The upsides to COVID-19

As Melbourne goes into week three of our second lockdown, it’s pretty easy to get mired in melancholy. Our movement is restricted, we’re wearing masks, and parents are once again having to pretend they understand Yr.9 maths. Where in the first lockdown, young children would occasionally appear in video meetings in cute and endearing cameos…they now crawl all over their parents yelling into whatever microphone the parent is using, and no-one bats an eyelid…because ultimately…who could really give a sh1t! And we’ve all come to the realisation that going on a holiday anywhere that involves a plane, is about as likely as ever returning to the office…with all of your co-workers…who have arrived on public transport and are just looking to book a meeting room.

So I think it’s my duty to focus on a few of the good things about these COVID times, because there have definitely been a few silver linings to all of this.
I will stress that these are MY silver linings, and may not match up with yours. For example, when you’re telling me how much you miss being able to just give your friends a hug when you see them, and I’m smiling and nodding as if I agree with you. Rest assured I am actually thinking that I feel like someone who is two thirds of their way through a conversation with a Genie that has already resulted in; not having to do that ‘kissing on the cheek’ thing with people you know, AND not having to hug people you vaguely know when you see them. I’m not sure what the third wish will be…but it will probably involve someone un-inventing social media.

So with that in mind, here are my upsides to COVID.


Now I realise that for those of you who like to play team sports, this has been pretty tough. But for those of us who enjoy running alone for 1.5hrs listening to Neil Gaiman audio books, and sitting on a cycling trainer in a shed watching episodes of Snowpiercer on Netflix…this has been a true renaissance.
You may say ‘But Chris you could have done these things in pre-COVID times! This is not a win for anyone!’ But that’s just not true. With an 8.30am work start-time and at least a 40min commute, outside of waking at 5am everyday, there was no way I could work everything in. But now that I’m working from home everyday, I can get an hour long run or ride in EVERY morning and still get to work on time!

Selfish portrait.


At the other end of the working day…it’s only an 8 second commute from my workstation/dining room table to the kitchen. So suddenly it’s possible to cook dinner every night!
If we, as a family, want to spend our lunch-break making slow cooked Wallaby shanks, and smell them for the rest of the day…then damn it…that’s what we’ll do!
If we want to cook vegetarian meals for the week, then we’ve got the time to actually find some good recipes, rather than panicking at the end of the day and just throwing something together.
Best of all, with ‘after school activities’ severely curtailed, the kids are available to begrudgingly assist. There is no happier face, than that of a child who has been dragged away from their screen to cut up vegetables for a meal they didn’t particularly want to eat in the first place!

Wallaby Shanks…a great dinner…and even better movie character name.
We should never have let her watch those Gordon Ramsay shows!
So angry.
So much swearing.

Visit Victoria

Half way through last year, we were offered the opportunity to stay at our friends place in France again as we did in 2017, but this time it would be for Christmas 2020. By December of last year we were looking at airline tickets and biding our time to get the best price. By January I’d told my Manager that I would be taking some long-service leave at the end of the year. By the end of March we were letting our friends in France know that we were still coming over…but were just going to see how this COVID thing goes. Now…well I think there are only 4 planes left in Australia…and we won’t be going on one any time soon. So it was pretty awesome to get away during the brief lull in lockdowns to a few places around Victoria.

Walking on water at Sandy Point
Fox in Porepunkah
Sunrise at Lorne

There’s nothing like necessity to focus the mind…and so if all holidays for the next year or so are in Victoria, I reckon I can handle it.

‘D’ya like dags?’

There comes a point in any lockdown (usually about day 3) when everyone in the household gets PRETTY sick of everyone else in the household’s shit. But do you know who doesn’t get sick of everyone else? Dogs. Do you know who will be excited by your return…even if you’ve just been outside hanging out the washing? Dogs. Do you know who will fall asleep in hilarious positions just to remind you that there is still fun in the world? Dogs. Do you know who provides the best reason to get up off your arse and go for a walk? Doctors, Physios, Life Coaches, OH&S reps, Personal trainers…but also, Dogs.
For a pack-dog like a Beagle, the idea of having all of her people constantly around her, and with 70% more baking being done in the house (and with all of the scraps that this entails)…Marnie couldn’t be happier!

Beagle therapy


I can pretty much guarantee that when you think of me, ‘Hirsute’ is not one of the words that jumps to mind. Nor ‘Rustic’, or ‘Rugged’…or ‘Man’. I think that at least 83% of this can be levelled at the fact that I’ve never managed to grow a beard (the remaining 17% is a combination of the very soft skin on my feet, my obsession with pronouncing both ‘d’s in ‘Wednesday’, and the fact that I quite like the new Taylor Swift album).
As this tragic video shows, I am simply not not designed for facial hair.

