Planetary alignment and Milky Way over Australia’s iconic Craig’s Hut in Victoria’s Alps – Olympus f/1.8 fisheye comes to the fore

Written by admin on February 8th, 2016

January 2016 was a month in which the planets aligned themselves nicely, and last night I took advantage of a few days off with lovely warm sunny days and clear night skies to head up to the rather remote Craig’s Hut at the rooftop of Victoria’s Alps and well away from major light pollution.

The original Craig’s Hut was built for the set of the Australian movie, The Man From Snowy River, but it fell into disrepair and was destroyed by a major bush fire in Dec 2006 (after reading the last blog post, you may be learning a theme – we cannot take things for granted in Australia, bushfires are a constant and increasing threat). It was re-built although not to the original specs, and despite this has continued to be an iconic image of Australia’s High Country which is dotted with huts although most have burnt down in fires and some re-built to provide shelter for hikers and skiers.

Road access to Craig’s Hut is 286km and just over 4hrs drive from Melbourne via Mansfield and Mt Stirling’s Circuit Road – a further 20km drive along a gravel road from the Telephone box Junction (TBJ), and if you have a 4WD with sufficient ground clearance, you can drive right up to the hut where there is a remote camp ground and drop toilet.

If, like me, your car is likely to bottom out on the access road to the hut, your main option is to leave the car in the parking area on the Circuit Road, and back pack up a grade 4 quite steep but well formed 1.7km walking trail which requires some 170m ascent but is readily doable even with a heavy pack and large tripod.

You can’t camp or stay in the hut grounds itself, and the water at the toilets is not potable. Hikers generally camp near these toilets amongst the snow gums, while 4WD campers use the dedicated camp ground some 100m lower down.

For some reason there do not appear to be the annoying aggressive alpine ants which gave me trouble at nearby Mt Stirling (see my blog post on this solo camp trip), and there were no mosquitoes of note, but lots of flies as soon as the sun rose.

Let’s get into some pics (all taken with the Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens):

sunset

Sunset on Craig’s Hut – note that you get 270deg views from the hut – all except the SW quadrant, this view is looking north towards Little Cobbler.

Magellanic Clouds

Evening shot of the Milky Way around Centaurus and Southern Cross with the two Magellanic Clouds rendered in sepia toning.

planets

This is the shot I was waiting for and why I only managed 3 hours sleep, although I did extend my iPhone alarm to give me just that bit more!
This is just before sunrise and shows the centre of our Milky Way galaxy rising above the hut with the constellation of Scorpio directly above the hut and a meteor and the 4 planets visible:
Mercury near the fence, Venus the bright one above the fence near the hut roof, Saturn below Scorpio, Mars high above the chimney (Jupiter is out of this frame).

Milky Way

The Milky Way arching over with astronomic twilight well gone just before sunrise.

jupiter

Jupiter high above the hut at dawn – hand held with camera resting on the fence for a 1 second exposure!

dawn

Just before the sun’s rays peaked over the alps but this image was shot with the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens.

I had a great time up there, even though this place has been photographed in almost every way possible, I am guessing this is the first time it has been imaged with a f/1.8 fisheye lens!

The Micro Four Thirds system’s weight makes uphill hiking such as this so much more enjoyable than a full dSLR kit, while the fisheye lens means I don’t have to waste my life doing panoramic stitches!

 

Wye River Xmas bushfire 6wks on…

Written by admin on February 8th, 2016

As is becoming a far too commonplace event, yet another lovely region of Victoria was severely affected by bushfire – this time a difficult to control fire in the Otways starting around Xmas Day 2015 which closed the Great Ocean Road for some time and severely impacted tourism from Lorne to Apollo Bay.

The fire destroyed over 100 houses in the region, but fortunately most of the Wye River township was saved. The fire seemed to have more impact close to the GOR at nearby Separation Creek and at Boggaley Creek.

The locals are wanting the tourists back to help them get through this difficult time financially as much of their tourism income over the important Xmas holidays was lost. The locals are also angry as many believe that back burning operations in the days prior were the cause of the bushfire.

Last week I drove down there and although I did not go up the valley where most of the fire impacted, and restricted myself to the Great Ocean Road, it would appear as though it is business as usual for the Wye River businesses such as the hotel, cafe, and holiday park – all of which were doing good business last week, while the coastal beautry can still be enjoyed by the tourists as my photos show:

forest

Fire damage at Boggaley Creek with re-growth of ferns (and blackberry weed).


Wye River house

Wye River coast

The long exposure of the beautiful coastline of Wye River.

All photos taken hand held with Olympus OM-D cameras.

Remnants of a house at Wye River overlooking the beach, but at least some tourists are back on the beach.

 

 

Keeping up with Nikon, Canon announces the Canon 1DX Mark II pro DSLR sports camera

Written by admin on February 3rd, 2016

Last week I blogged a short post on Nikon’s new flagship pro sports dSLR, the Nikon D5.

Pro sports/wildlife shooting is now one of the few reasons to buy a dSLR over a mirrorless camera, the other main reason is high resolution, image quality with more shallow DOF capabilities but Sony have addressed this with their Sony A7R II, and pros wanting to segregate themselves from the dSLR crowd in terms of image quality bragging rights will buy medium format cameras for this work.

Today Canon has announced its update to their flagship dSLR, the Canon 1DX Mark II which will cost around $US5999 and then if you want to use its 4K or 120fps HD video or burst rate for 170 RAW images (12secs),  you will need to shell out for some of the new CFast CF 2.0 memory cards at around $1000 each for 256Gb.

Although I own the Canon 1D Mark III pro sports dSLR and a number of pro Canon lenses, I will not be shelling out this amount of money as I am not a pro sports or wildlife photographer who can justify this – personally I am waiting for Canon to bring out a full frame mirrorless with sensor based IS and fast CDAF plus PDAF similar to the Sony A7R models, but at a reasonable price and full compatibility with the Canon system such as their flashes.

