Tokina Firin 20 f2 lens – initial photos

I recently spend the weekend near Almograve, a very nice beach located in the Alentejo coast. This is an area that I know very well, and for many years now, as you can ascertain from the several posts I have made until now. During this last stay, I took the opportunity to use a recent wide angle lens for the Sony ILCE system: the Tokina Firin 20mm f2.

Tokina are introducing this new lens line for the system, and the 20mm lens is the first one. After using the Zeiss Loxia 21 f2.8 for a while, I was curious to see how this new contender would fare. In short, the new lens is very good, both in terms of optical quality, and in terms of usability in the field. Mind you, it is only manual focus, but for my intended use (landscapes) I see no problem with that.

Compared to its natural competitor, the Loxia 21, the lens is bigger and heavier, since it is one stop faster; it is also not fully metal build, but that does not mean it feels flimsy or not well constructed (far from that). One can feel the heft of the lens, no doubt the result of some nice glass inside, and robust materials outside. In terms of usability, the only nit I have is the lens’ aperture ring turns a bit too easy for my liking; in this regard, the Loxia has more firm detents.

Other than that, the lens shows very well controlled geometrical distortion (I have not had to resort to correction during image processing), good colours and sharpness across the frame, and of course some vignetting wide open (as expected). Even against the light, the lens performed very well, with no detrimental effect on the contrast or appearance of spurious reflections.

Below are some images shot during sunrise and sunset times, along the coast; some were taken using the long exposure provided by a neutral density filter. Personally, I highly recommend this lens to anyone looking for a wide-angle landscape lens; it also allows to save a significant amount of money compared to the price of a Zeiss Loxia lens, which may be important.

Sunset
Sunset
Cliffs in black and white
Cliffs in black and white
Erosion
Erosion
The rope
The rope
Small cove
Small cove
Lonely bike
Lonely bike
Almograve
Almograve
Almograve
Almograve
Morning dew
Morning dew
Morning fog
Morning fog
Morning fog
Morning fog
Rocky stripes
Rocky stripes
almograve_30_4_17_22_net
Sunset

 

 

 

A short Easter trip with the Leica M Summicron 90

For me, one of the advantages of the Sony A7 system is the capability to use some Leica M mount lenses. This post is about the Leica M Summicron 90 f2 lens, which I have recently acquired in the used market. I have always enjoyed using prime lenses, and particularly a set consisting of a trio of wide angle, standard, and short tele. In this regard, the Summicron 90 perfectly complements my Zeiss M C Sonnar 50. For wide angle, I am currently trying the new Tokina FE Firin 20 f2 lens, but that will merit a dedicated post in the future.

There is no point in describing how a 50-year-old Leica M lens still feels and handles like a precision instrument; it is just a joy to use. In a recent family, Easter weekend trip to the southwest coast of Portugal (one of my usual roaming grounds), I made myself the challenge to use only the 90mm lens; the trip involved some driving around in the region between the villages of Odemira, Santa Clara a Velha, and Odeceixe.

In Odemira, I visited a flower garden; in Santa Clara, we picnicked and relaxed in the dam; and in Odeceixe we visited the “Folar” fair (folar is a traditional Easter sweet bread). So, there was no lack of varied subjects to choose from: flower close-ups, portraits, landscapes, and even an old baby foot game in a local café.

The lens is a joy to use, inviting a more leisurely approach to photography; it invites one to slow down, and join the rhythm of life taking place around you. It invites me to look and really see what is going on, while trying to find interesting subjects. It is always to recommend a Leica M lens, but with this one, it is even easier: it can be bought with confidence in the used market (these things are built to last), it performs to high standards, and it is a lot cheaper than the current APO version! Furthermore, it cost me about half-price of a new Loxia 85 f2.4, and it is almost 1 stop faster. What’s there not to like?

As a final practical note, for Lightroom users, I found that the lens correction profile for the lens is not there, but the profile for the APO lens works fine.

Wall tile panel in Odemira
Wall tile panel in Odemira
Odemira garden
Odemira garden
Odemira garden
Odemira garden
For sale
For sale
Odemira garden
Odemira garden
Fields of Spring
Fields of Spring
Baby foot
Baby foot
Resting
Resting

Fujifilm X100T in the Southwest Alentejo Coast

Today I just want to share some photos that I made this last weekend in one of my favourite regions, the Southwest Portugal Coast of Alentejo. I am talking about the area that roughly goes from Milfontes in the North, to Zambujeira in the South, along the coast; and also, goes inland towards the hills of Odemira. The purpose of this weekend was not photography, but simply relaxing and taking care of Spring planting in my backyard!

