Birds and goannas of East Gippsland, Australia

Written by Gary on March 17th, 2019

I spent the last couple of weeks camping in a tent in east Gippsland which allowed one to witness the habits of the various creatures – they all seem to have a time of day when they would frequent the camp site or go hunting for food on the beaches.

Before we start on the birds, one animal that is very common in East Gippsland and which you will almost certainly see on the gravel roads or in your camp site, is the Lace Monitor lizard or goanna which is around 4 foot long with a powerful tail and claws and some venom in its saliva like perhaps all reptiles, although unlike Australia’s venomous snakes it cannot envenomate to cause significant systemic toxicity, but it’s bite can cause local tissue damage and infection. They are carnivores and seek small animals, eggs or road kill. The ones around camp sites are very used to humans and will walk within a few meters but are generally wary and will not appreciate being approached, so give them their space and they will not be problematic to you.

Australia is well known for its venomous snakes – we have most of the top 10 most venomous snakes in the world – and it is fascinating how they appear to have evolved.

Toxin venom producing lizards (Toxifera) evolved some 200 million years ago and from these, snakes evolved some 120-150 million years ago by turning off the genes which make limbs. Australia’s elapid venomous snakes appear to have evolved from an ancestor of the sea krait snake which appears to have swam to Australia around 25 million years ago (there were apparently no snakes in Australia before that time) and this then resulted in all of Australia’s terrestrial Elapid snakes evolving as well as via convergent evolution, some sea snakes. Monitor lizards didn’t make it to Australia until some 15 million years ago, while it seems pythons didn’t come to Australia until around 8-14 million years ago.

Goanna walking past my tent – remember don’t leave food or anything that smells in your tent, this would be an open invitation for all kinds of wildlife to rip into your tent such as wombats and rodents
checking out our fireplace for left over scraps using his forked tongue as a smell sensor.
gulping down some food it has found under the rocks
a bat that found his way inside a caravan which I was asked to gently remove (with gloves on)
Pied Currawong in the distant tree in Drummer Rainforest taken with a Olympus 300mm f/4 lens and cropped substantially.
Yellow breasted Eastern Robin taken with the Olympus 300mm f/4 lens as I walked by in Drummer rainforest.
Yellow tailed Black Cockatoo in MacKenzie River rainforest taken with the Olympus 300mm f/4 lens – these are definitely heard before being seen on a far away tree – they have a very loud , eerie high-pitched wailing contact call, kee-ow … kee-ow … kee-ow
Female lyrebird scrounging around the leaf litter in the relative darkness of the MacKenzie River rainforest understorey – Olympus 300mm f/4 lens – you may see a few of these whilst driving on remote gravel roads so take care not to turn them into roadkill – they have enough problems with coping with introduced foxes.
Hooded Plover at the water edge at sunset taken with the Olympus 300mm f/4 lens
Sooty Oystercatcher at sunset taken with the Olympus 300mm f/4 lens – my favorite lens for bushwalking and beach walks looking to capture smaller animals
The smaller the bird, the harder they seem to be to capture on camera – they hardly ever stop, always jumping around unpredictably – perhaps it makes them harder prey to catch – not sure what this one is – Olympus 300mm f/4 lens
Dove taken with Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 whilst I was relaxing at dawn in a hammock
Galah, Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 lens
Rainbow Lorikeet, Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 lens
Pair of Rainbow Lorikeets backlit by the early morning sun, Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 lens

 

Surprise giant bioluminescent ghost mushrooms light up the night

Written by Gary on March 15th, 2019

Whilst camping a couple of weeks ago in Victoria’s remote wilderness, there finally was a little rain after some weeks of dry, warm weather, and I awoke from my tent to find myself in the midst of glowing lights.

I thought these may have been glow worms with my bleary eyes but in the morning I investigated and discovered that ghost mushrooms (
Omphalotus Nidiformis ) had grown following the rains the previous day to over 30cm in diameter!

This was at least 30cm across!

That night I decided to get my tripod out and used my Olympus OM-D E-M1II with Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens with noise filter = LOW, long exposure NR on.

Some of the mushrooms at night, 19mm, f/2.8, ISO 800, 60secs, sunny day white balance.


