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

Late autumn afternoon with the ZEISS Batis 25 lens

Finally, I managed to get hold of the elusive Zeiss Batis 25 f2 lens. The waiting was long, but was it worth it? After using it in the field for the first time, and after processing the images, the answer is a solid yes. Zeiss have a winner in this lens, as already reported by many photographers, but it is always nice to be able to confirm it personally. Since I started using the Sony Alpha 7 system, I have tested a few options for a wide angle landscape lens; these included an old (but excellent) Nikkor AIS 24 f2.8 lens, as well as a (more recent) Nikon 20 f1.8 G lens. Both are very good choices, but the Zeiss delivers much more, in terms of colours, contrast, edge and corner performance. Plus, the whole haptics of using the lens in the field is very different: non-fuss and smooth operation.

So I went to my local testing grounds, Carcavelos beach, near my home. The late afternoon was nice, with interesting clouds and sky, plus a lot of surfers. I shot some long exposures, which I always like to do, plus some more mundane scenes.

For the future, the Batis 85 is alluring, and I hope that Zeiss keeps introducing more of these high quality lenses for the Alpha system.

Sand, sea, and sky
Sand, sea, and sky
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Boards
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Into the water
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The horizon
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Ghost surfer
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Sky show
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Blue
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Late stroll

 

Kuala Lumpur – photos from a short visit

I recently visited Kuala Lumpur on a business trip. As with all my trips, I always carry a small camera to take some travel photos. Particularly when it is the first time that I visit a particular place, as was the case. It is a 12 hour+ travelling time from Portugal, where I live, so when I landed at around 3pm local time, with a 7 hour time difference, I was pretty knackered!

Of course to take photos outside of business hours involves waking up early and staying out late, and walk, and shoot a lot, on the street. Let me tell you that KL in late October means rainy season, high humidity, strong showers, and nice temperature (around 30 Celsius). The good news is that there are plenty of photographic opportunities even if you don’t have much free time; the bad news is that during my visit, the atmosphere was hazy due to fires in Indonesia, so I hardly saw the sun.

Anyway, the best way to know a new place is to simple walk around, so that is what I did. Friendly people everywhere, street food stalls with a lot of tasty foods, modern shopping malls and interesting architecture (both old and new), there are many things to see and visit.

To tackle all of this, I took a highly competent little camera with me, the Canon Powershot G7X. It packs a lot of power and image quality potential, with a relatively large (for a compact that is) 1 inch sensor, a bright 24-100mm lens, and a touch screen. I spent all the time in aperture priority mode, auto-iso, and touch focus on screen. The image stabilization helped immensely when the light levels were low. All in all, a great little camera for travel. Of course I shoot RAW all the time, to get the most bits from my bucks.

In the end, after 5 days in KL, I came away with some photos that I am happy with, and that is the most important thing.

Tasty food
Tasty food
High end
High end
Towers
Towers
Heavy rain
Heavy rain
Old & new
Old & new
Old & new
Old & new
At night
At night
At night
At night
Rapid KL
Rapid KL
Resting
Resting
Reflections
Reflections
In a nutshell
In a nutshell

High quality “macro” on a budget

I have always enjoyed shooting macro, or close-up, photos, in the field: flowers, insects, and interesting details. The best way to do this type of photography is by using a dedicated macro lens; most macro lenses come in focal lengths of 50mm, 100mm, or 200mm, with reproduction ratios varying between ½ and life size. For the Sony Alpha E mount, there is a very good option with the FE 90 f2.8 macro lens. This lens is no doubt very good, but it is also expensive, of course.

In the past, and because I do not necessarily need to shoot at life size, one of the combinations I would often use would consist of a 70-200 zoom (almost everybody using any system is likely to have such telezooms) plus a high quality close-up lens or “diopter”. When I was using Canon, I had the zoom plus one Canon 500D close-up lens. This allowed me to have sort of macro capabilities without spending a large amount of money.

The other day I remembered that I had this lens lying around being unused, so I gave it a try with the Sony FE 70-200 f4 zoom; even the filter thread is a match, at 72mm. This lens looks like a thick filter that screws onto the front of the lens, allowing it to focus much closer, thus resulting in a higher magnification. Canon’s literature states that “The Type 500D is more suited to lenses with focal lengths from 70mm to 300mm”, so no problem. Plus, the “D” in the name of the close up lens stands for “double element”, which means better correction of aberrations, compared to single element ones.

At the 200mm focal length, the magnification ratio with the close-up lens is around ½ life size, which is good enough for me in most situations. Of course the image quality compared to a true macro lens is not the same, especially in the corners of the frame. But in most instances, the subject of interest is not in the corner, so no big problems there.

In the end, with the simple addition of a high quality close-up lens, I can add another whole dimension to my telezoom, without the extra spend or weight of a dedicated macro lens. Many times when I am out photographing landscapes, I note an interesting flower or insect, and I know that this combination works very well.

