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  1. 2 points
    Cape Town is different. While it sits at the toe of the African continent, visitors to this city might be forgiven for thinking that they have arrived somewhere else entirely. It doesn’t look very African and despite many attempts to make it seem more like an African city, you might easily mistake it for a lesser known part of Europe on arrival because wherever you go you will hear foreign languages being spoken. There's also these looming mountains everywhere making it look like it could be the Alps. Even the climate is different to the rest of Africa’s. They actually have discernible seasons in Cape Town, unlike my province where there is only Summer and Summer Light. In Cape Town the winters are cold, wet, windy and miserable and the summers are hot and dry. Very dry. I was amused to learn that they don’t have electrical thunderstorms in Cape Town, so when those folks come to other parts of Africa and they hear thunderclaps they think that Armageddon has begun and they need to seek out the nearest bomb shelter. But as quirky as it is, Cape Town is certainly high on the wish list for many because it really does have a lot to offer its visitors. My wife, like many South Africans, had never been to Cape Town. You may ask why? Well, for starters, it’s not around the corner from the most populated regions of South Africa. For us it’s a 3400km round trip by road. This puts it out of the “weekend getaway” zone if you want to drive because it’ll take you at least 2 days driving each way. Flying is an option, but it’s not cheap as it presents other logistical expenses, such as car hire and transfers to our local airport. In many cases once you have factored in all the expenses it becomes more attractive for the average South African to take a 10 day packaged holiday to places like Thailand or Mauritius than to visit Cape Town. This is not an exaggeration and it’s precisely what many people end up doing. When we first met in 1989 my wife Nikki and I weren’t allowed to travel overseas because of the travel ban on South Africans under the apartheid state. We were born into a generation that does not qualify for ancestral citizenships as our families have been here since before WW1, so destinations like the UK and most of Europe were not possible. We were allowed into some countries, like the USA and Canada, but the costs of getting there were largely prohibitive for the average young person, so we tended to not travel at all. We decided to start a family which after the fall of apartheid in 1994 and the removal of travel restrictions meant that we had no money for such luxuries as world travel anyway. We spent the next 3 decades rearing 2 boys and chasing our tails financially. When we did go away on holidays they were always to nearby places and often these trips had to be co-ordinated with school holidays and available leave days for Nikki. Not that easy. Now that the boys are grown up and mostly independent, I was determined to get her to Cape Town, so I started planning early in 2019 for just how I was going to do this. My original plan had been to do the coastal drive, stopping overnight along the way and making the most of it by poking our heads into the many towns that make up the “Garden Route” (one of the very few areas of the country that I have yet to see). That idea wasn’t met with much enthusiasm, especially after our mechanic, her cousin, started relaying to us the dangers of driving through the Eastern Cape town of Umtata. I’ll be honest, even I was put off after he described what it was like. These tales of horror matched with similar ones I read on a local 4x4 community forum. The general consensus is to avoid Umtata and the N2 road between it and East London at all costs. The problems there range from poor road conditions, to drunken pedestrians, cattle in the road and of course the inept and inexcusably shocking driving by long range taxi bus drivers. I definitely didn’t want to spend 4 days of holiday time being stressed out behind the wheel (or stressing out Nikki), so I started looking at the costs of flights to Cape Town and car rental. South African Airways has a budget airline called Mango. If you’ve ever travelled here you’ll see their bright orange aircraft at all the major airports. The prices of tickets weren’t too bad when compared to the cost of fuel for my aged Hyundai Tucson and road tolls, so it definitely made more sense to fly and then rent a cheap car instead of driving. Ultimately I did just that and booked us tickets for the last week of November, which is kind of the end of spring here, beginning of summer. Accommodation was taken care of by Airbnb. We were going to spend 2 nights in Gordon’s Bay, which is a small town on the eastern side of False Bay about 50km from Cape Town where we would visit my aunt and cousins, and then another 5 nights in the Cape Town City Bowl, practically at the foot of Table Mountain. About 2 weeks before we were scheduled to travel news reports began to emerge on the impending collapse of South African Airways. Like all the other state-owned enterprises in this country, SAA has been ruined by kleptocracy of the worst order. Total corruption within the upper echelons of the company has meant that they are unable to pay their workforce on time, nor offer them any kind of inflation combatting increases in wages. The workers had had enough and the week before we were supposed to travel a crippling strike by ground staff began, causing the prompt cancellation of all SAA flights internationally and domestically. Needless to say I was properly panicked and began thinking of alternatives. There are a number of independent airlines in the country, but given the demand for flights, it seemed impossible that they would be able to pick up the slack left by the national carrier in the wake of the strike. For some reason that I am still not entirely certain of, but can only ascribe to divine providence, Mango, despite being a subsidiary of SAA, wasn’t affected by the strike at all and all their flights remained on track. We left Durban on a Saturday morning as planned and arrived in Cape Town 2 hours later. Sure beats a 2 day drive! When you leave the Cape Town International airport by road you can either head West towards the city or East towards Somerset West. Sounds kooky, doesn’t it? But that’s just Cape Town for you. Up until the advent of satellite navigation I have had terrible trouble orienting myself in the city. I had always just assumed that Table Mountain faced south, but this is totally wrong. It faces North-West, which is why you can stand on the shores of Blouberg in the north and get the iconic image of Table Mountain with Lion’s Head and Devil’s Peak on either side of it. Locals will always tell you to use the mountains as landmarks to avoid getting lost, but it doesn’t help when they look different from different angles. Table Mountain doesn’t look very table-like until you are looking at it from the North, so approaching the city from the East can be a little disconcerting if your sense of direction is already bamboozled by Somerset West signs sending you east! The other big difference with Cape Town is that they are effectively 2 hours behind us as far as daylight goes, yet they’re in the same time zone as the rest of the country. This is great in summer because as the sun only sets around 9pm it gives you a lot more time in the evenings to do things if you work a normal 9 hour day. Get home at about 5pm, head out to the beach and you still have 4-5 hours of good light to do whatever catches your fancy. It does totally mess with our East Coast heads though. On the first evening we were visiting with my family in Gordon’s Bay I asked Nikki if she knew what the time was (she doesn’t wear a watch). She said it must be about 6pm. I told her it was 8.30pm and after the shock wore off she became immediately super hungry because we hadn’t eaten much that afternoon! So around an hour or so later after bidding family good night, we went in search of a take-away joint for something to eat. The usual chain outlets like KFC and Steers all seemed to be closed, but fortunately we found a place called Zebro’s open (barely!) and went in to place an order. It was here that we discovered the famous Cape Town “Gatsby” sandwich. Now I use the term “sandwich” loosely because it is essentially a very long baguette filled with strips of grilled chicken, various sauces and other fillings including “slap chips” (french fries if you have no idea what that is). And it’s cheap as chips too! They had two options on their menu board, regular and large. Nikki was