EM1.2 in Antarctica (Long, 13 Photos)

Started Feb 21, 2019 | Discussions thread
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JoanKauai Forum Member • Posts: 95
EM1.2 in Antarctica (Long, 13 Photos)

Last month I took an 18 day Silversea Expedition cruise from Ushuaia, Argentina to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, the Antarctic Peninsula together with two nearby South Shetland islands, and then back to Ushuaia. Here’s a report about how I used my EM1.2 and its lenses during this trip.

The temperature in the Falklands was around 40℉ (4.5℃), in South Georgia around 35℉ (1.5℃) and in Antartica around 28℉ (-2℃) with frequent rain when temperatures were above freezing and snow otherwise. The wind was often 20-30mi/h (40km/h). Although these temperatures are far from the bitter cold experienced by many people this winter, each trip ashore was for three or more hours and the cold plus the wind required bundling up.

The cruise company supplies each passenger with a combination down parka and rain jacket—the gray parka is surrounded by the red rain jacket seen in the photo below.

Zodiac landing in Antarctica. Ship in background is Silver Explorer.

The cruise company also specifies a list of clothing including thick and thin base layers, hat, neck warmer and gloves. Because all landings were from zodiacs onto rocky beaches or boulders we were required to wear waterproof pants and boots. The water was sometimes deeper than the boot’s height, so I pulled the waterproof pants over the boots and fastened an elastic velcro strap around the pants leg. Hence, water could not spill into my boots while wading through deeper water.

Our backpacks needed to be waterproof too, and I can recommend the Friendly Swede brand available from Amazon. This is basically a waterproof sack with shoulder and waist straps. I made cutouts in polyurethane material to hold the lenses and to provide shape for the backpack. The backpack also offered a protected place to reach in and change lenses.

Once landed, we typically hiked 1 to 3 miles (1.5-5 km) over varied terrain, low hills, and/or snow packs to reach the seabird and penguin colonies. Some sites also included relics of whaling activity. The boots and clothing added weight to that of the camera gear.

The trip yielded about 300 picks out of about 6000 total images. Of these 300 images, here is the percentage usage by lens:

8mm F/1.8 Fisheye: 3.5%

7-14mm F/2.8: 1.9%

30 mm F/3.5 Macro: 0.3%

12-100mm F/4: 57.6%

40-150mm F/2.8: 0.8%

40-150mm + MC-1.4: 26.1%

300mm F/4: 9.0%

300mm + MC-1.4 0.5%

Most photos were taken with the 12-100mm, the 40-150mm+TC, the 300mm, and the 8mm. Post processing of the images used DxO PhotoLab 2 and the photos were all scaled to 5184 pixels on the long side with bicubic sharpener. Here are some examples, starting with telephoto and progressing to wide angle.

The 300mm lens was needed for taking BIF of seabirds from the ship. Some seabirds are large such as a black browed albatross shown here with its wing just touching the water’s surface. Image taken with the 300 mm F/4 lens.

Black Browed Albatross

Another large bird is the southern giant petrel. The nostrils differ from that of the albatross. The light green tip to the bill distinguishes it from the northern giant petrel. Image taken at 150mm with the 40-150mm F/2.8 lens.

Southern Giant Petrel

Other sea birds are relatively small and hard to photograph as they quickly dart across the water. A prion moves so fast it is hard to get in the frame, and even then, hard to lock focus on because the bird is near the water and is gray against a gray background. This image, heavily cropped, is presumably the Antarctic prion and was taken with the 300mm F/4 lens.

Prion (Presumably Antarctic Prion)

On land the 300mm lens wasn’t needed at all. Almost all the photography was done with both the 12-100mm lens and the 40-150mm lens that had a 1.4X teleconverter “glued” to it.

Penguins are big and walk around on the ground. Photographing them at eye level requires sitting or laying down, which made me grateful for the waterproof pants. Although we were not allowed to approach them closer than about three meters, the penguins often approached us. (I remember a king penguin walked up to me, looked me over, shook its head in disgust, and walked away as though I didn’t measure up.)

The photographic challenge with many penguin species was to get a picture isolated from distractions. The rock hopper penguin breeds in very dense colonies completely intermixed with breeding black browed albatrosses. In the colony, family groups and creches of rock hoppers bump against nests of black browed albatrosses who are incubating eggs or sitting with downy chicks. The clutter of birds prevented my getting a good whole body photo of a rock hopper but I was close enough to get a head shot of this lovely crested bird taken at 150mm with the 40-150mm F/2.8 lens.

Rock Hopper Penguin

The most statuesque penguin is the chinstrap, often seen by itself or with its mate alone on floating ice. This image was taken at 65mm with the 12-100 F/4 lens.

Chinstrap Penguin

An unexpected challenge was how to record the sheer scale of king penguin colonies on South Georgia. This panorama is stitched in Photoshop from 10 photos taken in the rain at 18mm with the 12-100 F/4 lens. The colony extends 180 degrees from left to right and far into the distance all the way up the hill in the center of the photograph. References cited in Wikipedia claim that the South Georgia population exceeds 100,000 birds.

King Penguin Colony

The scenery too often supplies a grandeur that is hard to capture. Deception Island in the South Shetlands is the caldera of an active volcano whose eruptions in 1967 and 1968 damaged the scientific stations there. This fisheye shot is of Whaler’s Bay, taken with the 8mm F/1.8 lens.

Deception Island

Color grading and finding the correct white balance proved to be another challenge. The Antarctic sky is often overcast which fools the camera's automatic white balance. The clouds and fog almost seem to glow from the sunlight streaming in at low angles. This image captures color balance of the scene as I recall it and was taken at 66mm with the 12-100mm F/4 lens.

