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A photographer’s guide to exploring central Australia Part II – Alice Springs

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

Following on from my introduction to the Red Centre which covered why go, getting there, accommodation and car hire issues, for many the first major stop in central Australia will be the remote semi-arid township of Alice springs which is half way between Darwin and Adelaide – 1,500km from each.

The airport is some 20km from the town and taxi fare will cost about $35 into town although some car rental companies may offer personal pick up, and in addition there are regular shuttle bus services which will cost about $17 per person.

The Ghan train between Adelaide and Darwin does stop in Alice Springs and this may be an attractive alternative to getting there.

Most of the main accommodation resorts are on the east side of the dry Todd River in the “golf course precinct” and are about 2km from the shopping centre which is on the west side of the river and towards Anzac Hill in the north.

Once in Alice, cycling and walking are common modalities if you can’t catch the shuttle buses and you don’t have a car.

The Alice Springs shopping centre has most items you would need including a camera shop but is certainly not a shopping destination – although given a population of 28,000 one would not expect it to be.

There are very few historic buildings in Alice but it is worth checking out The Residency which was the Governor’s house, and you may wish to cycle or drive to the Alice Springs Telegraph Station a few kilometres north of the town.

Things to do in Alice Springs

Relax and explore the many native flora in the Olive Pink Botanical Gardens and climb the hill for nice views across the town to Anzac Hill and to Mt Gillem.

view from Botanical gardens hill towards Anzac Hill

The view of main township from Botanical gardens hill over the dry Todd River bed and towards Anzac Hill.

Relax by the pool in the lovely winter sun at your resort.

Walk through town and check out indigenous art works and learn about their culture.

Learn about the wonderful Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Climb Mt Gillen (see below).

Explore the old road trains and Ghan train at the National Road Transport Hall of Fame

See the desert wildlife at the Desert Park.

Cycle to Simpson’s Gap.

Day trips to the East or West Macdonnell Ranges and explore their gorges.

Day trip to historic Hermannsburg (a 19th century Lutheran missionary community) and Palm Valley (if you have a high clearance 4WD and you can take it on the very rough roads).

Day trip on unsealed roads to Chamber’s Pillar.

Climbing Mt Gillen

Mt Gillen is the tallest peak near Alice Springs and climbing it is like a rite of passage for those staying in Alice Springs.

It is named after ethnologist, Francis James Gillen.

It is a challenging walk which rises over 360m from the start of the walk at the John Flynn Memorial on Larapinta Drive some 7km from town, on often steep, slippery gravel paths requiring reasonable fitness and coordination skills along with stable knees and ankles. It is a very exposed walk and you will need sunscreen, sunglasses, water, a hat which will not get blown off your head, sturdy shoes, phone, and preferably at least one companion in case you do suffer an injury.

The last phase involves a near vertical rock climb of some 5-6m which is not for the faint hearted but provides a rewarding walk along the top to the beacon which provides glorious views over the ranges and of Alice Springs.

These views are best at sunrise or sunset when it is also much cooler (you will need a warm jacket and gloves if going at sunrise), and you should be carrying a headlamp to help to see your way along the path in the dark.


Mt Gillen climb

Perhaps 2/3rds of the way up Mt Gillem showing the top cliffs which need to be negotiated.


Mt Gillen climb

The wonderful view across to the West Macdonnell Ranges and Mt Sonder in the far distance.


Mt Gillen climb

After the relief of surviving the cliff climb, you look back to this view westwards.


Mt Gillen climb

A short walk from there across the top to the beacon gives a view to the north-east overlooking Alice Springs.

All images taken with Olympus OM-D E-M5 with Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 lens and circular polarising filter and essentially are straight from the camera other than resizing for web.

This very strenuous walk is NOT great for large, heavy dSLRs, especially if one is silly enough to carry a tripod as well – although I am sure you would get some nice pre-sunrise shots for your hike up the mountain in darkness – if you survive.