Canon 1DX Mark II specs:

  • overall design has changed little from previous 1D models which allows pros to migrate without handling issues
  • rugged, heavy (1.5kg). fully weather-sealed camera with large battery (but if use older LP-E4N battery, the burst rate drops to 12fps) with improved grip
  • shutter rated at 400,000 cycles
  • 20.2mp dual-pixel (for Live View AF) full frame sensor
  • two Dual DIGIC 6+ processors to capture 4K video and shoot continuously at up to 16 fps
  • burst rate: 14 fps with AF, and 16fps with mirror lock up  and locked focus and exposure (not sure why you would do this to get minimal extra burst rate though!)
  • native ISO of 100-51200, expandable to 409600
  • new 61-point AF system has 41 cross-type sensors and 24% larger frame coverage than the 1DX and f/8 capability on all points
  • AF sensitivity in low light has been doubled from EV -2 to EV -3 at the center AF point when the camera is set to One-Shot AF
  • improved AI Servo III+ predictive AF algorithm for better accuracy
  • optical viewfinder now has continuous red illumination of all AF points within the camera’s Intelligent Viewfinder II
  • updated metering system to 360k-pixel RGB+IR sensor which improves face detection (for metering and AF point selection) and subtract tracking
  • it seems iTR face detection in OVF mode now better detects the eye or cheek as prior models tended to focus on noses which was useless, and it better detects partly obscured faces – it is still erratic in AI-Servo mode for tracking a face but that is to be expected as it is early days in this technology
  • improved fixed LCD to 3.2″ Clear View II LCD with 1.62 million dots and now touch enabled but only for AF point selection in Live View
  • video:
    • 4K video at 60p, 30p, 25p, 24p, or 23.98p  using the M-JPEG codec (requires CF2.0 card for more than a few seconds footage)
    • 1080HD at 120p, 60p, 50p, 25p, 24p, or 23.98p
    • dual pixel sensor allows C-AF in video while touch LCD allows focus point changes
    • no native focus peaking or zebra patterns
    • no Log Gamma option
    • ‘clean’ signal out via HDMI port for 1080 only (not 4K)
    • mono mic
    • headphone jack
    • mic jack
  • new built-in GPS (with an e-compass)
  • new Digital Lens Optimizer to help correct aberrations in-camera
  • improved post-shot in-camera Raw processing
  • radio TTL remote flash as with 1DXx
  • USB 3.0 or Ethernet ports (increased from 100Mbps to 330Mbps)
  • CFast card slot (NOT compatible with CF cards!)
  • CF card slot
  • new LP-E19 lithium-ion battery CIPA rating 1210 shots
  • 1530 g (3.37 lb / 53.97 oz)
  • 158 x 168 x 83 mm (6.22 x 6.61 x 3.27″)
  • optional WiFi via Canon’s $600 WFT-E8 wireless file transmitter

A few issues:

  • longest timed shutter speed still only 30secs (like Nikon) unlike Olympus which allows 60secs which is more useful for astro work
  • flash sync only 1/250th sec (like Nikon) while Olympus has 1/320th sec
  • no electronic shutter 20fps mode like Olympus and others
  • exposure compensation dial does not work in Manual exposure mode with autoISO – need to go to menu systems!
  • Auto ISO and exposure compensation in manual mode is NOT possible in movie mode
  • still no sensor based image stabilisation
  • still no closest eye detect AF (although metering system can detect eyes and put AF point on them, but perhaps one day the Live View mode may get it)
  • Dual Pixel AF isn’t available for continuous AF in stills shooting in Live View mode but is for movies!
  • high risk of putting a memory card into the wrong slot causing damage to card or the camera
  • 4K mode is 4096 x 2160 pixels wider than 16:9 DCI 4K aspect ratio and only captures in less efficient Motion JPEG format, but perhaps this is used to allow 8.8mp frame grabs
  • continuous silent drive mode is not all that silent

 Compared to the Nikon D5:

  • faster burst rate of 14fps not 12fps
  • dual pixel sensor for improved Live View AF
  • better video
  • much less AF points – 61pts with 41 cross compared with Nikon’s 153pts including 99 cross type
  • subject tracking may not be as good as Nikon’s 3D tracking – have to wait for more tests
  • only 6 WB presets vs 12 on the Nikon (probably not important for most)
  • LCD screen not as good – 1.6m dots vs 2.4m dots and limited touch utility
  • battery life much worse – 1210 shots vs Nikon’s 3780 shots
  • heavier at 1530g vs Nikon D5′s 1415g
  • built-in GPS instead of optional add on with Nikon’s GP-1A GPS unit
 

Olympus goes back to the 60′s with its new Olympus Pen F Micro Four Thirds camera

Written by admin on January 28th, 2016

Olympus has just announced a new style of Micro Four Thirds camera which harks back to the days of their very popular interchangeable lens half frame Pen F film camera of the 1960′s.

PenF

Pen F rear

images courtesy of theverge.com

You do have to admit it does look quite nice and for the most part it is an extremely capable camera adopting most of the features of the 2015 ILC camera of the year, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II, and then adds a few plus a new sensor.

The new top left position of the EVF will attract many who have been longing for this as it allows better use of the left eye to watch the scene and avoids your nose hitting the rear LCD.

Olympus now have 3 separate camera styles in its Micro Four Thirds line up:

  • the OM-D line with its central SLR-like EVF hump on top
  • the Pen F line with a left positioned EVF
  • the Pen line with no EVF built-in but optional EVF

As an aside, sales of these Olympus mirrorless ILC cameras have surged in Japan taking Olympus to 34% of all ILC sales in Japan, well in front of Sony, Canon and Panasonic.

The new 20mp Live MOS sensor is presumably the same one as in the Panasonic GX-8 and gives marginally more pixels of dubious benefit but does seem to have better noise at high ISO than the aging but excellent 16mp in the other Olympus cameras.

The 20mp also means that the 8-shot HiRes mode of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II is now 50mp instead of 40mp.

Apart from weathersealing, a few function buttons, 2×2 switch, mic plug, and the higher magnification EVF, there appears to be little else left out from the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II.
Pen FT

ABOVE: The Olympus Pen FT film camera of the 1960′s (image courtesy of klassic-cameras) – left positioned viewfinder (and lens) but no top dials and at least you could see the shutter speed and aperture when looking down on it.

Personally, I think it looks more aesthetic than the old film camera, but for some reason, Olympus have gone overboard with top dials – the On-Off switch is now a dial on top left, they have added an exposure compensation dial which not only is unnecessary but users have reported it is hard to change requiring two digits.

If they are going down this track like Fuji, they should start supporting Panasonic’s aperture rings which they have on some of their lenses (and which are totally ignored by Olympus camera bodies to date) so that users can just look down on their camera and see the selected aperture and exposure compensation

Furthermore, their front picture mode dial, whilst looking nice appears to cause pressure on your fingers exacerbated by its rough edges – perhaps this is not so much an issue if you use the almost mandatory optional ECG-4 grip.

The camera is clearly targeting those who want to get everything processed in camera rather than shoot RAW and process on a computer which is my preference.

To this end, Olympus have added new monochrome and colour controls as well as adding a mid-tone controller to their highlight-shadow tone curve controller, so users can tweak their images and even pre-visualise these effects in the EVF, which I must admit can inspire creativity by viewing the world differently and seeing new creative options.

