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Berlin’s mixed architecture

Friday, July 14th, 2017

Berlin is a city of rapid change, dilapidated old communist styled austere buildings are rapidly being demolished to make way for modern developments – much to the chagrin and protests of locals, while 19th century buildings destroyed in WWII are still being re-built such as the palace near the Berlin Dome and the Kaiser Wilhelm Church.

Don’t forget to bring a rain coat, it does seem to rain often there and it is frequently very overcast – and I was there in late June – I did get absolutely drenched one day, but fortunately I was wearing quick dry shirt and shorts which had to be wrung out before I could allow myself entry back into the hotel in Potsdam Platz – I stayed at the Scandic Hotel which was very serviceable, clean and convenient with very friendly and efficient staff – only a hundred metres or so to train stations with their very regular train services (every 3-5 minutes or so) or the Berlin Mall shopping centre.

If you have not been to Berlin, here is a brief taste:

First we need to cross CheckPoint Charlie to get to the former East Berlin – this guy is just busking there posing as an American Soldier:

Berlin

Berlin

Berlin

The rebuilding of the Kaiser Wilhelm Church in West Berlin:

Berlin

Communist styled Berlin Philharmonic Centre in Potsdam Platz:

Berlin

The TV Tower which the East Germans built to dominate the city, but ironically, in their effort to marginalise the churches and religion, if you are lucky like me, in certain sunlight, their tower reflects a cross for miles which is said to be the Pope’s revenge:

Berlin

St Thomas Church:

Berlin

Berlin

A slice of the old Berlin Wall in Potsdam Platz taken with the Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens:

Berlin

The rebuilt Berlin Dome church:

Berlin

The wonderful old buildings in Berlin’s Museum Island – some lovely art galleries and the history of Germany museum, all well worth seeing – buy a Museum Pass and you get 3 days to access them for free – but don’t buy it on the weekend as they are nearly all closed on Mondays:

Berlin

Outside Alte Nationalgalerie with its late 19th century and 20th century art works:

Berlin

Outside Bode Museum with its older art works – mainly religious works from 17th century and earlier:

Berlin

The Amazon with Nefertiti which is housed in this Neues Museum, next door to the Pergamon Museum:

Berlin

East Berlin was known as the capital of Spies, and today there are thousands of them:

Berlin

Unlike Paris, you don’t really need to dress up in Berlin, the tourists and locals dress very casually, so these two caught my eye, and there is something about this cool guy that reminds me of a young Bruce Willis:

Berlin

Don’t forget to head down towards East Side Gallery area, as there are some great little spots on the way such as this dilapidated building:

Berlin

And a riverside bohemian bar which I am sure would be closed down due to safety concerns elsewhere, but it was a cool spot to have a beer:

Berlin

Last, but certainly, not least, one can’t forget the great Brandenburg Gate or Brandenburg Tor which has a fascinating history relating to Napoleon’s invasion of Berlin and his desire to take the horse statues back to Paris:

Berlin

Berlin

Amazing multicoloured bioluminescent Ghost Fungi mushrooms at night under an auroral glow

Saturday, May 27th, 2017

I went for a bush walk in a rather remote Victorian forest today and, unexpectedly, stumbled across an isolated patch of Omphalotus Nidiformis mushrooms – the “Ghost Fungi” which give off a very dim eerie glow in the forest at night (to our naked eyes without colour vision, using only rods in the dim light, they appear white).

He they are just after sunset taken hand held with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II Micro Four Thirds camera with Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.2 lens (jpegs straight from camera just re-sized for web):

Ghost fungi

The above was hand held resting on my thigh at 1/4sec, f/3.5, ISO 1250.

Ghost fungi

The above was hand held resting on my boot at 1/4sec, f/2.5, ISO 640.

Ghost fungi

The above was hand held resting on my thigh at 0.6sec, f/4.5, ISO 1250.

