Olympus OM-D E-M1 rear dial issue not always responding – mine is now in for repair under warranty by Olympus Australia

Written by admin on April 19th, 2015

Many and perhaps most cameras have either design or manufacturing build quality issues which do not get noticed until mass production has already occurred.

Such was the case with the professional sports dSLR – the Canon 1D Mark III which I bought in 2007 for over $5000 to compliment my Olympus E510 dSLR which was not capable of fast C-AF tracking of fast moving subjects.

Unfortunately with the Canon 1D III, there was a major design fault with the C-AF system and despite returning it for attempted repair, the problem was not be resolved fully, and Canon partly resolved it by releasing a new camera, the Canon 1D Mark IV although this did not compensate the many thousands like me who bought the faulty model.

Nikon had similar serious issues with their Nikon D600 full frame dSLR in which the shutter mechanism was allegedly causing dust and oil to contaminate the sensor causing granular spots on images. After much debate and testing, Nikon finally announced it accepted that it was a design issue and in Feb 2014 announced it would offer free replacement of the shutter mechanism, and allocated $17.7 million to address the issue. It then released an updated model, the D610 to resolve the problem for future buyers.

It seems that Canon may also have a major problem with their sensors on the Canon their latest cropped-sensor dSLRs – see here.

Apart from the Canon 1D Mark III, I have been extremely fortunate with my long run of cameras I have bought since the 1970′s, none of which have needed a warranty repair – these include, the Olympus OM-1n, OM-2n, Olympus C8080, Olympus E510, Olympus E330, Olympus OM-D E-M5.

But just over 2 months after I purchased a new Olympus OM-D E-M1, and well before my trip to South Australia, it started developing the well-documented issues with its rear dial requiring several clicks to change a setting instead of just the click. The camera is still usable but it is an extremely annoying fault, and if it did fail totally, one could always use the touch screen and also re-allocate important control to another dial such is the versatility and customisation capability of this wonderful little camera.

It seems the issue is not isolated to the E-M1 but has affected similar models such as the E-P5. I have also seen the top part of the rear dial just fall off on someone’s new E-M1 so there does seem to be build quality and perhaps design issues with this new dial which differed from the design on the E-M5.

Fortunately, this issue should be an easy fix and presumably just requires replacement of the rear dial, although there is a risk that the problem may return with a new dial if it is a more significant design issue – time will tell on that

Nevertheless, it was time to do the inevitable and take it back to the camera store to have it sent off for repairs to Olympus Australia who do the repairs in Sydney (or Perth), but unfortunately not in Melbourne.

I am thus posting this blog to give Australians a feel for the service provided by Olympus Australia, particularly given that Olympus no longer has world wide warranties, but regional – my understanding is that Olympus Australia only do warranty repairs themselves for cameras purchased in the Australia region which they have distributed to retailers.

Both of the above, on the surface could appear to be show stoppers for professional photographers who need fast turn-around times for servicing, however, this would be partly negated by the fact one could probably buy a spare body and lens and still have a substantial amount of money left over when compared to buying a full frame pro system. In this way a pro could risk manage the issue, although most pros would always have a spare camera body at least anyway.

I will update this post further once I have news on the outcome of my warranty repair, in the meantime it is back to using the E-M5 with the Canon 1D Mark III coming out of retirement.

When sending the camera in for repair via the retailer, all they need is the receipt and the camera body with body cap in place – no battery, no accessory grip, no SD card, no box.

Do NOT send in other accessories which are not needed for the repair, as with any service centre, there is a chance they could be lost amongst all the other repairs!

A quote from a fellow Australian who had the same issue “I sent it to the Olympus offices in Australia (they still do all the repairs in house, and are fantastic to deal with)” – so I am very optimistic the service will be excellent.

 

Sth Australia – a last hurrah – road trip into the desert beyond World’s End Highway

Written by admin on April 13th, 2015

My rental car road trip exploring South Australia having left the lovely beaches of Port Noarlunga, the photogenic old copper mining town of Burra, and the Mount Remarkable National Park region, I now head back towards Burra and the extremely isolated desert areas north east of Burra that look towards Broken Hill some 400km away.

