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To the end of the world and back

E-M1 Mark II • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-100mm PRO • 1:4.0 • 1/320s • ISO 800

The Expedition

In November 2016 I had the pleasure of being an instructor on a Luminous Landscape workshop to South Georgia and Antarctica. Both locations have been on my bucket list for some time so to have the opportunity to get to see & photograph these incredible landscapes was too good to be true.

Getting there and back from my home in the north of England was an experience in itself - 3 flights to get to Ushuaia on the southern tip of Argentina followed by 4 days on a ship crossing the southern ocean. Fortunately the notoriously rough seas that are frequently experienced in that part of the world failed to materialise and we made it to South Georgia without too many motion sickness issues among the workshop group.

Our itinerary meant that we were to spend nearly three weeks visiting a wide variety of locations, initially on South Georgia and then on the Antarctic Peninsula before returning to Ushuaia. The trip would involve a lot of shooting from a moving ship followed by regular landings (travelling to & from shore in a rubber zodiac) on shore to photograph the landscape and the wildlife. We also scheduled in zodiac cruises around some of the iceberg filled bays that we would encounter on the journey.


E-M1 Mark II • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-100mm PRO • 1:4.0 • 1/200s • ISO 1250

The Equipment Choices

I agonised for weeks about how much and which bits of kit to take with me. Given that this might be a once in a lifetime opportunity I wanted to make sure I had all the bases covered but I was also aware of the constraints - whatever I took had to be carried on my back through several airports, it had to meet stringent airline carry on restrictions (in terms of both size & weight) and it had to be transported to from the shore in a small zodiac.

I also knew that I'd be operating in a pretty extreme environment - both in terms of wet conditions (sea spray, rain and snow) and cold temperatures. These factors led me towards my Olympus system.

In the end I took three OM-D bodies - two E-M1 and thanks to Olympus UK an E-M1 Mark II (at that time not available in the shops) fitted with the new M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 12-100mm PRO zoom (the two E-M1 had 7-14mm and 40-150mm Pro zooms attached). In a small & relatively lightweight package I had extreme wide angle to telephoto options available without the need to change lenses.

I also decided to leave the tripod at home. As a habitual tripod user this was the hardest decision to make but the need to keep weight to a minimum and the fact that most of our shooting would be done from the vibrating deck of a ship or a moving zodiac it was a sacrifice I was (reluctantly) prepared to make. And I was also hopeful that the improved IS on the E-M1 Mark II coupled with the 12-100mm Pro lens would enable me to continue shooting in circumstances where I would have normally relied on my tripod.

All of my camera gear fitted into my favourite backpack - for transportation whilst travelling to & from Argentina. When I was shooting on location I used a smaller shoulder/waist pack that enabled me to take 2 bodies and 2 lenses.

With my laptop two back up hard drives, chargers and Ipad loaded into my backpack I was ready to go.

E-M1 Mark II • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-100mm PRO • 1:4.0 • 1/800s • ISO 200

Shooting on Location - the Photographic Challenges

Researching on the internet and talking to photographer friends who'd been to this part of the world before prepared me for what I might find to photograph and also some of the challenges I might encounter along the way.

The obvious ones I've already mentioned and the damp and cold conditions anticipated did not disappoint. Most of the time, when shooting from the ship's deck or on land, I wore 7 layers of clothing (several warm layers topped by waterproof jacket and leggings) to keep out the elements. I did take rain jackets for cameras and lenses but rarely used them, relying instead on the weatherproofing of the OM-D kit to keep it working. And I'm pleased to say that none of the cameras let me down. In contrast some of the workshop participants experienced camera failures due to the weather conditions - not the Olympus owners though (and there were quite a few!). I took several spare batteries with me and keeping them in my pockets or well wrapped up in my bag meant that I could keep shooting all day without battery problems.

Shooting from a moving ship or zodiac proved to be a challenge not least in ensuring that horizons remained level. The OM-Ds built in level was a Godsend here. The IS system and selecting higher ISOs when required helped to counteract any detrimental effects associated with the movement of my shooting platform and not one image was spoilt by unintentional blurring. I have to say that I was very impressed by the IS capabilities of the E-M1 Mark II plus the 12-100mm Pro zoom.

I was worried that a lack of ND grad filters would give me problems in coping with contrast but the dynamic range of the cameras helped me ensure that in all but the most extreme of circumstances both shadow and highlight information recorded on the sensor (confirmed by a check of the histogram). This enabled me to retrieve detail in highlights & shadows at the processing stage

The ease of use of the OM-Ds also made it easy for me to work quickly. This was important for a number of reasons:

- shooting from a moving ship/zodiac meant I had to frame the image and get the shot in one go; there was rarely the opportunity to reshoot;

- photographing wildlife is not something I'm used to doing so recording moving seabirds and Penguins or capturing fleeting expressions & interactions between the Seals required reflexes I'm not normally required to employ. The speed of operation of the cameras helped me out considerably!;

- I was primarily there to instruct on a workshop and one of my key principles is that the participants always come first. This means that any photography I do is secondary to that and when I do take a photograph it has to be done quickly and with the minimum amount of distraction from my prime role. The fact that I took quite a few photos on the trip is in part due to the participants being very self-sufficient when out shooting but also due to the fact that the OM-Ds allowed me to shoot quickly and move on.

The new 12-100mm Pro zoom lens was also a contributory factor here. It was the lens I used the most on the trip - the ability to photograph wide angle landscapes one minute and close up portraits of wildlife the next was incredibly useful. It's an ideal one lens landscape/travel photography solution for me.

E-M1 Mark II • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-100mm PRO • 1:4.0 • 1/60s • ISO 200

In Conclusion

It was undoubtedly the trip of a lifetime. Antarctica is one of those places that gets under your skin - it captures your heart and your imagination, pulling you back. I can understand now why people keep returning in spite of the enormous cost involved.

I'm pleased with the quantity and the quality of the images I took - landscapes, wildlife, ice abstracts, the colours and textures of rust, the colour of the sea & sky. I'm hoping that I can get a book of the images published in 2017 (and possibly even an exhibition).

As for my equipment choices? I'm pleased to say that on the whole I made the right decisions. All camera bodies and lenses performed faultlessly. The E-M1Mark II in particular was a joy to use and viewing the files at 100% on my 27" monitor reveals an incredible level of detail. I've described it to other photographers as the best OM-D yet and I stand by that description, reinforced by having seen the quality of the files produced. I was also very impressed by the 12-100mm lens. I've used all the Olympus primes and all the Pro zooms - and the optical quality has never disappointed. But the 12-100mm seems to be a step up again - maybe it's my imagination but I'd say that at f8 or f11 it's the sharpest Olympus lens I've used giving crisp, detail rich images.

And finally I'd say to anyone, if you get the chance to go to Antarctica then take it - even if it means remortgaging your house to do so. Just make sure you put enough money aside for that E-M1 Mark II and the 12-100mm lens!

E-M1 Mark II • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-100mm PRO • 1:4.0 • 1/800s • ISO 200

E-M1 Mark II • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-100mm PRO • 1:4.0 • 1/5000s • ISO 200

E-M1 Mark II • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-100mm PRO • 1:4.0 • 1/2000s • ISO 200

E-M1 Mark II • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-100mm PRO • 1:4.0 • 1/60s • ISO 200

  • I have been looking for several months to update my Nikon gear and finally settled on an Olympus OMD1 MK2 with the 12-100 pro lense. Looks like I made a good choice!

  • Anonymous

    Like the images I've just bought an EM1 mk2 looking forward to getting to grips with it and hopefully getting some reasonable quality images.

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