Surreal mangrove beach (Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens on Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera):

surreal mangrove beach

Wild cannonball mango in the fantastic Marrdja Boardwalk through mangrove swamp (Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens on Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera):

cannonball mango

Aerial basket fern (Drynaria rigidula) – home to birds, tree snakes and other animals (Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens on Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera):

aerial fern



Tropical north Queensland – Palm Cove and why a fisheye lens comes in handy

Written by admin on October 27th, 2015

Continuing on from my holiday tips for the wet tropics of north Queensland and the Atherton Tablelands, this post explores the Palm Cove region north of Cairns.

Palm Cove is one of the most picturesque beaches with its lovely palm trees and towering melaleucas which line the esplanade which separates the beach from the little village which is filled with accommodation options and restaurants.

In October, it was a relatively quiet, friendly and relaxing village and surprisingly, the accommodation apartments do not use insect screens and we had no issues from mosquito bites even though we left the windows open much of the time – I guess the council keeps a tight control on insect populations in the area.

I stayed at Paradise on the Beach apartments and had the pleasure of having a unit which overlooked the beach and had a large double spa bath and kitchenette, although the downside is that it was close to a children’s playground over the road, and at night it was noisy from the patrons of the bar below – if these are not an issue for you, then it was a lovely way to relax and enjoy the beach.

As with all the beaches in the wet tropics, there is a small risk of crocodile attacks if you swim or walk near the edge, although this is much more likely near estuaries and very few if any have occurred on the actual Palm Cove beach.

A bigger risk from Nov-May is the potentially lethal jellyfish stingers, and thus one is advised to only swim within the patrolled swimming area within the stinger nets.

The beaches face east and so sunrise walks are a must and a perfect way to start the day before the sun gets too hot.

Palm Cove with the Samyang 7.5mm fisheye lens:

A fisheye lens is really the only way to capture the palms and melaleucas which give the beach its character. I used the inexpensive manual focus only Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 fisheye lens on Micro Four Thirds Olympus OM-D E-M1 and E-M5 cameras, although one could use any fisheye lens including the lovely new Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 lens.

Palm Cove sunrise

Palm Cove sunrise

Palm Cove sunrise

The towering ancient melaleucas:

Palm Cove melaleucas


Palm Cove as a base to explore

Palm Cove is perfectly situated to explore the region as it is within 20min or so drive from Cairns, the airport and most of the local attractions.

A must do, is visit the Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures which is about 20-30min drive to the north. You need to spend at least 2-3 hours here learning about crocodiles and other tropical wildlife including the southern cassowary bird and snakes. They run a commercial crocodile farm which you can attend a guided tour to learn more about crocodiles, or go on a short cruise in the river and watch them feed crocodiles with the crocodiles jumping 1-1.5m out of the water.

The snake handling and crocodile attack demonstration events are well worth attending, but perhaps the best is indulging in a very tasty crocodile salad lunch at the cafe which I would highly recommend!

Other attractions in the region include:

Pics of the region using the Olympus OM-D and pro zoom lenses:

Walshs Pyramid Hill (the highest freestanding natural pyramid in the world) south of Cairns at sunset from a boat on a “sunset cruise”:

Pyramid Hill Cairns

Mangroves in Cairns at sunset from a boat on a “sunset cruise”:

mangroves Cairns

Mangrove beach near Port Douglas:

mangrove beach near Port Douglas

Mossman Gorge:

mangrove beach near Port Douglas

Rainforest stinging tree (Dendrocnide moroides) leaves – the leaves, stem and fruit are covered in tiny silica hairs which inject neurotoxins causing severe pain which may last for several days and then recur over months! Even the dead leaves can sting and worse can release hairs when disturbed which can then be inhaled! (I presume this is one of them! Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens on Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera):

stinging tree


The Bachelorette – a little photo story from an available light portrait workshop yesterday using the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens

Written by admin on October 25th, 2015

I rarely shoot portraits and so when an opportunity came up for an outdoor available light workshop yesterday on an afternoon in the harsh Australian sun when only crazy people shoot portraits, I just had to attend.

The Australian sun in spring and summer is high in the sky casting dark shadows on eyes and is not easy to work with – most fashion photographers shooting outdoors would only shoot in the early morning or late afternoon to catch a more flattering sun angle or just the glow from the sky after the sun has set.

