Breath Of The Wild

There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of reviews of this game online, so why choose mine? Well, like everyone, my experience is unique. This view point also comes from someone who is not all too bothered about open world games. I will also state at this point it is the least Zelda like game I have ever played. 

My first ever experience with Zelda, apart from a small stint playing the NES version at a neighbours when I was too young to know what I was doing or what was happening, was Ocarina of time. I enjoyed it well enough, but it never blew me away. I have always had respect for Zelda games, but I have yet to be gripped by what I have played. Until now...

Breath Of The Wild drops you straight into the action. You wake up after a long rest and have nothing. You emerge from the underground shrine of resurrection with nothing of real note. There are no lengthy tutorials or mini tests. You are literally thrown into Hyrule with full access to everything and anything. The game forces you to explore and figure things out. It is this fact that allows people to play the game differently. Amongst all the various smaller things that add up to making the game so in depth, like the weather and day/ night cycle, down to being able to stumble onto a fire or a pot and experiment cooking. 

Firstly, the aesthetics of the game are at times breathtaking. The different amounts of terrain, working in line with the different kinds of light coming from the sun and reflecting from the moon are impressive. It becomes very easier to over look this, but you will be playing and all of a sudden just stop and go ‘this looks lovely’ or ‘wow, let me stop a minute and appreciate these water or grass graphics’. The textures on rock (dry and when it rains), tree stumps you have chopped up, and sand, are so well designed it makes the experience very immersive. I could spend a great deal of time describing all the different flora and fauna, along with all the clever weather and vista designs, but I think you get the point. This is a beautiful looking game, and a lot of time, effort, and love has gone into designing it. 

Stamina and Health at the start of the game makes you have to be inventive in what you do. You do not level up tens of different skills and strengths with points, but rather are rewarded with either and extra heart container or extra bit of stamina once you trade over four spirit orbs you have earned from puzzles and tests in shrines. This means you tend to be more cautious at first when you approach enemies, especially armed with anything you can find - sticks, Korok leaf, a rusty blade that has been lost of discarded. The stamina wheel at first feels a tad limited, as you use this to run, climb, and glide. This is deliberate, and works really well in making you feel like you are progressing when you beat shrines and build up your stamina wheel. All of a sudden, you can climb higher, glide longer, and run further. Once you have a circle or two of stamina obtained, it makes life in Hyrule a lot of fun. 

Another thing that adds to the feel of progression is the fact that weapons do not have infinite durability. I specifically mean that the weapons and shields you find throughout your adventures will break after extended use. This mechanic means you are not reliant on a handful of weapons, and forces you to be selective about which tool you use for any job. This sort of thing in games used to bug me, but I have come to appreciate why this is done, and allows you to be more immersed from the perspective of foresight. You have a cool sword or bow that you enjoy for a period of time, but may need to rely on a ladle or rusty sword in a pinch, because you have gone hung-ho with a sexy piece of equipment. It also encourages you to engage in skirmishes with enemies, who drop weapons and body parts when they are slain. 

The main objective can be taken on from the start if you like. Emerge from the shrine, find a weapon, and head straight for Calamity Ganon. The game allows you to do this, but you will be missing out on all the small things in the world that make it worth taking your time. Amongst a load of side quests you can pick and choose from whenever, and some are much more creative than ‘save my family member’ or ‘escort me to place’, you can take on the four guardians. They are four elemental type steampunk-esque machine beasts, that need to be freed from calamity Ganons control. Once you solve the puzzles and beat their bosses, you are then granted a special ability. These range from a revival charm, ability to use lightening on a small area around you, a massive jump, and a protection charm. These devine beasts will then take aim at Hyrule castle under calamity Ganons control, and fire an energy pulse weakening Ganon’s hold on the castle. 

Concerning fairies & horses, you have a number of different HUGE fairies around Hyrule that have been trapped in what appears to be some kind of flower trap. Whenever you rescue one of these fairies, in return they will improve the abilities of your clothing/ armour using precious stones and various items you have collected on your adventure. There are smaller fairies to be found, but they are specifically for temporary status boosts of some kind. That brings me onto horses. There are a vast array of horses to be seen and tamed. There are three main types; your more common mixed breed type horse; pure bred looking horses; and your - lets call them - ‘legnedary’ horses. The mixed breed type horses have various colours and patterns strewn across them. These are the easiest to tame. The more ‘pure’ bred looking one colour horses are much harder to tame. The ‘legendary’ horses I mentioned are even harder or require very specific conditions to be tamed. 

You have to learn to tame a horse, and it takes a good while to get used to how this is done, as the game does not exactly show you how to do this exactly. The trick is to duck down and sneak up behind your chosen aquestrian, hop onto its back, and tap the left trigger to try and calm the beast. Ultimately, your stamina bar determines how quickly a horse is tamed. If you have a large amount of stamina, you can usually tame a horse in one sitting. However, at the start of the game, when you first encounter horses, it will take a large amount of attempts to tame a horse - trust me on this one. I have spent mere hours dedicated to just catching a horse, which seems so ludicrous in hind site. Now, you do not really need to spend hours doing it, but I set myself the goal of very specific horses early on, and deliberately took time out to do this. So why do this? Well, all horses have different stats. These are Stamina, strength, etc. Once a horse is tamed, you need to register it at a stable, where you can name it and get a saddle, etc. You can improve your bond with your horse by feeding it apples and praising it when it does actions you have told it to. 

A quick touch on other wildlife within the game, you will see all manor of birds, deer/stags, and even warthogs and bears. The larger wildlife and temporarily be be ridden, but return to the wild once you dismount. I will let you play around with this, but there are some really cool results! You will also find fish, frogs, lizards, fireflies, and all manor of smaller creatures. All of these again add to the immersion of the game. 

Combat is all about timing. Armed with a broadsword and shield, a longsword, a spear, an axe, a hammer, a stick, l ladle, or some other obscure object, the goal is the same. Slash, bang, whallop your opponent, whilst trying to avoid being hit. You can hold your shield out to block, parry, and counter if timed correctly. Not only this, but you can also backflip or jump to the side to avoid being hit. Your shield can also be used to reflect certain energy attacks from guardians, or you can just throw your weapon at them, once it is worn right down. Your bow will be one of your most useful weapons, be it sniping from a distance, or using fire/ice/bomb arrows against elemental enemies. It is even useful when you want a Dragon scale. Yes, that’s right! There are dragons. Seriously, serpentlike drakes fly freely in various areas of Hyrule. You can knock a scale or two free with an arrow. You can even glide past the massive beasts. A very cool feature, and they are integrated into the protection of the land. You will need to free a dragon from Ganons control in a snowy mountain at one point, and this is a lot of fun. 

There are certain ‘unique’ conditions to Hyrule. Firstly, aside from the Dragons, once in a blue moon, you will see a shooting star, which will slowly fall to the ground a fair distance away. Sometimes this is easily missed, but if you pay attention and where where it lands, you can traverse over to it and find the fragment! There are certain parts of the land that appear to be under some kind of elemental charm, which will hide some kind of puzzle or test. The most unique feature is the blood moon. Randomly occurring at night time once in a blue moon, you will notice a slight red glow. This glow builds, and you can see various particles of energy float up from the ground. this culminates into a blood moon. During this time, all defeated monsters are relieved for the short time of the blood moon. I think this is a great concept, and at the start of the game adds tension. However, as you progress through the game, the blood moon is a non-issue. I think this could have been improved by some kind of difficulty spike when you reach a certain amount of heart containers or stamina, just to keep it relevant. Maybe even had them occur more often, indicating that while you have taken time to improve your abilities Ganon and still be gaining in power or something.  I am at a point where the bloody moon comes, and then just seems to go very quickly with no real concern. It looks fantastic though, and I wouldn’t want to remove it from the game. 

We touched on clothes and armour, which also help keep the game interesting. You will find certain pieces of clothing with certain traits you will need throughout your adventure. In fact, some is required not to freeze or burn due to tempreture changes at night or near a volcano etc. Some will allow you to move more quietly, and some will just look cool. Later in the game you meet a travelling shop owner called Kilton. He has a hot air balloon and travels throughout the land selling all manor of monster themed clothing and goods. You even have to exchange monster parts from creatures you have slain for his currency. You can then use this to buy monster masks used to imitate monsters so you can sneak up and get close to them. It is a great concept. There is just enough clothing to keep it interesting, and you don’t get lots of throw away clothing or armour like you do in a lot of games. You tend to have to buy clothing or acquire it a specific way. This keeps it interesting and worth while when you finally get a piece of clothing you have been after. You will even need to take a quest to dress as a woman and try to get into a town that only allows women to enter. 

I have gotten this far without mentioning the Shiekah Slate. The Shielah slate is a piece of equipment you obtain near the start of the game. It is an ancient piece of steampunk looking technology, which can be updated throughout your journey. It’s main use, is to act as a map. When you climb to various tower you find strewn across the world, you can update it at the top, which allows you to see specific parts of the map. It also allows you to use ancient technology to grant you certain abilities. This can range from acting as a magnet, to calling up a small energy bomb, or manipulate a small area of water into little ice blocks to aid you in traversing water, etc. 

At some point, you can buy and renovate at house in Kakariko Village. In fact, I often store my most prized shields and weapons in mine! At a later stage, you can even help build an entirely new town, and help populate it with different races from around Hyrule. Little touches like this expand on the game, but are not nessisary. Again, if you want to focus on the main quest that is easily done. 

I could spend vast amounts of time covering everything there is to do in Breath of the Wild. It truly is one of the best games I have ever played, and the designers have completely changed what the Zelda franchise was and how it played. This game is so accessible to a larger audience now, just because of the way each play through will be very different. Once again, I am not a big fan of open worlds games, but this thing had me taming horses, hunting down massive sand worms, saving dragons, cooking up potions and food, and capturing riding really obscure creatures. On top of all that, it really is a beautiful game to look at. But what are the flaws of the game? No game is perfect. For me, the fact that link does not speak. He will make sounds, but there is no voice actor discussing his side of a conversation. This is odd in modern times, especially when someone you are talking to is fully voice acted, and reacts as if Link has given then some sort of answer. I also feel that Zelda is probably the most boring part of the game. She is mentioned on occasion, and flash backs during the main quests are mostly well done and play into the law, however her voice acting is annoying. It is good, but the voice they chose grates on me, and she comes across more as a pretentious, yet Whiney, princess in need of saving. They have given her a more Galadriel like feel overall, in regard to powers, which is really cool, but I still think they should have had a strong voice actor or lines. 

With that said, it does work in tandem with the story and the aesthetics. It’s a just a personal gripe. It does show that she had the power to help save the world, and do all these really big things, but it is tinged with a voice that has nothing to it. It feels devoid of life or proper emotion. Okay, this may have been deliberately done, but still. 

BOTW is one of the only games that has me coming back for repeat fun. I don’t mean starting again, which I have done in a lot of games, but carry on with side quests and exploring the world and mining for rare gems etc. It’s a pretty game, it is a game with a lot to offer, but most of all it is immersive. 

Olympus Pro Lens Range

Since we appear to be commenting on micro four thirds a lot recently, I thought I would use this opportunity to go over the Olympus M.Zuiko Pro lens line. This particular line of lenses has its heart routed in the vintage Zuiko OM film lenses. The best of which, had top quality optics, lovely bokeh, and were physically well built. 

Now, most people’s foray into the new M.Zuiko range of lenses will likely be the 12-40mm F2.8 Pro. This is Olympus’s flagship normal zoom, which produces fantastic results. This lens is fairly large for a M43 lens, however it does not look out of place on something like an OM-D EM10 model. This is the best M.Zuiko Pro lens in terms of bang for your buck. It covers a decent amount of ground, and renders colours beautifully. Weather sealed, and metal, it feels quality in the hand, just like the rest of the Pro range. 

Conversely, the Olympus 12-100mm Pro F4 IS lens, which is my favourite of the Pro zooms available, has even more features. Now, this lens is obviously bigger than the 12-40mm, and although useable with am OM-D EM10 model, it will be unbalanced in terms of weight, and will look rather odd. This lens was clearly built for the larger flagship OM-D EM-1’s. This lens comes with an IS switch, which allows you do make use of Dual IS with the OMDEM1MKII! Which makes it extremely useful with the 4K video feature. This is my run and gun lens, and is extremely handy! Another big feature of this lens, is the closest focus distance: I literally have the front element almost up against subjects and get sharp wide angle close ups with lovely bokeh. 

The F1.2 prime lenses look and feel like pure class. I have my eye on the 17mm F1.2 Pro in particular. These lenses have been designed to aesthetically look similar, and all fit the same size filter. A handy trick, well done Olympus! The most important part of these lenses is of course the F1.2 aperture. These lenses are specifically made for low light and shallower depth of field. The Bokeh in the 17mm looks fantastic, and renders images sharp, and does exactly what it says on the tin. The 45mm being the portrait prime, is similarly made, and will be extremely useful to professionals. The 25mm takes the place of the normal prime in this instance, and although traditionally a fun focal length, is probably the least exciting of the three. 