Still, you cannot be a photographer and go on a weekend without carrying a camera, right? In my case, that was the wonderful small and highly capable Fujifilm X100T, and a small travel tripod for good measure… my wife, being a wonderful and understanding lady, came along for the trip, and only returned to the car at Cabo Sardão (our last stop of the day for sunset shots), because of the cold winds.

It is wonderful to travel in the area at this time of the year, without the presence of the many tourists that flood some locations in the Summer. The fields are turning green with the approaching Spring, flowers are popping up, and there is an overall quietness that makes life happy. These were the feelings that I was experiencing while making the photos in Milfontes, Odemira, Longueira, and Zambujeira.

As always, the trusty X100T performed very well, the focal length is suitable for my subjects. Plus, its Macro mode is very useful for the occasional close-up of flowers.

Milfontes
Milfontes
Milfontes
Milfontes
Milfontes
Milfontes
Longueira
Longueira
Longueira
Longueira
Longueira
Longueira
Longueira
Longueira
Longueira
Longueira
Longueira
Longueira
Odemira
Odemira
Zambujeira
Zambujeira
Cabo Sardao
Cabo Sardao
Cabo Sardao
Cabo Sardao
Cabo Sardao
Cabo Sardao
Cabo Sardao
Cabo Sardao

A shipwreck near Milfontes

Whenever I find an interesting and new location, I always plan to visit several times. This was the case with a famous shipwreck near Milfontes, in Portugal’s southwest coast. For more than 20 years, there is a Dutch cargo ship being pounded by the waves in a small rocky beach. This makes for a picturesque subject, set against a scenic coastal background. This time of the year, without the summer crowds, this stretch of still pristine coastline is well worth visiting.

I visited the place for the first time in October last year, to get a feel for the location, and to scope potential viewpoints and compositions. With the sidelight from the approaching sunset, I grabbed a few interesting photos of the now-rusted ship. These are some photos I made back then, including a panorama of Milfontes.

Shipwreck #1
Shipwreck #1
Shipwreck #2
Shipwreck #2
Leftovers
Leftovers
Low tide sunset
Low tide sunset
Blue hour panorama
Blue hour panorama

I made a mental note back then to return during the winter, at the blue hour before sunrise. The occasion arose last Sunday, on a very cold January morning… the small beach is easy to reach, within walking distance of the small lighthouse of Milfontes, where the path starts. I was carrying a small backpack with my Sony A7II and FE 24-70 f4 zoom lens, a light and versatile high quality combination. Sure, the zoom lens is not bitingly sharp in the corners like the Loxia or Batis lenses, but then, it provided the advantage of not having to change lenses with frozen hands… a big plus in my book!

Thanks to my early visit, I could set up the tripod quickly in selected vantage points, and started shooting some long exposures. The first one, after some calculations, was about 7 minutes long; plus, another 7 minutes for the in-camera long exposure noise reduction. So, I had about a quarter of an hour to check the news on my mobile.

From then on, it was smooth shooting all along, trying different framings of the pebbly beach and the shipwreck. I was packing to go back to the car park, when I noticed a fog bank developing at the river Mira estuary; this seemed like a fantastic and unexpected opportunity, so I hurried back along the dunes. Thankfully, the fog lasted for another 30 minutes or so, and I could grab some more interesting photos!

Into the blue
Into the blue
Abandoned #1
Abandoned #1
Abandoned #2
Abandoned #2
Foggy morning
Foggy morning
Hazy beach
Hazy beach
Into the fog
Into the fog
Golden hour
Golden hour

 

Fujifilm X100T in Muscat, Oman

For my first post of 2017, I have chosen images taken during a recent trip to Muscat.

All photographers like to have a small, yet high quality camera with them, and the Fuji X100 series of cameras no doubt is the choice of many. Now in its 4th generation (with the X100F), this camera caused quite a stir when it was launched about 6 years ago; combining (retro) good looks, a hybrid viewfinder (OVF and EVF), and a fixed lens with a focal length that is a favourite of many street photographers, it provides a fantastic package.

Whenever I travel to Muscat (a favourite place of mine), I always carry a small camera with me, in case I have some free time. This last time, it was the X100T, which can be found at a good used price, now that the X100F is out. One of my favourite places to visit in Muscat is the Mutrah area, with the nice Corniche bordering the sea, the lively souk, and the picturesque surround hills. There is a well sign-posted small trek that one can do in these hills, starting near the Incense Burner roundabout; from there, it is a short climb to the top of the hills, where there is a nice view of the Mutrah bay.

