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The last six months have been a bit of a write off on the blog front, but hopefully that’s about to change – four days ago on October 1st I started a new adventure, leaving my position as a scientist with NZ’s Department of Conservation and finishing up a 42 year stint in various government-funded science roles. Quite a world of opportunity lies ahead. As I write this its my first Sunday night since I was eighteen on which there has been no requirement to front up at work in the morning – and that feels quite liberating!

I’ve also been making some quiet changes on the camera front. Back in August I assembled an exhibition of prints for the main foyer at the Department of Conservation’s main office in Wellington. It has a fantastic display space that I had eyed up for some time, and with my departure approaching fast, and encouraged both by family and a couple of fellow photographers at DOC, I took the plunge.

There was lots of learning in it, particularly around the value of getting independent eyes to help in the selection of prints. Learning some of the finer points of framing was also a biggie. And interestingly, some of the prints that we included I wouldn’t have put in on their own, but when hung with related prints, they added significantly to the overall effect.

One of the other things that became apparent as the local Imageland crew produced a series of big prints up to A1 in size was the limitations of micro-four-thirds as a format when printed this big. In fact, the only larger prints that I was happy with from a quality perspective were ones where I had stitched together multiple images.

That sort of realisation can be dangerous for the budget, and I found myself increasingly looking on the internet at cameras with larger-sized sensors, but that still retained the small size and light weight of my Olympus OM-D. The stand out seemed to be the full-frame offerings from Sony – the A7 and A7R – and eventually I managed to get my hands on an A7R to try out. Its image quality blew me away!

One of the main criticisms of these cameras has been their lack of lenses – but balancing that is their ability to mount almost any full frame 35 mm lens via an adaptor. Casting my eye across what various people out there were using, it was the Canon FD line of lenses that stood out as performing extra well with these sensors without blowing the budget. Another consideration was trying to stick with a single lens brand so I could have a single filter size and focussing rings all rotating the same way. Canon and Nikon are opposites in this respect.

Based on a couple of reviews (The Photofundamentalist and ERPhotoReview in particular) I headed to EBay and gradually picked out a range of top-line primes from a 20 mm f/2.8 through to an 85 f/1.8. And all at prices that, in total, cost less than either of the Sony-produced Zeiss prime lenses.

The camera finally arrived on the 25th of last month, but with end-of-DOC demands taking a lot of time, I didn’t get to give it a serious try out until the 29th when I went for a very pleasant evening meander around the waterfront in Wellington. I had wanted to keep my bag weight down for my plane flight south from Hamilton so took just two lenses – the FD 35 f/2 and the FD 85 f/1.8. To my mind this is almost the perfect lens combo when space is limited – the 35 mm focal length (or its equivalent) has always been a favourite of mine as a walk around lens, and a short tele is almost the perfect complement to it for when a tighter framing of a subject is required.

It was a bitter cold day, but with an extra hour of sunlight thanks to daylight saving, I spent a couple of hour strolling the wharves around to the old boat-harbour at Oriental Bay, which I vividly remember walking to as a kid growing up in Wellington – it still looks the same.

And the results were everything I could have asked for – even if the subject matter is not quite my usual. The combination of Canon FD lenses and that sensor are fantastic, although a little unforgiving, given the lack of in body image stabilisation. And the menu system takes a bit of learning – as they do!

Next post I’ll return to the wilds – its a promise!