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:

 

My take on the new Olympus OM-D E-M1X and new radio WiFi Flash system and the new pro super zoom lens

Written by Gary on January 24th, 2019

Olympus officially announced their new flagship Micro Four Thirds camera today – the Olympus OM-D E-M1X.

It is BIG, HEAVY, very expensive but in many respects, there are no cameras out there that will give you this capability for price and weight if you are a professional sports or wildlife photographer.

I will not go into detail on the specs except to summarise some of the differences compared to the E-M1 II:

  • similar size and weight as the E-M1II with its optional battery grip as this is now included to provide better ergonomics for large lenses and better weathersealing and build quality compared to an add on grip.
  • has two E-M1II’s image processors which endows it with greater capabilities and speed
  • a new EVF with only 5msec lag and the largest viewfinder magnification of its class
  • new dual 8-way AF joystick multi selectors
  • image stabiliser allows twice the shutter speed duration now at 7EV (up from 5.5EV) and an incredible 7.5EV when used in Dual IS mode with lenses such as the Olympus 12-100mm f/4 OIS. This allows 1 sec hand held with a 45mm lens – that is equivalent to a 90mm lens in full frame land – just incredible!
  • radically improved auto focus capabilities including:
    • new Intelligent Subject Detection AF which will traack certain types of subjects such as motor sports, trains and plains (I am suspect more will be added through firmware later) which could be a game changer for those shooting motorsports as the user just needs to use single point focus, commence focus on the desired motorbike and the camera will do the rest even preferentially focusing on the helmet when this can be discriminated!
    • new customisable AF groups and a new preset 25 point group which I have been wanting for a long time! Thank you Olympus!
    • new C-AF Center Start / C-AF Center Priority which tells the camera whether to prioritise the closest subject in the AF group or the centre one – this again will be VERY handy!
    • AF sensitivity is now down to -6EV!
  • better battery duration (850 CIPA) thanks to dual batteries (each same as the E-M1II thankfully), and they can be charged in camera either via the new USB-C port or via the grip’s DC in port
  • both SD card slots are now UHS-II compatible
  • an impressive new HANDHELD Hi Res mode which unlike the tripod mode HiRes (which remains as is for the E-M1II and gets the extra pixel information my moving the sensor over 8 images) takes 16 sequential images with movement due to camera shake to provide a 50mp jpeg or RAW file and attempts to correct for motion that’s occurred between shots – this would be great in many scenarios!
  • a new Live ND mode results in blurred subject movement by compositing exposures to replicate the look of a single image taken at a slower shutter speed. Particularly suitable for photographing moving water, five modes are available — ND2, ND4, ND8, ND16, and ND32 —to vary how movement is portrayed – this seems like it will be a very useful tool!
  • new customizable ‘My Menu’ tab at last, in which you can store the options you regularly need to access.
  • new built-in Field Sensor System sports an integrated GPS module (GLONASS and QZSS) along with an electronic compass, manometer, temperature sensor, and acceleration sensor
  • improved sensor cleaning system – Olympus has had the best as it was the 1st to introduce these ultrasonic systems, and now it has further improved it.
  • Surprisingly, it sees little change to the video mode – one may have hoped for a 4K 60P mode but this has not eventuated for some reason – surely with the dual processors this should be possible!
  • There is also no mention as to whether the EYE AF tracking has been improved – it is excellent for static subjects but the E-M1II does not compete with Sony’s current technology and one hoped this may be addressed with the E-M1X – but no one has mentioned this at this stage.

Why would a pro sports or wildlife photographer buy into this?

Let’s face it, most current Micro Four Thirds users will find this too big, heavy and expensive and Olympus is clearly targeting another audience – the existing Nikon, Canon or Sony sports/wildlife pros who are stuck in no man’s land at present in terms of their current options.

The current Canon or Nikon pro sports cameras are dSLRs with heavy, big, expensive lenses without sensor based IS and with limited potential for the AI and AF smarts now available on mirrorless systems, and now that Canon and Nikon have signaled their intent that mirrorless is the way of the future – these photographers will be looking at their options.