Closer view of a mushroom, 40mm, f/4, ISO 1600, 60secs, sunny day white balance.


Another one, this time 32mm, f/4, ISO 400, 240secs, sunny day white balance using Live Time mode.

I have previously posted a blog on ghost mushrooms from western Victoria using an Olympus 25mm f/1.2 lens and an Olympus fisheye lens here.

 

Emergency replacement of your jammed seat belt – Subaru Outback

Written by Gary on March 13th, 2019

While I was holidaying in a wilderness area recently, my driver’s side seat belt mechanism in my 2006 Subaru Outback suddenly jammed and nothing I could do would un-jam it.

This is extremely problematic as not only is is dangerous to drive the car without a seatbelt (in fact, probably more dangerous in a car fitted with air bags as the airbags are then likely to cause a hangman’s fracture of your neck from hitting your head too low and hyper-extending your neck), but it is illegal in Australia and your car would be made un-roadworthy.

I spoke to the local mechanics who said there was nothing one could do to repair it and it would need a new unit.

Fortunately, I had access to the internet and by extensive Googling found that this indeed was probably the case, although some had managed to disassemble the mechanism (see videos at bottom of this blog) and un-jam the ball that causes the belt to lock – unfortunately, this did not appear to be a feasible option on this seat belt – and it did have prominent warnings not to try as it may explode!

I contacted my local mechanic who called Subaru and he informed me that not only would a new seat belt cost $AU1850 but that it would take at least 3 weeks to get from overseas.

Not happy at all!

I thus resorted to emergency measures and purchased a used one online from a car in which the air bags had not been deployed – and hopefully the seat belt explosive pretensioner device had also not been deployed and made arrangements for it to be shipped to me – having my car towed home on a 8 hour trip was not a preferred option!

I managed to successfully replace my seat belt with this emergency second hand one and although there were many steps which had to be considered, I managed to get it all done in an hour or so.

DISCLAIMER: the manufacturer clearly states on the seat belt that it should NOT be used in a different car – so following these instructions is at your OWN risk and for emergency use only until you can have your mechanic install a new replacement.

Here is what you will need:

  • a replacement seat belt mechanism which has not had it’s pretensioner deployed (check inside the tube to ensure the piston is in the same position as your one) and is not jammed (it needs to be held upright for the belt to be able to be pulled out)
  • 14mm socket
  • 10mm socket
  • socket extension head for the top panel bolt
  • socket wrench (you may need a longer than usual handle to undo firmly held bolts)
  • small screwdriver to disconnect the airbag sensor clips
  • Philips head screwdriver to disconnect the lower panel spring clip

Steps required to replace the driver’s side seat belt mechanism

  1. Move the driver’s seat forward as far as possible
  2. Disconnect the car battery to avoid accidental deployment of the air bags
  3. Remove the rear plastic cover of the driver’s seat right track rail
  4. Remove the rear door rubber seal (at least the front and bottom parts)
  5. Remove the plastic lower wall panel by pulling it at the top and bottom rear and then sliding it out of its front bottom catch mechanism, then disconnect from the rear bottom safety spring using the screwdriver to undo the screw holding the safety spring onto the panel.
  6. Remove the top wall panel by pulling out the small rectangular “Airbag” labelled segment at the top which will expose a bolt that will need to be removed using the extension attachment for your socket wrench.
  7. Remove the large black metal protector over the belt using the 10mm sockets to undo the bolts.
  8. Lift up the driver’s side of the rear seat (or fully remove the rear seat but this is not really needed), to allow you to free up the plastic protector panel that lies under the carpet – you will need to create enough room to give you access to the 14mm bottom bolt that holds the pretensioner into the car wall.
  9. Disconnect the two air bag sensors by using the small screwdriver to gently flip up their top plastic square which will allow the connector to disengage.
  10. Unscrew the plastic cap near the rear of the pretensioner device to allow it to be freed from the floor connection.
  11. Remove the 14mm bolt holding the pretensioner onto the car wall.
  12. Carefully remove the 14mm bolt holding the seat belt onto the car wall avoiding stripping the bolt edges – you may need a long wrench for this one as it is held very tightly).
  13. Remove the top panel from the seat belt by passing the pretensioner through the panels’ belt gap (you will need to play with the panel mechanism to achieve this).
  14. Put the replacement seatbelt in by reversing all of the above steps – check that the belt is coming out freely once it has been mounted, and note the final attachment of the upper panel needs to be positioned so that the up-down slider position corresponds with the up-down slider of the upper panel.

