Monday, February 13, 2017

Adventures in Hokkaido With Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II

Edit: I have included more food photographs, just for you, Jason. 

I recently have visited Hokkaido, Japan in an officially organized trip by Olympus. There were rounds of sight-seeing and doing touristy activities, and I had the opportunity to bring with me an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II with several PRO lenses to use throughout the trip. We did not have a lot of time, and most of the trip was already planned out, so I was merely tagging along. As a result, most of my images taken were nothing more than snapshots that any ordinary visiting tourists would have taken, in the eyes of a foreigner visiting an alien land.

The experience was quite surreal, it was my first time seeing so much snow, and being in a place with almost -10 degrees Celcius was both fun and painful in some ways. I have always loved the cold but the trouble to go through, putting on layers and layers of cloths, wearing proper walking boots as well as using gloves, seriously no joy in those. And operating a camera, shooting through the gloves was so difficult!

I did have one final day in Shinjuku, which I had some brief time to myself to explore on my own. I have decided to merge the images from Shinjuku together with Hokkaido series, since I did not have enough images to create a Shinjuku series on its own.

All images were taken with Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and M.Zuiko lenses 7-14mm F2.8 PRO, 25mm F1.2 PRO, 45mm F1.8 and 40-150mm F2.8 PRO

The Sapporo TV Tower, with an observation deck at the top. Of course, like any other tourists I went up and had a high viewpoint of Sapporo's beautiful city from up there.  

Japanese cities are so beautiful, many of them are surrounded by high mountains. 

Naked tree branches, in winter. I know some of you are bored of this sight, but to me, this is something quite unusual and never seen in Malaysia. 

Portrait of a Stranger 1


Bathed in glorious morning golden light. 

Similar view of the previous image, at night. 

Snow festival happening right in the middle of Sapporo city. 

One way to attract customers, shine a bright light through the menu. 

Temperature was cold enough that ice sculptures do not melt at all. 

It was snowing most of the time I was in Hokkaido. As it gets colder and colder the fun was somehow lost. 


We visited the Asahiyama Zoo, about 3 hours drive out of the Sapporo City. Did not shoot much here since I did not have a long tele lens with me. I needed to borrow the lens from my colleagues for some shots. 

My first encounter with a Polar Bear. Not sure if the temperature here was cold enough for the bear though. 

Sleeping cat. 

I love how the sky was so clear and blue all the time I was there. 

The congestion is real in Japan. Looking from high viewpoint, it was incredible how the Japanese could maximize every single space of the land they have. 

Again, attracted to the blueness and clean lines. I like how the straight lines were placed against the unpredictable doodles of tree branches. 

The light is always directional in Japan, even at times close to noon. How I wish the light in Malaysia is the same. Basically at about 10am onward in Malaysia the sun is so harsh coming from the top it was almost impossible to get good lighting on any subject you shoot outdoor. Here in Japan even at noon, you get good shadow features and side light, and the sun was never too harsh. 

We caught the snowboarding competiton which was a huge thing in Hokkaido. Shot this with the 40-150mm F2.8 mounted on the E-M1 Mark II. The prowess of the Continuous AF continued to amazed me. I only had about less than 5 minutes with the long lens since it was not mind, and I managed to capture some perfectly sharp in-focus images. 

This dude was my favourite from the bunch because of his expressive hair!

In one of the mornings I went to the fish market with my colleagues. We had an awesome breakfast there, fresh fish and seafood. And of course we spent some time walking around, shooting. I was standing at the cold storage area where this shot was taken. 

Portrait of a Fish Market Seller. 

Portrait of a Stranger 2. I think it is too cold out there. 

Door opened. 
The snow gets piled up, and somehow turned into ice, creating very slippery walkway, and even roads for the vehicles. I have witnessed a few skids of cars, and I myself almost fell down, slipping off the walkway. Almost. 

Working on a new Signboard. 

One of the creepiest looking snowman ever. 


I seriously love the light here! I can spend the whole day shooting, if only I was given such opportunity. 

Portrait of a Stranger 3

Crab to go. 

