OK, so what is so special about this camera for me? Why am I so besotted?

Let me start with size.  (From the brilliant camerasize.com)

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This is a comparison between my Canon 7D and my  Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mk2. This gives a sense of how much smaller the Olympus is, but what it doesn’t tell, is the weight difference; it is huge. Using the 7D single handed (to hold remote flash in the other hand) is a challenge and I am 6 ft 2 ins tall and well built. Holding the Olympus single handed is a breeze; my 4 year old daughter wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the task. The Olympus has just enough heft to feel good in the hand however, it won’t be subject to excessive shakiness due to being too light! The other thing that is hard to grasp from this size comparison picture is the sheer size difference of the lenses, that is the most amazing thing; check this image:

This is my casual messenger bag, from Debenhams, not a photo supplier. My car key fob is shown for scale; it isn’t particularly large. The orange liner is simply a generic camera bag liner for round about £10 UK. I had my Olympus EM-10 mk2, 3 prime lenses (34 mm, 50mm and 90mm equivalent), a 70-300 zoom equivalent and a 28-84mm zoom equivalent (kit lens). Additionally a wide angle adapter for the kit lens. I had removed my chromebook from the bag at this point! The lenses are so tiny, that my casual shoulder bag becomes a full camera system carrier. The compactness is amazing to me. In terms of size, the micro four thirds system is all about compact lenses. The equivalent to this little bag-full with my Canon 7D or 5D is a full camera backpack; I love this. The best of this system is that I can lift the whole thing out and put it in a rucksack if I’m going walking. One prime lens with a wide/normal view on the body, and this is a pocketable walk about camera of real image quality:

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Now let’s move onto image quality. I am not running an analysis site, so I won’t be giving any scientific details, much as I would love to be doing that stuff for a living; I will just be giving my opinion based on approximately 8 months of use. The image quality is very good indeed, more than good enough for most uses. I am not going to pretend that it matches my APS-C sensor Canon 7D, or the APS-C “sensored” Canon 100D which it replaces in my armoury, because they actually do take a more detailed and more 3-D image with a prime lens, but the difference is not vast. here is the difference: in good light, there is no significant image quality difference, but in poor light, the micro-four-thirds sensor doesn’t keep up with the APS-C or full frame. In practice, keep it under ISO 3200 and all will be similar. In general use, the image quality is lovely. The micro-four-thirds sensor is a well planned sweet-spot in size by Olympus and Panasonic and it shows in practice; images are are detailed, 3-d in quality and have a magical quality. The 16 million pixels are good pixels and streets ahead of any compact. I can easily live with this camera as my main camera for day to day use and that is saying something!

When I took this camera to Dubai, I took the kit zoom, the 40-150 basic telephoto zoom, and a single prime. (25mm f1.8 50mm-equivalent) I also had the clip on wide angle adapter that fits the kit lens. The following holiday pictures are all an illustration of what the camera does.

For low light, the Canon DSLRs still have a significant edge, but that is the only situation that their advantage tells.  This may seem an odd statement, but it is true and easily explained. Once the sensor size is “large enough” and the image quality is good enough, then it all comes down to lens quality. I am a fan of prime lenses for my portrait work, as they give the most magical qualities of shallow depth of field (DOF) which of course creates the magical look that we associate with quality cameras. My Full frame Canon 5D MK2 can achieve this with an f2.8 zoom which is great for wedding work. My APS-C (cropped sensor) 7D can achieve it with an f.1.8 prime, even from 28mm focal length! My Olympus can get this effect with an f1.8 25 mm. Even with an f1.8 17mm, much of that shallow depth of field is present. The thing is, that My Canon 7D with my fastest glass, the 50mm f1.4 might give a more extreme and magical shallow DOF, but it can’t be used in most work. If I try to take a portrait with a subject, and focus on one eye, they turn around by only a few degrees, their other eye is blurred, so I generally use it at f2.8 minimum aperture for portraits. My Olympus f1.8 25mm, I can throw wide open and it still gives magical results, but it isn’t so unforgiving. The sweet-spot works here; as long as you use nice prime lenses, the Olympus OM-D 10 MK2 is magical, and much easier to use in practice. Here is another thing, which was regularly discussed on the “all about the gear” photo podcast, micro-four-thirds lenses, being smaller, seem to be easier to make across the diameter of the glass, and so all of the lenses, pretty much without exception are sharp and lovely right across the frame, even wide open. So here is the summary: a micro-four-thirds camera, with a decent prime lens, and light that isn’t candle-dim or night-time unlit-street-scene dark, is going to give results that are just as magical as any system camera in practice with such ease of carrying, that you will get shots that you just wouldn’t otherwise always get.

