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Is this the biggest documented Amanita farinacea (Australian Flour Lepidella) mushroom – cap of 30cm diameter?

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

It’s Autumn in Australia and mushroom time.

I stumbled upon an amazing white mushroom in a Eucalypt forest at altitude around 800m on Mt Macedon in Victoria after the rains which was so big and white with a veil of delicate frills all around blowing in the wind and white drops on the ground nearby (hence the Flour in its name)  that it looked like it was artificial and someone had just dropped a can of white paint on to it!

As I understand it, all species of Amanita mushrooms have white gills underneath, and most are poisonous – these ones are not likely to be fatal, unlike the Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) with its amanitin toxins which destroy the liver in a few days.

Amanita Farinacea

The gigantic Amanita farinacea mushroom was adjacent a massive Eucalypt tree – I placed my iPhone 6s for reference and although I did not have a ruler, the cap of it measured at least 30cm in diameter – this species is usually said to grow to 10cm diameter.

A few days later, I found a more juvenile specimen some 10 meters away which stood some 6″ tall and perhaps 4-5″ in diameter:

Amanita Farinacea

Both of the above were taken in low light at dusk, hand held with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II Micro Four Thirds camera and Panasonic Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 lens for Four Thirds, the first image shot at f/2.8, ISO 800 and 1/20th sec while the second image was shot at f/5.6, ISO 800 and 1/30th sec.

Some more common poisonous Amanita mushrooms:

Everyone’s favorite fairy tale fantasy mushroom – the colorful, warty, Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) from an oak forest:

Amanita

Olympus OM–D E-M1 II with Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens at f/1.8, ISO 200 and 1/100th sec.

The Fly Agaric is likely to cause delirium, hallucinations and possibly coma and seizures within 2hrs of ingestion – if someone was stupid enough to try eating one.

and presumably a related couple in a pine forest:

Amanita

The above was taken in very low light under dense pine forest canopy hiding adjacent to a fallen tree trunk, taken hand held with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II Micro Four Thirds camera and Panasonic Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 lens for Four Thirds – f/2.5, ISO 500, 1/10th sec – thanks to the awesome image stabilizer in the E-M1 II.

And, who can resist some fall foliage?

foliage

The above was taken in very low light at dusk under a canopy of trees, taken hand held with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II Micro Four Thirds camera and Panasonic Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 lens for Four Thirds – f/1.4, ISO 200, 1/15th sec – again, thanks to the awesome image stabilizer in the E-M1 II.

 

 

Why two memory card slots are better than one in your camera – an important feature of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and the Panasonic GH-5

Friday, February 24th, 2017

Most professional level digital cameras have two memory card slots instead of one – primarily as professionals cannot afford to lose all their money-making and goodwill making images in the unlikely event of a memory card failure.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and its new dual card slots:

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is the first Micro Four Thirds camera to implement dual memory card slots.

As the camera is primarily aimed at still photographers rather than video, unlike the forthcoming Panasonic GH-5, only one of the SD card slots is super fast and compatible with the UHS-II standard.

If you wish to do 4K video or 60fps burst rate in RAW, you will need a compatible fast (“UHS class 3”), high capacity UHS-II SD memory card – not all work – check the compatibility – Olympus recommend Sandisk Extreme Pro SDHC / SDXC UHS-II Card or Toshiba EXCERIA PRO™ UHS-II SDXC/SDHC Card – see their compatibility tables here.

These cards are not cheap, for example a 64Gb UHS-II card will set you back around $AU200 and you can double that for a 128Gb card in early 2017.

The E-M1 Mark II offers various file saving options if you have 2 cards:

  • “Standard” will record to the specified card – allows movies to one card and stills to another card
  • “Automatic Switching” will automatically switch to the second card when the first card becomes full
  • “Dual Independent” will record to both cards according to the specified image quality setting assigned to each
  • “Dual Same” will record identical files to both cards simultaneously

This is set in the Menu under cogs:H1:Card Slot Settings:Save Settings for still and cogs:H1:Card Slot Settings:Movie Save Slot

The Dual options each have a sub option of whether or not you wish to have the ability to keep saving to one card even if the other card is full.

E-M1 Mark II play back options:

This is set in the Menu under cogs:H1:Card Slot Settings:Playback Slot.

Unfortunately this only gives you the option of slot 1 or slot 2 so the camera does not automatically “remember” your last playback slot that you can select by holding down the playback button while rotating the top right dial which could inadvertently lead you to accidentally deleting a RAW file in slot 1 thinking it was the jpeg file in slot 2.

Temporarily viewing images on the card which is not the default playback card:

  • press the playback button while rotating the top right dial and the screen will indicate which card slot it will use to playback
  • unfortunately, as mentioned above, this is not retained once you take another shot, playback reverts to the default playback slot

Advantages of dual slots:

Insurance against card corruption, damage or loss:

The ability to save 2 physical copies of your RAW files simultaneously via the “Dual Same” mode is critical for professionals.

Some insurance against accidental deletion in camera:

If you are using the Dual modes and you delete an image or erase the card or re-format the card, it does not delete the image on the other card – of course, you can change the playback to the second card and then also delete that image but at least that requires effort.

Faster saving of RAW+jpeg rapid burst:

The ability to save RAW files to one card and your jpegs to another card allows faster burst rate buffer clearance and possibly less playback “blackout” after a burst while all your images get saved. The E-M1 II does not have live view visual blackout after a burst but you will have slowed burst rates after a long burst until the buffer clears, and saving to two cards can potentially reduce this issue somewhat.

Ability to automatically save movies to the UHS-II card and stills to the second card:

Just set  saving option to “Standard” and then you can set the save slot for stills vs movie in that same menu area.

More capacity within the camera:

“Automatic Switching” allows the 2nd card to be used when the 1st is filled up (although you do lose the fast UHS-II capability with the second card slot.

Playback zoom when capturing RAW + small jpeg:

One issue with playback on all Olympus cameras to date has been that if you selected RAW+small jpg as your file save option, on playback, when you zoom in, you do not get to see the actual RAW captured detail, only the much less detailed small jpeg which in effect limits your zoom to perhaps 3-5x instead of the 10-14x to really check if your image is sharp.

Having the dual slots overcomes this as you can have RAW saved to slot 1 and small jpeg to slot 2 and when you playback slot 1, you view the full captured detail in all its glory and no longer have to wait until you get it on the computer to ascertain if it is sharp enough.

