I like to photograph the Moon one day before it is full, because it rises a few minutes before sunset. During that small amount of time, there is still some natural daylight that permits to photograph the Moon in a nice way. After the sun sets, and with the increasing darkness, it is more difficult to photograph the Moon over the landscape and avoid it becoming overexposed.
One location where I sometimes go to take such photos is Cabo Sardão, in the Alentejo coast. As the Moon rises in the sky, it crosses behind the lighthouse, making for interesting compositions. I arrived about 1 hour before sunset, and took a few photos of the area. I had only brought my telephoto lens, a Fujinon 70-300mm, plus a tripod. The warm light was basking the cliff rocks in great golden tones.
This coastal area is well known for the white storks, that come here to nest. At the end of July, they have gone away, leaving the nests empty. I found one nest where a lonely feather had remained; others are now occupied by seagulls.
Soon the Moon appeared above the horizon, and I took some initial photos. A few moments later, the lighthouse keeper turned on the light, and I shot a series of frames for later assembly into a panorama.
I continued to shoot, changing my position frequently, so I could frame the Moon behind the building. I wanted to play with the concept of having both lights in the same picture.
I also wanted a photo where the beam of the lighthouse would be (apparently) hitting the Moon. This was more challenging, and required a precise timing, as the light would be spinning around. After a few tries, I got the image I wanted.
I made a few more shots and then called it a day, or rather, called it a night? It was another enjoyable photo session, in this beautiful region.
The number of third – party lenses for Fujifilm’s X mount has been increasing in the last few years, and Voigtlaender has already introduced several of them, including this fast 35mm lens, which provides a standard/normal angle of view for the APSC format. As many other Voigtlaender lenses available for other mounts (e.g. VM for Leica M), this is actually made by Cosina. This is similar to other famous names in photographic lenses; for example, many Zeiss lenses are also made by Cosina (think Loxia for Sony E and ZM for Leica M). The bottom line is that all of them are manual focus only and made to very high standards.
To try out the lens, I mounted it on my Fujifilm X-T4 and went to one of my favourite places in Portugal’s SW coast, near Almograve and Cavaleiro villages. This is not a lens test, as I am no expert. I have simply used the lens under various circumstances, checking the results for aspects like bokeh, transition between in-focus and out-of-focus zones, flaring, contrast, colours, etc. Even though it is a very fast lens (f/1.2), it is quite small, thanks to the APSC format and lack of AF and IS motors. Regarding the details on how to manually focus the lens, all the assists in the X-T4 worked without problems; you can use magnification, split prism, microprism, and peak highlight. Given that my subjects were static, I was in not hurry, so I mostly used magnification.
I have organized this article by topics, so lets start with the first one.
Bokeh and focus transition
From some of the comments and samples that I had researched prior to my experience with the lens, I already knew a few things about it. The photos I got confirmed that the lens, when used wide-open (say between f/1.2 – f/2), is not clinically sharp, and shows some “glow” around the edges of the focused subject. This combination delivers a unique look, which I think is adequate for portraits. I have seen this look in other lenses that I used before, like the Zeiss C Sonnar 50mm f/1,5 ZM and the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2. Basically, the optical aberrations of the lens are under-corrected when used wide-open and near wide-open. As the aperture is stopped down, this “glow” effect goes away and sharpness increases. It is almost like you get two lenses in one.
I have shot Raw and processed the files via two steps: the first one was using Iridient to convert RAF to DNG, and then using Lightroom (LR) on those (I have an old LR version that does not recognize the Raf files from my cameras). Processing in LR is my usual one, starting with Provia “film choice”, followed by simple adjustments to the basic parameters. I really like the rich but natural colours from the lens, plus the excellent contrast.
Below we can the first example I shot, a marker of the Fishermen’s Trail in the Vicentina Route, near Cabo Sardão. Timing was the onset of the golden hour before sunset. This is a focus distance that might represents a close portrait; the background shrub is very close to the wood marker. It is also worth mentioning that the aperture features a 12-bladed diaphragm, and that as we stop down, its shape becomes well defined. I like the transition between the focused and non-focused areas.
The second scene features a football pitch in the foreground and the Cabo Sardão lighthouse in the background. I have focused on the letters in the bench, which were around 2 or 3 m away from my position. It could represent a half-body to full body portrait, for example.
Finally, my third scene was shot in the coastal dunes near Almograve, at sunrise. I chose the nice flowers blooming around. What we see is the lens behaving similarly to the scenes above.
