An email landed on my electronic doorstep. A quick peruse woke me from my morning malaise and a moment’s paralysis almost made the Rich Tea stay in my mug too long (only almost, I hasten to add). It read ‘can you go to Japan within the month?’ Blimey! Being brought up to be well-mannered, I thought I better had. The commission was to photograph and write about Eastern Hokkaido’s National Parks in the summer. Hokkaido is the northernmost main island of Japan and wildlife photographers will be more aware of this area as a winter destination for red-crowned cranes and Steller’s sea eagles, but as I found out it is a hidden gem all year round.
After reading the brief, I could see this was more about capturing nature and travel rather than specifically wildlife. So I found myself adding unusually squat-looking lenses into my backpack, along with a few dusty filters and extremely reluctantly, the three-legged equipment ‘that shall not be named’. The first thing in the bag was my trusty Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and whereas on an assignment I would normally reach for another, I thought this would be a great opportunity to use the new OM-D E-M1X that fortuitously I had been trialling. I had a hunch it would be the right tool for the job owing to some neat new features that could lend themselves to the task at hand.
Three days prior to departure I spent a day in the Brecon Beacons and also ran two one-day workshops on Skomer Island. This was invaluable as it gave me a chance to set up the camera and play with some of the new functions rather than experiment on the job. After using the Mark II for so long, the most obvious change was the weight and shape. It’s sort of like an OM-D E-M1 Mark II with a permanent battery grip attached that hasn’t been to Weight Watchers for a while. Since I have small hands, it felt a little awkward as the grip protrudes a bit too much from the main body and because of that, the front camera buttons were a stretch of the finger away – not much of a loss as I rarely use them anyway.
The extra dedicated buttons are warmly greeted especially the ISO button but the menu button is now out of right thumb range, which is less than helpful when holding a lens. It would be easily solved if you were able to allocate the menu to a function button instead.
Like a workman’s implement, I kept using the four-way controller to move the focus point instead of the new eight-way joystick. However, once it lodged in the brain, being able to move diagonally certainly sped things up. With plans to use the new live neutral density filter, I popped it onto the welcome additional fourth custom slot on the mode dial. It may be a small thing but being able to add your go-to shooting settings as a custom mode, makes it so easy to be ready for most photographic situations and a great way to avoid delving into the menu. On the few occasions I had to delve, the new ‘my menu’ page was a real boon and by adding battery status, C-AF sensitivity, Live ND and manual focus clutch, everything essential is now only a button press away.
Two years ago, I moved over to Olympus after trialling the OM-D E-M1 Mark II and it’s been a wonderfully liberating experience not to keep looking around to check if a St Bernard has snuck a ride on my backpack. But as one of the reasons to change had been weight reduction, how would a Mark II on steroids fare in practice? A very frenetic four weeks on, I found myself saying Konnichiwa.
Tales of the city
Although not part of the brief, a two-day stopover in Tokyo gave me just enough time to explore a few shrines and a brief forage into city life. The weather wasn’t ideal, with dull skies and rain, a bit like Wales but a lot warmer. Unlike the rest of the
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