Hope this helps someone get out of a predicament – I presume the general principles will apply to most modern cars.

But what if you can’t get a replacement unit?

I have not tried this on my jammed unit, but you may wish to consider following these Youtube videos on how to dismantle your seat belt mechanism (against manufacturer’s advice) by removing the 3 plastic lugs holding the Do NOT REMOVE plastic covers on:

These are not Subaru models but you get the idea

If you are lucky you may be able to fix the jam by tapping the mechanism as shown in this video with the aim of freeing the stuck gravity ball which is the culprit (I tried this and it didn’t work on mine):

 

Walking with dinosaurs on the Bass Coast

Written by Gary on February 14th, 2019

Victoria’s southern Bass Coast around Inverloch is not only a lovely place to spend Summer at the beach and explore the surrounds, but it is also a walk into the past.

The sandstone rock platforms date to around 120 million years ago (mya) which was during the Cretaceous Period and it is fascinating to try to consider what these times were like.

To do so requires a bit of an understanding of Australia’s place in the world then and its climate.

Southern Australia with it’s connection to Antarctica intact had moved from the northern Hemisphere where it had been some 550 mya, to close to the South Pole as part of the Pangaea super-continent.

During this migration south, around 360mya, during the Carboniferous Period when ferns, seed ferns, horsetails and gymnosperms evolved, conditions were warm and tropical which resulted in massive “Coal forests” dominating the land until the Permian Ice Age 280mya which resulted in ice glaciers covering most of south-eastern Australia (as demonstrated in Werribee Gorge and around Heathcote). These “Coal forests” became buried and are now the massive coal (as well as oil and gas) deposits which are being mined in various parts of Australia including the Bass Coast.

After the Permian Extinction event of 252mya, Australia became warmer and more monsoonal with the Triassic and Jurassic Periods, and much of Australia became large sedimentary basins with little evidence of Jurassic Period dinosaurs.

By 120mya the Australian craton had started migrating northwards but this time AWAY from the Antarctica craton creating a massive Rift Valley (similar to what is occurring in East Africa today). Africa had separated from South America (c140mya) which was still connected at its southern tip to Antarctica. Tasmania was at the South Pole.

This rifting created subsidence including the land between Tasmania and Victoria forming a massive flood plain with large rivers and many small rivulets at a time before the Ice Ages and well before Antarctica had become covered with ice and well before Australia had become an arid inland region.

120mya, the climate in this region was more of a cool temperate climate with snow on the alpine areas, long polar winters without sun and the rivers covered in ice. This was well BEFORE Australia had been populated by monotremes, marsupials, snakes or goannas but there were a range of Cretaceous dinosaurs and other animals.

Walking on these 120mya sandstone rock platforms, one can easily see today remnant fossilized trees which had fallen in the silt, and each year researchers come to dig the coast line looking for small dinosaur fragments amongst the conglomerate rocks remaining from the rivulets.

Fossilized tree trunk on the sandstone rock platform at Eagles Nest
Eagles Nest
Eagles Nest rock platform, Inverloch
Conglomerate rocks embedded in sandstone from the 120 million year old rivulet beds – could any of these be dinosaur fragments – part of a rib, or a tooth?
I imagined this could be a foot print but I am guessing it is not
and this paler one different to the other rocks in this conglomerate could represent a tooth, but who knows – I am no geological archaeologist!
Even if one does not discover any dinosaur bones, it is a lovely way to explore the area and search for interesting patterns – a bit of mindfulness at the seaside.
Nearby is evidence of the resulting volcanic activity due to thinning of the crust with the rifting with flows of igneous lava / magma deposited above the sandstone and these have been dated to 99.9mya.

This leads us on to how Australia’s unique animals evolved and came to be in Australia.

