Top 18 of 2018

A few images from the trip to the island of Texel, in the north of the Netherlands. In February 2018 it was cold and snowy (-9 degrees, but a strong north-easter made it feel like it was twice as cold), and the circumstances for photography were great!

Texels prominent lighthouse at the Cocksdorp.
Dramatic skies were a theme of the week, as here on the beach at the Cocksdorp.

The Fujifilm X70

Several months ago I bought a secondhand Fujifilm X70. This little brother to the X100 had been on my radar when it was announced in January 2016, but back than I decided it was not something I could genuinly use. If you would categorise stuff into things I need for my photography job and things for fun, this would mostly fall in the fun category. Fast forward a bit: September last year we were hiking in the hills around lake Lugano, Italy, when we encountered a German hiker using the X70. Curiosity piqued, I asked to try it and got a chance to play with it a bit. Back on the radar it was. It took a few months to wait for a great deal on Marktplaats, but in January 2019, 3 years after it was announced, and 2 years after it was discontinued by Fujifilm, it entered my photography bag. As a ‘fun’ camera, but also as a great backup professional option for events (it shares the same 16 megapixel sensor of my old Fujifilm X-T1).

Some specs of the camera
The X70 features the same 16 megapixels APS-C sized sensor of the X-T1 and X-E2s. The lens is a wide-angle 18.5 mm lens that is newly designed for this camera. There is no viewfinder, but the screen is a flip-up screen that can tilt 180 degrees and is therefore selfie-friendly. While the 18.5 mm lens can be argued to be somewhat restrictive, digital teleconvertors to 35 and 50 mm are available in camera.

Fast forward a month, and we’re in Löf, Germany. My girlfriend and I decided to take a long weekend away from work in a hotel in this small town on the bank of the river Mosel. As I didn’t want to be bothered by a big camera bag and the need to change lenses all the time, it was a great opportunity of testing this newest acquisition.  I had with me the X70 with hood, a few spare batteries and a gorillapod tripod, carried in an old Billingham f4.5 bag.

My experience using the camera
Keep in mind that when I use a camera I tend to remember things that I find annoying, and take the great things for granted. This is also not a technical review, just a sum-up of the things I noticed on this camera that I consider to be good, or in need of improvement.

So, what was it like to use it? Well, it has its foibles, but in general, this little camera is quite nice to use. Its small size is definitely a plus on this kind of outings. It fits in a small pocket of the Billingham, it’s quick to take out and quick to use. During hikes I generally left it in my jacket pocket to keep it protected from the rain and keep my hands free. Taking it out and turning it on is a matter of seconds. As it is a fixed lens camera, an advantage is that you don’t need to think about focal length. It’s 18.5 mm, and that’s it! Autofocus is quick, but not superquick. Mostly it was accurate in finding focus, with maybe 10% miss (unscientific guess).

The Fuji X70 is the first camera that I use that has a touch screen (not counting a week with the OM-D E-M5 a few years back). I set it to ‘touch-to-focus’, and this works great. I was surprised how quick I got used to this, and how often I would try it on my X-T2 before realizing it didn’t work on that camera! This ‘touch-to-focus’ is unfortunately one of the few things that does not work in single-hand operation, as the left side of the screen cannot be reached by your fingers. Using one of the buttons for AF point selection as backup solves this, however.

One of the things I found I missed was a built-in ND filter. While of all the camera’s that I have owned, only the X100 has it, it’s really great for creating longer exposures of things like waterfalls. I didn’t have an ND-filter with me, and there were times I really would have liked a built-in one. No deal-breaker, but it would have been great!

Another thing that I really found annoying, is that when using the built-in electronic telecovertors (aside from image quility using this feature, which is not great), is that you first have to switch to Jpeg, than dive into menu’s to switch to the teleconvertor. All this takes a lot of time, and is an annoying process. I would rather see that you can select this function using a function button, and that the camera switches to Jpeg automatically. Now, the function is not available if you shoot RAW.

My first impression of the lens hood was that is was ugly. However, it is extremele functional and protected the lens from water droplets perfectly. I’ve grown used to it, and now I find it quite ok!

