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Sun, Sea and Small Sensors

It has been a busy time since my last post. My business arm, Four Counties Photography has been very busy with our “Cadet” photography, creating photo packs for youth organisations. I donate a sizeable proportion of my parodist back to the organisation who I shoot for their welfare funds so it’s not only fun but socially aware too. These took me all the way to christmas so very busy.

In that time I headed off to what should have been sunnier climes in September with a trip to Sa Coma in Majorca.

I say should have been but we experienced the worst storm in living memory on the island, causing floods which killed 14 (including two from Moffat in Scotland).

Luckily it only lasted for one day and the rest of the time was wonderful.

I love Majorca as a holiday destination. The Balearic Islands and a collection of lovely little islands off the East coast of Spain and give a wonderful environment for photographers with a mix of lush green and arid brown landscapes depending where you are on the island. The holiday with my full family was to celebrate my 30th wedding anniversary and it couldn’t have been better.

This was an excellent opportunity to take my Olympus kit across and try it out as a holiday tourist.

There is a very different intention for a photographer on holiday with the family. Images are there to provide memories for the future. Not for sale or for a project. They are there to tell a story in years to come.

Many of our best holiday photos are taken on a humble iPhone. They catch a moment and are always available.

I really did not want to bring a big DSLR like my Canon 7D or 5D  along but I did want good quality photos and the opportunity to push beyond the bounds of a phones camera. Enter the Olympus OM-D E-M5.

I only had a 5Kg hand baggage limit so I was pretty restricted. I packed my little Lowepro bag with the camera body, a LUMIX 12-42 G vario 3.5-5.6 zoom, LUMIX 100-300 G vario zoom and my Olympus 40-150 4-5.6 R zoom, along with charger, spare batteries, leads etc all inside a rucksack along with an iPad. Total weight…4.95Kg excellent.

I decided to pack an equivalent set up with my 7D as a comparison but at 8.7Kg and not as much max zoom on the lenses available (a 300mm giving a 480mm FF equiv as opposed to a 300 on the Oly giving 600mm).

So, what was the M5 like as a holiday camera? Well, to be honest, excellent. I preferred to keep the battery grip on as I have quite large hands and I found it felt much more comfortable (as I also do with all of my Canons). An added advantage is double the battery capacity and a vertical shutter release button. To be honest though I was astounded at the battery life especially as I tend to set the rear displays and the camera auto off to stay on longer than standard.

Straight out of the camera the colours were bright and vibrant. A little tweaking in Lightroom makes them even more so. The 16Mp is more than adequate for any occasion as long as thought is given to the focal length of the lens used when taking the shot.

The camera stayed in my hand almost constantly, rarely returning to the camera bag on my back. If I’d had the Canons I could not have held them so long without problems caused by the weight.

I deliberately did not bring ‘pro’ range lenses with me. First of all they would have been considerably heavier and bigger. Secondly, do tourists really take ‘pro grade’ lenses with them? probably not.

Yes, there could be problems with restricted F Stop range keeping the speed down but in reality when did I need a super fast lens…..? (more on that in a moment).

I managed to pick up the excellent Lumix G Vario 100-300mm f4-5.6 zoom just before setting off on holiday and I was keen to see how it performed. This is a big lens from a magnification point of view with a massive full frame equivalent (I hate this term, all my lenses fill the frame, but I mean a 35mm sensor equiv) size of 200-600mm.

I had not brought a tripod or even a monopod so all shooting would be held hand. Luckily this big lens is physically very compact so weight and size are not a problem. However, due to its focal length sharpness is reliant on a steady hand and a high shutter speed. Luckily the built in 5 axis IS (image stabilisation) and the lens stabilisation give a good 3-5 stops of stability.

Getting good shots with a lens of this size takes practice and the presence of wind surfers on the sea off Pollenca north of Alcudia gave a challenging and interesting subject matter.

Even though I have been taking photos for over fifty years I still have to go back to basics when taking shots such as these. Remembering how to breathe, looking ahead of the subjects movement, watching the light etc.

There is so much going on in each shot. The strength and skill of the boarder, the power of the ocean tide, the bright colours of the boards, sails and parachutes and the impression of speed captured in a split second moment of time.

I could have spent hours just watching these people without ever taking a photo, they are fascinating. Its like a ballet on the water, especially when seeing so many participants in such proximity to each other.