initially going to order a chicken burger and have one of these on the side, but then we asked them how big the regular one is. A person working in the grilling area picked up this bread roll that looked about as long as a golf club and showed it to us. Ooohhhh…we said in unison! We ordered one regular and took it back to our little Airbnb apartment. It was delicious, but even between us we couldn’t finish it, or even get close. Early the next morning we went in search of breakfast and took a stroll along the Gordon’s Bay beach. A very pleasant scene! Right next to Gordon’s Bay you will find the Strand, which is the Germanic word for beach. It was here that I felt most like I was at home on the East Coast. The area is typically “beachy” with a long strip of high rise apartment buildings, hotels, restaurants and of course a promenade upon which you will find scores of people enjoying the sunset by eating ice cream and drinking wine. It is definitely more relaxing and enjoyable to watch the sun set over the sea than to have to get up before dawn and watch it rising. People also tend to look at you funny if you drink beer or wine at sunrise. The Strand really captured my heart and if we ever relocate to the Western Cape I think this is probably where I would like to set up. I can picture myself living in a beachfront apartment and enjoying the sunset from a sea facing window on a daily basis. Having grown up next to the Indian Ocean I am at my calmest when I can look at a body of water often. Living inland definitely isn’t for me. Neighbouring Gordon’s Bay is very quaint, but seems a little sleepy in comparison to The Strand. On the Sunday my aunt took us on an outing to Willem Van Der Stel’s Vergelegen Estate in Somerset West where we walked around the amazing gardens there. It is typically Cape Dutch in the architecture. On the estate are some enormous camphor trees that were planted there by the Governor in the very early 1700’s. These were proclaimed as national monuments in 1942. After our family visit was over we ventured West towards the city. Our Airbnb was a wonderful modern loft apartment in Upper Buitenkant Street and from the sofa we could watch the cableway making its way up Table Mountain. It was the perfect location for our unplanned daily outings. There are some “must see” things in Cape Town, even if they are very touristy and you find yourself wondering what on earth brought you there. The first place we headed for was the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. Basically the city of Cape Town has commercialised parts of the quayside and turned them into a large shopping mall with an abundance of restaurants. There are masses and masses of them catering for every taste. The drawback to this development (which happened in the mid 1980’s) is that there are scores of tourists everywhere. We even saw Russian sailors in uniform roaming around the space, shopping bags in hand. The next day we did the peninsula, driving from Hout Bay, through the iconic Chapman's Peak Drive, to Cape Point and then on and around the False Bay side, taking in Simon's town, Fish Hoek and then on to Muizenberg Beach. This is a very pleasant drive, especially the Chapman's Peak section (which you now have to pay to drive through as it takes a lot of work to maintain it). Hout Bay is very scenic, definitely a place photographers should visit at either end of the day for great light and subject matter. You'll encounter seals swimming in the small harbour too. Going through the actual Chapman's Peak Drive we encountered a few groups of local kamikaze cyclists who tore through the bends like they were being chased by the beast of the Abyss. I couldn't help but think that if any of them were a tad late on the brakes or miscalculated a bend they would most certainly come to a sticky end. We also came across a couple of more sedate British touring cyclists at one of the many lookout points who offered to take our picture with the Hout Bay starting point in the background. Chapman's Peak Drive is a marvel of engineering and definitely a must do if you visit Cape town. Once we had wound our way through "Chappies" as it's affectionately known by the locals, we pressed on towards Cape Point, which is the southernmost point of the city (not the continent - that honour belongs to Cape Agulhas, which is about 170km away). The only other time I had been here was on our epic 2013 Namaqualand To Namibia Safari. On that day I didn't get to the top because a squall came through just as we were getting close and this forced us to beat a hasty retreat to the car. It's not a short walk from the car park to the lighthouse at the top and there are many steps to climb. Poor Nikki got about 50m from the top and her legs gave up. She should have ridden up in the funicular. However, having missed it the first time, I wasn't going to do the same again given the perfect weather this time, so I left her to recuperate in the shade of a bush while I went up to the top. I'm glad I did because the view from up there is spectacular, although not all that easy to photograph well. There are a couple of penguin colonies in the Cape Town area. We had heard about one of them near Simon's town, so as this was on the way back we decided to stop off and have a look. Apparently we were in the wrong place because we didn't see the boardwalks or fences that have been erected to stop this colony from invading the local residential properties. I also heard that you have to pay to see them and nobody asked us for any money, so we just snapped away. Our final stop on this long, but very interesting drive was at Muizenberg Beach, famous for its bright coloured beach huts seen in travel brochures the world over. To be honest, Muizenberg is stuck in the mid-20th century. The beachfront looks very jaded and while the huts are certainly an interesting feature, the rest of the place is desperately in need of an update. Unless you absolutely have to visit those huts I'd not bother with this stop. The really absolute must do on a trip to Cape Town is of course the ride up the cableway to the top of Table Mountain. I had been up here once before in 1983 with my Dad and my brother while my Mom waited at the bottom. There was no way she was going to get into those cable baskets. In those days they were pretty scary as they were mostly open cages. Thankfully the new ones are quite fancy and they rotate as you make the trip. For me the scariest part is just before you get into the dock at the top and you find yourself looking over the other side of the edge of Table Mountain, realising just how high above the ground you are! Fortunately Nikki's sister had talked her into going up via text messages because she doesn't like heights and having been stuck midway on a zipline at a company outing a few years ago, the thought of hanging out in mid air doesn't appeal to her much at all. She is glad she did though, because once you're up there the scene below is breath taking. We had many other adventures and outings over the week we were there, including walks in the CBD of the city, which is something we can't do in our home town anymore for fear of being mugged. On the whole we felt very safe, but there were some bad elements around. One morning as we walked from our loft to The Castle Of Good Hope (about 1.5km away) we were accosted by a young white youth looking for money. As we always do with beggars back home we just ignored him. On the way back we saw somebody passed out on the pavement with his backside hanging out of his pants. Walking past him I recognised it was the same guy from earlier. He must have obviously got somebody to give him some money so that he could get his fix. It's such a sad thing to bear witness to but this misery is found all over the world. One of the outings I had intended to do, but then decided against was the visit to Robben Island. Apparently it's a 4 hour tour of the island, plus of course the ferry ride on choppy waters. As a South African I don't really need to be reminded of the injustices of apartheid - we live with them every day. Maybe one day I will take the trip across the water, but on this occasion I was content to see the silhouette of Table Mountain, Devil's Peak and Lion's Head from up the coast at Bloubergstrand. Before we knew it our time in this beautiful city had come to an end. The trip has definitely left an impression on us and we are itching to go again, next time with the whole family. Photography gear notes: all images were made with an Olympus E-M1 (2013 model) and Olympus 12-100mm f/4.0 PRO lens. This is an excellent travel kit, giving you great versatility and outstanding image quality.