Why do workshops?

Photography is a life long learning experience and by attending workshops you get to experience new ideas and experiment with them as well as network with like minded people. Another great benefit is that with a few people attending the costs of model and hair and make up artist time becomes more affordable for non-commercial photographers like me and this makes them attractive and a win-win scenario for all concerned.

This workshop was organised by a Melbourne professional photographer, Nelli Huié, who ran an excellent, well organised session and demonstrated several different styles and gave some great tips.

The brilliant actress / model was Kyla Nichole Nelson and the hair and makeup artist was Aneta Nabrdalik – both had their work cut out in the trying sunny conditions.

After perusing my images I decided to create a “Bachelorette” storyline (or perhaps it is more Mills and Boon?) to fit the emotive feel of some of my images I selected from the afternoon – a bit cheesy, but then so it is the reality TV show. The chosen images are partly to show the diversity of what we achieved and also show the talent of Kyla’s ability to morph from one emotion to another whilst still creating aesthetic poses with minimal direction, while I tried to position the camera for best subject and background interplay whilst juggling with exposure (mostly manual exposure mode), white balance and focus.

All images were shot hand held with a Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera with my favourite portrait lens, the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 with available light only – no fill-in flash. The last two images used a diffuser in bright sunlight, the others were achieved with selective placement of the model amongst trees. The 1st image foreground bokeh was generated from out of focus fellow attendees in front of me which I decided to include in the shot.

Post-processing was of RAW files in Adobe Lightroom with editing mainly of removal of blemishes and some local and overall tone edits, but no skin smoothing and no sharpening other than the default sharpen for screen on export from Lightroom. No adjustments to eyes except for some lightening of her eyes in the smiling shot.

Enjoy.. and I hope they inspire you to get out and do some workshops and experiment – look for the light, always observant of how the light falls on your subject and just as important how you choose a background and how you render it with nice bokeh.

The Bachelorette:

Please, please, say yes ….

please say yes

Yes, he said yes!


Today is the day, I can’t wait til he gets here:



Typical guy, late as usual…


Now I’m getting worried, he should be here…


How could he do this to me?

glassy eyes

I couldn’t bear to live without him

sleeping beauty

Sleeping beauty waiting for another prince to come along:

sleeping beauty


The unique Atherton Tableland – high rainforest plateau and ancient volcanic maars and waterfalls

Written by admin on October 20th, 2015

The Atherton Tableland is an elevated rainforest plateau 700m to 1000m above sea level which is littered with ancient volcanic hills, valleys, waterfalls and crater lakes making it a photographer’s and naturalist’s delight and is some 4 degrees Celsius cooler than Cairns and unlike the coast, you will need a jumper or cardigan for evening wear.

There are essentially 4 access roads from the coast – each will involve 20-30minutes of slowish winding roads up the mountains to get there:

  • Rex Range Road from Mossman
  • Kennedy Highway via Kuranda from Cairns
  • Gillies Highway via Gordonvale from Cairns
  • Palmerston Highway from Innisfail

The main town is Atherton with Mareeba to the north which is drier and with clearer skies.

Attractions near Mareeba:

  • Mareeba Tropical Wetlands and Savannah Reserve with Jabiru Safari Lodge, which is a great for bird watchers. Further north are drier woodlands with a multitude of tall termite mounds.
  • Granite Gorge Nature Park – great for picnics and their local unique wallaby species
  • The Coffee Works – for coffee and chocolate
  • Golden Drop Winery – mango wines

Central tablelands region:

  • Atherton township
  • Hastie’s swamp bird watching
  • Wongabel State Forest rainforest walk track 2.6km
  • Mt Hypipamee National Park – unique steep walled crater lake and adjacent Dinner Falls cascades make for a pleasant short walk and nice photo opportunities
  • Bromfield’s Crater
  • historic mining town of Herberton with its reconstructed 19thC mining township as a tourist attraction
  • Yungaburra heritage township, Nick’s Swiss-Italian restaurant and the massive curtain fig tree
  • Lake Tinaroo and dam
  • Lake Barrine lake cruises and rainforest walk through 2 giant Kauri pine trees
  • Lake Eacham National Park
  • Malanda and Malanda Falls
  • Nerada tea farm and their resident wild Lumholtz tree kangaroos
  • Bartle Frere mountain hiking for the fit (Queensland’s tallest mountain at 1622m)