This area is off grid – no mobile telephone services, no internet and in my 4+ hours round trip on the gravel roads I did not get to see another car or another person, nor any evidence of current habitation. So not a place to have your car break down – it’s a long walk in the dry, heat without water back to civilisation!

The following photographs were all taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera with the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 lens or the Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.9-3.5 SWD lens, which I had ready at my side in the car for the very frequent stops for photo opportunities.

Jamestown:

Jamestown Hotel and church just south-east of Stone Hut:

Jamestown Hotel

Jamestown church

Back of beyond – the desert – remote yet only 2hrs from Adelaide

I stopped at the petrol station to see if they knew much of the mysterious lands across the highway – but alas they had never dared go, nor did they have any maps – their advice, just open the gates and close them behind you:

the desert

and beyond the gates, a 90km + remote circuit on gravel road across dry flood ways (although a storm was coming):

the desert

a dry sheep trough:

the desert

the only water I saw on the whole trip and it was far from drinkable:

the desert

ominous clouds suggest a brewing storm which would make the road impassable in my 2WD car:

the desert

stunted trees:

the desert

a kangaroo hiding amongst the ballerinas (shot with a 400mm eq focal length at a distant hill side):

the desert

desert hill lookout track:

the desert

abandoned sheep station on private property with signs prohibiting entry onto the property:

the desert

and another abandoned homestead:

the desert

a very old stone cottage further down the track:

the desert

remnants of a wall with the timber plinth used to support the ceiling:

the desert

this is why I took a radio beacon EPIRB device – not really a place to be stranded without supplies or communication, as it was I drank all of my 5 bottles of water on the trip – maybe it just made me feel thirsty!:

the desert

the desert

the desert

the desert

Nearby is the re-created birth homestead of the famous explorer of the Arctic, Sir Hubert Wilkins.

 

Sth Australia – Mount Remarkable NP – the Southern Flinders Ranges

Written by admin on April 12th, 2015

My rental car road trip exploring South Australia having left the lovely beaches of Port Noarlunga and heading north, through the Clare Valley vineyard region and the photogenic old copper mining town of Burra, I now head back towards the coast and the rather isolated Mt Remarkable National Park which forms part of the Southern Flinders Ranges – a range of sedimentary rock formed 600 million years ago and uplifted some 540 million years ago to form the line of mountains extending south through the Adelaide Hills (composed of folded and faulted sediments of the Adelaide Geosyncline) and even to Antarctica when it was joined to Australia.

There are three main entrance points into the Mt Remarkable NP and be aware you need to pay ONLINE an entry fee BEFORE going:

  • summit walk from the adjacent town of Melrose
  • walks in the Alligator Gorge via bitumen access road from Wilmington in the north
  • walks in Mambray Creek region via bitumen access from the Stuart Highway near Port Germein.

The following photographs were nearly all taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera with the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 lens:

Stone Hut region:

I chose to stay in a cottage in Stone Hut as it was 1hr drive to Alligator Gorge and also to Mambray Creek and thus it would mean I could do walks in both as a single day trip in a round circuit.

Georgetown Hotel just south of Stone Hut:

Georgetown Hotel

This is not the cottage I stayed in but shows what the Olympus OM-D E-M1 can do hand held at 1/6th sec in street light well after dusk:

Stone Hut

A derelict farm truck just north of Stone Hut in Wirrabara Forest Reserve:

Stone Hut

Stone Hut

Alligator Gorge:

This was shot with the Samyang 7.5mm fisheye lens:

Alligator Gorge

600 million year old sandstone patterns in the gorge walls:

Alligator Gorge

Alligator Gorge

Fossilised water ripples in the sand on the ceiling of a rock ledge:

Alligator Gorge

Mambray Creek bushwalks:

I did not get time to do the 7hr 18km Hidden Gorge walk which takes you through the narrow steep gorge, but did get to do the first 4km just before sunset.

