My apologies in advance for any dropped links, am working on it!

My search for the ideal travel cam over the years has led me down many paths, and if you've read any of my previous posts, you'll know that my short list of prerequisites are mainly "compact and lightweight" hence my fondness for bridge cameras.
Bridge cameras like my old Fuji HS10 are fine for what they are, and as long as you know their weaknesses, they can do some sterling work, not epic, but just dandy for your average amateur point and shoot photographer like me and probably 95% of everybody else (at just a rough guess, so no offence!)

My trip to South Africa last year was a dream come true, and I returned home with many fond memories and rather a lot of pictures, many still need some work in the editing department, but by and large I was happy with them.

An early Sunday morning walk on my day off, was rewarded with this view almost from my lodgings!

I did encounter quite a few occasions where the HS10 couldn't get me the shot I was looking for, mainly in low light situations and astrophotography, the night sky there was amazing, and try as I might, I failed to get even one worthy shot! (admittedly, it was mostly user error!)

Two of my fellow volunteers though (Heather from USA and Katharina from Germany) were sporting Canon dSLR's. (thanks guys, I think you've converted me, in other's your fault!!)
I got to use them quite a bit and liked the results, though Heather's 7d with 70-300mm lens (Tamron I think) was quite a beast!

This got me thinking of course, I needed to up my sensor size in search of better IQ and low light performance but still in a bridge format, and there was only one camera at the time (in my eyes) that had that sort of package.......the Fujifilm X-S1

I had a little play with one in-store last year, and actually liked what I saw, it is the bigger/heavier brother to the HS range, and many were having good fun with it even though it had a few niggles early on and was getting some bashing on the forums, this made me wait a while before pulling the trigger, and Fuji have done a good job and ironed out most of those niggles, but.............there was another contender that had sparked an interest since it's launch early last year, a camera that intrigued me more than any other to date, but it was way out of my league and not a bridge!

In steps the Olympus OM-D EM-5 (Micro Four Thirds) it caused quite a stir when it was released (and still does) I'm not going to go into too much detail about it here (that's for another post) but needless to say, when I had the opportunity to acquire a good used one with the M Zuiko 40-150mm lens over Xmas, I jumped on it!

I knew there would be no turning back, and even before it arrived in the post I had gotten a serious case of GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome)
My first "other" lens was a Panasonic Lumix 100-300mm f4.5-6 , a well liked lens that would be ideal for any future Safari and nature watching forays, especially as there is a 2x crop factor with M4/3rds, so every lenses focal length is basically doubled.
Then came the 12-50mm kit lens, that would do for a walkabout lens, good for landscapes, macro and everyday stuff, plus it was splash/dust proof just like the E-M5 body.

There are many great Olympus and Panasonic lenses out there for M4/3rds (and more being added) and as is usually the case, the best ones are also the most expensive, so I curtailed myself from any more native lenses for the time being, as I needed to learn the system first with what I've got before handing out too much cash, then I realized the wonderful world of adapted lenses, where pretty much any lens ever made can be fitted via a cheap adapter and used manually......just like in the old days!

18 lenses later, and I'm now looking to pass a few on, some work well on the E-M5, others not so good or are just too heavy, and before you all say "how many?" let me tell you that the most expensive adapted lens was £67, a Sigma 400mm f5.6 and the cheapest was £7.50 a Prinzflex 35mm f2.8. the rest were all under £30 each.

There is something about old manual lenses that makes you want to caress them, I guess they just don't make them like that anymore, even though modern lenses are far superior (on the whole) due to the latest manufacturing processes and coatings. Still, the oldies but goodies are a hell of a lot of fun!

The E-M5 body is quite compact, my average hands and slender fingers have adapted quite well from the full grip of the HS10, but they hanker for more grip when fitted with the longer lenses, hence this post about my attempt at a DIY grip!