Southern tablelands region:

  • Tarzali Lakes tourist attraction (privately owned) for platypus sightings and farmed barramundi fishing
  • the famous Millaa Millaa falls and the waterfall circuit drive including Zillie Falls and Ellinjaa Falls
  • Ravenshoe, Queensland’s highest town and the Millstream Falls
  • Tully Gorge and Misty Mountain rainforest bushwalks – 36km one-way Koolmoom Creek Track (several short loops possible); 19km one way Cardwell Range Track; 15km one way difficult Cannabullen Creek Track; 26km one way Gorrell Track; BEWARE the stinging trees!!! Bring radio beacon or satellite phone!! Most pleasant May-Oct but heavy rains any time of year can make creeks impassable! Camping requires a permit. Tracks are wet and slippery and leeches abound;

Millaa Millaa lookout

Millaa Millaa lookout – Olympus OM-D

Ellinjaa Falls

Ellinjaa falls, and yes, there are annoying Canikon photographers who take centre stage with their tripods. I decided not to wait for the queue of them and shot this long exposure hand held standing on top of a rock in the middle of the stream using my Olympus OM-D with its amazing built in image stabiliser which allows these hand held longer exposure shots without a tripod.

For bird watchers and ornithologists:

Mt Lewis NP in Nov-April but check road conditions as gravel road: upland rainforest birds such as Golden Bowerbird, Chowchilla, Blue-faced Parrot Finch.

Abattoir Swamp: boardwalk and hide – when paperbarks are flowering: lorikeets, honeyeaters; crakes and rails; Northern Fantail at the car park;

Davies Creek Falls NP via gravel road: granite boulder falls; Pale-headed rosella, White-cheeked honeyeater, Lemon-bellied flycatcher;

Barron Falls NP: Pied Monarch, Yellow-breasted Boatbill.

Mt Molloy: Red-winged parrot, Great Bowerbird are found near the school;

Malanda Falls Conservation Park: Aust. Brush Turkey, Orange-footed scrubfowl, Atherton scrubwren, Macleay’s Honeyeater, Eastern Whipbird.

Lake Mitchell man made wetland: Black-necked stork and dry country birds in the woodlands.

Crater lakes NP: Double-eyed Fig-parrot, Victoria’s Riflebird; Tooth-billed Bowerbird builds courts close to the track in breeding season (Sept-Jan).

Nardello’s Lagoon: waterbirds; White-breasted Sea Eagle and Swamp Harrier in Sept-Dec; Red-tailed Black Cockatoos; Sulphur-crested cockatoos;

Bromfield Swamp: unique volcanic crater is a nesting site for hundreds of Sarus Crane and Brolga in Apr-Nov best at dusk when they return home to roost, or early morning.

Hastie’s Swamp: home to 220 bird species; two-storey bird hide; Magpie Goose, Plumed Whistling Duck, Pink-eared duck, White-headed Stilt;

Millaa Millaa Falls: Yellow-throated scrubwren, Bower’s Shrike-thrush

Wongabel State Forest: Emerald Dove, Wompoo Fruit Dove, White-throated Treecreeper, Ferenwren, Bower’s Shrike-thrush;

Mt Hypipamee NP: Fernwren, Bridled Honeyeater, Grey-headed Robin, Chowchilla (early morning), Golden Bowerbird, Southern Cassowary

Kaban: drier western edge; Painted Button-Quail, Little Lorikeet, Fuscous Honeyeater, Varied Sittella, Crested Shrike-tit, Eastern Yellow Robin;

Tully Falls Rd: Pale yellow Robin

Innisfail region:

  • several waterfalls along the Palmerston Highway
  • Mamu Tropical Skywalk tourist attraction – boardwalks in the tree tops
  • Paronella Park historic rainforest mansion
  • Eubanangee Swamp National park near the coast and Josephine Falls

Further west from the Tablelands:

  • historic outback mining town of Chillagoe with limestone caves to explore
  • unique Undara Lava Tubes

 Finally, a little history:

The tablelands were originally inhabited by approx. 16 Aboriginal indigenous tribes who created clearings or “pockets” by using fire to clear the rainforest undergrowth and make it easier to hunt wallabies.

