Sony FE 90 f2.8 Macro lens – initial impressions

The Sony FE 90mm f2.8 Macro G OSS lens (to give it its full name) was introduced in early 2015, as the first dedicated macro lens in the system. Besides the obvious macro application (the lens can do 1:1 magnification), a short telephoto lens also works nicely for landscapes and portraits. Because I often shoot macro and close-up, I was of course very interested in this lens. I recently had the opportunity to use it for a couple of days in the town of Odemira, in southwest Portugal.

I used the lens on my Sony A7II, and I felt that the balance was good when handholding. The lens is not small, but it is not heavy either, even though it feels robust. Operating the lens is straightforward, which is nice when working in the field. Most of the shots were tripod-based, because I was shooting before and around sunrise; with the required stopping down to get acceptable depth-of-field, I quickly ended with exposures close to 1 second.

People interested in the lens know by now that this is a high-quality lens, and the images it produces are clean, crisp, and colourful. In the macro range, the backgrounds are rendered smoothly. I strolled through the streets of Odemira looking for potential subjects, including landscapes, details of the houses, and flowers in the local garden. I have tried auto focus and manual focus in the macro range, and both worked fine; make sure you use the focus limiter switch on the lens. The optical stabilization in the lens works very well for hand held shots, when required.

After two years in the market, there are no surprises coming from this lens; this is a highly recommend lens for those that like to shoot macro, landscapes, and portraits. To me, the focal length is preferable compared to other shorter (50mm) macro lenses, because it provides more working distance between the camera and the subjects.

Odemira at sunrise
Odemira at sunrise
River reflections
River reflections
Door knobs
Door knobs
Houses
Houses
Window
Window

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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 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

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
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Working
muscat_16_3_16_3_net
Colours
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In the souk
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The shop
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Choices
muscat_16_3_16_11_net
The bag
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Smell the incense
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House and fort
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Going down
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Going up
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Fishing
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Waiting
muscat_16_3_16_30_net
Souvenirs
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Red power
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Underneath
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Repairs
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The smile

 

ZEISS Batis 25 and 85 lenses – some landscapes from SW Portugal

For this first post of 2016, I want to share some photos taken in one of my favourite places, the Brejo Largo beach, in Portugal’s southwest Vicentina Coast. One can reach it by walking (my favourite way) or via 4WD through off-road tracks. I have photographed in this beach for about 20 years, and it never disappoints me: the beach profile is always changing, due to the action of wind and sea, and the light is different through the seasons.

Winter light, on cold and stormy days, is particularly attractive, with the low sun providing long shadows and some warmth. Couple this with low tide near sunset, and the result is wonderful. This is what happened during this visit, where I have used my ZEISS Batis 25 and Batis 85 lenses, to shoot some seascapes. This focal length duo has long been a favourite of mine, with the 25mm providing wide vistas, and the 85mm allowing for some tighter compositions.

In my opinion, ZEISS has some real winners in these lenses, they are really good and a joy to use in the field. Performance with smoothness, I would say. I also continue to experiment with the Big Stopper filter from Lee Filters, which allows the use of several minutes’ exposures, rendering the sea and sky in special ways. One has to try several times, in order to achieve the intended result, as the result changes constantly, with the sea and clouds always moving.

I wish all a Happy 2016.

Brejo Largo beach - general view
Brejo Largo beach – general view
Moving elements
Moving elements
Winter warmth
Winter warmth
On the dunes
On the dunes
Low tide reflection
Low tide reflection
Twilight
Twilight

ZEISS Loxia 35mm f2 lens – walking around Lisbon

The Loxia line of lenses for the Sony Alpha ILCE camera system consists (so far) of two, the 35mm f2 and the 50mm f2. These lenses are manual focus, but provide electronic comunication with the cameras. Thus, manual focus aids like peaking and automatic viewfinder magnification are provided, should one desires to enable them.

I have always liked shooting with a 35mm lens, so trying out the Loxia, when it became available in Portugal, was a natural thing to do. The lens is robustely built of metal, with a typical Zeiss buttery smooth focus ring, plus the traditional aperture ring. This is a lens that combines purist tradition with modern day electronics. The design is probably borrowed from the ZM lens line, where 35mm and 50mm have always been rangefinder afficionados favourites.

With this in mind, I set off shooting for a day in the streets of Lisbon, with the lens on my Alpha 7II camera. The Loxia 35 f2 is a pleasure to shoot with, thanks to the simple operation and the manual focus aids provided by the camera. The lens performs as I was expecting, in a traditional way. It is not bitingly sharp from corner to corner wide open (for that, there is the Batis 25), but stopping down to normal street shooting apertures (say between f4 and f8), it provides plenty of sharpness, plus the typical Zeiss colour and microcontrast.

I shot various types of subjects – people on the street, buildings, details, even close-ups. The light varied from soft cloud cover to direct sun light, but the image files (RAW) came out very well, with more than enough latitude for my usual processing.

In summary, I can highly recommend this lens if you want a fast 35mm to shoot in a classical way. Below are some images from this day.

Sunrise
Sunrise
On reflection
On reflection
Old Alfama Quarter
Old Alfama Quarter
The Old Sé Church
The Old Sé Church
Shop
Shop
Old Alfama Quarter
Old Alfama Quarter
Inside the Sé Church
Inside the Sé Church
Tram
Tram
Praca do Comercio
Praca do Comercio
Old Lisbon
Old Lisbon
Autumn Colours
Autumn Colours
Crinkled
Crinkled
Street Art?
Street Art?
The Rossio Train Station
The Rossio Train Station
Selfie...
Selfie…
Selling Roasted Chestnuts
Selling Roasted Chestnuts
By the river
By the river
Abandoned
Abandoned
Lines #1
Lines #1
Lines #2
Lines #2
Old Cafe
Old Cafe

Some images from the ZEISS Batis 85 f1.8 lens

After the (excellent) Zeiss Batis 25 lens, I also managed to grab one Batis 85, thus completing my lens set. My plan is to use the Batis 25 mostly for landscapes, and the 85 for portraits. However, this first set of images from the 85 comes from spending some time on the streets of Lisbon with it. Granted, an 85mm lens is not the first thing it comes to my mind when going out on the street, but I was surprised how versatile the lens turned out to be.

In one afternoon, I shot some street portraits (of course), but I also used the lens to shoot some details inside a church, some street scenes, and some city views. The lens performed very well, responding quickly to find the focus on moving people, and not missing focus in poorly lit venues. The detail and rendering I am seeing in the files is pure Zeiss, with plenty of detail, microcontrast, and colour fidelity.

Below, are some images that came out of this first session. These were shot on the A7II, using aperture priority, which is my default shooting mode.

ET
ET
On the bench
On the bench
Autumn colours
Autumn colours
Waiting
Waiting
Street car art
Street car art
Who's calling?
Who’s calling?
Lady
Lady
In support
In support
From up here
From up here
Square
Square
Castle
Castle
Choice
Choice
Smoke
Smoke