The first monotremes evolved c110mya and whilst the first marsupials (early opossums) evolved c100mya in North America, they had to migrate to South America and then across the Antarctic (before the trans-Antarctic mountains were pushed up c50mya) arriving in Australia c55mya where they then evolved into kangaroos, koalas and wombats.

40mya, whales evolved from the hippopotamus and would eventually travel to Australian waters.

Australia is well known for having the most venomous snakes on earth, and it is interesting how these evolved.

Snakes evolved from lizards around 120mya, with the “Old World” snakes being the pythons which have residual lizard features.

The elapids evolved c38mya and arrived in Australia c25mya from the north perhaps from a close ancestor of the semi-aquatic Sea Kraits which had evolved at the same time.

It was around this time that Australia’s climate dramatically changed. Australia had already become much drier c38mya when the Antarctic started to develop ice sheets and duracrusts started to form across Australia. This arid climate accelerated when South America and Tasmania both had separated from Antarctica allowing the circum-polar ocean currents to form c27mya which would result in a freezing of Antarctica

Australian terrestrial Elapid venomous snakes then evolved over time into a range of closely related species including Eastern Brown and Taipan with their tolerance to the new arid inland conditions, the Copperhead and Tiger snakes, but also the Australian elapids evolved into vivaporous sea snakes (c16mya).

The Australian goannas (monitor lizards) and pythons arrived in Australia from the north c15mya, although the pythons may have arrived somewhat later around 8mya.

Presumably the ice ages of the Pleistocene (the last 2.8 million years) were a trigger for the evolution of Australia’s megafauna which tend to cope better in cold conditions. Yes, it is better to be shorter and smaller when there is global warming!

Homo sapiens evolved some 300,000 yrs ago, and around 45,000 yrs ago, Australia’s indigenous peoples migrated to Australia from Sri Lanka. In contrast, the Polynesians migrated much later, starting around 3000BC and migrated from Taiwan region to eventually cover most of the Pacific Islands, New Zealand and to Hawaii.

Bass Strait did not become the sea way that it is today until the end of the last Ice Age resulted in sea levels rising c8000 yrs ago which cut off Tasmania from the mainland.

More details on how Australia evolved is on my wiki page here.

 

Bushwalking with the Olympus 300mm f/4 lens

Written by Gary on February 9th, 2019

Recently I posted how my favorite walk about lens is the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8.

If I am wanting to target smaller wildlife such as birds, then the more focal length reach the better, and the Olympus micro ZD 300mm f/4 OIS lens is a perfect lens for such ventures.

Matched with the Olympus OM-D E-M1II Micro Four Thirds camera, it becomes a unique kit which is:

  • incredibly sharp 600mm focal length reach in full frame terms
  • excellent weathersealing
  • fast and accurate auto focus
  • perhaps the heaviest kit I am prepared to carry in my hand for 1-2 hours on my short walks coming in at under 2kg – no other kit can give that telephoto reach at that image quality for under 2kg!
  • awesome level of image stabilisation (although the E-M1X will give even more image stabilisation)
  • ability to shoot at up to 18fps silently with continuous AF
  • ability to capture a burst of shots BEFORE you release the shutter button which is great for capturing birds taking off
  • ability to program the camera to ignore foreground or background when focusing by dialing in a focus range limiter – not just the one that is on the lens.
  • ability to shoot hand held 4K 30p video (although you do need to take some care in this to avoid too much camera shake as I had in my video below)

The down-side is that it is still quite heavy and the focal length is fixed so when you are about to step on a snake as I almost did, the lens to too long to capture it – and even larger animals such as kangaroos can be too close to capture.

Here are a selection of shots from yesterday:

No idea what bird this is (cropped image) but it didn’t hang around long (tree trunk darkened in post-processing) – Bald Hills Nature Conservation Park where I convinced my wife that even if it is remote, it is safe to walk – I was not aware this guy found 10 or so copperhead snakes in the wetlands there one afternoon – but then he went searching for them!

