Rafting with m4/3


I’ve been incredibly busy recently, but I have found the time to put together a short video of our recent rafting trip down the Grand Canyon.
I took along avaraiety of gear for the trip, but it was pretty well all shot on the E-M5markII. The 7-14mm f/2.8PRO was the most used lens – especially for video – while a lot of the stills were shot with the 40-150mm f/2.8PRO.
The gear was soaked many times, but performed fautlessly.

 

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Bagged Out


You know you’ve reached a new level in your photography when you no longer care what your bag looks like.

I mean, no camera bag looks like a camera bag anymore, does it, we’ve all fallen for the “it’ll get stolen if it’s obviously a camera bag”, despite the fact cameras are cheaper than ever and pretty well anyone who wants one, at least in the Western World, can buy one if they want one.

So we’re into style, making sure the bag suits your style, be that closet photojournalist, unadmired portrait shooter or wannabe paparazzi, I’m shocked at the amount of people I see with camera bags which really don’t suit the job they’re being pressed into.

Having recently bought a bag adorned almost entirely in elastic straps, I think I’ve proven (to myself at least) that I really don’t care what a bag looks like.

It’s a LowePro backpack named StealthyJamesBond or something. The marketing shots have 20-somethings doing parkour jumps with them on their packs and peeking around garage pillars like they’re be shot at, rather than doing the shooting. Quite Naff, really.

But incredulous marketing aside, I really like my new bag, which I’ve just noticed, thanks to the handle label sewn onto the back, is the ProTactic 350.

Although I reckon the designers had APS-C sized gear in mind than m4/3, it works pretty well with the smallest format gear – while I haven’t had the chance to try filling it with Full Frame gear, I’m confident in saying it wouldn’t be suitable – three of the access point aren’t big enough for easy access using a big DSLR.

You read right, it has four – count ’me, four – ways to get into the bag. The main opening is behind the backpack section, just behind the straps. Two big, thick, quality zip heads open the bag up and give access to everything except the two side pockets.

Three quick-access pockets – at the top and down low on each side as you’re wearing the bag – are the other ways to get into it.

By swinging the bag off one shoulder, each side pocket can be accessed without putting the bag on the ground: by placing in on its base the top flap can be opened… by about 95% of the time I’ve used it so far I’ve put it on its back and opened it fully for access to all my gear.

If I decide something’s worth a shot, it’s probably worth shooting with multiple lenses, or a flash, or a polariser… pulling out a camera to get a shot and getting going again isn’t usually the way I roll, but more on that a bit later.

How I work my bags

My favourite bag of the years is the Domke F2. Jim Domke was a photojournalist, and he decided to build bags which would work for him – quick access without having to put the bag on the ground, effective but minimal protection for the gear (cameras and lenses are tools, not heirlooms) and construction which can take the knocks.

The F2 was a shoulder bag designed to sit against the hip and actually fold in a bit there, sitting snugly against the shooter as they move around. The top flap was simply canvas with a pocket and two clips to hold it in place, and you could fold the flap back over itself 270-degrees, (so it would be pointing straight down). Then put the bag on and you’d have an open camera bag with direct access to nearly everything.

If you’re on the move and shooting what’s happening around you, it’s still the best designed bag I know of.

But for travel, the F2 isn’t perfect – I demand a bit more gear protection (tools yes, but around airport trolleys, overhead lockers and desert sandstorms, I’m looking for something better than heavy canvas and clips) and a backpack design for transporting the gear – my back gives me troubles, and I put that down to carrying too much gear too often on a single shoulder…

So for this trip I needed a backpack.

Backpacks and camera gear

I have a love-hate relationship with camera backpacks – they are awesome for getting gear to a job, awful to work with once you’re there. Back in the bad old days they opened on the outside edge, which meant you had to put them harness side down in the dirt to get anything out.

But they were good for carrying gear from point-to-point, and for this trip that was a priority, so I was back in the backpack market – and my new m4/3 gear wasn’t going to fit efficiently into anything I already had.

I was attracted to the ProTactic bags but my underlying ambition to be James Bond, so it was a no-brainer really… but there are other feature which I can use to justify the decision to purchase, to myself, anyway (and you gentle reader, although if you’ve gotten this far I suspect you suffer from Camera Bag Imperfection Syndrome too).

The elastic straps on the outside are there to hook on more stuff. Because we always want to carry more stuff. But seriously, I need to carry a tripod these days, and in this trip I actually have to shoot pieces to camera – videos of myself talking to the viewer – so a tripod is essential.