I was fortunate to have a spare (weekend) morning, so I went up there to photograph the full Moon setting in the West. The weather slightly hazy, which added to the smooth early morning light. The X100T is incredibly easy to use; I mostly use it in aperture priority mode, sometimes in manual mode too. Together with a table tripod, I could shoot 5 and 6 second exposures during the “blue hour” before sunrise.

Later, I went for a walk in the beach, where hundreds of people gather at dusk to play football, and to relax with their families. Again, the little X100T was with me, allowing me to photograph in a discrete way. This camera provides a simple control layout, and delivers high quality images. Even my teenage daughter commented on how “nice it looks”, so for sure Fujifilm are on to something…

 

Moonset over Mutrah
Moonset over Mutrah
On the beach #1

 

On the beach #2
On the beach #2
Incense Burner sunrise

 

Zeiss Loxia 21 in Muscat, Oman

I visit Muscat around twice a year, on business, and I always take the opportunity to go back to some of the places that have stayed in my memory from when I lived there. For example, I like to go to Mutrah to walk around in the souk and the Corniche at sunset; or go to the Grand Mosque to try and find some new angle. This is not easy for me, as the free time is not much, and I photographed these places many times before.

So for this trip I planned something different, I would only take one lens, the Zeiss Loxia 21 f2.8, mounted on the Sony A7. I also took a small travel tripod, as exposure times would be long. My idea was to visit the Mutrah souk, place the tripod on a busy lace, and shoot around. This would be a great testing ground for this lens. I shoot a lot of travel and people, but using a 21mm lens only was a first for me. It would also be challenging, as 21mm includes a lot in the frame, so getting good and clean compositions is not easy.

From my previous experiences in Muscat, and in Oman, people are really very friendly and are not camera shy; but how would they react to a foreigner shooting off a tripod in the middle of the souk? Well, I had no problems whatsoever, and even showed the results to a few passers-by. Also, there was a local photographer doing the same thing, but using a much larger tripod and camera/lens combination!

Thus encouraged, I just walked along the familiar narrow alleyways, setting up the tripod on an interesting place, and waiting for someone to go by. I am happy with the results, as the ambiance of the place is perfectly reproduced, and the people are registered in a ghostly fashion, adding mystery to the scene.

As for the visit to the Grand Mosque, it was a short one at the end of the day, and I came away with interesting shots of the large dome’s reflection in the marble floor. At this time of the day, the Mosque is closed to visitors, so I merely wandered around trying to shoot interesting angles. In the end, I was happy to have captured some new points of view, by setting the camera on the ground, or by placing the tripod ill-balanced on the fence. It was a bit of a frantic session, with lots of running around, as the blue hour does not last much.

As for the lens, it performed admirably. I would just use say f5.6 or f8, pre-focus, wait for something to happen, and shoot. Plus, no other lens maker does stars like Zeiss! Great contrast, and beautiful colour reproduction too. A winner of a lens.

Mutrah corniche
Mutrah corniche
Mutrah souk
Mutrah souk
Mutrah souk
Mutrah souk
Mutrah souk
Mutrah souk
Mutrah corniche
Mutrah corniche
Mutrah corniche
Mutrah corniche
Grand Mosque sunset
Grand Mosque sunset
Grand Mosque
Grand Mosque
Grand Mosque blue hour
Grand Mosque blue hour
Grand Mosque blue hour
Grand Mosque blue hour

São Miguel island, Azores

The island of São Miguel is the largest of the Azores, with a perimeter of around 230 km. I visited the island recently with my wife, to attend the marriage of a friend of mine. We spent one week in the island, and were fortunate to have great weather, with lots of sunshine. São Miguel is the island of the volcanic lakes; there are four major volcanic centres: Nordeste (now extinct), Furnas, Fogo, and Sete Cidades. All are worth visiting and beautiful in their own ways.

Want to elicit that jaw dropping “amazing” expression? Go to Vista do Rei viewpoint in Sete Cidades; this is where Edgar Pierre Jacobs located the entrance to Atlantis in one of Professor Mortimer’s famous adventures. Want to eat some good and truly earthy food? Go to Furnas and try the “cozido” that cooked for 6 hours in the hot earth. Want to bathe in crystal clear water? Go to Fogo and walk down to the lake for an amazing walk. Or take the trail to the Sanguinho waterfall, starting from the small village of Faial da Terra. You will think that you have travelled back in time to spectacular “Jurassic” forests.

If you feel like going away from the crowds and resting in a secluded volcanic lake, try the Lagoa do Congro. You will truly feel like being in one with Nature.