The second aspect I want to mention is flare. Given the lens is under-corrected by design (when used wide-open, and I think similar to what Cosina does with their “Classic” line of VM lenses), I was actually expecting a worse result than the one I obtained.
I used the same area with the flowers as above, and shot against the rising sun. One photo with the sun in the upper left corner, almost outside of the frame; and another photo with the sun right in the frame, shining directly on the lens. In both cases I see that the flower is still clear, with no loss of contrast. This is a very good result, and I will have no issues with shooting against the sun. It is important to mention that flare depends on how clean the lens (or filter) is; any particle of dust or any smudge will increase the likelihood of inducing lens flare. I had the lens hood mounted as well. This would be a good time to mention that I saw no chromatic aberrations also, which is good.
The third characteristic of the lens I wanted to check is its capability of producing nice sun stars. For that, I went to Odemira for a very early photo session.
Below are two examples shot at f/8 in Odemira, where very nice stars can be seen on the street lamps.
Finally, I leave you with a few more image samples taken during my time with this lens. In conclusion, for my typical use cases, I find this lens to be excellent: small, light, robust, easy to use, and with very high (and unique in some aspects) image quality. I do not mind that wide open the lens shows “glow” and less than razor sharpness, because when I take portraits, I am not after forensic detail. For landscapes and general photography, at f/2.8 and above, the lens provides more “modern look” results. One of the things I enjoyed when I was using the Sony E system several years ago was the Zeiss Loxia range of lenses; they were small and very high quality too. I am glad to see that Cosina/Voigtlaender are investing on a similar approach for Fujifilm X. And I hope they release a nice wide-angle landscape lens next.
The following photos were taken during a recent visit to one of my favorite beaches in the SW Alentejo coast in Portugal, Brejo Largo. I usually visit this beach several times every year, and I have written about it many times before. Located between the villages of Almograve and Vila Nova de Milfontes, this beach is still very quiet, thanks to the absence of a black top road. Summer is not my preferred time of the year to photograph it, because the sky is usually cloudless, but on this occasion I decided to carry my photo backpack with me; the reason being a low tide at sunset.
After spending a wonderful day at the beach, I grabbed my backpack and tripod, and walked along the shoreface. The tide was so low that it was possible to access by foot several other beaches to the south. The geology in tis area is spectacular, with the cliff faces displaying dark Paleozoic schists that are vertical and folded. Numerous quartz veins cut the rock and in places the water runoff creates a strong red and orange iron oxide mineralization.
For this visit I had with me my Fujifilm X-T3 camera and Fujinon 16mm f/1.4 wide angle lens, which I knew was adequate for this beach. This lens also has some useful close focus abilities, that allow concentrating in a few interesting details of the rocks. I leave you with a collection of the photos I made that afternoon.
We have all seen the news about the ravaging forest fires in Canada, and the resulting enormous associated volume of smoke particles. Propelled by winds, these clouds of smoke have travelled all the way to Europe, arriving in continental Portugal at the end of June. At the time, I was spending a few days in the SW coast of Alentejo, and I had the opportunity to photograph the sunset under these special conditions. Because the light of the sun had to cross this thick dust layer, its color became more intense, while the sky acquired a greyish-purple hue. After a few days, the skies cleared, but this phenomenon remains a strong reminder of the consequences of larger periods of heat and drought that affect our planet.
Walking along a nearby rural road, I took several photos using my 70-300mm telephoto lens, as I wanted the sun to be relatively large in the frame.
This past couple of months I visited a few locations where these birds nest, along the SW coast of Portugal. I have written about them already this year, for example in this post:
Since my previous visit, the females have laid their eggs, and the young ones have been born. I was lucky to find one nest with a young bird, and spend some time taking a few photos with my Fujifilm X-T4 and Fujinon 70-300mm lens. The weather was a bit hazy, with occasional sunshine, but really strong winds, thanks to storm Oscar, which affected Portugal last week. As always, I recommend exercising due care when approaching the edge of these coastal cliffs.
The first photos shown below were taken in May, during a previous visit, when the females had already laid their eggs. One month later, the juveniles had ben born.
Hopefully, next year they will return to this place, occupying the same nests, and ensuring their story has a future.