Well that’s not strictly true…I am capable of growing facial hair, it’s just that without the crutch of ‘I’m doing this for charity’, it’s very hard to withstand the humiliation of that first 4 weeks of looking like someone with a fake ID trying to buy a 6-pack of Vodka Cruisers from a bottle shop.
In fact the only way I could contemplate growing a beard is if somehow it transpired that I was restricted to only seeing my immediate family for 4-6 weeks, and everyone else saw me via a webcam that could be turned off…or set up with so much backlight that I may as well have been a mafia informant trying to hide my identity.
Well that has transpired!
And while I don’t think I will be confused for Ned Kelly or Gandalf anytime soon, I do think I have achieved ‘Detective from Scandinavian TV series who has seen too much of the evil that lies in the hearts of men, but dammit, that’s what makes him such a good cop’ level of beard. And that will do…that…

‘Prestön’ – Starring Kristof Rjordanson

It’s oh so quiet

This September will mark 20 years since Katie and I moved to Preston. In that time there have definitely been some improvements; our ratio of $2 shops to cafe’s has definitely improved, Courtney Barnett has written 100% more songs about it, we now have 12 trees across the entire suburb (up from 9 in 2000), and bike commuting has become marginally safer as as result of traffic being in a state of perpetual gridlock. But one thing it has not become is quieter. Every time a house gets sold, it gets bulldozed and replaced with 308 apartments. So there are more people, more cars and more hard surfaces to bounce the sound off.
Plus the upward mobility of bogans across the board, means that the roar of a HRT/FPV V8 along St. Georges Rd, is now ensembled with the delightful sound of a Mercedes or VW DSG having the guts floored out of it.
It’s enchanting.
But the COVID times have lead to a LOT less people being out and about, and so while the Preston Market does now have a slight ’28 days later’ vibe, a walk around the streets of Preston is now so quiet you can actually hear the birds…or the podcast your listening to.

So yeah, it’s tough at the moment…and there’s no foreseeable end to it. But there’s still plenty of good in the world, and plenty of things that we can look to maintain once we return to regular programming.

Stay safe, and wear a mask.

Fuji GFX

Have you ever seen an older gentleman in a hideously expensive sports car and thought ‘That machine is capable of so much more than you could ever ask of it. That is such a waste of potential!!!’ Well me using Fuji’s Medium Format GFX is pretty much the photographic equivalent. But that didn’t stop me from borrowing one from Fuji try it out. Here’s how it went.

The camera

If you’ve come to this blog knowing a bit about photography, you will already know what a Medium Format camera is…and if you’ve come to this blog not knowing much about photography you really won’t care about pixel counts and sensor sizes. So I won’t waste any time throwing numbers at you.
In short, the camera I normally shoot on (the Fuji x-T1) has a sensor about the size of a postage stamp, and the GFX has a sensor about the size of a tea-bag.
Do I think for a second that Fuji want me making this comparison? No.
Do I think it’s very helpful for people trying to picture this in their mind? Also, no.
But it basically means that each photo has a lot more pixels and therefore a lot more information and detail. When I had my photo (taken on the x-T1) in the NPPP I had it printed as large as I could without it losing any detail…and when I saw it compared to the other photos, my first thought was ‘Why is my photo so small?!’ Part of the answer may have been that the other photos were taken with cameras with a bigger sensor.

‘Soooo…your Dad’s photo is pretty small huh!’

So part of me wanted to see just what was possible with a camera with a bigger sensor…the other part of me knew that I had purchased my entire Fuji kit (camera body and 4 x lenses) for $5K, and $5K wasn’t even going to get me the camera body of a GFX, let alone lenses. So were my photos going to be 4 times better with $20K worth of camera gear? Let’s find out! (Narrator’s voice – ‘They weren’t”)

The lenses

I was lucky enough to be sent 4 lenses; a 45mm, 63mm, 120mm and 250mm. Instead of banging on about them, here’s a snapshot of each:

The 45mm

I REALLY liked this lens. Wide enough for landscapes and architecture, but tight enough for an environmental portrait.

The 63mm

Hey, do you know what’s fun? Maths. So this 63mm on the medium format, is about the same as a 50mm on a full-frame and a 35mm on my Fuji x-T1. So this is a convoluted way of saying that if I could only have one lens on the GFX… this would be it.

The 120mm

The 120mm was probably my revelation as a portrait lens. I’ve never really done portraits where people’s hands are cut off, or heaven forbid, part of their head is cutoff. But I LOVED how some of these shots turned out with this lens, and I’ll definitely be using this in my future portraits…albeit with a LOT fewer pixels!

The 250mm

I added this to my list of lenses because I thought I was going to take photos of wildlife. I didn’t. So this lens didn’t get as much of a workout as the others. But I also took one of my favourite GFX pictures with it, so on average is was probably the best performer!

