Olympus TG6 – Does the T Really Stand for “Tough”?

Snorkelling on the wreck of the Bajan Queen
Camera: OLYMPUS CORPORATION TG-6 | Date: 25-04-2023 14:38 | Resolution: 4243 x 2828 | ISO: 100 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/320s | Aperture: 2.8 | Focal Length: 4.5mm (~25.0mm)

I don’t do a lot of underwater photography, but I like to have an underwater-capable camera for snorkelling on holiday, and it’s also potentially a good option for working in very wet conditions above seal level. For the last 10 years I’ve used a Canon S120 with the Canon underwater housing, which works very well. It shoots RAW, and I’ve developed a very slick process for correcting the white balance to produce colour-accurate shots which can be put through my normal workflow alongside the output from my other cameras. A few years ago I also flirted with a Panasonic GF6, again with a dedicated housing, and that also worked well, but I decided it didn’t give me enough extra capability to justify the larger size of the kit.

Unfortunately as I’m getting older my eyes are changing, and on the last couple of trips I’ve struggled to see the rear screen of the S120 through the combination of snorkel mask and housing. I therefore decided I needed to remove at least one layer of distortions and reflections from the chain, by buying a camera designed for underwater use. To work for me it would have to have good stills capability, a large rear screen, RAW capability and physical controls (I don’t get on with phones as cameras, again it’s largely an eyesight thing). Those requirements eliminated most options but the Olympus TG6 seemed to tick all the boxes.

I approached the TG6 with a bit of trepidation: a lot of reviews suggest that even though it is underwater capable as-is, you should still put it in a housing for serious use. Also I had a bad experience with one of its predecessors, the TG2, which failed dramatically on its first use in the sea. However most reviews were positive, and I decided to have a go.

Some of the issues with the TG2 have been fixed. The newer camera supports RAW, and has an extensive menu of underwater focus and white balance options. The screen is no larger than the Canon S120’s, but without a housing it is easier to see. Generally the TG6 a “high capability” small camera, with some features such as macro focus bracketing which I don’t have with any other camera. The external seals have been improved, with a clever double-locking mechanism to make sure they are shut and stay shut. Importantly, the camera survived two snorkelling trips without springing a leak, which shouldn’t be an achievement for this type of camera, but based on my previous experience, it is.

However I really struggle with the “tough” designation. By default the lens comes without any protection at all, so I shelled out an extra £35 on the LB-T01 “lens barrier”, which clips on in place of the filter ring and provides a neat “twist to open or close” lens cap. However on the second snorkelling trip I had to wade back onto the beach through some sandy surf. Some of the sand obviously worked its way into the lens barrier, and it jammed open. I await a replacement, and probably a future recurrence.

You imagine these devices being thrown into kit bags and dropped on floors, but if you do so you’ll rapidly scratch the rear screen out of usability. I carried the camera on its first trip in the side pocket of my snorkel bag. Just an empty, clean pocket in a nylon bag, nothing else in it. When we reached the boat the rear screen had picked up a couple of small but distinct scratches. I’ve just watched a program where they showed the “key scratch test” used on FitBit screens, but heaven knows how the TG6 would survive that. What’s annoying is there’s a very simple solution short of engineering the screen with genuinely tough glass – why doesn’t it come with a screen protector fitted as standard, and then you can just replace that when it’s damaged? I’ve fitted one now, but it’s a bit too late…

You still have to open either the USB port cover or the battery cover to recharge the battery. Why can’t it have an exterior charge point like a FitBit, or inductive charging like my toothbrush? Then if you set up WiFi to access the data you could leave the camera sealed for a whole trip, which would be much more secure. As it is I’m still not 100% convinced that the next time out won’t be the time the seals fail and it goes the way of the TG2.

Given my changing eyes I’ll hang onto the TG6 at least for a planned beach trip at the end of the year, but unlike some cameras, it’s a bit on sufferance and not an entirely comfortable relationship.