All of the Pro range sport the manual clutch, which is a great feature. This allows you to take over control of focusing on the fly quickly, and for those that find it annoying, it can be turned off. Dolly enough, the Pro range of lenses finally introduce a decent lens cap! As much as I love Olympus lenses past and present, I have always felt their lens caps were not good enough. I am glad to see the quality lens caps finally make an appearance. 

So is it worth you buying an Olympus Pro lens for your Micro Four Thirds body? Yes and no. Firstly, if you want these lenses for the sake of them being the top range of lenses, but aren’t doing much photography, then I would say let it go. We all have an inner gear slut, but the standard and premium M.Zuiko lenses are quality enough. I would however suggest these lenses to someone that is trying to do photography for a job or is wanting to do YouTube videos etc. There are extra features about these lenses that will help your set up in this regard, and you will easily use them enough to make back your money. 


Ricoh GRiii announced 2018!

The time is finally nye! The long awaited Ricoh GRiii has been announced a photokina, and what I have heard has got my salivating. Earlier in the year I did a ‘is the Ricoh GRII still relevant in 2018?’ Video, in which I go over specs for a potential GRiii. Some of this has come true, and I am excited to get my hands on this little pocket rocket!

Before I jump into the specs, let me just stated the GRii prices will start to drop a fair amount from this point, and still is a quality compact camera. I highly recommend this as a general walk around camera, and still competes with current top compact cameras out there.

Now for the important stuff! The GRiii has been announced, and the stand out features are as follows:

  • 24 megapixels

  • Macro/ close focus: 6cm

  • 3 axis image stabilisation 

  • Touch screen

  • Internal storage 2GB

  • Video: MPEG, H.264sRGCm Adobe RGB

These features may not seem particularly special to those not within the loop, however as a Ricoh GR user these specs are a decent upgrade from the previous model. Firstly, 24mp update was needed. The 16mp sensor in the GRII is fantastic, but we know that APS-C type sensor megapixel ceiling is a fair bit higher. This will allow for any cropping one may wish to apply to files. I have heard through the grape vine this is likely a sony sensor, which is not surprising. 

The macro focus increase from 10cm to 6cm is a biggy for me. One of the most used features, outside of the snap function, has been the macro mode for me. I use this for general pickup photos for videos and the site, as well as enjoying the function in general. Going from 10cm to 6cm may not sound like much, but it makes this Swiss Army knife pocket rocket an added edge. The GRii macro feature bokeh looked lovely, so an added 4cm will be Schweet. 

The 3 Axis Image stabilisation is an interesting one. I honestly believe still cameras do not really need IS, and feel that this may impact on the performance of this camera. With that said, if they make the 3 axis image stabilisation usable with the video function, that will be a good step forward. So far, only Olympus/ M43 has utilised IS in a good way for stills.

The newest feature, and probably the least exciting for me, is the touch screen. I am not a huge fan of touch screens on cameras. It is likely you should be able to turn this off, which means I have nothing to complain about. If they can make this feature unintrusive to the shooting experience, then this will be a good added feature in my opinion. 

Internal storage is a new function that has caught me off guard. Those that are familiar with the GRII, might recall that if you have forgotten to put in a memory card you can take a couple of photos and have them stored on board. If this storage allows you to also use it in line with a memory card that would be fantastic. Otherwise, 2GB is very restrictive, considering I use several 32GB cards when I go out and shoot. Let’s wait and see...

Updated video features: Again, if this works in line with the IS, then fantastic! It would make a handy little 2nd video cam or a back up in extreme circumstances. There has been moments where I have used this camera in videos, so any update here is welcome (as long as it doesn’t take anything away from the stills experience!). 

My conclusion is that this is a great addition to the GR line, and the upgrades made on the GRII make the GRIII a worth while purchase. I see a lot more positive than I do negative, and it sounds like the brand are paying attention to their loyal fans as much as possible. I will most certainly be purchasing this camera! - Sly. 

Der Leica

There comes a time in every photographers life when they consider getting a Leica. The draw of that legendary build quality in both the bodies and the lenses, the rich history behind the Leica branding. The draw of both the M mount and the lesser chased R mount glass is strong. 