The snake I almost stepped on was near the entrance to the nearby Kings Flat Reserve. It was a shiny deep black colour and although I only saw the tail end as it slithered into the undergrowth, it looked to be about 1m long or so and I suspect it was probably a Red-bellied Black Snake.
eastern yellow robin
I believe this is an Eastern Yellow Robin in the Bald Hills reserve (cropped)
bee hive
almost bumped my head on this lot at Bald Hills – I presume they are native bees but I am no expert on these!
kangaroo and joey
Kangaroo and her joey happened to cross our paths
Here is a quick hand held video using this lens, apologies for the shake, not even the wonderful IS could cope with my tired arms at the end of the day combined with my inexpertise at video work – something I rarely do but on this occasion my wife requested a video.
joey
Her mother was slack leaving this big burr on her neck, but he is still very cute!
and just to show how well this lens can perform even shooting into the low afternoon sun, the micro contrast and sharpness is awesome.
Another demonstration of the shallow depth of field and bokeh.

None of the above would have been possible had I used my full frame camera – they just don’t make a lens with the same capabilities in that weight range – as discussed in my earlier blog post here.

If I was a birder with plenty of patience and sitting in a hide with a tripod, then sure, the full frame camera with a 600mm f/4 lens may get better image quality – but at what price in terms of money and burden?

 

The apocalypse

Written by Gary on February 7th, 2019

Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 lens with a bit of post-processing for ambience.

Taken at 150mm on my remote beach walk with an incoming storm on its way in the late afternoon.

This lens makes for a great landscape lens with its versatility and weather sealed capabilities and I love that it does not extend on zooming or on focusing which means less issues with salt spray or sand – just give it a wash under the tap when you are finished at the beach to avoid the salt corrosion risks – probably not important if it is the end of the world though!

 

Hooded plover on a beach using the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 lens

Written by Gary on February 6th, 2019

I was walking along a remote desolate beach today accompanied with my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera and my trusty Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens, not really knowing what I would find.

The beach has protected areas to keep the endangered Hooded Plovers safe from beach goers as they can easily trample on the eggs or scare the young into hiding where they may die as the young are not able to fly away.

Beach goers are required to stay on the water edge to avoid disturbing them so I have do intention of shooting them – otherwise I would have taken the heavier Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 lens along instead.

Unexpectedly, this adult Hooded Plover (aka Hooded Dotterel or Thinornis cucullatus) came running along the sand as they do down to the water’s edge just in front of me allowing me to get a couple of quick shots in while he/she stood still – which is not a common thing as they tend to continually run around looking for food.

Even at 300mm equivalent focal length reach in full frame terms, the small bird at that distance still looks pretty small in the frame, and so this image has been severely cropped to show you what one of these lovely birds look like in the wild.

Yes, it is not a ground breaking exciting image of a bird in flight with the sun’s reflection in its eyes and a catch of the day in the beak, but it is more of a sentimental ambience as he looks out to sea.

Note he has been tagged as this species which is endemic to southern Australia and Tasmania is endangered as a result of:

  • human Summer beach going activities as this species breeds with a clutch of 1–3 eggs is laid from August to March, which is also the peak of the Austral summer tourist season with disturbance from dogs and horses on beaches.
  • predation by Silver Gulls, ravens and introduced foxes


 

Abstract sand textures from Wilsons Promontory

Written by Gary on February 6th, 2019

The patterns sand on beaches makes is always fascinating – what are the beach characteristics which create each of these unique patterns?

Taken with the Olympus OM-D EM1 and the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 lens.

Why bother taking these images?

I think they would look great as a complimentary wall piece which does not overpower a room in the way those epic landscapes would.

They also have a role in post-processing because you can use them to create a texture layer to superimpose on your main image.

Add a bit of magma from a volcano and you get granite … I think that is pretty cool!

Yes, these were also taken at Wilsons Promontory.

Not every image needs to be epic!

 

The Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 lens – my favorite walk-around lens of all time and Wilsons Promontory NP

Written by Gary on February 5th, 2019

I have tried many camera-lens combinations for when I go walk about over the last 20 years, but one combination has been and remains my favorite – The Olympus OM-D E-M1 II Micro Four Thirds camera with the Olympus micro ZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens.

For me, this combination is beautifully balanced, has lovely ergonomics, great image quality, awesome in wet weather with the lovely long retractable lens hood and the combination of f/2.8 aperture with 5EV image stabilisation (7EV if you get the new E-M1X) means it is great even when the light levels get low.

