Gear talk 1/3: My Olympus OMD system

I am lucky enough to have three different camera systems. A Sony DSC RX100, an Olympus OMD EM10 and a Nikon D750. In the coming weeks I will post my personal experiences with all three systems. Since there are enough technical reviews on the web already, I will focus on how I experience the systems: what works for me and what does not work for me. I will start this series with my Olympus OMD system.
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Mid 2014 I bought an Olympus OMD EM10 camera. I did so because my Nikon DSLR was too heavy and bulky to take with me all the time, and my point and shoot Sony DSC RX100 compact camera did not provide me with all the features I needed.
I can honestly say that I have seldom been immediately so happy with a new camera as I was with the Olympus OMD EM10.
Two days after my purchase I took  this camera with me on a trip to New York . I had no time to read the manual on beforehand, and, since it was only provided on a CD-ROM, I could not read it on the plane either. However this did not prove to be not a real problem: I could immediately take pictures that I really liked.

What I like about the camera

  • Reliability – I have the idea that the camera will always get me the results that I want
  • Focus speed – The camera focusses very fast, I almost never experience ‘hunting’
  • Portability – The camera is extremely light and compact. Contrary to my Nikon D750, I never feel that I am carrying a camera if I have this one with me
  • Light weight system – The lenses are very light and compact as well
  • Image stabilization – The in-body stabilization works perfect and saves money: there is no need to buy lenses that are individually equipped with image stabilization
  • EVF – The Electronic view finder shows exactly what the picture will look like if the settings are changed, e.g. with exposure compensation
  • Discrete –  I love to do street photography and this camera is extremely inconspicuous. In this context the tilt screen at the back of the camera is also a great feature
  • Kitlens – The camera comes with a cheap and lightweight lens (incl. plastic mount) … but one that delivers great pictures

What I do not like about the camera

  • Menu system – The menu system is horrendously complex. In all honesty, after working with the system for more than two years I still do not know exactly how to operate it all the time. I find the menu systems of my Nikon D750 and Sony DSC RX100 much, much easier to work with
  • Noise level in low light situations – This problems is inherent to the micro 4/3 sensor
  • Dynamic range – I experience the dynamic range of the camera (possibility to capture pictures of situation with contrasting lightning situation) as limited

My lenses

I am using the following lenses:

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R Lens – This is the kitlens I discussed earlier. XXL lightweight and cheap (pastic mount!), but it focusses very fast (also in low light situations) and is also very sharp.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

‘Closed for Ceremony’ and ‘Furner Bach (CH)’ – Pictures taken with Olympus Digital ED 14-42 f3.5-5.6 II R lens

Olympus MFT 9-18mm F/4.0-5.6 zwart ED M.Zuiko Digital – A very versatile wide angle zoom lens. Great for capturing landscapes and buildings, but also still suitable for portraits.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

‘Abandoned Coppermine’ (UK) and ‘Gattiker Weiher’ (CH) – Pictures taken with Olympus MFT 9-18 fF4.0-5.6

Olympus MFT 17mm F/1.8 zwart M.Zuiko Digital – This is a beauty! Very solid (all metal), equipped with a clever mechanism to switch between manual and auto focus, and extremely fast. I love this lens for low light situations.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

‘St. Antonkiche Zurich’ (CH) – Pictures taken with Olympus MFT 17mm f1.8

Olympus MFT 75-300mm F/4.8-6.7 zwart ED II M.Zuiko Digital – What can I say, the most portable and powerful tele(zoom)lens I ever worked with. In 2015 I attended the Fairford airshow with two of my my children. All full frame and APS DSLR users were using large and heavy tele(zoom) lenses in combination with monopods to get decent pictures, whereas I was able to take pictures with my hand-held OM-D-EM10 in combination with the 75-300mm lens.

A number of full frame and APS-C DSLR colleagues could not believe their eyes when they experienced the size and weight of my equipment in relation to the pictures I was able to make. I think I converted quite a number of full frame and APS-C DSLR photographers to the micro four thirds system that day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

‘Fairford Airshow 2015’ – All pictures taken with the Olympus 75-300mm f4.8-6.7 EDII lens

My favorite camera bags for this system

wp-lowepro-ex160-tmpIf I want to take all my equipment along, I use my old Lowepro EX160 bag. Even if I load my body, 4 lenses, 2 spare batteries and a battery loader) in this bag, I still have space left. All thanks to the compact size of the micro four thirds system.

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For most other occasions I use the Lowepro Slingbag LP36. This one of smartest bags I know. I can put my iPad in the back, the camera with a lens attached plus an additional lens in the lower pocket, while keeping plenty of room in the main compartment for my wallet, keys, spare batteries and a battery loader.

My wish list …

I love my OM-D system and woud like to expand it in due course. My current wish list system looks as follows:

  • Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II body – In all honesty, the only reason why I want to acquire this body is because it is weather sealed; the feature set of my OM-D EM10 still satisfies all my other needs.
  • Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO Lens – I have two reasons why I would like to have this lens. First of all because it is weather sealed, and secondly because it is much faster than my kit lens, and I take a lot of pictures in low light conditions
  • Olympus 14-150mm f/4.0-5.6 M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED – First of all because there are situations when I can only have one camera and lens with me or when the conditions do not allow the changing of lenses, and secondly because the lens is dust and splash proof.

Back to Holland, back to Harry Mülisch

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While spending the Christmas holidays in the Netherlands I had the opportunity to catch up on my reading. I took the opportunity to also read a couple Dutch books, two of them were about Harry Mülisch.

Harry Mülisch (1927 – 2010) was a well-known Dutch author. Together with Gerard Reve and W.F. Hermans, he belonged to the ‘big three’. The big three were the most prominent of Dutch writers after World War II (although Harry Mülisch preferred to call himself ‘the big one’). Mülisch was not just well-known for his books, but perhaps even more for his massive ego, self-promoting behavior and outward appearance (he was an iconic pipe smoker and wearer of cravats). Carly Simon never disclosed the subject of her song ‘You’re so vain’; it is quite possible for Dutch people to imagine that the subject of her song is actually Harry Mülisch.

‘Zijn eigen land’ (‘His own country’) is a book about Harry Mülisch written by Robbert Ammerlaan, his publisher. The title ‘Zijn eigen land’ refers to the study room of Mülisch in his Amsterdam home where he wrote his books. After Harry Mülisch passed away, Robbert Ammerlaan obtained free access to the notes and archives in this room. On the basis of this material he wrote a book around a couple of important themes in the life of Harry Mülisch.

These themes include the complex relationship between his parents (including their divorce when he was still a child), the second World War (his Austrian father collaborated with the Germans, partly to protect his mother who was Jewish), the relation with his fellow-authors, and the process preceding the writing of some of his most important books.

Harry Mülisch started his career as a writer in 1952 with the novel ‘Archibald Strohalm’. Famous other books are ‘The Stone Bridal Bed’ (a novel about the bombing of Dresden by the Allies in World War II), ‘Criminal case 40/61’ (a report of the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961) and ‘The assault’ (a novel which deals with the assault of on a quisling and its aftermath).

The life of Harry Mülisch as a public figure went through three stages. In the first part of his life he was a self-centered narcissist. When socialism became en vogue in the 1960’s he became a socialist and in the last stage of his life he became a hedonist.

He was a true socialite, he had close friends who were influential in the Dutch world of politics, broadcasting and the arts. He established ‘de Herenclub’ (the Gentleman’s Club), a closed society with members he handpicked and described as belonging to the ‘dignified left’. This (men only) club met on a weekly basis in ‘Le Garage’ , a fashionable restaurant in Amsterdam. Despite his left wing affiliation, he was also extremely proud of his relationship with the Dutch Royal Family. Robbert Ammerlaan’s book contains a detailed description of a private dinner with Prince Claus (including the fact that he was served by a valet and lobster was part of the menu), as well as an encounter with Queen Beatrix, of which Mülisch proudly remarks that she invited him to sit next to her.

Besides ‘armchair socialism’, Harry Mülisch had at least three other things in common with the famous French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre: writing, smoking a pipe and promiscuous behavior. Mülisch’s reputation of a Don Juan was even mentioned in an article by the International Herald Tribune. Reading about his relationship with women, one gets the impression that women were for him more appliances, than human beings that needed to be treated with respect. Sjoerdje Woudenberg, his first wife, told Robbert Ammerlaan: ‘Harry wanted a 19th century woman […] He was incapable to have a real loving relationship on the basis of of equality’.

All in all, this begs the question why, despite his arrogance, elitist behavior and views on women, he became and remained the darling of the left elite in the Netherlands.

I never really was a fan of Harry Mülisch’s books myself. I liked ‘The Assault’, but did not think too much of ‘Two women’ or ‘The last call’. I found the ‘The stone bridal bed’ boring and the language unnecessary coarse. I also need to confess that I only read two pages so far in my copy of ‘The discovery of heaven’ .

I do however highly recommend ‘Zijn eigen land’ by Robbert Ammerlaan. It is a beautiful hardcover edition and a must have for people who are interested in Dutch literature. It includes unique photos of Mülisch, his family and friends, as well as pictures of his notes (facsimiles) and other objects in his study.

mp_herenclub3dedrukThis brings me to the second book about Harry Mülisch, namely ‘De Herenclub’ (the Gentleman’s Club) by Max Pam (1946), a Dutch journalist, chess player and author. The book is a roman à clef about Mülisch’s Gentleman’s Club, with hilarious descriptions of the (pretentious) behavior of the members of this club. Dutch readers will have no trouble deciphering the pseudonyms of the politicians, authors and other authors that are mentioned in this book (writer Horus Mirmir is for instance a personification of Harry Mülisch). It is a wonderful portrait about the life and times of the ‘dignified left’ elite in the Netherland in the 1980’s. I highly recommend reading this book to anyone interested in the Dutch cultural society around that time.

 

Note: All Mülisch’s books where no Dutch titles are mentioned in this blog post, have been translated in the English language.

 

 

 

Buwalda brings humor back

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In order to familiarize myself with a number of Dutch authors I had not read before, I decided to lend a couple of books from the fantastic pubic library in the center of the Hague during the Christmas holidays. The first book I borrowed was ‘Het grote baggerboek’ (‘The great dredging book’) by Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer. I had to put this book down after reading three pages and scanning the remaining ones. The book came across more as a carpet-bombing exercise in vulgar language, than as a literary, or even readable, text.

The second book I borrowed was ‘Armin’ by Gustaaf Peek. Dutch literary critics loved it, I did not. Instead I found it incredibly boring and fell asleep two times, before I made it to page 20 and decided to give up.

This is where the third book, by Peter Buwalda (1971), comes in. Since his best known book ‘Bonita Avenue’ was not available, I made do with ‘Van mij valt niets te leren’ (‘You cannot learn anything from me’), a collection of short stories published in 2015. While I was reading it I kept laughing out loud, what a great sense of humor!

The topics Buwalda deals with include, amongst others, events in his daily life, a lost and found Rolling Stones documentary, a biography of Miles Davis, his experiences as an aspiring newspaper journalist and his compulsive drive to buy (series) of books. The latter include an extensive four-volume (and growing) biography of Lyndon B. Johnson and the collected musical essays of Simon Vestdijk (10 volumes). Due to the speed at which he acquires books, his collection grows on average 2,2 centimeters per day.

200-200-crop-5017ada802213_peterbuwaldaHis writing appeals to me because he combines honesty and humor.First of all, Peter Buwalda comes across as an ‘honest intellectual’. Honest in the sense that he is not ashamed of the fact that he likes the music of Gustav Mahler and Miles Davis, but does not boast about this nor dwells on it. He manages to maintain a healthy degree of self-mockery, without making himself ridiculous or treating his subjets in a derogatory way. His sense of humor reminded me of the character of Nathan Zuckerman in the work of Philip Roth.

Finally, a number of Dutch authors prefer to use profanities extensively in their work, a trend that was set by the likes of Jan Wolkers and Gerard Reve. Unfortunately Peter Buwalda does not always seem to be able to completely ignore this trend. However, for a Dutch book the profanity level is only ‘low-moderate’.

I am looking forward to reading ‘Bonita Avenue’, his best known book so far, soon. This is also his only book that is translated in the English language.