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The Canterbury Tales

He stood staring into the wood for a minute, then said: “What is it about the English countryside - why is the beauty so much more than visual? Why does it touch one so?
 Wye National Nature Reserve, Kent, UK.

Wye National Nature Reserve, Kent, UK.

Having two of your three kids and families living on the far side of the world is not nice but on the other hand provides opportunities to travel and explore the places we most likely would otherwise never have got to see. In June I was so fortunate to travel yet again to the UK and Ireland primarily to meet our newest grandchild in the making in Canterbury, Kent and spend time with family and grandkids in Ireland. We landed in the UK in the early hours of 9th June and our new grandson was born that evening. Couldn’t have timed it better.  

 Our 5th grandchild and first born in the UK. Little Leo.

Our 5th grandchild and first born in the UK. Little Leo.

Leading up to this trip I was determined to not be burdened with heavy camera gear, which in its entirety weighs about 8kg and since its carry-on luggage its already exceeding weight allowance. With that in mind, I spent a lot of time researching one of the most recent and critically acclaimed ‘all purpose’ Olympus zoom lenses, the 12-100mm f/4 lens. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive so I took the plunge and bought it, and ever since have been trying to block the cost from my conscience.

 Olympus E-M1 MKII paired with Olympus 12-100mm f/4 IS PRO lens. 

Olympus E-M1 MKII paired with Olympus 12-100mm f/4 IS PRO lens. 

I used it for almost all of the hundreds of photos I took on this trip. I found the focusing to be lightning fast and the images to be very sharp. The lens focal range of 12-100mm (24-200mm equivalent on a full-frame camera) is very versatile covering wide angle to close in shots. It was also a lot nicer walking around with just a camera and single lens and not be burdened with an additional few extra lenses adding weight to my aging shoulders. I also took my faster 25mm f1.2 lens for use in low light situations however the 12-100mm has in-built image stabilisation as does my Olympus E-M1 MKII camera which means that paired together they can be hand-held for taking tack sharp photos at very slow shutter speeds. 

One of the awful aspects of this trip was leaving the New Zealand winter for summertime in the northern hemisphere. How hard can that be? I soon got over it before I’d even left home. The UK, and later on Ireland, weather did not disappoint. We had packed for all seasons but we struck a heatwave and unbelievably no rain for the duration of the trip. The first rain was as we were descending into Auckland on our return home.

We were based in Canterbury, Kent where our daughter, son-in-law, and newest grandchild live. Its a beautiful city. Having been in Canterbury three times now, it feels familiar and comfortable. It’s a World Heritage city that pulses with life being the home of two universities, being a domestic and international tourist visitor magnet, and being a destination for endless groups of school kids from Europe on history trips.

 Summer days. Canterbury, Kent, UK. In the upper left is 'the ducking chair'.    This is a chair suspended on a frame hanging over the River Stour. It was used in the middle ages as a form of retribution for three types of situations. Firstly it was used as a punishment for nagging wives. In those enlightened times, a man could pay for his nagging wife to be dipped into the river on the ducking stool and of course suffer a degree of public humiliation at the same time. Secondly, it was used as a punishment and public embarrassment for cheating businessmen, who would be ducked into the water in front of a baying crowd and who would inevitably be forced to leave the city afterwards, their reputation in tatters. Lastly it was most famously used as a litmus test for witches and the way it worked was this: any woman accused of being a witch would be placed in the chair, and the chair would be swung out over the river and then submerged deep in the river for 2-3 minutes. After that time, the poor woman would be brought back to the surface. If she survived this lengthy ducking then clearly she was a witch as she must have used her powers to survive the fatal dowsing. If so, she would be burned at the stake as a witch. If, however, the lady was dead after being submerged for 3 minutes, then clearly she was not a witch.

Summer days. Canterbury, Kent, UK. In the upper left is 'the ducking chair'.  

This is a chair suspended on a frame hanging over the River Stour. It was used in the middle ages as a form of retribution for three types of situations. Firstly it was used as a punishment for nagging wives. In those enlightened times, a man could pay for his nagging wife to be dipped into the river on the ducking stool and of course suffer a degree of public humiliation at the same time. Secondly, it was used as a punishment and public embarrassment for cheating businessmen, who would be ducked into the water in front of a baying crowd and who would inevitably be forced to leave the city afterwards, their reputation in tatters. Lastly it was most famously used as a litmus test for witches and the way it worked was this: any woman accused of being a witch would be placed in the chair, and the chair would be swung out over the river and then submerged deep in the river for 2-3 minutes. After that time, the poor woman would be brought back to the surface. If she survived this lengthy ducking then clearly she was a witch as she must have used her powers to survive the fatal dowsing. If so, she would be burned at the stake as a witch. If, however, the lady was dead after being submerged for 3 minutes, then clearly she was not a witch.