After a break of about 1 month, during which I visited the Serra da Estrela region in central Portugal, I went back on the trail in the Rota Vicentina. This time, I chose route 18, which I had never walked before. This is a circular trail located near Bordeira, connecting this village to the coast (see map below).
I walked this trail about 2 weeks ago, in a nice sunny afternoon. The trail starts in Bordeira, a small village near the coast, from where other trails begin, such as route 17, which I have written about before. The path is well signaled and is easy to follow. It offers a mix of hilly terrain, where schist predominates (covered with the green shrubbery of Spring), and sand closer to the shore. Since I was doing this walk for the first time, I carried my Fujifilm cameras and lenses, namely my 16mm wide angle and my 70-300mm telezoom.
During the first couple of km, the track climbs a small hill, before descending into the Bordalete valley. Here, you will pass near a farm house, on the way to the coast. The building is a bit ruined, but the fields are still cultivated.
Leaving Bordalete behind, the trail climbs again, until it reaches the plateau. The views encompass the Serra de Monchique to the south, plus the first glimpses of the sea in the distance. Soon I reach the dunes where the walk is now over soft sand, making for a slower progress. I spend some time photographing the local flowers, which add some color to the landscape.
Reaching the coast, the view opens up into a continuous stretch of wild beaches, between Carrapateira in the south and Arrifana in the north. This is the Vicentina Coast at its best. My advice? Bring your swimming trunks.
The trail follows the shoreline for a while, before turning back into the interior. It then crosses another interesting place, the Bordalete pine forest, which was planted in the sand dunes as a source of wood. The afternoon is warm, so the shade they provide is welcomed.
Further along, the trail once more passes next to the Bordalete farm, where a shepherd is gathering the live stock (cows, sheep, and goats) at the end of another day.
The final part of the walk was made under a cloudy sky, and follows a fertile valley full of purple flowers. The buzzing of the bees is constant. I stop to photograph a few more flowers, which requires waiting for the wind to subside before clicking the shutter.
I very much enjoyed this trail, because of the diversity of the terrain, with a mix of countryside and beaches. As Spring turns into Summer, with the concurrent rise in temperature, the trail season in SW Portugal is approaching its end, but perhaps I will manage to walk a few more routes.
This article is an addendum to the previous one about Serra da Estrela. When driving back home after spending a few days in that region, I decided to make a small detour to a place that I have been wanting to visit for a long time, the village of Piodão. Its location is shown in the map below. I started the drive in Seia, and even though the road between it and Piodão is full of hairpin turns, the landscape is memorable. The Serra do Açor lies to the south of Serra da Estrela, almost as an extension of it; we continue to be inside the tall mountains of central Portugal.
These mountains display a gentle profile, as the hard granite of Estrela gives way to the softer schist. In the distance, one can see the small and dispersed villages in the slopes of the mountains, hidden near deep valleys.
The road hugs the mountainous terrain, and progress is slow. But this is fine, because time seems to have slowed down in this region. I stop a few times to take some photos, because every turn opens up a new panorama. Spring has arrived in full force, so the slopes and escarpments are covered in green, which is nice.
Piodão is a very old village, one of the several that remain inside the Serra do Açor and the nearby Serra da Lousã. It is part of a network of historical villages (called “aldeias de xisto”), created years ago in an attempt to stop the human desertification that affected this interior part of the country. In the past, the economy of the region was based in agriculture and pasture; today, these still exist, but have been surpassed by tourism, as the number of visitors grows steadily. People come here to experience an almost lost but traditional way of living, where human activity respects the cycles of Nature.
It is Saturday, I arrive around 10 am, the parking lot is full and there are a few tourist buses. Piodão is definitely on the map. Still, after parking the car, I walk around for a while, climbing the hill opposite the village to get a sense of its surroundings. This happens to be a nice place for a general photo. The houses, built from the local black schist rock, are notched in the slope of the mountain, and terraces have been created to provide agricultural grounds.
I spend the next couple of hours walking along the village’s narrow streets, admiring the houses and the local way of living. Water is abundant, coming straight down from the mountain.
There are a few trails that start from here, and for sure I will return to further explore this beautiful region of the Serra do Açor.
A few weeks ago I visited Serra da Estrela, in central Portugal, during several days. In one of the days, my plan was to trek between Lagoa Comprida and Covão dos Conchos, but the weather was uncooperative; the fog was so dense the visibility was near zero. I had the chance to go back last week, and this time it was possible to walk along this wonderful trail. A location map is given below.