Iceberg near Antarctic peninsula

A penguin colony with krill as its principal food is surrounded with orangish guano; photo taken at 66mm with the 12-100mm F/4 lens.

Gentoo Penguin Colony

An adult gentoo penguin in the colony feeds a meal of krill to one of its chicks. This photo was taken at 210mm with the 40-150 F/2.8 plus MC-14 teleconverter. (This image was suggested as a photo challenge by one of the expedition staff. I believe I am the only one who took him up on it.)

Gentoo adult feeding meal of krill to chick

I found a specimen of krill along the beach on Deception Island that I brought back to my cabin. I photographed it under ambient light with the 30mm macro lens using a small Gitzo mini traveler tripod. For a black background I placed the shrimp on an Olympus lens cap. The shrimp is about 1.5in (3cm) long.


The last photo is from a TG-5 at 4mm taken while our zodiac was trying to find a path through the ice flow back to the ship that is seen at the center in the distance. To keep our hands free while traveling by zodiac, we were told to keep our cameras in our backpacks except for special trips in calm water when watching sites that were inaccessible from land. So I kept a TG-5 in my pocket to use when I couldn’t take my regular EM1.2 camera out of the backpack. I also use the TG-5 as a backup GPS logger. The green under the ice at the right is algae that the krill feed on. The local food chain consists of algae to krill to penguin. At some locations the water in the ice flows seems almost pea soup green from the algae.

Algae in waters of ice flow

A high point for me involved taking a video on South Georgia of two king penguins mating. I use my photos for prints, occasional sales, and to include in travelogue slide shows that mix short video clips with stills. On the last visit to South Georgia I was specifically looking to take video clips. I saw two penguins chattering with their bills so decided to record that behavior. Well, what transpired was that the two penguins continued to court, then mounted, and eventually walked off together. The lead ornithologist was so happy with the footage that he showed the three-minute clip to all the passengers in a nightly meeting. Passengers were raving about the clip for days. Many asked if I had used a tripod but as you know, the IBIS on the EM1.2 is fantastic. The clip earned me some street cred even with the rather snooty Canon and Nikon shooters.

Although these locations in the South Atlantic and Antarctic peninsula may seem like the middle of nowhere, our presence was carefully coordinated and monitored. Two other ships were in the vicinity, a German expedition ship similar to ours, and an ocean liner. The ships were in touch with one another to ensure that they didn’t visit any spots at the same time. The German expedition ship featured zodiacs like us and we took turns at certain sites. The ocean liner did not put passengers ashore but merely sailed by to take in the scenery. At many sites I saw a surveillance camera like a GoPro mounted on a tripod. We were not allowed to go merrily traipsing through penguin colonies and the monitoring cameras would catch us if we tried to. Furthermore, upon landing at South Georgia, personnel called biosecurity officers came aboard the ship to inspect our boots and backpacks to ensure that we carried no seeds from invasive species. The officers were very serious and many people had to pick out seeds with a tooth brush and tweezers from velcro on their boots, pants legs and backpack.

I was not the only Olympus user on the trip. Notably, the two lead ornithologists had EM1.2s as well as 300mm F/4 lenses. Another passenger had two EM1.1 bodies. It was fun watching one of the ornithologists enthusiastically explain the benefits of mFT to a passenger. About a third of the passengers were actively taking photos with other than cell phones or tablets. The photographers were a varied bunch. This group included many with long black and long tan lenses and some big video cameras with large microphones along with heavy tripods. One woman, bless her soul, was even using a film camera with a nifty fifty. Another person had a tan bazooka wrapped in plastic who was alternating between taking photos with his camera and with his cell phone. The photographers were quite guarded about their pictures and I had hoped for more camaraderie.

In looking ahead for future gear, the EM1X would have been very useful. The main problem I had with the EM1.2 was using it with gloves. I was often inadvertently altering settings and finding it difficult to press the tiny buttons. I was using the battery grip for better balance with the telephoto lenses and to avoid having to change batteries while ashore, so I am comfortable with the size of EM1X. The main value of the EM1X for me would be its ergonomics with bigger and spaced out buttons offering less chance of being accidentally pressed while wearing gloves. Other features like the GPS and field sensors, the hand-held high resolution mode, and any improvements to the AF would come in handy too. Whether these improvements are worth the price is another matter, and I suppose renting the EM1X for special occasions is likely to be an option in the future. Meanwhile, the EM1.2 certainly remains a fine camera. In contrast, the newly announced 150-400mm F/4.5 lens would have found little use on this trip. The 300mm F/4 was more than sufficient and I hardly ever used it with the 1.4x teleconverter. In contrast, as I reported to you about my safari trip to Kruger last year, I found that I was often pushing 400mm by using the 300mm F/4 lens with the teleconverter. The new 150-400 lens would have been very useful there. Overall, the lenses used for the Antarctica trip ranged mostly from wide angle to medium telephoto and for the Africa trip mostly from medium telephoto to super telephoto.

Photography brings me such joy. I’m grateful to the entire Olympus ecosystem—the innovative designers, manufacturers, customer support with its pro-advantage program, and visionaries for all making the photography experience possible for me.

 JoanKauai's gear list:JoanKauai's gear list
Olympus E-M1 Olympus E-M1 II Olympus OM-D E-M1X Olympus Zuiko Digital 2.0x Teleconverter EC-20 Olympus Zuiko Digital 1.4x Teleconverter EC-14 +15 more
Olympus E-M1 Olympus TG-5
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