There are quite a few grips available on the market now;

Olympus HLD-6 Power Battery Grip, which holds a second battery but does not allow quick access to the one in camera, it does have 2 shutter releases and more customizable buttons though and all those electronic extras make it quite expensive.

The latest Really Right Stuff grip which I quite like has a Arca-Swiss style dovetail almost the full length of the base and more importantly, easy access to the battery compartment. Also has a removable L bracket on the end for portrait tripod work if you buy that option.

OMD E-M5 grip by John Milich is very interesting, I've been following Johns work and he is not only a very talented machinist and photographer, he also listens to peoples requests and builds his grips accordingly, something not that common these days and lovely to see, keep up the good work John!

OMD E-M5 Original design grip is a new one on the scene, being made in Taiwan if the designer can afford to go ahead with production, I wish them all the best!

Grip Base for Olympus OM-D E-M5 - Made in USA by J.B. Camera Designs is a lightweight (2oz) one piece hand poured and finished unit that so far looks like the best cheap alternative of getting a grip on your Em-5

Right, now down to my DIY attempt!

Being an industrious sort of chap, and with access to quite a few basic power tools (I'm a carpenter) I'm always tinkering with things until they are how I like them, you may well say I'm just a stubborn old git (and you may be right!) but why not if you can?

At this stage I'd like to just say if you attempt anything like this yourself (and I'm not advocating you do) as with working with any power tools, be extra careful as I cannot be liable for your actions or injuries you may receive while doing a project like this, basically, be it on your own head!

The material costs were minimal, time to make was about 5 days, researching and sourcing the bits took a little longer;

Aluminium flat bar 50 x 10 x 150mm, £4.30
Aluminium flat bar 3/4 x 3/8 x 2", 60p
1x captive tripod screw 1/4 x 20, £2.40
2x CSK A2 countersunk socket cap allen bolts, 33p
1x M5 x 35mm Titanium socket cap screw (cone head) £3.51
Self adhesive camera recovering leather, £2
Milliput and paint (already had both from a previous job!)

A grand total of £13.14 plus a little spare time, something I've had a bit of lately!

Ali works quite well with the same tools used for woodwork, so long as you take it easy, and my big old Ryobi Router came in quite handy!

Photos taken with my Galaxy S3
Basic outline, drilling and tapping, plus finger grip in the raw. Notice the captive screw has a slot big enough to tighten with a coin.

Most of the outlines were drilled first to get rid of the bulk, before smoothing them over with the router, holes were drilled and tapped accordingly, the upright part of the finger grip was rounded off and drilled all over so the Milliput gets a good purchase, and later the Arca-Swiss style dovetail was milled.

All machining has been done to the base here, prior to painting. Notice recess for captive screw, plus dovetail groove and milled out semi-circle in center of it, for flipping out the LCD screen.

Battery door opening has a 2mm hole on the right side for locating pin which hold body in place, off center threaded hole for 1/4" captive screw and tripod mounting hole (centered on lens) just in case I may want to attach it to another mounting plate.
Left hand side of above photo shows slot for home made gun sling strap, which will be held in place by a smooth Titanium socket cap screw.

There has obviously been quite a bit of hand filing and sanding here, not having access to modern CNC machines it is a bit crude, but at this stage I was happy, even after a few mistakes!

After painting with a matt Black finish, the upright was fitted and then the leather cut out and stuck.

Ready for the Milliput.

For those who do not have any knowledge of Milliput, it is a 2-part epoxy putty, I have used it on many occasions on various projects and cameras, and like the fact that it air dries overnight.
I covered the camera body with clingfilm to keep it clean during this section, and placed an off-cut of the leather behind the upright part, which will later be stuck on the back of the grip for added protection.
I kneaded the 2 parts of Milliput in my hands for 5 minutes until a uniform colour and covered the bare aluminium upright with enough material until it felt right when in a shooting position, I took some time here to get it right (Milliput doesn't start to go off for a few hours) then when I was satisfied I went over it with a piece of webbing, in a rolling fashion, to impart a slight texture to the surface, otherwise it would just have my fingerprints all over it!
The outcome was quite pleasing and also added a little extra grip.....what do you think?

