Thoughts

My vision for Transilvania

What follows here is a subjective, ideal scenario for my native region of the world, so if it doesn’t sit well with you, read this first sentence again.

I was born in a Saxon town in Transilvania called Medwesch. Its name in Romanian is Mediaș and in German, it’s Mediasch. However, its name originates from the Hungarian word “meggy” which means “sour cherry”. It’s entirely possible that the Medias region was known for its sour cherry trees. (Its name is spelled Medgyes in Hungarian). It recently celebrated its 750th anniversary, having been first mentioned in written documents on the 3rd of June, 1267.

Quick aside: as it turns out, I am half-Hungarian and I have sour cherry trees in our courtyard and garden. I love sour cherries and we make sour cherry liquor and sour cherry jam every autumn. Some of the trees here at home are almost as old as I am (over four decades) and one of them is possibly even older. This post has to do in large part with trees — not just sour cherry trees though.

My city is even older than its 750 documented years. Archeological findings in the area point to settlements that go back to the middle Neolithic period, certainly long before the Romans conquered what was previously known as Dacia and called its most beautiful region Transilvania, which means “through the forest” or “beyond the forest”. And here’s where we get to the crux of this post. Those neolithic people got to experience Transilvania in its most bountiful days, with old growth forests that stretched as far as the eye could see, with rivers and streams overflowing with pure water, with fertile fields set among rolling hills and mountains filled to the brim with precious metals and salt (which was more expensive than gold at certain times in history). That was an unpolluted, wild Transilvania with few settlements and long distances between them — the kind of world that made you seek and cherish human connections instead of being overwhelmed by overpopulation and left searching for quiet and solitude.

While some of the things that once were can’t be restored (such as the many, many thousands of tons of precious metals taken from our mountains), it is my dream that we roll back some of the damage that humans have done to this beautiful place and we restore some of the conditions that existed before there were too many of us around and we started messing about irresponsibly.

Here’s where the trees come in (the ones I mentioned a couple of paragraphs back). I’d like to see a massive reforestation effort take place in Transilvania, one where every available piece of land that’s not being used for agriculture is peppered with fast-growth and slow-growth trees. It should even be mandated that groupings of trees be planted in fields used for agriculture, for example one rectangular spot of 4m x 60m on every hectare of land, at a minimum.

I’d like to see common sense and clearly enforced measures in place when it comes to felling trees. What is clear is that we need wood for construction materials and for firewood, but what is also abundantly clear is that Romania has been cutting a great deal of wood illegally (about two thirds of the wood being cut in Romania per annum is cut illegally), so that needs to stop, even if it means armed forces will patrol the forests and shoot tree thieves on sight, be they regular people or employees of corporations.

Massive reforestation efforts, coupled with proper measures to check and control tree felling, would go a long way toward restoring Transilvania’s historic forests. And no tree cutting of any sort should be allowed in certain old-growth forests. We need to restore some semblance of the wild Transilvania in ancient woodlands and allow those old trees to stick around for a few hundred years more. Trees are more majestic and have more dignity in them than most people I see on a daily basis, yet dimwits with chainsaws think nothing of felling them illegally. I think that cruel sentiment should be mirrored back to them, and that’s why I am in favor of armed forces patrolling forests and shooting offenders on sight, without due process.

Together with the reforestation efforts, I’d like to see massive cleanups take place along all of the roadways in Transilvania. I’d like to see video cameras that work with mobile SIM cards and recharge from mini solar panels, mounted in hidden locations along the roads, and those people dumping construction debris or other garbage along the roads, identified, fined very serious amounts of money, and forced to clean up their own messes.

Furthermore, I’d like to see river and stream cleanups take place everywhere, with dredging where necessary to get the garbage and overgrown vegetation out and to restore proper water flow. We should have people in charge of the waters who are constantly maintaining the shorelines and keeping our waters clean. The harvesting of sand from the riverbeds should be done responsibly and only in select areas, after consultation with committees of geologists and archeologists, because the way it’s being done now absolutely destroys the riverbeds and the flow of the rivers.

