Duolingo = Busy Days

Over the next week or so there may not be too many posts from here … and there is a very good reason.  I’ve recently rediscovered Duolingo.  If you haven’t checked it out already, and are interested in learning another language I would definitely recommend you check it out.

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When you enter the site you’ll see something along these lines after you have created a profile and selected the language you want to learn.  For English speakers there’s currently Spanish, French, German, Portugese, Italian and they’re still working on more languages.  The lessons/activities are well structured and they have built in plenty of revision lessons to “strengthen your skills” so you don’t forget the things you’ve learnt.

The iPhone and iPad apps have the basic ability to do all the lessons and progress your skills while the browser based version has more such as discussion forums and a deeper explanation of grammar.  Best of all it’s all free.  So now that I’ve told you about a language app that is fun and free, what are you all waiting for?

Remembering Kevin Carter

Photography recently has become too glamourous.  It’s easy to forget the era when photography was mostly left to the press and other professionals.  In fact it wasn’t even that long ago when photography was a constant reminder of the shit that happens around the world.  These days, with the cheery family photos, instagram posts of cats and those damn selfies, it’s no surprise we forget the power that a strong photograph has.

Maybe what makes a great picture is one that asks a question, you know?  It’s not just a spectacle, it’s more than that.  I think mine was like that, and Greg’s too.  You go out and you see bad things, evil things, and you want to do something about it so what you do is you take the picture that shows it.  But not everybody is going to like what they see, you have to understand that they might want to shoot the messenger.

– Kevin Carter

This, of course is Kevin Carter’s pulitzer prize winning photograph.

Kevin Carter, Pulitzer Prize winning photograph
Kevin Carter, Pulitzer Prize winning photograph taken in South Sudan 1993.

I’ll start with the condemnation that Carter got for taking this photo and not intervening/helping the child in the photo.  Make no mistake, living through the times of the apartheid and documenting the combat, casualties and horror took their toll on Kevin Carter.  On 27 July 1994 Carter committed suicide, not a direct result of this photograph but it was certainly contributed.  Part of his suicide note read

I am depressed … without phone … money for rent … money for child support … money for debts … money!!! … I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain … of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners … I have gone to join Ken if I am that lucky

This photograph is nothing short of amazing.  The composition, framing, exposure it all comes together perfectly in this shot.  This photo did more for the world than any other photo in its time.  When this photograph won the Pulitzer Prize, it raised the issue of famine and poverty around the world to everyone with access to a newspaper or magazine.

The truth is hard to face for a lot of people, and many were angry about the state of the world.  They just took out their anger on the wrong person.  Questions were asked about the outcome of the child in the photo, and why he didn’t intervene when he could have just picked her up and taken her to a safe place.  I won’t say if what he did was right or wrong, and I certainly can’t say what I would have done in his situation.

What it clear is that the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) code of ethics states “while photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events”.  At the very least he was working under the code of ethics for his profession.

While the fate of the child in the photo likely stayed the same, this photo did more than the simple act of bringing her to safety.  It brought the situation in Sudan uncomfortably close and it made you pay attention.  That, is what makes a great photograph.

The Bang Bang Club: Movie
The Bang Bang Club: Movie

If you are interested in learning more about Kevin Carter and his fellow photographers including fellow Pulitzer winner Greg Marinovich, the movie “The Bang Bang Club” is a great depiction of this true story.  It stars taylor Kitsch, Ryan Phillippe and Malin Akerman who all sport great South African accents and is centred around press photography like no other movie.  While depicting the difficulties, challenges, risks and rewards of war photography, there is a focus on real human emotions, real  events and real politics.  Having just finished watching it, I would strongly recommend it and I’ll probably watch it again.

Olympus M. Zuiko 75-300mm f4.8-6.7 II

I’ve had this lens for over a year now and I always get questions about it, questions like:

  • Is it any good?
  • Just how much zoom will it give me?
  • Are the photos sharp?
  • It seems a bit slow …
  • Is it heavy, bulky etc?
  • Was it expensive?
  • When will I use such a long lens?

So I’ll address them from the beginning …

Is it any good?  In short, yes.

Olympus OM-D E-M5, M.Zuiko 75-300mm II
Olympus OM-D E-M5, M.Zuiko 75-300mm II

Just how much zoom will it give me?  A lot, but if you want to get technical about it, the M.Zuiko 75-300mm II is designed to be used on a micro 4/3 camera which means you effectively get 150-600mm focal range.  Think about that next time you go to shoot some wildlife!

Olympus OM-D E-M5, M.Zuiko 75-300mm II
Olympus OM-D E-M5, M.Zuiko 75-300mm II

Are the photos sharp? Sharp enough, and I only say that because I’m generally very picky with my lenses.  For a sub $1000 lens that gives me this kind of reach I’ll definitely be less picky.  In saying that, I have absolutely no issues with it’s sharpness and when combined with the Olympus IBIS I can get the photos I need.

Olympus OM-D E-M5, M.Zuiko 75-300mm II
Olympus OM-D E-M5, M.Zuiko 75-300mm II

It seems a bit slow … First of all I don’t know if you’re asking a question or making a statement.  Since there was no question mark I’ll address it as a statement.  Yes, f4.8-6.7 is VERY slow, even for a zoom lens of this range.  The panasonic equivalent is comparably faster.  However, I can compensate for that with a combination of the great IBIS and high ISO performance of my E-M5.  So, no, it’s not a problem for me.

Olympus OM-D E-M5, M.Zuiko 75-300mm.  Dark conditions, long focal length, small aperture, yet somehow the camera and lens combination does exactly what I need.
Olympus OM-D E-M5, M.Zuiko 75-300mm. Dark conditions, long focal length, small aperture, yet somehow the camera and lens combination does exactly what I need.

Is it heavy, bulky?  No, especially not when I’ve been used to carrying a Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8L IS USM.  It all depends on what you’re used to, being a long time DSLR user, I doubt anything in the m43 or Sony CSC range will make me complain about weight/bulk.  Plus, if you can’t put up with the weight of the gear you need then maybe it’s not for you.

Was it expensive? If I remember correctly I paid around $550AUD for it, to me that was a very cheap price for what this lens is.  It’s significantly cheaper than the original version which was priced around $999 and this price is what I would expect for a m43 lens of this calibre.

When will I use such a long lens?  The photos in this post should answer your question, I mostly use it for wildlife, especially birds.  If you are of the stalker type (I don’t judge) then I suppose you can use it for that.  However I would not recommend it for any situation darker than a cloudy day.

Olympus OM-D E-M5, M.Zuiko 75-300mm II
Olympus OM-D E-M5, M.Zuiko 75-300mm II.  Long focal length makes it ideal for bird photography (during the day).

So there you go!  If you need a super long lens and own a m43 system, go out and buy this because this is one of the few lenses that are stopping me from selling my Olympus kit since buying the Sony kit.  You can get more detailed information about the lens here and here.  This was more of an informal Q&A but I can always go into more detail with it later on if you like.