Ability to backup all images from one card to another in camera:

This is great if you are on holidays traveling the world and don’t have a mechanism to backup your images.

Just buy another SD card of same capacity but can be a slower, cheaper card, then in Playback menu, select Copy All and then choose the copy direction – make sure you get this direction correct – although it will not delete existing images on the destination card so that is a great safeguard!

Disadvantages of Dual mode:

The Olympus delete image option of simultaneously deleting the RAW and JPEG does not work if you are saving each to a different card.

It thus takes more than double the effort to delete an image off both cards or erase the two cards – you need to manually select the second card and then repeat the process, but perhaps this is a good thing!

You may accidentally delete an image from the wrong card if you forget the camera reverts back to the default playback card!

 My firmware suggestions:

  • 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 jpeg if only a single card is used for RAW+jpeg – this should apply to all Olympus cameras whether one or dual slot designs.

 

 

 

Ouch $A2799 for the new amazing Olympus OM-D E-M1 II is it worth it? Could it beat the new Canon 1DX Mark II for sports and wildlife?

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

Australian Olympus Micro Four Thirds users in unison launched a universal angst and frustration when Olympus Australia finally announced their RRP for the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II mirrorless pro sports camera – $AU2799 for the body only puts it at well over twice the price of its predecessor which may place it beyond the Olympus faithful’s wallet, but given how much it has improved in almost every aspect, it may really be worth the $US2000 RRP and perhaps even the inflated $A2799 price tag.

So let’s do a comparison with the leading sports pro dSLR super telephoto birding kits to see how it fares:

I own the Olympus OM-D E-M1 original version, the Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 and the Canon 1D Mark III pro dSLR sports camera – but thankfully not a 600mm f/4 lens.

So here I am going to compare the E-M1 II with Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 OIS lens with a Canon 1DX II with a Canon EF 600mm f/4 IS II L lens which will give the same telephoto field of view for birding but is 3 times heavier and almost 4 x the price.

One could have chosen a Nikon D5 and Nikkor 600mm f/4 lens but you would come to much the same conclusions.

Birders using full frame dSLRs usually shoot at around 600mm f/5.6-f/8 at ISO 800 and shutter speed around 1/2000th sec with the sun low on the horizon. The Olympus kit offers this telephoto reach and depth of field at 300mm f/4 and thus to achieve a shutter speed of 1/2000th sec in the same light, they only need ISO 200-400 and at this ISO you won’t notice any significant noise difference, even if the Canon was shooting at same ISO, and if you were shooting jpegs only, the Olympus jpeg engine historically has given wider dynamic range.

The photo output in both cases will be 20mp images, low ISO noise, similar depth of field and field of view, and similar lovely bokeh but what a difference in price and weight as well as size!

Olympus OM-D E-M1 II Canon 1DX Mark II
Price at Amazon.com $US2000 body + $US2499 for 300mm lens = $US4500 $US5999+$US11499 = $US17500
sensor 20mp 2x crop 20mp full frame
Weight 574g body + 1270g lens = 1.8kg
1530g + 3.9kg=6.3kg +heavy tripod and Wimberley tripod head!
Size 134 x 91 x 67 mm body + 93mm x 227mm lens
158 x 168 x 83mm body + 168 x 448mm
image stabilisation sensor based 5 axis 5EV + 6.5EV Sync IS lens 4 EV OIS in stills, no sensor IS
Shutter speed range 60sec -1/8000th (1/32,000th electronic)
30sec-1/8000th
Flash x-sync 1/250th sec, slow sync, 19 output levels manual
1/250th, slow sync
radio TTL remote flash No
Canon, Profoto, Bowens, Godox, PocketWizard, etc
Viewfinder 2.35mdot EVF, eye sensor auto switching, 120fps, 6ms reaction time, 21mm eyepoint, 0.74x magnification, minimal blackout in burst mode
optical, 0.76x magnification, 20mm eyepoint, minimal blackout in burst mode; not usable when mirror locked up such as in vibration reduction shooting, Live View, and in video shooting
LCD screen 1mdot articulating touch screen, AF Targeting Pad feature
1.6mdot, fixed touch sensitive, can select AF point
video awesome image stabilisation 4K 24/30p 236Mbps Cinema 4K quality mjpeg; 4:2:2 uncompressed video directly from the HDMI port, lenses optimised for video work
1.34x crop 4K/60P mjpeg video and full frame 1080/120p but HDMI out is only 1080 8bit 4:2:2, lenses not optimised for live view or video work
Burst rate 18fps with C-AF x 77RAW or 60fps with S-AF in electronic mode x 48 RAW; 10fps C-AF mechanical shutter x 148 RAW;
14fps with C-AF, 16fps with S-AF and mirror lock up, max, 81 RAW+jpeg or 170 RAW
Top panel dual dial + 2×2 system Yes No
AF 121pt Dual Pixel cross type CDAF/PDAF, closest eye detection AF, all working video mode including subject tracking
61pt PDAF with only 41 cross type sensors and limited coverage, plus on sensor dual pixel for live view mode, face detect AF only in live view mode and no closest eye detect AF; no subject tracking in live view; 5 central points are dual cross;
Hi-Res mode Yes, 50mp/25mp jpeg, 80mp RAW
No
Live BULB, Live TIME, Live Composite, 60sec timed, Live Boost EVF Yes No
Dual card slots 2 x SD
2 x CF
Auto HDR, Auto focus stacking, Keystone compensation Yes No
 Pro service support  just building infrastructure  Advanced, mature pro service
“14-28mm” pro lens 7-14mm (14-28mm) f/2.8, 534g, 106mm long, 0.2m close focus, no filter, MF clutch, $US1299 EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III does not go as wide, is heavier, does not have image stabilisation, and is more expensive at $US2349
“24-70mm” pro lens 12-40mm (24-80mm) f/2.8, 382g, 84mm long, 0.2m close focus, 62mm filter, MF clutch, $US740 EF 24-70mm f/2.8 IS II L gives 2 stops shallower DOF but no eye detect AF, and IS not as good, plus it is heavier, more expensive at $US1749
“70-200mm” pro lens 40-150mm (80-300mm) f/2.8, 760g, 160mm long, 0.7m close focus, 72mm filter, MF clutch, $US1399, opt. 1.4x converter EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS L II gives 2 stops shallower DOF but not the 300mm reach, and no eye detect AF, and IS not as good, plus it is heavier, more expensive at $US2000
“50mm” standard prime lens Oly 25mm f/1.2 EF 50mm f/1.2L or 1.4 or f/1.8 lenses give up to 2 stops shallower DOF but poorer image quality, not as sharp across the frame, more optical aberrations, and no eye detect AF, and no image stabilisation