They had to deal with the volcanic eruptions, the most recent eruptions were approximately 10,000 years ago.

Then along came the British and Chinese miners in the mid 19th century when gold and tin was discovered resulting in the mining towns of Herberton and Chillagoe. The whites ran into conflict with the indigenous peoples and hence the naming of Butcher Creek.

For more indigenous history of the region see here.

Once the Europeans and Chinese gained access via Cobb and Co coaches (initially from Port Douglas through to Atherton then to Herberton via the “Mulligan Highway”), the timber-getters moved in and dominated much of the central tablelands and clearing much of the rainforest for its valued timber, especially Red cedar (Toona ciliata), but also walnut, Queensland maple, Silky Oak, Silkwood, Black Bean, Silver Ash and Kauri Pine.

A shorter route was established from Cairns called Robson’s Track – near the current Gillies Highway.

The 1st permanent white settler in the Yungaburra region was John Stewart in 1890. By 1903, the railway from Cairns had reached Atherton, and then was extended to Yungaburra in 1910 and operated until it closed in 1964.

Cyclone Larry in 2006 caused considerable damage to the Tablelands, snapping many trees off at 4m from the ground and damaging buildings.


Travel tips for north Queensland’s awesome wet tropics and the Daintree rainforests

Written by admin on October 20th, 2015

I have just returned from a 2 week self-drive holiday in Queensland’s wet tropics so I thought I should share some tips.

Palm Cove

Palm Cove, Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Samyang Fisheye lens.

The Wet Tropics – something for everyone!

This is an amazing area in Australia so get there while the $AUST is so affordable, here is a taste of what one can do and see:

  • Cairns:
    • this is the main city and main point of access with its international airport
    • it is a hub for the multitude of overseas backpackers and thus is well suited to their needs
    • the main base for tours to all the regions below whether they be boat tours or bus tours
    • regular public bus travel to the northern beaches so you can get away with not having a car
    • the lovely free swimming pool and sunbathing area right in the heart of the CBD on the harbour – and with free outdoor gym machines and plenty of shade if you want it
    • Cairns Tropical Zoo
    • Cairns Night Zoo
    • Skyrail  Cableway or Scenic Railway to Kuranda tourist village at the top of the mountains behind Cairns gives access to the nearby rain forests and Barron Falls
    • sunset river cruises
  • The Great Barrier Reef
    • even if you are not into snorkelling or scuba diving, everyone should get to one of the reef islands such as Green Island and at least view  the coral and colourful fish from a glass bottom boat – although check the weather first as you don’t want rough seas
  • northern beaches such as Palm Cove and Port Douglas
    • Palm Cove is my favourite, lovely little village, very aesthetic palm lined beaches with a stinger net section for safe swimming monitored by surf life savers
    • Hartley’s Crocodile Adventure is a must do – well worth it and the food in the cafe is very nice indeed – you must try the crocodile dishes!
    • Mossman Gorge – north of Port Douglas, lovely circuit walk through rainforest although the highlight for many is the swimming in the cool clear waters of the stream amongst the many granite boulders
  • Daintree rainforests and remote beaches
    • if you enjoy the wilderness and can live without mobile phone access or the internet, or TV, then take the car ferry across the crocodile infested Daintree River and explore
    • some nice short easy walks on boardwalks gives everyone easy access to the rainforests and mangrove swamp environments – great for photos
    • several remote beaches with lovely sand, and when I went in October, no nasty bugs biting you (except the occasional march fly in Cape Tribulation) – but you need to be careful about swimming – crocodiles are a risk, especially near estuaries, while from Oct-April, swimming is not advised due to the potential dangers of lethal stinging jellyfish – nevertheless, these beaches are awesome to walk along and just relax
  • Atherton Tablelands
    • this elevated rainforest plateau 700m to 1000m above sea level is littered with ancient volcanic hills, valleys, waterfalls and crater lakes makes it a photographer’s and naturalist’s delight and is some 4 degrees Celsius cooler than Cairns and unlike the coast, you will need a jumper or cardigan for evening wear
    • great location for ornithologists who enjoy bird watching
    • backpackers find the swimming in the waterhole below the picturesque Millaa Millaa falls and the ability to get a selfie shot behind the waterfall an awesome way to spend a warm day
    • the elevation in the higher parts is said to be too high for mosquitoes, although mosquitoes seemed to be well controlled in Palm Cove – at least while I was there in October (Dengue fever outbreaks do occur in the Cairns region over the wet season in particular)
    • Mareeba to the north is drier with clearer skies and further north, the woodlands are filled with large termite mounds
    • the historic mining town of Herberton a little to the west is also drier and has a re-constructed 19th century mining town as a tourist attraction
    • 1-2hrs to the west is the much drier historic outback mining town of Chillagoe with its limestone caves to explore
    • 1-2hrs to the south-west is the unique Undara Lava Tubes
  • Innisfail region to the south of Cairns
    • recently hit by a major cyclone, a major tourist attraction here is Paronella – an old castle-like mansion estate amongst the rainforest representing one man’s dream
    • Mamu Skywalk is a tourist attraction amongst the rainforest tree tops
    • Mission Beach and Dunk Island are south of Innisfail


