Finally Olympus enticed me to buy the Olympus OM-D E-M1 – thanks to some unbelievable post-Xmas price reductions

Written by admin on December 30th, 2014

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera is the flagship of the Olympus camera line up – but until now, I have resisted buying it and have been happy with my awesome OM-D E-M5 camera.

I had not been that excited by the E-M1 for a number of reasons:

  • it is too big for MY liking
    • the E-M5 was the perfect size for me – able to fit in a jacket pocket with a pancake lens, and able to handle larger lenses well with the 1st stage of the HLD-6 grip.
    • the E-M1 is wider and much the same otherwise as the E-M5 with the HLD-6 grip in place which makes it too big to get into most pockets, plus it is a touch heavier.
  • unlike the E-M5, one handed operation is more difficult – it is really a 2 hands camera
    • you need your left hand to turn it ON and OFF as that switch is now located to the left side of the top panel – impossible to reach with your right thumb
    • the AFL/AEL button is now further from your right hand so if you are using it one-handed, your thumb needs to stretch more – and I use this button a LOT
  • it was too expensive at $US1599 for the body
  • the button positions were very different to my E-M5 which makes using both concurrently annoyingly confusing
  • long exposure thermal noise is substantially worse than with the E-M5
  • most of my photography is with still subjects so I really did not need the C-AF and PDAF – although it would be nice to get AF back with my many Four Thirds lenses
  • most of the other improvements do not really make my photography better except for niche areas – although there are quite a few

Likewise, as nice as the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens is, it was not really exciting me as:

  • the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens is rather big and heavy for Micro Four Thirds (although much smaller and lighter than a dSLR or Sony equivalent)
    • it is the same length (84mm) but lighter (382g  vs  460g) than the Panasonic 14-140mm lens
  • 62mm filter thread is larger than most other MFT lenses – but at least is the same as my Panasonic Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 and my Panasonic 14-140mm lens
    • to use my Metz ring flash, I will need a step down ring 62-58mm and this will cause a little vignetting in the corners
  • it is known to break at the mount if dropped -perhaps that is a sacrificial  design feature to allow easy repairs
  • I already have 12mm f/2.0, 20mm f/1.7, and 45mm f/1.8 lenses – all of which are individually smaller and lighter, with better low light performance than the zoom lens and perhaps better optical image quality – but none are weathersealed!

But then DigiDirect changed my mind overnight!

But when DigiDirect advertised the Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens for a ridiculously low $AU1373 when the $AU is worth only 81 US cents, and the usual price for the combination is well over $AU2000, I just had to buy it as I was getting the camera for $AU800 (they were selling the E-M1 body only for a low $AU878 and the 12-40mm f/2.8 lens by itself reduced from $AU899 to $AU719), and the lens for only $AU537.

ps. they are selling the E-M5 for a ridiculously cheap $AU449 – that is one awesome camera and at that price is amazing value – assuming you don’t need PDAF, C-AF, WiFi.

Some other reasons to buy:

At this price I was willing to overlook the flaws with both the camera and the lens, and there were some other almost compelling reasons for the purchase:

  • the rumours of the features of the forthcoming E-M5 replacement camera due in Feb 2015 were not exciting me as I don’t really need 40mp capability, but I would like PDAF for my Four Thirds lenses which have been relegated to my cupboard for too long – and alas it is looking as though the E-M5 mark II will not be getting PDAF.
  • it is unlikely an E-M1 mark II will be coming in the next 12 months
  • with the poor $AU, future imports are likely to be priced substantially higher
  • I really do want PDAF and C-AF tracking that sort of works
  • I love using flash outdoors so the boost in flash sync to 1/250th sec with external flashes and the built-in PC sync outlet will make my life easier
  • the Live Composite mode sounds like something I would like to experiment with, and as I do not use Photoshop, I can’t readily achieve this effect myself in software with only Lightroom
  • the sensor based image stabiliser is even better than on my E-M5 and I do like to push hand held limits of shutter speed
  • the improved EVF allows one to see down to magnitude 6 stars instead of only magnitude 3-4 stars (with a 25mm f/1.4 lens and Live Boost = ON) which makes astrophotography and low light work that much easier
  • the WiFi smartphone control and image transfer could be quite useful
  • as I shoot a lot of manual focus with legacy lenses, the addition of focus peaking will make a great addition to magnified view mode
  • I discovered on my snow trip last year, and in the Xmas party photo booth shoot I did last week that I really do need a quality zoom lens, and better still that it is weatherproof
  • I get an extra BLN-1 battery and charger and these sell for a silly $AU90-100 for each of these  – so I figure I am paying only $600 for the camera :)