  2. 2 points
    Olympus South Africa very kindly loaned me an E-M1X for my recent Photo Safari to Sabi Sabi and while I only had a few days before leaving on the trip to become accustomed to the camera, I did manage to produce some great images (by my standards) while using it in conjunction with the Olympus 300mm f/4.0 PRO. The first thing that struck me about this camera when taking it out of the box is the sheer size of it. It is huge. If you’ve been using Micro Four Thirds bodies to get away from the bulk of traditional DSLR’s then you will not want this camera. I was quite shocked at its size initially, especially when compared to my gripped E-M1 (original) which I have been shooting since 2014. The Nikon D5 is only 15mm bigger in terms of depth, height and width all around, so for a small sensor camera to be so close in size to a flagship 35mm camera begs some serious questioning of the makers. Side-by-side view of the E-M1X and the original E-M1 with its grip So why did Olympus make this camera so big? When you begin handling it the answer falls into place. It’s designed for sports and action photographers who are used to the speed and heft of cameras like the Nikon D5 and Canon EOS 1D series. That’s the user market Olympus are targeting with this machine. It feels substantial in the hands and the ergonomics are such that if you’re used to a bigger camera, moving across to the E-M1X will be much easier for you to adapt to, especially since the Olympus is so highly customisable that you could easily set it up to pretty much emulate the ergonomics of your big DSLR. Well, maybe not the Canons which often require simultaneous button presses to activate certain things, but most certainly it would be easy for a Nikon shooter to make the change. Not much in it, dimension wise, is there? So we now have a giant MFT camera that feels like a Nikon D5. Why didn’t they do what Panasonic has done and make a bigger sensor too? Good question. Why stick with MFT sensors if you want to attract the sports and wildlife shooters of the world? This is where the concept of MFT begins to make sense. The main advantage to be had when shooting this small format as opposed to 35mm is that MFT lenses are comparatively diminutive. For example, on my safari I packed in the Olympus 300/4.0 PRO as well as my older 50-200/2.8-3.5 SWD and a third un-gripped body with the Olympus 12-100/4.0 PRO. I also had the Pan/Leica 8-18mm lens in my bag because I wanted to make some photos of the lodge while I was there. Those items I took as a carry on in the ThinkTank Airport Advantage roller and while the bag was not exactly light once my laptop and other peripherals were in it (about 15kg total), had I wanted a similar focal range shooting a 35mm system, I would have had to pack a 600mm f/4.0, 200-400mm f/4.0 and a regular camera with professional wide angle and ultra-zoom lenses. There is no way you could take that as a carry on with 35mm, so you’d have to bring a hard case and pay for the extra baggage. You then also have the added stress of wondering if your precious gear will make it to its destination. Having been in this exact situation many times before moving across to MFT from Nikon 35mm I know exactly what the challenges of travelling with large lenses and heavy gear are. This is the gear I took on the safari in the ThinkTank Airport Advantage. Conversely travelling with MFT is easy. Even with the giant E-M1X body, the space and weight savings of the incredible Olympus PRO and Panasonic/Leica lenses is a Godsend. Also consider the additional overhead of having to bring along a support system for your big 35mm glass because I doubt you’re going to want to hand hold a 600/4.0 lens if you’re going on a photography trip where such a lens is wanted. You’ll also need to pack a monopod and probably a gimbal head too. MFT systems like Olympus don’t require any support other than your hand, even when shooting the 300mm f/4 PRO. The IBIS and lens IS combine incredibly well. Given its considerable girth, for the E-M1X to make sense as a photographic tool that is intended to win over 35mm users it also needs to have some other things going for it. It will need to have seriously fast and accurate auto-focus, plus it will need to offer decent image quality in low light. This is where things get interesting. Read on! Auto Focus I’m not a back-button focus photographer. I can understand the principle behind this method and I have tried it a few times, but I have been using single point AF-S for so long that trying to change that deeply ingrained behaviour is really hard for me. I’ve also never set up any of the cameras I have ever owned to work in AF-C mode with any degree of success, so I tend to stab at the shutter button rapidly to keep slow moving things in focus (it’s very rarely that I will find myself photographing fast moving subjects). This method has worked for me for quite a long time now. So when I started reading the autofocus section in the E-M1X manual (which itself is a gargantuan 680-odd pages long in just English alone!) I was staggered by the array of setup options for the AF system of the E-M1X. I simply didn’t have enough time before my safari to comprehend all the options it offers, let alone try them out in practical situations. As mentioned I always set up AF to use a single point in AF-S mode and I recompose once I see the green dot. I don’t use the grouped points, so for me learning something as sophisticated as the AF system on the E-M1X is going to require a specific set of applications, which currently I don’t have in my work. For people who shoot birds in flight, aviation, motorsport and fast action sports such as soccer, ice-hockey and the like, this is probably going to be a winner, especially since they have built in subject recognition for certain things like cars, trains and planes. Apparently these subjects will be added to in firmware as they build up better data on new ones. I can imagine that leopard detection might be a thing in the future. One feature that I didn’t try but thought was interesting is the Len Focus Range. This setup allows you to define the distances that the AF system should work in. It basically allows you to tell the camera not to focus on objects that are a certain distance away from you. For example, if you are shooting a sport like boxing or ice hockey, you could set this up to avoid focusing on the ropes and/or plexiglass between you and what you’re trying to shoot. Some lenses will have these limits built in, but with the E-M1X you can specify exactly how many metres you want to work within. Another thing I liked about the X is that you can assign the Home position for the single AF point to be in a different position when shooting in the portrait orientation. This is really handy for events when I find myself having to shift the AF point between shooting people at a podium and then switching to the audience in landscape orientation. Very nice feature. What I can tell you about the AF system as I used it, is that it’s reassuringly lightning quick and accurate for the wildlife subjects I was photographing. There’s no hunting unless you miss a contrast point, like all cameras I have ever tried. Focus is almost instantaneous, even when subjects are not so close. In summary, I don’t think that anybody coming from 35mm will be disappointed with the AF capability of the E-M1X. If anything they might be pleasantly surprised given the sheer array of options available to control how the system works. Wildebeest in the misty morning, no problem with auto focus here in spite of the grass Using my "repeated stabbing" AF technique I managed to get a moderately sharp image, but I reckon had I used the camera's AF-S mode here the shot would have been better. Speed One of the biggest advances Olympus made with this camera is the CPU speed. This is a very fast camera in terms of how quickly it processes and reads off data from the sensor. It’s so fast that you can do sensor shift high resolution images handheld. I didn’t really try this out properly, plus Lightroom can’t read the resulting .ORI files so the handful of shots I did take with this mode active, I have to process in Olympus Workspace, which I am completely new to. Sorry! As such I can’t formulate an opinion right now on how useful it is based on such a small sample of images, but what I can say is that on stationary subjects I think it can work quite well. I’d love to try it out in studio doing product photography, but I think there might be some issues syncing it with studio strobes. Getting back to the intended sports user of this camera, there is the not-so-insignificant Pro Capture mode to consider as a lure for the photographers who want to simplify their lives and get great action every time. Basically with the mode active the camera writes continuously to the buffer while you are holding the shutter button halfway down. As soon as your critical capture moment arrives you trip the shutter and the camera will record whatever it has currently in the buffer to the card(s). This is kind of like shooting fish in a barrel really, especially if you have the patience to sit with your finger on the trigger waiting for a bird to take flight. You can’t miss the shot. Unless you’re like me and you get tired of waiting and the bird chuckles at you as you