What will you see in the rainforests?

This depends upon the season and which part of the rainforest you are in.

Rainforests generally consist of 4 layers of life:

  • emergent layer at the top of the tallest trees  at around 50-60m above ground – exposed to the most sun and wind and occupied by birds, bats, butterflies, python snakes, etc.
  • canopy layer at tops of other trees to around 50m above ground forms an umbrella thick with leaves and flowers, birds, air plants
  • understory layer is immediately above the forest floor and with limited light, is generally filled with dense vines and vegetation along with green tree ants, birds, snakes, frogs, butterflies, etc.
  • forest floor receives perhaps 2% of the sunlight and is dark, damp and filled with ants, beetles, termites, fungi as well as snakes (including venomous snakes), birds including scrub turkey and southern cassowary, frogs, and butterflies.

In the “dry season”, wildlife is much more scarce and the flowers and fruit generally not in season.

Getting there and getting around

Thanks to the international airport, getting there is very easy and the airport is only a few kms from Cairns CBD.

If like me, you want the freedom of self-drive, hire a car – I hired a Toyota RAV 4 AWD SUV from Avis at the airport – this gives me more car elevation to minimise risk of damage to the undercarriage from unexpected pot holes, dips, speed humps, etc, as this damage is not covered by insurance. Avis do allow you to cross the ferry on Daintree River and drive as far north as Cape Tribulation (further north to Cooktown is via a 4WD only gravel road and is not covered in your insurance!).

If you are a backpacker, don’t despair as the public transport buses provide regular access to the northern beaches, etc and of course there are a multitude of tour buses and boat trips accessible from Cairns CBD.

When to go?

The coastal areas are classified tropical climate as they generally have no month with a mean temperature below 18 °C (64.4 °F) or with less than 60 millimetres (2.4 in) of rainfall.

The peak season is the drier “winter” months of July-Sept as this gives the best access to the rainforest and Great Barrier Reef with no risk of sea stingers and less annoying bugs, while the temperatures are more pleasant (relatively dry, clear skies and very pleasantly warm  with 15-24degC average daily range),  and thus you are generally guaranteed of mild to warm, humid weather with minimal rain apart from generally brief showers – so sun hat, sunscreen, shorts and sandals and plenty of water is all you need to take. In the cooler Tablelands, rainforest insects have gone into hibernation, but early morning fog can be great for photos.

October is a quieter month as it follows the Australian school holidays in busy September and this makes for cheaper accommodation and better access to tourist destinations but the weather is warming up with peak sunshine hours, but the rain and clouds is starting to increase. March flies are more common in Oct-Nov in the Atherton Tablelands (in southern Australia, they are mainly in the late summer months Jan-March). Most of the tropical fruits unfortunately are NOT in season.

Dec-April is the best time for best time for waterfalls, insects, fungi (especially bioluminescent fungi) and macro photography.

Feb-Mar is the wettest season with highest risk of cyclones (risk is from Nov-May), almost half of the 2,500mm annual rainfall in the rainforests falls during these 2 months, but if you want to see the rainforest wildlife at its most active, then bring your highest level of DEET insecticide and get ready to explore during the breaks in the heavy rain – usually between 10am and 4pm. Many tropical fruit such as mangoes are in season.

May is towards the end of the wet season and is a good month to indulge in the seasonal tropical fruits such as custard apples.

