Death Valley with the EM1
By Goran Nikolic
WARNING Long intro =)
I am one of those guys that bought a good (canon 1100d) camera when he got kids too make good pictures of them while they are growing up. However, I was not aware of the [email protected] possible photography addiction. They should come boxed with a clear warning, WARNING possible photography addiction (stage 1) followed by the more serious G.A.S. (stage 2) hehe :). I really liked taking pictures from the start and took the camera everywhere with me, everything was fine until I hit stage 2 of my addiction…
When I got struck with G.A.S. I told myself that I absolutely had to have a full frame camera, the main reason why my images were simply snapshots was because I did not have a fullframe camera with a 2.8 zoom and an awesome prime… So I saved up and got the Nikon D700 followed by a Nikon D800 (obviously! I mean come on… they were still snapshots I needed more Megapixels! That was the problem off course).
For some reason yet unknown to me I could not make a sharp picture with the D800 unless I used a tripod! It obviously was Nikon’s fault… so I switched to the Canon 6D because obviously Canon is far superior… I think by now you can image that I really had a bad case of G.A.S. and that my wallet was shrinking faster then that I could fill it up :). But it did not end here! Oh no… the next problem for my ‘dull’ images was obviously the big and heavy DSLR, so I got a Fuji XE-1 haha, yeah…. I know what you are thinking, dude what the…..?
So you would think thats it! He got the Fuji and this post would be full with Fuji pictures and those awesome fuji colours. Sadly no, I was used to some amazing DSLR’s and that little Fuji frustrated the hell out of me, it was a love/hate relationship because the images it chunked out were amazing! This was the first camera I was actually happy with the JPG images! If I could get the damn thing to focus… even with all the updates (why aren’t all companies like Fuji in this department?).
Luckily for me this was the end of the line and I saw that I was way to focussed on the equipment and not on the actual images that I made with them (or the experience!). I have had some great and amazing keepers from all of them but I went too far and had to stop (……. year right… by now you probably figured out that my wife got fed up with my gear obsession and told me to stop haha :). So I sold everything! I was actually quite amazed by the amount of money I was able to get back when I sold it all (except for the Fuji), the loss was actually limited to a few hundred euro’s (phew!).
I then spend almost three months to find the camera that would suit me best, and eventually ended up with the EM1, after having tried the camera a few times (even had it on loan for a few weeks) I decided to buy it with just one lens (the kit 12-40 zoom, probably should not call this a kit lens?), this report is my first experience with the camera (and next to that it is also the first time I am sharing my pictures outside of my friends and family too!).
Wow, now that was a large intro right? Well sorry for that 🙂 but this was the path to ‘my style’ of photography. Through that process I learned that I was not a pro photographer, and it also is not my goal in life to become one. I just like to take pictures from time to time. So when a friend asked me whether I wanted to go to vegas with him (and leave our wifes at home) I obviously thought about the great pictures I could take with my new OM-D 🙂 haha.
We took a plane from Amsterdam to LA (yes I am from the land of Heineken) and after a flight of almost 11 hours we rented a car to drive to Vegas. Not just any car….no no, a mustang convertable! Now I think that for Americans this is not really that special because they are quite common in the US, however Europeans love the idea of driving on the truly amazing roads (sorry have to exclude LA here….. that was no fun at all) in the US with either a Harley or a Mustang.
After a rather long drive mostly due to the some brutal LA traffic jams we finally made it to Vegas and checked in at our hotel. And Vegas was …. well yeah I did not make a lot of pictures in Vegas hehe. Man what a place!
But during the day I really had to buy a baseball cap for myself (I wear glasses and did not have my sunglasses with me) because the sun was really not what I was used to. Here in the Netherlands we are happy if we get 3 weeks of sun per year! It was a Yankees cap by the way which cause everybody to yell go Yankees at me, quite an experience :).
But what I did noticed was that the camera was actually handling itself pretty good! Both during the day was well as by night! That image stabilization is quite magical. The image of the new york new york resort was shot hand-held (1/60th @ 5000 ISO) and still looks pretty clean and sharp! I do not really use a lot of noise reduction because I also quite like the grain structure of the EM1, its pleasant, I think that maybe due to the high pixel density but I am not sure what contributes to the grain structure. Also when printed below A4 you see almost no noise at all.
This image below I call arty farty, it was a bit of an experiment. We sat down for a moment to enjoy the awesome cars that were passing (camaro, mustang, charger, and more! Wauw!) that I just thought I would try something out, after freezing my brain with a slushy. So I stacked my ND filters (10 stop + 3 stop), set the camera to its lowest native ISO (200) and stopped down as far as I could (F22) and saw that still I only got a 5 second exposure (was hoping for 20+)… thats how bright the sun was that day! It was pretty easy to set the camera up and change all the settings without using any menus. I really love all the various dials and buttons that I can completely setup to my own preference.