Mambray Creek

Mambray Creek

Baroota Cottage ruins at entrance to Mambray Creek camp ground:

Mambray Creek

Mambray Creek

After leaving Mambray Creek, I headed to the small seaside village of Port Germein which boasts the longest jetty in the Southern Hemisphere at 1.6km, but I needed to get a hamburger and get back to Stone Hut before dark as my rental car contract banned night driving and the drive through the narrow but pretty Port Germein Gorge Road had plenty of wildlife to miss.

After getting through the gorge I came across this lovely stone farmhouse ruins with the last of the sunset colours as a backdrop:

Mambray Creek

Just before getting to Stone Hut, and as the last light was fading, a small area of ground fog developed just at an abandoned cottage which I managed to capture hand held with the Olympus E-M1 with the brilliant Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens at 1/80th sec ISO 800:

As an aside, to capture this with a full frame Canon or Nikon dSLR, I would need to use 150mm f/3.6, ISO 3200 at 1/80th sec, and at this shutter speed even with OIS, I would not be confident of adequately eliminating camera shake, especially if using a 36mp sensor, and thus I would need to stop the car and get my tripod out, set the shot up, make sure it was level, and by this time the fog would have disappeared – as it was, I was very lucky to capture it with the dusk light backlighting it before it disappeared within a minute. This is the beauty of the Olympus OM-D system – light, fast, and hand holdable to much lower light levels without need to resort to a tripod.

Mambray Creek

Next stop will be my last of the South Australian road tour posts – off the beaten track into the desert near Burra.

 

Sth Australia road trip – Clare Valley and then the historic copper mining town of Burra – a must see if you like photography and history

Written by admin on April 9th, 2015

My rental car road trip exploring South Australia now leaves the lovely beaches of Port Noarlunga and heads north, through the Clare Valley vineyard region, stopping for a lovely gourmet lunch at the Skillogallee Winery.

Cafe in Auburn, Clare Valley:

Auburn cafe

 

The following photographs were nearly all taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera with the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 lens:

Ruins of stone cottage in a vineyard, Clare Valley:

clare valley winery

 

 

I then headed east to explore the very interesting and photogenic historic copper mining town of Burra which at one stage apparently helped save the Sth Aust. government from bankrupcy in the late 19th century when the copper was discovered and created a mini boom.

From Burra, I then headed back west through some lovely rolling hill sides dotted with abandoned stone cottages as I made my way to cottages in tiny town of Stone Hut where I planned to stay as a base for a couple of nights to allow me to spend a whole day exploring both ends of the Mt Remarkable NP in the Southern Flinders Ranges.

Burra:

When you arrive in Burra, head to the tourist information centre – not only can they book accommodation for you which does not show up on wotif.com or stayz.com (if you wish to book accommodation online, do so at the local booking service) but they have a wonderful self-guided tour of the heritage sites  and a museum which will cost you $20 plus a refundable $20 for a key which will allow to let yourself into a number of heritage sites and you will probably end up exploring them without anyone else around to annoy you or get in your photos – just awesome – but the tourist information centre does close around 4pm so if you arrive after that you are out of luck, and the museum closes around 3pm.

 

Wooden cart wheel at Bon Accord Mining Museum (open noon-3pm):

Burra

Burra railway station:

Burra

Old Burra police cells and stables:

Burra

Burra

Burra antique store:

Burra

Recreation of vintage dining room at Paxton Square Cottages via the self-guided key passport:

Burra

Old copper miners’ underground dug-out sleeping quarters via the self-guided key passport:

Burra

Part of the old Burra copper mine via the self-guided key passport:

Burra

Redruth Gaol via the self-guided key passport:

Redruth Gaol was built in 1856 and was the first gaol built outside of Adelaide metropolitan area at a time when Burra was the largest country town in South Australia. It housed up to 30 prisoners until it closed in 1894, and, after renovations, from 1897-1922, it served as the Redruth Girls Reformatory. Girls were sent there for a variety of reasons including breaches of the law, unfit guardianship, pregnancy, or for being “beyond parental control”. The girls had to dig large holes each morning to bury contents of the lavatories. The rest of the day was spent doing chores including raising chooks, shelling almonds, sewing, cooking, gardening, knitting for the Red Cross, cleaning and laundry. The girls had a habit of escaping but were generally caught and returned.