When it comes to agriculture, I’d like to see more sensible, organic agriculture that employs crop rotations and allows certain plots of land to rest every seven years or so. I’m fed up with the ridiculous amounts of fertilizers and pesticides being dumped on our lands every year — much more than the recommended dosage from the manufacturer is sadly the norm when it comes to peasant farmers here. I’d like to see grazing lands used properly, by rotating the sheep and the goats and the cows so they don’t overgraze. The size of one’s herd or flock ought to be determined by the size of the land available to it, not by the projected year-end revenues, pumped up by extra tens or hundreds of head of cattle that have overgrazed the land and have needed extra hay to be trucked in from who-knows-where in order to support their feeding needs.

How about all the garbage left behind by the herders and shepherds every year? The hills are practically strewn with plastic bags and bottles of all kinds, and no one holds them accountable for it. How about the excessive use of communal water to feed thirsty crops in dry years, to the point where a village’s water supply runs dry and the water levels in people’s wells go down to the bedrock? That’s thoroughly irresponsible and heavy fines ought to be in place for those who water their crops excessively.

If you’re a regular reader, then you know my opinion on overpopulation already, but I think I’ll write about my thoughts on the ideal population density in the towns, cities and the countryside in a later post.

For now, I’d like you to close your eyes, like I do every once in a while, and try to imagine a Transilvania full of tall forests every which way you look, where cool breezes sway the tops of these beautiful trees and cool down the valleys below, where happy little streams that started as springs deep in the forests, flow unobstructed toward the bigger rivers, alongside scenic country roads that are clean and well-maintained. Should you drive on those roads, you’ll enter a village or a town every once in a while, places where people are productive and work the land or work in the crafts or run a shop or a business, or perhaps tend herds of cows and sheep, but everyone sees to their work and to their household and makes a solid contribution to their community and society. That’s what I’d like to see in my Transilvania.

And it starts with the trees. We need to get the trees growing back in the forests.

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Places

Leipzig Train Station

Inaugurated in 1915, Leipzig Hauptbahnhof (Leipzig main train station) is the central railway terminus in Leipzig, Germany. When its plans were finalized in 1909, it was the world’s largest railway station. Today, at 83,460 square metres (898,400 sq ft), it is Europe’s largest railway station measured by floor area. It has 19 overground platforms housed in six iron train sheds, a multi-level concourse with towering stone arches, and a 298 metres (978 ft) long facade.

It was in 1898 that the Leipzig city council decided on a joint terminal for Royal Saxon and Prussian state railways north of the city centre. A building contract with both organisations was signed in 1902 and an architectural competition with 76 participants was held in 1906. The winning design by architects William Lossow (1852–1914) and Max Hans Kühne (1874–1942) featured two identical domed entrance halls facing the street, one for each company. The foundation stone was laid on 16 November 1909 and the platforms were gradually brought into operation station from 1912 onwards. When construction works finished on 4 December 1915, Leipzig Hauptbahnhof had become one of the world’s largest railway stations with 26 platforms.

Enjoy the photographs!

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Places

Cecilienhof Palace

Inbetween the two days of visits to Schloss Sanssouci, we made time to visit Schloss Cecilienhof, which is nearby and is a larger compound, in spite of its less imposing facades. Sanssouci was originally projected with just 10 rooms to be used by Frederick the Great, while Cecilienhof was built with 176 rooms. Although the various buildings seem separate, they are interconnected at ground level and below ground and feature quite a few private gardens, set in private courtyards. We visited all we could manage in the space of an afternoon and evening that stretched till dusk, when we had to call it quits.

Cecilienhof is a palace in Potsdam, Brandenburg, Germany built from 1914 to 1917 in the layout of an English Tudor manor house. Cecilienhof was the last palace built by the House of Hohenzollern that ruled the Kingdom of Prussia and the German Empire until the end of World War I. It is famous (or infamous) for having been the location of the Potsdam Conference in 1945, in which the leaders of the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States made important decisions affecting the shape of post World War II Europe and Asia. In other words, the Potsdam Conference is singularly responsible for drawing the dark iron curtain of communism over most of Eastern Europe, so it’s not an event that many from Eastern Europe remember fondly. The palace’s history is also a fairly sad one, because in spite of its beauty and functionality, it was only used for its intended purpose for a few years.