Olympus have also added a few other new useful features, such as:

  • spot metering can now be at the AF spot
  • can save manually inputted EXIF data for legacy lenses – very handy indeed!
  • 4 custom setting modes on the top PASM dial

And of course it has most of the great features of the E-M5 Mark II such as:

  • 5 axis image stabilisation – the best in the world
  • 77Mbps 1080/60p full HD video with awesome IS to allow steady hand held videos and focus peaking
  • fast CDAF
  • Hi Res mode
  • auto HDR mode
  • mechanical shutter to 1/8000th sec and up to 10fps
  • silent electronic shutter to 1/16,000th sec and up to 20fps
  • all those wonderful long exposure modes such as Live Composite, Live Timed, etc.
  • Live Boost and optical viewfinder simulation
  • swivel, articulating, touch  LCD screen which can be used as a AF point controller while using the EVF
  • ART filters
  • TruePic VII Image processing engine
  • WiFi with smartphone remote control
  • intervalometer – can create 4K movies
  • bundled compact tilt/swivel/bounce FL-LM3 flash (GN 9m at ISO 100)

Despite my nit-picking, it is yet another awesome Micro Four Thirds camera which will be attractive to many and take great images, although the price point of $US1199 seems a touch high for a camera such as this without weathersealing and it really does not have substantive advantages over the E-M5 Mark II other than the EVF position and being a fraction smaller.

More details and links to reviews, etc on my wiki page.

Compared to the Panasonic GX-8:

Presumably has the same sensor, and both are priced the same.

The Pen F has the following advantages:

  • better image stabilisation
  • fully articulating LCD not just tilting
  • Olympus long exposure modes, ART filters, monotone and colour creator controls
  • EVF less bulky
  • HiRes mode
  • closest eye AF
  • 81AF points not just 49
  • 1080HD video offers more modes incl. 60p, 50p, 30p, 25p, and 24p plus better image stabilisation
  • lighter at 427g instead of 487g
  • smaller

The GX-8 has the following advantages:

  • higher magnification EVF which tilts up but is more bulky
  • AF burst capability better at 8fps instead of 5fps
  • perhaps better C-AF
  • 100Mbps 4K video at 30p/24p as well as 1080 60p/30p plus mic port
  • post-focus mode allows users to select different focus points after shot is taken via 4K 30fps shots
  • splashproof
 

Nikon introduces new full frame pro sports dSLR – the Nikon D5

Written by admin on January 21st, 2016

Nikon recently announced a new pro dSLR for their sports and wildlife photographers who have $US6500 to upgrade from their aging Nikon 4DS, and it adds some nice new features to get them excited.

Specs of the new Nikon D5 dSLR:

  • 20.8 mp full frame sensor
  • native ISO 100-102,400
  • 12fps burst rate
  • all-new autofocus module with 153 points, 99 of which are cross-type
  • EXPEED 5 processor
  • 4K video but this is very limited
  • touchscreen LCD
  • support for Nikon’s new radio remote TTL flash functionality (requires a radio TTL compatible flash)
  • $US6500

On paper, seems like a great camera for Nikon’s sports and wildlife photographers who will get much improved high ISO performance, better AF, some 4K video capability as well as remote radio TTL flash.

 Why carry all this weight and pay $US25,000 for a telephoto kit?

In my last post, I blogged about the wonderful new super telephoto lenses for Micro Four Thirds – the Olympus 300mm f/4 and the Panasonic 100-400mm.

You could use a Panasonic GH-4 mirrorless camera with the 100-400mm zoom and gain not only wonderful hand held telephoto reach up to 800mm in full frame terms but better 4K video quality, and this for well under $US4000 and perhaps a quarter of the weight and size as a Nikon 600mm full frame telephoto with less reach.

Alternatively, you could use an Olympus OM-D E-M1 with the 300mm f/4 lens and gain unprecedented image stabilisation capability with superb optics in a much more compact size and weight than the Nikon kit and again coming in at under $US4000.

So why then buy the Nikon outfit?

The answer is primarily, the improved capability of shooting moving subjects in very low light – a scenario where image stabilisation is of very limited utility as you need sufficiently fast shutter speed to adequately stop the moving subject – and here is where image quality at high ISO becomes a prime consideration.

The Micro Four Thirds cameras will get you to ISO 3200 with good image quality but it can be expected that the Nikon will give you at least 1, maybe 2 more stops of higher ISO for similar image quality, although we will have to await tests to see how good the Nikon really is.

The Micro Four Thirds options will be just as good and perhaps even better for many situations such as studio work, macro work, static wildlife/sports subjects and for moving subjects in good light (although the Nikon’s AF may be better, and the optical viewfinder will have advantages in this situation) and allow for far more versatility and maneuverability thanks to not being stuck with a large heavy tripod and having to carry large lenses.

 

 

 

2 new premium quality super-telephoto lenses for Micro Four Thirds – Panasonic 100-400mm and Olympus 300mm f/4

Written by admin on January 8th, 2016

Micro Four Thirds camera users are spoilt by the rich array of wonderful lenses at their disposal – but until now there has not been any premium quality super-telephoto lens optimised for CDAF (there are Four Thirds lenses such as the superb 300mm f/2.8 which do work well with phase detect cameras such as the Olympus OM-D E-M1), and now, at last, we have been endowed with 2 great lenses coming to a camera store near you over the next 2-3 months.

Each lens has its advantages and disadvantages which will make us all spend weeks trying to decide which will be best for our needs.

These lenses although very niche in the dSLR world given they would need tripods, have a much more versatile utility in the Micro Four Thirds world ranging from wildlife, nature macrophotography, sports action, and perhaps even for concerts when silent shooting is needed from a distance.

At only around 1kg, even long distance overnight hikers would consider carrying one of these to get those shots that full frame dSLR users would need Sherpas to carry their gear.

In addition, the amount of background perspective compression can make them useful for fashion photography and other creative uses.

The class leading image stabilisation of these camera-lens combinations with lower weight and bulk make them superior to dSLR alternatives for use where tripods are not useful such as on ships to the Antarctic, while the weathersealing and freezeproof design of the Olympus lens also comes in handy!