Located at an altitude of around 1,600 m, Lagoa Comprida is an artificial lake in the municipality of Seia, created by a dam that was initially built in 1912; the structure underwent several updates since then. Covão dos Conchos is another artificial lake, built in 1955, about 5 km away, that recently has become famous due to a particular structure, but that is for later. These two dams are part of the larger water storage and management system that exists in Serra da Estrela.
It is easy to reach Lagoa Comprida from several surrounding towns, like Seia, Gouveia, Manteigas and Covilhã. The mountain roads are often narrow but are kept in a good conservation state. The day dawned with a persistent fog, so I decided not to risk it again, and only went up around noon, when the weather started to clear. I started the drive from Seia, on the western slope of the mountain. Serra da Estrela is the highest mountain in continental Portugal, so after a few km, the road starts to climb steadily, until it reaches the plateau in Lagoa Comprida. Along the way, the views are breathtaking, and the air is fresh and crisp.
The trail starts on the left side of the souvenir/coffee shop, and is very easy to follow. The scenery is dominated by the deep blue water of the lake, which contrasts with the rugged granitic landscape. Some menacing clouds loom on the horizon, adding a touch of drama. When the ice from the last ice age melted, it left behind fractured granite outcrops, and glacial erratic blocks; today, the cycles of freezing and thawing continue to fracture the rock, creating a unique landscape in Portugal.
I put my camera to good use, and took many photos of this wonderful landscape. I decided to take with me only one lens, the Fujinon 33mm f/1.4, mounted on the Fujifilm X-T4 camera. I think a lens with a standard focal length is a good option for this area. Given the rugged character of the granitic terrain, I also converted some images to black and white.
In contrast with the ruggedness of the landscape, a few patches of blooming flowers add color to the scene. Typical springtime in the mountain.
After a leisurely walk, I arrive at Covão dos Conchos; in local parlance, “covão” is a depression, or pit. In this case, a small dam was built to store the water coming from a nearby creek. But what attracts people to this place is the “funnel”, a circular spillway structure that was built in the lake. From above, it looks like a portal into another world. In fact, it is part of an underground channel that carries the water from Conchos to Lagoa Comprida. I walk around the area for a while, taking photos from different places.
It is certainly a different and very interesting photographic subject. The small lake, surrounded by granite outcrops is also beautiful. The only sounds I hear are the wind, the water running in the creek, and the cacophony made by hundreds of frogs in mating season. Nature at its best.
After a while, it is time to go back. I stop several times to climb some boulders, so that I can admire the panoramic views. In a small pond I found a local species of newt catching the sunshine; with its green and orange colors, it is very well disguised in the middle of the grass.
I was glad I was able to finally walk this trail in the heart of Serra da Estrela, a truly magical place. On the way back to Seia, I made an extra stop to visit another local attraction in the village of São Romão. This is a large granite boulder that has been eroded and shaped like an “old woman’s head”. It does look the part from the right angle. It was a nice way to finish this fantastic day.
For our final day in Serra da Estrela, the plan was to do trek PR1 near the city of Manteigas. This route is circular and short, around 3 km, but crosses wonderful areas, such as the Poço do Inferno waterfall (in the Leandres creek), and some dense forests. The map below shows the general location.
Manteigas is a city located in the valley of the Zêzere river valley, which starts its journey in the Serra da Estrela. The road to Manteigas generally follows this river, and crosses agricultural lands and forests, surrounded by the steep mountains. In marked contrast with the previous day, the weather was clear, with a balmy temperature and a deep blue sky.
From Manteigas, it is a short drive to the starting point of the trail; the road is quite narrow with a few hairpin curves, so be careful. However, there are a couple of places where it is possible to stop and admire the view over the valley below.
The route starts in the car park and is easy to follow. The first part is challenging, as the path is narrow and rocky, climbing next to the course of the Leandres creek. Over millions of years, the water has cut through the hard outcropping rocks, which are metamorphic quartzites. I stop a few times along the way, to admire the views.
The highest point of the trail is reached at the head of the gorge, after which the path crosses the creek in a small wooden bridge, surrounded by a shaded forest. After the climb, it is a nice place to rest for a while and refresh in the cool water.
Leaving the steeper terrain behind, the route then enters a beautiful forest, where oaks, chestnuts, beeches and Oregon pines dominate. The silence is only disturbed by the song of numerous birds.