If I am walking somewhere I have never been before, and I am only wanting to take one lens and no back pack, then the 80-300mm coverage in full frame terms this lens provides with excellent image quality at all focal lengths even wide open means I can get almost any shot I want.

I can carry this in one hand nearly all day without getting tired – quite often I carry it somewhat precariously balanced on just my index finger on the camera grip – it just seems to balance so well.

I used this for much of my Greek islands holiday, and yesterday, I walked around parts of Victoria’s famous and very beautiful Wilsons Promontory National Park – with only this lens.

There will be times I need a wider angle shot – and for these, I can resort to my iPhone, or if I have pre-planned it, I will consider taking along the tiny Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 lens as a back up for wide shots.

Here are a few pics from yesterday amongst the smoke haze from the Tasmanian bushfires taken with this lens on my old Olympus E-M1 original version:

Whisky Bay
Whisky Bay
Tidal River
I believe this is a Pacific Gull

The lens is by no means perfect for every subject – if I want shallow DOF at it’s wider focal lengths to blur the background with smoother bokeh, I need to return with my Olympus mZD 45mm f/1.2 or Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lenses, and whilst it has reasonable close up capabilities, if I really need macro performance then I need my Olympus mZD 60mm f/2.8 macro lens.

But what this lens allows me to do is to try a range of focal lengths to ascertain which works best for a scene so I can re-visit it, and also I am ready for whatever nature throws me – a snake, an echidna, birds who are friendly enough to allow me to get relatively close.

It means I am always ready for a transient moment in time in which changing lenses or camera would result in the shot being missed.

The Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 lens weighs 760g without its tripod mount (which I never use), and when introduced was $US1499 but can be had for much lower pricing now. Unlike the Canon EF lenses it is optimised for mirrorless AF systems and has silent function for video work.

If you have a full frame camera, you could carry a similar focal length reach 80-300mm lens instead, something like:

  • Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM lens
    • this “consumer” lens is the same weight, but it is NOT weathersealed, optical quality is not as good, has no retractable lens hood, only has 4EV IS, lacks the MF clutch control, and you lose any image quality benefits of full frame when you have to shoot it at f/5.6 instead of f/2.8
  • Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L lens
    • this pro lens gives 4EV IS, weighs just over 1kg, and is about twice the price, and at f/5.6, you lose most of the image quality benefits of full frame
  • Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 OSS
    • Sony do not have a 80-300mm, this is their closest, and it weighs in at an uncomfortable 1.4kg and more than twice the price, and at f/5.6, you lose most of the image quality benefits of full frame
  • There are NO current native lenses in this range for Canon R or Nikon Z cameras

That’s why I like to go walk about with Micro Four Thirds, maximum versatility, low cost, low burden, more fun.

 

The Olympus E-M1X as a super telephoto kit – compared to full frame 600mm kits

Written by Gary on January 30th, 2019

The Olympus OM-D E-M1X has received mixed “reviews” with some “experts” suggesting it is over-priced and no pro would buy it because it cannot compete with full frame super telephoto kits for low light and image quality as well as background blurring capabilities.

BUT is this comparison really fair?
We all know a smaller Micro Four Thirds sensor will always have more image noise at higher ISO levels (perhaps 2EV worse) than full frame, and the ability to blur the background will also be 1-2EV worse (although this part could be addressed with some creative post-processing if it was felt that it was really needed).

But you can’t really compare the kits on price, weight, it is like saying a Subaru Outback is a rubbish car which cannot compete with 4WD trucks when it comes to off-road driving or heavy towing – yes the 4WD trucks will allow you to cope with, or more likely let you get stuck in, more remote extreme tracks, but not everyone wants to drive a 4WD truck to and from work in urban areas for 95% of the use, and not everyone wants to use their car as a toy on extreme road conditions or tow big boats.

The E-M1X is similar, it is a far more versatile everyday kit and one does not need to have the burdens of weight and costs as there is with the full frame kits. You just need to be aware of its limitations.

Let’s do a spec for spec comparison with the full frame sports options

For this comparison I will be mating the E-M1X with the Olympus 300mm f/4 OIS lens, and comparing it to Canon 1DXII with Canon EF 600mm f/4L, the Nikon D5 with Nikkor 600mm f/4 VR, and the Sony a9 with the yet to be available Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 with 1.4 teleconverter (Sony do not make a FE 600mm f/4 lens).