It is unlikely Canon or Nikon will be producing a pro sports system for their mirrorless cameras within the next 2-3 years as these take time to develop.

Sony has the only sports oriented mirrorless camera on the market, their very expensive but superb Sony a9 full frame, but they lack a line up of pro telephoto lenses, and being full frame, these lenses won’t have the same telephoto reach as the Olympus ones of similar size.

These photographers will end up with 3 main choices for their super telephoto sports/wildlife work:

  • a 24mp sports full frame mirrorless camera but needing large, heavy and expensive lenses
  • a 100mp general full frame mirrorless camera which can be used in 24mp cropped mode but then you end up with same sensor image quality as Micro Four Thirds but with the need to use large, heavy, expensive full frame lenses
  • the 20mp Olympus E-M1X with its smaller, lighter, less expensive lenses for the same telephoto reach – sure it will not have as good image quality as the 1st option in low light, but AI algorithms are coming which should address any image noise differences and differences in “shallow DOF” that are currently potentially present in the two systems.

How does it compare to the Sony a9?

It is just over half the price of the Sony a9 but twice the weight and has longer battery duration thanks to the built-in grip.

The image stabilisation is 2EV better but this may be outweighed for moving subjects by the 1-2 stops better high ISO image quality of the Sony a9 which gives the Sony a9 a potential advantage for indoor sports although this depends upon whether more DOF is needed in which case the differences can be substantially reduced as the Sony a9 will need a smaller aperture and higher ISO.

Has better options for sports AF such as in-camera user defined focus limiter to avoid locking on foreground or background, the new intelligent tracking on motorsports, user-customisable AF grouping, etc, however the Sony a9 has their superb Real Time AF and class leading Eye AF Tracking.

Has a much better range of dedicated telephoto lenses and they are much more affordable, smaller and lighter. Sony has a Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens at $US2498 and 1.4kg compared to the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 which gives the same reach at wider aperture when combined with a 1.4x converter at around half the price and just over half the weight. The ONLY other super telephoto FE lens made by Sony is their Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 which is $US12,000 and almost 3kg! The Panasonic 200mm f/2.8 offers the same telephoto reach and is under $US3000 and only 1.2kg. With the Olympus you can also use the Olympus 300mm f/4, Panasonic 50-200mm, or Panasonic 100-400mm, and in 2020, the super pro Olympus which was just announced – the Olympus microZD 150-400mm f/4.5 OIS with built-in 1.25x teleconverter and this can also be matched with the newly announced MC-20 2x teleconverter to get the full frame equivalent reach to 2000mm at f/11.

Has built-in GPS and Field Sensor System which may be important when in comes to automatically documenting the circumstances of your shooting

Has Pro-Capture mode which allows capture of images BEFORE the shutter is released to allow for human lag time, meaning less likely to miss critical shots, especially when this can be used with a user dialed in preset manual focus for when you can’t see a sports person coming over a jump, etc.

Fully articulated rear screen instead of a tilting screen. This means one can better protect the screen by turning it away from the user, and it can be more useful in difficult positions or for selfies.

Sony a9 has a better EVF and the AF system has more points with wider coverage and much better subject tracking, but only one of its SD card slots is UHS-II, there is no 60fps electronic shutter burst mode, and the faster burst mode with flash is only 5fps, half that of the Olympus.

I suspect the Olympus will have much better weather-sealing and be more robust, partly as the grip is built in and not an optional add on.

The Olympus also has a range of other in-camera features such as Live night modes, the new Live ND motion blur mode, automatic focus stacking and the Hi Res 80mp and hand held 50mp modes which are not available on the Sony.

The Olympus gives BETTER IMAGE QUALITY for low light static subjects using handheld HiRes mode than a Sony A7RIII – LESS NOISE and BETTER WB and MORE DETAIL as well as less MOIRE! BUT HiRes modes do NOT work well for portraits and the Sony will do better astroscapes due to its larger sensor and availability of brighter wide angle lenses.