The advantages of the Canon are:

  • it is able to achieve perhaps 1 stop better high ISO noise and a shallower depth of field of perhaps 1 – 2 stops depending on lens, HOWEVER, for birding you need f/5.6-8 for adequate DOF at 600mm and this can be achieved at f/4 on the Olympus 300mm which negates any advantage in high ISO performance or DOF of the Canon for this use.
  • there is a reliable worldwide mature Canon pro service infrastructure which Olympus is really only starting to build
  • radio TTL remote flash is supported by Canon and third party lighting companies, none of which have supported Olympus as yet, although PocketWizards have developed a Panasonic solution so surely an Olympus solution is not far off. That said, many pros do not use TTL flash as it gives too variable a result – whether it is Canon, Nikon or Olympus.
  • the Canon 1D X is built like a tank and has a massive battery
  • optical viewfinder – some people love it, but I must say I am very happy with new tech EVFs
  • proven iTR AF tracking technology (although not as good as Nikon 3D tracking) – we will have to see if the Olympus can match or surpass it
  • the target pro audience is likely to already have a large selection of pro dSLR gear and migrating to Olympus is a big step
  • 2x teleconverter available as well as the 1.4x which Olympus also has.
  • greater ultra-wide options such as the 17mm TS-E tilt-shift lens, such wide angle tilt shift is not yet possible on the Olympus, even if use a focal reducer adapter combined with the Canon 17mm TS-E you can get a 24mm TS-E full frame tilt shift equivalent effect on the Olympus, but not a 17mm tilt shift effect.
  • greater extreme shallow DOF options such as 24mm f/1.4, 35mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.2, 85mm f/1.2, 135mm f/2, and 200mm f/2
  • faster mechanical shutter burst rate with AF tracking 14fps vs 10fps on the Olympus – although the Olympus can go to 18fps in electronic mode which the Canon can’t do, and the Olympus can hit 60fps in fixed AF and electronic shutter mode.

The advantages of the Olympus are:

  • far lighter and more compact – 1/3rd the weight, able to take in cabin luggage on flights, will not break your back and neck carrying it, far more versatile when hand held, much more responsive when walking with the big lens, just stop, compose, focus and shoot – no need to worry about getting lens out of carry bag, setting up tripod, etc and subject is gone.
    • the Olympus 300mm and camera kit weigh not much more than the Canon 1DX body alone!!!
  • one quarter the price – wow, even at $AU2700 you are getting a LOT of value for the price, and if you worry about availability of timely service – you can buy 4 of them for almost the same price!
  • built-in sensor based 5-axis 5EV image stabilisation works on EVERY lens you use, even in video
  • no need to do clunky, time consuming mirror lockup to reduce camera shake
  • faster burst rates – even a crazy 60fps in electronic mode!
  • truly silent AF and burst mode – ideal for those classical music events, ballet, weddings, etc – no mirror slap, no shutter noise
  • 3x more crosstype PDAF autofocus points available in viewfinder mode
  • better spread of AF points across the frame in viewfinder mode 80% coverage
  • in-camera AF limiter as well as the lens based focus limiters to speed up focus acquisition
  • AF system more accurate (does not need microcalibration for each lens) and works better with wide aperture lenses
  • closest eye detection AF for sharper focused portraits
  • “Pro Capture” mode which automatically starts taking images before you fully depress shutter to ensure you don’t miss the shot
  • far better image stabilised video quality with 4K uncompressed HDMI out not just 1080 and 4K mode is not a crop of the sensor as with Canon’s 1.34x crop which will impact wide angle shots
  • 50mp HiRes sensor-shift mode for static subjects
  • smaller, less expensive lenses, usually with better optics across the frame – it will be interesting to see how these two super telephoto lenses compare optically – I suspect the Olympus may well win!
  • very handy long exposure modes such as Live Timed, Live Composite, etc
  • automatic focus stacking mode
  • in camera live keystone correction
  • Wifi built in with remote control by smartphones as well as WiFi tethering – WiFi is expensive optional extra on the Canon
  • articulating LCD screen for easier low angle, high angle shots or for video work
  • the lovely benefits of EVF – live histogram, highlight/shadow warnings, live boost, zebra focus, wysiwyg exposure/tones, ability to review images without having to use your reading glasses, magnified view manual focus, can use the EVF during video taking mode – the Canon forces you to do mirror lock up and use the rear screen.
  • can use almost any lens ever made and have them image stabilised – it will even autofocus Canon EF lenses via a Metabones adapter (albeit much slower than Olympus lenses), and you have the option of using a focal reducer adapter for further versatility.
  • far more fun without the weight!

There are questions to be answered though:

  • will the C-AF tracking be as good as the Canon – I suspect it won’t be, but maybe it is good enough
  • how usable will the electronic shutter burst modes be for moving subject – has the faster 1/60th sec electronic shutter duration with its reduced rolling shutter allowed this to avoid artifacts with faster moving subjects? It seems it may be.
  • how will high ISO noise compare at ISO 3200 – although Olympus users rarely need to go this high other than for Milky Way astroscapes and low light action scenes.

We need to wait and see, but the amazing 5 sec hand held shots which Robin Wong has published are just ridiculously good and show this Olympus camera can be used in new ways without having to resort to a tripod.

Hmmm… I think I have documented all the main issues, I have skipped what they have in common such as quality weather sealing, AF customisations, exposure compensation, bracketing, optional battery grips, etc.

Still upset about the price for a flagship pro sports camera you probably don’t need?

Only a small minority of Canon and Nikon owners  have actually bought the flagship sports dSLR, the vast majority settle for budget level models with very minimal feature sets and AF limited to just the central region.

If you don’t need the new features of the Olympus flagship model, then of course there are many great Micro Four Thirds cameras you can buy for less than half this price such as the E-M1, E-M5 mark II, or Panasonic G80/85.

To me though, it will value add to my nice Micro Four Thirds lens collection by providing much improved AF capabilities for moving subjects which has always been an issue for mirrorless cameras.

I hope Olympus will release a more affordable E-M5 Mark III with this sensor in it and the improved PDAF capabilities so those on lower budgets are not locked out of effective PDAF – granted they can get a cut down PDAF experience now with the original E-M1 but presumably at some stage this will be discontinued, and Olympus will need to compete with the likes of the Sony a6300 which does have PDAF at half the price.

