Up in the air over Coruche

One of the activities that I have always wanted to try was to fly in a hot air balloon. After a few cancellations due to bad weather conditions, a few days ago I embarked on such an adventure. There are several companies that provide this type of activity in Portugal, selling tickets for flights over various areas of the country. I bought a ticket with the company Windpassenger for a 1 hour flight over the town of Coruche, which is located about 100 km to the East of Lisbon, in the river Tejo plain. This type of activity starts very early, before dawn, and the participants had to assemble at 6 am on a Sunday.

Arriving at the location, I saw 4 balloons that were getting ready for the flight. The air was being heated with large torches to fill up the large balloons, which is a slow process. I took the opportunity to walk around and make a few initial photos. For this trip, I had with me my normal kit of 2 cameras and 2 prime lenses, a wide-angle 14mm and a standard 35mm, which offered enough flexibility. The wide angle lens was a good choice to include the large balloons in the frame, and the standard lens was used for the more general views.

Preparations before takeoff.
Filling up the balloon with hot air.

The balloon I was in was the first to take off, allowing me to make some photos during the initial ascent. We went up at sunrise, so the light was quite nice. The interior of the balloon reminded me of a kaleidoscope, with all the various colors. Our pilot, Guido, occasionally had to engage the gas burners, to control the altitude. For a brief moment, the flames and the heat could be felt.

Going up at sunrise.
The balloon’s colorful interior.
Guido piloting the balloon.
Hot air shimmering.

The morning was very still, with no wind, and our course took us over the village of Coruche and the surrounding fields. This is an area of rice crops in the flat lands that surround the river Sorraia, a tributary of the Tejo. The dominant feeling among the passengers was one of tranquility, as the balloon quietly floated in the atmosphere. The visibility was good, thanks to the clear skies.

Flying over Coruche.
Coruche from above, with the Sorraia river below.
Tranquility.
In formation.
Over the landscape.
Shadow on the plain.

Unfortunately, 1 hour passes quickly, and soon Guido started to look for a place to land. There are supporting teams on the ground to assist in this phase of the flight, communicating with walkie-talkies. Once the location was chosen, the balloons slowly begun their descent.

Up in the air.
Flying quietly.
Birds’ eye view.
Looking for a place to land.
Landing.

After an uneventful landing, the passengers had the opportunity to celebrate their first balloon flight with a glass of champagne, to follow the tradition. Flying in a hot air balloon is no doubt a wonderful experience, and I have especially enjoyed the quietness and the sensation of being part of Nature. Of course it is also an excellent opportunity to make unique photos. At closing, I would like to endorse Windpassenger and their staff for their friendly and professional behavior.

Sunset at Guincho, Cascais

This short essay follows on the footsteps of previous ones, describing another “quick photo outing near home during confinement“. This time, after finishing my working day, I went to Guincho beach, a few kilometres after the town of Cascais. This beach lies inside one of the most touristic areas in the Lisbon region, because it is located between Cascais and Sintra.

After leaving Cascais, the road stretches along a wind-beaten coastline, where the strong ocean surf keeps eroding the limestone rocks. There are several dune fields, covered by low lying vegetation that clings to the ground. Because of the constant wind and strong waves, Guincho is very popular with surfers. Normal beach going people should beware the dangerous currents and strong sea.

This character is partly due to the beach being open to the westerly winds, but also to the presence of the serra de Sintra, a large geologic igneous massif that dominates the landscape to the North. This mountain creates a barrier to the humid air coming in from the Atlantic, generating an almost perennial cloud cover along the coast of the region. In clear days, from the beach, it is possible to see the Cabo da Roca lighthouse (the westernmost point of continental Europe) and the Pena palace.

Several years had passed since my last time visiting the beach, so it was nice to go back. After parking the car, I walked down to the beach to find a good spot and proceeded to make several photos. As the sunset approached, the light was changing very fast; for the last few photos, the light level was low enough to allow exposure times around 1 second, which smoothed the water a little. My photo kit for this little trip was quite simple, consisting only of the Fujifilm X-Pro3 camera, Fujinon 23mm f/2 lens, and a small tripod. Once again, I felt thankful to be able to visit such beautiful places not very far from where I live, which helps to endure this pandemic crisis.