I will update my wiki page with links to reviews of the E-M1X here.

The new Olympus pro zoom lens

The Olympus mZD 150-400mm f/4.5 OIS with built-in 1.25x teleconverter promises to be an amazing lens when it is available in 2020 and likely to be the biggest, heaviest and most expensive lens in the Micro Four Thirds line up, but far less than what would be available in a full frame system for the same telephoto reach of 300-800mm and 380-1000mm f/5.6 with the teleconverter enabled.

This can also be matched with the newly announced MC-20 2x teleconverter to get the full frame equivalent reach to 2000mm at f/11 and this teleconverter, like the MC-14 1.4x teleconverter, can be used with the 40-150mm f/2.8 and the 300mm f/4 lens.

I will update my wiki page of news and reviews of this lens here when they are released.

At last a radio wireless TTL flash system

While I often criticize Canon and Nikon for being lagards in technological innovations – prime examples being sensor based image stabilisation and mirrorless technologies, there has been one glaring area where olymopus has failed to keep up with – radio wireless TTL remote flash.

Olympus have stuck with an optical remote flash system but this had issues as with all optical systems. Canon was the 1st dSLR manufacturer to adopt a radio wireless system in 2012 after PocketWizards had introduced their proprietary add ons for Canon and Nikon dSLRs in 2009.

Fortunately for Olympus users, Cactus and Godox both now produce their own proprietary radio wireless TTL flash systems which work quite well not only with Olympus gear but with other brands which sort of makes the Olympus flash system somewhat redundant.

Well ALMOST redundant!

The new Olympus radio wireless flash system will be compatible with the Olympus tripod HiRes mode as well as focus stacking mode and focus bracketing mode, which gives it some advantage over the Cactus and Godox systems.

The new radio wireless system will have a WR suffix in the model name (note only are they Wireless Remote but they are Weather Resistant too) and includes:

  • Olympus FL-700WR flash with GN 42m at ISO 100 and can shoot at up to 10fps when output is 1/16th or less, and has a short recharge cycle time of 1.5s after a full discharge, radio wireless to 30m
  • Olympus Wireless Commander FC-WR to go on the camera’s hot shoe
  • Olympus Wireless Receiver FR-WR to attach to legacy Olympus flashes or studio flashes (no TTL capability obviously in this case)
 

A few simple 2019 firmware update wishes for the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II

Written by Gary on December 26th, 2018

It seems Olympus will be announcing a E-M1X in January 2019 which might suggest there is no E-M1 Mark III model coming in the next 6 months at least.

In October I started using hand held HDR for a lot of my shooting and I think it is changing the way I shoot because it allows me to AE bracket in one shutter click and allows me the option of creating a HDR or seeing the image in a different manner with different exposure values.

The problem with the HDR mode is you are limited to HDR level AE bracketing of 2EV steps.

If one uses the normal bracketing modes, you have to press the shutter release for EVERY bracketed shot and not only is this too slow, but one forgets where one is up to in the sequence so you either end up not completing the sequence for that shot and having part of the sequence in your next shot, or doing too many and starting a new sequence inadvertently.

I just want a single shutter press to do the whole sequence of bracketing.

My suggestion then is to add a menu item under the bracketing menu of “Bracketing Shutter Mode” and have two options – single shutter press and multiple shutter presses.

My next firmware suggestion is to add another AF region option more than 9 points – perhaps 25 points or 36 points so that one has a better chance of keeping a moving subject within the AF region during C-AF without having to resort to full area AF points which may increase the chance of the camera locking focus on foreground or background

There are many other areas which they could improve with firmware such as:

  • adding Dual / Sync IS with Panasonic OIS lenses
  • allowing the aperture ring on Panasonic lenses to be functional
  • change the auto ISO default slowest shutter speed to take into account the IS being used
  • add a Panorama mode to make this easier than manually locking all the settings for each shot
  • add a 3rd option, “last viewed” to the cogs:H1:Card Slot Settings:Playback Slot so that one does not have to dig deep into the menu to keep your playback slot preference
  • playback zoom should have an option to view the RAW file rather than a small embedded jpeg when shooting RAW only or RAW and a small jpeg so that one can better assess image quality
  • add an option to adjust the time to return to normal view when MF Assist is activated and you stop rotating MF ring – currently it is too short for my liking and does not give enough time to to assess focus accuracy
 

Back to the future – Olympus does not think Micro Four Thirds is nearing death – far from it! The E-M1X?