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Barbados – Mojo Reanimated

Thirs World with guest Biggie Irie at the Barbados Vintage Reggae Festival 2023
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 29-04-2023 00:49 | Resolution: 3400 x 2125 | ISO: 1600 | Exp. bias: -133/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/200s | Aperture: 5.6 | Focal Length: 177.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 100-300/F4.0-5.6II

It gives me great pleasure to announce that Barbados has its mojo back.

We’ve been regular visitors to the magical island over many years now. It was a real frustration that our 2020 trip got cancelled with only a few weeks’ notice, and we couldn’t wait to return. We were lucky enough to get back at the end of 2021, and also in 2022, but between the impacts of a year of lockdowns and enduring Covid restrictions it was somehow changed. Yes, the sun still shone and you could still get a good meal (before the 9.00 curfew), but many of the touches we value were missing. Barbados’ mojo was (as no blues song has ever put it) not in an operational state.

Suddenly, this April, it’s working again. The most visible single indicator is the triumphant return of the Reggae Festival.  On Friday we were treated to a parade of well-loved faces and voices. Local girl Wendy Alleyne (OK, she’s probably older than I am) opened her sparkling set with the hilarious “I Am Still Here” (essentially “I’m Not Yet Dead”). The Fab 5 stormed in from Jamaica with all the old favourites, even if they can’t jump as high as before and no longer have their full brass section. However the highlight of the evening was undoubtedly Third World, who’s stunning set encompassed reggae, rock, a bongo solo, Redemption Song on a cello, and the operatic “Con Te Partirò”!

Wendy Alleyne at the Barbados Vintage Reggae Festival 2023 (Show Details)

Third World at the Barbados Vintage Reggae Festival 2023(Show Details)

Third World at the Barbados Vintage Reggae Festival 2023, and no, that isn’t Romesh Ranganathan on Bass! (Show Details)

There are other signs too. New restaurants have replaced many of those which failed during Covid. The sporting agenda is more or less back to normal and we got to our first polo match in 4 years.

Barbados vs Switzerland (Show Details)

The buzz is back. Wonderful!

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Getting High (But Not That High)!

Andrew with the AirSportsBarbados microlight
Camera: SONY DSC-RX100M4 | Date: 22-04-2019 20:00 | Resolution: 4621 x 2888 | ISO: 125 | Exp. bias: -0.7 EV | Exp. Time: 1/320s | Aperture: 4.5 | Focal Length: 8.8mm (~24.0mm)

Back in 2019 I was privileged to take what is a pretty unique airborne trip. Paul Nugent of Airsportsbarbados had one of only four two-seater microlight aircraft in the Caribbean, and at that time was running tours. To make it interesting, he was based at the International airport (Barbados only has one), so we queued up for take-off behind a 747 bound for Canada, and formed an orderly queue behind a Lear Jet to land!

View back over Grantly Adams International Airport – through the propeller of a microlight! (Show Details)

Camera and lens choice was important, as I needed something light, easy to manipulate and which wouldn’t stick out too far into the slipstream. Also I wouldn’t be changing lenses! The Panasonic G9 was the ideal body, and I paired it with the jewell-like Panasonic 45-175mm. That’s a real gem: only 90mm long (and no longer, it’s an internal zoom) weighs 210g, and its tiny size means that it can be held stable in quite a strong wind.

We flew up the East Coast and back, which gave me great views of The Crane, where we stay. On a really good day I might be able to get these shots with a drone, but the prevailing wind would make it a challenge. it’s less of an issue if you yourself are 300ft up.

The Crane, Barbados, from a Microlight (Show Details)

The pools at The Crane, Barbados, from a Microlight (Show Details)

The trip also took in other well-known sights on that side of the island including Codrington College, Bathsheba and the Morgan Lewis Windmill. Being able to photograph Morgan Lewis from the air was especially entertaining as it had just re-opened after a multi-year restoration, and by coincidence we had visited it, on the ground, the previous day.