No separate charger for the batteries came with the camera, but you can charge the batteries in camera. I decided to try this, and left my own charger at home. A decision I regretted after the first day. I had to juggle charging all the USB powered electronic devices (phone, watch, camera) with just one USB charger, and an external charger for the camera would have been very useful. Mind you, had I thought about this a bit more I could also have taken with me more USB chargers. I still think, though, that it is more useful to charge batteries outside of the camera (which also allows you to keep the camera safe on a tabletop, instead of dangling from a USB cable near a power outlet).

Macro capabilities are ok. With 18.5 mm is not a focal length usually associated with macro, and with reason. I’ve used the camera for several close-up photos of mushrooms and leaves, and while the images are decent, it is difficult to get great separation between the subject and the background. Focusing can be acchieved as close as 10 cm away from the lens, but unfortunately Fuji haven’t given the camera a macro button/focus limiter. You just have to find the closest distance that works.

Image quality
While it was a joy to use during the weekend, the results on my computer were a bit disappointing. Maybe I’m just pixel peeping and overly critical, but I would have expected more from this image sensor. The images were somewhat flat, and when zoomed in sometimes not very sharp. It goes to show that image quality is definitely not related to the sensor alone, but to the sensor and the lens combined. Maybe this lens is just not on par with what I’ve come to expect of Fujifilm. Sure, it is almost certain, beforehand, that the XF 18 mm f/2.0 lens, which I love, would give me better image quality, but that the difference would be this large I didn’t expect. As Fujifilm tried to jam as much quality in a very small camera and lens, it should perhaps not have been surprising that they had to compromise some.

Conclusion
I had hoped that maybe I could take the Fujifilm X70, together with it’s wide-angle adapter, with me on our planned hike of the West Highland Way (8 days of hiking through the Scottish Highlands). It would have been ideal, considering its low weight and size. So the real question would be: do I still consider this camera good enough in image quality to take it on this trip? The answer, I’m afraid, is no. While this camera is very suitable for a weekend off with little hassle, seeing the images from the X70 before me on my computer screen convinces me that the image quality is not good enough to take with me on a journey from which I would like to take home stunning landscapes en great astrophotos. To do that, I will have to take with me more weight and choose for the X-T2, 12 mm samyang and 18-135 mm lens.

So, it is a bit of a mixed bag. A joy to use but a slight disappointment in image quality. Will I keep it? For the moment I’ll let it earn its place in my photographybag. It’s size, weight, and portablity make it an ideal camera to bring when you just want to do some casual photography or when you don’t want to bring a bag along. Image quality may be just a bit disappointing, but is good enough for these kind of occasions.

Some images below:

Taken during one of our hikes near the Mosel. Burg Eltz is one of the few remaining castles on the left bank of the Mosel, and is still in the hands of the original family that built it.
Taken on a hike to Ehrenburg. I had to decrease the aperture to f/16 and lower the ISO to 200 to get a shutter speed long enough to get movement in the waters. I could have used a built-in ND filter here!
This castle is located high above the town of Cochem and has a commanding view of the river below! Taken with the digital tele-convertor at 50 mm.
An attempt at macro-photography. The mushroom season was mostly gone, but in some wet areas they were still to be found. Taken from a distance of about 10 cm away from the mushroom at f/2.8.

The Top 18 of 2018

No Top 10, but a Top 18. This will give me a little more latitude in selecting images from 2018 that I consider the best, the most beautiful, or the most telling. Not that choosing 18 images will be much easier than choosing 10 images..

Last year we’ve travelled to Thailand, to Germany, to Belgium, to Schotland, to Sweden, to Italy, to Texel (twice) and to the Wadden Sea (twice). All of these travels were great occasions for taking photographs that can be added to this list, and then there are the images I take every week in The Netherlands. Making a selection among those will be a daunting task.

The final selection will probably not be based on one criterion. Some will be in the list because they are technically good. Some will be aesthetically pleasing. Others are just nice in some unexplainable way. Giving myself the freedom in this way will make the choices easier, I hope. Or more difficult..

The images in this Top 18 are made with several different cameras, as well as different lenses. Most will be taken with my trusty old Fujifilm X-T2, some will be taken with my Fujifilm X100 (the original), and I’ve seen a few images that might make it into this list that were taken with the waterproof Olympus TG-4. No iPhone photos as of yet, but I’m not excluding them beforehand.