Canterbury is a city rich in history and is of course the home of Canterbury Cathedral, one of the oldest and most famous cathedral’s in England. It is the cathedral of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the symbolic centre of the worldwide Anglican faith.

 Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, Kent.

Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, Kent.

 The Old Weavers' House, Canterbury, Kent, UK.

The Old Weavers' House, Canterbury, Kent, UK.

Within the inner city there are beautiful gardens including Westgate Gardens and the River Stour. Such a wonderful asset in the city and idyllic in summer.  

There are still sections of a medieval wall that surrounded Canterbury including the Westgate. This 18 metre (60 foot) high western gate in the city wall is the largest surviving city gate in England. It was built circa 1379 and is the last survivor of Canterbury's seven medieval gates. 

 The Westgate. Circa 1379. 

The Westgate. Circa 1379. 

One of the great joys of travel is chancing upon something special. Given the history of the UK its not surprising that there is some sort of claim to fame around virtually every corner. So it is in Canterbury and another example is St Martin's Church, the first church founded in England, the oldest parish church in continuous use and the oldest church in the entire English-speaking world. As such, it is recognised, along with Canterbury Cathedral and St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury, as part of a World Heritage Site.

 St Martin's Church, Canterbury, Kent. The oldest church in the entire English-speaking world.

St Martin's Church, Canterbury, Kent. The oldest church in the entire English-speaking world.

It almost looks like an optical illusion but The Crooked House, sometimes known as Sir John Boys House, King’s Gallery, or Old King’s Shop, looks as if it is about to tumble over. It’s skewed facade stops many visitors in their tracks. 

 The 17th century Crooked House. 

The 17th century Crooked House. 

Built in the 17th century, the Crooked House’s strange appearance has sparked a few stories. Some claim that it inspired a passage in Dicken’s David Copperfield. Others say it was the house of MP and recorder of Canterbury, Sir John Boys; this has been discovered to be unfounded. Nonetheless, the house often takes his name. The Crooked House is perched at the end of Palace Street, near the centre of Canterbury and within earshot of the bells of the Cathedral. An internal chimney slipping gave the house it’s asymmetrical appearance. Today a steel frame keeps it in place. It gives the building a dizzying effect. Today, it is the home of Catching Lives Bookshop which sells second-hand books to raise money for the homeless and vulnerably housed. 

There are so many photo opportunities in Canterbury.

One of the things that I believe from overseas travels is that no one country has a monopoly on beauty. In New Zealand we have an arguably spectacular landscape with a rugged raw beauty about it, whereas In England I see a softer landscape with a romantic, historical beauty about it. It’s a landscape I really love and I’d love to explore much more of it and I'll show you some more of it in the next blog entry.

I love the cross-country walks, cycle ways and bridle paths that criss-cross the country and link towns and villages and the knowledge that at the end of those walks you are likely to find a beautiful little centuries old pub. There’s an inviting ambience in these pubs and they tend to be family and dog friendly. Of all the pleasures and delights of England, the historic country pubs are right up there.

I'll close this blog entry with a couple of images from one of my favourite walks from Canterbury to the village of Chartham along The Great Stour Way. This 5km (3 mile) trail follows the River Stour and crosses beautiful countryside, runs alongside man made fishing lakes and nature reserves. I walked it one evening and by the time I got back to Canterbury my legs were about to surrender. 

 Evening on The Great Stour Way between Canterbury and Chartham, Kent, UK.

Evening on The Great Stour Way between Canterbury and Chartham, Kent, UK.

 Why walk to Chartham? It's worth it just to walk into The Artichoke.

Why walk to Chartham? It's worth it just to walk into The Artichoke.

I'll leave it there now. My original intention was to squeeze the England part of the holiday into one blog entry but there is so much more to show beyond Canterbury, so there will be a few more in the coming weeks. 

Until next time.....all you need is love 

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It just clicks.

My camera and all but one of my lenses are from Olympus. I have nothing against any other camera brand, I just happened to travel down Panasonic Avenue and then turn left at Olympus Drive which in my case was a no exit thoroughfare.