Common features:

  • compatible with any Micro Four Thirds camera whether Olympus or Panasonic – although having the same brand as your camera can give better functionality
  • weathersealing
  • high optical quality
  • tripod mount
  • focus limiter switch
  • close focus is around 1.3-1.4m giving very useful macro performance of around 0.48x macro in full frame terms
  • optical image stabiliser which can be combined with the camera’s sensor based image stabiliser to allow even better dual system image stabilisation (but will this work on different branded cameras?)
  • relatively large and expensive for Micro Four Thirds but smaller, lighter and less expensive than a full frame lens of similar quality and field of view
  • nano coating for reduced flare and improved contrast
  • fast, silent AF capable of face detection AF and even nearest eye detection AF, and optimised for video
  • 9 rounded aperture blades

The benefits of the Panasonic lens over the Olympus lens are:

  • its a zoom lens which means it is more versatile, particularly when subjects are coming towards you as you have 200-800mm field of view in 35mm full frame terms in an easily handholdable lens and it has a zoom position lock
  • it is considerably less expensive at $US1799 vs $US2499
  • considerably lighter at 985g vs 1270g
  • considerably shorter at 172mm vs 227mm
  • 10mm thinner at 83mm vs 93mm
  • smaller, cheaper filters at 72mm vs 77mm
  • AF will be faster on Panasonic Lumix cameras than the Olympus lens thanks to compatibility with Panasonic’s DFD (Depth From Defocus) technology (presumably no difference on Olympus cameras though)

The benefits of the Olympus lens over the Panasonic lens are:

  • wider aperture at 300mm allowing 1EV lower ISO to be used as presumably lets in around twice as much light or 1 stop more light (600mm field of view in full frame terms)
  • ability to use the Olympus mZD MC-14 teleconverter which converts it to 420mm f/5.6 (840mm field of view in full frame terms)
  • the “highest resolution lens ever made by Olympus” which promises superb optical quality
  • focus limiter switch has 3 settings not just 2 and thus improved utility for nature macrophotography
  • perhaps better weathersealing with its 11 separate hermetic seals, and Olympus is renown for its wonderful weathersealing
  • Manual Focus Clutch mechanism for improved manual focus feel and rapid access
  • configurable lens function button can be used to suspend C-AF, etc
  • image stabilisation may be somewhat better, particularly as few Panasonic cameras have built-in sensor based image stabilisation and Olympus are class leaders in this technology

The Panasonic Leica DG 100-400mm f/4-6.3 Power OIS lens:


Panasonic lens

  • model H-RS100400
  • 200-800mm telephoto reach
  • 20 elements in 13 groups (1 aspherical ED lens, 1 UED lens, 2 ED lenses)
  • Power OIS image stabiliser with Dual IS compatibility
  • high speed digital signal exchange at 240 fps to comply with the high-speed, high-precision AF (Auto Focus) with DFD (Depth From Defocus) technology on LUMIX G cameras
  • focus limiter 5m to infinity
  • built in sliding lens hood
  • 171.5mm / 6.75in long but extends upon zooming
  • 83mm / 3.3in diameter
  • 985g / 34.74oz excl. lens hood, tripod mount
  • $US1799
  • see my wiki for more links and information

The Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 OIS lens:

Olympus lens

dual IS

  • 600mm field of view (840mm with MC-14 teleconverter)
  • weathersealed with 11 separate hermetic seals
  • freezeproof
  • 5-6EV optical image stabiliser and dual IS / sync IS with certain cameras
  • “highest resolution” Olympus lens ever made
  • fast, silent AF (completely silent shooting when used in electronic shutter mode)
  • Zero and Z nano coating
  • Manual Focus Clutch mechanism
  • 17 elements in 10 groups
  • close focus 1.4m giving 0.48x macro in 35mm terms
  • 3 position focus limiter: 1.4-4m, 4m to infinity and full range
  • configurable lens function button
  • 77mm filter
  • 93mm x 227mm
  • 1270g (27lbs) excl. tripod mount presumably
  • compatible with Olympus mZD MC-14 1.4x teleconverter to give 420mm f/5.6 (840mm telephoto reach in full frame terms)
  • $US2499
  • see my wiki for more links and information

Handheld video shot entirely at 840mm field of view using the Olympus 300mm plus MC14 teleconverter – amazing IS indeed!

Summary

Users will have an agonising decision to make as these are two wonderful lenses but given the price, it is likely only one will make it into your kit, so you need to decide whether you go for smaller size and zoom versatility vs larger aperture, perhaps better optics and better low light capability of the Olympus.

For those who cannot afford these, all is not lost, there are a number of enthusiast quality telephoto zooms for Micro Four Thirds which are lighter, smaller and much less expensive, but you do get what you pay for here. Examples are Olympus mZD 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 and the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 100-300mm f/4-5.6 Mega OIS.

Compared to the new Canon EF 100-400mm pro lens:

For perspective, Canon has recently introduced a superb telephoto zoom lens, the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens which could be used on a APS-C cropped sensor dSLR such as a Canon 7D to give 160-640mm OIS which places it between these lenses in capability and price with these notable features:

  • only 640mm telephoto reach (on testing it only gets to 383mm = 613mm) and this is at f/5.6 (half the light of the Olympus and much less reach than the Panasonic lens)
  • heavier at 1.64kg incl. tripod mount
  • image stabiliser is not as effective (“4EV” vs “5-6EV” for the Olympus) and not able to be used in Dual IS mode as Canon do not make sensor based IS cameras
  • weathersealing is not as good as the Olympus as only “dust and moisture sealed”
  • cumbersome bayonet style lens hood not like the sleek slide on hoods on these lenses
  • AF is not optimised for CDAF camera systems and thus not optimised for Live View, silent AF, nor video C-AF nor for face detection or eye detection AF
  • vignetting is severe while sharpness is a bit soft wide open at 400mm when tested on full frame cameras
  • similar close focus macro magnification although working distance shorter at 1m
  • less accurate AF as needs micro adjustment calibration for each camera
  • AF sensors cover less of the image frame than with mirrorless cameras
  • $US2199

Other options for Canon and Nikon dSLR users:

Canon APS-C users also have the less expensive option of the excellent 1993 designed Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L lens which comes in at 1.25kg although much longer, and only $US1249 but it is not fully weathersealed, and does not offer image stabilisation and thus really needs to be used at high ISO and on a tripod, and the close focus capability is substantially poorer with close focus only down to 3.5m. Furthermore it only has 8 straight diaphragm blades not 9 rounded blades. Nevertheless, this lens has been popular with birders. Most Canon users though would be better off with the Canon EF 100-400mm II lens outlined above.

Nikon DX users have the option of the new Nikon AF-S VR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 G ED lens giving 120-600mm in full frame terms but it is a touch heavier at 1.47kg w/o tripod collar, priced at $US2299 (RRP is $US2699), does not focus as close (1.75m vs 1.4m), image stabiliser not as effective at 4EV, not optimised for CDAF (see above), cheap, plasticky bayonet lens hood, and is not weathersealed.

Both Canon and Nikon cropped sensor dSLR users also have the option of the 300mm f/4 image stabilised lenses combined with a 1.4x teleconverter to give around 600mm f/5.6 telephoto reach but these lens combos weigh in at about 1.4-1.5kg and would not match the image quality nor the image stabilisation of the Olympus lens, let alone the CDAF functionality. Nikon does however have a new fresnel technology ultralight 300mm f/4 lens which is half the weight of a usual lens and comes in at 755g and $US1999, but you then need to factor in the teleconverter and potential for fresnel artefacts.

