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

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.





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.




Low tide and sunrise
Low tide and sunrise

Early morning fields

Portugal’s Southwest is home to some of the most beautiful beaches anywhere, many of them still in pristine condition. Justifiably, that is where most people end up spending their time, hopping from beach to beach. However, just a few kilometres inland, it is possible to find many small farms, where life still goes on at a leisurely place. Actually, it is this dichotomy of land and sea that makes one of the fundamental characters of the region, underpinning its classification as a Natural Park.

One of the various interesting subjects to shoot while visiting the region are the typical hay bales that cover the fields. At sunrise and sunset the light is best for these landscape shots, as the light changes from soft pastel tones (just before sunrise) to more strong side lighting, leading to long shadows.

Below are some photos from a recent shoot at sunrise. Of course, during the summer, this means getting up very early, but it is well worth the effort. These photos were shot with 20mm and 90mm lenses; the wide angle provides more sweeping vistas, but the tele allows the isolation of some interesting parts of the landscape.






Old and new
Old and new


Wide angle lens for Sony A7 system – another option

In the search for a high quality wide angle lens for my Sony A7 system, a friend of mine recommended that I look at the Nikon AFS 20 f1.8 G lens. It is well known that so far, there are no options below 25mm (Zeiss Batis) for the system. The Sony 28 f2 lens accepts a converter that gives 21mm, and of course there is the Sony Zeiss 16-35 f4 zoom. None of these fit my requirements of a high quality, fast wide angle lens below 24mm, to shoot landscapes and night skies. So far, as illustrated in my previous post, I have been using a Nikkor AIS 24 f2.8 lens, which is a very good option. But I need something a bit wider and faster for some of my photography.

Thus, I started to investigate about the above mentioned Nikon lens, which is a recent introduction into the f1.8 Nikon lens line for FX (Nikon’s name for full frame 35mm format). Reading some reviews, it quickly became apparent that the lens is arguably Nikon’s best 20mm so far, which is saying a lot. Then the chance presented itself to use the lens for testing in one of my preferred areas, southwest Portugal coast; and with a new moon night sky, some star trail and Milky Way photography would provide a good testing ground.

Now, it needs to be said that using a Nikon G lens (no aperture ring) on a Sony A7 means that setting the aperture is done via a ring on the adapter (I have a Novoflex). At first, this a bit awkward, but after a while, there is no problem, as one can count stops easily by noting the changes in shutter speed, while using said ring. Another thing is, the manual focus ring is not as smooth as a true manual focus ring (no surprise there), the focus throw is not large (short turn of the ring between close focus and infinity), and the depth-of-field scale is, shall we say, not very useful (f16 marks only). Oh yes, and there are no hard stops at close focus and infinity.

Regardless of the above (normal) limitations, the lens delivers very good results. Below are some initial test shots: a general photo to illustrate the location where I set up the night sky shots (taken at about 9.30 pm), plus a star trail and Milky Way panorama. I had a bit of concern about being able to achieve precise infinity focus, but using magnification in the LCD, I was able to quickly and easily focus on a bright star.

I will keep testing the lens in similar situations, but so far, it is looking like a winner. In terms of handling and ergonomics, the lens is not heavy, it has the common 77mm filter diameter, and comes with a lens hood. If Zeiss ever comes out with a wide angle Loxia (say 21mm or there about), it needs to be pretty good optically to outperform this Nikon.

View of shooting location


Star trail of around 120 minutes total


Milky Way panorama – 8 photos




Sony A7 system – in search of a wide-angle lens




It is well known that for Sony A7 series users, the options for wide-angle lens are not abundant. Say you need a lens that is below 35mm, the only native FE lens is the 16-35 f4 zoom, or the 24-70 f4 zoom. Zeiss has just announced a couple of lenses for their new Batis AF line, including a 25mm f2 lens that shows high promise (and concurrent price…). There are also expectations for a wide-angle lens coming this year in their Loxia MF line (18mm? 21mm?). We will have to wait and see.

In the meantime, there is no shortage of reports and user experiences about adapting and using both RF and SLR mount wide-angle lenses in the Sony A7 cameras. Evidence shows that many wide-angle RF lenses show varying degrees of problems with these sensors: corner smearing, colour shifts, and so on. There are a few notable exceptions, such as the Leica WATE (but at very dear prices), or the more recent Voigtlander 15 f4.5 MkIII VM lens (which has a fixed lens hood, so not much luck in using a square filter system – unless makers like Lee Filters come up with a special adaptor, like they did for the Nikon 14-24 zoom lens).

Anyway, for someone like me, who likes to use a prime MF lens around 21-24mm focal length, the options are more open when looking into SLR options. After some search and browsing the used market, I ended up getting the Nikkor 24 f2.8 AIS lens in very good condition (pristine glass). Using it with a Novoflex adaptor, it is very nice to operate in the field for landscape shots off a tripod. This Nikkor lens used to be (still is?) a classic for landscape shooters, so I suppose it is good enough for me. There are many other possibilities, from Canon FD to Olympus OM mounts, and this is just in the MF world.

My sample had a problem when I received it, it would not focus to infinity; so I sent it for a CLA job, and it is now fine. The focusing ring is not as smooth or as nice as a Leica or Zeiss lens, but then, I normally shoot at hyperfocal settings at f11 or f16, checking the focus on magnified LV; so no problem there. The glass is what counts, and this little lens (52mm filter diameter) delivers sharp and contrasty images with good flare control. Plus, it features Nikon’s famous CRC (close range correction), to ensure sharpness when focused close (via a rear floating element).