In 1979, it was used in the Australian film, Breaker Morant.

 

Burra

Burra

Burra

Burra

Burra

North-West of Burra:

Burra

Burra

Burra

I hope this has given you a taste of what you can see – from my point of view, photographically, the north of Adelaide does not get interesting until you hit the rolling hills around Burra and north of the Clare Valley although I did not get time to see the historic town of Mintaro east of Clare Valley. Between Adelaide and Auburn it is generally just open plains of wheat fields, then from Auburn on are the vineyards of Clare Valley. I really like the countryside north of Clare Valley up through to the Southern Flinders Ranges and across to Burra.

My next blog post will be on Mt Remarkable National Park and the gorge walks.

 

South Australia road trip – Talisker Tin Mine and Fleurieu Peninsula

Written by admin on April 7th, 2015

Whilst staying a couple of nights in Port Noarlunga on my rental car road trip from Adelaide, I decided to do a day trip south down to Cape Jervis and back through the inland of Fleurieu Peninsula.

It took me through the nice old town of Normansville which was a great spot for lunch before heading down to one of the most photographed beaches in South Australia – Second Valley Beach.

Then I drove south to Cape Jervis at the southern tip where you can get a car ferry to Kangaroo Island (although this may not be permitted in your rental car contract).

I found the gravel road not far from Cape Jervis which took me into the Talisker Conservation Park where there is a 19th century Cornish tin mine.

This was am interesting, albeit quite isolated walk through forests and one could spend 1-2 hrs exploring the area and the many ruins.

Here are a couple of photographs taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera with the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 lens:

tin mine

And the view across Cape Jervis to Kangaroo Island on the horizon from the lookout in Talisker Conservation Park:

tin mine

tin mine

From there, I headed back to the main highway and re-traced my route north back to the petrol station / general store at Delamere to get an ice cream to last me for the inland trip back to Port Noarlunga. I took the Range Rd (B37) eastwards from here and turned left on the Hay Flat Rd (gravel road) to check out Ingalalla Falls which are a 300m easy walk from the car park, but alas there was very little water flowing over the waterfall – not surprising given it was early Autumn. I then took the gravel road back to the B37 highway travelled a little further east before turning left on the Parawa Rd (bitumen) which takes one through some lovely valley and the stone hut ruins in the ghost town area of Torrens Vale, although given it was getting late, I did not actually get to drive to Torrens Vale which is presumably on Blacker Rd and accessible from Hay Flat Rd.

On the way back to Port Noarlunga, I stopped into Port Willunga for the sunset photos:

Port Willunga’s cliff caves dug out many years ago to store boats:

Port Willunga

The remnants of the old jetty at Port Willunga at sunset, hand held with Olympus OM-D E-M1, 12-40mm f/2.8 lens and a Cokin gradient filter:

Port Willunga

Port Willunga

 

South Australia road trip – Second Valley Beach

Written by admin on April 7th, 2015

Whilst staying a couple of nights in Port Noarlunga on my rental car road trip from Adelaide, I decided to do a day trip south down to Cape Jervis and back through the inland of Fleurieu Peninsula.

It took me through the nice old town of Normansville which was a great spot for lunch before heading down to one of the most photographed beaches in South Australia – Second Valley Beach.

Second Valley Beach has only a small area of sandy beach and a small fishing jetty but it is surrounded by some very rugged looking rock formations – here are some of my efforts in the early afternoon on a cloudy day – not the best time to create aesthetic imagery so I decided to convert these to monochrome to emphasise the textures.

These were all taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera with the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 lens.

 

Looking back at the fishing jetty and the concrete path that allows one to walk around the cliff to the rocky cove:

Second Valley

Second Valley

To give a sense of scale, note how small the people are in this photo:

Second Valley

Second Valley

Second Valley

Just past Second Valley is another inlet, Rapid Bay, this has a much longer, more modern jetty, and sweeping views along the coast to the north but is not as picturesque.