Full frame dSLR users will have to use heavy, very expensive lenses to get to this 600-800mm telephoto reach or resort to 2x teleconverters with the above 300mm f/4 lenses and try to AF with an f/8 widest aperture.

 

Solo overnight hike to summit of Mt Stirling

Written by admin on December 27th, 2015

Following on from my overnight camping hike up Mt Feathertop, I decided it was time to do one solo.

I thus decided upon Mt Stirling as it was relatively close to Melbourne (some 3hrs drive via Mansfield) and the hike up the mountain is only half as long as the Mt Feathertop hike (4.5km at 500m altitude gain vs 10.5km at 1100m altitude gain), and with the extra weight of cooking gear and food, I felt this would be a good hike to start as a solo endeavour, given I did struggle with the ascent of Mt Feathertop given my lack of fitness.

I had considered extending the hike across The Monument saddle to camp near Craig’s Hut of The Man from Snowy River movie fame but wisely considered this might be a touch too much and perhaps best done another time as the walk from there back up Mt Stirling is on a very steep, severely eroded 4WD track and not much fun with a heavy backpack.

Mt Stirling is in the Victorian Alps and rises to 1749m which is similar to nearby alpine resort of Mt Buller.

Unlike commercialised Mt Buller, Mt Stirling offers camping and is a relatively “remote” camp site – I was the only person camping up there the night I went.

That said, as I soon discovered 2/3rds of my way up the mountain, you are not really isolated from people – I met 3 teams of commercial horse trail riders each with about a dozen horses, and leaving plenty of fresh presents for me to step in while attracting a multitude of flies, and then around 9.30am on a Monday morning, a 4WD enthusiast decided to pit his car and his skills against the treacherous 4WD ascent track to Mt Stirling, presumably not for the views nor to experience the ambience of Mt Stirling but just as a challenge to himself and his colleague, and to further erode the already severely eroded track.

Having left my car at the Telephone Box Junction (TBJ) and placed a note of intention of my trip in the ranger’s post slot, I again mounted my new Aarn Peak Aspiration Body Pack which weighed around 16-17kg with 1.5kg of water.

To reduce weight given that this trip I needed to carry cooking gear and food for dinner, I decided to leave my lovely Olympus mZD 40-140mm f/2.8 lens at home as this would save nearly 1kg, but given the forecast was for the clouds to clear by midnight, and there was hope of Geminid meteor shower being visible (I was 24hrs early for the peak of the shower), I decided to bring a small tripod and the Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens as well as my only other lens for the trip – the small, light, Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 lens. Of course, I also brought along my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera. I feel sorry for those hikers who have to cart big heavy dSLRs such as Canon or Nikon with their big, heavy lenses and big, heavy tripods to match.

Despite the weight of my backpack which again performed beautifully for me, the walk up Mt Stirling was pleasant amongst the tall eucalypts and the overcast skies kept the summer temperatures to a comfortable level for strenuous uphill hiking, made all the more enjoyable by knowing that it is only a 2.5hr walk and then I would be able to relax and take in the awesome ambience of being the only person on top of the mountain overnight.

The enjoyment was somewhat reduced with the horse manure and flies, and then, once at the top, by the small but aggressive Australian native alpine ants, Iridomyrmex alpinus, which insisted on swarming over my feet and giving me a few friendly nips whenever I had inadvertently encroached near their ground nests hidden amongst the low foliage on top of the mountain. I thus took some time to plan where I would pitch the tent, even though it was insect proof.

There are a number of emergency huts along the way to the top of Mt Stirling should the weather become extreme, and near the camp area at the base of the summit, there is the Geelong Grammar School hut with a rain tank which unlike at Mt Feathertop, this one had water, although not potable and required treating. To save weight I did not bring the Camelbak All Clear UV water sterilisation kit, but instead brought along a 10 micro water filter kit, which although slower to process the water is considerably lighter.

After pitching my Big Sky Revolution 2P tent and boiling water for tea and for my dehydrated beef pasta dinner, I became excited by a very unexpected sunset as the sun managed to find its way under the big blanket of cloud to light up Mt Speculation and the Cross Saw ridge:


Mt Speculation

I tried to get some sleep and wake up after midnight when the forecast for the cloud to disappear came to fruition and allow me access to the summer Milky Way and the Geminid meteors, but alas, sleep did not come easy, but I was rewarded with beautiful dark skies full of stars, but very few meteors (I was after all 24hrs too early for the peak meteor shower).

Looking south to the Southern Cross, Centaurus and the Magellanic Clouds whilst I boiled water at 2am for a hot chocolate and marshmallow – a meteor came shooting down from the Small Magellanic Cloud aiming straight for my tent (Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens at f/1.8, 30secs):

Meteor

and at last a Geminid meteor sweeping from Castor and Pollux, the Gemini twin stars at lower right and across to the left upper between Orion and Taurus with the lights of the alpine tourist town of Bright in the distant north-east horizon:

Geminid

Next day, after earlier moving my tent into the shade of a tree, I was awoken at the unearthly hour of 11.30am by female voices warning me that there were women around and perhaps extracting myself from the tent naked would not be a good idea – I suspect they were secretly hoping for a Hugh Jackman pouring a bucket of water over himself, but instead, they got a bleary eyed George Clooney asking where the Nespresso machine was and discovering instead, a dozen women on horseback!

The heat of the midday sun meant it was well and truly time to eat the remains of my cheeses and “twiggy stick” salami before it went off, and then to go exploring the summit of Mt Stirling and the ridge across towards Stanley Bowl.

The summit (at left) from the east ridge looking towards the prominent Mt Cobbler:

summit

and another view along the more gentle parts of the 4WD track – the camp ground is the small clearing to the right of the base of the road:

Mt Cobbler

View of Mt Buller from the eastern ridge:

Mt Buller

The hike back down to the car was hot and sunny (it was 34degC at the base of the mountain, although I suspect it was only around 20-24deg air temperature for most of the hike but the direct summer sun made up for the difference!). I decided to go a different route down which was longer but supposedly more picturesque. I took the first of several possible short cuts, this one was to Wombat Drop but after some 400m the path which had been notable for the grass becoming longer and more difficult to see snakes in, suddenly was terminated by a sign indicated it was under revegetation and thus I returned back up the path to the gravel track and continued on my merry way.

