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.

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View of shooting location

 

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Star trail of around 120 minutes total

 

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Milky Way panorama – 8 photos

 

 

 

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

Two similar images, different interpretations

Today I want to share a couple of photos that I took recently, as an example of how just a small difference in viewpoint  can have a large impact on the final result. I was driving to the town of Odemira, in Alentejo Province (South Portugal) (subject of my previous post) in the early morning, when I noticed the landscape by the side of the road. What caught my attention was that with the arrival of Spring, the fields are getting some more colour, in this case reds and greens. Together with the blue sky and some wispy clouds, the colour palette was simple and nice.

So I stopped the car and walked into the field, trying to look for interesting framings. Photo #1 is probably a type of photo that most would click: colourful field, typical house farm against the sky, classic Alentejo image. I then started thinking about something different, exploring different viewpoints. Hence photo #2; as it turned out, I just rotated my angle of view to the right of the previous framing, basically eliminating the farm house.

To me, photo #2 is more about the idea of Spring, just the open fields, colours, and the sky. It could have been taken anywhere, as there is no more a cultural or geographical registration or identity. This is a type of photography that is less immediate, and a bit more challenging.

So, when out an about looking to photograph familiar places under a different interpretation, think about this example, hope it helps.

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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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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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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.

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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 http://starcircleacademy.com/quick-tips/

Below are some examples I took in Southwest Portugal.

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