Note: I fell foul of the high ISO weakness in my week in Dubai this spring. I was only getting to know the camera, and generally was very happy with the results I was getting, but one evening was in the “Harbour Area” and didn’t notice that in the darkness the camera had chosen an extremely high auto ISO setting that was simply way too high for the sensor’s capability. I took a few pictures of my little daughter and my brother which were just a mess of noise as Mr\Mrs Olympus chose ISO 25600! I have had to work for an hour on a couple of these just to get a decent snap, but why the camera allowed it by default is a mystery to me; my Canon 5D (full frame) isn’t a brilliant performer in this stratospheric sensitivity region. I have subsequently set the limit in the camera to 3200 and might manually try 6400 if the shot seems worth the effort, but beware of this if you have just bought a micro-four-thirds machine.

This one was at ISO 25600, a sensitivity I would never have deliberately chosen; it is a noisefest, however that was a crazy setting!

Here it is after a little bit of work to reduce the visible noise and “rescue” the image as much as possible:

 

Features are the next thing to comment on. Let’s be clear from the outset, we are talking about the differences between great and awesome when we compare modern digital cameras, they are all amazing and have features that make our lives so easy. There are still differences that are worthy of comment.

  • First in the Olympus is the tilting touchscreen. It has a quick access settings menu which means that all functions in common use are easily accessible from one button and one in particular stands out hugely to me: It has a focus point selector grid, that lets you slide a finger around on the screen while you look through the electronic viewfinder to select the active focal point. I’ll admit that this sounds awkward, but in practice it works well and I love it. It feels dynamic and responsive, especially when you haven’t committed to a focal point during live viewfinder composition.
  • It has a tilting touchscreen that will let you compose from ground level or from above your head as long as you are working in landscape format. It is brilliant and convenient. I guess you can see that I wish it was a tilt and twist screen to allow this flexibility in portrait mode as well. If you want that you have to buy the more upmarket OM-D 5 I believe. In summary it is a great feature but I wish it was even more versatile.
  • The Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) isn’t supposed to be as good as the OM-D 5, but I find it a pure pleasure to use. Any overlay information you want is available from basic aperture/ISO/speed to focus grid and exposure graphs. Bright sunlight doesn’t cause any problems at all, and I love the exposure approximation it gives you. I know it can be even better, but there is nothing here to jar; it is so good to use already.
  • Remote off-board flash control. My Canon DSLRs require about a million pounds worth of external flash controllers. I have the infra-red Canon TTL (Through The Lens metered) one (£169), which is very intuitive and is easy to adjust in practice; the only problem is it is unreliable outside and especially in bright sunlight. (Just as you might need for portrait fill flash with the sun behind the subject). I also have the pocket wizard Canon TTL radio controller, which costs £340 for the transmitter and receiver; it is utterly brilliant and reliable, but costly. The petite Olympus has control for its external flash units built in. (£0). I bought a well reviewed, Nissin branded, small but powerful external flash for £140, and the remote flash TTL function just worked! It will take me time to evaluate it in detail, but it is a built in extra and it is really important to me. Not for the first time, can I say, “are you listening Canon”?
  • The built in 5-axis image stabilisation. The word awesome is on an inflationary arc, and is so often overused; in this case however, it is inadequate to the task of praising this image stabilisation system. My 50mm prime on my Canon 5D DSLR needs to have a handheld speed of 1/50th of a second to get a reasonably sharp image. My 25mm prime (50mm equivalent) on the Olympus can be handheld at speeds approaching 1 second if the subject is still. This is a show-stopping performance and cannot be exaggerated. Every prime lens becomes highly stabilised.
  • The ART filters. Not a biggie, but big fun. Shift the dial to this setting, and your jpegs come out as grainy-high-contrast film, or sepia, or tilt/shift emulated, like “instagram” filters. Not essential in-camera, but sometimes very therapeutic and enjoyable.
  • Sufficient external controls to do everything quickly, with three of them customisable.