So, hoping I was correct, I headed back into the closest town, had a quick bite, then headed back well after twilight had finished, and there they were, once my eyes had adjusted to night vision, the patch of fungi giving off their strange light.

Here are a few I shot with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark II with Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.2 lens sitting on a towel as a support (jpegs straight from camera just re-sized for web – no light painting or artificial lights, and white balance for these was set to sunny day):

Ghost fungi

The above was at f/2.8 (trying to get some more DOF), ISO 1600, noise filter = LOW, long exposure NR on with an 8 minute exposure using the very handy Live Timed function (I didn’t bring a remote to activate a BULB mode – thankfully the OM-D’s don’t need one!) and shows some lovely orange as well as green, with the top left corner being the brighter night sky (perhaps 2 stops brighter) illuminated by an Aurora Australis or Southern Lights.

The still night air without a breeze to be felt allowed me to use these nice long exposures, rather than having to open the aperture up to f/1.2 and loose depth of field even more than I was losing.

I could just imagine all the local insects coming out to dance and sing under the soft light – but it was too cold for most of them tonight – which saved me getting a few bites at least!

Ghost fungi

The above was as for the previous one but f/2.0 at 4 minutes exposure.

And, finally, just for a little fun at 10pm on a winter’s night, all alone in a remote forest, a fisheye view – taken with the unique Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens sitting on a towel at f/1.8, ISO 1600, 2 minutes to avoid the bright auroral sky washing out – and yes, you can tell it is looking south from the out of focus star trails making an arc around the South Celestial Pole somewhere near the centre of the image.

Ghost fungi

Camera settings for shooting these ghost fungi at night:

  • I used a 25mm lens (50mm in full frame terms) but one could go wider than this
  • getting adequate depth of field while keeping ISO low and exposure duration a minimum is a challenge without resorting to complicated post-processing focus stacking techniques – for the 25mm Olympus lens I prefer the f/2.8 setting but this required 8 minutes exposure at ISO 1600, if using an equivalent 50mm lens on full frame this would require using f/5.6, 8 minutes at ISO 6400 – so any high ISO benefit of full frame is lost.
    • if it is windy, then you will not be able to achieve nice imagery, even if you chose to shoot at f/1.2 and ISO 12800 to gain a shorter shutter speed, it may still be too long if the fungi are moving – go on a still night without wind, and suffer the pea soup fog on your drive home.
    • if you can’t shoot BULB (you didn’t buy an Olympus and you forgot your remote control), then you may need settle with f/1.8, ISO 6400 and 30secs
  • manual focus and a torch is a must – and it helps if your lens has a nice MF clutch, and your camera can do magnified view to allow you to accurately manual focus using a torch to assist
  • I chose to shoot sunny day white balance as I wanted to see what the colours were like compared to our normal visual experience of a sunny day
  • Noise filter should be set to LOW or OFF as ideally you should be removing noise in post-processing (I haven’t done this in these images – I will wait til I get a chance to process the RAW files)
  • Long exposure noise reduction should be set to Auto or ON – this does double the length of waiting for exposure to finish but it removes the thermal noise and you don’t need that!
  • I decided not to use my tripod as I wanted to be at ground level so i rested the camera on a towel
  • turn IS OFF
  • If you don’t have an Olympus camera then you will need to bring a remote trigger for your BULB mode to get past 30secs

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II with 25mm f/1.2 is great for this type of photography as:

  • the image stabiliser is fantastic when using it hand held for the dusk shots
  • ISO 1600 or 3200 is usable, and that is all you really need for the night shots
  • the flip out LCD screen means you don’t have to get down level with the camera on your stomach and get real dirty or have crawlies all over you
  • the 25mm f/1.2 not only is an amazing lens which focuses twice as close as similar full frame lenses, but it has a wonderful manual focus clutch
  • accurate manual focus is easy using magnified view mode
  • noise reduction phase displays a count down so you know how long you have left
  • if your torch is getting dim, you can have the Live Timed mode automatically activate Live Boost so you can see in the dark better
  • normal timed exposures go to 60 secs not like most other cameras where you need a remote control to activate BULB mode to get past 30secs
  • Live Timed mode allows you to visualise how the image is developing (eg. every 30 secs):
    • if you stuffed something up like composition, just terminate the exposure rather than wait until your planned exposure finishes
    • you can see how the histogram and image exposure is devloping, and then terminate when desired – this is how I chose to terminate the fisheye shot – when I saw the sky was starting to blow out
    • unlike BULB mode, you can set a duration for it to last and it will self-terminate the exposure without you having to be there with a remote control – this allows you to use another camera to do something else such as take Milky Way astroscapes while you wait 16 minutes for an 8 minute exposure and 8minute dark frame.
    • you don’t need a remote control – just wait for it to time out or press the shutter button to terminate exposure.
    • you can see from 5m away what the status is – is exposure still occurring or is it in noise reduction phase when its OK to turn torches on, or is exposure complete

For more mushrooms, see my previous post

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

Monday, February 8th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sunset

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

Magellanic Clouds

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

planets

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

Milky Way

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

jupiter

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

dawn

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

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

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

Solo overnight hike to summit of Mt Stirling

Sunday, December 27th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mt Speculation

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

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

Meteor

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

Geminid

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

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

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

summit

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

Mt Cobbler

View of Mt Buller from the eastern ridge:

Mt Buller

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

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

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

A surreal view of Australian surrealism with the Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens

Saturday, October 31st, 2015

Fisheye lenses are rather unique creative niche lenses and until I went to Palm Cove I didn’t really think I had a need for one – but up there, a fisheye was the only way to capture the tall palms on the beach with the ambience and field of view I wanted. For those images I used the cheap Samyang/Rokinon fisheye but it is manual focus and the front of the lens isquite close to the camera body meaning I often imaged my left hand in the shot inadvertently, nevertheless, this is a great lens if you are on a budget.

Now that Olympus has created a superb weatherproofed pro quality Olympus f/1.8 fisheye lens, I just had to test it out, and what better test is an indoor art exhibition of Australian surrealism at Melbourne’s Ian Potter in Federation Square titled Lurid Beauty – Australian Surrealism and its Echoes. I highly recommend anyone interested in art to see this very affordable exhibition, I really enjoyed it.

These were shot hand held without flash using the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera.

A fisheye view of Lurid Beauty:

doorway

Anne Wallace Sight Unseen:

doorway

Tom Moore Self-preservation 2014:

still life

Dusan Marek Equator 1948:

painting

Herbert McClintock Three Faces 1940:

painting

painting

Tim Schultz :

painting

Hein Heckroth Australia painted whilst a “German enemy alien” during World War II at the camp in Hay, NSW 1941:

painting

There are many more wonderful works including more from James Gleeson – do yourself a favour and check it out.

Architectural uses:

Melbourne’s Regent Theatre in Collins St which is so contrasty it is very hard to photograph:

theatre

theatre

Melbourne’s Federation Square:

building

and to show how well the lateral CA is controlled:

building

Melbourne’s famous back alley ways:

alley graffiti

the very popular Hopetoun Tea Rooms:

alley graffiti

 

Obviously I have applied some post-processing on the above images to make them a touch more surreal still.

This lens is not for everyone, but does add another very useful tool to a photographer’s kit.

I am looking forward to shooting some Milky Way Astroscapes with it as the f/1.8 aperture plus wide field of view should allow nice long 40-60sec exposures without star trailing.

If you do not like the fish eye effect, there are some de-fishing processing options to flatten the image out to a more natural looking image.

Tropical north Queensland – Palm Cove and why a fisheye lens comes in handy

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

Continuing on from my holiday tips for the wet tropics of north Queensland and the Atherton Tablelands, this post explores the Palm Cove region north of Cairns.