Next I head further south to Cape Jervis where there is a car ferry to Kangaroo Island, but as this is really an option for a several days expoloration of the fascinating island, I opted instead to explore nearby Talisker Conservation Park with its protected remnants of an 19th century Cornish tin mine.

 

Sth Australia – Port Noarlunga and Port Willunga

Written by admin on April 6th, 2015

Continuing on from my quick rental car trip to South Australia, starting in Adelaide, I then decided to stay a couple of nights on the lovely beaches of Port Noarlunga and to use this as a base to explore the Fleurieu Peninisula further south as a day trip – although one could spend a lot of time exploring this region and the nearby Adelaide Hills which I didn’t get time to explore.

When I arrived at Port Noarlunga on the Saturday afternoon I was surprised by the car parks all being taken, and it was only when I went down to the beach I discovered South Australias annual surf life saving club championships were being held there all weekend. This proved to be an opportune time to test my new Olympus OM-D E-M1 with the Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens for continuous autofocus in burst mode, and it did better than I expected, although I am sure not as good as could be achieved with the new Micro Four Thirds lens – the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8. To get the most out of shooting sports with this camera you need to have the camera’s settings optimised for continuous AF (C-AF) – see here.

 

Port Noarlunga:

Port Noarlunga

Surfer guy getting ready for the surf canoe race, seems fashion for the year is pink crop tops:

Port Noarlunga

Port Noarlunga jetty – 1/4sec long exposure in bright sunlight using the ND400 10x neutral density filter hand held with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 lens:

Port Noarlunga

Port Willunga:

Port Willunga’s cliff caves dug out many years ago to store boats:

Port Willunga

The remnants of the old jetty at Port Willunga at sunset, hand held with Olympus OM-D E-M1, 12-40mm f/2.8 lens and a Cokin gradient filter:

Port Willunga

Port Willunga

There are many places near Port Noarlunga which I did not get time to explore including:

  • Maslin Beach – Australia’s 1st official nude beach
  • Mclaren Vale wine region
  • Onkaparinga National Park with its many walks which follow the Onkaparinga River

My brief exploration of the Fleurieu Peninisula is in my next post.

 

a lunar interlude – shortest lunar eclipse in 500yrs – and our last blood moon for 3 years

Written by admin on April 5th, 2015

Last night (4th April 2015) we witnessed our last total lunar eclipse for the next 3 years and apparently the shortest in the past 500 years.

Shooting a total lunar eclipse at totality is challenging however there are are nice features on the Olympus OM-D cameras which do help such as:

  • continuous live view – no need to always be resorting to mirror lock up as on a dSLR
  • magnified live view to allow accurate focus which is actually quite difficult near totality
  • relatively cheap and high quality telephoto reach with the Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens with Olympus EC-20 2x teleconverter
  • reasonable ISO performance at ISO 1600

So here are a couple of mine from last night taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens with Olympus EC-20 2x teleconverter to give 800mm focal length (in 35mm full frame terms), on a tripod with IS turned off, but with 12 sec self timer ON to reduce camera shake. Both taken at f/7, 1/2 sec, ISO 1600 and have had some cropping done but minimal processing in Lightroom.

Some cloud over the 1st one:

eclipse

eclipse

 

South Australia – first up – Adelaide

Written by admin on April 3rd, 2015

Adelaide is the capital city of the State of South Australia and is just over 1 hour’s flight from Melbourne although you also need to take into account the 30min time zone difference.

The airport is close to the CBD and it does have a reasonable bus and train public transport system (no train at airport though) although I have never used this, and of course you can pick up your rental car from the airport or from the CBD.

To me, Adelaide CBD has never been inspirational itself from a cultural, retail, culinary or photographic viewpoint, but then I am spoilt by what Melbourne has to offer.

It, along with other local areas such as Port Adelaide, does have some nice 19th century heritage sandstone buildings to check out, but more importantly, there are are great number of areas to explore by car all within a 2 hour drive such as the Adelaide Hills, Fleurieu Peninsula, Barossa Valley and Clare Valley wine regions, York Peninsula, and a multitude of beaches.

