Photos from Odemira – Sony A7II and ZEISS C Sonnar f1.5 50mm ZM

These are some photos I took recently in the town of Odemira, in South Portugal’s Alentejo province. The name of the town comes from combining “Oued” (from the Arabic Wadi) and “Mira” (name of the river). This town is located about 20 km from the coast, inside the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina. As such, it is very close to some of the best beaches in Portugal, but it has a rural and interior feel to it.

Unfortunately, as many interior towns and villages, the younger population has migrated to the large centers, in search of better opportunities. This leaves behind an aging population, plus some houses going to ruins. But Odemira still preserves a charm and character of its own, with the gentle rolling hills, and a life style that takes its own leisurely pace. There are also some local industries and associations that try to preserve old ways of life and traditions, in areas such as tapestry, pottery, and farming.

In this occasion, I visited the town in the morning, just walking the streets and going to the local market (I actually wanted to buy some fruits and vegetables!). The Sony A7II and ZEISS C Sonnar f1.5 50mm ZM lens continue to impress me very favourably as a documentary and travelling photographic tool. It is really liberating just using the basic photographic controls: set aperture priority, choose the aperture according to the shot (lens ring), focus manually (lens ring), and shoot.

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The Sony A7II with the Zeiss C Sonnar f1.5 50mm ZM lens

This is just a quick post to share my experience with the above combination. The Sony A7II is the second iteration of a very successful line of mirrorless full frame cameras. Main improvements over its predecessor are: a larger grip – thus better ergonomics, at least for me; a more robust build (the camera features more metal in its chassis); and of course, IBIS (image stabilization via the sensor, so all lenses can benefit). Two things are a bit of a let-down: loud shutter noise, and lack of touch screen.

But most importantly, the camera handles beautifully in the field, where it counts. I use it for documentary, street, and travel photography, with a trusty Zeiss C Sonnar f1.5 50mm ZM lens. This is Leica M mount lens, and as such, it requires an adapter to be used on the A7 (I have opted for the Novoflex adapter, solid and reliable). Much has been said about this lens, basically people hate it or love it; I am in the latter camp, otherwise I would not be using it, right?

The lens renders in its own special way: (near) wide open it delivers a “softer” and “dreamier” look in the areas that are not in focus, with a rapid and smooth transition between your subject and the background. Stopped down, the sharpness increases over the image area, but in the corners, the image is perhaps not sharp enough for “sharpness crazies”. To me, it is more than enough, and I am quite happy with it.

Of course the lens is not auto-focus, but manual focusing with the A7II is a breeze, thanks to some assisting tools. These are focus peaking and zoom/magnification of the user selected focusing area. The lens itself has a “true” manual focus ring, smooth as butter, plus an aperture ring; really “old school”.

Finally, I post some images taken with this combination, from Lisbon, Fatima sanctuary, and Batalha monastery.

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The Grand Mosque of Muscat, Oman

The Grand Mosque in Muscat (Oman) is one of the “must see” spots of the city. The best times to photograph are at dawn and dusk, but these do not overlap with public visiting hours (8 – 11 am). So, when the light is more interesting, you are limited to take photos from the outside; this is still interesting, and makes for some nice photographs.

To photograph the interior of the Mosque, as well as its environs (gardens and surrounding complex), it is better to arrive at 8 am, to still have some interesting light (during winter), and avoid the crowds. Inside the Mosque, there is a pathway that you must follow, but still, some interesting photos can be taken. Also worth documenting are the various archways (which provide interesting viewpoints) and the several styles of ceramic tiles. It makes for a very interesting learning and photographic experience. A wide angle lens, or wide angle zoom, is recommended to photograph the Mosque.

At the end of the day, you can then relax and unwind in the beach front of the city, even trying your luck at football!

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Winter light on the beach

The Southwest Portugal coast is a haven for hikers, naturalists, and of course, photographers. This coast is full of well-preserved beaches, reached only by dirt roads or foot. So, there are many places where it is possible to be almost completely alone, even in the summer.

In the winter, isolation is fully guaranteed, so I took the opportunity of a recent visit to go out and take some shots in the afternoon. Winter is one of my preferred photographic seasons, as the sun is really low, making for great light in the landscape. Plus, the skies are commonly filled with dramatic cloud formations. One just has to avoid the rain, and keep warm!

In this occasion, I took my Canon 6D and 16-35 f4 lens, plus tripod and filters. I was hoping to come away with some interesting beach shots, with the vast expanses of sand in the low tide, complemented by the sea and clouds. I kept shooting until after dark, it was that nice!

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Sony RX10 goes to Abu Dhabi

I recently went to Abu Dhabi on a business trip, to attend a conference. As always, I wanted to take a “small travel” camera with me. Recently, I had been looking with increasing interest at the Sony RX10. Actually, I had been looking at this camera since it was introduced in 2013, but the original high asking price cooled off my interest. With the price going down with time, I ended up getting one; after all, it is hard to resist the package: Zeiss 24-200mm f2.8 lens, 1 inch Sony sensor, good ergonomics, image stabilization, plus the other bits and bobs.

So when the time came to choose a camera to take with me to Abu Dhabi, the choice was obvious. I carried the camera plus a 13 inch laptop in a shoulder bag, no problem. I know Abu Dhabi well, but being on non-leisure trip means getting up early and staying up late, to make the best of the light. I was also travelling without a tripod this time, even my small travel one, so I was totally relying on upping the ISO and image stabilization. I went out mostly to photograph along the Corniche, close to the hotel where I was staying. The skyline in getting more impressive by the day, and makes for interesting photographs at sunrise and sunset.