We are now comparing an Olympus kit which is just over a QUARTER of the price of the full frame kits when you have to factor in a heavy duty tripod and tripod head for these massive, super expensive lenses, and only 2.3kg compared to around 9kg for the full frame kits with tripod.

Clearly we are NOT comparing apples with apples here!

But let’s continue and take the image quality issues aside as they have already been mentioned and look at the pros of each:

Olympus E-M1X with 300mm f/4 lens:

  • by far the easiest and least burdensome to carry to locations, scramble up rock faces with, and even in carry it as cabin luggage on the plane – good luck with your full frame kit checked in – you may never see it again!
  • by far the most fun in shooting without need for a tripod for more creative shots, you could even carry a 2nd camera with a 200mm f/2.8 lens on hikes if you are fit.
  • the best weather-sealing of any of them, you can take it anywhere, get mud on it and just run it under a tap!
  • the best image stabilisation at 7.5EV compared to 4-5EV
  • like the Sony, it has sensor based image stabilisation as well as optical allowing it to be effective on ANY lens, whereas the dSLRs only have optical
  • the best image stabilisation for hand held movies – well no-one would even bother trying hand held movies with the full frame kits!
  • the only one with a flip out, swivel touch screen which means you can protect the screen by rotating it to face the camera, and you could use it for selfies – just not with this lens!
  • the closest focus at only 1.4m compared to 2.7m with Sony and over 4m with Canikon
  • the smaller lens allows standard 77mm front filters instead of needing rear drop-in filters
  • a much greater range of native lens options compared with Sony
  • mirrorless technology allows for more seem-less video mode, more silent shooting with no mirror noise or vibrations and more future proof than the Canikon kits.
  • more PDAF points than the Canon, with much better frame coverage (than the Canon and Nikon) and much better low light capabilities (-6EV light levels – the others are -3 to 4EV), and the grouping of AF points is entirely user customizable, while the rear controller can move points diagonally not just the slow left/right/up/down of the others.
  • has unique in-camera AF capabilities to better track subjects including ability to dial in a near and far focus range limiter so the AF will ignore foreground or background, while the new AI-based specific subject type tracking may well be the future of AF tracking as it already “knows” how to track certain subjects such as cars and motorbikes and even then it knows to lock focus on the helmet! More subjects will be added via firmware over time.
  • is the only camera that can accurately focus on the CLOSEST eye (although the Sony does better eye tracking)
  • has significantly faster power on and faster shutter lag than the Sony
  • has much faster mechanical shutter burst rate than the Sony which becomes very important when it comes to flash photography (the Olympus can do up to 15fps whereas the Sony can only do 5fps)
  • has much faster burst buffer clearance rate than the Sony (6-7 seconds whereas the Sony is 38secs for RAW and a ridiculous 254 secs for extra fine large jpegs!)
  • the dual SD cards are BOTH UHS-II compatible (the Sony has only one compatible)
  • capable of USB-C power charging of batteries in camera or powering the camera with up to a 100W power bank which is very handy on shoots especially in freezing consitions when the power bank can be kept nice and warm away from the camera.
  • a number of unique functions such as 50mp hand held HiRes mode, 80mp tripod HiRes mode (this can give BETTER image quality than the Sony a7RIII in terms of both resolution and image noise in low light!), automatic focus stacking, hand held ND simulation mode for blurred water, timed shutter to 60secs not just 30sec, Timed Bulb, Live Composite, automatic Focus Stacking and more.
  • built-in sensors such as GPS, temperature, compass, barometer, altitude and of course, WiFi tethering without need for an optional adapter as is the case with Canikon.

Sony a9 with Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 plus 1.4x TC

  • much better electronic viewfinder
  • better RealTime AF for Eye tracking (the best there is at present)
  • almost full PDAF coverage and with by far the most PDAF points
  • the shortest shutter lag if you half-press shutter release first – nut much slower in other methods of shooting
  • has the mirrorless and IBIS advantages of the Olympus over the dSLRs
  • better image quality although with the 1.4xTC you may need to stop it down a stop to get the same sharpness as the other kits and this reduced the benefits of sensor image quality and DOF.