Olympus announce new flagship Micro Four Thirds camera – OM-D EM-1 Mark II and 2 new pro lenses

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

Olympus used Photokina to announce their new flagship professional model Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera – the E-M1 Mark II which they say improves upon the original model in nearly every aspect and leap frogs above APS-C cameras in terms of speed and value to the photographer.

I must say the specs to blow away the newly announced Canon EOS M5 mirrorless camera even if you don’t consider the amazing range of dedicated fast AF lenses available for Micro Four Thirds.

Specifications:

  • FASTER, MORE ACCURATE BURST MODE
    • 18fps full size RAW with C-AF in electronic shutter mode
    • 60fps full size RAW with locked S-AF in electronic shutter mode
    • 2x more buffer capacity
    • 3x faster internal write speed
    • 50% faster start up time from camera switch on
  • PDAF area coverage now 81% greater than in Mark I, now covers ~80% of each frame dimension, up from 60%
  • 3.3x more AF points – all 121 PDAF AF points are now cross-type and offer DUAL FAST AF with PDAF and CDAF which are used in every shooting mode.
  • new AF algorithm for much better subject tracking as well as in detecting subject from background even when background is close and of similar colour and texture
  • new “AF Cluster Display” can display the AF points being used to track the subject in real time
  • new “PRO Capture” can start capturing images as soon as you start to depress shutter and up to you depress shutter fully allowing lag free pre-capture of 14 RAW frames to reduce chance of missing a precise moment
  • new electronic viewfinder with faster 120 fps refresh rate and shorter 6msec reaction time giving crisp and smooth vision giving 60% faster response rate
  • as with Mark I, it is dustproof, splashproof and freezeproof with similar form factor
  • reliability improvements:
    • new battery compartment
    • new battery is longer lasting and charges faster
    • improved grip which is more secure and offers better handling
    • at last we get dual SD card slots and UHS compatibility
  • image quality:
    • new 20Mp live MOS sensor with low power consumption and higher speed data read out and improved dynamic range and noise performance of 1 f stop better noise
    • TruePic VIII double quad core image processor
    • re-developed image stabilisation system now gives 5 axis Sync IS at up to 6.5EV stabilisation!
    • 50/80mp HiRes shot with image blur of moving subject prevented using TruePic processor
      • should be awesome for high resolution tripod product shots or film scanning with less moire than with dSLRs
    • 4K video up to 30P and Cinema 4K at 237Mbps quality
  • optional accessories include:
    • HLD-9 / AC-5 battery holder grip with keypad for use in either landscape or portrait orientation
    • RM-CB2 remote cable
    • FL-900R weather sealed flash with GN 58 and compatible with 10fps sequential shooting
    • STF Twin Flash for macro and 1st of kind to be weathersealed
    • PT-EP14 underwater case
    • improved Olympus PRO Service
      • next day delivery replacement unit for professionals if they choose additional paid Advanced or Elite level of service in selected countries
      • default Standard Plus level of service applies to all registered users
      • video hotline to help resolve issues before sending camera to repair

New PRO lenses:

Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.2 PRO

  • wide aperture standard lens for shallower depth of field and lovely bokeh as well as for low light work
  • weathersealed
  • manual focus clutch?
  • RRP $US1199?
  • see my wiki page for more details

Olympus mZD 12-100mm f/4 IS PRO

  • 1st ever travel professional grade 8.3x zoom lens covering 24-200mm in full frame terms at constant wide aperture of f/4
  • optical IS for Sync IS at up to 6.5EV IS with the E-M1 MkII
  • weathersealed
  • manual focus clutch
  • close focus to 15cm adds macro capability
  • RRP $US1299?
  • see my wiki page for more details

 

Photokina 2016 press event video

Okay, I am impressed – at last on paper – now for the reviews – I will post links to these on my wiki page as they are available.

 

One week in South Korea – part 1

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

Last week I had the fantastic opportunity of spending some time in South Korea (the Republic of Korea), most of which was in its bustling capital Seoul but also a weekend in the coastal resort town of Sokcho on the eastern coast and adjacent to the beautiful Seoraksan National Park.

This first post is to give some background of South Korea and introduce its culture.

Geography and how to get there.

South Korea is the mountainous southern part of the Korean Peninsula located between China and Japan and, obviously, south of North Korea, with which it is still technically at war and thus is separated from it by a Demilitarised Zone (DMZ).

Seoul has a population of 25 million (half of Korea’s population) being the world’s 6th leading city and 4th largest economy while over half the population live in high rise apartments and only 3% are non-Korean foreigners and half of these have Korean ethnicity! South Korea had the world’s lowest birth rates in 2009 but it has been increasing since

It’s time zone is only 1hr different to Australian Eastern Standard Time.

From my home town, Melbourne, Australia, there are no direct flights to Seoul as thus I needed a short flight to Sydney first before catching a direct 10hr 30m flight via Asiana Airlines.

One should allow around 90 minutes to get from Incheon Airport to Seoul CBD by bus or taxi, and there is also a train service.

Be warned taxi drivers can be lacking in safety awareness with Korea having high road trauma rates, one of our taxi drivers thankfully slowed to 140kph in 80kph zone.

In Seoul, there is a very advanced subway system, just download the app for your smartphone to navigate it, purchase a CityPass card at the vending machine (there are English instructions), load it up with some won – perhaps around 5000-10000 won at a time (~$US5-10 and this pass can be used on buses, or even to buy food in some shops).

Half of all tourists are Chinese.

Climate:

South Korea has a humid continental climate and a humid subtropical climate and the best time to visit for comfort is Sept-Nov (autumn) but no matter what time of year, an umbrella or rainwear is advisable.

Seoul has an average annual rainfall of 1,370mm, mostly in July and August which receive over 300mm each month.

There are four distinct seasons:

  • spring: late-March to early-May which may bring yellow dust pollution from strong winds from China and Mongolia
  • summer: mid-May to early-September which is hot, wet, humid and may be associated with East Asian monsoonal rains as well as a brief high rainfall period “jangma” which occurs in July
  • autumn: mid-September to early-November
  • winter: mid-November to mid-March which can be extremely cold with the minimum temperature dropping below −20 °C (−4 °F) in the inland region of the country

July and August are the hottest, most humid and wettest months, and we arrived in a mini heat wave with daytime temperatures of around 34degC with high humidity and night temperatures dropping to around 27degC. Later in the week the temperature cooled to 27degC max and 18degC minimums and the last two days on the east coast were dominated by heavy rains.