Of course it may not be to everyone's liking, and does look a bit oversized in this last shot (mainly the camera angle) but it fits my hand like a glove and makes my E-M5 even more of a dream to handle, which was the whole point of the project anyway!

The dovetails fit nicely in my tripod ball head and even the extra weight was barely noticeable.

Was definitely worth the extra care in rounding off the corners and edges, especially where the palm of the hand rests, have heard a few complaints on the forums about this sharp corner on other models. Also adding a layer of leather between the two helps to cushion any knocks and protects the cameras body finish.

My middle finger rests on top of the upright while the lower two curl round for a good grip, the slight finger grooves help here and it is very comfortable.

I made sure the captive screw that attaches the base to the camera has a wide slot so a coin can be used for tightening, something we all have in our pockets most of the time, and negates carrying a screwdriver or allen wrench around.

Wrist strap on the right, gun sling loop on the left, made by doubling some elastic banding and sewing on a triangular D-ring, yes I know, not pretty, but will suffice until I can come up with a better idea...........maybe for Mk2?

Even the battery can be changed when on the tripod!

My adjustable home made gun sling strap is just a simple piece of 1" black webbing with 1x 3bar slider, 1x ladderlock buckle and a snaphook (all readily available from eBay) I've been using a couple of these for years now on my HS10 and several pairs of binoculars, and tested the strength with my own full weight, so I know I can trust them! In use it is just a loop which goes over the head onto one shoulder and down round the body under the arm to the opposite hip where you want the camera to be, the snaphook is free to slide up and down the strap, so the camera comes up easily to eye level to get a quick snapshot!

It actually looks like it belongs here!

The elastic strap acts as a little shock absorber, and might turn out better than expected or looks, we will see?

The triangular D loop is a little larger than I would have liked, but I already had it and didn't have the patience to wait for a smaller one to be delivered.

So, there we have it, a not too difficult project with a satisfying result, I'm pretty sure it will stay permanently on the E-M5 now, sure it will get beat up and loose some paint along the way, much rather that happens to the grip than the camera!

Would have loved to have it anodized but I was too impatient to send it off and get it done (if anyone knows who does a good anodizing job on small projects in the Midlands UK, please let me know?) Maybe I'll get the Mk2 version done, "Mk2" I hear you say...........once a tinkerer, always a tinkerer!!

In no way shape or form am I trying to undermine any of the other grips here, sure, I've borrowed some of the design elements, it's difficult not to, one look at them all and you can see how much they overlap, this is just my (present) take on the matter, and I wish them all the very best.

South Africa

There is a saying “ you should visit at least two continents in your lifetime, Africa....................twice!”

Of all the places I have visited, South Africa is the one that's really got under my skin, but then I knew it would! Ever since I was a young boy, I knew that I would feel at home amongst all that amazing landscape and diverse array of animals, I just never realised “how much at home” I'd really feel!

My 4 week stay at Kwantu's Private Game Reserve near Port Elizabeth as a Wildlife Conservation Volunteer, started with a whirlwind of information for the senses.
Kwantu has it's own small village fenced off from the rest of the reserve, so you can quite safely walk around without fear of being attacked or eaten by any of the wild animals, even though there were Lions, Cheetah and Tigers in the breeding/rehabilitation predator camp right next door!
Sidbury village houses all the staff for the 5 star Hotel and Lodges, rangers and general animal and reserve workers, and of course, us volunteers.
There is much history here, modelled around a quaint English village by Richard Daniel in the 1830's, there are two churches which are homes to many war graves, as fierce battles were fought here on the grasslands between the English settlers and the locals.

One of the Kwantu churches.