Towards an understanding of the plight of Australian indigenous peoples

Let me first state, that their issues are complex and I have only had a very brief introduction to them, and what I present here is my perception from what I have been told in a few days in Alice.

Firstly, they arrived in Australia some 40,000 years ago and developed a strong connection with the land and its sustainable management – that was until the British arrived in 1770 and subsequently colonised the continent, bringing diseases and substantial culture change to these people, and worse, bringing their arrogance of how they should live and often with very few of the rights and expectations that the whites had available to them.

It would seem the indigenous peoples in Alice Springs, of which there are some 4,800, do not wish to be assimilated into white culture, and wish to retain their own cultures and cultural identities. This has been extremely difficult psychologically with their loss of identity and respect in the white world – after all, by aboriginal laws, their indigenous destiny, society roles and responsibilities had been decided well before they were born, but these are rarely respected by the white people. This is part of the reason for the high alcohol abuse and resultant domestic violence, crime rates and imprisonment that is currently endemic.

This is further compounded by poverty (75% are in the lowest socioeconomic quintile compared with 10% of non-indigenous people) and poor access to well constructed housing, heating, food and water in a harsh environment with very cold winter nights and very hot summer days, the combination of which leads to very high endemic rates of disease rarely found in white people of Australia such as:

  • blindness due to trachoma which is partly due to inadequate washing of faces due to inadequate access to water, poor access to topical antibiotics and ophthalmology specialists
  • chronic childhood suppurative lung conditions which lead onto bronchiectasis (150/100,000 in children older 15yrs which is highest rate in the world and 40x rate of non-indigenous), which may be partly due to high rates of HTLV-1 infections as well as lack of access to nutrition, heating, running water and antibiotics
  • rheumatic heart disease affects 2-3% of adolescents and adults and treatment involves more than weekly penicillin injections for 10 years!
  • alcohol is responsible for half of fatal road trauma and over half of suicides, and complicates 40% of ICU admissions (4x that of non-indigenous ICU admits), recent public policy changes to restrict access to alcohol has also markedly reduced bleeding from stomach and pneumonia
  • increased mental health issues – aboriginals in remote communities have over 3x rate of mental health issues and completed suicide is 2x (female) and 5x (male) higher, this is compounded by substance abuse (historically both alcohol and petrol sniffing), and higher levels of organic brain injury
  • obesity due to reduced exercise, access to cheap high calorie foods, limited access to cheap quality food, intrauterine malnourishment, and structural issues.
  • diabetes (18% of those aged 45-54yrs and 35% of those aged over 55yrs – 3x the rate of non-indigenous people but 18x the rate when looking at 20-45yr olds!) and its many complications (19x the rate of end organ damage) including chronic renal failure (25% by age 45-54 and 35% in ages 55-64yrs – 4x rate of non-indigenous) with high rates of younger adults requiring renal dialysis. 50% of these diabetics have HbA1c levels > 10%!
  • sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis
  • they do have differences in DNA, for instance, >10% have HLA-B*56:02 (rare in whites) which causes severe drug reactions (DRESS) when given the anti-epileptic drug phenytoin, and their genes are optimised for low caloric, high protein desert existence and curiously, may have lower mortality from severe sepsis than non-indigenous people.

Aboriginal presentations to the newly developed Alice Springs emergency department account for around 50% of all adult presentations and around 70% of all adult hospital admissions despite the aboriginal population being only 17% in Alice (although catchment area is 45,000 people and a third are aboriginal), while life expectancy is some 15 years shorter than non-indigenous peoples in the region at 63yrs for males and 69 years for females. Age adjusted death rates are 3.5x higher and hospitalisation rates are 6.5x higher than non-indigenous people. 70% of deaths occur before age 65yrs compared with 21% of deaths for non-indigenous people. The hospital has high re-admission rates of 28% within 30 days and high own discharge rates. Many indigenous people do not trust the white hospital system, and furthermore, many wish to die on their land rather than in hospital.