It is very easy to travel in the island by car, but it can be difficult at times to beat the increasing number of tourists; the Azores have become quite popular recently, with the low cost airlines flying there, plus Red Bull cliff diving and world surfing championship events. Of course the island is very pretty, with many interesting viewpoints, and lots of walking trails that bring you right into Nature.

As you can imagine, there are plenty of photo opportunities in the island: interesting viewpoints, many kilometres of walking trails, friendly people, local produce, and many more. In terms of equipment, I carried my Sony A7 kit, comprising two cameras and two lenses (Loxia 21 and Sony 55). I also carried a small travel tripod and a set of Lee Filters, including a very useful Big Stopper. You really need a wide angle to capture the large vistas, and the Loxia 21 proved to be perfect, delivering great images in a small package. The Sony 55 was perfect for more general photography.

I have been fortunate to visit two of the Azores islands this year, Pico ans São Miguel. This is a beautiful archipelago, and I now want to visit the remaining islands.

 

Sete Cidades
Sete Cidades
Sete Cidades
Sete Cidades
Sete Cidades
Sete Cidades
Lagoa do Congro
Lagoa do Congro
Lagoa do Congro
Lagoa do Congro
Lagoa do Fogo
Lagoa do Fogo
Furnas cozido
Furnas cozido
Furnas
Furnas
Furnas
Furnas
Furnas, cooking corn cobs
Furnas, cooking corn cobs
Furnas
Furnas
Mosteiros
Mosteiros
Nordeste
Nordeste
Ponta Delgada and Fogo volcano
Ponta Delgada and Fogo volcano
Say cheese
Say cheese
Sanguinho waterfall
Sanguinho waterfall

Climbing Pico mountain, Azores

This year I had a special birthday (the 50th), atop Portugal’s highest point, the mountain of Pico, in the Azores island of the same name. At 2351m above sea-level, the volcano rises majestically from the ocean, being the third highest in the Atlantic to rise from the ocean bottom. The idea to go up the mountain was my wife’s, and I am grateful to her for such an incredible experience.

We planned everything in due time, since July is a busy month in the Azores. We wanted the event to be a family one, so my son and daughter also went with us. After some research, we decided to book with Tripix, a recently established adventure company. Everything went smoothly, the guide was very good and knowledgeable. The company is also ecologically sound, as it provides wooden poles, not metal tipped ones; the latter end up eroding the lava rocks, which is bad, especially with the increasing number of trekkers. We went up on the afternoon of the 19th, camped inside the crater, and came down the following morning.

The climb is not a technically difficult one, but it still requires relatively good physical shape, due to steep inclines, and some loose ground near the top. Our group consisted of 8 people, plus the guide. The Pico volcano is integrated in a natural reserve, and provides amazing views over the central group of islands of the Azores archipelago, like Faial and São Jorge. It took us about 5 hours to climb up from the starting point at 1200m altitude, and about 3 hours to come down the following day.

Of course I wanted to do some photography, and it is always a challenge to decide what to take on the backpack; especially when also carrying a tent, sleeping bag, food, and some extra clothing for the colder night. In the end, I decided to carry my two Sony A7 cameras, one with the Zeiss Batis 25mm lens, and the other with the Sony 55 lens. Plus, a small but robust Manfrotto table top tripod for long exposures at night. This light kit fitted nicely inside a small 22 litre backpack.

It just happened that the night of the 19th was a full moon, which was a good opportunity to photograph under special conditions at night; also, the weather was clear during the sunset and the sunrise, so I managed to get some interesting shots of the moonset and the shadow of the volcano. We stopped a few times going up, which allowed for some picture taking time of the great views. In the morning of the 20th, we woke up at 4am to climb the Piquinho, the small volcanic cone created by the last eruption in the year 1718. From there, we watched the blue hour developing, and after that the sunrise. The volcano is still active, with some fumaroles smoking through the vents.

In the end, this was a memorable experience, that my family enjoyed very much. And I came away with some unique photos for my portfolio too. The Sony kit performed really well, never missing a beat.

Piquinho under full moon
Piquinho under full moon
Sunrise
Sunrise over Pico and Faial islands
From the top, looking over Faial island
From the top, looking over the crater and Faial island
Moonset over Pico shadow
Moonset over Pico shadow
Pico volcano panorama
Pico volcano panorama at sunrise

 

Some black and white images from Oman

This post is more or less a continuation of the last one, in the sense that the photos were taken during the same trip to Muscat, Oman. However, this time I want to describe how I came about making these images, and how they ended up like this, in black and white.

