I have recently travelled to Muscat, Oman, on a business trip. On such trips, I always try to find some time for photography, especially in such an interesting location. I know the country very well, because I worked and lived there for a few years. Muscat, in spite of all the developments in roads and housing, still keeps its own special charm, so to speak. The city’s mountainous background, its old quarters and traditions, and the hospitable Omanis, make for a unique combination that keeps me coming back whenever possible.
On such occasions, when I can only dedicate a few hours to photography, I profit from my previous knowledge and go straight to the places that I find more interesting; like the Mutrah Corniche, and the nearby Souk. I also prefer to carry only a small camera and lens, to favour mobility and to avoid looking conspicuous. My approach is simply to shoulder the camera, mingle with the folks, wait for something interesting to happen, and shoot away. My Sony A7II and ZEISS Loxia 50 f/2 lens allow me to do this in a most efficient way; the combination is light and reliable, goes unnoticed, and delivers time after time. After a while of walking in the souk, people do not pay me attention anymore. the lens’ aperture and manual focus rings allow me to pre-set the shot as I deem appropriate, so that I can concentrate on what is happening around me.
I leave you with some photos taken close to sunset and at dusk, in a pleasant February evening.
In a recent visit to the lovely village of Odemira (a place I often go to), which is located inside the Southwest Alentejo Natural Park, I was lucky enough to be able to see the wind mill working. The municipality of Odemira invests money to maintain some of these old mills working; it is an old tradition, that is being maintained by a few men. One of these was operating the mill when I visited; his name is Jose Guilherme, and he was very kind and invited me to go inside.
His is an old family of millers, going back to his great-grandfather’s time. Unfortunately, this family tradition will die with him, since no one else in the family will pick up the trade. I always enjoy experiencing and visiting these places of tradition, and talking to the people that still use them. Mr. Guilherme told me that in a couple of hours, he had milled 50 kg of wheat, thanks to the strong wind and his expertise in operating the mill. He still has customers that take the grain to him for transforming into flour, that then goes into making the famous local bread.
He was gracious enough to let me take some photos, and I will be sure to give in some copies next time I am in Odemira. This is the type of experience that is still possible to have in the region, where the old traditions are still alive.
Equipment wise, I used my trusty Sony A7II, and the discrete ZEISS Loxia 50 f/2 lens. I simply love this combination for this type of reportage shooting. I converted the files to black and white to convey a stronger feel of the place and the experience.
Currently, where auto-focus reigns supreme, it may seem odd to use a manual focus lens. But sometimes, for photographing at a more leisurely pace, a manual focus lens is a valuable tool. No need to think about auto focus modes, camera drive modes, just take full control about where, and when, you want your lens to focus. When travelling, or when simply on a stroll photographing on my own, I enjoy the simplicity provided by manual focus, and manual aperture setting, on the lens.
Since I use a Sony Alpha 7 camera system, it is possible to adapt hundreds of so-called vintage lenses, from other mounts, to the Sony E mount. And I have done that before. But for the standard focal length, 50mm, I have never tried to use a manual focus lens; I was used to the excellent Sony Zeiss 55 f1.8 lens. Recently, I am trying the Zeiss Loxia 50 f2 lens, which is completely manual in operation, but has the electronic contacts to “talk” to the camera, since it is a native E mount lens. In all other aspects, it feels, and handles, like any other high-quality Zeiss manual focus lens, which means is a pleasure to use.
I am familiar with Loxia lenses, because I have used the 21mm and 35mm ones in the past. The lens line is rounded up by the 50 f2, and more recently, the 85 f2.4. Today I want to share some photos, and impressions, from using the Loxia 50 is a recent trip to Odeceixe, a well-known beach located in SW Portugal. I spent a couple of days in the area with my wife, profiting from a balmy end of October, with unseasonably warm temperatures for the time of the year. After some picnicking and swimming, we took the trail that links Odeceixe to the small fishing village on Azenha do Mar to the North.
This trail is very easy to do, and affords great views along the coastline, plus crossing coastal dunes and farmlands. This time of the year, it is sweet potato pick up season. In fact, some of the best sweet potatoes come from this region, with yellow, orange, and purple varieties. But that will be perhaps the subject for a future article, in case I manage to visit the sweet potato festival in Aljezur at the end of November.
Mounted on my Sony A7II, the Loxia 50 balances and handles perfectly; it works and feels like the precision instrument that it is. Manual focus is easy, with all the technological assistance provided by the camera, in terms of peaking and magnification at your fingertips. All the hallmarks of the Zeiss heritage are present in the lens, with the vibrant colours (but never over the top), contrast, sharpness, and resistance to flare. At the end of the day, in Azenha do Mar, I spend some time taking some long exposures off the tripod, photographing the boats in the small harbour.
For those who enjoy manual focus, the Loxia lenses combine tradition and modern performance in a very good way. I will certainly be keeping my copy of the Loxia 50.
Last month I visited the island of Sao Miguel (Azores) for the second time in about one year. I was in vacation with my family, but I wanted to take some quality time for photography. As always, this means going out when before sunrise, and staying after sunset. During the rest of the day, we visited the usual touristic spots, plus some other not-so-well-known locations.
With the introduction of low-cost airline transport to the island, it is becoming busier every year, but it is still possible to get away from the crowds; one should try to visit the most popular sites outside of the “tourist bus schedules”, and to enjoy the many signposted and beautiful hikes around the island.
When I visited last year, I came away with some good photos, and visited many of the popular places. This time around, I wanted to get something different, something that would convey the “soul” of the place. In the Azores, even during the summer, one gets “4 seasons in one day”, meaning that the weather changes quite quickly. This can lead to unexpected photo opportunities, especially in the mountainous volcanic lakes. From West to East, the major ones are Sete Cidades, Fogo, Furnas, and Nordeste (the latter is inactive, the others are not).
My favourites are the Fogo and Furnas lakes, for their sense of isolation (Fogo) and very active fumaroles (Furnas). The weather being unpredictable, one must combine good planning with some luck. I visited Fogo and Furnas twice, for example; in Fogo, the sunrise was amazing, while in Furnas the sunset was covered by dense fog. Both occasions ended up in great photos. I particularly like the Furnas lake covered in fog, which adds to the sense of mystery and timelessness.
In the Nordeste I was welcomed by tall precipitous cliffs dropping vertically into an endless sea, with menacing clouds rolling by. In Ferraria, the small lighthouse made a good counterpoint to the immense sea beyond. Sky, sea, weather, nature, all mix in the Azores, providing lasting emotions and memories.
For my memories of this trip, I chose to get rid of colour, as I wanted to enhance the raw beauty of the island, stripping it to the very basics of its framework. I converted the files to black and white, adding a light sepia toning and rough frames, for a consistent look to this body of work.
I hope you like it, and that you visit these wonderful islands.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…
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.