On 13 April 1914 the Imperial Ministry and the Saalecker Werkstätten signed a building contract that envisaged a completion date of 1 October 1915 and a construction cost of 1,498,000 Reichsmark for the new palace. The architect was Paul Schultze-Naumburg, who visited the couple in Danzig to work out the design for the palace. It was based on English Tudor style buildings, arranged around several courtyards featuring half-timbered walls, bricks and 55 different decorative chimney stacks. The palace was finished in August 1917. It was named Cecilienhof after the Duchess and the couple moved in immediately. Cecilie gave birth at Cecilienhof to her youngest child, Cecilie of Prussia who was born on 5 September 1917.

However, when the revolution erupted in November 1918, for security reasons Cecilie and her six children moved for a while to the Neues Palais, where the wife of Emperor Wilhelm II, Empress Augusta Victoria, was living. Kaiser Wilhelm II fled to Holland, where he remained until his death, on his estate Huize Doorn. (Incidentally, a film was made about the last years of his life and it’s called “The Exception” (2016). It stars Christopher Plummer, Lily James and Jai Courtney.) After the Empress followed her husband into exile in the Netherlands, Cecilie remained in Potsdam and returned to Cecilienhof where she lived until 1920. As the property of the Hohenzollern family had been confiscated after the revolution, Cecilie then had to move her residence to an estate at Oels in Silesia, which was a private property. Only her sons Wilhelm (William) and Louis Ferdinand remained at Cecilienhof while they attended a public Realgymnasium (school) in Potsdam. Crown Prince Wilhelm had gone into exile in the Netherlands on 13 November 1918 and was interned on the island of Wieringen. He was allowed to return to Germany—as a private citizen—on 9 November 1923.

In June 1926, a referendum on expropriating the former ruling Princes of Germany without compensation failed and as a consequence, the financial situation of the Hohenzollern family improved considerably. A settlement between the state and the family made Cecilienhof property of the state but granted a right of residence to Wilhelm and Cecilie. This was limited in duration to three generations.

Prince Wilhelm subsequently broke the promise he had made to Gustav Stresemann, who allowed him to return to Germany, to stay out of politics. He supported the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, who visited Cecilienhof three times, in 1926, in 1933 (on the “Day of Potsdam”) and in 1935. However, when Wilhelm realized that Hitler had no intention of restoring the monarchy, their relationship cooled. After the assassination attempt on 20 July 1944, Hitler had Wilhelm placed under supervision by the Gestapo and had Cecilienhof watched.

In January 1945, Wilhelm left Potsdam for Oberstdorf for a treatment of his gall and liver problems. Cecilie fled in early February 1945 as the Red Army drew closer to Berlin, without being able to salvage much in terms of her possessions. At the end of the war, Cecilienhof was seized by the Soviets.

After the Potsdam Conference ended, Soviet troops used the palace as a clubhouse. It was handed over to the state of Brandenburg and in 1952 a memorial for the Conference was set up in the former private chambers of Wilhelm and Cecilie. The government of Eastern Germany also used the palace as a reception venue for state visits. The rest of the complex became a hotel in 1960. Some of the rooms were used by the ruling party (SED) for meetings. After 1961, a part of the Neuer Garten was destroyed to build the southwest section of the Berlin Wall (as part of the Grenzsicherungsanlagen) which ran along the shore of Jungfernsee. Beginning in 1985, the VEB Reisebüro (state-owned travel agency) modernised the hotel.

Today, parts of Cecilienhof are still used as a museum and as a hotel. In 1990 it became part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site called Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin. The private rooms were opened to the public in 1995 after comprehensive restoration work. Queen Elizabeth II visited Cecilienhof on 3 November 2004. On 30 May 2007, the palace was used for a summit by the G8 foreign ministers. In 2011, Schloss Cecilienhof was awarded the European Heritage Label.

I hope you’ll enjoy this gallery of 113 photographs I took there!

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Thoughts

The best of times

Isn’t it interesting how timeless and true good writing proves itself, even in our modern age, and even though it was originally intended for a different literary context?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

“A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens, 1859

We are indeed living in the best times of current recorded history and because every coin has a flip side, there are surely plenty of things to complain about. Yet I thought I’d point out some of the good things in this post.

Out of all our known and written history, I don’t believe we’ve ever had a time like this, when most of the world is enjoying a period of “not war” and when the options available to us in areas such as healthcare, living conditions, hygiene, infrastructure, learning, jobs, possessions, transport, personal freedoms and just about everything else you can think about are so many and so readily available. Yes, some of these options can get expensive, but they are there and they are available, whereas most of them simply did not exist in the past.