The first two photos were taken just outside my hotel, in a seaside walk that is flanked by some trees. On a late night walk, I noticed that some trees were in bloom (the frangipanis), and I imagined that they would make some interesting subjects at dawn. So I planned accordingly, and the next morning I woke up early and went out shooting. As a bonus, the sky was stormy and the light soft, providing and interesting background. I immediately thought that I had good material for black and white images. I ended up with a composition showing the whole tree, and another one showing branches “reaching” into the sky, and into each other. Some quick adjustments in Silver Effex, and all was done.

For the next pair, the story was different. These were taken in Wadi Bani Kharus, during a geological field trip in the mountains. I was excited to be back in an area that I know very well, having lived in Oman for 7 years. In terms of landscape, the Oman Mountains provide some of the most picturesque and rough scenery, almost primeval in character. It was late afternoon when we parked our vehicles near a small village. The houses hugging the mountainside, and the ridges against the sky, made for a very typical shot. On the way out, we caught the last rays of sunshine filtering through the haze, and silhouetting the ridges; to somehow enhance the primeval feel of the instant, I opted for an antique plate effect for the black and white conversion.

Looking at the images, they remind me of what it felt like taking that morning stroll, or being inside the mountain range.

The tree
The tree

muscat_16_3_16_40_bw_net

Village
Village
Ridges
Ridges

 

The ZEISS FE 35mm f2.8 lens in Muscat, Oman

Traveller photographers are always searching for the best/lightest/smallest camera and lens combination, without compromising on performance and image quality. In this regard, the introduction of so-called mirroless systems has brought many valid options. From very early on, the Sony Alpha 7 system has offered such a combination, with the possibility of matching the small cameras with small high performing lenses such as the FE 35 f2.8 and FE 55 f1.8.

In this article, I would like to share my experience of using the FE 35 f2.8 lens in a recent business trip I took to Muscat, Oman. This is really diminutive lens, and it comes with the famous ZEISS logo on its barrel; it also comes with the concomitant price, which is arguably higher than normal for (slow) f2.8 prime lenses. This relative high cost was what initially put me off the lens. But after reading some reviews and testimonials of other photographers, I finally managed to borrow one copy and use it myself. From what I was reading, this little lens was a high performer indeed.

So I ended up in one of my favourite places in Muscat, the Mutrah Corniche and Souk. This is a lively place, with all the merchant stalls, smell of incense burning, spices, textiles, and all other sorts of articles. It is also a place where light levels are somewhat low, and where there are also some high contrast scenes of light and dark areas. Now, I do like the Loxia 35, but sometimes I need auto-focus for quick-shooting, or shooting from the hip.

The little FE 35 f2.8 lens performed without a fault, both mechanically and optically. I was mostly shooting between f4 and f8, with auto-ISO taking care of the rest. There is some light fall off wide open, but this can be easily taken care of during Raw developing. The lens is very sharp, and maintains excellent performance levels into the corners and edges of the frame.

So what is not to like? Well, photographers always prefer faster apertures; as I wrote above, f2.8 in a prime lens is perceived as “slow”. Thus, enter f1.4 and f2 lenses; Sony has a 35 f1.4 lens (also with ZEISS logo), which is top quality, but much bigger and even more expensive. ZEISS has the aforementioned Loxia 35 f2, but this one is manual focus and more expensive too. I think there might be a slot for an auto-focus 35 f2 lens?

In the end, the little FE 35 f2.8 lens is a great option for an A7 camera, it makes perfect sense as a reportage/travel lens. Combined with the excellent high ISO performance of the sensor, f2.8 is not really that limiting. Of course, there are situations where we may need to combine high ISO, f1,4 or f2, to get the shot. For those situations, there is the FE 35 f1.4 lens. For the rest, the FE 35 f2.8 is surely more than enough, and one hardly notices it is mounted on the camera.

Relaxing
Relaxing
muscat_16_3_16_2_net
Working
muscat_16_3_16_3_net
Colours
muscat_16_3_16_5_net
In the souk
muscat_16_3_16_6_net
The shop
muscat_16_3_16_10_net
Choices
muscat_16_3_16_11_net
The bag
muscat_16_3_16_14_net
Smell the incense
muscat_16_3_16_21_net
House and fort
muscat_16_3_16_23_net
Going down
muscat_16_3_16_24_net
Going up
muscat_16_3_16_27_net
Fishing
muscat_16_3_16_29_net
Waiting
muscat_16_3_16_30_net
Souvenirs
muscat_16_3_16_32_net
Red power
muscat_16_3_16_33_net
Underneath
muscat_16_3_16_34_net
Repairs
muscat_16_3_16_37_net
The smile