The camera performed as expected. Zooming the lens is indeed slow, but after a while one gets the hang of it, and anticipating the focal length required makes up for it. Auto focus worked well, even in night scenes I always managed to find something to focus on, quickly and reliably. The ISO performance from the camera is acceptable, considering the size of the sensor. I was typically shooting in aperture priority mode and auto ISO up to 1600. This managed all the situations I encountered.

Now, at ISO values 800 and 1600, the image starts to degrade if you examine your images at 100% on screen. Careful sharpening and noise reduction can help up to a certain point, and the images end up being acceptable for most uses. In the end, I was able to take the photos, and it is marvellous how much technology has progressed.

I would say that the RX10 is a camera that will serve many photographers well, and that delivers high quality images if you understand its operational limits. It even allows you to step out a little bit from those limits and take photos that otherwise would not be possible, while maintaining a certain file integrity and quality. In the end, as a general purpose fixed zoom lens camera, it more than delivers.

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ISO 1600 and f2.8
ISO 1600 and f2.8, not bad

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Some photos from Muscat, Oman

Any trip to Muscat is incomplete without a visit to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. This is one of the (many) highlights of Muscat, and even more so if you enjoy photography. Having lived in Muscat for a few years, whenever I return, I always try to include a short incursion to the area, to photograph the mosque around sunset time. Of course it is possible to visit the mosque interior and surrounding grounds, which are very beautiful too. This time around, I did not had the time to do so.

This is the time when the lights in the dome and the minarets come on, which make a nice combination with the remaining natural light. The gardens and the mountain make for a scenic foreground and background, respectively. Using a small travel tripod makes it easy to shoot the longer exposures required.

I also include some photos from other small trips I was able to make during this visit, from the areas around Mutrah Corniche, and the beaches of Barr Al Jissah hotel complex.

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Up in the air

When I travel in business, I always carry a small camera with me. One never knows when an opportunity will arise to make an interesting photo. Even from high up in the air and through an airplane window. This is what happened to me in a recent early morning flight from Istanbul; the light from the rising sun was gorgeous, and the clouds were illuminated in a very interesting way. The result is the first photo below.

Also during the same trip, but later on, some interesting cloud formations were visible. This is the second phot below, which I converted to B&W, due to the richness of the textures and tones in the clouds.

So, next time you travel, plan in advance to get a window seat.




Lisbon panoramas

Lisbon, my hometown, is the (other) city of seven hills. It is a city full of life, with plenty of interesting things to do and see, to keep even the most resilient person busy for a whole day. For the keen photographer, there is much to see and absorb, while strolling up and down one of those aforementioned hills.

Every now and then I take the opportunity to walk, sort of in an errand way, around the old quarters of the city, climbing the hills, chasing the light. It is said that the quality of light in Lisbon is second to none, and indeed it is quite a sight to see the sunlight reflected in the Tagus River, and in the houses that hug the Castle. In one of my last strolls, I took a few panoramas, one towards the Castle, and another one towards the South, to include the river and the bridge. These views are best appreciated around sunset time, when the golden light envelops the city.

These are simple panoramas, quite easy to make. It is best to have a tripod, but today’s software are quite forgiving, and can correct for misalignments. I have been using Panorama Factory for many years, and still like it a lot.



Cabo Sardão – Southwest Portugal Coast

The Southwest Portugal coast is part of a Natural Park area (Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina). It stretches along the coast roughly between the towns of Sines and Sagres, and it is home of many species of fauna and flora (some of them unique to the area). I am fortunate to be able to visit the area a few times a year, especially the coastline between Almograve beach and Cabo Sardão. This cape is a rocky spur that juts into the sea, and a lighthouse provides a beacon for passing ships.

The region is notable for its rough seas, high cliffs, and small coves, and it provides numerous opportunities for landscape and travel photographers. One can also trek along the marked trails, and familiarize with the region at a more leisurely pace. I can assure you it is worth it! Below are some photos taken recently, in the last couple of months.

Not far from the coast, it is possible to visit the towns of Odemira and Santa Clara-a-Velha, where a dam in the Mira river provides a refreshing opportunity. Here, one is surrounded by the peacefulness of the fields, and hardly a car drives past you on the road. Worth noting are the traditional rural houses, and the friendly local people.



Startrails and night skies

This is a type of photography that I like very much to do. It is not easy, as it requires the photographer to be out in the field at ungodly hours, but… why not make the most of today’s camera technology to capture the beauty in our sky? The other difficulty for most people seems to be to actually find a dark enough place to see the stars and constellations!

But, if you happen to be in a such a place at or near new moon (when the sky is darker), then it is not difficult obtain good results. You will need a good tripod, a wide angle lens, and a cable release.

For star trails, I typically I set my camera in Manual mode, ISO 1600, aperture around f2 or f2.8 (depending on the lens), and shutter speed around 30 seconds. Then I just shoot in Continuous drive with the cable release in lock mode. In this way, most cameras will keep on shooting for as long as you wish, or for as long as the batteries last.

It also advantageous to shoot a couple of dark frames, before and after the sequence, so you can use them in programmes like Starstax (highly recommended) to process for dark frame/noise subtraction.

Another option is simply shoot isolated frames of the Milky Way, say ISO 1600 or 3200, f2.8 and around 20 – 30 seconds. Exposure times will depend on the focal length; the longer the focal length, the shorter the exposure time must be to avoid trailing in the stars.  It is also possible to shoot multiple images and later on align and process them in programmes like DeepSky Stacker; these will align the images and produce a single one, the advantage being that with several images, one can boost the S/N ratio. There are some excellent guides available on the WWW, one of my favourites is

Below are some examples I took in Southwest Portugal.

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