Olympus Experience In Iceland

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About John Salvino

John Salvino is a freelance web developer who lives in Toronto, Canada. He has loved photography most of his life, but has really gotten into it over the past several years. He loves street and architecture photography, especially photos that include patterns, perspective, or symmetry. Though after his trip to Iceland in 2016, he would like to start doing more landscape photography. Apart from photography and the web, he enjoys music and learning languages.

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Last summer I spent 11 days in Iceland, which definitely seems to be one of, if not the most popular tourist place right now. Every day I see articles and pictures and videos, all talking about how amazing Iceland is, and I can now say, yes, it is.

Part of my excitement prior to the trip was having the chance to really use my Olympus gear, and it also provided me an excuse to possibly purchase more! I had switched to Olympus from Canon back in mid-2014, when I purchased the E-M10, but this would be my first time travelling anywhere with Olympus gear.

 

At the time the trip was planned, I already owned the E-M5 Mark II, a couple of primes (17mm f1.8 and 45mm f1.8) and the 12-40mm f2.8. For a while I was trying to decide whether to buy the 7-14mm f2.8 or the 40-150mm f2.8 specifically for the trip.

After doing a bunch of research, I still couldn’t make up my mind so I ended up buying both, with the excuse that ‘hey, it could be a once in a lifetime trip!’. It was a decision I was glad I made as I used both of them extensively. I actually hardly used the 12-40mm at all, or at least not for the pictures that ended up being my favourites of the trip.


The Gear And The Pictures

Here I will talk a little bit more in depth about the equipment I brought and used, along with some photos taken with each lens.
Prior to this trip, I hadn’t really done much landscape photography, so I thought that rather than show the popular tourist locations, I would show some random places from around Iceland. If you google image search Iceland, you can find lots of awesome pictures of the main attractions!

There are so many dream places to explore
Olympus E-M5 Mark II . Olympus M. 7-14mmF2.8 @7mm . f/9 . 1/6400″ . ISO 800
Olympus E-M5 Mark II . Olympus M. 12-40mmF2.8 @12mm . f/6.3 . 1/2500″ . ISO 200


OM-D E-M5 Mark II

One of the main reasons I upgraded from the E-M10 to the E-M5ii pretty quickly, was the fact that it was waterproof. I never wanted rain to be an excuse not to take photos at home, let alone when travelling.
Knowing that the weather in Iceland in particular changes all the time, and knowing that waterfalls are plentiful, I wanted to ensure I would feel totally comfortable getting my equipment wet if need be.
I snapped an iPhone picture of my camera while at Dettifoss, it gives an idea of how wet the camera got, many times during the trip, but it kept working every time!

Harpa Concert Hall
Olympus E-M5 Mark II . Olympus M. 7-14mmF2.8 @7mm . f/4.5 . 1/320″ . ISO 200


7-14mm f/2.8 PRO Lens

I bought this lens a few weeks before the trip, so I had a bit of time to play around with it beforehand. Having never shot with a really wide angle lens before, it was sort of a different experience. I spent some time getting used to the distortion and the exaggerated perspective.
Since you can’t natively add an ND filter to this lens, I read about a few offerings that could provide that functionality, but didn’t end up buying any of them.

One of the main sites in Reykjavík is the Harpa Concert Hall, a must see attraction during your stay. It looks cool from the outside, but it’s even better on the inside. So many great angles to shoot from, so much patterned glass everywhere.

Olympus E-M5 Mark II . Olympus M. 7-14mmF2.8 @7mm . f/9 . 1/200″ . ISO 200

There are so many waterfalls around Iceland, large ones, small ones, popular ones, not so popular ones. Some are pretty much right at the side of the road, and some you need to hike for 45 minutes to get to.

Rather than retrace a route we had already driven to get to Latrabjarg in the Westfjords, it was ecommended that we take the Ferry Baldur from the Westfjords to the Snæfellsnes peninsula. It was great weather for it, nice sunny day, and was by far the longest boat ride I’d ever been on!