Written by Gary on December 3rd, 2018

Okay, we have all seen the reckless click bait headlines that full frame mirrorless will take over almost all the camera world and Micro Four Thirds is dead.

Well, I am sure Micro Four Thirds will be with us for many years yet – I just can’t see full frame filling in the marketplaces where the small, light, less expensive Micro Four Thirds cameras excel whether that be beginners, travel, backpacking, social, or most other areas for that matter – especially as any gaps in perceived advantages of full frame will dramatically diminish as technology continues to improve – the law of diminishing returns – and particularly so in a world where most people are happy with the image quality from their iPhone.

It seems Olympus is certainly not buying into this idea as news is leaking that they are about to develop a new type of Micro Four Thirds camera and not just any camera, but one to vigorously attack the pro sports world.

The camera has been called the Olympus OM-D E-M1X presumably as it will be competing against the Canon 1DX pro sports dSLR and rumours have it that it will be announced in Jan 2019!

Most existing Micro Four Thirds users probably will hate the concept of the E-M1X as it is going to be MUCH bigger than what they would like with a built in vertical grip and battery compartment, but this camera is not aimed at them but a whole world of disenchanted pro sports photographers who just may be ready to jump ship and save their bank and their backs by adopting a much smaller, lighter and less expensive system, and one which may even give them better results than their old technology dSLRs.

The following is just MY perception of how things might be if in fact the rumours are true and Olympus do create such a camera. The following is in no way linked to any other evidence than I have presented and as I have no communications with Olympus nor do they give me any inducements or similar, they are just my thoughts on how I think the future will unfold.

Note that I own an E-M1 II and a Sony full frame mirrorless and a Canon 1D Mark III pro sports dSLR as well as pro lenses, but I am not a professional sports photographer but a close observer of this scene for the last 15 years or so.

The rumours suggest that Olympus will release two other cameras in 2019 – perhaps a Pen II and either an updated E-M5 or E-M1.

Why Back to the Future?

Olympus has been here before and would have learnt some lessons from their past attempt at the pro sports market.

Yes, they created some of the most wonderful lenses ever made for the old Four Thirds dSLR system such as:

Don’t forget you need to double these focal lengths to get full frame equivalent telephoto field of view!

But, 12 years ago, digital camera technology was no where near what it is today, and their Four Thirds dSLR cameras, let down by poor quality sensors just didn’t let them get any foothold in the pro market. Even though they were the first to introduce technologies we all take for granted in our modern cameras such as sensor dust removal and in camera sensor based image stabilisation that works on any lens (sorry Canon users, you still don’t have this), the massive following that Canon and Nikon has would prove impossible to break into without better image quality from the sensors.

Olympus and Panasonic turned their fortunes around by making the bold decision to abandon the Four Thirds dSLR system and develop a mirrorless system – the Micro Four Thirds system – and the timing was perfect – electronic viewfinder technology had dramatically improved, but more importantly, the sensor technology also dramatically improved, and then we saw with the OM-D series, all these critical components along with weather-sealing, the fastest and most accurate AF systems in the world, and eye detection autofocus coming together to provide a brilliant camera, the E-M5 and with it, a seamless experience when resorting to video modes – unlike the clunky dSLR options.