My first interchangeable lens camera was the Panasonic GX1. It was my introduction to mirrorless cameras, also known as compact system cameras also refered to as micro four thirds cameras. It’s a confusing world! I came to like this camera format. I liked working with this more compact and lighter camera. In time I sold the GX1 and took to the critically acclaimed Olympus O-MD E-M1. 

I have the current Olympus flagship model O-MD E-M1 MKII. Its quite a handful of a name. Legend has it that they were originally called M, but Leica took exception and Olympus changed the name to OM. The D stands for Digital, the E for Electronic. 

 Olympus OM-D E-M1 MKII

Olympus OM-D E-M1 MKII

 Olympus O-MD E-M1 MKII

Olympus O-MD E-M1 MKII

Mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras differ from conventional DSLR cameras in that they use a digital display system instead of an optical mirror and optical viewfinder, which reduces weight and allows for a smaller camera body. The interchangeable lenses are also smaller and lighter making it somewhat easier to lug a camera and lens kit around for any length of time. My full camera kit weighs around 6kg including a backpack. It still feels heavy after being on my back for long periods and my camera attached to the largest lens I have, the Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 lens can become uncomfortable (heavy) to hold for long periods. A comparable DSLR kit of the same items would weight much more though and require a somewhat larger backpack.  

The first mirrorless camera was marketed in 2004. By 2012 major camera manufacturers, Canon, Nikon & Sony had all introduced mirrorless cameras and subsequently so have others such as Fuji. The camera market is shrinking and in 2016 the number of cameras shipped was down 81% compared to 2010. In 2010, there were 8 times more DSLRs than mirrorless. In 2016, the overall production numbers dropped for both, but they almost got even in share: 12 million DSLRs and 11 million mirrorless cameras. I guess one of the reasons for a slump in camera sales is the flood of smartphone cameras and the ever improving abilities of smartphone cameras has destroyed the compact 'point and shoot' camera market especially.

Mirrorless cameras can struggle in low light conditions due to having smaller light sensors resulting in an increase in ‘graininess’ in images taken in very low light. I have to say this can be a source of irritation for me but the EM1 MKII has noticeable improvement over my previous EM1 MKI. Fast light gathering lenses somewhat compensate as does the very impressive much lauded ‘5 axis image stabilization’ which Olympus pioneered. It provides the capability to take long sharp exposures with lower ISO’s without the need to mount the camera on a tripod. In digital photography, ISO measures the sensitivity of the image sensor. The lower the ISO number the less sensitive the camera is to light and the finer the grain. Higher ISO settings are generally used in darker situations to get faster shutter speeds. Most of my daytime and golden hour photos are taken at ISO200. The ISO range on my camera is from 60 to 25600. Personally I wouldn’t go above ISO1600 as the images would be too grainy for my liking. Hey, if you saw an alien standing on the front lawn after dark, stuff the graininess! I'd just take the picture, or more likely just take off.......fast

Olympus users are obtaining fantastic images while handholding the E-M1 MKII camera and it’s stablemates using exposures of 5 to 10 seconds and even 15 seconds. Testimony to the amazing inbuilt image stabilisation. 

The Olympus O-MD series of digital mirrorless system cameras debuted with the announcement of the O-MD E-M5 in 2012. The following year saw the introduction of the new flagship camera the O-MD E-M1, which was my first Olympus camera. Olympus mirrorless cameras have been critically acclaimed and have won many awards. Most recently the E-M1 MKII won prestigious honours at the Camera Grand Prix 2017, including Camera of the Year. The recently released Olympus M.Zuiko ED 12-100mm f/4 IS PRO lens also won lens of the Year.  

So what lenses do I attach to my E-M1 MKII camera? Camera manufacturers market their cameras with kit lenses. These lenses are built to a price in order to provide a competitively priced camera and lens combo. Kit lenses can produce really great photos but I do believe that there are advantages in eventually acquiring higher spec interchangeable lens. I started with a kit lens on the previous E-MI and experimented with a few other lenses along the way before settling on my current range of lenses. My first really good lens was the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens. This is such an outstanding solidly built sexy workhorse of a lens, incredibly sharp. Just look at the image below. It’s lens porn!

 Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO

 View toward Broadstairs, Kent, UK, 2017 taken with Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens.

View toward Broadstairs, Kent, UK, 2017 taken with Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens.

If I was to only have one lens then the 12-40mm would be it. I have however reluctantly sold this lens in order to sort of appease my guilt over acquiring another lens which I lusted after which I will discuss a little further on. 

