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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.