Safety issues

Rainforests are not really a place for urbanised humans so here are a few safety issues you need to be aware of:

  • many very deadly venomous snakes which can be quite small and hard to see – so be vigilant hiking, wear covered shoes not thongs – the ones in tops of the trees are usually non-venomous pythons and not problematic, it is the venomous ones on the ground you accidentally step on which are the dangers – in reality, it is quite uncommon to see one as they usually feel you coming and get out of your way, but they do like to sleep on warm tracks!
  • the coastal estuaries and beaches are saltwater (estuarine) crocodile territory – you need to be croc safe and aware of how sneaky they can be
  • marine stingers are potentially lethal jelly fish – do not swim Nov-May (October may also be problematic further north in Daintree) unless within the confines of stinger nets
  • dengue fever is a mosquito borne nasty viral infection – mainly a problem around Cairns in the wet season so avoid mosquito bites where possible
  • cassowaries are big flightless birds but are potentially dangerous stay away from them – they have dagger-like middle toes which can easily disembowel you
  • venomous bullrouts (freshwater stonefish) live in some rivers – wear shoes when wading or swimming
  • stinging trees are common – they grow to 4m and have large heart shaped leaves with serrated edges – don’t touch them as they have a painful sting
  • flash flooding (rapidly rising water) is common during wetter months
  • take water and use hiking cautions such as telling people where you are going in case you get lost or incapacitated – there is NO mobile phone signal in most rainforests up there
  • avoid sitting too long along creeks – very tiny ticks cause annoying scrub itch

 more information on my wiki.


Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens makes for a great astroscape lens for Milky Way photos

Written by admin on October 3rd, 2015

The Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens on Micro Four Thirds equates to an ultra-wide angle 14-28mm zoom on full frame, and thankfully, the f/2.8 aperture allows sufficient light to create lovely astroscapes with very nice star shapes for such a wide angle lens which render the Milky Way very nicely indeed.

I have previously discussed the specs of this lens and compared it to the Olympus ZD 7-14mm f/4 lens for Four Thirds dSLRs in which I point out that thanks to the shorter sensor-lens flange distance by removing the clunky mirror of dSLRs, wide angle lenses can now be made much smaller and lighter – this lens is one stop faster at f/2.8 yet is substantially smaller, lighter and less expensive than the Four Thirds version.

How to get the shot:

When using a 14mm field of view lens in 35mm full frame terms for astroscapes where you don’t want to see star trailing and you don’t want to be using an equatorial mount to track the stars and offset the rotation of the earth, all you need do is the following:

  • find a location with minimal light pollution
  • preferably find an interesting foreground – and perhaps bring a torch to light it
  • choose a night without the moon in the sky
  • choose a time of year when the Milky Way is visible – for us in southern Australia, Sept-Oct is great as the southern Milky Way will be on the western part of the sky before midnight and the night temperatures are not as chilly
  • choose a wide angle, wide aperture lens with minimal coma aberrations and minimal purple fringing which is also sharp to the edges – now this is hard – Canon do not make such lenses for full frame, so full frame users generally resort to the Samyang/Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, for micro Four Thirds users, we now have this Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 or the new Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye
  • set camera to Live Boost (II if using the newer Olympus cameras) – if you don’t use Olympus cameras, you are out of luck, you may need to focus on a distant subject before it gets dark
  • manually focus on stars – this is hard unless you have a wide aperture lens and Live View Boost such as with Olympus cameras (the E-M5 mark I really needs a lens wider than f/2.8, but the newer cameras have Live Boost II which allows f/2.8 lenses to view and compose stars in the viewfinder)
  • set camera on a sturdy tripod
  • initially you may wish to use the superb EVF instead of the screen to manually focus and compose
  • compose your image – in the Southern Hemisphere look for the two transverse stars of the southern cross and follow them past the pointers (Centaurus) and this will lead you to the centre of the Milky Way in Scorpio and Sagittarius
  • optionally, use the flip out LCD screen to monitor the rest of the image taking and reviewing of the image
  • set your camera to RAW – you will be doing a bit of post-processing to optimise the image (reduce light pollution, etc), thus a jpeg just won’t cut it.
  • ensure your camera is set to do an automatic dark frame thermal noise subtraction (in Olympus cameras, this is in the menu under CogsG, Noise Reduction – set it to Auto (can leave it here for all your photography)
  • set your camera to white balance – perhaps sunny WB – not critical as you are shooting in RAW
  • turn off image stabilisation as you are using a tripod
  • set self timer on to 2secs
  • set your exposure mode to Manual
  • set exposure to f/2.8 (if using an f/1.8 Olympus fisheye use f/1.8), 20-30secs (if you use longer, you will get star trailing unless you use a fisheye), ISO 1600-3200 (this is probably the optimum range)
  • take the shot (NB. as we already know optimum exposure, no need for Live Time setting in Olympus cameras which updates you visually on your exposure)
  • when you get back home, post-process to your heart’s content eg. adjust WB, darken blacks, apply gentle noise reduction, etc