We get so caught up in our daily, mundane routines and our various disappointments that we allow to blacken our lives, that we forget we have it so good. I’d like to invite you to find and watch documentaries and TV series that portray our various periods of history with accuracy; there are quite a few these days. I’d like you to become acquainted with how people lived and how hard it was to simply get through a day and have some food to put on the table, much less be able to afford a few knick-knacks here and there.

Most people have never been able to afford what we call a proper home and have lived in sheds, hovels and small cottages for most of history. Most houses were a one-room affair in the past. The toilet was a pot under the bed or a communal outdoor hole in the ground. Chamber pots would be thrown into the street every morning. Think about taking a walk in those cities! Even in civilized cities, right up to the 1960s-70s, people would have to share a common bathroom or bathrooms in apartment buildings or subdivided houses. And now we’ve gotten to the point where we mind sharing a bathroom with our guests and we complain if our house has less than 3-4 rooms.

The capability to take a daily shower under hot running water, with a pleasant soap and shampoo, has been unheard of in all our recorded history, until recent times. And yet people still find excuses when it comes to maintaining proper daily hygiene and complain about water hardness and water pressure and soap quality, etc.

Dental care is so important. Without it, most of us would be toothless by our 40s and those who’d still have teeth would have some rather nasty decoloration and build-up on them. Should we be part of the majority of the population without teeth, we’d have to wear dentures made of wood or animal teeth, or of metals such as lead, dentures that wouldn’t fit properly and cause us daily pain. We now have access to orthodontics, fillings that match the color and hardness of our teeth and are almost invisible, crowns, implants and now stem cell implants, which can regenerate our own teeth! This was never available in the past. We’ve had to struggle with primitive tooth care for so long.

Of all healthcare options available, I would single out trauma surgery as the most important development. Nowadays we have the option of receiving triage and trauma care that allows us to fully heal without infection, including proper bone and joint surgery and for most of known history, we simply didn’t have this. Broken arms stayed broken. Torn joints stayed torn. Cuts and flesh wounds often got infected and led to death. Yes, healthcare is terribly expensive. Yes, good basic healthcare should be a right, not a privilege. But look at the bright side: it exists! How governments choose to make it available to their citizens is an open and ongoing discussion instead of a “No, we’ve never heard of that, it doesn’t even exist” kind of discussion.

How easy is it to learn things nowadays? Access to information is virtually free, and more resources (historical and modern) have become available online than we’ll ever have time to read, and yet I’m hard pressed to come across than a few learned, thoughtful individuals during the course of a day and sometimes even a week; (perhaps that’s also due to the way our educational systems are structured.) Various apps on our mobile devices compete to make learning as fun as possible for us. Universities and colleges post videos from their courses for free online access. For most of history, people didn’t know how to read or write. They were thirsty for learning but it was out of their reach. It was simply too expensive or just not an option for them. Trade secrets, for example, were closely guarded and only revealed to tradespeople in secrecy, after long apprenticeships. Now everyone can watch how-to videos and learn how to do something, but how many follow through and actually do those things or even more, persist at them until they get good? Most of us tend to confuse reading or watching the news with learning. Opening up our minds and pouring in the news isn’t learning, it’s just a deluge of unhelpful and depressing bits of information.

For most of our history, people couldn’t pick their jobs. There was little social mobility. If you were born into a peasant family, you were a peasant, end of story. Only the aristocracy could pick and choose what they wanted to do, but even if they were passionate about something, it could only be a hobby, because they were expected by all to be aristocrats, not do things (I know, boo-hoo for them…) Now anyone can be just about anything, and training for that job is within reach if they want it enough. One way or another you can make ends meet and get to do what you like in life. I know, I know, student loans are huge… that’s why it’s doubly important to figure out what you want to do before you start going to school for it, else you’ll be spending money you don’t have so you can get to do what you don’t want to do. While I’m talking about this, allow me to pitch you on choosing a career in the trades; good craftsmen are in severe demand these days.