 What about other cameras instead?

Well, I did look at a few.

Canon 7D Mark II:

  • nice dSLR and would work well with my Canon L lenses
  • but I don’t do much sports photography and I do have the Canon 1D Mark III
  • and I need reading glasses to operate it just as with any other dSLR – with mirrorless cameras I don’t need to take my eye from the camera for the far majority of functions – unless I need to delve into the menu system which is rare during a shoot.
  • the future is mirrorless
  • it can’t do closest eye AF – and I have grown to love this accurate AF without need from AF microadjustments which plague all dSLRs
  • I have had enough of carrying around those heavy lenses

Sony A7ii:

  • now this does interest me as it is not only full frame mirrorless but has sensor based IS, albeit not as effective as the E-M1
  • it is not yet available and when it does come, it is likely to be $AU1798 body only, then I would have to buy Sony lenses or resort to using my heavy Canon lenses in slow AF or MF mode – neither excite me – great pics perhaps but not much fun

Sony A7R:

  • full frame 36mp mirrorless
  • but really need to use this on a tripod otherwise one is wasting all those megapixels and just clogging up your hard drive
  • and again, I would have to buy Sony lenses or resort to using my heavy Canon lenses in slow AF or MF mode – neither excite me – great pics perhaps but not much fun

Sony A7S:

  • full frame 12mp mirrorless
  • no sensor based IS so not interested
  • would give me perhaps 2 stops better high ISO but has its own issues and again, I would have to buy Sony lenses or resort to using my heavy Canon lenses in slow AF or MF mode – neither excite me – great pics perhaps but not much fun
  • I would get better resolution images from the E-M1 and have much more fun
  • might be great for videographers or those really serious about astro scapes (night landscapes with the Milky Way – although I am growing a touch tired of seeing these)

Fuji XT-1:

  • a nice cropped sensor mirrorless and expensive but no sensor based IS and I would have to buy Fuji lenses so not interested

Panasonic LX-100:

  • Micro Four Thirds sized sensor in a petite camera with some awesome features:
    • lovely 3x zoom 24-75mm (in 35mm full frame equivalent) f/1.8-2.8 OIS zoom with 3cm close focus is perfect for most travel needs
    • built-in EVF
    • nice dials for aperture, shutter speed, etc
    • multi-aspect sensor
    • flash sync at all speeds thanks to leaf shutter
    • 40fps electronic shutter mode (to 1/16,000th sec)  and 11.9fps mechanical shutter
    • 4K video
    • fast AF, focus peaking, eye detection AF, etc
    • WiFi smartphone control
  • but for me it was a touch too small and had no tilt LCD and no touch screen and at around ~$AU900 was a touch expensive, although maybe worth it for many given its great feature set

So now I have an E-M1:

  • first step was to update firmware as this will rest most of your settings, so you may as well get in done first
  • next set date and time
  • then to configure it the way I like it:
    • cogs A:
      • AEL/AFL set to S1:C2:M3
        MF assist = OFF
        AF illuminator = OFF
    • cogs B: buttons/dial/lever:
      • Fn1 = peaking
      • Fn2 = magnify (to keep similar settings with E-M5)
      • REC = keystone
      • right button = ISO (to keep similar settings with E-M5)
      • down button = WB (to keep similar settings with E-M5)
      • rear buttons = direct mode so I reduce the chance I accidentally change the AF region position
    • cogs D: display:
      • Control Settings: PASM = Live SCP on, Live Control = OFF (I love the Super Control Panel)
      • Info Settings: Playback Info: histogram and highlight/shadow ON
      • Info Settings: LV Info: histogram, level gauge and highlight/shadow ON
      • histogram settings: Highlight = 245 (to avoid blown highlights when shooting ETTR metering)
    • cogs E: exposure:
      • Noise Filter = LOW (or OFF)
      • Antishock = 0 sec to enable electronic 1st shutter
    • cogs G: color/WB:
      • Keep warm color = OFF
      • Flash WB = OFF
  • this means that the other functions are accessible via:
    • front buttons:
      • one-touch custom WB
      • depth of field preview
    • 2×2 switch = 1:
      • top left control, front button drive/self timer/ HDR modes
      • top left control, rear button – exposure meter modes / focus modes
      • front dial: exposure compensation (or aperture if in Manual mode and no action in iAuto)
      • rear dial: aperture or shutter depending on exposure mode (no action in iAuto)
    • 2×2 switch = 2:
      • top left control, front button bracketing modes / bracket actions
      • top left control, rear button – flash exposure compensation / flash modes
      • front dial: ISO
      • rear dial: WB
  • more here

In conclusion…

Despite the above, I have been extremely impressed with the capabilities of the E-M1 thus far – the C-AF tracking actually works fairly well in good light and with a contrasty subject, while I can do hand held photos of stars with my 25mm f/1.4 lens at ISO 3200, 1/4 sec and get lots of stars – I doubt any other camera could achieve that without a tripod.

The focus peaking, 2×2 switch, extra buttons (such as custom WB, DOF preview) and remote control via iPhone is fantastic.

Furthermore, my old Olympus FL-50 flash which would only sync at 1/160th sec on my E-M5 now can sync at 1/250th second – very handy indeed when you need every bit of power and shutter speed for those outdoor shots.

Better still, when used with external “manual” flashes such as with my Canon 580 EX II, I get FULL SYNC without need for FSS or Super FP modes with full frame coverage of flash up to 1/500thsec, and can even push it to 1/840th sec with only ~20% of the top of frame not lit by the flash – now that is incredible for outdoor flash – better than my Canon 1D Mark III even with HiSync using PocketWizard technology!!

I have 2 little disappointments:

  • when using a Four Thirds lens with CDAF optimisation such as my lovely Panasonic Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 lens, the E-M1 insists on using PDAF and not CDAF (CDAF worked quite well on my E-M5 with this lens).
  • whilst the camera allows +/- 5EV exposure compensation, in manual exposure mode, it only displays +/- 3EV exposure metering – this is annoying when using spot metering on a white or black target.

Overall, I am very happy indeed!!!

If high quality video is more important to you:

Andrew Reid of EOSHD.com chose his 5 best video cams of 2014 which are:

  • Used Canon 1D C
  • Sony A7S & Atomos Shogun combo
  • Panasonic GH4
  • Samsung NX1
  • Nikon D750
  • honorable mentions:
    • Panasonic LX100

 

 

Merry Xmas all – it’s the silly season – here’s how to really capture your work Xmas party with a simple photo booth

Written by admin on December 24th, 2014

Most of us have a Christmas work party where everyone gets to dress up and have fun and really get into the team spirit.

You can value add to this is an enormous way by creating great quality photos and leave them to their own creative devices.

Add a few props for them to play with and you will get some fantastic shots they will all love – although I did end up with well over 300 shots which I had to edit – but I loved them all as they were so natural looking with fantastic expressions which really showed how much they all enjoyed the opportunity to be creative – knowing that they will look great unlike typical indoor iPhone snaps!

And there were none of those helicopter-style selfies!

None of these have had any significant PS work on the skin, just some cropping, cloning of creases in the backdrop, and some tonal adjustments and some have a little increased clarity added.

xmas

xmas

xmas

xmas

xmas

xmas

xmas

xmas

xmas

xmas

xmas

xmas

Now for the set up:

A couple of sheets as backdrops – would have been better with a white wall to save cloning out the creases in every shot – a clean background really makes a big difference in the aesthetics!