Somehow, perhaps because of this experience, I missed the last of the shortcuts and ended up walking far further than I needed to, down to King Saddle Hut, and a very boring 4km or so walk along the Summit Circuit Road (had I bothered to put my reading glasses on and consult a map, I could have walked instead to Razorback Hut instead of along the circuit road) back to the TBJ where fortunately, my car still had all four wheels and the windows were even intact!

The drive back to Melbourne was broken by a hamburger in the township of Yea, but I did miss not being able to allow myself extra time to photograph the beautiful late afternoon light coming through onto the hillsides in this lovely region. I was concerned that the boring drive down the Hume Freeway would put me to sleep and to further delay my trip home would only create a greater risk. I thus regrettably gave up on enjoying the beauty of an uncommon light that was truly inspirational.

 

A review of the Big Sky Revolution 2P ultra-light 2 man hiking tent

Written by admin on December 27th, 2015

Despite me getting on in the years, I am a new comer to overnight hikes and bushwalks, so after much research and advice from the more experienced campers, I purchased the Big Sky Revolution 2P hiking tent as a 3 season tent for one person.

Given my advancing age, my main requirements were a light weight and compact tent which is fast and easy to pitch, capable of withstanding reasonable wind and rain while still being comfortable, weather-proof, come with a waterproof tub floor, and perhaps most important of all in Australia, insect proof with good ventilation.

In most parts of Australia, insects are a real annoyance, so a bug mesh is almost mandatory if one is to have any chance of a good night’s sleep – mosquitoes, flies, ants and midges are all very annoying in the warmer months in particular.

Be aware that no ultralight hiking tent will stop a persistent native rat or mouse gnawing through the tent to get to your food – so be careful how you manage your food to reduce attracting them into your tent.

But what about ultra-light shelters?

I had looked at the ultra-ultra-light shelter options, and whilst attractive in weight terms (300-850g), none seemed adequate to address all of the above requirements adequately for me:

  • most are single wall shelters which either lack space, lack 360deg protection, lack insect protection, and/or are not  likely to cope with prolonged rain and wind well.
  • the tarp style ones also tend to be more difficult to set up and keep the tarp pitched taut
  • to me, they would be great as emergency shelters when you are planning on a day hike but are forced to take shelter, or for some situations such as fair weather desert camping, but do risk leaving one without adequate shelter if the weather really turns sour for prolonged periods.
  • if you are using single wall shelters, check out this pdf on how to minimise condensation
  • excellent examples of these include:
    • poncho/cape – tarp – shelters such as Gatewood Cape Shelter which can be combined with the Six Moon Serenity Net Tent ($A229) but only sleeps 1 person and but combined weight is only 540g
    • trekking pole single wall tent shelters such as:
      • Big Sky Wisp 1 person tent
        • available in 300g-600g designs although the 300g version is $US300 more expensive as it uses lighter, stronger, more UV resistant, Let-It-Por Cuben fibre fabric
        • ventilation and condensation can be problematic
    • tarp with bug net such as:
      • Sea to Summit Escapist 15D large tarp with Ultra-mesh bug Tent
      • you do save perhaps 0.5kg at around 800-900g compared with the Rev 2P tent, but it costs much the same and you don’t get 360deg protection plus it is harder to pitch, less private and requires your trekking poles
      • some 300g heavier than the similarly priced Gatewood Cape solution but does provide room for 2 people and more versatile tarp but no 360deg protection or poncho
      • the tarp though does make for a very versatile accessory, and of course the bug tent could be used alone to better enjoy the outdoors in good weather, providing better visibility and connection with your surroundings
      • needs additional 12 stakes, 2 trek poles +/- groundsheet (if heavy rain) and lots of practice and space to pitch and preferably, 2 people to pitch – “with the various guyout points and the fact that the inner tent has to be setup separately, it can be quite a challenge”
      • best for the experienced tarpist or for expected mild weather conditions for those with patience to get the pitch reasonably weatherproof
    • 4 season tarp with bivvy

The search continued for a ultra-light 2 man tent:

I then went to camping stores and tried to pitch one or two double shell two-man tents, and found some where actually quite complex to pitch.

I did like the concept of the highly rated ZPacks Hexamid Twin Tent which is made from expensive, ultra-light cuben fibre and weighs only 540g, but it is quite expensive and is only made to order from the US, and thus even if I was prepared to pay that much, I would not have had it delivered on time.

The Big Sky Soul tents are also very nice as an easy to set up, free-standing tent with full bug mesh, tub and a fly, and these tents are great as you can see the sky with the vestibule unzipped, and in the day time or on warm nights, the whole fly can be removed to use it as a bug tent. They are light (1.1kg and $US365 for 2P Ultrasil), come in 1P or 2P versions and even ultra-light (724g but expensive at $US780) cuben fibre versions and are reasonably roomy and the fly does have a top vent, but there is only one vestibule, and no porch so rain could be an issue when unzipping it. The 2P floor measures 215cm long x 119/135cm wide x 107cm in centre height making it comparable to the S2S Bug Tent but easier to set up and 360deg weather protection.

In the end, I settled upon the Big Sky Revolution 2P hiking tent with porch and bug screen inner as I was impressed with:

  • ease and speed of pitching thanks partly to its external frame
  • can be set up in the rain without getting the interior wet
  • excellent ventilation (inner mesh walls with two high top vents in outer wall which can be opened to allow warmer, humid air to exit while air can also enter under the outer nylon or cross-ventilation through unzipped vestibules combined with extra internal air volume of a 2 man tent for 1 person) to reduce condensation forming
  • condensation is on the inside of the fly, so the interior mesh shields you from the moisture
  • taut walls to reduce pooling of condensation and rain as well as reducing wind noise
  • excellent bug screen protection
  • vestibules and entrance on either side
  • plenty of space to store your backpack, etc inside the tent when used as a 1-man tent
  • silnylon waterproofing of the outer wall and tub floor
  • do not need to be seam sealed like other silnylon tents
  • relatively light and compact – said to be 1.3kg but measured was closer to 1.5kg
  • ability to easily move the fully pitched tent to a better site without taking it down

Why not buy the Big Sky Revolution 1P one man tent?

  • whilst this is also an excellent tent, weighing some 200g lighter and around $100 cheaper, I decided that the benefits of the extra space outweighed either of these concerns for me.

Road testing

I have now used it on two overnight camping trips, the 1st to Mt Feathertop in strong winds averaging 30-35 knots with some protection from small alpine gums, and minimal rain, and the 2nd on Mt Stirling in good weather conditions but with winds 10-20 knots.

Pitching in the dark was easy and fast, just remember to peg the outer shell down if it is windy while you are assembling the poles!

When pitched the outer walls are taut.

Like most small hiking tents it can be awkward extracting yourself through the door but that would be nit-picking.