put down the camera just before it flies away. I'll settle for stationary birds On the subject of Pro Capture, this mode is set by changing the drive mode in Super Control Panel (SCP). However, the thing is you may (like me) forget to switch this back to a regular drive mode after failing to record the wretched lilac breasted roller taking off, and then at your next sighting you will end up with dozens of images of a stationary buffalo. Or worse still, you’ll be wanting to shoot a sequence of something happening, but after you accidentally trigger Pro Capture you will have to wait for the camera to write its buffer onto your card. If you have a not-so-fast card like me this could be a few seconds, followed by several more trying to remember where to switch off the Pro Capture mode. Ideally I’d love to be able to have Pro Capture activate by holding down a custom function button together with the shutter button. A Fn button on the PRO lenses would be an ideal setup for this pretty cool feature. While I had the E-M1X I couldn’t see a way of being able to assign that particular feature to any of the custom function buttons, so hopefully Olympus’ engineers will read this criticism and work out a way of doing it in future firmware upgrades. I did manage to set up a quick switch between normal and Pro Capture by using the Custom Modes, but that requires remembering to change modes between sightings. Duh. Regarding Custom Modes there are four of these that are assignable to the PASM dial, so if your memory is better than mine you can set up each custom mode for a different type of shooting simply by changing the mode. However, you’re going to have to have a Gary Kasparov like mind because the sheer number of custom settings on a camera like the E-M1X is mind-boggling. There are pages and pages and more pages of custom settings in the menus and if you’re not used to the way Olympus does menus, you’re either going to go stir crazy or require a lot of patience (and batteries) to get the better of it all. It’s not insurmountable though and experienced Olympus users will probably be able to set up their custom modes quite easily after a few weeks with the camera in the field. One thing I really liked about the X is that there is a Custom Menu area where you can save up to 5 pages of menu items that you regularly need to access. Storing an item in there is as simple as pressing the Record video button while the item is selected in the menu. That’s a very big plus for me and goes a long way towards personalising the Olympus menu system. Stabilisation The IBIS and lens IS combine in the E-M1X to create an extraordinary amount of stabilisation. I was using the 300/4.0 PRO on this body almost exclusively for the duration of our 7 days in Sabi Sabi and occasionally I would shoot birds sitting on nearby branches. When I do my focus and recompose technique the subject does what I can only describe as a “moonwalk” glide from one part of the frame to the other. There is absolutely no camera shake at all handheld, which when you consider that you are using a 4.1˚ angle of view is bonkers! Olympus claim a 6 stop advantage in handheld photography and I have no doubt that this is true. Given my sloppy technique this is yet another Godsend to make my images look much better than they should. Stabilisation with long lenses is incredible. Battery Battery life was pretty decent. The camera comes with two batteries and typically I only exhausted about 50% of the one each day. Granted I don’t shoot as much as everybody else. On this safari I took a total of 1726 images with the E-M1X, averaging 288 per day. So, assuming I were to exhaust both batteries in a day I would be able to shoot over 1000 frames before having to recharge them. However, it is also possible to charge the camera via USB-C, so if you did get trigger happy enough to shoot that many in a day on safari, you could recharge from a power bank between sightings. Or just buy more batteries. Low Light Right, this is where the rubber hits the road as far as getting 35mm power-users interested in switching to MFT. I’ll say it at the outset, I was disappointed in the low light performance of the E-M1X sensor. For starters, it doesn’t seem possible to be able to set Auto-ISO to go above 6400 on the X. None of the expanded ranges are available when using the auto mode while shooting RAW, which I think is just silly. This is how I shoot these days. I always use Auto-ISO. On the original E-M1 I sometimes let this go as high as 12800 and while the images may appear grainy they have a certain film-like charm to them. You can’t do that on the X. You have to set ISO 12800 or above manually. As far as graininess goes, 6400 on the E-M1X is very grainy and there is also a major loss of colour fidelity. To be honest I was expecting much better performance from the sensor at high ISO, so for me this is a deal breaker. Since the camera is intended to compete against the likes of the Nikon D5 and Canon EOS 1D series (where higher ISO is a forte), it sadly falls well short in this area. Having said that, I think that if you buy this camera and invest some time in learning how to deal with the grain and colour issues in post production you could probably get some very good results. Shot at ISO 6400, you can see the grain in the background, plus there has been a general loss of colour saturation. But then in good light you'll get rewarded. Gorgeous colours from the Olympus. No adjustments in post. Cool Things I Liked The sound of the mechanical shutter is really soft. It’s a lot quieter than my old E-M1 and if you are in the business of shooting in quiet places (churches, meetings, etc) you may not even have to switch to electronic shutter and risk the rolling effects thereof. It’s nice and quiet. I really appreciated the built in GPS and weather sensor on the E-M1X. This camera will tell you what the barometric pressure, altitude and ambient temperature was on every shot you take. I wish Lightroom would pick up those EXIF fields, alas you have to use the Olympus Workspace software to read them. A Couple Of Nit Picks There are a couple of things that I didn’t like, most notably there is no loop for a grip strap in the base of the camera so you would have to put a plate onto there to accommodate one (I used the Peak Design Clutch with its little plate). That seems like a daft omission to me because the moment you have to put a plate on the grip you lose the comfort of shooting with it in portrait mode. I was also a bit disappointed with the EVF. The refresh rate and colour was all good, but it just seemed to lack a bit of bite. The EVF on my old original E-M1 seems sharper to my eyes, which is a little weird. I did try adjusting the diopter a few times, but it didn’t seem to improve things. It could have been a contrast setting in the menus that I missed? The one thing I really don’t like (and I have expressed my dislike of this before) is the flip out LCD screen. This is something video producers want, but as a stills photographer I truly don’t want this as it’s a very weak point of the camera just waiting to snap off in the right circumstances. I much prefer the tilting screen of the original OM-D’s. Olympus should make it an option for this kind of premium camera: which type of LCD screen would you prefer, Mr. Customer? Conclusion I wish that I could have kept the camera for just a little bit longer as there are many other areas I would have liked to explore its performance in, especially my daily bread and butter work of property and product photography. Alas, they are in short supply around here so it had to go back post haste. My overall impression is that it is quite an impressive machine. It offers the photographer a lot of very cool features, excellent customisability and ergonomics. It is a specialist camera, however, and as such I think that the intended market for it is going to be a hard nut for Olympus to crack, especially given its lack of high ISO performance, which is something the sports photographers demand. If you’re a day shooter or you shoot action in well lit arenas then the advances this machine brings in terms of auto-focus and customisability, plus the sheer plethora of outstanding MFT lenses available for the system makes it a very attractive option, especially for those who travel a lot for photography. You get the ruggedness, heft and weather proofing of a pro body and the lightness and compactness of much smaller lenses. For me personally I would love one, after all I got more keepers on this most recent safari than in all the 10 years of safaris preceding it, but… there is the matter of that eye-watering $3000 price tag to consider. With the recent firmware upgrade to the E-M1 Mk II now bringing its feature set closer to that of the X, it is going to be much harder for Olympus to pitch this camera at the wider market and existing MFT users with that price tag. If it were closer to $2000 I might be a lot more interested in buying one. My final advice? If you want the very best camera that MFT can currently offer you for stability, video features, ruggedness, crazy feature set and customisability, get the E-M1X. If you are expecting par performance with a 35mm pro camera for low light, rather save $1500, wait for the sensor technology to improve and get the E-M1 Mk II for now.