You can even enter the “outback” type remote desert regions past historic copper mining heritage town of Burra in just over 2 hrs if the weather has been dry and the gravel roads there are manageable  (see a later post on this).

There are a couple of oases where I like to chill out and take photos in the CBD – the Adelaide Botanic Gardens is lovely with a wide range of plants and lots of secret nooks and crannies to explore, and nearby, the State Art Gallery has free entry, and although is no where near the size of the NGV in Melbourne, it does have a few nice art works and often very alternative avant garde works.

First the wonderful botanic gardens

The Olympus OM-D and the lovely Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 Micro Four Thirds lens:

One of the many nooks and crannies:

secret nooks and crannies

water lily:

water lily

a great variety of interesting trees:

tree

and more water plants:

water plants

Now the Art Gallery, again with the Olympus 75mm lens:

A nailed installation by Swiss-born, Thomas Hirschhorn titled “Twin subjecter”:

twin subjecter

And my view through a sculpture of an Arthur Boyd portrait painting:

twin subjecter

Port Adelaide:

If you are returning the car at the airport and coming from the north, it is worth stopping off for refreshments and an explore around Port Adelaide, you never know what you find in this mix of industrial and heritage architecture – this was taken using the Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 lens:

street art

 

Escape to South Australia, hire a rental car, explore and chillout for a week

Written by admin on April 3rd, 2015

Over the past week I took advantage of a few days off and after a 1hr or so flight from Melbourne to Adelaide, I planned a solo tour of South Australia by rental car.

This is a wonderful way to get away from the stresses of every day life and get out into the far less populous areas of Australia without getting too far from a capital city.

The following will be a series of blog posts taking you through tips of how to chill out with some mindfulness touring while taking in the sights and ambience and capturing some nice photos.

The air travel is super easy so I won’t discuss it further except to say Adelaide Airport is very close to the CBD and you can pick up a rental car from there or, alternatively, take a taxi to the CBD, stay a few nights there exploring what Adelaide itself has to offer before picking up the rental car in Adelaide and returning it to the airport – this is what I did.

Rental car hire – the good, the bad and the ugly

Rental car hire is super easy, you can book online at the many rental car options such as Hertz, Budget, Thrifty, Europcar, Avis and others, and then just pick up the car at your location and drop it back at that location or another as arranged. For 5 days hire of a medium sized car such as a Holden Commodore with extras cover reduced and roadside assistance included, you will be out of pocket for around $350-400, not super cheap but given you have unlimited travel and quite a bit of freedom, not too shabby at all.

EASY, BUT there is a potentially BAD side.

YOU MUST READ the FINE PRINT!!

Many people hire cars and you hardly ever hear of major issues so why should you bother reading the terms and conditions, certainly the rental car office will not bother you with doing that, and all you have to do is tick that you read the terms and conditions.

The standard excess in event of any one accident is usually around $4000.

BUT did you know, that no matter what extra premium you have paid to reduce the excess and perhaps get extra cover, you will probably NOT be covered for accidents or events if either:

  • you drive in situations not permitted by the contract eg. on ferries, across water floodways, BETWEEN DUSK and DAWN outside of urban areas as risk of wildlife strike
  • you are reckless, negligent, stupid, or are breaking the law
  • you continue to drive the car after an accident without permission from the rental company
  • and many other scenarios – see my wiki for more details

Furthermore, only Budget permits you to drive on gravel roads (and these are almost unavoidable in South Australia outside of the cities), and NONE permit travel off-road tracks or unapproved gravel roads.

Lastly, on picking a car up, double check for existing damage and ensure it is documented on your agreement form to avoid disputes later on – consider taking a few photographs of any existing damage.

The potentially UGLY side:

None of the premiums cover you for damage by water, damage to the under-carriage below door seals (eg. hitting gutters, driving too fast over speed humps or on gravel roads) unless in an accident involving other parts of the car too, overhead damage (eg. car park boom gates), and many do not cover for hail damage – and this is likely to be unavoidable if you get caught in a storm with large hail stones.