The Morgan Lewis Windmill, from a Microlight (Show Details)

This wouldn’t be for everyone, but if your phobias allow it and you ever get the opportunity to do something similar, take it!

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My New Avatar – Thanks Dall-E!

A fat bear lifting weights, by Dall-E

Thanks to Dall-E for my new avatar. The shape of the abdomen is about right…

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When You Wish … A Different Approach To Sourcing

This may amuse you. It might also scare you a bit…

First, you have to realise I have form here. Years ago, when we were fitting out Frances’ treatment room, we were having coffee with my parents. We complained that what we really needed was an avocado green vanity sink, but they had gone out of fashion. My father put down his coffee, and went upstairs. We heard  the loft door open and close, and he came back down the stairs carrying … an avocado green vanity sink!

A couple of years ago when we were planning our kitchen refit, we were having dinner with friends in Norfolk. We told them about our plans, and said “what we’d like to track down is a Neff Hide&Slide oven, but the older style with physical switches rather than a touch panel”. Nigel stood up from dinner, and said “come with me to the garage”. There, he presented me with a dirty but complete Neff Hide&Slide oven, the older style with physical switches rather than a touch panel. I had to swap it for an old lawn mower, and it needed a new element and seals, but now it’s in and works beautifully.

So, on Saturday night I was out with friends celebrating my birthday, as you do. As is the way, talk turned to work, and I complained that we are having a challenge getting a good power benchmark for our servers. I said that I know what data I need, and I’m pretty sure I could get it, but I can’t physically type commands into the ESX system, and the third-hand approach exchanging instructions with a system operator at our supplier is not working.

And Keith said, as can happen, “well, since Jill retired we no longer use our ESX server. It’s been on eBay but no-one wants it, and I was about to take it to the dump.”

Thus from Friday I will have a new, old, virtualisation server, and I can get my client the calibration data we are so desperately seeking.

Now, do I know anyone who might have an old Ferrari in the garage, and when are they free for dinner?

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The World’s Worst Panorama 2023

The World's Worst Panorama 2023
Camera: SONY DSC-RX100M7 | Date: 22-02-2023 19:49 | Resolution: 24420 x 2802 | ISO: 1250 | Exp. bias: -0.7 EV | Exp. Time: 1/30s | Aperture: 4.5 | Focal Length: 9.0mm (~24.0mm)

Here’s my “group panorama” from Richard Bernabe’s Feb 2023 trip to Patagonia.

From the left: Gero, Nigel, Thomas, Karsten, Jörn, Lisa, Richard, Alejandro, Glenn, Alex, John, Pat, Yours Truly and JoAnne.

Please don’t study the stitching too carefully, or complain about the fact that Ale has become a hobbit – this is much, much easier on a round or square table than a very, very long thin one!

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Rainbows Rising

Rainbow over the Cascada Paine
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 21-02-2023 08:14 | Resolution: 5606 x 3504 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/320s | Aperture: 6.3 | Focal Length: 9.0mm | Lens: LEICA DG SUMMILUX 9/F1.7

After a very blustery night the forecast seemed to have been correct and the day dawned very wet and windy. We travelled to the first stop without much hope, and it appeared to be justified. As I said to Richard "to photograph the light on the mountains you first have to be able to see the mountains"!

We gave up the sunrise location and instead travelled to another waterfall, the very dramatic Cascada Paine. Even in poor light this would be a decent subject, but we were blessed, with good foreground light but also with the most amazing full arch rainbow, which persisted for as long as we were willing to photograph it.

Back at the hotel it initially looked like that might be the end of the day’s proceedings, and we settled in for a day of processing, and critiquing work we had already done. However just before lunch suddenly the sun emerged, even though the winds were still challenging, and we set out for an afternoon shoot.

The first stop was Grey Lake, of geographical interest because it’s one of the parts of the park’s lake system fed directly from a glacier, albeit one which is rapidly retreating and now a 16km boat ride from the lake proper. Indeed there was a small iceberg recently calved in the lake. However there were only limited photographic options.