Nr. 1: A ‘selfie’ at the north Swedisch town of Granö with the aurora in the background. This image is a composite of several. I chose this image because of its beauty, and because of the way I succeeded in blending the images together, creating a great selfie. Unfortunately, the image is quite grainy because of the difficult circumstances of photographing in almost complete darkness at minus 30 degrees Celsius.
Nr. 2: During our time in north Sweden, we took a tour dogsledding. At a temperature of minus 27 degrees Celsius, it was quite nippy, and batteries died quickly! Taken at a very small aperture (f/22) to create the sunstar. This image was chose because of its beauty, but also because of the experience of dogsledding at these temperatures and the difficulty of photographing in these circumstances.

Views of Venice

If you are like me, you take a lot of photographs. Professionally, certainly, but also when it’s just for fun. When coming home from a holiday, it’s not unusual for me to return with several SD cards filled to the brim with images. And then the ‘hard work’ begins. It takes time to sift through and edit up to 1500 images (Italy 2018), and it’s much less fun than taking them. Thus it happens that now (the end of January 2019) I’m finally finished selecting and editing the photographs from our holiday in September 2018. And that means: time to share some!

As even with a thorough first selection, some 700 images remain (I will cut this down to an even more rigorous selection later, for the customary photo-album), I will divide this holiday into sections, and start with Venice, where around a third of the images were taken. 

Venice is a photographers dream and nightmare all in one. It’s a magnificent place. Lots of old and impressive churches, buildings, bridges, canals, gondolas, lovely intimate squares … and a lot of tourists (myself included, of course). And the famous sights have all been done. The moving gondolas at the edge of Saint Mark’s square, the view of Saint Mark’s cathedral, the view of the Bridge of Sighs through the gaps in the bridge opposite (it’s hard to find a spot and take the time for your own photograph between all the selfie-stick wielding other tourists). It’s all been done, and shared online, by hundreds of other photographers, most better than myself.

The challenge is therefore to do something original. On the other hand, I’m there for fun, not for work, and if there are some cheesy photographs that have been done by hundreds of others, so what. Isn’t it still a challenge to make the same photograph as beautiful as I can make it? Below is therefore a mix of know places and images,  some that I consider more original, because the opportunity just appeared out of nowhere, and you maybe won’t find it on the instagram-pages of other photographers, and just some personal images that turned out nice. 

I’ve called this post ‘Views of Venice’, not just because the alliteration was nice, but because I intend to post a number of ‘Views of’ posts from placed I’ve visited, in the past and in the future. I hope you will enjoy the images as much as I enjoyed taking them! 

Just an ordinary holiday shot of the departure by Ferry at Punta Sabbioni, together with hundreds of other tourists, to Saint Mark’s square.
I guess this would fall under the description ‘it’s been done before’. The not so original view of the Bridge of Sighs. Still, it turned out quite nice, considering I had about 5 seconds before being hit on the head with a selfie stick and being shove aside by another tourist who decided I had been there long enough and his turn had come..
A more original shot of the Rialto Bridge than many, I think. I liked the combination of the sculpture, the pigeon and the gondolas.
Just a nice reflection on the way.
Trying to avoid the main road through the city, we tried this little alley, only to find that it was a dead end. It was a nice spot for a photograph though!
A view of an unoccupied gondola at Saint Mark’s square.
While having diner at a restaurant just far enough away from Saint Mark’s square not to be ridiculously overpriced, I noticed this still life with subtle reds.
I really liked this scene of my girlfriend photographing from the ferry pier. The red of the dress, the yellow of the lamps, and the blues of the water and sky made for a compelling image.
I really wanted to visit Venice at nice, and try to capture some sunset and blue hour images. Despite it being an overcast, misty and sometimes rainy day, our optimism was rewarded with this sunset.
THE cheesy image of Venice, the moving gondolas at Saint Mark’s square. Still, I quite liked how it turned out.
By just stabilising the camera to a wall, this image could be made with a rather low ISO and longer shutter speed.