Palm Cove is one of the most picturesque beaches with its lovely palm trees and towering melaleucas which line the esplanade which separates the beach from the little village which is filled with accommodation options and restaurants.

In October, it was a relatively quiet, friendly and relaxing village and surprisingly, the accommodation apartments do not use insect screens and we had no issues from mosquito bites even though we left the windows open much of the time – I guess the council keeps a tight control on insect populations in the area.

I stayed at Paradise on the Beach apartments and had the pleasure of having a unit which overlooked the beach and had a large double spa bath and kitchenette, although the downside is that it was close to a children’s playground over the road, and at night it was noisy from the patrons of the bar below – if these are not an issue for you, then it was a lovely way to relax and enjoy the beach.

As with all the beaches in the wet tropics, there is a small risk of crocodile attacks if you swim or walk near the edge, although this is much more likely near estuaries and very few if any have occurred on the actual Palm Cove beach.

A bigger risk from Nov-May is the potentially lethal jellyfish stingers, and thus one is advised to only swim within the patrolled swimming area within the stinger nets.

The beaches face east and so sunrise walks are a must and a perfect way to start the day before the sun gets too hot.

Palm Cove with the Samyang 7.5mm fisheye lens:

A fisheye lens is really the only way to capture the palms and melaleucas which give the beach its character. I used the inexpensive manual focus only Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 fisheye lens on Micro Four Thirds Olympus OM-D E-M1 and E-M5 cameras, although one could use any fisheye lens including the lovely new Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 lens.

Palm Cove sunrise

Palm Cove sunrise

Palm Cove sunrise

The towering ancient melaleucas:

Palm Cove melaleucas

 

Palm Cove as a base to explore

Palm Cove is perfectly situated to explore the region as it is within 20min or so drive from Cairns, the airport and most of the local attractions.

A must do, is visit the Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures which is about 20-30min drive to the north. You need to spend at least 2-3 hours here learning about crocodiles and other tropical wildlife including the southern cassowary bird and snakes. They run a commercial crocodile farm which you can attend a guided tour to learn more about crocodiles, or go on a short cruise in the river and watch them feed crocodiles with the crocodiles jumping 1-1.5m out of the water.

The snake handling and crocodile attack demonstration events are well worth attending, but perhaps the best is indulging in a very tasty crocodile salad lunch at the cafe which I would highly recommend!

Other attractions in the region include:

Pics of the region using the Olympus OM-D and pro zoom lenses:

Walshs Pyramid Hill (the highest freestanding natural pyramid in the world) south of Cairns at sunset from a boat on a “sunset cruise”:

Pyramid Hill Cairns

Mangroves in Cairns at sunset from a boat on a “sunset cruise”:

mangroves Cairns

Mangrove beach near Port Douglas:

mangrove beach near Port Douglas

Mossman Gorge:

mangrove beach near Port Douglas

Rainforest stinging tree (Dendrocnide moroides) leaves – the leaves, stem and fruit are covered in tiny silica hairs which inject neurotoxins causing severe pain which may last for several days and then recur over months! Even the dead leaves can sting and worse can release hairs when disturbed which can then be inhaled! (I presume this is one of them! Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens on Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera):

stinging tree

Olympus officially announces their 2 new pro lenses – 8mm fisheye and 7-14mm f/2.8 super wide angle zoom – my take on these lenses

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

Back in the days of the Four Thirds dSLR, Olympus created a brilliant but very expensive and heavy super wide angle lens – the Olympus ZD 7-14mm f/4 Super High Grade Pro lens.

This lens was so good, I decided to buy it despite it being well over $2000. Compared to anything I could use on my Canon 1D Mark III, this lens just blew them away in terms of optical qualities – perhaps the only full frame lens to match the optical quality is the highly regarded Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G which is so good, many Canon users bought it for their cameras albeit sacrificing AF.