A flash to light the backdrop – I had intended to use 2 x Metx 45 CL-4 flash units triggered by optical sensor, however, one of the PC cords failed me so I had to be happy with one on full output with a diffuser attached. The light from the flash had to be shielded so it did not directly hit subjects causing blown highlights.

A main light – here I used a studio flash with a soft box on a light stand to provide some soft semi-directional light so that it didn’t matter too much where the subjects were facing as that was always going to be next to impossible to control!

A fill-in light at 1 stop less exposure than the main light – to avoid secondary shadows from a fill-in, I decided to bounce a studio light off the rear wall – the main downside to this is that the photographer is visible in the reflections of glasses – but that is a reasonable compromise.

The result is lovely soft semi-directional light on their faces with catchlights in their eyes and no nasty secondary shadows. nor nasty flash reflections from glasses.

The camera was irrelevant – as long as you can trigger the studio flash with PC sync cord or a radio remote trigger, and you have a suitable lens you are going to be fine.

I forgot to bring a zoom lens for my Olympus OM-D E-M5 (the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 would have been perfect) so I decided to resort to my Canon 1D Mark III with Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L lens hand held and set on manual exposure mode to f/5.6 at ISO 320.

A zoom lens proved to be critical instead of my primes as there was no time to constantly change lenses to accommodate varying numbers of subjects from 1 to 12 at a time!

White balance was set to Sunny, but as I shot in RAW, I adjusted the white balance in Lightroom according to a test target I photographed.

And there you have it – fairly easy portrait lighting for some fun portraiture.

 

Victorian goldfields with the the Olympus OM-D E-M5 – part VI – Tarnagulla

Written by admin on December 23rd, 2014

Stage VI of my road trip takes us further north east a few kilometres from the lovely gold rush town of Dunolly to the much smaller gold rush town of Tarnagulla.

This quaint little town is well worth a visit with its old buildings and cottages and seemingly on the verge of becoming a ghost town.

These photos were taken with the wonderful Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera.

Main street and former bank building (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2 lens at f/3.2):

bank

bank

The old church with pink flamingos – unfortunately the church burnt down around 10 years ago and was sold into private hands.

church

Cottage window:

cottage

Heading north from Tarnagulla takes one through some pleasant pastoral regions with old farm cottages such as these:

cottage

cottage

Then tracking to the north-west towards Wedderburn, there is a very nice granite outcrop hill where Captain Melville, a bushranger of the gold rush days hid from the police – hence its name – Melville Caves – a great spot to explore and there is a camping site at the top of the hill as well as a picnic ground at the base – here is a shot from within Melville’s cave:

Melville caves

Heading back to Melbourne from Maryborough, you cross cairn Curran Reservoir and pass through Newstead before reaching Castlemaine, and on the way you will see sites such as these:

Old farm gates with water pump (my version of solarisation in Lightroom):

old farm

Cairn Curran Reservoir with a low pressure weather system crossing Victoria bringing storms:

Cairn Curran Reservoir

 

Victorian goldfields with the the Olympus OM-D E-M5 – part V – Waanyarra gold fields

Written by admin on December 22nd, 2014

Stage V of my road trip takes us north east a few kilometres from the lovely gold rush town of Dunolly to a rather deserted, dry forest which was once the Waanyarra gold fields of the 1850′s – there is a short gravel road drive, first to the old cemetery (1856-1990), then to a picnic and camping area (byo water!), and then in a circuit past Morton’s old hut and then back on to the main highway.

When gold was discovered in Waanyarra in 1852, it was soon discovered that the alluvial gold nuggets were one of the purest in the world. From 1859-1888, large mining companies entered the field and displaced the individual miners who were to return in 1889 when the depression hit.