Infant mortality though has dramatically improved over the past 15 years falling from 14 per 1,000 live births in 2000 to about 5-6 per 1,000 live births which is almost the same as non-indigenous rates of around 3-4 per 1,000 live births.

The challenge is to find effective and culturally-appropriate models of care to reduce this disease burden which is compounded by the remoteness and poverty of many of these communities.

Road trauma issues in central Australia

The Northern Territory has the highest per capita rates of fatal road trauma in Australia (over half are due to single vehicle rollover accidents, and most are tourists aged 20-40yrs) which is due to a number of factors:
  • remote distances from medical care and longer times for discovery of accident increase death rates with average time to hospital from accident being 8hrs!
  • unfenced roads means more wandering wildlife including dingoes, kangaroos, camels, cows and horses – these are a particular issue at night and swerving to avoid animals is a major cause of  roll-over
  • narrow road shoulders, high rates of SUV/4WD vehicles with high centres of gravity, and unsealed roads means more likely to lose control of the car and subsequent roll-over at speed
  • high tourist population not used to driving on road conditions, often in a strange rental car and on opposite side of road to what they are used to, and potentially distracted by sights, multi-tasking and passengers.
  • high speed with minimal capacity for speed enforcement in the remote areas
  • high alcohol use
  • long distances resulting in driver fatigue, inattention and tiredness
  • tyre blowout is a significant cause of rollover accidents but much less than driver fatigue, speed and swerving to avoid animals


tire blowout

A blown out tyre on the remote Mereneenie Loop unsealed road between Hermannsburg and Kings Canyon.

Next post will be exploring the West Macdonnell Ranges.

The new Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II camera – my take on the camera of the year for 2015

Saturday, February 7th, 2015

The original Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera released in 2012 was one of the best cameras ever released. It brought nearly everything together in one camera that still photographers needed in a light, compact, weatherproof kit and finally showed the photographic world what the Micro Four Thirds system could really achieve in terms of image quality, versatility and sheer fun, not to mention great retro looks.

It was so successful that many dSLR users finally took the plunge and changed over to a mirrorless world – a world where rapid advances in technology would not be held back by the dinosaur technology of the SLR world – the mirror.

Why make a E-M5 mark II when we already have a budget OM-D in the E-M10 and a pro level OM-D, the E-M1?

E-M5 MII

Olympus has clearly decided to target the movie makers with this new version of the E-M5 whilst being an even better stills camera than the original version.

Firstly, what this camera is NOT:

  • a sports camera with fast continuous AF or C-AF with tracking – for this you need a camera with PDAF such as the E-M1 or a sports dSLR
  • a super high megapixel camera – sure it CAN do 40mp/64mp shots but these are for only limited circumstances, and very few people really need more than 16mp
  • a super shallow depth of field camera – you CAN get lovely shallow DOF shots with buttery smooth bokeh with this camera but if you really need to push this, then blur in post-processing or get a full frame dSLR and 85mm f/1.2 lens
  • a 4K super video camera – it does not do 4K but it seems it may be the best 1080 HD camera for HAND-HELD run and gun videos – if you want 4K get a Panasonic GH4
  • a camera that will quickly autofocus a Four Thirds lens – for this you need PDAF and thus an E-M1
  • remote radio TTL flash capable camera – you CAN do light-based remote TTL flash but for radio TTL flash you need a Canon or Nikon, but then remote TTL flash does not give consistent results, and most would prefer manual remote flash
  • a camera with a long battery life – battery life appears to be less than on the E-M5, E-M10 and E-M1, just buy a couple of spares and keep them charged, it really is not a big deal!