It coped extremely well with the strong winds even though I had only used one storm guy rope.

Both nights were at altitude around 1700m and the minimal temperatures only fell to around 7degC (early December which is summer in Australia) with lowish humidity, so there was no moisture build up internally or externally, although, the excellent ventilation of this tent should work well to prevent internal condensation.

The very thin silnylon floor is very slippery, so if you are not on flat ground, your mattress is likely to slide down – this apparently can be reduced by applying dobs of silicone in strategic places on the floor – “paint stripes of silicone across the floor. Use McNett SilNet or DuPont Silicone II and dilute it with paint thinner to the consistency of pancake syrup, then paint it on”.

The Silnylon is also a dirt magnet!

Although I purchased a footprint to go under the floor to provide extra protection, I did not use it.

On the 2nd trip which was a solo trip, I had spent the early hours of the morning photographing the night sky so I decided to sleep in. The hot mid-morning sun soon made the tent uncomfortably warm, but it was a very simple matter to just remove the pegs and move the whole tent fully pitched to a shady position then re-peg it. (Remove heavy items from within the tent so it can be lifted without having to drag it along the ground as this may result in tears!).

I noted reviews online which indicate it is hard to roll up and return to its bag as it is so slippery, I decided to do what the retailer advised, keep the inner all attached with its buckle clips ready for pitching next time, and just push it into the bag as you would a down sleeping bag.

I slept in a Sea To Summit Micro II sleeping bag which is rated down to 2degC for comfort and found that this was perfect for these conditions without need for thermal leggings, just a thermal top.

Mt Stirling at 2am – meteor aiming straight for my tent from the Small Magellanic Cloud galaxy while I was boiling water for a hot chocolate and marshmallow (Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera with Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens):

Mt Stirling at 2am

Conclusion:

Everyone will have their own preferences and requirements when it comes to tents, and like cameras and lenses, there is no perfect tent to suit every person or needs.

So far this tent has delivered for me and hopefully will be durable.

More information on my Wiki.

Disclaimer:

I have not been paid or subsidised by any of these companies, nor provided with any of these to test.

 

Overnight camp 1400m hiking ascent to Mount Feathertop – how a sedentary middle aged photographer survived to get some great pics

Written by admin on December 4th, 2015

I decided it was time to re-invent my life and instead of restricting myself to 2-3hr return bush walks, I needed to push the envelope and get a new outlook and actually be there for the golden hours at the start and end of the day instead of having to be heading home well before it.

For those reading my earlier blogs on central Australia, you will note that my largely sedentary lifestyle combined with man flu resulted in a lumbar disc prolapse back in August this year but I pushed through this and only a few weeks later with some help from my friends, I climbed up the 360m steep ascent to Mt Gillen near Alice Springs, then walked around Uluru and then followed this with a rocky hike through the Olgas – all of which markedly improved my disc prolapse pain to such an extent, I vowed I would regularly hike up some hills.

My friend then encouraged me to embark on my life changing aspirations and suggested we tackle the “gentle” climb up Mt Feathertop (altitude 1922m making it Victoria’s second highest mountain peak) and camp overnight.

Climbing Mt Feathertop is one of those bucket list items for many Australians as it is relatively accessible and the walk at the top is very enjoyable.

I was very dubious that a guy such as me, who, much to my wife’s disgust, hates the boring gym so much that he can only stand being there for 15 minutes twice a week,  would actually make this – yep, 2 minute sprints on a bike at the gym probably is not enough endurance training for this kind of hike – but he did say it is a “gentle” hike.

If I was going to do this, I was going to have to get as much as possible in my favour and this means buying some reliable, light gear and doing some planning as well as taking along 2 fit guys in case I needed them.

I did make it

Spoiler alert – Yes, I did make it to the peak!

Phase 1 – planning

I needed an ergonomic back pack that would not put too much strain on my neck or back – so after a bit of research I purchased the rather unique New Zealand Aarn Peak Aspiration “body pack” which encourages you to walk upright instead of stooped over as the load is not only mostly transferred to a nicely designed hip belt, but is counter-balanced by 2 packs on your chest in which you carry your camera gear, munchies, and water. These packs are cleverly designed to also place the load on the hip belt and at the same time lever away from your chest to allow air flow and visibility of your feet. I bought the “Long” version which allows some 47L in the rear pack and 6L in each of the front packs. The front packs are purchased separately as there are various designs for different purposes – I bought the regular photo version which is large enough top hold my Micro Four Thirds camera – the  Olympus OM-D E-M1 attached to a Olympus mZD 40-150mm lens in one pocket. If you are a dSLR user, you will probably need the Pro Photo version which is larger and better padded but makes the pack very bulky indeed. The back pack does need an experienced user to  customise the many fittings to your body shape, and I found that I could slope the hip belt downwards so it it optimised placement over my ASIS point of my pelvis while the buckle sits comfortably BELOW my little paunch which hides the 6 pack which should be there somewhere.
the backpack

The Aarn Peak Aspiration back pack with Photo pack on the front (Panasonic 15mm f/1.7 lens).

My aim was to be almost self-sufficient (apart from cooking which my friend was providing) and carry around 12kg which for me should make the ascent bearable.

Next I needed a 3 season light, compact, versatile sleeping bag which could be used for any temperature down to 2degC comfortably, and for this I chose the highly regarded Sea to Summit Micro II sleeping bag with 850 goose down and ability to keep foot end open, or open the whole bag into a quilt for thye warmer nights. This weighs about 600g.

For a light but stable, reliable 3 season spacious tent I chose the Big Sky Revolution 2 tent – a silnylon (and thus very slippery but waterproof and light) 2-man tent with 2 porches and although advertised at 1.3kg, actually weighed in closer to 1.5kg.

I picked up a Nemo Astro insulated air mattress on Ebay as reviews rated it well for comfortable sleep although it was a touch heavy at just over 500g, but much more affordable and less noise than the Thermarest Neoair XLite.

Being paranoid I decided to spend big and purchase a Camelbak All Clear UV light water sterilisation kit which weighed an extra 250g and which my colleagues thought was overkill as there would be plenty of water at the camp site, nevertheless, it came along as well as my EPIRB radio beacon, first aid kit, repair kit, extra guy ropes (gale force winds were forecast as 2 cold fronts were passing over that night).

Finally, camera gear. I had hoped to test out the Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens on the last of the Milky Way for the season, so I brought it and a small tripod, plus spare batteries, gradient filters and my Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 and Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens, the combination of all of these would hit around 3kg – thank goodness I no longer use my heavy Canon dSLR gear.

Unfortunately, when all this plus some warm change of clothes, water and some food is weighed up it came to a potentially back breaking 17+ kg, but I hoped the ergonomic design of my pack would get me over the line – my family just laughed and said I was crazy – maybe they were right!