The ProTactic comes with a pouch which straps and velcros on to hold a tripod or monopod leg and other straps which can hold the top of the gear in place. It’s also got a waterproof rain cover which folds out from the base.

It was also supplied with a simple pouch – big enough for my Leica D-Lux (typ 109) – and a water bottle holder.

Given that part of this trip will be hiking into and shooting Bryce Canyon, Zion and Yosemite National Parks, I reckon the fat belt strap will be carrying the 10kg of bag, gear, tripod and water a fair distance.

However, for my motorcycle part of the trip I’ve removed the belt strap. It velcros in place through a sleeve, and takes a few minutes to remove – you’re never going to do it by accident, and I reckon some people will give up, convinced it’s sewn in, but it’s now and will come out if you slide your hand in the sleeve and separate the velcro, while pulling the strap out of the sleeve with the other hand.

The bike I’m riding not his trip – a Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited – has a box on the back big enough for the bag, so I’m finding the strap is getting in the way.

For backpacking with the ProTactic, the waist strap has a pocket on each side I’ve found to be perfect for spare batteries, and the shoulder straps have hooks to hang thing off, but I haven’t found a use for them yet.

The ProTactic 350 also has a computer sleeve big enough to swallow the MacBook Pro retina 13-inch I’m typing this on. I would have preferred a much for a water bladder, but I suppose modern James Bond needs his laptop more than he need hydration. Or do we all just backpack around the city these days?

An even better idea would have been to build a system which could do both… hey LowePro, you can have that idea free…

Taking of pockets there is a small pocket on each side of the bag, useful for filters, keys, the microfilm you’re hussling back to MI–6…

Design troubles

One aspect I certainly didn’t think of with the ProTactic before I bought it was the openings restrict internal padding designs – you can put a velcro divider just anywhere, because the flaps need to be able to be accessed.

So I haven’t worked out a way to have a long lens accessible through the top flap without wasting space on either side of the lens (the opening is an over shape large enough for and E-M1).

At the bottom the openings a big enough for larger cameras the m4/3, which sometimes means a slightly sloppy fit.

Conclusion – so far

The ProTactic 350 is working pretty mach as expected – it’s spending a to of time on its back so I can flip the main li open, but I don’t really care if it gets a bit dirty or scuffed. The tripod and water bottle attachments work as advertised, but if you put them on the side you restrict access to the side pockets and side entries in the bag. Put them on the back of the bag and it won’t lay flat… I go with the side, because if I’m carry that much gear I want it off my back for the actually shooting, so it gets laid on the ground.

The LowePro ProTactic 450 is is a larger version. USA dealers are selling the 350 for about $200 and the 450 is $50 more.

Why Vincent Laforet is wrong


I just read Vincent Laforet’s post that cameras will only be for professionals, soon.
That everyone else will shoot with mobile phone, because the mini computer in your pocket has the tools to capture, tweak and share quickly and easily, which is what the masses want to do.

I think he underestimates amateurs with passion.

There are no shortage of people who don’t/can’t make a living from photography but want shallow depth of field. Others who understand great sports shots are usually made at over 300mm, or under 24 – so they buy the lenses required.
Indeed, better cameras in mobile phones, while they have killed the cheap compact, have inspired thousands to lift their photography game and shoot with system cameras.
Yes, the camera manufacturers have been slow to respond, haven’t built the app ecosystems for phones and should have better integration with mobile phones by now.
I still can’t simply have images automagically appear in my photos app on my phone, but that’s coming.
No, no camera manufacturer has produced a camera which accepts the iPhone to be slid in at the back to becoming the viewfinder and interface.
But I do have camera which can send the images to my phone pretty quickly, something I hadn’t experienced until recently without using a WiFi enabled SD card. It’s technology which will get better.
I also haven’t used a mobile phone with a decent built in optical zoom, or an EVF, or an off-camera flash, or a bounce flash…
I make part of my income from the photographs I shoot. But I buy way more gear than I need for work, and some of that comes down the passion, for the gear and the images they help to create.
My most recent stills camera purchase was the Leica D-Lux (typ 109). It’s a beautiful camera, one which invariably has a polarizing filter on the front, something difficult to achieve with an iPhone.
I also use it for 4K video.
Phones will never replace a ‘real’ camera for photographers. For most people aren’t photographers, they are just everyday people who take pictures. Photographers, amateur and professional, make images – from highly constructed scenes to controlled slices of the action, those with the passion to produce beautiful images which stand out from the dross which only means anything to the immediate friends and family of the shooter.
In the same way I can cook a great meal but I’m not a chef, most people these days can take a nice picture, but they are not photographers. For that, you need the passion, the eye, the skills – and most of the time, a device called a camera.