Stay safe everyone.

Crismina beach, just before Guincho.
Guincho and serra de Sintra.
Sunset.
Sea and clouds.
Smoother.

Close to home

After one month under confinement due to the third wave of the pandemic in Portugal, and with probably another month to go, it has been difficult to make any sort of photography. Compounding this, the weather has been bleak, with overcast skies and lots of rain. Still, I periodically check the weather and tide forecasts, for possibilities near my home.

Because I live near the coast on the outskirts of Lisbon, in Carcavelos, there are several beaches within walking distance of my house. A few days ago, I finally had the chance to make a small outing and take some photos during the sunset. The location is about 3 km from home, where one small creek reaches the ocean, with the water dropping off the cliffs. This is the ribeira de Caparide, and due to the recent rain, there was plenty of flowing water.

After finishing work, I simply packed my camera, lens, and tripod, and walked to this location. The weather was finally nice, with wispy clouds. The sea was still rough from a recent depression, with waves crashing against the cliffs. The coastline here has a rocky nature, which results in an interesting scenery. After reaching the place, I walked around a little, looking for possible places to set up the tripod. I tried some long exposures, but I also wanted to photograph the waves as they crashed against the rocks, casting out a good amount of spray.

It was quite good to be simply out of the house doing some photography. It helps me to keep my spirit doing these difficult times. As for gear, these photos were made with the Fujifilm X-S10 and Fujinon 16mm f/1.4 lens.

Stay safe everyone!

Falling over.
Crashing.
Waves,
Sunset coast, with Cascais in the background.
Until tomorrow.
Flowing.

Sunset walk with the Fujifilm X100V

I recently wrote about the latest iteration of the X100 series of cameras in the article below.

I have been using the camera whenever the opportunity arises, in short walks, or even on long trails. One of these recent short walks in the beach near my house, Carcavelos. Since June I have been working under a mixed regime, one week in the office, one week at home. Thanks SARS-COV-2… anyway, one of these afternoons, after work, I went for a sunset stroll on the beach. The little Fuji X100V is a perfect companion for such occasions, so I took it along.

The weather forecast included some rain showers and clouds, courtesy of storm Alex, so things were looking promising in terms of potential photographic interest. Looking through the window, there were indeed some clouds, but also occasional sunshine. Upon arriving at the beach, the weather was great, with golden light that with time turned to the typical post-sunset blue hour. I simply walked along the surf, making some photos here and there.

Golden beach.
The loner.
Sand, sea, and sky.

There were several surf schools operating at the time, and they always signal their position with flags. One of the attractions of the X100V is the fast f/2.0 lens, so I tried a close shot of one flag with the lens wide open, so the background would melt away. It’s nice to have these options in a small camera. This camera is small but quite responsive, so this type of unplanned photography on the go is easy to do. The fact that the X100V looks like some old film camera also helps in being unobstrusive when among people.

Surf school.

I stayed in the beach until after sunset, as the sky started to show magnificent colours. I did not have a tripod with me, so I had to raise the ISO more than I am used to, but even so, the quality of the RAW files was quite good. At the end of the day, it was an enjoyable and relaxing walk, and I was able to make some interesting photos with this nice Fujifilm camera.

Gone for the day.
Trio.

Next time I will write about my experience with it when hiking on a trail along the Vicentina route in southwest Portugal.

A morning walk with the Fujinon XF 90mm f/2 lens

When considering the subject of “landscape lenses”, normally the consensus converges towards lenses with a wide angle of view, that is, below the typical 50mm standard lens. Of course, such lenses are very useful for providing “depth” (foreground to background relationship) and including the grand vistas often associated with landscape photography.

But many interesting landscape photos can be made with normal and telephoto lenses. The latter can provide a very different photo, by isolating or drawing the attention of the viewer to a particular detail in the scene. This article provides some examples that I made during a short early morning walk in Carcavelos beach, near my house. It is a location I visit many times, which poses the challenge of trying to obtain different photos from the ones I took before.

I used the Fujinon XF 90mm f/2 lens, which is labeled as a portrait lens. On this occasion, I wanted to see what type of photos I could make on the beach, looking around for interesting subjects. There is a large fort on the eastern end of the beach, and normally there are many surfers that arrive very early. So I simply mounted the lens on the camera, grabbed the tripod, and went out.