A brief history:

Koryo was one of the leading East Asian powers from around 1st century BC and ruled northern China, Inner Mongolia and parts of Russia for over a millenium of relative tranquillity.

Buddhism was introduced to Korea in the year 372.

In 1446, Sejong the Great, created a unique alphabet Hangul, which enabled anyone to easily learn to read and write.

These dynasties resulted in establishment of 12 World Heritage Sites.

In the 19th century, the Joseon Dynasty tried to protect itself against Western imperialism, but was eventually forced to open trade.

After the 1st Sino-Japanese War (1894-95), Korea was liberated from Chinese influence as a state of the Qing dynasty, and after the Donghak Peasant Revolution of 1894 to 1895 , a short-lived Korean Empire formed (1897-1910).

After Japan defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), Korea initially became a Japanese protectorate and then was annexed by imperial Japan in 1910.

Towards the end of World War II, Russia liberated Korea north of the 38th parallel, while USA liberated the areas to the south. After Japan surrendered to Western and Russian powers at the end of World War II in 1945, Korea was then divided into North and South Korea, and this, along with Cold War issues resulted in North Korea invading South Korea with China and Russia coming to aid the North, and USA-led UN forces backing the south in the Korean War (1950-1953) which saw Seoul change hands four times, until a truce was formed by signing an armistice, but the two states are technically still at war, and the threat from North Korea, always present and seemingly increasing.

 Culture, language and health:

It has the world’s eighth highest median household income, the highest in Asia, and its singles in particular earn more than all G7 nations, and half have no religious affiliation, most of the remainder are either Buddhist or Christian.

The world’s most innovative country in 2015 and has the world’s fastest Internet speed and highest smartphone ownership.

South Korea is the most industrialized member country of the OECD.

South Korea has a universal healthcare system and amongst the most technologically advanced healthcare in the world and has over triple the number of hospital beds per capita compared to USA, UK, Sweden, and Canada!

Compulsory military conscription for men continues and South Korea has very high defence spending – 15% of all govt spending.

Few Koreans speak English as it only became compulsory in schools this century and although young adults may be able to read some English, their verbal skills are quite limited. This is compounded by the very few English speaking tourists who arrive and the monoculture of 97% Koreans who live there. Despite this, the Korean language is quite phonetic and signs are often  in English.

Korean food is still largely devoid of Western influences (although there are some Western take away food places such as MacDonalds, Dominos Pizza and many coffee cafes), you will probably not find fish and chip shops, dim sims, potato cakes, french fries, chocolate bars, ice cream and in addition, wine is rare but beer, soju and whisky/rum are plentiful – in fact, the Koreans are generally heavy drinkers after their long hours at work.

The Korean population generally come across as quiet, cool, calm, collected, well dressed, high-tech savvy, generous, respectful and kind people with very little obesity issues although smoking and high alcohol intake is still problematic.

Seoul feels to me to be the safest of cities I have been to – I felt ashamed that I may cause offense in securing my valuables in the hotel room but I still did so. There is no evidence of pick pockets in the areas I visited and free WiFi is everywhere and given the apparent trustworthiness of the Koreans and lack of Western tourists, I felt I could get away with not using a VPN.

The widespread free WiFi – in hotels, on train platforms, bus stations, airports, etc, meant that one does not really need to have a Korean sim card or use international roaming – just switch phone to airplane mode and turn WiFi on and communicate using a messaging app such as WhatsApp.

Koreans respectfully bow to each other to thank or give leave and there is a strict aged-based hierarchical respect system stemming from Confucian and Buddhist teachings and Koreans are taught from a young age that they need to know who is their senior and who is their junior and that they must obey and respect their seniors, who in return, provides support and pay for meals, etc.

Young men in the city generally wear a shirt, tie, trousers with black belt and stylish shoes reminiscent of the well dressed Italian.

Young women generally wear smart summer dresses, shorts or short skirts whilst the upper part of the body for both sexes remains covered – no cleavages or open shirts (even for men as the upper torso is regarded as a sexual zone – legs are not).

The Koreans appear to have a body image issue as plastic surgery rates are amongst the highest in the world with some 25% of young adults having had surgery – and the surgical skills appear to be very high tech and transformative – see here for some mind blowing examples!

As most Korean young people live with their parents in high rise apartments, many go to resort towns for the weekends for romantic getaways in “Love Hotels” such as in Sokcho.

Koreans appear to like booking small rooms for karaoke fun for 2-4 people. K-pop is an extremely popular Asian music and culture phenomenon.

Communal thermal spas are generally true Oriental style with clothing and underwear banned, and a requirement for a good, long, whole of body soapy scrub and shower before entering the bathing area au naturale (although women and men have separate areas).
Korean temple

Korean temple in Asian ink sketch style – Olympus OM-D.

old and the new

Old and the new – Seoul – Olympus OM-D

the essential umbrella

The umbrella – an essential sun shade and for those rain periods – Olympus OM-D with mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens.

Why I love sensor based IS – hand held long exposure of waterfalls

Friday, February 19th, 2016

Sometimes (nearly always) you can’t be bothered carrying around a large tripod which is tall enough and stable enough to capture scenes but when you get there, you really want to show water motion of a longer then usual shutter speed.

The Olympus OM-D cameras offer perhaps the best image stabilisation effectiveness of all cameras and that is one of the reasons i love them – along with the light and compact high quality lenses.

A case in point was a recent walk in the mountains where I found this lovely little waterfall.

I needed a high camera angle and long exposure – and hand held OM-D E-M1 came through with the goods:

 

falls

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

The unique Atherton Tableland – high rainforest plateau and ancient volcanic maars and waterfalls

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

The Atherton Tableland is an elevated rainforest plateau 700m to 1000m above sea level which is littered with ancient volcanic hills, valleys, waterfalls and crater lakes making it a photographer’s and naturalist’s delight and is some 4 degrees Celsius cooler than Cairns and unlike the coast, you will need a jumper or cardigan for evening wear.

There are essentially 4 access roads from the coast – each will involve 20-30minutes of slowish winding roads up the mountains to get there:

  • Rex Range Road from Mossman
  • Kennedy Highway via Kuranda from Cairns
  • Gillies Highway via Gordonvale from Cairns
  • Palmerston Highway from Innisfail

The main town is Atherton with Mareeba to the north which is drier and with clearer skies.