Waanyarra was a gold rush town in the 1850′s which consisted of 2 hotels, several stores, a school, and a post office which remained opened until the 1920′s – but there are few remains of any of these today, although the foundations of the Jones’ Creek School are still there – this school operated from 1857-1873 and had an average of 16 pupils. In 1877, a new school was built – the Waanyarra School No 1879, and in 1903, 65 students were being taught in one class room. There was a nearby cricket ground and picnic area. Other remnants can be found as one wanders through the bushwalks with a careful eye.

These photos were taken with the wonderful Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera.

Some shots of the mysterious Waanyarra cemetery which is well worth a wander around for a few minutes to get a sense of the history (Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens at f/1.8).

Wooden grave of Jesse Turner who died in the 1860′s aged 37yrs:

grave

Wooden graves:

grave

And this is the grave of one James McCoy who died in 1898 aged 82yrs and who chose to be buried with his mate William Horan who had died there in 1874 at age 46yrs:

grave

Happy campers at the picnic ground (Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens at f/1.8).

happy campers

BBQ

Morton’s hut was once the Welcome Inn – Morton’s Old Hotel built by the ex-convict in 1850 as a replica of his home in Ireland. The building served as a home for his family of 8, as well as a provisioning store and public bar for countless miners (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 lens at f/6.3)

Morton's hut

Morton's hut

Morton's hut

Next stop… the almost ghost town of Tarnagulla….

 

Victorian goldfields with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 – IV – the lovely gold rush town of Dunolly

Written by admin on December 18th, 2014

Stage IV of my road trip takes us to the lovely gold rush town of Dunolly which is just a few kilometres north of Maryborough – the geographic centre of the “Golden Triangle” of the 1850′s gold rush and a great place to base one’s explorations of the nearby ghost towns.

These photos were taken with the wonderful Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera.

The little town hall in the main street of Dunolly (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2 lens at f/6.3).

Dunolly Town Hall

The court house (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2 lens at f/6.3).

Dunolly Court House

One of the churches with its bell (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2 lens at f/6.3).

Dunolly church

A mansion with its lovely gardens given a ghostly infrared haunted look (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2 lens at f/6.3).

Dunolly mansion

The main street (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2 lens at f/6.3).

Dunolly main street

Verandah of an old cottage (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2 lens at f/6.3).

house

Ironmongers shop in the main street (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2 lens at f/6.3).

ironmongers shop

Next stop – the ghost town of Waanyarra and its interesting cemetery, camping ground and old Morton’s hut.

 

Victorian goldfields with the Olympus E-M5 – III – Timor and Bet Bet

Written by admin on December 14th, 2014

Stage III of my road trip was just north and north east of Maryborough – the geographic centre of the “Golden Triangle” of the 1850′s gold rush and a great place to base one’s explorations of the nearby ghost towns.

These photos were taken with the wonderful Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera.

Although only a few kilometres from Maryborough, the ghost town of Timor was once a thriving community with a population of 27,000 and 38 hotels. The last hotel closed down in the 1960′s and the General Store has closed down in the last decade (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2 lens at f/5).

Timor

The town of Timor was the result of the adjacent large gold mine – the Grand Duke Gold Mine of which there are few remnants remaining such as the main entrance granite arch of the pump house upon which the beam of the pump sat (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2 lens at f/5):

Grand Duke

The Grand Duke mine operated from 1869 to 1896 and produced 216,000 oz of gold and was sited upon a deep lead of auriferous quartz which was about 4 miles long – hence an adjacent mine the North Duke Mine also operated on this lead.

This gold mine boasted the biggest and the first Cornish beam pump in Australia with only 2 others of that size in the world – it was imported from England in 1874 and had a massive 30 ton iron beam, used 270 horsepower and pumped 200 gallons per stroke and 2000 gallons of water per minute and 20 million gallons per week out of the 110m deep mine shafts during the last 7 years of its life making the mine the longest and most continuous wet mine in Victoria. The pump did break down in 1879 resulting in the mine becoming flooded and out of action for 2 years. An accident in 1883 killed 4 men.

Wherever possible the miners mined upwards as this was easier as the material fell to the floor and was more easily loaded into skips – this method is called stoping.