After a few days started passing by we noticed that Vegas was quite EXPENSIVE! Yes you would think that we could have expected that, and we did, but a few ice-cold beers @ twin peaks can do strange things to your brain :). So we decided to do some sight-seeing. One day we decided to go to death valley, so we packed the car with water and were off. Again the roads, it is simply stunning to drive on roads with amazing views for hours with only seeing a few cars pass by. So I could not resist to stop from time to time to take some pictures of the road! Which drove my buddy to insanity since we kept stopping so I could take another picture of the road… again and again … and again haha
What really impressed me about the EM1 was also how it handled in the desert, and how it handled the images in the harsh sun (this is also dynamic range right?)! Wish I was as resilient as the EM1! When we first arrived in death valley and stopped for the first sight, I saw a small hill and thought ow man that looks amazing (actually that was what I said for the entire route because everything was amazing!). I decided to run up there to take some pics…. yeah people told me death valley was hot…. but damn… hot does not give it credit! I now know how a burger feels on the grill. Anyway, I made it up the hill but I felt like I was baking in an oven! I couldn’t breath and everything in front of me started turning white! So my first priority was to drink drink and get my ass back to the car and turn on the AC. My buddy was actually quite worried and told me afterwards that I really did not look so well haha but after some AC time and one of the best hot dogs I ever had @ Furnace Creek and about 6 or 7 liters of water I luckily felt much better. When we walked back to the car I saw the thermometer outside read 120 degrees! So I took it a bit easier from then on and took my time (and had even more water!) :).
We unfortunately did not have a lot of time in death valley itself, we had to get back in time, so we decided to pick a few points to go to and then drive back to Vegas. We stopped at Rhyolite (ok not really death valley but close enough) to see a real ghost town, and it was pretty cool to see how people in the area lived once. Images were made on a tripod.
After Rhyolite we stopped @ Beatty (errr did time stop there?) for some gas (GAS! you get it? probably not the best of jokes….) and then drove back through death valley. Up until Zabriskie Point I didn’t make a lot of pictures at all. The scenery was so amazing that I was enjoying every bit of it. It is such an amazing place that I really hope I can go back to one day and spend a bit more time there to see more of it.
By the time we got to Zabriskie Point the sun started to set and I started to walk around in search of different perspectives. At first I thought damn… how can I make some landscape shots without having all those tourist in my pictures! Haha great isn’t it… a tourist that is taking pictures that is saying that about other tourist that are also trying to get the same pictures :). Anyway after a few attempts I got these shots. A small warning though! I like colors! COLORS!!! I like them but I can imagine that some might find it a bit too much :).
But after making them I felt something was missing. I really liked the pictures even though I still think they did not do the scenery justice because that truly was AMAZING! Wow the colors and the mountains and patterns… just wow nothing more to say! Really have to go back there one day. But back to the pictures :), I felt something was missing, but then I saw a few girls sitting down near where I was taking shot nr. 4. And then I though but what if I include them in my shot? Would that be better?
And there it was…. my favorite shot of the day :). How such a small element can make such a big difference, I like the fact that one of the girls just made a picture and is showing it to her neighbour. Now most probably not everybody will agree with me here but I really thought that including them in the shot gave a totally new feel to the image. I also tried zooming in a bit and getting a closer shot of the amazing sunset and the four girls enjoying the view but I still thought the first shot worked better for me.
That was it! Our day in death valley with probably the biggest intro this blog has ever had! Sorry about that :), but I wanted to share my experiences and share that for me having better gear did not increase my joy in photography. I truly love making pictures, but I love doing it because it gives me the opportunity to freeze time. To hold a moment in my live that I wish to remember, to have images that can trigger my memories, that can take me back to the time when I made them and relive the moments I experienced. The gear I used to make the images with will most probably fade from my memory since they are not a real part of my experience (more of a supporting element). So what worked for me is to have a tool that is the most complete package for me. Good image quality, good build (I did not have a single speck of dust on my sensor using that 12-40 zoom lens!) but most importantly that I can operate with joy. I wanted a camera that I did not have to think much about when using it, and for me I found everything that I need in the EM1 and cured my G.A.S. to a certain amount as well. I say to a certain amount because I am looking forward to that 7-14 zoom from Olympus :).
I also do not really worry about the camera because it is built like a tank. I dropped it a few times (it has a few chips on the bottom), spilled some lemon water over it and banged it into several people while walking the streets. But I’m not really bothered with it because I know it will survive, which gives me piece of mind as well. And it was this blog that got this camera to my attention. Thank you both Steve and all of your readers for that because I found a piece of equipment that gives me a great deal of satisfaction and helped me to focus more on the images then on the gear I use to make them. I even shoot more pics with my phone now, which I never did before because of the ‘inferior’ quality of the photo’s. In the end it’s all about the moment and what that moment captured does for you, what feeling it gives you, and possibly even what memories it relives for you if it is a personal photograph. I got that now :).
I hope you will like (some of) my images, my style of editing and have enjoyed my first ever photography related article! I thought about also adding a few more details about how I processed my images but I think I will not bore you with those details :).
Now obviously while driving back to Vegas…. I still drove my buddy nuts (yes again… sorry mate!) by stopping constantly to take pictures of the road! Amazing roads!!!!
Thanks for reading!