Canon and Nikon kits with 600mm f/4 lenses:

  • optical viewfinder for far better battery life
  • faster start up time but similar shutter lag to the Olympus
  • deeper burst buffer with much faster clearance time of only 1-2secs if using the fastest memory cards
  • best image quality thanks to 14bit full frame with f/4 pro lens
  • best pro support systems
  • the Nikon has the best resolution rear LCD but it is fixed and limited in function

How about alternate “600mm” options for full frame?

There are several ways full frame users can get to 600mm telephoto reach without resorting to $12,000 heavy 600mm f/4 lenses, let’s see how they work out.

  1. Use a 400mm f/2.8 lens with 1.4x TC – well this is what you need to do on the Sony but it is same price lens, same weight, but you need to stop it down 1 stop for sharpness.
  2. Use a 300mm f/4 lens with 2x TC – this puts you in the same effective DOF and ISO image noise as Micro Four Thirds as you now have an effective f/8 lens requiring 2 stops higher ISO, and worse, to achieve sharpness you would need to stop it down a further stop or so making the image quality WORSE than the E-M1X, but at least it is hand holdable.
  3. Use the rumoured 75mp Canon R camera with a 300mm f/4 lens and use it in a 2x crop mode – again this allows it to be hand holdable, but now we have the SAME sensor image quality as Micro Four Thirds as it will have the same pixel density and size, but the current 300mm f/4 lenses are not as sharp as the Olympus lens so you are again worse off.
  4. Use a 300mm f/2.8 lens with 2x TC – this is still a fairly heavy, expensive lens, and when you stop it down 1 stop for sharpness, you end up at f/8 which means using 2 stops higher ISO than Olympus which negates any image quality advantage over the Olympus.
  5. Use a 3rd party super telephoto such as the Sigma “Bigma” 150-600 f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sport lens – relatively cheap at only $US1799, 2.86kg (too heavy to hand hold), and is 290mm long, it is not weathersealed other than at the mount, MF ring is no where near as good, and at 500-600mm range, the sharpness drops off substantially in the cheaper “Contemporary version for which you really need to be shooting at f/8-f/11 so if you need 600mm you should look at the Sports version and AF performance can be problematic, especially when most cameras do not AF well with f/6.3 apertures, and especially in lower light. There is no free lunch!
  6. If you have plenty of money and sherpas, the Sigma APO 200-500mm f/2.8 EX DG lens with 2x teleconverter to give a 400-1000mm f/5.6 effective lens will set you back $25,999 and weigh 15.7kg!!!

Conclusion:

If you are a top line pro with lots of money and helpers to get you places and you will only be using a tripod, then the Canon and Nikon dSLRs are still probably the way to go still. Full frame cameras are also still to be preferred IF one is wanting shallow DOF in a zoom lens, and here, Micro Four Thirds cannot compete without resorting to f/1.2 prime lenses when compared to full frame lenses such as the new Canon RF 28-70mm f/2 and the traditional 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses.

For everyone else, the attractions of a far less expensive, less burdensome and far more fun Olympus kit may make good sense – you just have to accept the image quality may not be quite as good in low light when you need to push up the ISO, and you may need to take more care with camera positioning to avoid distracting backgrounds if they are closer to the subject than you are.

It would be a great camera for photojournalists as well when mated with a 40-150mm f/2.8 or an f/1.2 prime.

Is the E-M1X over-priced?

When you look at its capabilities and the many pros it has going for it then it probably isn’t over-priced – I must say, for that price I would have liked the same EVF as the Sony a9, and I want the same Eye AF tracking capability (this may come with firmware upgrades).

Is the E-M1X too big and heavy?

For most current Micro Four Thirds users is is, but from the hands on reviewers in extreme conditions, the extra functionality and ergonomics of this form factor makes it far better suited than the smaller cameras, and by having the vertical battery grip integrated it creates a more robust and more weathersealed option than the Sony a9 or the E-M1 II with a grip.

For extensive details of the specs see my wiki page which has a comparison table

The following is a video by Chris Eyre-Walker of how good the E-M1X is in extreme environments: