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Featured: 'Thailand, me, and my OM-D' by Zee

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by Zee, Jul 25, 2014.

  1. Zee

    Zee Mu-43 Top Veteran

    ...E-M1, to be exact, but then the title wouldn't rhyme.

    It was not long after the release of the E-M5 that a friend of mine picked one up, on my advice. Odd, that...

    You see, I was shooting a Canon 7D at the time, and I had been shooting Canon since I bought my first DSLR in about February 2008. A 400D, with a 100mm F2.8 macro, a EF-s10-22 and a Sigma 17-70, with an Ikelite housing to take scuba diving photos with.

    Yes, I learned to shoot a DSLR, purely in manual mode, 30m (90ft) under the ocean. With dual off-camera strobes.


    As you can imagine, the learning curve was steep, but it was fun. I got better quickly, and seeing as underwater macro is my most enjoyed photographic past time, pretty much everything I shoot top side now is all about learning more to get better shots down there.

    (Amongst my first underwater DSLR shots)
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    This all came to an end in about May 2010. Whilst on a dive trip to Palau, I was setting up my rig on a bench on the back of the speed boat. Someone saw a pod of dolphins, and the Captain, in all his wisdom, and desire to please the tourists on his boat, decided to throttle back to full stop, which resulted on my camera falling off the bench from about 4 feet, and landing straight on the port, cracking the housing where the port attaches, resulting in a water leak at anything below about 5m (15ft).

    F*^&%($#& dolphins...

    So anyway, my friend, at this stage, already had a GF1 (I think), and had a couple of m4/3 lenses already (I also helped him pick this camera in the back streets of Singapore, but that's another story...).

    "CHECK IT OUT!!!" I squealed like a schoolgirl.

    "It looks old, but, it's new, and you can use your lenses, and the screen, it flips! And you can touch the screen and it will focus and shoot with that touch, focusing on the point you touched!!! YOU MUST HAVE ONE!" I continued three or four octaves above my usual pitch.

    He rolled his eyes, but there was a spark of interest. Within days (from memory), he was the proud owner of a black E-M5.

    After several EOS bodies, I had picked up a 7D at this stage. We went out shooting in the Blue Mountains of Sydney, and at the end of the day, compared photos.

    I was a little sad. The little black OM-D files were sharper, and more often correctly focused. It's not like he was shooting with a Nocticron, or even a 75 F1.8, darn it, they didn't even exist yet! And my 10-22, and 100L F2.8 are known for being pretty darn sharp in EOS world.

    And megapixels! I had 2 more of those!!! Anyway, regardless, I still had a DoF advantage, and I really do prefer the 3:2 format over 4:3. And focus tracking! Yes, I had a good one of those! Not that I used it much, and single shot AF only seems to work about 50-70% of the time on a 7D. I've had 2 different 7D bodies over the years, so am pretty sure it's just a 7D thing.

    Regardless, it was at this point that the seed was planted.

    "I like it" I said to him. Now in my normal voice.
    "Would you get one?" he asked
    "Maybe, but it only goes to 1/4000, and argh, minimum ISO 200... I shoot in bright places... A lot..." I grumbled.

    And I do, Travel photography is my main type photography these days, Ithough I'm still longing to get back into diving photography... Many years on... (Check the price of an Ikelite housing for a DSLR, and you'll understand why I haven't replaced my broken one).

    Which brings me to Songkran. You see, it's the Thai New Years festival. It goes for three days. And you get wet. Like go stand under your shower for 10 minutes fully clothed wet. And that's if you are trying to avoid it...

    I still had the 7D 3 weeks before my trip. Although I organised it with my girlfriend last year, I almost didn't make the trip, thanks to work, though luckily, with some delays on a few key jobs, I sorted out my flights.

    The 7D is weather sealed, as is the 100 F2.8L, and it's not like I'm worried about shooting tele in a crowd, I learned to shoot what I've got with me long ago. But I've been having doubts about the 7D, the "sometimes sketchy" AF has been bugging me for years, and a 7D, 100L and a 10-22 take up a fair bit of space, especially when you like to travel to SE Asia with a carry on sized backpack only, like I do. A properly sized carry on back pack (35-45l), that is, not the hiking packs people seem to be able to bring on board flights as carry on these days...

    I had just gotten back from a trip to the Philippines, Seoul, Taipei and Tokyo, and the size thing was bugging me again, and after much reading and convincing myself of.. Well... Myself... I put the 7D up for sale.

    "I'll let 'The Force' decide" I thought.

    It sold. so off I went, finding a deal on a brand new EM-1, 12-40, and the 45 F1.8. I had doubt's about the 45... Yeah, great lens, really is, but it's not me. It didn't focus very close, and I really do prefer shooting long... My good friend with the EM-5 bought it from me, and I put the cash towards the 75. (Yes, economically, it worked out better to have the 45 as part of the kit!)

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    I didn't have long to get used to the new camera, but got a few essentials set up quick - back button focus, a few custom buttons to help simulate the setup of my old 7D - to help transition - and a few test shots of my cats. Of course.

    So April 10, me and B (the friend with the OM-D EM-5) hop on a Thai airways flight to Bangkok, after sipping a few beers in the airline lounge to get in the mood.

    We arrive at BKK about 10PM, and after checking in to our hotel for the night, decide to go get some street food (Bangkok has AMAZING street food), and hit up a bar or two for a drink before bed, and heading to the airport the next day to pick up my girlfriend and her family, who are flying in from Manila.

    Time for a couple of test shots...

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    So, to actually start integrating the review part of this tale, which, was actually the original point, though for some reason I seem to have turned it into a George.R.R.Martin style epic with way too many characters and exotic locations, but without quite the same level of storytelling skill.


    I like this thing. A lot.

    I had my doubts about the 12-40 lens, as I'm more a prime shooter than a zoom shooter,, but felt I had to have it as it was weather sealed, and the lens I really wanted, the 60mm F2.8 macro, was not in stock.

    First of all - the feel of the EM-1. It's solid - perhaps dense is a better word, it has a bit of weight, and feels well made. The 7D, too, was well made. I always imagined that if someone tried to mug me for the camera, I'd club them over the head with it, then take photos of the mugger to post up on Flickr . The E-M1 feels like it would probably do more damage, especially with it's sharper edges, though, being a smaller body and lens combo reduced the effective clubbing range. Meh... Give and take...

    I got used to the buttons and set up (mostly) quite quickly. The back screen is nice, and the OVF is surprisingly good - I do notice an ever so slight lag, but it's so slight that it may as well not be there for my shooting - though I have not yet put it through a real test where that may count - like a motorcycle track day.

    The shutter shuts at up to 1/8000s (thank all that is mighty - this is why I skipped the Fuji XT-1 - and the fact there is no underwater housing for it), and also slinks down to ISO Low (ISO100 equiv.) - just in case (I realise the trade offs, but it's better to get the shot with the loss of some dynamic range than to not get the shot at all because it's overexposed).

    It does start to get noisy above ISO 1600, but it's certainly still useable at this point, even ISO 3200 is OK, and it's not like my 7D was too much better.

    We spent the next day with my girlfriend and family, and took mostly just shots of them and generally whatever was kind of interesting.

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    I knew that the slightly smaller sensor would result in reduced depth of field compared to my 7D - though, honestly, I was quite surprised at the results, and am overall still very happy with the bokeh that can be achieved with the 12-40.

    April 12. Songkran. It begins. This is it, the first of three days where I will put the EM-1 and 12-40 through their paces.

    I. Am. Excited.

    After a hike up the street from our hotel in the Erawan area of Bangkok, we grab some street food, find an area that has been set up for... Something that I'll get to later, and random people squirting us with water guns. Pretty tame so far, and we walk in to a market to have a look around.

    This is where we get our first serious hosing. We are set upon by a pack of 7 (ish) year olds, armed with water guns filled with iced water, and charging us, with water rapidly soaking us - a few adults with a hose join in!

    Now, I need to explain something. 7 year old Thai kids with ice water filled water pistols are akin to Duke Nukem in God mode armed with a rocket launcher with unlimited ammo enabled. they are fearless, relentless, psychotic... And they do. Not. Stop. They are the most powerful Songkran adversary.

    Unless you confiscated the hose from the adults and use that to fend off the little suckers - that be thems Kryptonite.

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    So, AF was meant to be on B's hand, with the kids in the "out of focus" zone, but the pic still sort of works - not a great shot, but it conveys the story well enough. Getting used to the AF is the biggest change. Quick? Sure, it'll focus perfectly on an acorn at 20 yards, and will do so in fractions of a second you couldn't possibly visualise before the photo is focused and shot.

    Provided there is good light. In the dark, it doesn't seem quite as capable as the phase detect AF of the 7D, but really, it's not far off. It does, however, have an AF light, a feature missing in Canon Cameras. Once again, give and take...

    Another thing that occurred to me is that I am so used to shooting through a viewfinder, that I forgot that I could have just kept the camera aimed where I wanted, and touch the camera at the point I wanted focused to take the shot. Probably would have been a better shot, with the right part in focus, but anyway, it's a learning process... I do like how the AF points cover almost the whole frame though.

    Now, in the months since I was in Thailand, I've since learned how to make the focus squares smaller. Ready?

    Press the AF point selection button (it's set up as the arrow keys for me).

    Press the Info button.

    Press arrow up, or down, and keep cycling through until you get the focus point area size you want - in my case, the small little box.

    I only realised this was possible when seeing a friends EM-5 with this a few weeks ago, he had no idea how he did it either. So, knowing it was possible, I spent about 15 minutes screwing around until I found that trick...

    By this stage, we decided to head back and see what the rest of the group were up to. On the way back, we saw the front area of a shopping mall we had passed earlier (the bit I said I'd talk about later), it had been fenced up, with all sorts of things set up, and now that it was active, we understood. There was a giant area that was, essentially, a giant water fight arena. Water was spraying from hoses mounted high up, shooting left and right, kind of like the sort of sprinkles used to water gardens. Down below, kids and adults alike, soaked, blasting each other with water. Another section had speakers set up, with waist deep foam on what was, essentially, the dance floor of a foam party. Time to get the others.

    And buy water guns. We'd need those...

    Another handy tip for Songkran. Buy the largest damn gun you can find. Don't be tempted by the smaller lighter gun, thinking "it's the way you use it"... Leave that excuse for the bedroom.

    The bigger guns shoot further, hit harder, and last longer. You know, all the sorts of things men have been known to buy pills for when nature doesn't provide. In this case, $3 extra will provide. Because those cute girls at reception in your hotel?

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    Yes, they also have the biggest, baddest gun they could find.

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    And they will nail you with it as you walk in. Right after they whisper sweet talk about the great Pad Thai the street vendor on the corner has, or the amazing massage one can get at Lotus Massage just behind the building for just $10 an hour (the best I have found in Bangkok, so far, just by the way...).

    So with the gang fully armed, it was time to join the party.

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    I just lost about 60% of this post, as I clicked on "preview post" and for some reason, it decided I was no longer logged in. Clicking back resulted in some sort of form resubmission notice.

    Please go have a beer, use the restroom, or take photos of your cat, whilst I go to the corner and have a little cry, throw things against the wall, and then come back and continue.


    So, here it is, the big test. Is the weather sealing on the EM-1 any good?

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    Let me, first, provide you with some information regarding the weapons primarily found at Songkran...

    The water gun. Pump action, varying capacities, most common, and the nastiest ones are filled with ice water.

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    The bucket. Usually filled with iced water, and wielded by little old ladies sitting behind the safety of their market stall. You wouldn't want to get the food, or merchandise she is selling wet, now, would you?

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    The wet powder stuff. Wielded by those that truly like to get close to the enemy before despatching them. This is a talcum powder type… Erm.. Powder, mixed with water, kept in a bucket, and wiped on the face and body of anyone that comes within reaching distance.

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    Over the next few days of Songkran,, the EM-1 (and B’s EM-5) were exposed to more water and wet powder than I could expect most camera bodies to endure in a lifetime of use (the lifetime of a camera, that is, not a human), and it came through perfectly - the only snag being that the lock button for the mode dial doesn’t operate quite as nicely as it did, though I suspect a clean will deal with that.

    Initially, it was quite interesting to see peoples reactions to a couple of foreigners with somewhat expensive looking cameras walking through the middle of the action. People would tie aim, then lower their weapons. It would take quite a bit of convincing to get them to fire, and even more to actually target the camera. In the end, though, word seemed to spread, is the cameras become a beacon for anything that contained H2O as part of it’s molecular composition. By the end of the final day, I was convinced of the EM-1 and 12-40’s weather sealing. Not to mention he EM-5 and 12-50 that B was using.

    Another benefit of weather sealing, is how cool you look being able to do this:

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    As apposed to this...

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    We really had a lot of fun shooting this thing, whether from above:

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    Or down on street level

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    Nowhere was safe.

    I mean it when I say nowhere...

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    Well, actually, if you really wanted to, the floating markets were one way to escape the mayhem...

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    And I've yet to meet the photographer who won't put down the camera to enjoy a fresh banana roti

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    Oh look! More food! Have I mentioned how good Thai food in Thailand is?

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    It really is sensational. But I digress. Back to the E-M1

    The down side, for me, really, is the battery. In the months since my trip to Thailand (yeah, it took about 2 months to get back to this after losing a heap of my write-up…), I’ve been working on extending battery life, as I was lucky to get 200 shots from a charge on the thailand trip. The 7D, by comparison, was regularly hammering out 1200+ shots, with chimping, and the odd firing of the flash. I still miss that - a whole holiday on a single charge....

    By changing my ways - no more chimping (leave it for Lightroom), turning the camera off the second I am not actually composing or taking a shot, and turning off the switching between the viewfinder and the back screen, and using only the optical viewfinder, has gotten me to about 400-450 shots. Still not as much as I’d like, and I’d argue they could have used the extra space in the EM-1 grip to make a larger battery, or dual battery bay, but at least with my new ways, it's now acceptable.

    I’ve also, since this particular trip, acquired the Olympus 60mm F2.8 Macro - also weather sealed. My only other real complaint about the system, is that so many GOOD and EXPEN$IVE lenses are not weather sealed. The 45 F1.8? Nope. The 75 F1.8? Nope. The Panasonic Leica Nocticron? At sixteen hundred ($1600) United States Dollars? Nope.


    Seriously!!! Pana and Oly, you gotta deal with this! I would have killed to use the 75 F1.8 at Songkran. It’s kind of like going to a super nice restaurant on the 50th level of a high-rise, with amazing views, only to have to sit in the middle of the dining area, far, far from the windows… It’s still greatvfood, but… Argh!

    After Bangkok, and Songkran, we also had a few days organised in Krabi. Great beaches, island cruising and motorcycle riding all made for a great experience…

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    On our final day, B and I decided to climb up to the Tiger Cave Temple.


    That’s all I have to say.

    That’ll be the number of steps. and not the small, tiny little steps you get at a modern building. No.

    These are all a foot tall, off camber, and the angle of the incline may as well be 90 degrees, for the one or two degrees short that it actually is…

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    But the bitching about the steps is not what I am here for. Luckily, I am sort of fit enough that I was only exhausted when I got to the top. I wasn’t actually on the verge of exertional rhabdomyolysis., unlike some others.

    Well worth the climb, though, Views are fantastic, and the looming thunderstorm was, once again, a great opportunity to test the weather sealing. Again...

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    Wait, highest point on mountain, with a giant metal Buda towering above me… Perhaps the testing already done was enough.

    So we decided to cower underneath the concrete slab that supported the Buda above when the storm hit, just like all the other tourists and handful of monks.. Just as well, I counted at least 4 direct hits, not to mention seeing some of the high tensile steel cable actually glow and arc - that was quite epic, and I’ll remember to keep the camera clicking at 10fps in such situations in the future. Would have been quite the shot… Who said lightning never hits the same place twice? Freaking moron…

    When the lightning finally passed (not the rain), B and I decided it was a good time to head down - light was rapidly fading, and there were no lights to illuminate our way to our motorbikes in the car park below. We made it to the bottom in about 10 or 15 minutes - much faster than the journey up, but it had still gotten dark by about half way down.

    Back on the motorbikes, in the pouring rain, the EM-1 and EM-5 both proved, once again, the benefits of weather sealing, as they both got drenched in the extremely heavy rain.

    My Em-1 and 12-40 combo have also since endured the Mojave desert, the heat and humidity of the everglades, the fine sands of Lido Beach (I’m still finding sand from that place in the most awkward places. I mean seriously, it’s been months!!!), and various degrees of tropical rains, heat and humidity in the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam and Cambodia.

    Not to mention a few washes under a tap or shower.

    That’s it, then. I’ve found it. My (almost) perfect travel camera. Well made, extremely resilient to all types of weather (with the right lens), great image quality, and built in image stabilisation (yeah!!!).

    Double the battery life, and weather sealing for the F1.8 and faster primes would pretty much knock the ball out of the ball park (and the city hosting the game, actually) for me. As a camera for documenting my overseas trips, not to mention the the adventures of my 3yo daughter, for me, the EM-1 has been a great investment.

    So there you have it, the Olympus E-M1. My current pick for the adventure traveller's camera.

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  2. gryphon1911

    gryphon1911 Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Mar 13, 2014
    Central Ohio, USA
    Look like you had a great time, grabbed some great shots and have one hell of a story to pass down through the ages.

    Thanks for sharing.
    • Like Like x 3
  3. lowlight

    lowlight Mu-43 Regular

    Jun 3, 2014
    Thanks for a very good story and exellent images!
    • Like Like x 1
  4. mrjr

    mrjr Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 25, 2012
    Great read. Thanks, Zee!
    • Like Like x 1
  5. agentlossing

    agentlossing Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jun 26, 2013
    Andrew Lossing
    What a great essay! I highly enjoyed...

    ... every bit of it except "JRR Martin." Horror! Pick your JRR Tolkien or your George RR Martin but don't try to create a monster from the two ;) 
    • Like Like x 4
  6. flamingfish

    flamingfish Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Nov 16, 2012
    Awesome writeup! Can't wait to see some underwater -- that is, below sea level -- shots from the E-M1.
  7. rklepper

    rklepper Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Dec 19, 2012
    Iowa, USA
    Excellent series. Thanks for sharing. this is at the top of my short list of must see places before...well you know.
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  8. Zee

    Zee Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Thanks all - it was great fun, and can't speak highly enough of the awesome Thai people, the outstanding food, and how much fun this festival is. Next on my hit list is the "mud" festival in Sth. Korea. That should be fun!

  9. Crdome

    Crdome Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Sep 11, 2011
    West Central Indiana
    Loved the narrative and photos.
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  10. 350duser

    350duser Mu-43 Veteran

    Sep 26, 2012
    Brisbane, QLD
    Great write up n photos.

    Agrred with all you said. Luv my EM1

    A question: For the EM1 to be weather sealed does it need to have that bit of plastic thru the hot-shoe?

    I see it was in place in the initial phots but not when u were in the thick of things.

    Thanks again
  11. Hazza

    Hazza Just Clicking Subscribing Member

    Aug 10, 2013
    Huddersfield UK
    Great read Zee and some great photos. Loved the little analogies, made me smile a time or two.

    I look forward to hearing about your next trip.
    • Like Like x 1
  12. Zee

    Zee Mu-43 Top Veteran

    I'm not in any of the photos - that was B and his E-M5. From my understanding, the hotshoe can be exposed, but the connector behind it must be sealed. My E-M1 still has the hotshoe cover in place. still waiting for the Nissin i40...

  13. hazwing

    hazwing Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Nov 25, 2012
    Nice write up!

    +1 , I was going to say something on these lines as well.
    JRR tolkien - lord of the rings
    George RR martin - game of thrones/song of ice and fire

    Either way though, both of those series are long epics. So either analogy works.
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  14. Zee

    Zee Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Well caught... Fixed. I was debating between which of the two authors to use when I originally started writing this, obviously changed my mind half way through typing (because Each book in Songs of Ice and Fire is almost the same length as the whole LoTR trilogy... Almost...) and didn't pick it up when re-reading it.

    This is why you need to regularly save your work, boys and girls, so you don't end up leaving it on the back burner for 2 months...

    Actually, now that I'm looking back over the pics, I also notice the images I processed just before posting are darker than the ones I had processed already when I first started writing, screen settings were obviously quite different!

    I'll remember to pay more attention to that.
  15. drd1135

    drd1135 Zen Snapshooter Subscribing Member

    Mar 17, 2011
    Southwest Virginia
    Marvelous photos. That "double Buddha" (third from the end) is amazing. Thanks for also taking the time to provide the narrative. Travel photos are always better with a context.
  16. Aqualung

    Aqualung Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 10, 2013
    Central Mass
    Great story, great pix
  17. Zee

    Zee Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Ooops... Looks like I've run out of bandwidth...

    I'll try and sort out an alternative for images.

  18. mievil

    mievil Mu-43 Regular

    May 17, 2013
    San Diego
    Great photo set. Totally made me fall back into our trip to Thailand a few years back. We had no idea the water festival was going on. Nor did we have any idea that the rebel battle was going on. There was a huge military presence when we went, and they shut down most of the city. It was incredible. But you are right, the people were amazing, as were the sights, and the food. Such a cool place.
  19. BLX

    BLX Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Feb 24, 2012
    Fantastic set - thanks for sharing your images and experience
  20. gonzalobroto

    gonzalobroto Mu-43 Rookie

    Aug 19, 2014
    Good read and nice pics!

    This was a very entertaining read! I liked the comic points you bring to the table since gear review is normally too serious and technical and doesn't take into account the most important part of photography, at least for me, and that is "fun". You surely seemed to enjoy your trip and the whole experience which ended up with the pictures you share here, very vibrant and lively! I live in Bangkok and I know how hectic Songkran can become, but you had a blast!
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