The first shots I took were simply playing around with the shape of the lens’ aperture: rounded wide open, polygonal stopped down.

Dream
Dream – 2

As expected, there were already many surfers in the water, plus some others doing their warm up. I made a few shots of them, using long exposures to capture the ambiance.

Warm up

The next photos show the fort in the distance, and the pontoon up close. The tighter angle of view from the lens provides a different result from using a wider angle lens.

The light
Into the blue

I had a great time simply walking along the beach, enjoying the pre-dawn light, the changing colours, and the breaking waves.

Apparition
Vigilant
Wave
Wave – 2
Wave – 3
Into the water

As for the lens itself, it is no surprise that it delivers excellent results, and it is another high quality tool in my landscape kit. Delivers sharpness, great colour, and contrast.

Close to home

Here in Portugal, as in many other countries, we are under a “state of emergency” to combat the pandemic. This means that all non essential personnel was sent home. Some manage to keep working from home, and all schooling is also home based. People can only go out for specific reasons: work, groceries, pharmacy, and local walks. Always keeping a safe distance and avoiding gatherings. So far, after 1 month, the results are encouraging.

Of course, one of the things that I miss is going out and making photos, so I thought about planning a few outings within a reasonable walking distance of my house. I live very close to the beach in Carcavelos, one of the most popular ones on the coast near Lisbon. It is a place I regularly visit to photograph all year round, especially at sunrise. But, as part of the current measures, all beaches and walkways have been closed. My first planned outing was to Carcavelos beach, but this time I would have to choose a different viewpoint; I normally would go to the beach proper at low tide to make photos, which was impossible now. The path that exists along the beach front is also closed.

I then decided to try and scout a few places and viewpoints on the sea side of the road, especially over the rocky outcrops that exist along the coastline. These are quite safe to walk on, and before sunrise, I was sure of not finding anyone else, so all was fine. With this plan in mind, I left the house about 1 hour before sunrise, with my photo backpack and small tripod.

Weather was good, with a few clouds and the Moon still high. My first stop was near a cross that exists by the side of the road, on a dangerous curve of the road, where many accidents used to happen in the past. Today, a traffic radar and lights moderate driver’s speed. I managed to make a photo of the cross with the Moon in the background, under the predawn light. I actually made a few more photos around this location, some long exposures of the sea and waves hitting the shore. Some of the rocks resembled ramparts and castles in my imagination.

Cross and Moon
Water and rocks
Castle rocks and Moon

After getting some interesting photos in this spot, I walked back towards the beach. I decided to try a few shots and compositions from various places, including the nearby rocks descending into the sea, the fort in the distance, and the interesting sky. It was around 7 am by then, and even this early, normally Carcavelos is already busy with surfers and joggers (I usually jog in the beach). Since the beach is closed, there was an eerie feeling over the area. Below are some of the photos that have resulted from this session. As you can see, the light was changing fast, and I had to work quickly. The colours were transitioning between the blues typical of pre-sunrise, to the warmer pinks and yellows of sunrise.

Slow morning
Receeding tide – I like the black and white version
Pool reflection
Fort

In the coming weeks, my idea is to continue to explore these beaches around my house, from a less conventional perspective. Always abiding to the safety measures, of course. As an hobbyist landscape photographer, I am used to be out of the house when most people are sleeping, so from this angle, things have not changed (much).

Keep safe everybody.

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

carcavelos_29_10_15_6_net
Boards

carcavelos_29_10_15_12_net
Into the water

carcavelos_29_10_15_13_bw_net
The horizon

carcavelos_29_10_15_15_net
Ghost surfer

carcavelos_29_10_15_19_net
Sky show

carcavelos_29_10_15_22_net
Blue

carcavelos_29_10_15_24_net
Late stroll

 

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).

carcavelos_12_6_15_14_netcarcavelos_12_6_15_18_netcarcavelos_12_6_15_21_netcarcavelos_12_6_15_22_netcarcavelos_12_6_15_23_netcarcavelos_12_6_15_25_netcarcavelos_12_6_15_26_net