The subject of possessions is huge, both figuratively and literally. We could talk all day about rampant consumerism and fake economies and fast fashion. The point is, it’s incredibly affordable to buy things today, and it simply wasn’t the case for most of our history. Even something that we often take for granted and is typically rusting in our garden sheds, such as a simple hand saw, was incredibly hard to make and buy during medieval times. Even an axe or a pick was hard to make. They cost lots of money, the equivalent of small cars nowadays, so people saved up for years to buy tools, then cared for them and handed them down to their sons and daughters. Clothes were made by hand, and that included the materials. You cared for them and mended them as long as you could. Someone would typically only have one change of clothing. Nowadays clothing is literally clogging up our homes and people are desperate to get help in order to clean them up and organize them.

In the last 100 years, means of transport have progressed tremendously. Whereas travel was slow and expensive, it’s now fast and inexpensive. We can travel by car, train, ship and airplane. We can even skip physical travel and visit locations virtually by looking at photos from those places, or street views in mapping applications. We can even immerse ourselves in 360 degree videos and virtual realities.

We find time to bitch about every little bump and pothole in our public roads, yet we’ve never had it so good. It’s true that Roman roads are legendary, but you have to remember they were cobblestone in a time where suspension hadn’t yet been invented. Every single bone and sinew in your body would have been shaken out of sorts by the time a day’s ride would be over. After Roman civilization degraded, we were back to mud ruts and dust for over 1500 years, plus frequent attacks from highway robbers. Now all but the most rural roads are paved and can be safely traveled.

How about personal freedoms? Have societies ever tolerated so much free speech, even when it’s hateful and offensive, and offered so much personal freedom for various lifestyle choices, even for something that we now consider so commonplace as divorce or adultery? Do you know how shunned people were for adultery in the past, or how impossible it was to get a divorce, even when situation was terrible and abusive? How about the open criticism and ridicule of politicians, business leaders and other figures of authority or fame that we now tolerate? When was that sort of thing well-tolerated in the past? And yet we still find ways to take these things to the extreme, and we keep pushing the boundaries till things get truly and downright brazen and defamatory, instead of celebrating the freedom of speaking out against someone and doing it with some sense of decency.

I do wish more people would realize how good we have it and would be more grateful for all of the opportunities, amenities and conveniences that modern times offer us. We certainly don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we lose what we’ve worked so hard for as a human race and civilization, because then we’ll have really failed ourselves. I think the way to become more grateful is to pay attention to the past, because it offers up enough contrast to the present to make us have those little epiphanies of conscience that raise our collective morale.

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As mentioned in my previous post, I have put together a gallery of photographs from our visit to the Apafi Castle in Dumbraveni, Transilvania, Romania. It’s across the street from the Armenian Catholic church. It’s also worth noting that the Apafi Family also owned this manor in Mălâncrav, a village not far away from Dumbraveni. Legend has it there was and still might be an underground tunnel between the two properties.

When we arrived at the castle, there was no gatekeeper, as seems to be usual at these places. There was a phone number to call, someone answered and told us we’d need to wait about two hours until they got back. We weren’t going to do that, so we walked around the exterior walls and interior courtyard. The place was in a terrible state, as you can see from the photos. I felt an odd kinship with the place, like I’d been there before, a long time ago.

During communist times, it was used as an agricultural cooperative, where they stored and repaired machinery and grains, and the interior of the castle was used as a trade high school. So you can imagine that things look just as bad on the inside as they do on the outside. Gone are the period interiors, the furniture has long disappeared and nothing is the same. Remember though, it was 2011 then, it’s 2018 now, so perhaps the place has been somewhat restored in the meantime.

The history of the castle is not without its ups and downs. If you remember Grigore (Gergely) Apafi from my previous post, he bought all of the land in and around Dumbraveni in the middle of the sixteenth century from the Bethlen family (another ruling family in the region), and built the castle in the years 1552-1567, in the Renaissance style. His son Miklós established the family residence there in 1590. Things went on and even got better.

The castle’s golden age was in the period when Prince Mihaly Apafi made Dumbraveni his princely residence. Unfortunately after the death of his son Mihály in 1713, the family had no male descendants and Countess Bethlen Kata, his wife, came into possession of the estate. She made an agreement with the Treasury of the Austro-Hungarian regime in 1722, according to which she could use the estate during her lifetime, after which the castle would become the property of the Treasury. This agreement was contrary to an inheritance contract between the Apafi and Bethlen families from 1584, which stated that if a family dies without descendants, the other family receives their properties.