Heading off into the mountains revealed wonderful little villages, winding mountain roads and thrilling landscapes.

Again, the intention was to take good holiday photos, not artistic masterpieces. So the addition of people in the shots were encouraged rather than frowned upon as they add to the memory and experience forming part of the story.

In fact the addition of people in the photos gives a sense of the size of these hills. We bumped into a whole load of cyclists as we carried on up through the mountain roads, almost all from Germany or the UK.

The textures of the rock faces contrast beautifully with the greenery which sandwich them top and bottom.

Passing through the villages along the way provide a view of the real charm of the island. Traditional houses and shops painted in colours to help reflect the heat from the sunlight.

Each little village has a church, some large some very small.

If you’ve read my blog posts in the past you will know that I have a passion for photographing Cumbrian village churches. But these are a very different building.

The island, like the mainland, is predominantly Catholic and the church is very much a centre piece of the village.

Stopping off at one of the little villages we went into the church.

Unfortunately the streets were so narrow and small that a good shot of the very pretty outside was impossible but at least I got something and again, continuing the ‘holiday memory’ theme it turned out well.

Going into the beautiful little church and I drew a heavy sigh.

Lovely but how can I get a good shot in such low light? I had no flash (and I don’t think its use would have been welcomed or respectful). This was the point I wished I’d brought the f2.8 pro lens with me.

Pushing the iso up to 1600 and opening the lens to f4.6 I managed to get a 1/13th second shutter speed and…wow, not bad at all. No noise to speak of and the IS kept the whole thing good although admittedly at on 14mm focal length.

Hidden in alcoves which were even darker were beautiful little special areas. Again though, how was I going to get enough light for the shots?

Once again keeping the iso at 1600, yes, I know I could have easily pushed it further but I didn’t want to compromise on the noise front too much.

F3.5, 1/15th of a second and 14mm, take up a comfortable stance, lock the elbows into the body for stability, relax the breathing, squeeze the shutter button and…yes another successful shot.

Final shot was in another pretty alcove with another special altar. The blue colour and the size of the altar brought the light control even more into play.

24mm, f4.5 and 1/10th made this one hardest of the lot, but again the little micro four thirds (MFT) Olympus came up with the goods and the memories once again.

Ever since buying the E-M5 I have fallen more and more in love with it. Don’t get me wrong, I still adore my Canon cameras and lenses, they are industry standard setters.

The Olympus though changes my mind set. I don’t mind carrying it around, it’s light and robust.

The EVF (Electronic View Finder) gives a real ‘what you see is what you get’ display. Its easy to use and easy to carry which means that I’m more likely to have it in my hand when ‘that shot’ comes into my sight. I don’t have to start trying to get the camera out of the bag then attach a lens by which time the shot has probably gone.

A trip to the beach at Sa Coma highlights the beauty of the sea and the rocks here. The water runs into many shades of iridescent blue. Boosted on some shots by use of a circular polarising filter, probably my most used filter these days. I cannot replicate its properties in Lightroom or photoshop unlike most other traditional filters. I love to use it.

Finally, my wife and daughter love horse riding while on holiday and so the opportunity was not to be missed when they say the horse trail just back from the beach.

The locals on the isl;and were so friendly and, unlike the UK, just love top have their photo taken. This has got to be one of my favourite photos of the whole shoot. Genuine and welcoming.

So, what’s my conclusion on my “holiday camera” experience.

To be honest I don’t think it could be much better from a camera with an interchangeable lens system.

It is light, convenient and very adaptable with a quality of photos right up there with the ‘big boys’ plus the excellent in body image stabilisation is the icing on an already tasty cake.

I enjoyed using it immensely.

However, if I were advising a non photography enthusiast what camera to buy if it was for general and holiday use to get better shots than a smart phone then I would not recommend any interchangeable lens system.

Buy a good bridge camera with a big zoom such as the Lumix FZ1000 camera. The zoom is massive and although only a 1″ sensor (x2.7 factor) it is still far superior to the phone or tablet with even less weight than my Olympus.

The holiday attitude still didn’t stop me having fun or being a little bit creative. Sue’s foot prints disappearing into the distance caught my eye.

And of course, a holiday isn’t a holiday without a ‘selfie’






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