My quick Milky Way astroscapes:

Milky Way

then along came a train at the end of a 30sec exposure to light up the scene, while the signals turned green:

Milky Way

The above was taken at a location with still quite a bit of light pollution from the nearby towns as well as the city of Melbourne which was around 60km away.



Hiking with the Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens – what is it good for, how can it best be used?

Written by admin on October 3rd, 2015

Following on from my previous post on Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens with MC14 1.4x teleconverter for hiking, last night I ventured out on another solo sunset bushwalk on a different track through the gorges – but this time I brought some head lamps to get me back in the dark!

For the hike, I only took 2 cameras and lenses as with the last walk, but this time did not use the MC14 teleconverter, and again both cameras were carried on my waist belt which really takes the weight of my back which is fantastic – but see my last post for issues with this method.

The Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens on Micro Four Thirds equates to an ultra-wide angle 14-28mm zoom on full frame, and thankfully, the f/2.8 aperture and image stabilisation provided by the Olympus OM-D E-M5 allows when to keep shooting hand held in the gorges after sunset whilst keeping ISO at only 400 which allowed for f/5 shots for adequate depth of field and 1/6th to 1/3rd sec shots hand held even though my heart was pumping from the exertion and a little fear of heights as I stood on the edge of a 100m sheer drop to get some of the shots!

I have previously discussed the specs of this lens and compared it to the Olympus ZD 7-14mm f/4 lens for Four Thirds dSLRs in which I point out that thanks to the shorter sensor-lens flange distance by removing the clunky mirror of dSLRs, wide angle lenses can now be made much smaller and lighter – this lens is one stop faster at f/2.8 yet is substantially smaller, lighter and less expensive than the Four Thirds version.

What can you use such a wide angle lens for and how can you use it to get the best visual impact?

Ultra wide angle lenses do take a bit of practice to make the most of them and are not to everyone’s tastes but can really add an important tool in your kit, even for hiking.

Most people would initially think, great it lets me shoot really wide shots so I don’t have to bother with panoramic stitching. Whilst that is true, you will end up with lots of sky which can be boring.

A better use is to find an interesting foreground object (these are not always easy to find on Australian bushwalks) and ensure focus is on that subject, and stop down the aperture to give enough depth of field to give the object context and perspective of the landscape background.

Other uses for a lens like this include:

  • ultra wide angle shots of alley way graffiti art – often alleys do not allow one to get far enough back with other lenses to capture the entire artwork – this lens will, and as alleyways tend to be dark, you can use this lens hand held in darker conditions than most other camera combinations.
  • Milky Way astroscapes like the one I captured in the next post after the walk at the railroad crossing – these require a wide aperture lens (f/2.8 or wider), a ultra-wide angle lens (14mm full frame) which is very well corrected for coma aberrations, purple fringing, etc which would otherwise make for ugly star shapes – this 7-14mm lens is really very nice for this.
  • indoors – the lens is awesome for available light real estate agent shots and architecture
  • creative works

Let’s see what I managed to get on my very hurried hike in low light:

First an overall view of the gorge after sunset. Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens at 7mm f/5 1/3rd sec hand held on top of a sheer drop down a gorge after sunset, ISO 400.