The mine required a massive amount of timber to shore up the shafts plus hundreds of tons of firewood was need each week as fuel for the boilers. This devastated the region’s forests and by the end of the century each acre only had a few twisted old trees, and on average 15 young trees. At the turn of the century, the Maryborough forests were closed as a source of timber for mining.

In 1896, finance became an issue and the pumps were stopped and the mine permanently closed, and it was reported the water levels in the shafts rose by 8.5cm per day.

From this mine, one can drive along the gravel road to Bet Bet which is now also pretty much deserted as indicated by the owners putting this old weatherbeaten Church of Christ weatherboard church up for sale along with the cacti (Olympus mZD 45mm f/1.8 lens at f/5):

church

church

Heading north from Bet Bet one can find this old cottage:

cottage

and just south of Dunolly is the old gold rush era Wighams Junction Hotel built between 1862 and 1867 to serve the Gooseberry Hill gold mining operation. Ann Wigham was the licensee when it opened and the large sign sprawled across its facade read Ann Wigham’s Junction Hotel. The Wighams also ran a nearby corn store. The hotel was a popular meeting place and a venue for indoor and outdoor sports. It was extensively damaged in 1910 and was de-licensed in 1912 (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2 lens at f/6.3).

Wigham Hotel

Wigham Hotel

Next stop .. the awesome little gold rush town of Dunolly…..

 

Victorian goldfields with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 part II – Maryborough

Written by admin on December 11th, 2014

Stage II of my road trip was Maryborough – the geographic centre of the “Golden Triangle” of the 1850′s gold rush and a great place to base one’s explorations of the nearby ghost towns.

The region was initially settled by the Simson brothers as a sheep station called Charlotte Plains in the 1840′s when the squatters took up grazing runs throughout Victoria.

Gold was discovered in 1854 as part of the Victorian Gold Rush which led to the development of the township and population is said to have hit 30,000-50,000 and now sits around 7,000 and is consistently ranked as the most socially disadvantaged local government area in Victoria although this ranking is perhaps because it has no pockets of wealth to help mask the poverty as do most other areas. Perhaps only 6 or so houses had been notable for their wealth

One should also ensure they visit the heritage museum at Worsley Cottage (built 1894):

Rebuilt slab squatter’s hut from the local squatter’s farms (c1844):

hut

A painting of a photo depicting a streetscape and portrait photographer in Maryborough’s main street during the gold rush of the 1850′s:

streetscape

Maryborough local council journals from the 1860′s:

council journals from the 1850's

Unlike Bendigo and Ballarat, Maryborough never really did make it rich and has struggled since the gold ran out in 1918, perhaps saved only by the railroad passing through the town in 1874 and one of the greatest railway stations of the 19th century. The town of Timor to its north had a similar population during the gold rush of some 27,000 people, and had 38 hotels, but not one commercial building functions today with the General Store closing down in the last decade and the churches being sold off. Perhaps without the railroad, Maryborough may have suffered a similar fate.

In 1895 American writer Mark Twain visited the town and remarked about the station upon his visit.

Don’t you overlook that Maryborough station, if you take an interest in governmental curiosities. Why, you can put the whole population of Maryborough into it, and give them a sofa apiece, and have room for more. You haven’t fifteen stations in America that are as big, and you probably haven’t five that are half as fine. Why, it’s perfectly elegant. And the clock! Everybody will show you the clock. There isn’t a station in Europe that’s got such a clock. It doesn’t strike–and that’s one mercy. It hasn’t any bell; and as you’ll have cause to remember, if you keep your reason, all Australia is simply bedamned with bells.

railway station

The immense platform at night, with the Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 lens at f/5.6, ISO 200, 1.3sec:

railway station

Maryborough Flour Mill – now closed due to safety issues:

flour mill

Maryborough boasts some nice heritage buildings dating from Federation years (1901 onwards) such as:

The Bull and Mouth Hotel (Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens):

Bull and Mouth Hotel

Hadenham House
– a lovely Federation Edwardian mansion with 5m ceilings which is a very nice place to stay a few nights while you are exploring the region:

Hadenham House

Another lovely Federation house on the main street:

Federation  house

In 1909, the town was still full of optimism and built this grand cricket stadium (Olympus mZD 45mm f/1.8 at f/3.2, ISO 200, hand held at 1/25th sec) – a photo I took at sunset in tribute to the late Australian test cricketer Phil Hughes who was killed in a freak accident when a cricket ball hit his neck:

cricket stadium

After the gold finished, Maryborough kept chugging along thanks to the development of the regional wool industry and the opening of the woollen mills in the 1920′s. Unfortunately, the woollen mills closed in 1978, then the Kennett state government’s economic rationalism stopped the trains in the 1990′s, and along with the continued loss of the manufacturing sector to overseas, has really hurt the people of Maryborough.

In 2007, the train station was renovated and in 2010, a couple of trains per day were re-instated and substantial efforts have been made to boost the economy of this region – hopefully the fantastic people here will again have optimism for their future, in the meantime, it seems to lack the tourism it needs to flourish – perhaps being over 2 hours drive from Melbourne and with significant competition for tourists from Castlemaine and Maldon will always make it difficult to succeed.

Nearby in Talbot, a lovely little town with a great little cafe, book shop and 2nd hand shop (which is more than the adjacent ghost towns of Majorca and Amherst have):

Talbot

 

Victorian goldfields with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera – I – Avoca and the Pyrenees

Written by admin on December 7th, 2014

It’s almost summer, so I took time off to go for a road trip exploring Victoria’s “Golden Triangle” – one of the richest gold mining areas in the world which sparked the gold rush of the 1850′s and transformed Victoria for ever.

Apparently, over 80% of the world’s largest gold nuggets have been found in this region, and some still are being found – although large ones are now rare!

The Golden Triangle is quite a large region roughly outlined by the cities of Ballarat,  St Arnaud and Bendigo, with the smaller city of Maryborough roughly placed in the centre geographically – hence my choice this time to use as a base from which to explore.

This region is one of the more interesting areas of Victoria for photographers as there are many relics of the gold rush period, although most of the transient gold boom towns are now ghost towns with little evidence of their previous glory – many having populations of 20,000-30,000 with dozens of pubs – now often not even a shop open.

First stop was lunch in the small town of Avoca which is situated in the Pyrenees region, 183km from Melbourne, current population ~1,000, and surrounded by lovely undulating hills, and many wineries which produce nice cool climate wines, particularly known for their reds.

See historical society of Avoca.

Lunch in Avoca has several options including a pie shop which sells a wide range of pies including crocodile, kangaroo, seafood, etc.

There is also the widely regarded Avoca Hotel for those wanting a more restaurant-like meal (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2 lens at f/5):

Avoca Hotel

There are some interesting old weatherboard miner’s cottages (Olympus mZD 45mm f/1.8 lens at f/3.2):

miner's cottage

and the Watford House by the Avoca River is rare surviving example of a prefabricated house imported to Victoria in the 1850′s gold rush when building materials and labour were scarce (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2 lens at f/3.5):

Watford House

Once one has finished exploring Avoca, a short drive up Vinoca Road which becomes a gravel road to the north-west takes you past the Blue Pyrenees Winery which has a cafe and cellar door with wine tasting, and to a picnic ground near a waterfall – there is water only after significant rains, and the short 20min return walk is only for those wishing to stretch their legs (although there is also a 18km one way “Endurance Walk” which starts here too).

Here is a pic of the falls without water for the curious ones (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2 lens at f/5):

waterfalls

Nearby is the Percydale Heritage Park – the old gold mining region now re-forested but presumably full of mine shafts, and a short drive up a gravel road takes you to a nice little lookout which looks eastwards and also south towards the wind farms (Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 at f/4):

waterfalls

 

 

An afternoon stroll through the Brisbane Ranges with the E-M5 and 75mm lens

Written by admin on November 26th, 2014

I love this time of year in Victoria – not too hot, not too cold, not too wet, not too many bullants, no biting March flies and no bush flies to annoy you like there are in summer.