The final thing is feel. I have read a few reviews that have majored on that unquantifiable quality that some cameras possess to make you want to pick them up. I have handled a lot of cameras, and I have always come back to my Canon DSLRs as the camera that has the best feel in use; that is essentially the camera that gets used most because it is the camera that I “feel” that I want to pick up. This camera has finally overtaken my Canon DSLRs. It has image quality that falls a tiny (inconsequential) bit short of my Canons, but the “feel” of the camera in my hand is a few times better for me; I want…want…want to use the Olympus for everything. It is a viscerally lovely thing to hold in my hands. It is undeniably a bit retro looking, but not to a fault, every control falls to hand nicely and it is designed to be so. Pick this up at your peril, you really won’t want to stop shooting with it.

I said finally, but there is something too about build quality. When in Dubai, having never dropped a Canon camera in my memory, something awful happened. I was in a town square, watching the “dancing waters” fountains, when I suddenly reached out across the dining table to catch my daughter’s falling glass. Imagine my horror to watch my camera, now knocked over by my over zealous lunge, head for the ground like gravity’s number one fan! It had only a cheap (eBay), lower half leather “ever ready” case on for protection. It hit my knee and then landed on the concrete paving slabs below. I still remember the vivid feeling of sickening certainty that my camera, a week or so old, was dead as I rescued it from the ground. My Sister in Law’s sympathetic and horrified facial expression as she saw it dive south told me that it wasn’t just me….I had killed my now beloved new camera, except…It seemed I hadn’t. I couldn’t find a mark, and that was true of the ever-ready lower case too; I still haven’t found the mark? The camera proceeded to work perfectly too for the rest of the holiday. As if this isn’t bad enough, having never previously dropped any camera, a few days later, the same camera, was seated on the back seat of my brother’s vast four wheel drive BMW and had obviously worked its way across to the door opposite my daughter’s child seat. Upon disembarking, I opened that door, only to watch my homesick-halibut camera tumble again to the pavement. My heart sank, I felt sick, having avoided my deserved fate as a camera abuser until now, I was certain that my just-desserts had arrived for the obligatory munching…except…again, no marks, no scrapes, no functional issues, and I went on to take more and more favourite images with this workhorse of optical excellence. What I am trying to get across to you is that the phrase “solidly built” barely does justice to this stalwart of the  photographic world. It feels great, it looks, great, it takes great images, it is great fun to play with and I am in love with it. I am in bed and my proposal has been received. I feel sure that this is the one.

These are just some sample pictures, all with some processing, or a few using the art-filters straight from camera. These first few are straight from the art-filter settings:

These were processed in Lightroom:

I’m happy with micro four thirds, I think you should include it in your options if looking for a carry around, quality camera. Thanks for looking.

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Ok, I’m in love! It has taken a while for me to talk openly about it, because I have been broadly faithful for a long time, and coming to realise that something fundamental has changed has not been easy; there comes a time when only full confession will make things feel OK again.

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Pic by Kārlis Dambrāns

https://www.flickr.com/photos/janitors/

Let me explain. I started photography as an interest in 2006/2007. I started out with the ground-breaking Canon EOS 400D with its APS-C (cropped) sensor, and progressed through the Canon 40D to the Canon 7D and 5D Mk2 both of which are my main cameras now. En-route I briefly had a Canon EOS 100D for its small size, and along with 2 pancake primes this made a genuinely portable combination, but it has now been sold and replaced by my new love. You see, like many photography enthusiasts I struggled to find a camera that would give me the quality I need and still be portable enough to have with me casually at all times. I have tried various solutions throughout the development of my hobby, and none of them have actually stuck with me for various reasons:

There was the Canon G7 enthusiast/professional compact. It had a larger sensor than most compact cameras, but it still struggled to produce magic in low-light. I used it on some cycle-touring expeditions, but it had a tiny optical viewfinder which only approximated the actual photographic area as you zoomed, and had no overlaid shooting info at all. Worse still, there was the irritation of the zoom lens extending into the field of view of the optical viewfinder when fully extended which you were just supposed to ignore and not be distracted by. I have to say that I was fond of this camera, which I used on loan from my work at the time, but ultimately although I got some good shots with it, it didn’t work well enough for me for that crucial bonding with my camera to happen. Close, but not love.