The sheer drop down the cliff, Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens at 7mm f/5 1/5th sec hand held:


The narrow walking trail of the spur, Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens at 7mm f/5 ¼ sec hand held:


The narrow walking trail of the spur, Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens at 7mm f/5 1/6th sec hand held:


More uses for the 7-14mm:

Forest canopy at sunset, Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens at 14mm f/4 1/60th sec hand held.

forest canopy at sunset

Here is how it performs in a dark alley at dusk:

Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens at 9mm f/3.5 1/3rd sec hand held.

alley graffiti art

And some more bokeh shots with the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8:

62mm at f/2.8:


70mm f/2.8:




Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens with MC14 1.4x teleconverter for hiking

Written by admin on September 28th, 2015

Those who follow my blog probably realise that I love getting away by myself and doing short 2-4 hour hikes into the forests and gorges, and if, like today, you start one of these hikes 2 hours before sunset and you take more time than one should for photos, it works better than a personal trainer as you really have to get a move on climbing those steep gorges to get back to the car safely before it really is too dark – there is no mobile phone reception in these gorges, so all the more reason to take extra care and not sprain an ankle in the process.

As is my want and need, I carry 2 Olympus OM-D Micro Four Thirds cameras on these hikes, and to take the weight off my back I carry them on a waist belt harness with quick release systems for the cameras.

This works superbly for me except for a few potential problems:

  • if you are not careful, direct sunlight can enter the rear of the viewfinder of mirrorless cameras such as these and potentially cause permanent damage to the EVF as happened with my E-M1 whilst walking around Uluru (see previous posts).
  • if you use the Olympus HLD-6 grip for the E-M5, the weight of the camera supported by the quick release mechanism gradually and permanently deforms and twists the HLD-6 grip making the grip part feel loose – hence I bought a dummy grip from China to try out for this walk and so far it works fine.
  • I have noticed that with heavier lenses such as my Olympus ZD 50-200mm lens and with the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens, there is a risk the lens can rotate on the camera mount with risk of it coming off – I now regularly check for this.
  • your cameras are exposed to knocks against trees, rocks, etc, so you have to remember to allow room for them as you walk
  • you need to be mindful that you might dislodge the lens cap, especially the one for the 7-14mm lens – consider buying a lens cap cable attachment

Today on my Spring walk through Werribee Gorge, I chose to take just two lenses – the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens with MC14 1.4x teleconverter, and the Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens (the latter lens I will talk about in a future blog post), and although rain was not on the radar, both these kits are very splash-proof, so a bit of rain would not be hurting them whilst carried in this manner.

Carrying these two lenses made me visualise the scenery in very different ways, with the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens with MC14 1.4x teleconverter, I am always looking for distant scenes to capture, wildlife, or for closer scenes to explore how it paints the out of focus backgrounds and how pleasant or busy the bokeh is, in much the way as I use my Olympuis mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens.

The Olympus 40-150mm with MC14 adapter effectively becomes an easily hand held, relatively light and compact 112-420mm f/4 zoom in 35mm full frame field of view terms.

Some of the images below could have been taken without the MC14, but I didn’t have the time to be taking it on and off, so I just left it on until dusk when the very low light levels meant that leaving it off was the best option to gain that extra 1 stop of light.

Here are a few quick edits of some of my ugly Australian gorges taken with some nice golden hour light – I wish I could have just stayed and sat there until the stars came out – maybe one day when I get my ultra-light one man tent set up!

gorgeous light silhouetting a gum tree

above image taken at 56mm f/4 (widest zoom with MC14 and widest aperture)

bokeh testing

above image taken at 95mm f/8

bokeh testing

above image taken at 77mm f/4

bokeh testing

above image taken at 155mm f/4.5

bokeh testing

above image taken at 210mm f/4 (longest zoom with MC14 = 420mm in full frame terms and widest aperture)

surreal granite

above image taken at 73mm f/9

the van with added flare

above image taken at 210mm f/6.3 and I have added some extra sun flare in post.

gums on the cliff

above image taken at 210mm f/8

After the sun had set, and the light became dim in the gorges on the way back, it was time to take the MC14 teleconverter off, ramp up the ISO to 800, so I could take this bokeh-centric image at 67mm f/2.8 at 1/15th sec hand held while I was catching my breath after walking up and down the valley path along Ironbark Gorge:

value walk

I really enjoyed this walk although it was like interval training for my heart, and didn’t even notice the weight of the cameras on my hips, although I do prefer the beautiful bokeh of the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens, but of course, this lens cannot give the telephoto reach of the 40-150mm.