This is where things are unclear. One account states that Count Adam Bethlen brought a lawsuit based on the mentioned inheritance contract, and won the right to the property in 1776. Another account states that after the castle became the property of the Treasury, it was given to a boyar (grof) by the name of Gabor Bethlen. Regardless of that outcome, the estate was eventually sold to the Armenians, and the Bethlen family received another estate in turn, the castle remaining in the property of the Armenians.

The castle was in ruins at the end of the 18th century and in the 19th century served as a court, prosecution hall, jail, library and school. Another source says it was also a military post.

In 2010, Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland have provided government support for the renovation of the castle. Supposedly the Union of Armenians of Romania hosts a museum inside the castle, in four rooms, but as I said above, no one was available to show us around.

Enjoy the photographs!

Places

The Apafi Castle in Dumbraveni

Gallery

Dumbrăveni ((before 1945 “Ibașfalău”; German: “Elisabethstadt”; Saxon dialect: “Eppeschdorf”; Hungarian: “Erzsébetváros”) is an historically significant town in Transilvania. Archaeological digs revealed proof that it was an inhabited place as early as the Paleolithic. We fast-forward through history to come to the time of the Hungarian colonization/occupation of Transilvania, when in 1214, it became part of a region controlled by the Hungarian rulers.

In 1552, the Apafi family obtained all of the land around the town of Dumbraveni and Grigore Apafi became the ruler. He immediately began the construction of a castle in the center of the town, a castle of which I will talk in a future post. The interesting part of it is that the castle adjoins the Armenian Catholic church, or rather that the church ended up being built next to it hundreds of years later.

The Armenians were invited to colonize the region in 1671 by the Apafi family. As they were very good merchants and the town was already a market town, they (and the town) quickly prospered. In turn, they gained a good amount of autonomy and in 1766, they started the construction of this large church right next to the Apafi Castle. The construction ended in 1783 and the church was dedicated to St. Elizabeth, in concordance with the town’s new name (at the time) of Elisabethopolis. (source)

As a structure, the church is striking. You’d have to visit a Western European town to find its equivalent. Scale-size, it is much larger than the churches of its time in Romania. One thing you’ll notice right away is the facade is asymmetric, and that’s because the top of one of the towers was knocked down by a storm in 1927. Instead of re-creating the cupola, the town decided to cover it with a flat roof.

The church altar and statues were made by sculptor Simon Hoffmayer. The church hall houses a valuable collection of books, about 2200 volumes on religion, language and natural sciences from the 16th-19th centuries, written in Italian, Armenian, Hungarian, and French Altin. (source)

By the way, there’s another old Catholic church in Dumbraveni, with catacombs. That one doesn’t seem to be maintained and isn’t known by tourists. You can see it here.

Enjoy the photographs!

Places

The Armenian Catholic Church in Dumbraveni

Gallery
Reviews

My Olympus PEN E-P3

I purchased this PEN E-P3 just a few days ago, to add it to my collection of Olympus PEN cameras. As I mentioned in my previous post, I now have all the PEN models except the PEN-F.

I love PEN cameras because they are the smallest full-featured cameras out there. Yes, there are smaller cameras, but they have smaller sensors. And there are small cameras with bigger sensors, but they’re not as small as these cameras, and you have to deal with big, heavy lenses. The PEN cameras are just perfect. The sensor is big enough to allow for great resolution without squeezing pixels too close together and small enough to allow for small, lightweight lenses.

PENs are almost as full-featured as the bigger OM-D cameras (which I also love and which have their own charm, purpose and amazing capabilities), but the PENs are small and light and easy to carry, so they’re perfect for traveling light or for an all-day photo shoot in the studio, when you have to move around and hold the camera at all sorts of angles in order to get that perfect photo. That was and is the Olympus MFT promise: small, lightweight gear and superb image quality. This is why my PEN E-P5 has become my main camera, by the way. I love using it in my studio and I use it everywhere else as well. This is also why I wanted to collect all of the PEN models. I wanted to see their evolution firsthand, from the standard-setting E-P1 to the E-P5 and the PEN-F.