  3. 1 point
    In this new series of articles I am going to take you through the kit I would select from what’s available in the MFT system right now and explain why I would buy that particular item for a specific genre of photography. In this first segment I will be looking at the field of wedding and event photography. These are similar fields that overlap a little, but I will lean a bit more to the wedding side of things, since that will be of more interest to most readers. Please remember that the choices I put forward here are based on what I would choose personally, so they may not be right for everybody. Hopefully you’ll read my rationale for making a particular selection and understand that I put pragmatism above emotion when it comes to photography gear and I am also non-partisan when it comes to brands - I chose whatever I think is best for me, regardless of who makes it. I have also decided to keep my selections for these articles to native MFT lenses that are still available as new items. Let’s get started! Which MFT Camera Body? The first thing you will need to decide on if you are coming to Micro Four Thirds from a different system is which body type you will want to shoot with. There is variety of choice from the two main players, Olympus and Panasonic so you will have to examine the strengths and weaknesses of each model and decide which one is better suited for your needs. Traditionally Panasonic have leaned more to the video development side of things than stills, while Olympus is the other way around. If you are going to be splitting your output between stills and video, with video potentially becoming more important down the line, then I would say choosing a Panasonic body would make more sense and therefore you’d definitely want to look at the current flagship GH5 from that stable. On a different level for video you will find the Black Magic Pocket Cinema 4K, which is really only for serious film makers. I have noticed that at least in South Africa where I live, the demand for used video oriented Panasonic bodies going as far back as the GH-2 is much stronger than demand for older Olympus bodies, so this might be an important thing to consider when making your decision on which brand to get as your primary body. As an example the GH-4 can today still fetch prices here that are more than 50% of the original selling price in a heartbeat, whereas an older Olympus body like the E-M1 will likely sell for less than 25% of its original price after 3-4 years (that is if you actually get somebody interested in buying it). This is probably not the case in more established markets like Asia, US and Europe though, but is worth taking into account anyway. So getting into the meat of this body selection, let’s look at the current top end options available as at Feb 2020. On the Panasonic side there is the GH5 (video oriented) and the G9 (stills oriented) to consider, while on the Olympus side you have the OM-D E-M5 Mk III and the E-M1 Mk III as the current standouts, both of which have just been released this month (Feb 2020). There is also the gargantuan Olympus E-M1X to consider, but I don’t see that as anything other than a sports action camera, so I wouldn’t think about using it for weddings. Lighter is better. All these cameras will do amazing things for you on both stills and video and you will be able to swap MFT mount lenses between them without losing too much functionality. The only caveat in that regard is that if you are using lenses with built-in stabilisation, you won’t be able to use both the in-body-image-stabilsation (IBIS) of an Olympus body with the IS of a Panasonic lens. You’d have to choose which of the two you want to use in the camera’s menu. Same goes for Panasonic bodies and Olympus IS lenses. However, if you keep your lenses to the same brand as your camera body, both Panasonic and Olympus offer dual IS between lens and body that provides a claimed image stabilisation of up to 6 or 7 stops, depending on the body/lens combo. If I can just add an extra word or two on stabilisation here before I tell you which camera I would choose; if there has been one aspect of photography technology development in the modern era that has been crucial in improving my own photography, it has been the IBIS found in Olympus bodies. It is unrivalled. These days I am more focused on getting my compositions right without giving second thought to my technique simply because IBIS has freed me from those concerns. No matter how sloppy I get with the camera in hand, the IBIS has my back. So, with that said, in selecting my ideal camera body for weddings I would have to choose the new Olympus E-M1 Mk III. The other big selling point for me is that this new camera also has the hand-held hi-res mode that will give you the ability to push out 50MP images from a small sensor. That’s a pretty big deal if you are going to be offering big prints to your clients. I’d ideally want to buy two of the same bodies, but if one is all you can afford then adding an older body like the original E-M1 (available cheaply) would be a good option. Which Fast Prime Lens? I’m a zoom lens guy, so if I can get a great zoom lens that covers a variety of different angles, I would rather buy that than three prime lenses. However, when it comes to weddings and events, you are probably going to find yourself in tough lighting conditions more often than not, so the fast prime lens is definitely something that you should consider adding to your kit. In fact, I’d say that using MFT you should absolutely not go into a wedding with only f/2.8 zoom lenses. You need at least 1 or 2 fast primes with apertures of f/1.8 or more so that you don’t have to start creeping too far up the ISO range. I want to find a prime lens or two that will give me some versatility for weddings that you don’t get with a fixed aperture zoom. Ideally I want something that is useful for portraits and speakers, as well as a second lens with a moderate wide angle to use at the reception should flash photography prove too tricky (i.e. not possible to bounce it off any large surface). The maximum aperture of my primes must be at least f/2.0. Let’s see what MFT can currently offer us that fits the parameters. Panasonic Line-up Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 RRP $300 Lumix Leica 12mm f/1.4 Summilux RRP $1300 Lumix Leica 15mm f/1.7 Summilux RRP $600 Lumix Leica 25mm f/1.4 Summilux RRP $630 Lumix Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 Nocticron RRP $1600 Lumix G 42.5mm f/1.7 OIS RRP $400 Olympus Line-up M.Zuiko 12mm f/2.0 RRP $800 M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 RRP $500 M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.2 PRO RRP $1300 M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.8 RRP $400 M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.2 PRO RRP $1300 M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 RRP $400 M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.2 PRO RRP $1300 M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 RRP $900 Sigma Line-up 16mm f/1.4 DC | Contemporary RRP $400 30mm f/1.4 DC | Contemporary RRP $340 56mm f/1.4 DC | Contemporary RRP $430 Voigtlander Line-up 10.5mm f/0.95 Nokton (MF) RRP $900 17.5mm f/0.95 Nokton (MF) RRP $900 25mm f/0.95 Nokton (MF) RRP $800 42.5mm f/0.95 Nokton (MF) RRP $800 Other Brands Laowa 17mm f/1.8 (MF) RRP $150 Kowa Prominar 12mm f/1.8 (MF) RRP $800 Kowa Prominar 25mm f/1.8 (MF) RRP $725 Wow, 24 fast prime lenses to choose from! Not bad for a camera system that some are saying has no future. Ok, so as you can see there are some premium grade options and there are also some manual focus (MF) options. The price differentials are significant between these lenses so I need to refine my thinking about what is going to work best for me in this field of photography. As I said, I want a couple of specialist lenses that are going to be able to help me in very low light situations. I don’t want to rely entirely on these lenses for the whole event, because I am going to choose a few premium zooms later on in this exercise as my main lenses. The first options I am going to remove from consideration are the manual focus lenses. One of the main benefits of shooting with MFT is that the auto focus, specifically on my chosen Olympus bodies, is incredibly fast and accurate, which means I can spend less time worrying about focus and more time on my compositional awareness. While focus peaking is a great aid for manual focusing on mirrorless cameras, it will still slow you down. You cannot be a slow photographer at a wedding, so speed found anywhere is what you want. The next items I am going to cut from consideration are the prime lenses that cost over $1000. I have no doubt that these all offer amazing sharpness and bokeh, but at $1000+ a pop they will hurt my total spend and I want to get the best bang for buck in building this kit without approaching crazy money. For my portrait lens I need something that is fast, small and offers outstanding image quality with excellent bokeh. The options I am looking at are the Olympus 75/1.8, Sigma 56/1.4 and Panasonic 42.5/1.7. I know the Olympus 75/1.8 very well as it is one of the first