Attractions near Mareeba:

  • Mareeba Tropical Wetlands and Savannah Reserve with Jabiru Safari Lodge, which is a great for bird watchers. Further north are drier woodlands with a multitude of tall termite mounds.
  • Granite Gorge Nature Park – great for picnics and their local unique wallaby species
  • The Coffee Works – for coffee and chocolate
  • Golden Drop Winery – mango wines

Central tablelands region:

  • Atherton township
  • Hastie’s swamp bird watching
  • Wongabel State Forest rainforest walk track 2.6km
  • Mt Hypipamee National Park – unique steep walled crater lake and adjacent Dinner Falls cascades make for a pleasant short walk and nice photo opportunities
  • Bromfield’s Crater
  • historic mining town of Herberton with its reconstructed 19thC mining township as a tourist attraction
  • Yungaburra heritage township, Nick’s Swiss-Italian restaurant and the massive curtain fig tree
  • Lake Tinaroo and dam
  • Lake Barrine lake cruises and rainforest walk through 2 giant Kauri pine trees
  • Lake Eacham National Park
  • Malanda and Malanda Falls
  • Nerada tea farm and their resident wild Lumholtz tree kangaroos
  • Bartle Frere mountain hiking for the fit (Queensland’s tallest mountain at 1622m)

Southern tablelands region:

  • Tarzali Lakes tourist attraction (privately owned) for platypus sightings and farmed barramundi fishing
  • the famous Millaa Millaa falls and the waterfall circuit drive including Zillie Falls and Ellinjaa Falls
  • Ravenshoe, Queensland’s highest town and the Millstream Falls
  • Tully Gorge and Misty Mountain rainforest bushwalks – 36km one-way Koolmoom Creek Track (several short loops possible); 19km one way Cardwell Range Track; 15km one way difficult Cannabullen Creek Track; 26km one way Gorrell Track; BEWARE the stinging trees!!! Bring radio beacon or satellite phone!! Most pleasant May-Oct but heavy rains any time of year can make creeks impassable! Camping requires a permit. Tracks are wet and slippery and leeches abound;

Millaa Millaa lookout

Millaa Millaa lookout – Olympus OM-D

Ellinjaa Falls

Ellinjaa falls, and yes, there are annoying Canikon photographers who take centre stage with their tripods. I decided not to wait for the queue of them and shot this long exposure hand held standing on top of a rock in the middle of the stream using my Olympus OM-D with its amazing built in image stabiliser which allows these hand held longer exposure shots without a tripod.

For bird watchers and ornithologists:

Mt Lewis NP in Nov-April but check road conditions as gravel road: upland rainforest birds such as Golden Bowerbird, Chowchilla, Blue-faced Parrot Finch.

Abattoir Swamp: boardwalk and hide – when paperbarks are flowering: lorikeets, honeyeaters; crakes and rails; Northern Fantail at the car park;

Davies Creek Falls NP via gravel road: granite boulder falls; Pale-headed rosella, White-cheeked honeyeater, Lemon-bellied flycatcher;

Barron Falls NP: Pied Monarch, Yellow-breasted Boatbill.

Mt Molloy: Red-winged parrot, Great Bowerbird are found near the school;

Malanda Falls Conservation Park: Aust. Brush Turkey, Orange-footed scrubfowl, Atherton scrubwren, Macleay’s Honeyeater, Eastern Whipbird.

Lake Mitchell man made wetland: Black-necked stork and dry country birds in the woodlands.

Crater lakes NP: Double-eyed Fig-parrot, Victoria’s Riflebird; Tooth-billed Bowerbird builds courts close to the track in breeding season (Sept-Jan).

Nardello’s Lagoon: waterbirds; White-breasted Sea Eagle and Swamp Harrier in Sept-Dec; Red-tailed Black Cockatoos; Sulphur-crested cockatoos;

Bromfield Swamp: unique volcanic crater is a nesting site for hundreds of Sarus Crane and Brolga in Apr-Nov best at dusk when they return home to roost, or early morning.

Hastie’s Swamp: home to 220 bird species; two-storey bird hide; Magpie Goose, Plumed Whistling Duck, Pink-eared duck, White-headed Stilt;

Millaa Millaa Falls: Yellow-throated scrubwren, Bower’s Shrike-thrush

Wongabel State Forest: Emerald Dove, Wompoo Fruit Dove, White-throated Treecreeper, Ferenwren, Bower’s Shrike-thrush;

Mt Hypipamee NP: Fernwren, Bridled Honeyeater, Grey-headed Robin, Chowchilla (early morning), Golden Bowerbird, Southern Cassowary

Kaban: drier western edge; Painted Button-Quail, Little Lorikeet, Fuscous Honeyeater, Varied Sittella, Crested Shrike-tit, Eastern Yellow Robin;

Tully Falls Rd: Pale yellow Robin

Innisfail region:

  • several waterfalls along the Palmerston Highway
  • Mamu Tropical Skywalk tourist attraction – boardwalks in the tree tops
  • Paronella Park historic rainforest mansion
  • Eubanangee Swamp National park near the coast and Josephine Falls

Further west from the Tablelands:

  • historic outback mining town of Chillagoe with limestone caves to explore
  • unique Undara Lava Tubes

 Finally, a little history:

The tablelands were originally inhabited by approx. 16 Aboriginal indigenous tribes who created clearings or “pockets” by using fire to clear the rainforest undergrowth and make it easier to hunt wallabies.

They had to deal with the volcanic eruptions, the most recent eruptions were approximately 10,000 years ago.

Then along came the British and Chinese miners in the mid 19th century when gold and tin was discovered resulting in the mining towns of Herberton and Chillagoe. The whites ran into conflict with the indigenous peoples and hence the naming of Butcher Creek.

For more indigenous history of the region see here.

Once the Europeans and Chinese gained access via Cobb and Co coaches (initially from Port Douglas through to Atherton then to Herberton via the “Mulligan Highway”), the timber-getters moved in and dominated much of the central tablelands and clearing much of the rainforest for its valued timber, especially Red cedar (Toona ciliata), but also walnut, Queensland maple, Silky Oak, Silkwood, Black Bean, Silver Ash and Kauri Pine.

A shorter route was established from Cairns called Robson’s Track – near the current Gillies Highway.