12-40mm f/2.8 PRO Lens

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t use this lens for as many pictures as I thought I would. It’s the only lens of mine that I have an ND filter for, so I did take some long exposure waterfall images with it, but I wasn’t really happy with how they turned out for the most part. I learned some lessons for next time!
A long exposure shot near the famous Skógafoss waterfall, a little bit of a walk if you walk up and behind them.

Olympus E-M5 Mark II . Olympus M. 12-40mmF2.8 @21mm . f/11 . 8″ . ISO 200


40-150mm f/2.8 PRO Lens

This was the last lens I purchased before the trip, so I didn’t have much time to play around with it beforehand.
You can’t drive too far without seeing horses and sheep, they are all over the island!
And on the west coast, at Latrabjarg, there is the largest grouping of puffins in the world. It’s nice to be able to get up close to the animals with such a long lens.

Another shot of the Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon
Olympus E-M5 Mark II . Olympus M. 40-150mmF2.8 @40mm . f/2.8 . 1/250″ . ISO 200
Puffin
Olympus E-M5 Mark II . Olympus M. 40-150mmF2.8 @67mm . f/14 . 1/160″ . ISO 250


TG-4

Apart from her iPhone, my girlfriend used the TG-4 most of the trip. I used it a few times, it came in very handy while relaxing in the hot springs at Blue Lagoon.

Olympus TG-4 . 4,5mm . f/2.8 . 1/640″ . ISO 100


TG-Tracker

I brought this along as well, thinking that maybe I would do some vlogging or something, but after a few days it barely got any use. I just enjoy photography more than videography and found it difficult to remember to use it. I’m happy I have it though, as some of the footage I took with it provides nice memories of the trip, though would not win any awards!


Accessories

I also brought along the Olympus RM-UC1 remote cable release, some spare batteries and chargers, memory cards, cloths, and an ND filter.
In addition, I brought my prime lenses and my older E-M10, none of which I used mainly because they weren’t waterproof.
I was able to comfortably fit all this gear in my ThinkTank Urban Approach 15 camera backpack.
Not pictured is the tripod I brought, the Cameron CF700BH tripod from Henry’s, a popular camera chain in Canada. I used the tripod extensively on the trip, it was worth it to carry it around everywhere!


More General Thoughts About Iceland

I don’t really have anything more to add to the volumes already written about Iceland, but it truly is an amazing place, particularly if you are into photography at all.
You will get to photograph in all types of weather, and if you don’t like the weather the way it is at a particular time or place, just wait 15 minutes or drive 15km in some direction, you’re bound to have different weather. I would love to go back again, perhaps next time during the winter months, when you can see the Northern Lights, and explore some of the ice caves.
The landscape is so varied, you feel like you are on a different planet every day.
Fjords, mossy rocks, waterfalls, geo-thermal areas, glaciers, you never know what you’re going to run into!

At Námafjall, the geo-thermal area, it feels like you are on Mars
Olympus E-M5 Mark II . Olympus M. 7-14mmF2.8 @7mm . f/9 . 1/3200″ . ISO 800

And within these landscapes, you feel like you are alone in the world. You can go for so long or so far without seeing another person, it’s like you are travelling around your own private playground. If you have a 4×4 vehicle (which I highly recommend and which is required if you want to go anywhere off the main ring road), it’s like you can drive anywhere you want on the whole island. Every few minutes there is a beaten path, tempting you to turn off and see where it leads. Or you can park the car and then just walk wherever you want.

Shot while on a National Geographic Expedition in the Canadian Archipelago.
Olympus E-M1 . Olympus M.50-200mm @169mm . f/5.6 . 1/1600″ . ISO 200

To me that is the best way to get photographs that are different than the ones you typically see. For sure you want to get the standard shot of each of the tourist locations, but I like to try to photograph the lesser viewed places as well, to provide a view of the location that you don’t get to see as often. Or if photographing a very popular place, do it from a different angle or perspective, go in close or very far, or don’t make it the main subject of the photograph. Anything that may help your photo stand out from the crowd.