So what’s it actually like?

You 100% feel like a Pro with this camera in your hands. It feels solid and purpose built, the sound of the shutter is brilliant and it has the same functionality as my x-T1 so everything I needed was at my fingertips. The file sizes are enormous! I’m used to having my RAW files as 20mb files on the x-T1, whereas the jpegs that come out of the GFX are 20mb…the RAW files over 100mb! So on my first day of shooting I went to a skate park where I was shooting RAW+Jpeg on burst mode, and just about filled my entire 32GB card! There are a lot of reviews of this camera where people say ‘It really made me slow down and consider my composition’ which I had thought was a comment on just how much you can fit onto the sensor…but I now realise it was just code for ‘I can’t afford to buy another hard-drive to store these files!’

Should have gone on the wider lens!
I missed SO many of these photos where I tried to follow the skater to keep them sharp while everything else is blurred that I almost cried.

I loved the amazing detail in the photos. I loved being able to shoot at f32 for a long exposure and not have to worry about ND filters.

f 32 and 7 second exposure at Kalimna Falls
f 22 and 5 seconds at a Lorne sunrise

I loved that even shots that were brutally over-exposed could be made to look amazing!

This was just a lighting test to set the level of the flash. Did I turn it down after this shot? Damn straight I did. But when I worked on it in Lightroom it actually became one of my favourite shots.
I had been taking photos on the other side of the pier and when I turned on the camera it still had the old settings. It looked so ethereal in the viewfinder that I had to take the shot.

I loved the results I got when using a soft-box or off-camera flash.

But most of all I loved the motivation it gave me to get out and take photos ‘You’ve got $20K worth of camera equipment for a short period of time’ is a VERY strong motivator to get out and shoot!

The photo prior to this didn’t have the bird flying through…the bird really makes it.
Kids in trees…always good.
Families in trees…also good.
Photo of the photographer…with thanks to Katie!

But would I buy one?

Well first and foremost I would like to thank Fuji Australia for allowing me to borrow the camera. Outside of some bizarre ‘You’ve seen this camera in the hands of the best…now see it in the hands of the rest?’ angle, there really was no reason for them to take a chance on me. I can’t imagine there is a huge demographic of my readership with $20K burning a hole in their pocket just looking for a camera to spend it on. So I can’t imagine sales are going to skyrocket after me writing about it. But to Fuji, and in particular Neil, thank you so much for this. You were fantastic to work with, and I really appreciated this once in a lifetime opportunity.
But would I buy one? No. If I had the money would I buy one? Yes. Would I hire one to shoot a wedding or a proper photoshoot? Yes. Is Fuji likely to loan me gear again after saying this? Probably not.
But this is not a reflection on the camera, it’s a reflection on where I am with my photography. When I was training for the Ironman and the 3-Peaks, I could never justify buying a new super-fast bike, or super-light wheels to get myself some ‘free’ speed, until I knew that I had done everything in my power to make myself as fast as possible (train more, lose weight, race smart etc). Not surprisingly I never bought a new bike…because I never got to the spot where the only thing holding me back was my gear. Similarly, there are still SO many things that I can improve with my technique, my discipline, my willingness to approach complete strangers etc that will result in better photographs. I need to get them sorted before I can look to better gear to raise my game.
I have also had my x-T1 for nearly 5 years now. I’ve shot a documentary on it, multiple videos, weddings, award nominated portraits and even a photo where 9 children are all doing what I wanted them to at exactly the same time!
If, in the process of trying to get an epic shot, my camera got hit by an errant skateboard, or fell into the ocean, or was eaten by a surprisingly fast and aggressive turtle…I could live with it. I certainly wouldn’t be happy about it, but I could live with it. And that gives me a level of freedom that simply doesn’t come with holding a camera worth more than a family holiday to somewhere NICE.
Plus, if I take a photo with my x-T1 and the 35mm lens and it’s an abject failure, people think ‘Well, he only has that little camera that looks like it’s from the 1970s…what did you expect?!’ But if I take a great shot, suddenly I’m a genius who may get upwards of 7 or 8 likes on Instagram! Follow me a @sumo_21 😉 But if I take a great photo on the GFX people will think ‘Well yes OF COURSE he took an amazing photo…he has that amazing camera.’ Worse still, if someone sees one the of MANY crap photos I took with it, they’ll think ‘Why does he have such a fancy camera, when his photos are so average?!’

Plus, every photographer knows about Gear Acquisition Syndrome, you always need something to aim for, and if I had a GFX 50, what could I possibly have to look forward to after that?! It’s not as if Fuji are going to do a GFX 100 that has a 100 megapixel sensor…I mean that would be insane, and…what? They have made one?!


Excuse me…I have to change the entire tone of this blog…and then make a grovelling call to Fuji!