The 1st permanent white settler in the Yungaburra region was John Stewart in 1890. By 1903, the railway from Cairns had reached Atherton, and then was extended to Yungaburra in 1910 and operated until it closed in 1964.

Cyclone Larry in 2006 caused considerable damage to the Tablelands, snapping many trees off at 4m from the ground and damaging buildings.

A photographer’s guide to exploring central Australia – Part V – Kata Tjuta (The Olgas)

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

My last post in this series exploring the Red Centre of Australia which previously included the posts:

This post explores the famous Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) which formed in a similar way to Uluru but from alluvial conglomerate rock deposits from the nearby mountain ranges which were once as high as the Himalayas. See the previous post on Uluru for an explanation of the geology of how these massive rocks formed.

Kata Tjuta consists of a number of rounded conglomerate rock formations which at 546m above the plain are substantially higher than Uluru (348m above the plain). It is some 50km west of Uluru on bitumen road within the park.

Uluru and Kata Tjuta are listed at #33 in the Lonely Planet’s Top 500 travel destinations in the world for 2015. Australia is the only country represented twice in the top 12 destinations with the Great Barrier Reef at #2 and the Twelve Apostles at #12, and even gets a 3rd mention at #20 with MONA art gallery in Hobart.


from the air

Unfortunately one is NOT permitted to stop your car along the road near Kata Tjuta (for the 16km stretch west of the Kata Tjuta sunset viewing platform), and as with Uluru, you must vacate the park by closure time which is currently 7.30pm in winter. An important issue for those with rental cars is that you will NOT be covered by any insurance if you have an accident after sunset, so the 45 min drive back to Yulara after sunset viewing of Kata Tjuta poses financial risk of potentially paying for the replacement cost of the vehicle if you happen to hit wildlife – although risk does appear low here if one drives carefully and at reduced speed.


Kata Tjuta sunset at 100kph

One of the better views at sunset of Kata Tjuta but at this area, one is not permitted to stop the car so this was out the window while car was moving.

Uluru

The last blue moon for 3 years and I managed to capture this from the Kata Tjuta dune viewing platform, although from 30km west of Uluru, the moon was still too far south from Uluru to allow a telephoto lens to make it look larger and still capture it in the same image as Uluru. One is not allowed to just stop your car anywhere in the park so planning these shots are quite limited to certain locations. Olympus OM-D E-M5 hand held with Olympus mZD 12-40mm lens at f/5, 1/160th sec, ISO 200, 40mm focal length and Vivid picture tone.

There are only two car park locations to choose from:

  • Kata Tjuta dune viewing platform which is directly south of Kata Tjuta and a 600m walk from the car park, and in winter after sunset, will give a silhouette view, but also the only view of Uluru from Kata Tjuta
  • one of the 3 main Kata Tjuta car parks (west of Kata Tjuta) from which you can do the various walks through Kata Tjuta – although none of the peaks can be climbed – they are just far too steep to allow that

Walks at Kata Tjuta:

There are two main places from which to walk:

  • Walpa Gorge – the easiest walk, 2.6km, 1hr return
  • Valley of the Winds – there are 3 options on this more strenuous up and down hill walk on often unstable rocky ground – short 2.2km 1hr return walk to Karu Lookout, or continue on for a 5.4km 2-2.5hr return walk to Karingana Lookout, or continue from there to a circuit walk which takes you back to Karu Lookout and covers 7.4km which will take average walkers 4hrs in total- none of these give views of Uluru and the circuit part requires a permit for commercial photography!

The walks are closed if temperature is above 36degC, and you should take water and sun protection as well as sturdy shoes/boots with good soles. Sun protection would not be needed if walking just before sunset.

In hot weather aim to complete the walks by 11am. The hottest part of the day is usually 4pm in summer when temperatures in the sun can reach close to 50degC. Go in winter!

I only had time to do a quick return walk to Karingana Lookout before the sun set on us:


Kata Tjuta walk just before sunset


Kata Tjuta walk just before sunset

At Karingana Lookout:


Karingana Lookout


Karingana Lookout


Karingana Lookout

Above, the view east from Karingana Lookout – the view to Uluru is blocked.


Karingana Lookout

On the return walk back from Karingana Lookout:


Kata Tjuta walk just before sunset


Kata Tjuta walk just before sunset

All images were shot using Micro Four Thirds cameras – the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and E-M1 combined with Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 lens and the Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens.

A photographer’s guide to exploring central Australia – Part III – the West Macdonnell Ranges and their gorges

Friday, August 7th, 2015

Following on from my introduction to the Red Centre which covered why go, getting there, accommodation and car hire issues, and my post on Alice Springs, the indigenous peoples, road trauma and climbing Mt Gillen, it is now turn to highlight the quick tourist’s view of the West Macdonnell Ranges or Tjoritja (I did not get time to see the East Macdonnell Ranges on this trip … maybe another time).

You can explore these ranges by hiring a car (preferably a 4WD to better negotiate a few kilometres of gravel roads to some of the gorges), or you can go via a tour bus.

An excellent option which I took was to stay overnight at the Glen Helen Resort which is at almost the far west end of the ranges some 132km from Alice Springs on bitumen road, or, if you have a caravan or tent then overnight at one of the gorges is usually possible.

Many of these gorges have permanent waterholes but they are very cold, so swimming would be more a summer pursuit!

For the adventurous, the Larapinta Trail is a world-renown bush walk trail covering some 223km of one way walk in 14 day trip sections of very exposed walks – mostly along the ridges of the ranges.


the ranges

The history of this mountain range is fascinating:

850-800 million years ago, most of the southern half of the Northern Territory  was inundated by a shallow sea resulting in quartz-rich deposits and these formed the now red “Heavitree quartzite rock” layer which is so evident in the cliffs today.

800-760 million years ago, the sea became shallower still, forming tidal lagoons which deposited lime-rich mud which hardened to form greyish dolomite, a type of limestone rich in magnesium. Silt was also deposited and this became siltstone. This layer is called the Bitter Springs Formation, and occurred at a time when stromatolites (blue-green algae) dominated the life forms on earth. Stromatolites were the main life form on earth for 2000 million years, and being the 1st photosynthetic bacteria, eventually oxygenated the atmosphere and the seas (the Great Oxygenation Event which started some 2400 mya) which allowed current life forms to evolve and also oxidised the minerals in the seas such as iron resulting in massive deposits of red sandstone high in iron oxide such as in the Pilbara – see my post on Broome.