Stargazing in Leiden

Somewhere this summer I started developing the idea for a new photography project. My attempt to photograph the Perseids in august showed that it was possible to see at least a few stars, despite the light pollution, in Leiden and surrounding area. In addition, a successful attempt to photograph the milky way in Spain also rekindled my interest in astrophotography.

I decided to see if it was possible to photograph the stars in the centre of Leiden city. The location that I wanted to try this was the Leiden Observatory, as this was a beautiful place on its own, but also closely connected to the stars. Photographing the stars at high ISO, large aperture, and long shutter speeds as I had done in Spain to capture the milky way was not possible in Leiden as it would lead to severe overexposure of the observatory in the foreground. Reducing exposure to an amount not overexposing the foreground would lead to loss of stars in the background. I decided the best course of action would be to do startrails.

The question of timing was also important. During summer and autumn sunset was late, which meant having to wait very long until it was completely dark. The warmth also kept a lot of moisture in the air, which often resulted in a haze above the city. Needing a clear and moonless night also added to the problem of finding the right night. However, last week the temperature suddenly dropped drastically and as the sun set at around 16:40 PM, the sky was sufficiently dark at around 17:30 to start with startrails.

My last startrail attempt had been quite a while ago, and I therefore assumed I would make a lot of mistakes and was glad I had a backup attempt the day after (which was also clear and cold, after that the clouds and warmth would start creeping in again). As a one-and-a-half-hour exposure would also lead to over exposure of the observatory, and in addition cause a lot of noise on the image, I decided to take individual 30s exposure images and stack these later in photoshop.

My setup was the XT-1 with Samyang 12 mm f/2.0. This meant manual focus, but as I was working on tripod and only had to focus once, this wasn’t much of a problem. After some test shots, I set the Samyang to f/4.0 and selected a shutter speed of 30 seconds at ISO 200, set the camera to continuous, attached my remote shutter release, locked the shutter button and prepared myself for 90 minutes of waiting in what turned out to be the coldest November night since 1998.

As my feet slowly froze to a state of numbness I started to see more and more stars and decided that my attempt might actually work out well. Until this moment I had seriously considered that light pollution could ruin the entire exercise. It didn’t, but I did start to notice other problems. In my enthusiasm to photograph the observatory I hadn’t really considered in what direction I was pointing the camera, I had just chosen the best viewing angle. By fortunate coincidence the direction I chose was north, meaning that Polaris was in my image and the stars started circling nicely around it. I was saved by the stars, so to speak (note to self: always check a compass). However, as the minutes on the timer creeped by, one problem that I hadn’t considered presented itself: Schiphol Amsterdam Airport is just north of Leiden, and one plane after another started to make its descent right through my frame. After the third plane went straight overhead and curved gracefully to the northwest, I decide that cursing didn’t help much, and resigned myself to an image filled with not just startrails, but planetrails..

One hour and 15 minutes later found my toes non responsive and my fingers numb, despite the double gloves, so I decided to call it a night. Getting home, my toes slowly returned to a normal temperature while I loaded all images first into Lightroom to convert the raw files and then into photoshop to create the startrail. Google was my friend and after checking up the stacking procedure I started to work. It is possible to merge all images at the same time, but this would also include all trails made by airplanes, so instead I opted for the more time and effort consuming course of merging all images manually after removing the airplanetrails. I also chose the best foreground and made sure that during merging all other foregrounds were lost. In the end I created two images: one with the planetrails, and one without. A very time consuming process, which, to be honest, I had to repeat twice to create an image I was satisfied with.

It was very satisfying to finally being able to complete an idea that had been months in the making and then to see it completed well! When I started in the cold, I had no idea if it would work, and even during the recording there is no way of knowing how the image would work out, as all you see are individual 30s exposures. The final result was worth every bit of effort and time however!

A few notes for next time: do not forget a flashlight. Do not forget to put a lens hood on the lens (I had forgotten to put it in the bag), as light may reflect on the wide angel lens, causing ugly reflections on the photo’s that are difficult to remove. Check the direction to shoot (north is of course best because you see the stars circle around Polaris). Check the lunar calendar: no moon is best. I had a lot of help planning this shoot from the TPE and PhotoPills apps. Also, wear snowboots. And take something with you to keep you occupied during the long exposure. Check the direction of the wind (windless is of course nice for reflections in water) in connection with the runway direction of Schiphol.
I did go again next day, but the image was not as nice as the first one, which is still my favorite! Less wind however, so better reflections and less airplanes. However, this time I was disturbed by a few boats full of people that sailed every 30 minutes through my frame. It can’t be 100% perfect I guess..