On the way to dinner, however, we had a treat: a group of guanaco who were happily grazing alongside the road and who seemed content to pose for us against the mountain background.

Cooperative guananco
(Show Details)

After dinner the first stop was an overlook near the restaurant but looking back over the central plain of the park towards the mountains. Unusually there was very little cloud on the latter, and we were free to build graphic compositions based on bands of water, pampas, rock and sky. However there was a downside – the outlook is an animal rather than a human haunt, and we were dive-bombed by insects from the moment we arrived, the first time that’s been an issue on the whole trip. JoAnne had some repellent which she was happy to share, but I suspect it was for sharks not insects, at least judging by its relative ineffectiveness.

View of the Torres del Paine from above the Pueblito Serrano
(Show Details)

The last stop was the Weber Bridge. We all took the obligatory shot of the mountains with very little cloud, but then turned to watch a very dramatic lenticular cloud swirling, but not moving laterally, right above us, catching the sun in dramatic style.

Lenticular cloud above the Puente Weber
(Show Details)

The final day again dawned cloudy and very windy and I sat out the “sunrise” (with no sun) huddled up with a couple of others behind a rock in the lee of the wind. However on the way back to the hotel another amazing  rainbow developed above our hotel and embracing the mountains.

Rainbow above the Osteria Pehoe
(Show Details)

After breakfast we set off on the drive back to El Calafate as the first leg of various long journeys back home. The park had one final surprise for us: yet another rainbow over the Laguna Amarga, where we had photographed angry swirling clouds on the way in. It was so windy I was almost blown off my feet, but it was worth it for the final shoot.

Rainbow above the Laguna Amarga
(Show Details)

The drive back to the border didn’t seem as bad as on the way in – I suspect they had already opened a few more miles of the new road. However whereas the usual experience is that it takes a couple of hours to get into Chile, we had the reverse – Chilean customs had been efficient in both directions, but we arrived at the Argentinian border control point with a long line of buses in both directions, and it took over 2 hours to get through. It took another hour and a half to the stop at Esperanza, by which time they were out of empanadas and down to a few uninspiring sandwiches. I had received a lot of stick for having an “elevenses” empanada with my coffee at the Chilean border, but I emerged victorious!

After the final leg back to El Calafate we got together for the “last supper” and a good time was has by all. Tomorrow I have to start on stitching together “The World’s Worst Panorama 2023”.

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Have I Offended El Gauchito Gil?

Peaks of Cerro Almirante Nieto
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 20-02-2023 07:29 | Resolution: 4952 x 3301 | ISO: 800 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/80s | Aperture: 7.1 | Focal Length: 89.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 35-100/F2.8

Today was slightly harder work. We had tricky start to the day. At the sunrise location the sunrise largely failed to materialise, but we did get light just on the peaks for a few minutes, and I got some good close-ups.

Magmatic inclusion at the top of Cerro Almirante Nieto catching the sunlight (Show Details)

We had then been promised a location where a female puma and her cubs were working their way through a recent kill within easy sight of the road. The score: dead guanacos 1, pumas nil!

The post-breakfast shoot was productive, walking up past a dramatic waterfall to a large space filled with trees which died in the major forest fire of 2011. These make great compositional elements, either as frames for the mountains, or as primary subjects in their own right, with mountains behind.

Tree in front of the mountains (Show Details)

Another lazy afternoon allowed me to catch up with my images and blog, although posting the latter was a painful process. The internet connection in Torres del Paine is not only slow, but also drops out every few minutes, causing anything which was part-way through to have to restart. When I’m back I’ll have to review my blog posting software and see if I can make it more resilient, although how I’ll test this I’m not quite sure.