The Olympus had almost no barrel or pincushion distortion, it was weatherproofed and had excellent build quality.

But that was back in 2007 or so, and now Micro Four Thirds rules with good reason.

One of the big benefits of Micro Four Thirds over the Four Thirds system is that having a much shorter sensor to lens flange distance allows a far more efficient, less expensive, lighter, and smaller lens design for wide angle lenses.

Olympus has finally realised this benefit by now announcing a release date of around June 2015 for their new Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens which also trumps the Panasonic offering which is a 7-14mm f/4 lens.

Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens:

This lens is 1 stop faster than the Four Thirds lens – that is – it lets in TWICE as much light thereby allowing lower ISO to be used in low light, but even with this extra stop of aperture it is a welcome compact size, so let’s look at the specs to see what we get in benefits over the Four Thirds lens:

  • shorter: 105.8mm long instead of 120mm
  • smaller: 78.9mm diameter instead of 87mm
  • much lighter: 534g instead of 780g
  • close focus reduced to a working distance of 7.5cm (the close focus of the Four Thirds lens was 25cm from sensor)
  • new ZERO nanocoating to further reduce flare
  • new manual focus clutch to switch into “analog” manual focus mode with distance scale instead of the default focus by wire mechanism
  • new L-Fn button which can be assigned to any of 17 functions on the Olympus OM-D cameras
  • AF is now silent and optimised for CDAF live view and videos
  • new optical design hopefully maintains the excellent optical performance of its predecessor
  • when matched to the Olympus OM-D cameras, the amazing image stabilisation system in these cameras allow such a lens to be hand held down to 1/3rd sec or even slower depending on technique! This opens up amazingly creative options in situations where tripods cannot be used and you want flowing water to be captured such as on beaches or with waterfalls.
  • but perhaps best of all is it is around HALF the price at $US1299

Where does that leave the Olympus ZD 7-14mm f/4 Four Thirds lens? Well, one would have to say assuming that its optics are not substantially better than the new f/2.8 lens, which appears to be a reasonable assumption given the preview testing, that it will be greatly devalued HOWEVER, it does have one potential trick up its sleeve that the new lens will not be able to do – add a ND100 or ND400 neutral density inside the Four Thirds adapter so that you can achieve long exposures to blur water in bright sunlight.

  • hopefully some enterprising company will make such an adapter with in-built ND400 filter
  • in the interim, it may be possible to cut a Cokin ND100 P155 filter to fit inside the odd-shaped interior of an Olympus or Panasonic adapter – the Cokin filters are plastic and thus can be cut to shape – see how to do this here
  • it would be great if future Olympus camera bodies could have a ND 400 filter activated within the camera body and then all lenses could use it seamlessly, but this is wishful thinking.

Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens:

Olympus have a Four Thirds fisheye lens – the Olympus ZD 8mm f/3.5 fisheye.

But now with Micro Four Thirds, Olympus has upped the ante on its rivals by producing the world’s widest aperture fisheye lens at f/1.8 aperture!

8mm fishe eye image
Why is the f/1.8 aperture important?

If you wish to take landscape photos at night and include the vast expanses of the Milky Way, you need a really wide angle lens – and the fisheye gives you a full 180deg coverage negating the need for panoramic stitching, but in addition, the f/1.8 aperture allows capture of more stars whilst retaining a low ISO of 800-1600. Another benefit of a fisheye lens for star photos is the shutter can be much longer than the usual 25-30secs (if using a non-fisheye wide angle lens) given the wide field of view, and thankfully, the Olympus cameras not only provide 60sec timed exposures, but the option of Timed exposures which negate the need of holding the shutter release down as in the usual BULB mode, or of LIVE TIMED or even LIVE COMPOSITE modes for further creativity at night!