Queen Victory visited in 1861 which put it on the map, and the area is also agriculturally known to be the first to have the new Merino sheep which led to the wool boom, followed by the first exporting of Merino to Australia.
Our accommodation was much better than expected, a newer looking building in Sidbury village, lots of space which was more than welcome seeing as there were 24 of us in the first week, 12 were already there, and a new group of 12 that I arrived with. Length of stays varied from one week to several months for those that chose to do the FGASA level 1 Ranger course.
We all soon settled in and became the very best of friends, like one big happy family!

Now, I'm not going into too much detail about the rest of the trip here, if your interested, I have already written another blog about that here;

What I am going to do now though, is talk about what I took, what I didn't use, and what I wish I took!

Before I left back at the end of January, I was debating whether to take another camera.
My Fuji HS10 is a great little cam but with some drawbacks, it needs good light for it to shine (pardon the pun!) and I thought that would not be a problem in SA.
Prior to departing, I had thought of upgrading to the HS20EXR (the HS30EXR wasn't out yet) or even the new Fujifilm X-S1, which became available 2 days before I left!
I thought long and hard about it and decided to take what I knew best and stick with the HS10, of which I have no regrets. Yes, the other cameras may have been able to get better shots in lower light, and been quicker off the mark for those once in a lifetime pictures, but I'm not sure I would have been comfortable giving a brand new camera the beating I gave the HS10!
It got knocked always, rained on, went from cold to hot, hot to cold, covered in dust and elephant snot, and bounced around in a safari vehicle more times than most cameras see in a lifetime.
Admittedly, unless it was hanging around my neck with my home made strap, it was tucked away in the excellent Crumpler Turkish Shower Backpack 

This tough Chicken Tex rucksack was also beaten and bashed on a daily basis, rained on several times (without using the supplied rain cover) used it as a carry on for flights where it easily took my Netbook in a purpose built pouch at the back, and anything else that got me under the weight limit for my suitcase in the hold!
It was comfortable for long wilderness walks in the bush, although it did get a bit sweaty on the really hot days, but then so would anything else!
One thing I found it quite useful for, and probably not on the list of features, is that it is a handy tool to use as a barrier for squeezing through acacia thorn bushes, something SA is renowned for!
These 75-100mm needle like thorns that can spear you like a kebab and never even left a mark on the Crumpler

I took along my Velbon Ultra Stick L50 Aluminium Monopod with Manfrotto Quick Release Head, but never used it once! I know this sounds crazy, but the Safari vehicles we traveled around the reserve in were generally (not always) crowded, not leaving much room, plus with others moving around in said vehicle making it rock and sway, it sort of defeated the object!
Who knows, next time I probably couldn't do without it, this time I managed ok without, even at the longer end of the zoom, I just had to make sure I did my part!

I would consider taking a tripod though, a small and solid traveling one would suffice, as the night sky was amazing, showing the Milky Way to its glorious best, I'd have to take a different camera though, as the HS10 is limited in the astronomical department, and I did try!

Looking down at Cape Town from the Table Mt cable car.

Towards the end of my trip I spent some time touring the south coast between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, and after a few days in this beautiful city sitting beneath Table Mt, I had a hankering to get out into the bush again.
I booked a 4 day trip to Kruger, something I didn't think I would get to do on this trip.
Fully charging all 3 sets of Eneloop XX AA batteries I thought that would suffice for any amount of eager snapping that I might do in the largest game reserve in the world....... how wrong was I ?

To my amazement, one fresh
set did the whole 4 day trip!
I prefer using the EVF and the 
Single Auto focusing setting 
which helps, even then they 
managed 736 fine jpegs 
(there were more as I deleted 
some on the fly) 5 video clips, 
plus quite a bit of LCD viewing 
showing others what I'd taken. 
This is quite remarkable for AA's, 
and just goes to show how far 
they have come in recent years, 
and I can highly recommend them.