The final part of the trail is made over the blacktop road, until it reaches the Poço do Inferno waterfall viewpoint. A short walkway allows direct access to the waterfall, where one can see the rushing water and the pools below. Even though it is almost noon, most of the falls remain in the shade; in really cold winters, this waterfall freezes.
After lunch in Manteigas, we start the long drive back home. During the last 4 days, we had the opportunity of visiting and experiencing some of the wildest areas of this Natural Park, together with old historical villages. Much more remains to be seen, and for sure we will return to this magical land.
The plan for the third day of our trip was to walk the trail between Lagoa Comprida and Covão dos Conchos, in the heart of the mountain. After breakfast, we drove to the town of Seia, from where it is easy to reach the starting point, via the village of Sabugueiro. The weather was overcast, with a heavy cloud cover. Our concerns were confirmed once we reached Sabugueiro, which was enveloped in fog. Given that the trail route is at an altitude in excess of 1500 m , the presence of fog was bad news.
Still we persisted and continued driving up the road. When we arrived at the Lagoa Comprida, a lake created by a dam, the visibility was near zero. The wind was strong and freezing, and in such conditions, we decided not to walk this trail. Even though the path was easy and we had the GPS track, there was no point in doing it. I walked around for a while and took a few photos of the landscape in the fog.
We drove back to Seia and quickly devised an alternative plan for the day. Fortunately there is no lack of interesting places to visit, given the abundance of historical villages in the region. In Seia itself, we visited the Bread Museum, which tells the story of bread and its importance since pre-historic times. In the area assigned to poetry and literature about bread, there is a corner dedicated to Fernando Pessoa, the great Portuguese poet of the 20th century. There is even a rare first edition of his book “Mensagem”, the only one that was published while he was still alive. The book is displayed on top of his writing desk, together with a coffee cup from Brasileira, his favorite coffee house in Lisbon. It was interesting to find these rare pieces in a museum outside of a large city.
From Seia, we decided to visit a few other historical villages, such as Castelo de Linhares da Beira and Celorico da Beira. Near Celorico, another interesting place is the pre-historic necropolis of São Gens.
The weather continued to be cold and dark, which actually suited the character of the landscape and the constant presence of granite. Arriving in Castelo de Linhares da Beira, the silhouette of its castle dominated the surroundings.
As with all villages in the region, the history of Linhares is lost in the mists of time. The first settlement in the top of the hill is dated from around 850 b.C., before the Roman occupation of the territory. Then came periods of occupation by the Visigoths and Arabs, before the Christian reconquer. In 1169 a.C. King Afonso Henriques grants the village its first charter. We have a quick picnic lunch in the nearby woods, and then proceed to walk along the narrow streets, where the wind blows and the rain starts to fall.
This village, as many others, only comes to life during the summer, when the emigrants return to spend their vacations. For now, it seems like a ghost town, but the weather is also not inviting to go out. Linhares is also famous for hosting paragliding events, which makes sense, given its location in altitude and favorable wind conditions.
From Linhares to Celorico da Beira is a short drive. Celorico is considered the capital of the Serra cheese, a regional product that is quite famous. Therefore, a visit to the “Solar do Queijo”, in the main square near the castle, is mandatory. There, you can learn about how this delicacy is made, and of course buy it in the local shop. As with Linhares, the history of Celorico also starts in pre-historic times, with successive occupations by Romans, Visigoths, Arabs, and Christians. It is worth visiting the castle and admire the views over the Mondego river valley and the succession of mountain ranges towards Spain. With the advance of the afternoon, finally a little bit of sunshine starts to come through.
Near Celorico there is a very interesting place to visit, which is the necropolis of São Gens. Located in the granitic plain, this is a location where evidences of human settlements have remained until the present day. These include 7000 years neolithic tombs, and remnants of Roman and medieval houses. These are close to a geological monument that consists of a granite block in precarious equilibrium on top of another one. The combined effect of meteoric agents has resulted in the erosion of the bottom of the granite block, creating this particular peduncular shape. I walk around taking some photos, having to wait here and there for the sun to break through the clouds. When that happens, the light acquires a dramatic character, illuminating my subjects against a dark menacing sky. It is easy to imagine our ancestors living in this area, perhaps also admiring and wondering about how this granite shape was originated.
With the end of the day approaching, we had no regrets about cancelling the trail from our original plan; with a region so rich with cultural and historical routes, it is easy to find interesting places to visit and experience.