Cross walk

Sapporo by night. 

This was the first image I took at Shinjuku, Tokyo. Such a lovely, lovely place for street photography! So much possibilities and I only had about an hour here. Such a shame. 

I went up the Tokyo Metropolitan Tower for this shot. This was at 45 stories above the ground, overlooking Tokyo, with clear view of Mount Fuji (the snow capped mountain) in the far background. The view was simply majestic, though this was just an ordinary, tourist shot that can be taken with a smartphone. 

Bicycle was actually a huge thing in Japan. 

So much fun playing with pockets of light shining throughout the city. 

Love the drama the morning light created. Even simple shot of a man walking his dog has so much ambiance and beauty with such incredible light!

It was also easy to find shapes, lines and repetitive patterns to play with in composition! I was overwhelmed with choices to shoot. Too bad, time was not enough. 

Even the Policemen were on bicycles. 

A wider view showing the Tokyo from the Metropolitan tower. 

This was perhaps the best breakfast I have ever had in my life. 5 super thick slices of Salmon, and 5 smaller slices of salmon, with so much Roe topping on Japanese rice. 

My colleague, Pond's breakfast. Prawn and Octopus... yummy!

We had a plate of Shashimi in almost every meal!

Seafood on top of rice, for lunch!

Beef Tataki!!!!
The last time I had a good Beef Tataki was with a friend and ex-colleague Stephen Tai from Perth, about 10 years ago! I have not had a good one ever since. It was so good we had the photo of the beef tataki as our desktop wallpapers, both Stephen and I. Stephen, if you are reading, this Tataki beats the one we had in Perth. Hands down. 

Grilled Salmon

Some seriously delicious lamb!!

Pork Slices. 

Jelly Fish. Mum, you would have liked this!

Yes,. we had plenty of Ramen as well. This one had like the chunkiest Chasu slices I have ever seen in my entire life. This was the only image I am showing here, taken with a smartphone camera. Yes, there were many times I put down the camera and just enjoyed my food too. 

Of course, having the ever famous Sapporo beer was a must!

Some street food that I did not try. 

Pond, a colleague and photographer from Thailand. 

This was Pond's E-M1 Mark II and 12-100mm purposely placed on snow. 

I sure hope you have enjoyed viewing the images I have taken from my recent short trip to Japan! I shall treat these images as an extension to sample images that I have for the E-M1 Mark II review. I did not do much post-processing on them, and most of the images were almost straight out of camera. 

Do let me know if any of you have been to Hokkaido, or Japan recently. I think Japan is such a beautiful country, and I really wish I have a full on photography trip next time. You know, just do nothing and walk around awesome places shooting photos. That would be an experience of a lifetime. 

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  1. Beautifully composed and all the pictures look bright and stunning...there's hope in 2017.

  2. All are great photos. The cross road make me remember the resident evil~

    1. Haha resident evil! I only watched the latest movie, never caught any of the previous releases.

  3. Well done on getting images under pressure Robin. But where's "your" 12-100mm ? :-)

    1. All our 12-100mm F4 PRO lenses went to a photographer on an assignment in Malaysia. Unfortunately!

  4. Wow, crispy as your ears at -10 Celsius. It is so nice to see what the low winter sun does with the colors.
    Now you've done mount Fuji you really should go to Greece as well!

    1. Oh dear, Greece is so far away! I will need years to save up enough money.

    2. I was wondering why Olympus has their headquarters in the shade of the Fuji! This explanation of the brand name is from the Olympus website:

      Olympus was named after Mount Olympus, the mythical home of the principal gods and goddesses of ancient Greece.
      According to Japanese mythology, eight million gods and goddesses live in Takamagahara, or the Plain of High Heaven atop Mount Takachiho, the inspiration for the company’s original name.
      In connection with this, "Olympus" was used as a trademark in those days. The name is also imbued with the passionate aspiration that Olympus' optics-based products will permeate the world and penetrate the world, just as the light of Takamagahara illuminates the world.

  5. so cold ! any problems with battery ?