The really ugly side is if you were not aware of the fine print and did have an accident involving a third party outside of the rental agreement, you would potentially be up for the full cost of the rental car plus third party property damages which could be enormous. So read the fine print, and drive carefully and responsibly.

My choice – a clear winner is Budget given they do actually allow cautious driving on gravel roads and they cover hail damage, but I would advise that you keep our speed to less than 80kph on gravel roads, and perhaps around 60kph to minimise risk of damage, and dust, and if you do get the car covered in dust, I would suggest you do them a favour and clean it inside and out before returning it – we would not like Budget to change their mind and ban use on gravel roads!

How to chill out exploring the countryside

Make sure you are confident that you can drive safely

  • make yourself familiar with the car’s controls BEFORE you leave the rental office
  • ensure you know where you are going – I strongly suggest a GPS app such as Metroview which works without the internet and thus does not consume your data bandwidth and still works in areas where there is no internet
  • look at  a map and memorise the key features BEFORE you drive to reduce confusion between GPS instructions and road sign instructions
  • tell everyone you are on road trip holiday and not to call you
  • get everything ready BEFORE you start your trip so you NEVER need to take your eyes off the road, a few seconds distraction and an awful lot unexpected can happen
  • as you are driving in an unfamiliar car and regions, take extra care and vigilance, and drive responsibly at all times
  • don’t drive between dusk and dawn in country areas – you won’t be covered for accidents and risk of hitting kangaroos or other wildlife is ever present
  • if you tend to get migraines, avoid driving when the sun is low and causing flickering as you drive in and out of shadows cast be road side trees
  • don’t rush yourself, if you are running out of time and the sun is setting, you may have to forego seeing that next sight and just head home while it is still light
  • don’t speed
  • don’t take any sedatives or alcohol
  • don’t be reckless or stupid
  • don’t stop suddenly to get a photo, slow down and stop when it is clearly safe to do so and be off the road
  • don’t drive whilst fatigued, a brief micro sleep is a real risk for death – take a break every 2 hours or if you feel drowsy

Wind you window down, feel the breeze and still listen to your music to keep you refreshed and alert, and be fully mindful of your surroundings

You could just ramp up the sound volume on the car radio to overcome all the road noise, but long hours of high volume sound exposure will contribute to your noise-induced deafness in the not so distant future.

Instead, purchase a nice pair of noise isolating earphones, attach to your iPhone which can run both your music player and a GPS app which can given you voice instructions without really needing to look at a map (I use MetroView app which to me has been well worth the money, is fairly accurate, warns me of speed sign changes, warns me if I am going too fast, and generally gives good clear directions without need to look at the display and makes me a safer more confident driver in unfamilar areas – without it you tend to get constantly distracted looking for street signs, wondering if you have missed a turn off and gone too far, constantly checking your speedometer instead of watching the road, and getting generally stressed and fatigued which increase risks of accidents).

This allows one to set the two apps going and then place the iPhone inside the central console where you will not be tempted to even touch it whilst driving – my Entymotic MC-3 earphones have volume controls and next track control so there is no need to touch the phone whilst driving which is not only a dangerous distraction but illegal – check the local laws to ensure the you are within the law. My understanding of Sth Australian law  (and here) is that you must not be touching the phone whilst driving nor make or receive a phone call unless it is commercially mounted,  and, the phone must not be held or be resting on the body, and in Victoria that it must be commercially mounted if using it as a GPS navigation assistance map. The law allows use of Bluetooth earphones and thus presumably other earphones, and obviously you cannot fix a commercially mounted device to a rental car, so if you are going to use the phone for GPS you should lock it away in the center console where it can also be powered via USB port and only use the audio component. Obviously if you car comes with GPS built in then this is a preferred option but you would need the window up and no ear plugs.

When in urban areas you should have the earphones not fully occluding your ears so you can easily hear local traffic – this is not such an issue on country roads which generally rely far more on visual vigilance although it is good to remove one every so often to ensure the car sounds like all is functioning well.