lenses I bought for the system when I switched over and it is nothing short of fantastic for picking out people in groups. It is sharp, has excellent bokeh and is built entirely out of metal (except for the caps). It’s a strong contender, but the downside is that it is perhaps a shade too long which makes it awkward to work with if you are shooting couples in a restricted space, such as a chapel. It would be similar to working with a 150mm lens on the 135 sensor format. It’s also not cheap at around $900. The Panasonic 42.5/1.7 offers a more traditional portrait focal length and it also has an optical stabiliser built in, but it is an older generation MFT lens and as such the auto focus speed isn’t quite up to the current standards. It can be had pretty cheap though, usually coming in under $400. The final option I am considering for my fast portrait lens in this wedding kit is the Sigma 56/1.4 Contemporary. Sigma in recent years has become very well known for producing some of the most amazing lenses and all the now discontinued Sigma 2.8 DC lenses I have owned for MFT are incredible performers given their low prices. This 56/1.4 lens is just about perfect focal length wise for portraits, plus with the very fast aperture I can get great bokeh with it. In low light it will work really well and the cherry on top is that it can be had brand new for only $430. A lens I am not considering for this role is the Olympus 45mm 1.8. It’s a firm favourite with many Olympus users. I did own one once and I barely used it. The focal length and minimum focus distance I found didn’t work well together for portraits, so I didn’t use it much, preferring to use the much slower focusing Pan/Leica 45mm f/2.8 Macro-Elmarit. So for me it’s a no brainer, the Sigma 56/1.4 Contemporary will be the first speciality lens in my wedding kit. Now I need to select another prime lens that is more suited for wider compositions, specifically in dimly lit chapels and for use on dance floors, should I find it difficult to use flash at the venue. I don’t want to spend a huge amount and because this is for wider, more reference type indoor shots, auto focus speed isn’t that critical (but I don’t want MF). For me the choice here is between the following three lenses; Panasonic 20/1.7, Olympus 17/1.8, Sigma 16/1.4. Of the three the image quality is probably on par, with the edge maybe going to the Sigma 16mm. Price wise the Panasonic 20mm certainly seems to make a lot of sense, however, having tried this lens once and hearing it focus it sounded not dissimilar to pupils dragging chairs across a classroom floor at the end of a school day! It’s really very noisy and the problem affects all of them. The Olympus is a great lens, solid, well built, sharp, etc, but if you compare it with the Sigma it loses out on price and maximum aperture. So, once again I would choose this brand as my second fast prime for weddings / events. The value offered by the Sigma 16mm f/1.4 Contemporary is perfect for this kit. If you’ve read this far you’re probably waiting to find out which of the premium range zoom lenses I am going to select for my ideal MFT kit. These are the work horse lenses for any camera system and of course they come in what some like to call the “trinity” of zooms. There’s always an ultra wide angle zoom, a general purpose zoom and a moderate telephoto zoom. Both Panasonic and Olympus offer lenses to fit these needs, with Panasonic having the wider range of high end lenses available, however not all of them have fixed apertures. Let’s take a look at all our options. Which Wide Angle Zoom Lens? Panasonic Wide Zoom Line-up Lumix Vario 7-14mm f/4.0 RRP $900 Leica Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm f/2.8-4.0 RRP $1100 Leica Vario-Sumilux 10-25mm f/1.7 RRP $1800 Olympus Wide Zoom Line-up M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO RRP $1300 As you can see from the above options this is not a cheap area to play in so you will want to make your money count and get maximum value here. That said, the ultra wide zoom, while useful for creative images at any event, isn’t an absolute must have. You can get away with the wide end of the medium range zoom lenses in most cases, so if you’re going to choose from any of the above you will need to know what you’re buying into and how it is going to help you. Of the four lenses above, the only one I haven’t tried is the new Leica 10-25mm f/1.7. It certainly looks like a beast of a lens and with that huge constant f/1.7 aperture comes the penalty of size and weight. At 690g you need to ask yourself if the juice is worth the squeeze for a lens that is only going to be used sparingly at weddings and events. I don’t think it is. At a far more sensible 300g is the Panasonic 7-14mm f/4.0. I had the opportunity to buy this one at a good price once upon a time, but let it slip away. They are good lenses, but as with the other older generation Panasonic glass, the AF is not up to modern standards and neither is the optical performance. Yes, it’s plenty sharp enough and it has found a lot of love from videographers, but there are issues with using it on an Olympus body. For some reason the built in lens profiles don’t play nicely with the Olympus bodies and there are complaints about weird purple flare spots from many users. Over on the Olympus side of the fence there is only the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO on offer. This is a stunning lens, but it has a big problem with flare. If there is any bright light source in your frame you are going to have flare spots appear somewhere, even when shooting indoors. You can read more about my impressions of this lens here. Another issue with it is that it has no filter thread and a massive, bulbous front element that doesn’t get much protection from the built in lens hood. Such a pity because it’s a razor sharp lens. I do hope Olympus rethink the design on this one for a version II. The lens I did end up buying to fill this need in my own system is the newer Leica 8-18mm f/2.8-4.0 Vario-Elmarit. It ticks a lot more boxes than any of the others. Light, sharp, well made, has a filter thread, won’t cry if you get rain on it and is pretty sharp across the frame. I use it all the time in real estate and so for a wedding kit it will bring that ultra-wide dimension for creative shots. This is the lens that goes in my ideal wedding kit too. Which Standard Zoom Lens? Moving on to the standard zoom range now, this is going to be your most used lens for weddings, so as with the wide size our decision needs to be pragmatic. Panasonic Standard Zoom Line-up Lumix 12-35mm f/2.8 II G X Vario RRP $1000 Leica Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0 OIS RRP $1000 Olympus Standard Zoom Line-up M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO RRP $850 M.Zuiko 12-45mm f/4.0 PRO RRP $650 M.Zuiko 12-100mm f/4.0 IS PRO RRP $1200 This is probably going to be the toughest decision to make in this exercise, because all these lenses are fantastic and apart from the ultra-zoom Olympus 12-100/4.0 they all cover a very similar zoom range. The oldest design among them is the Panasonic 12-35/2.8 which came out right near the start of when MFT became a viable option for professional photography. This lens has now been revised to version II and remains a staple for Panasonic users. I personally have no experience with it, but had I made the decision to go with a Panasonic body instead of an Olympus one, this would have been my #1 choice. But wait, not so fast, Batman! Why not the other 12-60mm Panasonic/Leica lens that has the much more versatile zoom range and OIS to boot? Good question. That lens would make a lot more sense if I wasn’t going to choose a medium telephoto zoom to add to my kit, but because I am, why choose a bigger, slower standard zoom lens where there is significant overlap with the next one up? It makes more sense to choose the smaller option here. You’re getting the benefit of sharper, faster optics and less mass to carry around. That’s the same reason why I would choose the Olympus 12-40/2.8 PRO over the Olympus 12-100/4.0 PRO for a wedding kit. While I already own both of these lenses, the one that I would use for events and weddings is the 12-40. It’s sharper, smaller and obviously faster. I’d leave the longer needs up to the telephoto zoom. My official review is here. So, if you are using Panasonic, get the 12-35/2.8 and if you are using Olympus get the 12-40/2.8. You can’t go wrong with either - they are brilliant, must have lenses for any serious MFT kit. I’ve chosen Olympus so the 12-40 is my go to. Which Short Telephoto Zoom Lens? Next up is the final part of our lens selection, the quintessential short telephoto zoom. Panasonic Telephoto Zoom Line-up Lumix 35-100mm f/2.8 II GX Vario RRP $1100 Leica 50-200mm f/2.8-4.0 DG Vario-Elmarit OIS RRP $1700 Olympus Telephoto Zoom Line-up M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO RRP $1500 This selection conundrum is as hard a nut to crack as the standard zoom, because all these lenses are worthy contenders for any MTF photographer’s consideration. I haven’t used the Panasonic options, but I have used the Olympus 40-150/2.8 PRO. The 40-150/2.8 