I must have accidentally offended El Gauchito Gil (the Argentinian "Robin Hood" and protector of travellers), but I’m not quite sure how. However first my sandwich for lunch took almost an hour to arrive, then when we went for dinner I was served last, at which point the restaurant realised they’d got the order wrong and prepared one too many vegetarian risottos, one too few salmons. Fortunately it didn’t take them long to fix it, but I was then a bit peeved when despite their many "mea culpa"s, they insisted I break an additional large note when my available cash came up about 50p short. Not impressed.

Shot in its natural state by the famous wildlife photographer, Richard Bernabe

The plan was to get back to the hotel, then go to the other side of the island to shoot sunset. However as it was by then cloudy and blowing at about 50mph I took an executive decision and decamped to the bar. Much better!

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We’re Going on a Guanaco Hunt!

The Osteria Pehoe at dusk
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 19-02-2023 21:25 | Resolution: 5476 x 3422 | ISO: 1600 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 0.31s | Aperture: 7.1 | Focal Length: 12.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

Today was a lighter day, partly to allow everyone to recover from the long drive, and specifically to make sure Gustavo stays within his driving hour limits. We went up the road about 1 mile for sunrise, with a similar view to that from the hotel, but with our hotel and a couple of interesting land spits also in view. The light was great, pink "fire" on the clouds and the mountain tops.

Torres del Paine at sunrise (Show Details)

After breakfast (unfortunately as accurately described by Richard) we went on a guanaco hunt, looking for these charming Patagonian llamas in interesting situations, ideally with a mountain behind them or similar. They are relaxed, curious creatures, so as long as you are non-threatening you can approach moderately close without any problem. Between about four locations we all found several promising images.

Guananco-scape! (Show Details)

Over lunch we got thinking about the ideal guanaco image, and I came up with the idea of a guanaco on a paddle board on the lake in front of the mountains. I did mention beer was being taken, didn’t i? While none of us had such an image, Dall-E was very obliging: see This is Really Scary

After a couple of relatively lazy hours lunch was followed rather quickly by an early tea. One challenge with the Osteria Pehoe is their very fixed dining hours, which are not compatible with a sunset shoot at this time of year. As a result we had to drive 3/4 hour in each direction to another restaurant outside the park, eat, and then take photos at three locations on the way back. As this is likely to be the pattern for the next couple of days we’ll have to eat more lightly at lunch so we don’t explode.

The first stop on the way back furnished views of the mountains with amazing lenticular clouds above them.

Lenticular clouds over the Torres del Piane (Show Details)

The last stop was a short distance from the hotel, showing it on its island in context with the lake and mountains. The accommodation and dining may be a challenge, but they do have their compensations!

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This is Really Scary…

A photo of a guanaco on a paddle board on a lake in front of the Torres del Paine mountains (courtesy of Dall-E)

This morning’s subject was a “guanaco hunt”, capturing one or more of the charming Patagonia llamas in a nice pose, ideally in front of a mountain or similar.

Over lunch, as beer was consumed, we got talking about how we could improve the images we had captured. Looking at the wonderful view from the restaurant, I came up with the idea of a guanaco on a paddle board in front of the mountains.

Always up for a challenge I had my first go with Dall-E, the AI image generator. I gave it this simple prompt: “A photo of a guanaco on a paddle board on a lake in front of the Torres del Paine mountains”. Two of the four images it created were unusable, but the first was OK, the third was exactly what I had in mind. OK the guanaco’s legs are a bit odd, but the concept has been correctly interpreted and executed, and that’s the difficult part.

It really shouldn’t be that easy. Be afraid, be very afraid!

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It’s a Long Drive, to Torres del Paine (Almost works!)

View from the Osteria Pehoe
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 18-02-2023 19:41 | Resolution: 10015 x 3709 | ISO: 400 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/200s | Aperture: 8.0 | Focal Length: 12.0mm

After a very quick dawn shoot we assembled for the long drive from El Chalten to Torres del Paine in Chile. This involves driving about 100 miles East, the a couple of hundred South, past El Calafate where we started, then West over the border and into the Torres del Paine National Park.