And, now it seems, Olympus is ready for another splash into the pro sports market, but this time they have a several massive positives which may give them a reasonable chance:

  • the 2016 model OM-D E-M1 II has already demonstrated significant advantages over the sports dSLRs
    • smaller, lighter, and less expensive camera and lenses for the same telephoto reach
    • faster burst rates (18fps with C-AF in electronic shutter mode, 60fps with fixed focus!)
    • wider image area coverage of AF points for better ability to track across the frame
    • individual lenses do not require microcalibration to ensure accurate AF
    • very effective IBIS for panning with any lens (Canon and Nikon relies on lenses with OIS built in – the Canon 400mm f/5.6 has no OIS, nor do the shorter primes such as 135mm f/2 or 200mm f/2.8)
    • much better image stabiliser for hand held video work
    • can use the viewfinder for video work without having to resort to a clunky Live View mode and the rear screen
    • in-camera user adjustable focus range limiter for improving AF speed and avoiding AF locking on backgrounds and foregrounds – no other camera has this feature, even in 2018!
    • much better manual focus aids, including in-camera user configured preset manual focus
    • pro-capture mode which saves photos immediately PRIOR to shutter release to help avoid missing that critical shot
    • smaller RAW file sizes as 12bit instead of 14 bit RAW files – when shooting at 18fps, file size makes a bit of difference
  • the image quality from the E-M1 II is already sufficient for most pro sports purposes as 20mp is all one needs for sports (for the most part moving subjects won’t allow better resolution which is why the pro dSLRs are also of average resolution), and another generation of sensors can be expected to give perhaps another stop of high ISO performance
  • Olympus and Panasonic have already created two of the sharpest lenses ever made – the Olympus 300mm f/4 and Panasonic f/2.8 and both work in 6EV + Dual IS with their respective camera brand cameras, and we can expect more to come.
  • the 2017 model Sony a9 has already demonstrated even greater advantages with:
    • zero EVF blackout
    • superb EVF with flourine coating to keep it cleaner
    • even better AF tracking and better EyeAF tracking
    • even more and wider coverage of AF points
    • higher rated shutter mechanism to 500,000 shots
  • the move of Canon and Nikon to finally migrate to full frame mirrorless signalling that mirrorless is THEIR technology of the future, and that dSLRs will gradually fall out of favour, will unsettle many pro photographers worried about substantial lens investments, particularly as we know that the best AF experience is with native mirrorless lenses rather than legacy lenses on mirrorless cameras.
  • it is likely it will take Canon and Nikon at least 5 years to build up a pro lens and camera catalogue for their mirrorless systems

So here we have an opportunity for Olympus to add an alternative pro sports system in 2019 which will be lighter, smaller and less expensive and with many advantages over their old pro dSLR cameras.

What should an Olympus OM-D E-M1X feature set look like?

I would expect it to be similar to the E-M1 II but with:

  • vertical grip and battery holder built in for more robust build, better weather-sealing than when resorting to an add on grip, and better ergonomics when handling super telephoto pro sports lenses
  • the features of the Sony a9 mentioned above – rumours suggest a new 3M dot 120Hz larger EVF
  • hopefully a global sensor to eradicate the mild residual rolling shutter, and also allow flash sync at any shutter speed
  • even greater burst capacity
  • improved start up time (one fault with the E-M1 II has been that it is a little sluggish to start up) – rumours suggest the engine is twice as fast as the E-M1 II
  • further improved high ISO noise and dynamic range (no, we don’t need more megapixels!) – rumours suggest a new 20mp BSI CMOS sensor so this sounds like a great start!
  • improved AF cluster / region options
  • dual fast UHS-II SD card readers (the E-M1 II’s 2nd card reader is only UHS-I)
  • USB 3.1 with USB charging
  • higher 4K video rates at least to 60p to allow for some slo mo, and hopefully 120p for 1080HD
  • it is also rumoured to allow hand held HiRes 80mp mode at 1/60th sec shutter for those doing landscapes – but hopefully it will also allow pixel shift low noise image mode as well
  • IS is apparently going to be further improved to 6+ EV

If they can get such a machine to market for under $US2500 then they might just be on a winner, but it will still be a hard sell convincing all those die hard Canon and Nikon pros.