I followed the 12-40mm f/2.8 lens with the purchase of the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens (image below). This versatile lens is attached to my camera more often than any others. Coupled with the Olympus MC-14 x1.4 teleconverter it gives great magnification of distant objects, excellent for street and sport photography. It’s also a very good portrait lens so I guess it could be called a very good all rounder. 

 Olympus M.Zuiko ED 20-150mm f/2.8 PRO

Olympus M.Zuiko ED 20-150mm f/2.8 PRO

 Between a rock and a wet place. Taken from a considerable distance using the Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens.

Between a rock and a wet place. Taken from a considerable distance using the Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens.

 The 40-150mm f/2.8 lens is great for zooming in on distant subjects. This image was taken hand-held from a few hundred metres away up on Mauao, Mount Maunganui. 

The 40-150mm f/2.8 lens is great for zooming in on distant subjects. This image was taken hand-held from a few hundred metres away up on Mauao, Mount Maunganui. 

 And the 40-150 f/2.8 lens was a great option for photographing these dolphins travelling at speed in the Bay of Islands, NZ. 

And the 40-150 f/2.8 lens was a great option for photographing these dolphins travelling at speed in the Bay of Islands, NZ. 

My next lens lens joining the family was the Olympus M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens, which unlike the 40-150mm lens, gives a very wide field of view. I really procrastinated on this one but I’m very pleased I bought it. It’s great for wide landscapes and wide dramatic skies, as well as for interior photos and ‘opening up interior space’. Its also a great street photography lens for that more expansive street view.

 Olympus M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens.

Olympus M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens.

 Dusk at Papamoa Beach. Olympus M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens.

Dusk at Papamoa Beach. Olympus M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens.

 Above and below. Sunset at the end of my street. Olympus M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 lens.

Above and below. Sunset at the end of my street. Olympus M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 lens.

 Interior image using the Olympus M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 lens

Interior image using the Olympus M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 lens

 The backyard at home. The 7-14mm f/2.8 lens gives it that wide real estate agent exaggeration of a look.

The backyard at home. The 7-14mm f/2.8 lens gives it that wide real estate agent exaggeration of a look.

My only non Olympus lens but much loved lens outside of the Olympus brand is the Panasonic Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2. Primarily a class leading portrait lens, it is a ‘fast’ lens with excellent light gathering ability exceling in low light situations. It’s an absolute ‘go to’ lens for portraits but also a very good street and sunset photography lens. Wide open at f/1.2 it is fantastic for isolating the subject from the background as seen in the following photo.  

 Panasonic Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 lens

Panasonic Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 lens

The Panasonic Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 lens does beautiful separation of foreground and background and being a fast lens coupled with the Olympus in-camera image stabilisation, there is no need for a tripod for low light shots like the one below. 

 Panasonic Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 lens

Panasonic Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 lens

The Panasonic Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 lens is also a wonderful street photography lens. 

 Friday afternoon in Dublin, Ireland. Panasonic Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 lens

Friday afternoon in Dublin, Ireland. Panasonic Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 lens

My most recent lens acquisition completing my kit is the Olympus 25mm f/1.2 PRO prime lens. This is the one I sold the 12-40mm lens for. Another fast lens great for low light photography, including portrait, street and landscape photography. Since I favour low light photography at both ends of the day, it suits my purposes. Being f/1.2 helps create beautiful ‘bokeh’ where the background is out of focus placing attention firmly on the subject in the foreground. I bought this lens in Dublin, Ireland, last year while my wife was distracted in another shop. Personally I blame one of my daughters for leading me right to said camera shop. My guilt was somewhat softened by the considerable tax free saving I made in comparison with what it would have cost me to buy back in New Zealand. It did however require me to get certification from a Justice of the Peace that the lens was in fact here in New Zealand.  

 Olympus M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.2 PRO lens

Olympus M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.2 PRO lens

I love the background separation that a lens wide open at f/1.2 can provide placing attention firmly of the subject in the foreground.

 Olympus M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.2 PRO lens

Olympus M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.2 PRO lens

Honestly it just does a beautiful job.  

 Olympus 25mm f/1.2PRO lens, handheld image at dusk.

Olympus 25mm f/1.2PRO lens, handheld image at dusk.

I’m very content with my camera gear now, a happy little shutter button pusher,  but honestly, looking at new lenses is like looking at that last glass of wine left in the bottle. The desire can be hard to resist, but resist I will. There are no state support services for those suffering from camera gear addiction. If it’s got to be, it’s up to me.