Below are some images I recently shot near where I live, in Carcavelos beach, at dawn. I like to go there and try out long exposures (say 5 or 6 minutes).




The Leica X (Typ 113)

The “serious compact” camera segment has always been a lively one. From the film days (Leica CM, Ricoh GR1, and many others) to the digital age, several cameras have been made from many manufacturers. In recent years, Fuji in particular seems to have hit the nail in the head, with the X100 series: retro-look, hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder, fixed 35mm f2 lens, resulted in a classic hit. Sony has made the first full-frame compact with the RX1 camera, with an enticing Zeiss 35mm lens (but no integrated viewfinder). I have tried the former for a while, not the latter (too dear for my pocket).

Recently, Leica has introduced their “X” series of fixed lens compact cameras, with APS-C sensor, and with a 35mm equivalent field of view lens. Hence the X1, X2, and now the X (Typ 113). The X is a more serious proposition compared to the other two, as it sports a 23mm f1.7 lens, giving us the above mentioned 35mm equivalent field of view. It also looks and feels more like a mini-M Leica, with bare minimum dials to adjust the basic settings.

Since I like 35mm focal length a lot (for travel, reportage, and landscape), and the X is actually not exorbitantly expensive (for a Leica, that is…), I borrowed one for testing. I have to say that the camera handles very nicely, the lens is superb, the controls are responsive, and the files look very good. All in all, a nice shooting experience, as the camera does not get in the way of one’s photography.

I only wish the camera or lens had image stabilization (always useful), and an integral viewfinder (optical or electronic). As it is, one needs to cough up more for the accessory EVF – Visoflex. Well, it seems that Leica responds to “complaints” from their user base, as the new “Q” has both an integral EVF, and image stabilized lens (plus full frame sensor, of course). But it also costs double of the X, and has a 28mm lens, not my favourite focal length.

The images posted here were made during a short morning stroll near the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, which has some nice gardens and interesting subjects to photograph. In the end, I will be keeping the camera.


Between Vila do Bispo and Sagres


I recently participated in a geological field trip to one of my favourite regions in Portugal: the southwest Alentejo and Vicentina coast. So, of course I carried a camera with me, in this case my Sony A7II with Zeiss 50 f1.5 lens. This is quite a small kit to carry, inside my backpack. I often post about this region in this blog, as I go there regularly.

This time, I want to share some photos from the coast near Vila do Bispo and Sagres; this is really a pristine and rugged stretch of coastline, especially in this time of the year. Come the summer, some of these beaches will see a ramp up in beach-goers, but they will still be markedly isolated. This coastline is characterized by small and gentle inland hills, sand dunes, high rugged cliffs, and very strong seas. As such, it is a favourite spot for surfers the whole year round.

Further south, there is the area of Sagres and Cabo Sao Vicente, where one truly feels like being at “the end of the world”. This is the “promontorium sacrum” of the romans, where sheer cliffs meet the endless sea.

If you come to Portugal, you need to visit this coastline.

Cordoama beach
Cordoama beach
Cordoama beach
Cordoama beach
Cabo Sao Vicente
Cabo Sao Vicente

Spring in Odemira, southwest Portugal

The region of Odemira, in southwest Portugal, is full of interesting places and things to photograph. In one of my previous posts, I wrote about the town market and the town itself, which in its laid back ways is quite nice.

Recently I was driving nearby in the early morning when I noticed a nearby hill covered with yellow flowers, and some sobreiro (cork) trees, a trademark of the region. The hill was facing west, so I knew I had to go back in the late afternoon to do some photography.

The results are below, a mix of various attempts of exploring different viewpoints, focusing distances, depth-of-field, and some black-and-white conversion. Again, I took these with the Sony A7II and Zeiss C Sonnar 50mm lens, which is proving to be a fantastic combination to use. odemira_3_4_15_10_net odemira_3_4_15_11_net odemira_3_4_15_12_net odemira_3_4_15_6_net odemira_3_4_15_10_bw_net

The Mutrah Souk in Muscat, Oman

The Mutrah souk in Muscat is one of the mandatory places to go for visitors. It is a very traditional place, with various shops lining the narrow alleyways. It is actually quite small, but still one can feel “lost” inside, due to the narrowness of the streets, and the ambience inside: traditional fares like incense and spices are available, as well as all other types of products. Be sure to visit one of the juice stands for a really good natural fruit juice, or the more traditional teas and samosas.

Less known to visitors are the streets located just a stone throw’s away from the more commercial streets; in here it is possible to find busy men unloading merchandise for their shops, and traditionally decorated wood and steel doors. Away from the hustle and bustle of the commercial activity, I was able to concentrate on capturing some of the “flavour” of the souk, the details that often go unnoticed.

In this regard, the Sony A7II and Zeiss C Sonnar f1.5 50mm lens are a wonderful combination, for this more contemplative type of photography. Having visited this place so many times before, this time I wanted to obtain some different results, other than the more “normal” shots inside the souk proper.

muscat_29_3_15_46_net muscat_29_3_15_3_net muscat_29_3_15_6_net muscat_29_3_15_8_net muscat_29_3_15_13_net muscat_29_3_15_16_bw_net muscat_29_3_15_17_bw_net muscat_29_3_15_19_net muscat_29_3_15_22_net muscat_29_3_15_24_bw_net muscat_29_3_15_26_net muscat_29_3_15_27_bw_net muscat_29_3_15_29_net muscat_29_3_15_30_net muscat_29_3_15_35_net muscat_29_3_15_36_bw_net muscat_29_3_15_42_bw_net