Insect repellent.
Now, I have to admit, the Southern Cape, both east and west, is not a high risk malaria area (Kruger on the other hand is) but there are a multitude of other nasties to worry about, the worst being the tick.
Tick bite fever is quite serious in SA, and they were prevalent where we worked around Kwantu. Many of us found them on our clothing, others after they had latched on for a drink of blood even after the use of insect repellent, removal was simple enough with a pair of tweezers, prevention was preferred though, so I was very glad to have along an Insect Shield impregnated garment by Haeleum and a couple of pairs of Care Plus Bugsox, a boot sock also impregnated with a safe to touch insect repellent.
I'm not a big fan of covering myself with chemicals, especially Deet, but each to their own!

The Haeleum Braedan Carbon top I took
was a lightweight and comfortable garment
to wear, especially on those balmy evenings 
round an open air dinner table in a Boma, a perfect place for pesky mozzies. 
With Insect Shield guaranteed for 70 washes, 50 UPF Sun Protection, 100% Natural Stretch DryTru Polyester, Moisture Management and being wrinkle free easy care, Haeleum Insect Shield tops are a must for any traveler.
Coupled with the socks, to the best of my knowledge, I was never bothered by any problem insects once, I had the odd fly try his luck, but even they didn't hang around for long!
Can't really say much more than that, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!" and needless to say, both items will be travelling with me again!

A collection of other insects that were not a problem!

Rhino beetle

No idea, but it looks almost like a skull and cross-bone from this angle!


This one got some spine tingling screams 
when first found in the girls bathroom!

                                                        Golden Orb Spider

"I've come to the conclusion that the whole planet is stuck together with cob webs! 
I honestly have never seen so many webs in my life, the Golden Orb spider can spin a web in roughly 20 mins, spanning many meters between bushes and trees, the main non sticky barrier webs are one of the strongest (strength to weight ratio) natural materials known to man, and glisten a golden yellow in the sun, hence the name.
The spiral net part of the web is the only sticky part, and is consumed and replaced most days, as the stickiness decreases with age.
Walking into one is not a pleasant experience, as they are usually head height and very sticky, the spider usually heads for the branches pretty quickly, which is handy as they can give quite a bite. You then spend the next half hour brushing the webs from your face and hair, always leaving one bit that defies any attempt to remove it!
Like I said........the whole planet is stuck together with them!!"

Other worthwhile gadgets and must haves.

Very handy for keeping my mobile phone fully charged (and other gadgets)
and with the numerous supplied plug adapters, was able to charge my electric hair trimmer
as I forgot to pack it's charger............result!
(I trim my own hair every week back to a No. 1)

A wonderful little powerhouse, never faltered and worked well online when tethered to my mobile with a local sim/data package as there was no wifi out on the game reserve.
This worked well enough to check and respond to all my e-mails, and write a blog with uploaded pictures, which can be seen here;
Photos were downloaded and lightly edited, daily if possible, then copied to the Toshiba Portable HDD listed below.

Used faultlessly to back up all my photos and videos using my netbook, also took my whole picture, music and film collection with me. On occasion someone would request a film to watch, which was simple with this running through my Lenovo and connected to the TV through a HDMI cable.
No extra power cable needed as it draws it from the Netbook through the USB cable, it's small and neat, and coupled with a good case it doesn't take up too much room.

I've never used a headtorch much before but I took one of these with me and it was brilliant!
Other volunteers had a variety of torches too, and I have to say they looked pathetic compared to the Lenser. The variable strength and focus-able beam knocked spots of anything else there, and came into it's own down the tree nursery in the late evenings where I could clearly see lots of game through the security fence, and the odd Bushbuck, Hare, Fiery Necked Nightjar, bats and Guinea Fowl on my side.