This is another view inside Harpa
Olympus E-M5 Mark II . Olympus M. 40-150mmF2.8 @40mm . f/4.5 . 1/100″ . ISO 320


For My Next Trip

As of right now, I’m not sure where I will be heading for my next trip, though I plan on going somewhere before the fall arrives. If I do end up travelling more often, and I certainly hope that I do, I would like to add the following to my kit:

– It would definitely be nice to have two waterproof bodies. Though I had the E-M10 with me, and thought that I’d use it so I wouldn’t have to change lenses as often, it was relegated to the camera bag for the whole trip, as the weather was so unpredictable. The E-M1ii is obviously very appealing, but I think I’ll wait to see what a potential E-M5iii has to offer before I consider another body. But after all the money I spent on new equipment last year, this is not on the list for this year.

– I would like to invest in an ND filter system for the 7-14mm lens. The only thing that bothers me about this lens is that it doesn’t natively accept ND filters. I need to do some research on the different third-party options currently available and then purchase one. I think having an ND filter for this lens will open up some opportunities for some other great photography. If you have any experience with any of the options out there, please let me know, I’d love to hear!

On my next trip, I would use my iPhone for photography a lot more. Having all the gear with me, I felt like I should use it for everything. But a lot of the personally most memorable moments of the trip are the quick and simple shots that my girlfriend took with her iPhone. They aren’t photos to be edited and shared with the world, but they provide amazing memories!

One last thing, though not photography related, next time I travel, I will note down my thoughts each day. I really wish I had taken the time to do this in Iceland. Even if it’s just to jot down some point form items before bed or at breakfast, I think it’s important to take time to really reflect. It was really an amazing experience, it’s difficult to write about it months after leaving. But then again there is no way my pictures or words would have done it justice.


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Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II
Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II
Olympus M. Zuiko 7-14mmF2.8
Olympus M. Zuiko 12-40mmF2.8
Olympus M. Zuiko 40-150mmF2.8
ThinkTank Urban Approach 15 Backpack


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  • Matt Preiss

    I have had a very similar experience. My first trip to Iceland was with the EM10ii (only with kit lenses at the time)and was used as a second back up camera only. The last trip, I brought the EM1ii and the EM10ii, 7-14, 12-40 and 40-150mm PRO lenses. I mainly used the 7-14mm and 40-150mm. The 12-40 was hardly used. I also used the 45mm f1.8 and 60mm Macro, but sparingly.I have got a full filter set from NISI which has been exceptional and there is a an adapter that works with the 7-14mm without issue.

    • John Salvino

      Hi Matt! Funny how we had such a similar experience! I’m curious to hear about which 7-14mm adapter your are using for your Nisi filters, which one did you choose?

      • Matt Preiss

        Hi John, sorry for the delay, things have been a bit hectic! I use the adapter that Phil Norton has designed. Are you familiar with it?

        • Hi Matt! That seems to be the most popular option, I will probably end up going with that one as well! Thanks for letting me know.

  • Julia

    Hey there! I’d love to hear more about why you guys (John the writer, and Matt the commenter) haven’t used your 12-40 as much as you’d think. I mean, I love what I’ve seen of the 7-14, but I’m not sure I could afford both it and an Iceland trip 🙂 I have the EM1+12-40, and so far I have rarely ever wished for anything else on my camera (have been leaving my Panny 45-150 and primes at home for almost 6 months now and not missed them). I know the 7-14 can give very dramatic perspectives at the wide end, but are all suited/necessary for everything Iceland has to offer? Honestly curious to hear more about it.

    As for “noting down thoughts on a daily basis”, as you mentioned at the end, John, I can wholeheartedly recommend DayOne app if you’re on iOS or the Mac. I’ve been using it since it came out in 2011 and I’m always happy to go back and read what I wrote every day during my Norway/Italy/etc trips … if I was tired at the end of the day, I at least quickly jotted down a few stray thoughts that helped me flesh out a more detailed account the next morning over coffee 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your images and story, much appreciated!