However, what this camera can do is amazing:

It takes the features of the E-M5, adds in nearly all the features of the E-M1 (except notably the sensor, PDAF feature and a few buttons) and then to really push things along, adds in these features:

  • an articulating, swivel touch screen designed to make the videographers happy as well as those who loved such a screen when Olympus was the 1st to introduce such a design on a dSLR back with the E330 dSLR (albeit without touch capability then).
  • world’s best image stabilising system which has evolved even further than that in the E-M1
    • the Olympus 5-axis IS was amazing in the E-M5, even better in the E-M1, and now further enhanced again to 5 stops
    • this further reduces the need for tripods or use of high ISO
    • with each iteration of improvement value adds to EVERY lens you already own whether it be a Micro Four Thirds lens, or a legacy lens such as a Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens, and then even with these Canon lenses you can combine them with a ZY Optics Mitakon Lens Turbo focal reducer for even more fun and shallow DOF, all the while having the best image stabilizer in action in the world, along with fantastic manual focus features such as 14x magnification aided by concurrent focus peaking and image stabilisation
      • eg. Canon 135mm f/2.0L lens + ZY Optics Mitakon Lens Turbo focal reducer = 100mm f/1.4 lens with lovely bokeh and very shallow DOF equivalent to 200mm f/2.8 lens on a full frame but with a 5 stop image stabiliser and as the aperture is f/1.4, allows ISO to be 2 stops lower than on a full frame without even taking the IS into account! See my lens tests to see how awesome this combo is
  • a silent electronic shutter mode to 1/16,000th sec and 11fps burst rate
  • a 64mp RAW/40mp jpeg 8-shot sensor-shift Hi-Res mode
    • this mode requires tripod mount, static scene, electronic shutter and high quality lens
    • it would be great for product photography or landscapes at tops of mountains where there are no quickly moving subjects
    • any moving subjects such as moving water wind on leaves, etc will cause artefacts
    • flash sync in this mode is only 1/20th sec due to use of electronic shutter
    • ISO limited to 1600 and aperture cannot be smaller than f/8 – both design features as one will not achieve high resolution outside these parameters anyway
    • you can set the delay between shots to allow for recharging of the flash if used
  • substantially improved video “OM-D Movie” thanks to
    • improved image stabiliser making this an awesome run and gun hand held video camera without needing a big, heavy, expensive and difficult to use stabilising rig
    • improved video codecs now up to 77Mbps ALL-I and with 24p/25p/30p/50p/60p modes
    • improved focus peaking
    • improved video optimised AF algorithm
    • various settings can be adjusted while recording using the 3-inch touchscreen, including:
      • AF-point selection
      • exposure
      • electronic zoom and Movie Tele-converter (lets users touch an area on the screen to enlarge it without losing image quality)
      • microphone sensitivity
      • headphone volume
      • art effects
    • clean HDMI output , supports time code settings and connection to an external HDMI
    • headphone jack to monitor audio via optional grip
    • plug in power to external mic (but not phantom power)
    • Clips tool enables short clip capture, allowing users to combine footage and effects directly on the camera for instant sharing
  • improved ergonomics to better match the E-M1 whilst retaining the nice optional 2 stage grip/battery holder style as was used in the E-M5
  • new Live Boost II mode for improved view of stars
  • better bundled FL-LM3 flash – now can tilt and swivel
    • thankfully, no longer requires the accessory port – in fact this port is not on the E-M5 II, and it is no great loss at all, given there is no real need to attach an external EVF, and there is a built-in mic port, as well as WiFi.
    • BUT it gains power from an additional pin on the hotshoe thus cannot be used with older Olympus cameras which lack this pin

Compared to Canon and Nikon dSLRs:

It has most of the features expected in a pro level dSLR camera such as:

  • excellent image quality with excellent dynamic range and very good noise characteristics up to ISO 3200
  • low ISO of 100, and auto ISO (although in manual exposure mode, cannot do exposure compensation with auto ISO on, and cannot set shutter speed ranges)
  • weatherproof – assuming it is as good as the E-M5, in fact it probably has substantially better weatherproofing than any non-Olympus dSLR, so good you could pour a bottle of water onto it
  • freezeproof to minus 10degC
  • sensor dust cleaning – Olympus were the 1st to introduce this technology and still has the most effective sensor cleaning system
  • full range of shutter speeds to 1/8000th sec – but wait, you get more, this camera also has 60 sec where most dSLRs stop at 30sec, and you also get 1/16,000th sec
  • fast flash sync to 1/250th sec (but not as good as the E-M1 as only 1/160th sec in RC mode)
  • TTL hotshoe
  • Super FP flash (same as HSS flash on Canon and Nikon, and was initially invented by Olympus)
  • PC sync port for manual external flash – also great for pushing the shutter speed past the sync
  • red-eye reduction flash mode, slow sync flash 1st or 2nd curtain
  • remote TTL flash in 4 channels and 4 groups controlled by the bundled flash or a flash on camera capable of being a master flash
  • 81 autofocus points covering most of the frame not just the centre as with many dSLRs – fantastic for subjects off-centre
  • excellent matrix metering system – the 324 area Olympus system can also detect a face and preferentially expose for the face automatically – very few dSLRs can do this!
  • excellent metering range EV -2 – 20
  • excellent spot metering system – although does not have option to automatically spot meter on AF region as with some of the very latest dSLRs
  • fast burst rate of 10fps and 11fps in electronic shutter mode, this practically matches the best pro sports dSLRs (although as mentioned you don’t get C-AF tracking for fast moving subjects)
  • large burst buffer – unlimited RAW shots when using 5fps when using TOSHIBA SDHC UHS-II R95・W90 EXCERIA SD card (16 when shooting at 10fps)!
  • intervalometer
  • self timer (in addition to usual 2 and 12 sec modes, there is now even a custom mode where you determine the delay, how many shots and whether to do an AF before each shot!)
  • AF assist illuminator lamp
  • extensive white balance options including 4 custom captured settings
  • i-enhance wide dynamic range jpeg mode
  • ±5EV exposure compensation
  • studio tethering for full control by a computer via USB
  • GPS geotagging capable (via smartphone tethering)
  • a multitude of bracketing modes
  • compatible with SD cards of type SD, SDHC, SDXC, Eye-Fi and is compatible with UHS-II
  • optional grips including battery holder, AC adapter, portrait mode controls
  • optional underwater housing

But with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II, you get MUCH, MUCH MORE than you can on a dSLR:

  • full time Live View so there is no need to be constantly swapping from a limited optical view to live view to get access to the many electronic features
  • a beautiful electronic view finder which appears much larger than most dSLR viewfinders and can display a multitude of tools which an optical viewfinder cannot:
    • live histogram, shadow/highlight warning to assist in determining exposure BEFORE you take the shot
    • WYSIWYG live view so you can not only see how your exposure will look, but how the various ART filters, Picture styles, Color Creator toning styles will appear BEFORE you take the shot
      • this also allows one to SEE through the viewfinder when using infrared filters or 100x ND filters which would otherwise be impossible to see through using optical viewfinders
      • likewise, your view is not severely dimmed just because you have stopped down the aperture on a legacy manual lens
    • Live BOOST to ignore exposure settings so you can better see your subject when ambient light is very low and ambient exposures are ignored such as with flash studio work or long exposure astro work or night landscapes
    • electronic levels to help you ensure your camera is level with the scene
    • in-camera visual keystone correction functionality
    • visualisation of multiple exposures
    • movie mode through a viewfinder instead of being forced to view via an LCD screen
    • ability to achieve accurate face detection AF on the closest eye no matter where the person is in the frame – this is an awesome feature which is a game changer for me
    • ability to view almost every setting within the EVF and change them without taking your eye from the EVF – this makes using it without reading glasses very possible, whilst a dSLR is impossible to use without reading glasses if you need them!
    • image stabilised magnified view with ability to add focus peaking or perform AF whilst in magnified view mode – this is just incredible!
    • focus peaking to assist manual focus
    • framing guides, including those for panoramic stitching
    • multi-aspect framing
    • digital teleconverter
  • a swivelling articulated touch screen
    • you can even touch a subject on the screen to immediately AF on the subject and take the shot – just brilliant!
    • there is also a “selfie” mode
  • the world’s best image stabilisation system that works with ANY lens and gives the best hand held movie stabilisation – 2 second stills hand held with a wide angle is well within the possibilities!
  • faster and more accurate autofocus on static or slow moving subjects
  • more compact, light camera and lens kit  capable of being carried in a jacket pocket easily – especially when equipped with a pancake lens
  • ability to use almost any lens ever made in manual focus mode with full image stabilisation – just dial in the lens focal length
  • unique Olympus long exposure modes such as Live BULB, Live Time, Live Composite
    • Live Composite mode makes an extremely complex process extremely simple – awesome for many types of night shots
    • Live Bulb and Live Time allows you to see how the long exposure image is building up so you can stop if once you are happy with the exposure – great for many types of night shots
  • full WiFi remote control with live image visible in a smartphone and you can even touch a subject on the smartphone screen to immediately AF on the subject and take the shot!
  • WiFi tethering to a smartphone for automatic image transfer to the phone
  • automatic and manual HDR modes
  • multitude of SCENE modes and an iAUTO mode to assist newbies
  • access to awesome relatively affordable, light and compact lenses specifically designed for this crop factor
  • Hi/Lo spot metering modes – unique to Olympus – allows one to spot meter on a white or black object and get the correct adjusted exposure – very neat!
  • 40mp/64mp Hi-Res mode with better color detail and less moire than a dSLR
  • ability to use a variety of interesting compatible cameras as second cameras:
    • Olympus OM-D E-M1 if you need PDAF for sports or for use of Four Thirds lenses
    • Panasonic GH-4 if you need PDAF for sports and extremely high quality 4K video
    • very small compact pocket sized Micro Four Thirds cameras
    • Wifi super compact “cameras” such as the new Olympus “Air Clip” camera
  • the best hand holdable telephoto reach thanks to the high pixel density – can’t wait until the Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 lens comes out!
  • better hand held movie quality thanks to 77Mbps 24p codec, movie optimised AF, focus peaking during video recording and the awesome image stabiliser
  • highly customisable dials and button functionality, further improved by addition of the unique 2×2 switch
  • in-camera RAW editing and Photo Story creation option
  • MUCH LESS INTRUSIVE at parties or other events as smaller lenses
  • MUCH QUIETER as no mirror noise, a quiet shutter (even more quiet than previous OM-Ds) and also the option of silent electronic shutter mode
  • MUCH LESS CAMERA SHAKE as no mirror, electronic 1st shutter and of course, the amazing IS system
  • MUCH LESS BACK ACHE and MUCH LESS NECK STRAIN = MORE FUN HIKING and LESS FATIGUE EXPLORING the wilderness
  • CAN TAKE MUCH MORE on flights and in your back pack
    • you can even put a camera with pancake lens in one jacket pocket, a swivel bounce flash (FL-600R) in another pocket, and portrait lens (45mm f/1.8) in another pocket, all with ease
  • = MUCH MORE FUN

 

For hand held video in difficult conditions, the E-M5 II is a game changer, just check out this awesome video shot in freezing conditions:

ESCAPE = JOY – KAUASxOLYMPUS from KΛUΛS on Vimeo.