Craghoppers Classic Kiwi Zip Off Trousers
I have been wearing Craghoppers for over 8 years now, for work and play,
and they have never let me down.
Comfortable fit, with added sun and water protection, quick drying with 8 pockets,
some with security zips, and best of all, if the going gets hot,
just unzip the lower leg for a great looking pair of shorts.
One of my all time favorites, 3 pairs is all I took for 2 months to SA!

During my stay in Cape Town, I was subjected to a gang of pickpockets working as a team,
a few would get my attention while a sneaky one would come in from behind and
rummage around in my pockets, luckily nothing got taken thanks to the Craghoppers!
Someone even managed to get a photo of the rascals in action!

Beware of pickpockets!

BRASHER Hillmaster Hiking Boots
These are my second pair of Brashers, the first were still going strong after 10 years of use,
until my friends dog decided they tasted better than they looked!
One of the few boots to still be leather lined, a must for me (and others) when the going gets hot.
Also used for work and play, mine are very comfortable and offer good support when hiking on rougher ground, although the grip pattern does has a habit of picking up certain size stones, they are easily dislodged.
One rather wet wilderness walk at Kwantu saw the whole group get drenched on what turned out to be one of the best hikes of the trip, we saw Bushbuck, Ostrich, Wildebeest, Zebra, a whole troupe of Baboons and lots of birds and tracks in the fresh mud.
I think I enjoyed it more than most as I was the only one who still had dry feet at the end of the day, even the rangers had squelchy feet!

I love my Tilley hats, have one for every occasion and most of my friends 
don't even recognize me without one!
I took the TH5 Hemp version with me to Africa, thinking that the soft natural and 
breathable material would help in the hot conditions I would encounter, and I was right!
I wore it every day, with the high sun protection it yielded (UPF 50 +) I managed to elude sunburn and sunstroke, without the use of any other product other than dressing accordingly.
Some of you may think this is rather silly, but when I tell you that most of the other volunteers covered themselves with all sorts of high factor "sun protection" products, I was still the only one to not get burnt!

Yes I know, not very techie, but this is a brilliant find by my sister, 
Dr Bronner's soap can be used in more ways than you think, washing 
clothes, shower gel, shampoo, shaving cream and even tooth paste 
believe it or not?
When your traveling light like I try to do, this is a lifesaver, only half way through
one bar after being away 2 months!.........might even make it into my top ten!

Wouldn't go anywhere without my trusty Wave, came in handy on many occasion, 
especially out on the reserve. In my top 10

Likewise, my bino's were invaluable in Africa, I saw so many new things 
with these I earned the nick name, Meerkat Dave, as that's what they
 thought I looked like whenever we stopped long enough for a look-see!

I could write a whole new post about the different things I did see 
through these, but one stands out more than the rest.
There was a nice spot within the village at Kwantu called the tree nursery, 
laid out in a quiet corner just round from our dorms, from there there was a 
good view up the valley down to a small lake/dam, and I would sit there relaxing 
in the evenings just before dark and watch the wildlife go about it's business.
Zebra, Impala, Blue Wildebeest, Springbok, Giraffe and Jackal were the 
regular sightings, but I caught a glimpse of a Yellow Tailed Mongoose not 
100m away working along a line of bushes.
All of a sudden, the Mongoose ran out across the grass, and a young Springbok 
and Impala started to chase it, darting this way and that, it didn't last long 
and it disappeared into a bush, leaving the 2 young antelope (and me!)
looking rather perplexed.
A few seconds later the same Mongoose came running round from behind
 the bush with a Wildebeest calf in hot pursuit, this time the chase lasted a 
good 2-3 minutes, the gap between them staying constant through the twist 
and turns, and unless I had seen it with my own eyes,
I wouldn't have believed it!
Without my Bushnell's I would never have seen such a spectacle, as the light 
had faded so much by then I didn't even try to take a photo or video. 
The 8x42 specifications allowed me to see for at least another 30 to 45mins after 
normal eyesight had failed.............. a great piece of kit!

    A few things I would like to have had with me on this trip.



Well, I can dream can't I?


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