is a wonderful lens that has a really short close focusing distance which makes it quite useful for close ups. I actually did use this lens on a wedding once and it was a joy. My only gripe with it is that the bokeh is not as pleasing as other telephoto lenses I have and it also tends to lose sharpness with subjects more than 30m away (not that this would be a problem with wedding photography, but for wildlife I wouldn’t consider it). In my current kit I do have the older 4/3 Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD and while it is chunkier and clumsy looking compared to the newer generation, that 50-200mm zoom range is just about perfect as it gives you so much versatility to work every aspect of a wedding. Looking at all the gushing reviews the new Leica version gets I would have to make the Leica 50-200mm f/2.8-4.0 Vario-Elmarit the lens I would select for this part of my kit. It costs $200 more than the Olympus but I think it is money worth spending. Which Portable Lighting For MFT? I’m now over 3000 words into this buyers guide and I haven’t even touched on portable lighting yet! The lighting discussion is basically a choice between the Olympus FL-series of speedlights or the Godox range. I won’t get into this in too much detail, the Godox system wins hands down, mainly because of the built-in 2.4GHz radio system it brings to the table. I have had 2 Olympus FL-600R flash units since my move to MFT and they have been great for indoor use, but when you use them wirelessly they rely on optical triggering which is not ideal. You can obviously use a radio trigger accessory (which I do from time to time) but then you lose TTL and High Speed Sync (HSS). Given that you are paying a premium for those OEM flash units it doesn’t make a lot of sense to incorporate them into a wedding kit if you want to use them wirelessly outdoors where optical triggering is a hit-and-miss business. From the Godox range I would choose a single AD200 Pro, which is a versatile and portable 200W strobe that can be fired and controlled remotely with the Godox X-Pro O radio transmitter unit. Not only does this light offer TTL, it also does HSS, so you can happily try to melt it outdoors as you use it to overpower the sun on creative shoots with your bridal couple. It has a range of interchangeable heads, including fresnel, bare bulb and an optional round head (for a softer spread of light). There are a lot of other accessories you can get for it too, including filter kits, snoots, Bowens speed-ring adapters, etc. It comes with a good capacity Lithium Ion battery and fast charger. To compliment it I would add 3 of the basic, but versatile Godox TT600 units. These traditional looking speedlights use the 2,4GHz Godox radio triggering system, so you can control the power of each one from the on-camera X-Pro O transmitter unit (which works with both Olympus and Panasonic bodies). You don’t get TTL with the TT600 units, but if you’re going to use them in a wedding reception just to light up the room by bouncing off the ceiling, use the “set it and forget it” approach by adjusting your aperture to match the power coming out of all your lights. I’m not a huge fan of TTL flash, to be honest. And that’s it! Let’s take a look at our completed wedding MFT kit. Cameras Olympus E-M1 Mk III x 2 @ $1800 ea = $3600 Fast Prime Lenses Sigma 16mm f/1.4 DN Contemporary @ $400 Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DN Contemporary @ $400 Zoom Lenses Leica Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm f/2.8-4.0 @ $1100 M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO @ $850 Leica 50-200mm f/2.8-4.0 DG Vario-Elmarit OIS @ $1700 Lighting Godox AD200 PRO @ $350 Godox X-Pro O Radio Controller @ $69 Godox Thinklite TT600 x 3 @ $60 ea = $180 Total cost = $8649 So, to wrap up we have here a killer Micro Four Thirds system that will be able to tackle more than just weddings and events. The equipment in this kit is all top quality premium stuff and unless you’re one of the nay-sayers who don’t believe in the capability of a smaller sensor, you will probably never need to buy any other equipment to satisfy your photographic needs in the wedding industry. Do you agree with my choices for this wedding kit? Let me know in the comments what you would have chosen from the current MFT line-up and why. In the next article I will take a look at what’s best for Wildlife / Sports photography in the Micro Four Thirds World.
  4. 1 point
    I recently went through a period of gear FOMO brought about by discussions that were taking place on a couple of real estate photography groups that are dominated by Canon and Sony users. Basically the feeling expressed by the majority of participants on these groups is that if you aren’t using a 35mm sensor, you won’t be able to do architectural photography properly because you won’t be able to use tilt-shift lenses for other formats, such as APS-C, or in my case Micro Four Thirds. The two most widely talked about lenses in these circles are the Canon 17mm and 24mm T/S. These are both incredible pieces of glass, but they are also fairly expensive. The reason why they are so highly sought after has less to do with keystone correction than it has to do with being able to shift perspective without having to move the position of a camera. So, for example, if you are in a room and you set up your camera for a one point perspective shot, but decide that you would like to see less of the ceiling and more of the floor, simply shifting the lens downwards instead of re-positioning the camera will allow you to keep the same one point perspective height but obtain more floor than ceiling in your frame. It’s a great way to adjust things in-camera rather than in post. Sony A7 users are able to not only use the Canon EF lenses with an adapter, but some adapters made by Metabones will also provide you with full metering and auto focus support (down to eye-focus) on the whole Canon range of EF lenses. This means that you can get all the camera features of a Sony and the benefit of Canon’s best glass without really losing any functionality. This discovery had me really thinking about whether I should add a 35mm mirrorless camera from either Sony or Canon and the 17mm TS to my arsenal for architectural work (an area I am most comfortable working in). The costs would have been justifiable, in fact I would be able to purchase an EOS RP body and the lens for about the same money as an Olympus E-M1X. Alternatively I could buy a new old stock Sony A7ii with a kit lens for less than the price of the Canon RP and if I wanted to, I could build up a collection of 35mm glass that could include the Sony Zeiss range too. I had been thinking about doing this since midway through 2019. In fact, while on holiday in Cape Town last year I visited Orms camera store the day before Black Friday and got hands on with both Canon RP and Sony A7iii (they didn’t have the ii). The A7iii felt fantastic in hand compared to the RP, but it was quite a lot more expensive and they weren’t including the 28-70mm kit lens that the A7ii usually gets sold with. A part of my brain that I have never truly understood when it comes to rationalising gear purchases began sending an urgent pulse pressing me to buy the thing anyway and worry about the financial impact later. After all, I would be able to make it up quickly in work that would surely pour through the door the moment the world learned that I had upgraded my camera. This other conservative part of my brain was telling me to stop fooling myself about parting with such a large sum of money for something that would simply serve as a gateway to much more expense in the form of lenses I would not be able to resist if I added this new system to my gear. On the day the conservative brain won out and I breathlessly retreated back to my Airbnb to re-absorb our amazing view of Table Mountain (which tends to calm most people’s troubled minds). After returning from my Cape Town holiday to Durban I couldn’t get this potential system switch out of my mind and this wasn’t helped by commercial emails from suppliers landing in my inbox advising me of price drops on the Sony A7ii with the kit lens to levels that are mouth-wateringly tempting. I watched video after video on YouTube about the A7ii and it’s hard to find anybody not happy with that camera, even though it is now about 6 years old. I thought about my own carefully crafted MFT system and forced myself to truthfully evaluate what it was that I found lacking that would prompt me to go in a different direction. I thought long and hard about it and after doing a few more successful shoots in a variety of different fields, including real estate, product photography and (new to me) commercial lifestyle with real models and off camera flash in the field, I began to remember why I had moved across to MFT in the first place. I have been using two E-M1 bodies with a variety of different lenses since my move from Nikon FX in 2014. One of these bodies has had to have its shutter replaced, a process that wasn’t particularly bothersome, even though the camera had to be sent to Portugal for the work to be done. When it came back about 3 weeks later it