Still have yet to see a snake on my many walks in the bush this year, but I am sure they are watching me!

Here are a couple from yesterday’s impromptu bushwalk into the old gold mining regions of the Brisbane Ranges in Victoria which not too long ago was severely impacted by bushfire.

These were both taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 with the awesome Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens.

 

 

What pushes me on .. is always wondering what I will see around the next bend:

around the bend

And around one bend I came across this little fella leisurely strolling across the path and into the scrub looking for ants – I don’t think he had ever seen a human before, and he didn’t seem to notice me for a few seconds then when he did he quickly “hid” by rolling up next to a tree trunk hoping I couldn’t see him.

This is an echidna, a native Australian monotreme that lays eggs like a platypus.


echidna

 

At last, a full frame “Olympus OM-D” by Sony – the Sony alpha 7 II introduces 5-axis sensor IS

Written by admin on November 23rd, 2014

There are several things I want out of a camera these days:

  • high image quality
  • compact and light camera AND lenses
  • fast accurate AF
  • fast flash sync
  • great range of high quality affordable lenses
  • effective sensor based image stabilisation so manual focus is easy and all lenses can benefit from sharper imagery
  • a nice EVF with live view and all its benefits instead of clunky mirror systems
  • excellent support for manual focus – eg. image stabilised magnified view, etc
  • preferably weather-sealed

Until now, the ONLY cameras which fulfilled these requirements are the wonderful Olympus OM-D cameras such as the E-M1, E-M5 and E-M10.

This month Sony has announced the 1st full frame camera to have 5-axis sensor based image stabilisation similar to the OM-D cameras and said to offer around 4 stops of stabilisation, although currently it is let down by lack of dedicated  lens range, but this can be expected to change over the next few years, and this at least is a great start having the sensor based IS included in such a camera.

The Sony a7 II:

  • 24mp full frame mirrorless camera with E-mount
  • sensor has 117 phase detect and 25 contrast detect points and although presumably the same sensor, it is said to have substantially improved AF and AF tracking over its predecessor, the a7 which did have issues with slow AF ( see here)
    • note that the Olympus OM-D E-M1 has 37 phase detect and 800 contrast detect points and can shoot at 6.5/10 fps, flash sync 1/320th sec,  timelapse, Live BULB/Composite modes, touch screen, and much more.
  • tilting 1,230,000 dot LCD although not touch sensitive
  • 2,359,000 dot EVF with 0.71x magnification
  • shutter speed 30sec – 1/8000th sec
  • no built-in flash, but flash sync a very reasonable 1/250th sec
  • 5fps burst rate is not going to set the world on fire but is OK
  • exposure compensation is +/- 5EV
  • built-in WiFi and NFC for smartphone tethering
  • no timelapse recording
  • has some very nice HD video specs:
    • 1080 in 60p/60i/24p and supports XAVC S codec at 50Mbps and S Log 2 flat picture profile
    • uncompressed HDMI output
    • stereo mic
  • 599g
  • 127 x 96 x 60 mm (5 x 3.78 x 2.36″)
  • at $US1600 it will certainly put some pressure on Canon and Nikon who still have not come to terms with the future being mirrorless cameras for most people

As mentioned, the current poor range of AF lenses dedicated to this camera is a major issue – I would love a 24mm f/1.4, a 35mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.4 and 135mm f/2, but instead, all we have is 35mm f/2.8, 55mm f/1.8 and 3 zoom lenses – none of which are f/2.8.

If indeed, Sony and Olympus are collaborating on the development of this system – Olympus is said to be providing input regarding the 5-axis IS (although Sony appear to be claiming it is their own technology and it appears that it is a very different mechanism – see here, and that it is not as effective in video mode), and help with lens design, it would be quite nice if Olympus were to produce an Olympus version which would be compatible with their Olympus flash system and OM-D user interface – even if they kept the Sony E-Mount, this would not be an issue from a photographer’s perspective, and having such a full frame camera would provide a nice compliment to their OM-D cameras.

See more about the Sony E-Mount system on my wiki