    1. Nope, no issues with battery I encountered.

  6. Excellent work. When ever I see your work I am reminded that m43rds is now a professional system.

    1. Thanks Louis, but I am not a professional photographer, not yet!

  7. The love you have for Japan is so apparent in your gorgeous photos and your commentary! My heart is always in Japan and your photos really reflect the beauty and spirit.

    1. I really do love Japan, the culture, the people, the scenery and the amazing food!

  8. Amazing color. Did you use any CP?

    1. I am assuming you are referring to Circular Polarizer. Nope, no filters were used.

  9. As a Japanese, your photos give me the different view of Japan!
    next time, I recommend you to visit Nara and Kyoto.

    1. I need years and years to save up enough money for such trips!

  10. Awesome shots Robin. You did great using the directional lighting. It adds a new dimension to your regular shots.

  11. Fantastic photos! My mother is from Nemuro,Hokkaido which is on the eastern most tip of the island. When traveling back with her, we'd spend a few days in Sapporo before boarding the train to Nemuro. I'm Japanese American because my father of Japanese descent was born and grew up in Hawaii. I've been to Sapporo many times and you captures it well! The kani (crab) and salmon are delicious as your photos show! Your shots really makes me yearn to return!

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Glenn, I did wish I have more time and can shoot more, Hokkaido is so beautiful, and oh I miss the food already!

  12. Robin, great shots as always. I loved the one with the penguins marching in a line at the zoo!
    Thanks as always for sharing them with us as your work is an inspiration to all.

    1. Hey Robert,
      It is my pleasure to share, always! Thanks for the compliments!

  13. I lived in rural Hokkaido my first four years in Japan. The snowfall in winter was literally staggering, even for this displaced Canadian. My old host town claims 800cm of snow a year. I had to shovel the walk almost daily, and would climb a snowbank to shovel off the roof of my little cabin a couple of times a season. Unbelievable, beautiful snow!

    Now I'm in Tokyo, a totally different kind of Japan experience. But, as you pictures and written comments so amply illustrate, another great photo destination in its own right. And this time, I have a digital camera (two, actually: e-m1 and e-p5) and matching lenses to photo drift around this amazing, phantasmagoric city. Please check out my photos and writing from Japan - and the rest of the world - at

    And thanks for the great photo blog! I always enjoy reading your experiences with Olympus cameras and lenses.

    1. Wow, I cannot imagine how wonderful the experience would be living in Hokkaido for 4 years! That must have been incredible. Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos too. And do please shoot more photos, Japan is such a beautiful place, worthy to be photographed!

  14. im new to this blog. After reading up on some old posts i can say i enjoy it:) iv been shooting weddings for 6 years now using canon gear. my bread n butter is the 3 fast primes 35, 85 and 200mm. starting to look into the micro 4/3. im getting older and the canon gear is heavy. i think after testing the high iso abillities i could get a way with iso 800 and f2 in the churches. The canons i would push to 3200 iso if needed. but i almost never have to push them past 1600. and 1600 can work if needed even in micro 4/3. I would like having a bit more dof to work with as i realy have to plan shoots with the fullframes to hit the focus i like and i find the focus on new micro 4/3 cameras to be as good as my canon 5d II by now.The oly 45mm and the 75mm would be perfect af as replacements for the 85 n 200 even if the 75mm only gives the reach of a 150mm. the silence off the mirroless camera makes up for the lost reach by far. My only concern left is the few moments where i need to push iso past 800. but i can work with that tradeoff.

    But here comes my biggest concern. I cant find a fast prime in the 30-40mm range that can mach my 35mm. I shoot raw and all the available lenses in that range have a hefty distortion. And i use my 35mm on fullframe pretty close without the look gets to distorted to take away what i like about a portrait. I miss the medium wide angle for the system. but i guess i can use the panasonic lx 100. my first mirrorless camera with a smaller sensor and what got me thinking off the micro 4/3 as a possibility.

    But is it just me or do the system miss a 15-17mm resembling af 30-35mm on par with the 45mm and the 75mm they offer?