As with any camera, there are bound to be a few gotchas which will be important to some people, the main issues I see will be around:

  • battery life
  • still only USB 2.0 (just take the card out and use a USB 3.0 SD card reader for faster transfers), and USB cable is a multi-connector for AV as well – not a standard connector
  • no PDAF and pretty average C-AF tracking if at all – as I said earlier, if this is important, et an E-M1 or GH-4 instead
  • poor or no AF on fast moving subjects – you just have to accept this and use pre-focusing techniques
  • ramifications of the new hotshoe pin – will it now fry Canon flashes if they are attached to it? The official instruction manual warns as per older manuals that using such flashes could potentially damage the camera, it may be that now the E-M5 II is sending power through the pins may really damage flash and camera! Best to use a single pin adapter or resort to the PC sync port!
  • limitations of the movie mode – such as the HDMI out feed, and perhaps some currently unknown image issues
  • flash sync reduced to 1/160th in RC mode
  • limitations of the HiRes mode – but these seem to be well documented
  • camera shutter is TOO QUIET – this may be an issue for model photography
  • camera is TOO SMALL – may be an issue for those with big hands, and for those who have clients expecting a big “PRO” camera as evidence you are a professional
  • cannot balance larger lenses well – BUY the optional HLD-8 grip
  • as with older OM-D’s, exposure meter only displays +/- 3 EV even though you can set +/- 5EV exposure compensation
  • to avoid issues – read the full instruction manual (pdf)

More details and links on the E-M5 mark II

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

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

grave

Wooden graves:

grave

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

grave

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

happy campers

BBQ

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

Morton's hut

Morton's hut

Morton's hut

Next stop… the almost ghost town of Tarnagulla….

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

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

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

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

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

Dunolly Town Hall

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

Dunolly Court House

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

Dunolly church

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

Dunolly mansion

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

Dunolly main street

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

house

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

ironmongers shop

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

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

Sunday, December 14th, 2014

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

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

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

Timor

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

Grand Duke

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

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

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

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

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

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

church

church

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

cottage

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

Wigham Hotel

Wigham Hotel

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

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

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

hut

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

streetscape

Maryborough local council journals from the 1860′s:

council journals from the 1850's

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

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

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

railway station

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

railway station

Maryborough Flour Mill – now closed due to safety issues:

flour mill

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

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

Bull and Mouth Hotel

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

Hadenham House

Another lovely Federation house on the main street:

Federation  house

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

cricket stadium

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

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

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

Talbot

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

Sunday, December 7th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

See historical society of Avoca.

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

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

Avoca Hotel

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

miner's cottage

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

Watford House

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

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

waterfalls

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

waterfalls

 

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

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

around the bend

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

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


echidna

Olympus OM-D E-M5 + Orbis Ring Flash + Metz Ring Flash vs the Zombies

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

The annual zombie shuffle was on again in Melbourne yesterday.

This is a very social event with thousands participating including many, many photographers and it always has a great fun atmosphere.

The zombies spend a LOT of time creating their personas and love being photographed.

It is outdoors and forecast for midday sun is a bit of a nightmare for getting great shots, and you generally only get 5-10 secs to compose and get your shot with each zombie before the photographer horde gets in your way.

This year I decided to take a different approach and did a bit of testing the day before so I could shoot with a main flash light inside an Orbis Ring Flash Modifier to create an off-camera beauty dish effect, supplemented with a Metz macro “ring” flash on the lens as a fill flash.

To deal with a potentially sunny background and the desire for a wide aperture, I used a polarising filter and manual flash via PC sync cables which allowed me to push the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera to 1/400th sec shutter speed – this does result in a small part of the “top” of your frame not being lit by the flash – no problem if there is no subject there!

The ambient exposure was intentionally under-exposed, and by using CTO gels on the flashes with custom WB for the CTO gelled flash, this gave a lovely deep blue background – at least when the sunlit areas was not in the background.

Most were shot at ISO 200, f/1.8, 1/400th sec. Metz flash was on 1/16th output. I used a Canon 580EX II flash in the Orbis Ring Flash (I could have used my Olympus FL50 instead with same effect), and this needed to be fired at almost full output.

All of these were taken with the nice little Olympus mZD 45mm f/1.8 portrait lens, – although tethered to the Orbis Ring Flash and thus relatively confined to being 1.5m or so from the subject was a little limiting – but I knew that would be the case. I could make the subject lighter or darker by moving the Orbis flash closer or further from the subject.