So an important part of my planning was to have 2 fit colleagues!

Other contingencies to consider:

  • re-check the ever changing weather forecast
  • ensure you sign the check-in book at the start of the walk and notify your family of where you are going and when you will be back
  • wet weather gear
  • warm thermals, gloves, beanie to combat the wind chill overnight
  • usual bushwalk gear – first aid kit (including blister repair kit), radio beacon, map, compass, water sterilisation, torch, multi-tool, emergency thermal blanket, trowel (probably not needed on this hike), compostable wipes, rubbish bag
  • cooking and food gear – stove, pots, cutlery, bowl, hand sterilisation liquid, tea towel, knife to chop veges, and of course food +/- wine
  • 3L water container to transport water from source to camp
  • Leave No Trace principles
  • snakebite bandage
  • usual medications if any, and include EpiPen if anaphylaxis is a possibility (eg. bullant bites), plus analgesics, aspirin, NSAIDs
  • turn off mobile phones to save battery, consider small USB power pack
  • be aware of the constant dangers in summer of bushfires, lightning, etc.

Phase 2 – getting there

Mount Feathertop can be approached via several different walk routes – we chose the “gentle” walk from Harrietville called the Bungalow Spur Walk.

Harrietville is some 340km from outer NW suburbs of Melbourne and takes around 4 hours drive plus time for lunch at the Milawa Cheese Factory, so after departing Melbourne around 9.30-10am after peak hour traffic had subsided, we reached Milawa around 12.30, had lunch then reached Harrietville around 3pm for the start of our alpine walk.

Phase 3 – the ascent

 

GPS map of actual walk

The actual walk from our GPS tracker – yep there are NO flat segments to catch your breath!

Despite it being 3pm, the early Summer sun was quite warm and temperatures were around 28degC – a lovely day as long as you were not carrying a heavy load up a tall mountain!

Hiking gear included broad rim hat, sunglasses, trekking poles (although often these were a nuisance in the many sections of very narrow overgrown trail), waterproof Gortex hiking runners, moisture wicking shirt and shorts active wear, sunscreen. I took gaiters but it was too warm for them and benefits were not sufficient to justify them on this walk and the snakes here were mainly copperheads which are unlikely to bite you unless you tried to capture them or you stood on it.

The walk is a leisurely 10.5km walk and the sign at the start advised one should take time to stop and smell the roses (metaphorically of course – we don’t have roses in our forests), and the walk would ascend 1100m to the camp site where there is a hut for emergency shelter and a rainwater tank. This camp is some 300m below the peak which we planned to do on the next morning.

The three of us set off in high spirits and even I felt pretty good in my new backpack despite the 17kg – but it didn’t take too long for me to realise this was going to be torture for my poor heart – the “gentle” walk was an unrelenting climb which took us almost 5hrs (thanks to my lack of endurance fitness – it would take fit hikers 3-4hrs) – and each time I found a little shade in which to get my heart rate below 150 per minute for a few seconds and catch my breath, my personal fitness trainer encouraged me that the next rest is just around the corner – although it never was just the next corner.

I managed to get 90% of the way (to the Bungalow Hut ruins) before the sun was getting low in the sky and every muscle in my legs started to cramp, so my colleagues took pity on me and jointly carried my backpack up the last steep ascent to the hut only to find the rainwater tank was as empty as our water bottles!

By this stage the temperature had dropped and the wind chill had dramatically increased so it was time to get into some warm gear with some rain protection although we probably only received 1mm overnight.

My colleagues then volunteered to go back the 200m down the mountain side in the dark with head torches to find the little spring past the well marked sign “DO NOT DRINK” – thankfully I had brought along the UV sterilisation unit and it tasted better than any water I have had – dead giardia and all – now to wait the 7 days or so incubation period to see if it worked!

It was too windy and cloudy to test the fisheye out on the Milky Way :(

The forecast 35knot winds soon unleashed on our tents and blew all night – I managed to get to sleep by inserting my noise isolating earphones and listening to some Beethoven and although a few times I felt the tent lift in the wind, I awoke in the morning to find I was still in the campsite. My colleagues in their tent did not get much sleep at all – perhaps it was the red wine with the late pasta and chicken, or the balmy warm (10degC) windy night.

The tent, sleeping bag and mattress all performed flawlessly, although some may find the Nemo mattress a touch “bouncy”.

For cooking, we used a MSR Whisperlite Internationale shellite stove which is highly regarded for being reliable in all conditions and worked extremely well.

Phase 4 – the walk up to the peak of Mt Feathertop

After breakfast, despite the occasional light rain shower, we decided to walk up to the peak with just a rain jacket, single trek pole each and our Olympus OM-D weatherproof cameras.

Photographically, phase 3 was not inspiring for me at all, perhaps mainly because of my fatigue, but phase 4 was a different story – walking up that ridge was inspiring and I was making my 40-150mm lens work hard although in the strong wind I had to be extra careful to avoid camera shake.

walking along the highest ridge

which way?

into the abyss

Not long after we had reached the peak, we saw another band of rain coming and to our surprise, a lightning storm – not a great thing to enjoy when you are the tallest objects on a very exposed highest ridge on the tallest mountain in the storm. We took a few more pics and headed back as quickly as possible to the safety of the hut where he had a quick lunch and packed up.

See here on how to reduce your risks in a lightning storm.

the incoming storm

Phase 5 – descent back to the car

cleaning up the hut

Cleaning up the hut – Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens

Hiking back down the trail was vastly different to the previous day’s ascent, I was not troubled by the back pack and could even run some of it – the trekking poles of course were very helpful in taking weight of the knees and for avoiding spraining the ankle when one loses concentration on the loose rocks.

We collected some more water from the trickle of trackside “spring” and sterilised it with the UV kit.

Ironically, just as we were getting into the car, 2 very close lightning strikes made sure we didn’t waste any further time.

The next day, the second cold front produced unseasonal dusting of snow.

I am going to work on trying to get the weight down further – prhaps the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 lens instead of the Olympus 40-150mm lens as a start.

More of my info on ultralight bushwalking on my wiki

More info on hiking to Mt Feathertop on my wiki

WARNING – if you are sedentary and over 35 years of age, DO NOT DO a strenuous hike like this without getting the OK from your doctor first – if you have coronary artery disease, such an activity is the perfect way to have a sudden death and your family won’t be happy! I know my heart can cope, nevertheless, on the way down, I took a NSAID to help with muscle soreness, and to offset its potential to increase the risk of heart attacks, I also took 300mg aspirin.

Disclaimer: I am NOT sponsored by any of these manufacturers or retailers and I purchased all items.

 

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.