Dust & the typ 109


I haven’t had dust problems for years, but the two-month-old Leica D-Lux has been back to the technicians already.
“The first clean is complimentary,” the young lady who spoke to me on the phone said when I called.
“Dust is an environmental factor which the manufacturer has no control over, therefore it’s not covered by warranty,” she also told me.

Bollocks.

The problem, of course, is that I can’t clean the sensor myself… the lens is not interchangeable. Indeed, the only way to clean the sensor and not potentially lose my warranty is to have to cleaned by the Leica agent – there’s one in Australia and the camera was away for a week to get it cleaned.

I bought the Leica because I wanted The Red Dot, but it was easier to justify over the Panasonic LX100 because it had a 3-year warranty, it was made in Japan and came with a copy of Adobe Lightroom. But I wonder about the value of a warranty which doesn’t cover cleaning the sensor of a camera which doesn’t have interchangeable lenses.

I’d already spoke to the Leica importer. “All compact cameras with extending lenses have this problem. The lens acts like a pump every time the lens extends, sucking dust.” An admission that it’s not user error – like using the camera in a dust storm – but still, no warranty, just a complimentary clean.

Under Australian consumer law they could be obliged to do more, but I’ll see how it goes – maybe the dust got in somewhere unusual and it won’t happen often. Maybe I’ll buy an ND filter so I can record video at f/8 instead of f/16, for that was where I noticed the dust – typically, you only see dust on a sensor when the aperture is very small.

My primary cameras these days – Canon 5DIII, Olympus E-M1 & 5 – have built-in sensor cleaning. The Leica does not. The Leica isn’t weather sealed, either. I didn’t think these factors would be an issue using the type 109 as a lightweight video camera, but maybe they will.

GH4 or EM-5markII?


I’VE been using micro four-thirds camera since the E-P1 – yep, the first digital PEN from Olympus, a 12mp rangefinder-style interchangeable lens camera.

I liked the E-P1, but it has its drawbacks and I sold it a while back.

It was effectively replaced by the OM-D EM-5, the first SLR-style Olympus m4/3 body, and that came was (and still is) great. I liked it so much I bought the E-M1 as soon as it came out and I still really like using that camera.

Apart from the awful menu structure and its poor tracking performance, there is little to dislike about the E-M1, and a lot to like. It handles well, it almost too customisable, it offers capabilities and features you won’t find in many other cameras.

However, times change and when my TV show became a reality, video performance became a huge issue and the Olympus cameras were being used less and less (no 25p, a requirement for PAL production here in Australia).

I shot series 1 of Cycle Torque TV on a Canon XA-20, Canon 5D Mark III, action cams from GoPro and Contour. For series 2 I bought a Panasonic HC-X1000 and a Leica D-Lux (type 109), because I wanted the luxury of being able to crop and stabilise footage – when shoot motorbikes guys, and that’s hard!

I’ve long wanted a Panasonic GH4 to replace the Canon 5D3, because the pano is lighter and shoots 4K (although it’s not the weight of the body so much as the weight of the kit – a m4/3 kit of camera, 3-4 lenses, flash etc is way, way lighter than the equivalent in DSLR.

But now there’s new wrinkle in the plan – the Olympus OM-D EM5markII. No 4K, but at least it shoots 25p. And has a fully articulated screen. And (with a grip) has headphone and microphone support. And 77mb/s data capture to SD cards. And 40mp stills.

But the biggest attraction is the 5-axis stabiliser. The GH4 relies on stabilised lenses, but my lenses are all from Olympus, so they don’t have stabilisation, Olympus went with in-body stabilisation.

So if I had a crew, and a gimbal, I’d go with the Panasonic – but on the contrary, I’m really thinking of getting this new body for a week-long ride through the USA, shooting with it to make a special edition of Cycle Torque’s TV show about the ride – one man, one bike, one week. I can’t even take the HC-X1000, it’s too bulky.

The kit will likely be the Leica D-Lux, EM-1 and either the GH4 or EM5II. Lenses will be 9-18mm (unless I can afford/get the new 7-14mm), 12-40 f/2.8 and 75mm f1.8. I’ve got the slow 40-150 too, but I’ve never liked it and might leave it at home. I’d love the 40-150 f/2.8, but the budget won’t allow everything. And I’m not sure I could fit it all onto the bike anyway.

I’d like people’s thoughts on what to buy. My research has so far uncovered:

Robin Wong

John Brawley

DPreview