By Rama – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.0 fr, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1933018

Then came the affair with the Sony NEX5. I should have seen from the start that we were destined to go our separate ways; this romance burned briefly and brightly, but the pain and compromise, which turned inevitably to disinterest and ultimately contempt were all predictable. The NEX series turned my head; I’ll admit I am an unashamed lover of modernity. A tiny minimalist camera with very few physical controls which was more worn by its lens than the other way round, seemed to me to be logical and technically beautiful. The fact that its sci-fi-tiny body contained a visible and bold APS-C crop sensor even larger than my Canon 7D’s, was a clincher for me. An interchangeable lens camera of diminutive proportions, with a sensor that could get quality images from candlelight, that looked like NASA engineered it, was always going to tempt me to make a fool of myself. I know what I like in a camera, and I knew then, but from first view, and then first gushy reviews, I was lost…. I like good lenses, The NEX had a few , but not many as it was a new system. I like a viewfinder, it only had a screen like a casual or amateur camera, but I bought it anyway. Love waned fairly fast. Image quality was lovely, but the lenses were pedestrian; good glass was thin on the ground and with Zeiss branding on the best of it, expensive. I got bored with the lenses I had, bought a cheap manual Olympus OM adapter and had some great fun with my friend Martin’s vintage OM lens collection; it was great fun too, but I simply could not get used to holding a camera out in front of me like a phone; it had to go.

At this point I realised that nothing out there was likely to fit the bill, until I happened to pick up the first camera to impress me outside of my Canons. Argos stores happened to be selling of old stock of the Panasonic G3 (a micro four thirds system camera) and the price was almost trivial. It was around £160 when it had been a £500 plus camera only two years before. It had a sensor way smaller than my Canons’, but big enough to be considered a real camera sensor, and some professionals were beginning to favour the system for its balance between image quality, small body and lens size. I loved the camera, and took some favourite pictures with it within the limits of the kit lens that came with it. It produced beautiful image quality, but limited bokeh (background blur) due to smaller sensor size. The interesting thing is that I really enjoyed this camera, and I was sorely tempted to “jump into bed with it” on a total commitment basis, but that would have meant buying a prime lens or two; I balked at this as I already have a fair lens collection for my Canon DSLRs, but something had changed, this was a camera I could love because it felt so good to shoot with. It gave me my first taste of a modern Electronic Viewfinder (EVF), a touchscreen and a folding/rotating touchscreen at that. The EVF overlaid whatever info you needed and in dim light or in direct sunlight it produced a clear enough and sharply representative image. The twisty-screen let me photograph in portrait or landscape format from ground level or held above my head; it was awesome. Focus speed and accuracy were amazing too, the only area that I felt could be improved was ready-to-shoot time as the buffer could fill fast, but honestly that never caused me problems as I am a single shot photographer who tends to compose and shoot one image at a time. A good prime lens would be a fraction of the size of my Canon lenses, and would produce some reasonable bokeh/depth of field control, but I sensed that I was better staying out or going all in; I stayed out as I could still carry my Canon system in a decent sized backpack and didn’t yet feel the need. I hung on to that Panny G3 though and really enjoyed some occasional outings with it when I couldn’t be bothered with my bigger kit. I still think this was one of my favourite cameras ever.