    • John Salvino

      Hi Julia! For me, not using my 12-40 very much wasn’t always conscious decision I was making while I was there taking pictures, it just kind of happened. Often times I just found myself so up close or so far away from things, that the wide or tele lenses just made more sense. That was the first (and so far, only) time I travelled with all three of those lenses, so I’m curious myself to see how my lens selection will go on my next trip!

      And as for Day One, thanks for the recommendation, I’ve actually had that app since 2012 myself as well, I just find myself going long periods of time (including the trip!) without using it! I need to be more disciplined when it comes to keeping a journal, like you said, it’s so valuable to have later on when you want to look back.

      • Julia

        Thanks for your reply, John! I hope to see more of your posts here, this one was really amazing and I’m curious to see how your lens usage will develop over time. And good luck with getting into the journaling habit 🙂 I’ve actually set up a weekly reminder to get me into the app and catch up; hopefully that will make me a more regular note taker, too 🙂

        • John Salvino

          Thanks for your kind words, Julia! That’s a great idea, and good luck with keeping up your journaling!

    • John Pendleton

      Julia —
      The 7-14mm absolutely excels at the travel phog staple, the environmental “establishing shot.” And it just so happens Iceland is chock full of opportunities for those. So that’s why the wide angle lens can get maybe more heavily used. But the 12-14mm is still unmatched for closer people and object shots, as the whole “street photography” focal range is just OWNED by that lens.

  • John Pendleton

    Great shots, and you found out the same things I did in mid-February of this year, in many of the same locations (hello, top of Hallgrímskirkja!) ! I had my E-M1 II and the M.Zuiko PRO “zoom trinity,” as well as the 8mm PRO fisheye. The 12-40mm generally got the LEAST use, except I was glad I had it for a night walk along the harbor, since the Imagine Peace Tower was lit up across the water, a rare sight, and it had both enough range and aperture to capture the environment perfectly — including the lit-up Harpa, then hosting the SONAR Festival. I was quite smug as I openly worked the E-M1 II and 7-14mm through a day-long “Game of Thrones” tour, braving the rain at Þingvellir while everyone else desperately held plastic bags round their cameras. And I also found the Urban Approach 15 to be the ideal bag for this system. That rain hood was invaluable for long slogs between transit points, and always fit under the IcelandAir seat in front of me, even on the aisle. I did take a smaller camera (the LX10) as my backup and for the no-bulky, more casual outings, where you’re recommending the iPhone. But you’re right about seeing this as a “trip of a lifetime” so you don’t want to NOT take any options. I did use everything, but I also packed a smaller camera bag in my luggage for flexibility. And I now believe Iceland is the reason carbon-fiber tripods were invented.
    One thought about Iceland in winter: if you’re going exclusively for the Northern Lights, plan multiple options, including a night tour with a “guarantee.” My captured Iceland experience was quite cloudy, even at night. The Aurora was there, just not visible where WE were at any given time. So go for everything else (and for the god’s sakes, get away from the crowds in Reykjavik for a bit so you won’t feel so much like “part of the problem,” am I right?) but accept the Northern Lights as a lucky blessing if you’re able to shoot them. And take a combination of long underwear and rain gear. Layers, layers, and more layers. Even for your batteries. You’ll find it’s not necessarily the cold if you’ve packed correctly … it’s the wet, just like in the summer.

    • Hi John!

      It’s funny that we both had such a similar experience in Iceland! As I mentioned, I was so glad to have waterproof equipment, I had the same feeling as you while watching others struggle to hide their equipment from the wet weather. And like you said, I found the best parts of the trip were the days spent away from Reykjavik, when you feel you have the entire island to yourself!

      Thanks for all the great tips about winter in Iceland, I hope one day I will be able to make use of them! I agree, you have to hope for the best, but make sure to enjoy the trip even if you end up not seeing the Northern Lights, can’t let that ruin the entire trip. It’s all part of the journey right!?