Mutrah souk with ZEISS Loxia 50 lens

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.

Feeding the gulls
Feeding the gulls
Incense smoke
Incense smoke
All eyes on us
All eyes on us
Mutrak souk
Mutrak souk
Alley
Alley
Pots & pans
Pots & pans
Fruit sellers in Mutrah souk
Fruit sellers in Mutrah souk
Mutrah Corniche
Mutrah Corniche
Mutrah Corniche at dusk
Mutrah Corniche at dusk

Fujifilm X100T in Muscat, Oman

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…

 

Moonset over Mutrah
Moonset over Mutrah
On the beach #1

 

On the beach #2
On the beach #2
Incense Burner sunrise

 

Zeiss Loxia 21 in Muscat, Oman

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.

Mutrah corniche
Mutrah corniche
Mutrah souk
Mutrah souk
Mutrah souk
Mutrah souk
Mutrah souk
Mutrah souk
Mutrah corniche
Mutrah corniche
Mutrah corniche
Mutrah corniche
Grand Mosque sunset
Grand Mosque sunset
Grand Mosque
Grand Mosque
Grand Mosque blue hour
Grand Mosque blue hour
Grand Mosque blue hour
Grand Mosque blue hour

Some black and white images from Oman

This post is more or less a continuation of the last one, in the sense that the photos were taken during the same trip to Muscat, Oman. However, this time I want to describe how I came about making these images, and how they ended up like this, in black and white.

The first two photos were taken just outside my hotel, in a seaside walk that is flanked by some trees. On a late night walk, I noticed that some trees were in bloom (the frangipanis), and I imagined that they would make some interesting subjects at dawn. So I planned accordingly, and the next morning I woke up early and went out shooting. As a bonus, the sky was stormy and the light soft, providing and interesting background. I immediately thought that I had good material for black and white images. I ended up with a composition showing the whole tree, and another one showing branches “reaching” into the sky, and into each other. Some quick adjustments in Silver Effex, and all was done.

For the next pair, the story was different. These were taken in Wadi Bani Kharus, during a geological field trip in the mountains. I was excited to be back in an area that I know very well, having lived in Oman for 7 years. In terms of landscape, the Oman Mountains provide some of the most picturesque and rough scenery, almost primeval in character. It was late afternoon when we parked our vehicles near a small village. The houses hugging the mountainside, and the ridges against the sky, made for a very typical shot. On the way out, we caught the last rays of sunshine filtering through the haze, and silhouetting the ridges; to somehow enhance the primeval feel of the instant, I opted for an antique plate effect for the black and white conversion.

Looking at the images, they remind me of what it felt like taking that morning stroll, or being inside the mountain range.

The tree
The tree

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Village
Village
Ridges
Ridges

 

The ZEISS FE 35mm f2.8 lens in Muscat, Oman

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.

Relaxing
Relaxing
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Working
muscat_16_3_16_3_net
Colours
muscat_16_3_16_5_net
In the souk
muscat_16_3_16_6_net
The shop
muscat_16_3_16_10_net
Choices
muscat_16_3_16_11_net
The bag
muscat_16_3_16_14_net
Smell the incense
muscat_16_3_16_21_net
House and fort
muscat_16_3_16_23_net
Going down
muscat_16_3_16_24_net
Going up
muscat_16_3_16_27_net
Fishing
muscat_16_3_16_29_net
Waiting
muscat_16_3_16_30_net
Souvenirs
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Red power
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Underneath
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Repairs
muscat_16_3_16_37_net
The smile

 

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.

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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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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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