A 14mm lens on a 35mm full frame camera offers around 114° angle of view and this means one can use a shutter speed up to 25-30secs without star trailing being objectionable. As the Olympus lens is a fisheye, one can’t use the usual shutter speed equation of 400/full frame equivalent focal length, but you can use the field of view to come up with 180 x 30secs / 114 = 50secs, so perhaps 60secs would be a reasonable shutter speed for the fisheye lens for Milky Way shots without tracking – this means you can halve the usual ISO to 800 while the f/1.8 aperture will capture FOUR TIMES as much light as a f/3.5 fisheye lens.

In addition, the f/1.8 aperture will be welcomed by underwater photographers.

This Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens is weatherproofed, has very close focus and is very reasonably priced at $US999 while remaining smaller and lighter than even the 7-14mm f/2.8 lens.

The very close focus allows for creative nature and landscape photography.

Obviously, it will also be image stabilised on Olympus cameras to hand holdable 1/2sec or longer – no fisheye lens on a Canon or Nikon dSLR can be image stabilised nor have such a wide aperture – another reason why the Olympus Micro Four Thirds system means more fun, more creative options, less back ache and less cost.

The optics of the fisheye seem extremely good given the example image of the aurora which shows star shapes are pretty good for such a lens, with only the top right corner stars developing significant aberrations – that to me is a sign this lens should be an awesome lens.
aurora taken with the f/1.8 fisheye

Olympus is well on its way to a full catalogue of weatherproofed PRO level lenses designed for Micro Four Thirds and its face recognition capable CDAF autofocus systems we now have:

  • 8mm f/1.8 fisheye
  • 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO
  • 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO
  • 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO with 1.4x teleconverter
  • and coming soon, the 300mm f/4 PRO (equates to an easily hand holdable 600mm field of view lens)

You might well ask, but where are the tilt-shift lenses which pro systems need?

One of the awesome features of Micro Four Thirds, is that the short lens flange distance allows one the option of using a tilt-shift lens adapter which in effect can turn any Nikon full frame lens into a tilt-shift lens!

Why pay a lot of money for a dedicated tilt-shift lens?

Or, if you already have expensive tilt-shift lenses, you can just use the full frame tilt-shift lenses in 2x crop factor (my Canon TS-E 17mm f/4 effectively becomes a 34mm tilt-shift lens with IS), or used with a 0.72x focal reducer (the 17mm lens becomes 24mm f/2.8 tilt-shift with IS).

Perhaps Olympus may develop a super wide angle tilt shift lens to fill the super wide angle gap such as a 7mm f/2.8 tilt-shift – or this may fall to a 3rd party given it does not need AF.

Just awesome, and unlike the Canon and Nikon lenses, these lenses will have their image stabilisation performances improved with each new version of Olympus camera, not to mention fast AF on the closest eye and other class leading functions.

And if you think the image quality of Micro Four Thirds can’t cut it with the full frame world, check out these side by side image samples comparing a Canon 6D full frame dSLR with a Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L lens compared to an entry level Olympus OM-D E-M10 with the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens – the Olympus just blows the Canon away in image clarity and detail edge-to-edge. Furthermore, buying a 50 megapixel dSLR is not going to get you better image detail or ability to make big prints if your lens can’t deliver the image detail you need or you have camera shake because the image stabiliser is not effective enough.

Melbourne’s annual Open House weekend – Victoria’s State Library

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

I went into the city to photograph Melbourne’s very popular annual weekend – Open House Melbourne – where major buildings in Melbourne are open to the public and their cameras – a great time for photographers to find new material – if they can put up with the queues.

Unfortunately, this year I ran out of time to view the buildings apart from the wonderful State Library, so here are a few of the library which is well worth a visit.

These are all taken with the Micro Four Thirds kit using the wonderful Olympus E-M5 camera.

The library’s dome taken with the lovely inexpensive Samyang 7.5mm fisheye lens (click on image to view larger size):

the dome

The following were taken using the highly praised Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens hand held:

2nd edition of Machiavelli’s The Prince:
Machiavelli's The Prince

the library ceiling