looked like a brand new camera because they replaced all the rubbers, as well as the entire top plate. Well worth the expense. When I bring images into Lightroom from my Olympus E-M1 cameras I barely have to do anything to them before delivering to clients. I do have some presets that recover highlights and shadows and these days I can’t seem to stop myself from applying the dehaze filter by at least +10 on everything I shoot, but that’s really it as far as pixel massaging goes. I don’t ever sharpen and I don’t typically use noise reduction on client work either. Since my first jobs after moving to this system professionally (I have used MFT cameras personally since about 2011) I have not had a single client ever question the quality of my images. Not one. In fact I get compliments about my work all the time, even from other photographers. When I look at the 8 lenses I am presently using, apart from the “mandatory” tilt shift lenses that architectural photographers wax lyrical over, I have everything I need, from 7.5mm fisheye, all the way up to 280mm telephoto (560mm angle of view in 35mm terms). All of the lenses I use are exceptional performers and honestly I could not wish for anything more from them. I know that if I was to move back to 35mm I would have to spend a huge amount of money to get the same as what I currently have in lenses. And what would I be gaining if I made that move? For sure, I would get better low light performance, shallower depth of field and maybe better AF-C, but how critical is that to what I do? Not very. A lot of the work I do actually requires more depth of field than can reliably be obtained by a 35mm system without engaging some trickery, such as focus stacking, especially in architectural and product photography. I would also have to carry much heavier equipment than is the case with my existing MFT system. Not to mention an entirely new camera support system with new tripods, heads and thicker Peak Design straps. Despite the click bait fringe elements you will find online who predict the impending demise of the MFT system, there appears to be more development going on with it right now than there is in most other systems. There is quite literally something for everybody in MFT, be it smaller compact camera bodies like the Panasonic GM or Olympus PEN series, giant action cameras like the Olympus E-M1X, serious video and film making capabilities with the Panasonic GH5 and Black Magic Pocket Cinema 4K, alternative lighting that offers HSS and TTL from Godox, plus scores of different lenses from a variety of makers ranging from ultra wide to super telephoto to enormous fast apertures from Voigtlander. It’s pretty much a honey pot for gadget freaks like me, so why would I want to pigeonhole myself with another camera system that is nowhere near as versatile? I’m sticking with Micro Four Thirds. It just makes a whole lot of sense in spite of that radical part of my brain that usually falls victim to the FOMO GAS.
  5. 1 point
    I have been going to a little island in the pacific coast of Mexico for the last few years, recently I was there for my 6th time, one of the most fascinating aspects - for me at least - is the very dark sky one is able to enjoy at night, and I specifically choose dates close to the new moon dates, to avoid the moon hindering the star gazing experience. While shooting the milky was my initial fascination, at this time of the year it is only visible close to sunrise, very low on the horizon, so the opportunity to get a decent shot is limited. My eyesight is not particularly good for star gazing, and my night vision is also not particularly good, so using he camera to discover things I can not see without aid has fascinated me since I started with digital photography. During this trip I tried a tracker - a device that moves the camera at the same speed as the earth rotates - allowing the use of long lenses and long exposures keeping the stars in a steady position relative to the camera. The tracker has to be properly aligned with regards to the rotation of the earth, this translates into three adjustments: 1. The tripod where the tracker will be mounted has to be perfectly horizontal. 2. The tracker has an elevation adjustment which has to match the latitude of the location where you are taking the photos. 3. The tracker has to point towards polaris, the north star. Once the tracker is aligned the camera is mounted on a tripod head that is installed on the tracker rotating head, the camera then has to be pointed toward the object you are interested in and a number of long exposures can be taken. Before continuing describing all the caveats of the process - and perhaps bore you to death with all petty details - here is the final result of my attempt to capture Orion. 1. Tripod and tracker alignment Before going on the trip I did try aligning the tracker in my backyard, a rather impossible task as I was not able to see the north star given all the light pollution from the city, but using my mobile phone and a sky map application I got it pointed towards the right direction, adjusted elevation to the 21° 44' latitude, the tracker has a rather imprecise scale, but I "fined tuned" it with the mobile app, this initial attempt gave me exposures with a 150mm lens of only 5 seconds before the stars started to trail... hmm rather mediocre. On my next attempt I used a bubble level to make sure the tripod base was horizontal, adding this step and my rather rudimentary alignment with the mobile phones pointed towards the north star gave me good exposures for 15 seconds, much better ! Then a business trip, bad weather, and a bad cold put the practicing on pause for a couple of months, I just said, please do not forget to bring the level to the island. And what did I forgot on my trip? You guessed it, the level. One more thing I did was to tie some 2kgs weight to the bottom of the tripod. At the island, with beautiful dark skies, no clouds and little wind, the north star is clearly visible, even with my poor eyesight, but surprise! When doing the alignment one has to look through a scope that is mounted on the tracker and then it is not only the north star that is visible but a number of faint stars, 5 or 6 in the field of view. Oh, and the view is reversed, so I had to concentrate and make the inverse movements to what I was seeing. Still I could not tell which one was polaris. Lucky for me I wasn't not alone. A number of enthusiasts of the night skies came along and some of them have green laser pointers. I asked for help and one of them pointed their laser towards polaris as I adjusted the tracker. OK! Tighten the screws and do not breath too hard to avoid disturbing the adjustment which obviously was disturbed, but at least then I knew how to get it back to the proper adjustment without to much fuss. Before all this I borrowed (yet more help from the team) a mobile phone with a bubble level app and got the tripod horizontal, with a heavy rock tied to the center post 2. Lens focus to infinity I had with me the 70-300 zoom which wide open at 300mm is only f5.6 and not very sharp, another alternative was my 85mm lens using f2.8. One of the guys lent me a 80-200 f2.8 zoom and I gladly used it, mounted it on the tracker using the tripod mount from the lens, which gave it a nice weight balance. Focus was done manually in live view using Venus as it was the brightest dot in the sky. 3.Mounting and aligning the camera If pointing to a bright object such as Orion, it is not a complicated matter, only requires some patience as the tracker and camera alignment will have to be done multiple times until everything is just right. Some test shots at 5 seconds, then 10, then 30 seconds showed the alignment was good and no star trailing was evident. 4. Exposure The 80-200mm zoom was set to an aperture of f/4, this gave some added sharpness and reduced coma. I set the camera to 30 seconds ISO 800, then proceeded to take 20 similar exposures. Zooming in on the camera LCD I was able to clearly see the Orion nebula. I (and all the spectators) was delighted with the results. So during the shot I had help to level the tripod, point the tracker and borrowed a lens. If I were alone then this wouldn't have been possible. One more thing, humidity was a problem as there was condensation on the lens which had to be wiped every few shots. This probably caused the glare in the bright stars. 5. Processing The images are fed to a program called DeepSkyStacker. It takes a few minutes to complete the alignment and stacking. The levels adjustments are rather unique and obtaining usable results takes some patience. Here is how the stacked image looks - somewhat cropped - but is a 32 bit TIF, so there is a lot of information in the file. For comparison sake here is 100% crop of a single NEF file, with some curves adjustment. So, there you have it! If you are still reading, thanks so much, I hope you enjoyed it. My shopping list: a 300mm PF lens, a couple of right angle viewfinders, a laser pointer. Finding dark locations, preferably not involving a 4 hr boat trip, are also in my "to-do" list. Good weather is also key to success.
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