Canyon of the Las Vueltas River (Show Details)

What you rapidly realise is that vast swathes of Patagonia are very empty, very flat and, let’s be frankm very boring near desert, with the odd fox or guanaco, maybe occasionally a few cattle. Our drive from El Chalten rapidly left behind the drama of the Mt. Fitzroy massif and turned into a steady plod. The first available stop was after 1.5 hours, the next more than a further 2. That’s not a choice – you can often see 5 or 10 miles in each direction and the only evidence of mankind is the road itself.

I’d be asleep at the wheel in minutes, hats off to our excellent driver Gustavo who seems to be happy doing this hour after hour.

About 4pm, after 7 hours on the (good) road we turned onto a gravel track towards the border, with the Torres del Paine just appearing in the distance. Rattling along at 20mph seemed at odds with the "main road" marking on my map, but I suppose it’s no different to southern Namibia.

We’ve been terrorised with stories of the border crossing taking multiple hours, but it wasn’t too bad – processed both sides, a coffee purchased and on our way in not much more than an hour. The main challenge is that after standing in various queues Chilean customs insist on scanning every item of luggage. It’s just sobering to remember that it used to be that way going from France to Belgium.

The road is nicely surfaced from the exact border point to a few miles from the Chilean customs, when we diverted onto a ghastly washboard which runs for a vast distance alongside what is obviously going to be a very nice new road when completed. Occasionally we were teased by crossing the new carriageway, then we were back on the washboard.

Distant views of Torres del Paine from the bus (Show Details)

The roads in the Park are much the same, and it took almost two hours to get to the hotel. Richard had been actively managing down expectations, and it is true that the Osteria Pahoe has seen better days. There is one compensation. The view.

Apparently tomorrow most of our shooting will be within walking distance. This could work…

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Water, Water, Tunch

The Cascada Cañadon de los Toros
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 17-02-2023 11:59 | Resolution: 6571 x 3696 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/13s | Aperture: 9.0 | Focal Length: 9.0mm

The day started with another visit to the canyon viewpoint, to see if we could get better light than on Wednesday. At first it looked like the Eastern sky was overcast and we wouldn’t get much, but suddenly about 1/2 before dawn it brightened up and gave us another show, but with a bit more cloud than yesterday.

It’s very interesting how photographs reflect a photographer’s outlook, and how different photographers seek different key characteristics for that purpose. I loved the cloudless sky yesterday morning and the strong geographic shapes in red and orange or blue which resulted from it. My companion for the same shoot didn’t and was much more enthusiastic about the small clouds on the mountains, which I regarded as “messing up” the underlying shapes. Chacun à son goût.

After breakfast we got on the bus and drove for well over an hour through the park to the Cascada Cañadon de los Toros, a small but dramatic cascade near the end of the navigable road. This was ideal for my style of shooting, lots of different views from tricky positions well-suited to hand-holding. However I discovered that I had to do slightly more hand-holding than recommended – the best lens for the job was my new 9mm f/1.7, but it takes 55mm filters and I only have a 58mm neutral density filter (to slow down the shutter speed and hence the water’s movement). The best shots therefore were taken at around 1/10s with my right hand holding the camera, and my left holding the ND filter. Thank the forces of light, or whoever’s responsible, for dual image stabilisation!

The Cascada Cañadon de los Toros (Show Details)

It was another long drive back, so we headed off for “lunch” at about 3pm. It amuses me that while we have a well-established term for late breakfast / early lunch, we have no equivalent term for “we missed lunch so let’s eat enough now to cover it and tea/dinner”. My vote is for “Tunch”. We had a very nice tunch of steak and beer.

At the end of the day we had a short hike up to the Mirador los Condores. The light wasn’t great, but we did get some nice views of the town, and one very dramatic lenticular cloud above one of the peaks.

Lenticular cloud above the El Chalten Massif (Show Details)

Tomorrow, we move on to Chile.

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