However, given the rather clunky way the Orbis needs to be held in one hand, have a light, compact OM-D in the other hand was an essential component to the success of this technique – and I did what I rarely do – use Live View on the rear screen instead of the EVF even though the screen was blurry to me (I need reading glasses for it) – I was able to compose at arms length and let the amazing eye detection AF do its job – but being mindful of te fact that some zombie’s eyes cannot be detected in which case I locked AF using the centre AF region and half-press shutter button, then recomposed.

The first shot of the day was something I had pre-planned the night before and required a different set of maths to work out, but in only 2 shots, I managed to come up with this awesome image:

Zombie coming through the time space portal attacking a zombie killer ready with her laser gun:

claw

Zombie laser gun:

zombie killer

Zombie bride:

zombie bride

Cute retro zombie:

retro zombie

Zombie guy:

zombie guy

 

As with any relatively small light source, the light from the Orbis is very directional and relatively harsh, so if shooting portraits, you should ideally avoid oily skin and ensure some face powder has been used to avoid unflattering specular reflections from the skin.

The Orbis could also be used as a true ring flash with the lens protruding through the flash to give that typical shadowless fashion look with soft shadows surrounding the subjects on the wall behind. This usage can be great for emphasising creative makeup and colours while de-emphasising skin texture but may not be flattering for all subjects, particularly those with fuller faces. Be aware that this may produce red eyes with the light being so close to the lens axis.

More details on key shifting and color shifting using flash can be found here.

What would I like to see in the next version of the wonderful Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera?

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Olympus have recently indicated that a mark II version of the brilliant Olympus E-M5 camera is on the way following on the heels of the “pro version” E-M1 and the “budget version” E-M10.

Clearly Olympus will want to distinguish it between these models, and most reasonably should keep the size and weight, and battery holder much the same as the current version as these are important – the E-M1 is great but it can be a bit big and intimidating for many, not to mention too expensive.

The E-M5 Mark II will almost certainly adopt all the new features in the E-M10 such as:

  • improved touch screen
  • improved EVF
  • WiFi smartphone control
  • focus peaking
  • latest image processing engine
  • auto HDR mode
  • ability to assign MySets to the mode dial
  • automatic lens IS priority for when using lenses with OIS
  • 1st curtain electronic shutter
  • color creator
  • Live Composite
  • improved HD video
  • intervalometer
  • cut-down version of the ’2×2′ control system of the E-M1

And will almost certainly have the newer features of the PEN E-P5:

  • 800 AF points
  • Super Spot AF
  • 1/8000th sec shutter (but please keep the nice shutter noise of the E-M5)
  • flash sync 1/320th sec
  • timelapse movies
  • AE bracketing +/- 6EV at 9fps: 3 or 5 frames in 2.0/3.0EV steps, 7 frames in 2.0EV step
  • movie functions: magnified focus view; change Picture Mode using Fn button; 4x one-push movie zoom
  • PhotoStory

The big question is what features will make their way down from the E-M1?

It would be reasonable to expect to see the following as a minimum:

  •  +/- 5 stop exposure compensation instead of +/- 3 stops so I can do spot metering adjustments better
  • the improved IS
  • phase detect AF – after all, the Four Thirds dSLR users need a more affordable camera to migrate to than just the E-M1
  • improved movie functionality: audio level controls, etc

And some new enhancements to keep up with the latest:

  • 4K video and 120fps 1080HD video as with the Panasonic GH4
  • high ISO score must be BETTER than the E-M1 which was a little disappointing given the much better score of the cheap PEN E-PM2
  • optional artificial shutter release louder SOUND so subjects can hear you take the shot

And PLEASE introduce a radio TTL wireless flash system

  •  I am NOT a fan of the current visible light one and a radio TTL flash would be awesome indeed!
  • Perhaps it could be based on WiFi technology given that the new cameras will already have this!