The Entymotic MC-3 earphones are also great at gyms to avoid noise-induced deafness from the ridiculously loud music they tend to play, and handy on airplanes and airports while trying to chill out but surrounded by crying kids, and if need be, to avoid street noises and partner’s snoring whilst trying to sleep.

Finding accommodation:

Being lazy, I have generally resorted first to wotif.com.au, and then if nothing there, go to stayz.com.au HOWEVER, as I found, it seems the majority of accommodation options in regional towns in Sth Australia do not use either of these websites and instead you need to book online directly at the local town’s booking website, thus for instance for Burra, go to http://visitburra.com/web/accommodation/

You can generally find nice accommodation for 1-2 people for around $120 per night off peak – avoid school holidays and public holidays.

Food and water:

Food and water can be problematic away from the urban areas as you will be lucky to find a cafe or general store open in many towns, and particularly after 6pm, although most towns generally have a hotel that serves evening meals.

If you are going into regional areas it would be wise to take enough food and water even if you are not going to the desert outback regions – always great to have a snack and water for when you might miss a meal or you decide to go for a bushwalk.

Internet access:

If you are traveling into rural areas of Australia and want internet access, you can’t go past the extensive coverage provided by Telstra -sure it is the most expensive but you get what you pay for.

Even if your phone provider is not Telstra, it is worth buying a Telstra broadband device which can be set up as a WiFi hotspot for your phone and laptop – you can get 2Gb data to use over 30days for about $30.

Avoid using up all this data accidentally through your devices performing background updates or continuously accessing the internet without you realising it (I somehow lost 1Gb overnight and had zero left in the morning!):

  • ensure you use your devices for a few days at home before leaving to ensure any software updates are done before you leave
  • power off the Telstra device when you are not using it
  • close down any apps which constantly access the internet such as Google maps
  • turn off notifications for email, facebook, etc

Be aware that even with Telstra you may not be able to access mobile phones or internet if you go off the grid or into gorges.

National parks and entry fees:

There is a little gotcha for South Australia’s National Parks – most require a $10 entry fee PAYABLE ONLINE BEFORE going otherwise there is risk of an on-the-spot fine by the park rangers – there is an additional fee for camping.

Make sure you check online before you go.

Bushwalk safely:

Make sure someone knows where you are going and when you expect to be back.

Take a map – as a last resort I always take a photo of the map and I have spare batteries and memory card for my cameras (which I now carry on a belt to take weight off my back in give me more rapid access to the cameras).

Take your mobile with a GPS app that does not need the internet – my favourite for bushwalks is MotionX-GPS and you can email your position or track once you are back in internet territory. These apps will run your iPhone battery to 50% in around 2hrs so take a spare powerpack (don’t forget the USB cable).

Take usual precautions regarding clothing (something warm for nights and rainproof), sturdy walk shoes, hat, UV lotion, food and water.

Watch for snakes – assume they are all venomous – if you get bitten, you need first aid bandage to firmly compress the limb which then should be kept still (no further walking or running), and you need a mechanism to call for help (I carry a radio beacon EPIRB for just this purpose). Recently a young man was found dead in the Sth Australian outback after he had gone missing for some time and he had written a note explaining he had been bitten by a snake. Without antivenom, many Australian snakes will cause delayed onset paralysis which may not only ensure you stay immobilised but may eventually cause death by respiratory paralysis and inability to breathe.

Consider taking hiking poles particularly if there will be significant walking in rugged paths or up or down mountains.

Camera gear:

As most of my shots would be street scenes, or scenes at a distance from the road, the gear I chose and which I used 95% of the time was:

  • Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera with Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 lens for wide angle work
  • Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera with Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens for telephoto work (the new mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 with 1.4x converter would be better but I don’t have that)
  • ND400 filter to give long exposures in bright sunlight at beaches
  • gradient filter for wide angle landscapes on cloudy days to retain detail in the sky
  • polarising filter for wide angle shots on sunny days and in the forests
  • I also used the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens for shallow DOF shots at the Botanic Gardens and also for indoor shots at the art gallery