Yes, of course I’m going to show you the images, they’re below!

First day, planes removed
First day, planes removed

First day, with planes
First day, with planes

The second day
The second day

 

Perseid Payback

After my not so successful attempt at capturing the Perseids, I decided a little payback was in order. As it happens, I am currently residing in the beautiful village of Sa Tuna, at the Costa Brava. It turns out there’s much less light pollution here (no sh*t), and this week the clouds have only been conspicuous by their total absence. The only drawback: the best view and the least light was at the top of the local 170 meter hill, and I had to assemble the courage to climb it after a copious three course meal, including wine and a dessert containing whisky. Yesterday I finally did it, after putting it off for a few days. I definitely enjoyed the trip, and the results!

Midnight selfie!
Midnight selfie!

Chasing de Perseids

Saturday, 2:30 am. The moment the alarm goes of I heartily curse my notion to go out to see and hopefully photograph the Perseids. For one moment I hope that the weather conditions have suddenly changed, that there is now cloud cover, and that I can go back to bed. A quick look out of the window shows it is not to be. I’m awake now anyway, so let’s do this!

According to the internet, the meteor shower called the Perseids would be on its peak on the night of thursday august 12. Heavy cloud cover and rain ruined any plans for a nightly expedition, but now, 24 hours later, all clouds have disappeared and conditions are much more favourable. A table I found showed that around 3-4 am the meteors would be highest in the sky at around 55 degrees east.

Even at 3 am, the night was pleasantly warm. In the region around Leiden, light pollution is always a major problem for night time photography, so I decided to go to the nearby lake in the hope that light pollution would be minimal there. I was pleasantly surprised that I could see some stars, but not near the horizon, where light was indeed an issue.

During the time I was there I saw perhaps 5, maybe 6, falling stars. It was pretty impressive. Capturing them on a photograph was another matter unfortunately. As this was the night before our holiday, my trusty XT-1 and 12 mm Samyang lens, which I would normally use, were already on the way to northern Spain. So I decided to try out my new Fuji X100..

After some experimentation, I decided to set the camera to around 25 seconds, f/4 at 5000 iso. This did result in star movement, but as I was interested in falling stars I considered this not to be a problem. After setting it to continuous, I could sit back and enjoythe stars.
In all, the camera performed very well. Even in the dark (I did have a red flashlight) I could find most settings fast, and the camera reacted quickly. However, the 35 mm lens is obviously not the best focal distance for astrophotography. Pointing the camera to a section in the sky where the last falling star was seen, did not result in succes, as the next star always fell in another section.

As early next morning I would follow my XT-1 to Spain, after an hour or so, I decides to call it a night and get some leftover sleep. One final shot from a light polluted windmill became the hotshot of the night. In all, it was a useful night to get to know the Fuji X100; not so useful for the photography of falling stars. Let’s try some more in Spain, where there are bound to be more stars visible!

DSCF2166-l
Light pollution can be a beautiful thing

A new FOP portrait

As of this spring, I’m busy with a personal project involving portrait photography. I’ve entered the ‘Dam tot Damloop’, a running competition in Amsterdam, to raise awareness and collect money for the disease FOP (www.fopstichting.nl). By photographing friends in return for sponsorship, I hope to increase my portrait skills (which are near to nonexistent at the moment) and achieve this sponsoring aim at the same time. A few portraits have allready been done, and yesterday another was added: Elise. All portraits can be found here here.

Elise
Elise

Becalmed

Last weekend we encountered some unusual weather while sailing on the Markermeer, near the city of Hoorn. While the original forecast was for sun and zero wind, when we sailed out of the harbour, instead of clear skies and sun we sailed right into a pearly white foggy landscape. The water was like a mirror and almost the same colour as the sky, making the horizon disappear in some places. The few ships sailing before us seemed to be floating in nothing.