    Kind regards Mads (from Denmark)

    1. MO, with the Olympus image stabilization, especially from the E-M1 II, you won't have a lot of high ISO moments. The Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 doesn't seem to have a lot of distortion shooting raw at 17mm (see They announced an upgrade, so the price of that lens should come down. Personally I use the Olympus 17mm f/1.8. It's my favorite lens amongst seven others, including the 45mm and 75mm. But I mainly shoot in JPEG because: 1. I am lazy, 2. it's very good.
      At 4/3 Rumors there was recently an article about a possible Olympus 17mm f/1.2 or f/1.4 coming this year. Probably already to be announced this month. If it is on par with the 25mm f/1.2 that lens will be magic. (My guess is that the guy with the menu and the crab seller above are taken with that 25mm lens).

    2. Thanks. Stabilisation don't have much effect for me asi need around 1/200 shutter speed anyways to sword motion blur mostly. But thanks for ur recamondations on the 17 mm I will try that out. If it delivers the same skintones as the 45mm I might be able to live with the distortion. But I'm a kind of guy who needs to try out the lens before I can make my mind up. But I would like to narrow the field down first. Want to keep from going trough to many before I am satisfied or it will quickly get expensive :) But Thanks again. I do Like The 45 n The 75mm very much for The skintones n allaround look. But i do need a Lene in The 15-20mm range to make The hole thing work. With a fast aparture. 2.8 Will NOT work

    3. Sorry for all The typos it was written on my phone with a rather annoying spelling help

  15. Robin, I have 2 quick questions, did you shoot RAW or jpegs? Did you do some PP, if yes what?

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  17. Hello, Robin!
    I always admire your vision and pictures! And interesting texts, too.

    I have travelled on Hokkaido in September 2016, rented a car there and visited many places. You can see shots in my blogХоккайдо
    (sorry, all stories are in Russian).

    Kind regards, Ivan (Russia -> Korea)

  18. Hi Robin,

    Very nice photos!! You really show Olympus gears are the number one choice for travels/holidays, light, small, fantastic lenses.

    Love your blog.


  19. Oh Robin, one question: does the new 12-100/4 Pro work well on E-M5 mark 2? Thanks, Shaun

  20. OK. I think you and everyone else who has been posting photos from this camera have finally pushed me over the edge to get one. Hoping it will be good for shooting football.

    Sun Spot fantastic.

  21. Thank you for sharing your experience. Quick question(s): What lens(es) did you use for the photos with the captions "Portrait of a Stranger 1" ,"Portrait of a Stranger 2" ,"Portrait of a Stranger 3" ,"So much fun playing with pockets of light shining throughout the city."

  22. You outdid yourself, of course. :)

    Being Japanese from a more southern location, I never would have thought to visit Hokkaido in the winter. The ice sculptures are better left to be photographed by someone without frostbite. It is an interesting island--even Sapporo isn't a Japanese word, but an Ainu word.

    400円 seems like a very reasonable price for a bowl of anything tasty. I once went to an all you can eat curry rice place for less than that, but of course, only rice and gravy, not vegetables or meat.

    I wonder--how does it feel compared to KL or Singapore?

  23. Thanks, Robin. Superb work, as always. That brought back some lovely memories of Japan of my own. I'm pleased to see that you even (somewhat) enjoyed the cold, which can be lovely for us tropical dwellers. And of course the spectacular sights, food, people... a very special country indeed.

  24. Great report Robin. I'm going to Hokkaido next January and I'm really looking forward to it. One question I have is what special measures you have to take to deal with the cold and protect the camera. I've read that condensation can be a problem when returning from the cold to a warm room for example. Do you have any tips ?

  25. Thanks for the interesting and informative post, Robin....and for the beautiful photos. I'm curious why you don't carry two cameras with different lenses (not that you need any help...obviously). To make up for my own lack of talent, I typically carry EM1ii on the right with a long lens and Pen-F on the left with 7-14Pro or circular fisheye.

    1. Frank, don't you find the 7-14 Pro a little front heavy on the Pen-F? Are you using a grip?

  26. I absoluteley love the Saporo by night and t he pocket of light shots!