760-620 million years ago, the build up of oxygen and falling methane and carbon dioxide levels resulted in a reverse greenhouse effect, and earth became a giant snowball covered in ice. Global volcanic activity reversed this process, thawing the world and the melting glaciers from two ice ages (750mya and 625mya), deposited eroded materials to form new rocks, pebbles and boulders, these formed the Areyonga Formation and then the Pioneer Sandstone layer. As an aside, around 630mya, the thawing set the stage for a new evolution of life forms – the Ediacaran fauna (named after the Ediacara Hills of nearby South Australia).

620-600 million years ago, the sea returned but was deeper, resulting in fine grained sediments which formed the Pertatataka Formation consisting of red-brown flaky shales. This was the age of jellyfish.

The combined thickness of the above layers amounted to ~ 2 kilometres.

Between 340 million and 310 million years ago, massive earth movements pushed up these layers of quartzite and the many other sedimentary layers on top of this (from top-down: Juile formation, Pertatataka formation, Pioneer sandstone, Areyonga formation, Bitter Springs formation)  to form a mountain chain 10,000m high – the ancestral ranges were as high as today’s Himalayas!

Constant weathering by wind, flowing water, ice formation, etc over 315 million years has eroded all the softer top layers, leaving the current ranges mainly formed by the hard quartzite layer.

Indeed, a feature of the region are the many vertically oriented layers of red quartzite rock running parallel with the main road and somewhat resembling a natural form of the Great Wall of China.

Each of the above layers are evident on the ground surface as you drive back from the Ellery Creek Big Hole – at the waterhole, the cliffs are the quartzite layer, and then as you drive back to Namatjira Drive, the northern border is the Pertatataka Formation – so you sequentially drive across 250 million years of geologic history in those few kilometres.

The red quartzite cliffs at Ormiston Gorge actually consists of 2 layers of quartzite with the top layer having been pushed over the bottom layer from a distance of some 2 kilometres!

 

The first two sites are quite close to Alice Springs and could be skipped and done another day if staying in Alice – Simpson’s Gap (can even ride a bike here) and Standley Chasm.

Simpson’s Gap:

This is a favourite location for the locals to escape the summer heat as it is said to always have a lovely breeze through the gap – certainly on a cool winter’s morning, there was a substantial chill factor here warranting use of gloves and a spare camera battery!

Here is a shot of the lovely river red gums on the creek bed.


Simpsons Gap

Standley Chasm:

The only one of the sights on this trip which is on private land and requires an entry fee – best seen at midday when the sun lights up the chasm, and it has a nice cafe and souvenir shop.

The walk to the chasm is very pleasant and quite different from the other gorge walks as you follow a narrow rocky creek up a gorge.


Standley Chasm

We were there too early in the day and thus the gorge itself was fully in shade but there was a lovely orange glow on the cliffs behind the gorge.


Standley Chasm

Vertical quartzite layers and other types of rock on the walking path to the chasm:


Standley Chasm

 

Ellery Creek Big Hole:

A very nice waterhole surrounded by lovely gum trees:


Ellery Creek

Serpentine Gorge:

If you are short on time, you could skip this one and do Ormiston Gorge instead, but it is a nice little walk to a small waterhole with beautiful ghost gums at the base of a narrow gorge:


Serpentine Gorge


Serpentine Gorge

Ormiston Gorge:

This is the jewel in the crown of the West Macdonnell ranges for me.

There is the longer Pound Walk loop which takes “3-4hrs”, but we did not have time for this one on this trip. There is also a 1-2 day return walk to Bowman’s Gap along the river bed.

Make sure you do the full Ghost Gum circuit which will take 1.5-3 hours depending on how many photos you take – the walk does go up about 70-100m but there are good paths and steps. It takes you to a beautiful ghost gum on the top of a cliff where there is a lookout down to the river bed below and across the awesome red gorge cliffs:


Ormiston Gorge

View from the lookout:


Ormiston Gorge

One then descends down into the gorge where there are a myriad of photographic opportunities of rock forms, red cliffs with spindly little white ghost gums clinging to them:


Ormiston Gorge


Ormiston Gorge


Ormiston Gorge

Once on the riverbed, walking is more a task of clambering over the thousands of boulders as you make your way back to the sandy river bed:


Ormiston Gorge

On return, there is a lovely large waterhole at the base of the red cliffs with a few water birds such as egrets and more lovely gum trees:


Ormiston Gorge


Ormiston Gorge

Finally, the path back to the car park and kiosk takes you past these two beautiful ghost gums:


Ormiston Gorge

Glen Helen Resort:

Glen Helen Resort is the only motel style accommodation within the ranges and it has a very nice restaurant with a great chef – but you will need to book in advance!

The rooms are modest with a double bed and bunk beds but are all that most would need for an overnight stay.

The Glen Helen Gorge itself, Finke River and waterhole are quite difficult to photograph well and you do need to have complimentary lighting such as a nice sunrise, although there are opportunities to photograph the bird life around the water hole.

Redbank Gorge:

This is the last gorge, but one that is well worth seeing. There is a nice walk along the dry river bed to a waterhole at the base of a very narrow and rocky gorge, and if you get the light right and your exposures, it can be magic.

First the walk takes you past some more lovely ghost gums:


Redbank Gorge


Redbank Gorge

Then along the river bed with its many river red gums, and finally to the gorge and waterhole:


Redbank Gorge

Tyler’s Pass and Gosse’s Bluff meteor crater:

One can continue on from Redbank and head towards the unsealed gravel Mereneenie Loop Road (some 48km on this rough road to Hermannsburg to complete a loop back to Alice, or one can continue another 150km or so to King’s Canyon), and in doing so, can stop at Tyler’s Pass Lookout to take in views of the massive meteor crate which is known as Gosse’s Bluff (one can drive into it but that is another unsealed road and needs extra time allowed for it).

Gosse’s Bluff or Tnorala, is an eroded meteor crater which impacted some 142 million years ago, very close to the Jurassic – Cretaceous boundary. Originally the rim was ~22km diameter but now has eroded to 5km diameter as a 180m high crater-like feature


Tylers Pass

The junction with the Mereneenie Loop Road – The Red Centre Way in the middle of no where:


The Red Centre Way

All images were shot using Micro Four Thirds cameras – the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and E-M1 combined with Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 lens and the Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens with Vivid picture mode and polarising filter. The exceptions were the shots at Simpson’s Gap and Standley Chasm which were shot with the Olympus ZD 7-14mm f/4 lens.