It looks like it will compete with the basic specs of the Fuji XT-3 ($US1499 but the XT-3 is missing a LOT of features of the EM1X) and the Canon 1DX ($US5999).

Olympus will need to work on their global pro support systems, but in reality, the pros could probably afford to buy two of each component for the same price as their dSLR gear so they could build in their own redundancy.

Olympus will also need to produce just a few more lenses:

  • will they re-visit their Four Thirds lenses which are too big, heavy and expensive for most Micro Four Thirds users but perhaps not for the pro sports mob, so we might again see a 300mm f/2.8 and 90-250mm f/2.8 but this time with OIS added and the many advantages of Micro Four Thirds technologies such as Eye AF, Dual IS, etc.
  • I personally would like to see a 65 or 70mm f/1.2 pro lens and a 100mm f/1.4 pro lens with a nice big lens hood to keep the rain out as well as the flood lights which would be useful for lower light indoor sports as well as portraits, etc.
  • the pros would probably be wanting a 400mm f/4 or perhaps a 200-500mm f/4-5.6 zoom

Once this outfit has been developed, one could say the Micro Four Thirds system is complete with very little further R&D costs required (except for iterative further improvements to new cameras), and thus Olympus and Panasonic would be financially and resource free to consider embarking R&D of full frame systems as well as maintaining their superb Micro Four Thirds system.

Many argue that one cannot compare a Micro Four Thirds 300mm f/4 lens with a full frame 600mm f/4 lens just because you get the same field of view, and yes, they are correct because you get more shallow DOF with the full frame lens – but usually you don’t want that – most birders prefer to shoot at f/8 with that lens and if you are shooting at f/8, you may as well shoot with the Olympus 300mm  f/4 at 1/3rd of the weight and a quarter of the price!

Some argue that Panasonic will not be able to afford R&D of the full frame system and Micro Four Thirds but as I see it, the R&D for Micro Four Thirds is largely done and dusted and any further R&D could be symbiotic. The argument that Olympus could not afford to maintain Micro Four Thirds in an increasingly competitive environment also fails for the same reason, and if Olympus truly had these concerns, they would not be embarking on the pro sports marketplace.

It is true that Panasonic and Olympus do not have the advantages of economies of scale of Sony, Canon and Nikon, but at least they are not like Canon who will need to maintain 5 different camera systems:

  • Canon EF dSLRs – this will gradually decline over the next 10 years as the future will probably be Canon R
  • Canon EF-S dSLRs – not sure there is much future with this system given the generally low end lens selection and it is not mirrorless
  • Canon EOS R full frame mirrorless – this is in its infancy
  • Canon EOS M APS-C mirrorless – noting that the EOS R lenses will not be compatible, and their lens line up is still very immature, so why would people buy into this system now that EOS R is here when the lenses are not compatible?
  • Canon high end video – this is now in a very competitive market

Where do I see the future taking us?

There are several systems which I think will flourish over the next 10 years, in order of sensor size:

  • Fujifilm medium format mirrorless – Fuji are dramatically bringing down the price for this format and increasingly pros and well healed enthusiasts will be attracted
  • full frame mirrorless – Sony, Nikon Z and Canon R (I’m not quite sure how Panasonic and Leica will fare but they will probably retain niche markets – a question remains on whether or not Olympus will join them)
  • Fujifilm APS-C mirrorless – Fuji have an impressive system already and one could argue that if money was no object, and sports or wildlife were not a priority, then the Fuji AP-C system mated with the medium format system would be cool kits – but BOTH are very expensive!
  • Micro Four Thirds mirrorless – this is the one for the masses who don’t want to carry heavy, super expensive gear – the perfect travel and people photography kit and perhaps now, a viable pro sport kit.

Meanwhile, the pro sports dSLRs will still dominate the sports industry until Canon and Nikon develop a better mirrorless alternative – and I am guessing this will take 5-10 years.