It was a beautiful sight in itself, but when a group of geese chose that moment to cross the lake, a photograph that would have been a nice photo because of the weather condition, suddenly became special.

Blog_WIIFIT1 BLOG_WIIFIT2

A trip to the north

Last week my girlfriend and I travelled to the city of Umeå in northern Sweden. Because she is going to live there for a while, most of our baggage space was used for her stuff, but I did manage to cram some of my equipment into the Loka used as cabin luggage. My small insert was filled with my XT-1, the 16-55 2.8, and the 12, 18 and 35 mm primes. A small table top tripod was hidden somewhere in the bag. As it happened, I could have left the primes at home, as I didn’t touch them during our stay.

Photographically speaking, my intentions were kind of vague. I wanted to enjoy the weekend together and not focus on my camera the whole time. I also wanted, if I got the chance, to test the 16-55 a bit in terms of quality, versatility and handling. And I wanted to come back with a few keepers. Turns out I did all that.

My original intention was to bring a full sized tripod in our main luggage, but since both our packs were already close to their maximum weight, we decided to leave it at home at the last minute. Imagine my feelings when on Sunday evening we found out (after consulting several apps and a local facebook group) that it was the perfect moment to try and see the northern lights. After waiting until it was completely dark we walked a short distance to the nearby lake (Nydalasjön), where we imaged the best view would be. And boy were we rewarded.

I had been in northern Sweden before, but cloud cover spoiled every chance of seeing the Aurora on that occasion. This time we hadn’t really prepared, but were just lucky. From the frozen lake we had a beautiful view of the northern sky and from the moment we were there to the moment we left (some 90 minutes later), we were mesmerized by the array of colours displayed. I thanked my impulse to bring the table top tripod with me and managed some decent shots. It was a beautiful night.

The northern lights from Nydalasjön
The northern lights from Nydalasjön

Another shot of the northern lights
Another shot of the northern lights

 

Apart from some nice ice sculptures caused by melting, I didn’t really use the camera much the next days, until during my flight home (sadly having to leave my girlfriend in Umeå) I had an eight hour stopover in Stockholm. Here I could focus on photography, but the keepers were elusive until I reached the royal palace in the Gamla Stan. Pools of water had formed in front of the palace’s façade and it was a nice photographic puzzle to combine the reflection of the palace with the guards in front of it. I ended up with a few keepers. This was also the first time I used the Fuji profile ‘classic chrome’ extensively, and I enjoyed the results.

My first keeper from Stockholm; the Royal Palace
My first keeper from Stockholm; the Royal Palace

The guard in front of the Royal Palace
The guard in front of the Royal Palace

So, how fared the 16-55? Well, the image quality was superb. There is not much to say about it, other than that, since I used it at smaller apertures most of the time, the 18-135 and 18-55 probably could have made similar images. I did enjoy the wider view of 16 mm though, and this was definitely a pro. One of the main reasons I chose the 16-55 instead of the 18-55 (which is, let’s be honest, a lot more portable) is the weather sealing. This could be a huge bonus in the cold and wet north of Sweden, but on this occasion I didn’t really need it.

I used the 16-55 with the large XT-1 grip, so the whole package was rather hefty. I didn’t feel much of a difference with the 18-135 though (although if you weigh the two options, you’ll probably find a few hundred grams difference), and it never became a problem or even a bother. If you really want to travel light, the 18-55 would be a better option, but the relatively slow aperture at tele and the maximum wide angle of 18 mm would be a drawback. If I can find a relatively cheap 18-55 I may decide to add it to my lens collection, since the light weight and compact form make it the ideal travel lens when little space is available (for instance my trip to Rome in june).

Did I miss the 18-135? (I had to sell that lens to finance the 16-55). There were a few times I missed a bit of reach (while photographing wild reindeer in the fields north of Umeå the 135 mm would have come in handy), but all in all: no. The image quality and the 16 mm wide angle (which I found I used more than extreme tele) were to me enough to warrant the switch.

So, a nice stay in northern Sweden, some nice keepers for the collection, mixed with the sad feeling of missing my girlfriend for some time. And the northern lights as a bonus!