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/la1cna/

The crunch came this Easter, when I went on holiday to Dubai to see my brother and Sister-in-law, and I took my 4-year-old girl with me. To be honest my travelling carry bag was going to require wet-wipes, spare clothes for her, a soft toy and the seemingly endless accoutrements of childhood. I simply didn’t fancy carrying my Canon 5D or 7D and a few of the large lenses that go along with it as well as my dad-stuff! I knew I wanted a smaller camera as I wanted to capture the trip and still have space to be a good dad. I can’t remember how I found my new camera? Whether it was reading reviews or visiting a shop to see the options, but I knew that the micro four thirds system had already impressed me as the right balance between size and quality for a portable system, then I found the Olympus OMD 10 MK2 in a kit with a standard zoom and a telephoto zoom and I was in. The features were amazing and the price was reasonable. In-body image stabilisation that really performs, plenty of on-body controls to ensure easy handling, genuinely petite for what it does, great software and out of camera images, tilting touchscreen, remote flash control in-body. I bought one prime f1.8 25mm lens (50mm equivalent) for creamy bokeh portraits, and packed it all into a tiny corner of my mini backpack; I loved it, and between the amazing results and the joy of living with this beautiful camera, I am not going back. It’s like I said at the beginning, I’m in love…

In part 2 I’ll explain more about why!

Meanwhile, this older post reveals how long I have been thinking like this, as well as showing a nice size comparison between the lovely Panasonic G3 micro four thirds camera here and the Canon EOS 5D Mk2 which is my main camera.

http://www.matthewboyle.net/2015/01/06/take-some-chances-canon/

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A couple of weeks ago, my wonderful friend Gillian and I took her daughter and HB to the…..well, you can read I suppose, so no point in me repeating it. The trail is in Troon, so not only did the girls enjoy searching for fairies, (I know, as a scientific rationalist I really struggle with this stuff, but the kids love it), but they got to visit the beach afterwards!

Here is HB anticipating the magic:

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While I struggle with it, Gillian is basically Mary Poppins meets the Fairy Godmother; the girls are in the zone here. Guess who bought and gifted the wings? (Clue; it wasn’t me).

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The magic of the trail totally absorbs children; our pair are a particularly suggestible pair of subjects!

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Photographically, the lovely sunlight was nice to photograph into. The lovely rim-lighting around hair is always nice, but here we have backlit wings too. Beautiful light:

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The fairy trio stop for wild fairy-snacks from the upper reaches of the bramble bushes. Check the backlighting again:

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Of course lovely fairy dwellings or not, girlie outings are girlie outings. Just as well I had my camera to occupy me. Oh, and yes, that is a picnic on Gillian’s back!

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Where would a pair of wee fairies hang out but in a fairy bower. This one was interesting photographically as the willow-bower is really eye catching and busy when you want the eyes to be drawn to the girls’ faces. Black and white conversion helps to simplify the image and to draw the eyes to the centre. strong vignetting also reduces the focus on the detailed willow formation. The girls’ faces still need a little “‘dodging” in post processing to ensure they stand out.

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Finally the picnic is earned; happy girls. The backlight is wonderful:

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When you have this quality of late autumn sunshine from behind, you just have to turn on “forced flash” and put the sun behind. Here is HB suffused with lovely light and filled in by on-board flash.

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Now we have moved from the trail to the beach, but the backlight remains the same as only half an hour has elapsed. Here is M just sparkling happily on Troon beach.

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This one is one of my personal favourites ever. Same backlighting sun, reflecting off the water, same fill-in flash, this time with Gillian and M together. They are so close and I am delighted to say this picture is completed by an artistic sparkle/reflection.

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Finally, here is HB at the same time but digging for seaweed. The texture of the water is a lovely background to this happy wee paw-dredger!

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Thanks for looking!

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  • Mary Poppins

    Beautifully reflects a lovely day with the two wee fairies.
    Bravo! MPx

  • Jacqueline O'Donnell

    I love these photographs Mathew.

    Forget the science and come along to the nurser; there a few children who will convince you about the wonderful and magical world of fairies!

    Bring your camera!

These were taken a couple of weeks ago when HB and I had a wee afternoon in Troon. It was a dreich and miserable day but I made the mistake of uttering the words of paternal folly, “what would you like to do today”? “Troon” came the answer! So here we are, car parked and walking to the beach. Before we left HB drew on her leggings and when I took her home to change, she insisted on shorts despite my protests. The result being wee bare legs when the wellies were pulled from the car boot. So far no problem, so here is her smiling “Nora Batty” look. To be serious, the wall gives a leading line to HB which I like, and the rainy day light is soft and diffuse.