Last week I was looking at several models in the Leica M range: M6, M8, M9, Mtyp240, and also the Leica Q had a look in. Being both a film and digital shooter, all of these appeal to me for different reasons. I will give you a quick breakdown of why I was looking at them, and the reason why I chose the one I did. 

Firstly, let’s talk about the only 35mm film camera on this list, the M6. The M6 is a classic rangefinder camera, with fantastic build quality, a lovely sleek black look, and the presence of a light meter. This camera was built to be a work horse. Why go for the M6 over the M7 or MP models? The simple reason of money. Those two models used are around the same price as a used M9/ Typ240. They do offer Aperture priority, but that is something I never really use.

Secondly, lets look at the M8 and M9. The M8 is probably the cheapest option on this list, is the oldest out of these digital M’s I am looking at, but produces beautiful pictures. At 10mp on APSC, I could not justify spending this amount (and I am not MP/ pixel peeping whore). The M9 is the best option of the digital M’s in terms of value for money. It has a competitive 18mp full frame sensor, and if you can find one that has had a sensor replaced it is worth picking up. The M9 was high on my list.

Thirdly we have the Leica Typ240. The Typ 240 is a 24mp full frame beast. The ‘black out’ of the screen after taking a shot is much better than the M8/9, and this camera can go head-to-head with other brands for street shooting. The drawbacks being the price, and it has a louder shutter. 

Lastly, is the wild card. The Leica Q. Now this camera suits me down to a T. A fixed 28mm full frame lens on a smallish body, does macro, and is built for street shooting. Fantastic! Except the price. This beast is very expensive for what it is, and although I reckon I would love this camera, I did not end up choosing it for several reasons. The first being price. The second being that I really wanted an M mount camera this time around, and thirdly it would give my Ricoh GRII a run for the money, which comfortably owns the compact 28mm equivalent street camera position in my roster.

If you haven’t noticed any of my videos by now, it will be a surprise to learn that I went for the Leica M6. Firstly, this is a camera that would not go out of date or need to be replaced, it is the only camera on the list you could consider ‘timeless’. The version I picked up was the M6 classic, and it is a beautiful camera. I am happy with it, but I wouldn’t say no to picking up one of the other M cameras in the future.

Now, I will admit, this is not the first time I have thought about getting a Leica. In fact, the first time I nearly bought one was about 2 years ago, and it was one of the SLR cameras that take the lovely Leica R glass. If you are looking for the Leica experience and are not keen on rangefinders, the Leica R series of cameras is where it is at (much cheaper too!).

Speaking of glass, no matter what M body I went for, I was always going to pick up a Voightlander lens. I did look at the Leica 35mm F2 Summicron, but after looking into other 35mm lenses for the M mount system, I found that there is quality glass in this range. I chose the Voightlander 35mm F1.4 Nokton, which is based on the classic Leica 35mm F1.4. This is a wonderful lens, that even dwarfs my Zuiko OM lenses in terms of size! (Yes it is that small).

There is a myth that if you own a Leica camera you must use it with Leica glass as that is the ultimate combination, however after doing a lot of research I have found that truly is a myth. When you have huge quality brands like Voightlander and carl Zeiss also making lenses for the Leica M system at a cheaper price, you start to realise you are paying a lot for the name. Don’t get me wrong, you cannot go wrong with Leica glass, and there are a load I would love to own, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking you must match body and lens brands, always shoot with your eyes and your heart, not necessarily your wallet!

Any tips for someone wanting to get into the Leica M system? Yes! Go for the 35mm Leica CL, is a lovely camera, and is a great way to break into the system. You get a lovely Leica 40mm F2 lens with it, and it costs half the price of an M6 body on its own. Even now I’d love a CL, as the focal length 40mm is something I love shooting. 

Seriously do you need to own a Leica? Well, no. Quite honestly, if you want a top quality 35mm rangefinder but you only want to spend a couple of hundred pounds on one, i would recommend the Olympus 35SP. Hand on heart, this camera gives Leica a run for its money, with a sharp 42mm F1.7 fixed lens and the ability to go from manual to auto and anything in between. It also has both a light meter and a spot meter, although the light meter is for Auto modes only (Aperture priority, shutter priority, fully auto). For less money you can pick up the 35RD, my personal favourite, or the baby brother the 35RC. 

If you are wanting digital, then your only ‘cheap’ option is an M8. I would suggest saving up and getting an M9 with a replaced sensor. 

Whatever you want to do, just make sure you are using it. Cameras are meant to be used!