I bought my E-P3 second-hand and there were some scratches to the underside of the camera. I also discovered after the purchase that the IBIS wasn’t working. I talked with the seller about it and it wasn’t malice. The fellow was a beginner and didn’t even know how to adjust the IBIS, much less that it wasn’t working. I guess at some point, the mechanism either broke or got stuck, so I packed it up yesterday and sent it in to one of the Olympus Service Centers in Eastern Europe to have it fixed. I look forward to getting it back in full working order and using from time to time, as I also use my other PEN cameras. They’re not just collectibles to me. They’re also working cameras and it’s important to me that each and every one of them is fully operational.

Before I sent this camera in for service, I mounted the 25mm f1.8 lens on it, plus my newly-arrived MCON-P02 Macro Converter (which I definitely recommend) and went into our garden to take photographs. I wanted to see how the E-P3 had improved upon the E-P2 in image quality. And it definitely has! The color gradation is better and so are the details. It has the same resolution as the E-P2 (12.2 megapixels) but the images are better and there’s less noise.

I do wish I had adopted the PEN system earlier, back in 2010 when I reviewed the E-P2. I think I’d have been pretty happy working with PEN cameras all these years and maybe also getting an OM-D camera. While I can’t change the past, I am working with Olympus gear now and I am very happy with it.

Enjoy the photographs!

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Reviews

My Olympus PEN E-P1

Several days ago, I purchased a PEN E-P1. I’ve been thinking about a number of years of collecting all the digital PEN cameras that Olympus has made. I’m not referring to the PL (Pen Lite) or PM (Pen Mini) camera lines, which were launched alongside the regular PEN cameras in an effort to provide lower-cost alternatives for consumers with lower budgets. I’ve wanted to own all of the regular, full-featured PEN cameras, of which there are five models: E-P1, E-P2, E-P3, E-P5 and PEN-F. So when did my love of PEN cameras start? It was when I reviewed the PEN E-P2 back in 2010. I loved that camera and I wanted to have it right there and then, but I was heavily invested in Canon gear at the time. Fast forward to 2018. When I bought the E-P1, I already had the E-P2 and the E-P5 (I also have the first PL model, the E-PL1). Since then, I’ve also purchased the E-P3, so now the only camera left to get for my collection is the PEN-F.

The E-P1 is an important camera. Launched on June 16, 2009, it was the first digital PEN. Fifty years before it came the original PEN, in 1959. Both cameras were revolutionary in their design and their compact size. What Olympus managed to do with the digital PEN was amazing: they managed to give us the features and quality that only came with larger, heavier cameras, in a tiny and light camera body that could be carried in a pocket or a purse. In its time, the E-P1 was the lightest, smallest and most capable camera on the market. It may not have been the best at everything, but it offered image quality that was higher than or comparable to much larger and more expensive cameras with larger sensors. Even today, almost nine years later, when the E-P1 is coupled with a great lens, such as the M.Zuiko 25mm f1.8, it can produce truly beautiful photographs that match quite well the quality of images made with cameras that have full-frame sensors. You’ll see this in the gallery below, which contains photos I’ve taken in our garden with the E-P1 and the 25mm f1.8.

I am fortunate and happy that I was able to build my PEN collection, and that I get to work every day with such great cameras. The PEN E-P5 is my primary camera now, both in the studio and outdoors. I love it. Enjoy the photographs!

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A 1973 Doxa by Synchron Watch
My Watch Collection

A 1973 Doxa by Synchron Watch

I made a video about one of my vintage Doxa watches. There’s an interesting story behind this watch — literally behind it, as in on the back of it. There’s an inscription on the case back that speaks of things and practices that are no longer around.

This Doxa was most likely made in 1973, while Synchron S.A. owned the Doxa company, which they did from 1968 to 1978. The case serial number is a possible indicator of the year of manufacture.

Doxa S.A. was founded in 1889 by Georges Ducommun, and began as a maker of dress watches and other timepieces. Over time, they branched out into jewelry and they are now best known for their diving watches.

Like most Swiss watch companies, they were hit hard by the introduction of quartz watches. They put up a good fight but in the end they were sold and then ceased operations in 1980. The company changed hands multiple times. It was part of Synchron S.A. between 1968-1978, and were then acquired by Aubrey Freres S.A., who held them until 1997, when they sold them to the Swiss Jenny family. In August 2002, Doxa re-started its watchmaking operations and they are now producing special editions of their historical watches in limited quantities.

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