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Long exposure in landscapes

The long exposure technique (LET) has been used by landscape photographers for many years. One of the best examples is to leave the shutter open for a long time to blur movement in the water, thus creating a “milky” rendition. Quite often, this is achieved with a neutral density filter. These filters are normally dark pieces of glass or resin, that block the light getting into the lens; they come in rounded threaded form, or as part of a rectangular/square filter system, and in several “strengths”.

If you want to have a long exposure during the day, you will need a filter that cuts the light by about 9-10 stops. For instance, if your normal exposure is around 1/30 second, a 10 stop filter will allow you to go up to 1 minute. This can give a very different result, say for a seascape at sunset. Below is an example of using a 10 stop filter:

No ND filter used.
No ND filter used.
10 stop ND filter used, exposure time 1 minute.
10 stop ND filter used, exposure time 1 minute.

Besides turning the water into a foamy medium, these filters are also interesting to use to achieve similar results for cloud movement. With dramatic cloudy skies, exposing for a few minutes can add a lot of interest to your shot.

30 second exposure.
30 second exposure with 10 stop ND filter.

 

13 second exposure with 10 stop ND filter.
13 second exposure with 10 stop ND filter.

You can also achieve good results without any filters, if you shoot during the blue hour, when light levels are low, and the light quality higher for landscapes or seascapes. Also, try shooting at night under moonlight, the results can be surprising and very good. Especially with today’s sensors capabilities, sharpness can be high and noise levels low; but we are talking multi minute exposure times, often around 20 minutes at ISO 400.

No filter used.
No filter used.
No filter used.
No filter used.
No filter used, around 20 minute exposure.
No filter used, around 20 minute exposure.

Finally, one other classic type of long exposure is shooting for star trails, but that is a different topic. Today, I just wanted to give some examples that can be easily achieved to enhance your landscape photography. Of course, you will have to use a tripod!

 

 

 

 

In the countryside

Notice your surroundings. This may seem obvious, but how many times, as photographers, we do not pay enough attention to our environs? Even when you do not have a camera, take mental, or written note, of potential places to photograph.

This is what I did recently, when travelling by coach between Lisbon and Milfontes, on Portugal’s southwest coast. The driver took a different than normal route, and I was soon noticing some interesting places before arriving at the village of Cercal: there were the typical rolling hills of Alentejo, golden from the summer, with plenty of majestic “sobreiros” (the tree from which bark cork is made), small farms with hay bales, and even abandoned schools. I took note, and in a late summer afternoon last August, I drove there to explore the area.

Cercal is just about 20 km from the coast, but the feel is of a true “interior” village, making a living from farming and agriculture. From there, is a short drive to the even smaller villages of Espadanal and Fornalhas, with many interesting stops along the way. I took photos of characterful trees, abandoned farm houses and schools, empty roads, and hay bales in the hills.

The light was a bit challenging, with the late afternoon sun playing hide-and-seek… but the clouds made for some interesting long-exposure shots.

Of course the coast and the beaches beckon, but if you visit the region, make an effort to stop and appreciate the countryside also, it is well worth your time.

On the road
On the road
Old school
Old school
Old school
Old school
Old tree
Old tree
Old tree
Old tree
Old farm house
Old farm house
Fields
Fields

Early morning at Pessegueiro Island

This past August in the Alentejo coast has been characterized by somewhat cool and misty mornings, and breezy afternoons. Not so good for beach goers, but wonderful for photographers. One of the mandatory spots in this region is the Ilha do Pessegueiro, located just slightly south of the well-known village of Porto Covo.

This island is the result of the last post-glaciation sea-level rise, about 18,000 years ago; at the time, a vast sand dune complex was developed. These dunes are now consolidated, of course, and make an important geologic formation in the area. The Romans established a post on the island (for salt trade), and much later on (around the 18th century), the Portuguese built two forts, one on the island, one onshore. These were built to defend the area against the North African pirates.

Trusting in the weather forecast, I planned for a visit in the early morning, to take some photos of the island and beach in the mist. Indeed I was not disappointed, as the fog/mist was abundant, but for short periods it was possible to see the island.

All in all, a very pleasant morning and photographic session. This was also one of my first outings using the Sony FE 70-200 f4 lens, a focal length range that I always found very useful for landscape photography. This lens is, in my opinion, a must have for users of this system.

 

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The island in the mist
The island in the mist

Almograve beach summer sunrise

Today I just to post some images I made recently in a place that I love: Almograve beach, in Portugal’s southwest coast. I have known this region for almost 40 years, but it always seems new and fresh to me. When I was a kid, I used to dive from some of these rocks. Today, that is not possible during the summer, because the life-guards will not allow it.

The rocks have been eroded for sure, but at our human scale and time frame, we cannot spot the difference. What we can appreciate is the change in the beach profile, which changes every year, as the sands are shifted along the shore. This year is one of high sand content, and many rocks are buried under it.

One morning, very early, even before sunrise, I went out to photograph the beach at low tide. This is in August, so one has to go really early to catch the best light, and to avoid the high number of people that flock to the beach. The weather was cloudy, which is good for photography, but bad for beach goers… Lucky me, I managed to get some nice images, with interesting sky and clouds.

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Low tide and sunrise
Low tide and sunrise