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Some moments later, the no-sock-welly-rubbing experience is making itself known. This results in “Orphan Annie” instead of smiling HB!

 

 

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A quick trip to the local M and Co and we obtained some knee length socks. Sadly for me I had to carry her! All now sorted we hit the deserted beach with the newly obtained bucket, but we couldn’t find a spade!  This picture using the Google/Nik silver FX pro software is one of my recent favourites.

 

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Another with the same treatment. Handfuls of sand being thrown, socks on full display!

 

 

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This one featuring Google/Nik colour treatment. I’m determined that the socks are seen! I love how she loses herself in a beach. She is collecting….things….

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These ones are taken with the Olympus in camera “art filter” setting. Just a bit of high contrast fun.

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A little retro treatment from “colour FX pro”

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And again, but with added film “damage”. I love this. I think HB looks like her mum’s family in this image.

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Last, but not least. Using the silver FX pro again, I adore my happy wee girl running on the huge beach. She had so much fun, and got so wet, but still insisted on telling me that her short-clad legs “weren’t cold at all”!

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My gorgeous friend Petrea recently asked me to do some photographs of her with her family and with her baby bump as she is “due” shortly. Anyone who has looked at my blog might remember that I photographed Petrea and her husband Steve’s wedding in Rosneath. I have hardly seen Petrea and Steve since, and this was my first chance to meet their first child, Calum. This made for a particularly lovely visit for me.

This first picture shows Petrea holding a just awake Calum. He is simply lovely, and in our few hours together, was just amazingly good company. No tears, lots of happy play, just a great kid. Just a wee bit wary of the stranger with the camera here though!

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The timing for the photographs was a little unfortunate, as it was an overcast day, and darkness was falling fast, so we had to go out and make the best of such light as was available. This meant the light was a bit flat and uninteresting, so I have indulged in more post-processing than usual to keep them interesting. This one was using the last of the real light with a little fill flash through an umbrella. The colours are nice and such light as there was was at least soft. Thank goodness for the 5D Mk2 and its big light gathering sensor!

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This one with the same light but including Steve. Steve is not only a very handsome man, but he has the most easy going and gentle nature. Calum and bump 2 are very lucky with their mum and dad!

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While Calum played I grabbed a few shots of Petrea to show the bumpette.

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Calum is the must amazing climber for a boy who isn’t even 2! He is basically a monkey. Look at these eyes here in this classic extreme angle shot. The colours were fine, but distracted from the strong shapes and leading-line curves.

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Steve on his own, again the colours of the play-park distracted from Steve, so they had to go!

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This one is just so lovely for me to see; I know how happy Petrea and Steve are with their growing family and this picture just captures that joy for me. I am so delighted for them.

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Steve and Petrea’s backs are being tested to the limit with their tiny dynamo, but they are tough people. When the going gets tough, the tough start hugging!

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Here we see the genetic source of the monkey tendency in wee Calum!

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Seeing Petrea and Steve looking so happy together just thrills me, they are so well suited. As an aside, in the 1 minute it took to grab this shot Calum had managed to run about 20 miles away; just as well it’s a big safe park! How will they ever herd 2 baby gazelles/cheetahs; I think they they need to get a bigger park.

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A bit of playful colour treatment to cope with the now very low light. If you look you can see the “buzzy bee” that is fascinating the young squire on the sunflower.

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This is just pure photographic playfulness; I love these guys amongst the sunflowers.

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It was getting so dark here that focus lock was becoming a challenge, but these logs just had to be used. Petrea looks perfect here with just a little remote flash again.

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One more of Spidey playing. I could only get focus-locked on his eyes in about 1 out of 50 pics as he just doesn’t stop moving!

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They will be foursome in just a few weeks now and I am thrilled. Maybe if I play my cards right, my camera and I could be heading to Edinburgh again soon…

Thanks for a lovely afternoon. x

 

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  • Petrea

    Love these pictures Matthew. What great fun we had being free and natural…it was a great afternoon and think you did a brilliant job with the challenging lighting that was upon us. We simply love the pictures which will be treasured by us.
    Thank you for yhese pictures and great to see you after all these 5 years! How fast does time fly?
    Love from the three plus bumpette!”