A trip down camera lane

Phew, I managed a new post without waiting a whole year! The truth is, I would like to put my work out into the world, but I’m not quite sure how to go about it. Social media, a blog.. Still working on this.

However, this was not what I wanted to talk about.
Ever since the Fujifilm X-E1 was launched in 2012, and I sold my Canon 5Dii, Fujifilm has been my main camera system. New generations of camera’s have been presented every few years, with the recently the newest of the family, the Fujifilm X-H2(s). Two cameras that are the ultimate in speed (X-H2s) and resolution (X-H2). As I’m mainly shooting with the X-H1, which is ancient in camera terms, being announced in 2018, and is still only a toddler in autofocus speed, I am sometimes tempted to upgrade to a newer, faster camera. The X-H2s, with a stacked sensor, is the speed king, but is way too expensive for me. The X-H2, which is slightly more affordable, is no slouch either. Both have a larger grip, which I have come to prefer over the years for professional use, and have an autofocus system which is more than sufficient for what I use my cameras for (let’s be honest, the X-H1 is already managing quite nicely). What’s keeping me back for now are the costs, and the fact that both cameras have a fully-articulating rear display instead of the excellent flipscreen that the X-H1 had, and which I prefer for photography.

What this mental discussion about autofocus speeds and megapixels is clouding, however, is that for most situations, those things are not necessary. I’ve managed perfectly well for many years with the X-T1, X-T2, and X-H1, with both of the latter cameras still very much in use! To drive this point home to myself, for the past few days I’ve been taking the original Fujifilm X100 with me on my daily walk. This camera was launched in September 2010, and has become something of a classic. Its a tortoise compared to modern hares, it misses many of the handy upgrades Fuji has added to the ergonomics in later cameras, but it is still a solid camera, and, handled well, it is still capable of taking great photographs. If anything, the process of photography is even more enjoyable, because you are not helped by ai-processing and eye-tracking, but have to think for yourself (there are some, as there are for any camera brand, that maintain that the Fujifilm X100, like for instance the original Canon EOS 5D, has some magic sprinkled over its sensor, and that the images from this camera have something special over their successors. This might be a result of the fact that these older sensors usually have a lower resolution, and therefore slightly larger pixels?).

I don’t know if this is the case. I know that in some situations I can enjoy the files that come out of a Fujifilm X100 very much, and that there is a certain feel to these first generation files that later cameras do not give me. Mind you, only in certain (wel lit) situations. Does this mean I’m not tempted by the Fuji X-H2 anymore. Of course not, but I’ve enjoyed this trip down camera lane very much, and my resolve to wait has certainly been strenghtened (at least I should wait until the announcement of the X-T5, which may bring back the flippy screen instead of that fully-articulating monster).

I’ll not bore you further, but will share some of the photos I’ve been taking the past few days.

A walk near home, taken with the Fujifilm X100 (yes, the original one)
Jpeg, straight out of the camera, as I forgot to set the camera to RAW+JPG

It is that time of year..

And with THAT, I don’t mean the time of lockdown or COVID-issues. I mean the time of early nightfall and darkness, of wetness and harsh winds. But also of lights, in the trees along the canals, and behind the windows of houses. While cold and dark, it also brings along a feeling of nostalgia and coziness.

The Koornbrug in the city center of Leiden, with the cafés on the waterside, is always a good place to be during blue hour.

My apologies for this being only the third post of the year (being November, that is not a lot). I hope to do better in future.

The early bird… (in the snow)

It has been a bit quiet on this Blog this year. My apologies for that. I have taken a lot of photographs this last month, but not much that I considered worth sharing. Yesterday, however, was a day full of snow. Snow! Last year we got a little sprinkle in Januari, and that was it. This year it’s a full 20 cm in the garden, and the cold weather is expected to last for at least another 6 days. The word iceskating is on everybody’s lips. The Elfstedentocht has been cancelled in advance because of Corona, but the expectations are rising. I could not resist this opportunity and went into the city centre yesterday to document the wintery landscape.

I was looking for a mix of snow, ice and lamplight to give it a bit more ambience than just a white blanket over the streets. Therefore I had to get there early. The added advantage is that you are mostly the first at the scene and are not hindered by large groups of people or snow that is already disturbed. As I couldn’t sleep I was even earlier than the alarm clock and I was out of the front door at 5:15. The main roads had been cleaned somewhat and I had no problems navigating the snow with my bike.

[Geartalk] In my enthusiasm I may have brought a bit too much gear. In addition to my main camera these days, the Fujifilm X-H1, and 2 weather sealed lenses (16-55, 50-140 mm) I brought a wide angle 12 mm lens. Because I really like how the lens renders nightscapes I also brought the Voigtlander 15 mm f/4.5 Heliar in a last minute decision. I also took along the Fujifilm X-T2 as a second body, and to top it all of the Leica M9 and Fujifilm X100 just for fun. It turned out that because it was snowing (and blowing) the entire time, I did not use the non weather sealed lenses. I did end up using the non weather sealed 15 mm Voigtlander. A lot! It worked magically!

First stop: the Leidse Sterrenwacht, or Leiden Observatory. To render the lights in the photographs as ‘sunstars’ I wanted to photograph at a smaller aperture. The voigtlander has the most beautiful stars of any lens I ever come across (one of the main reasons for me to take it along). Because of the hard wind and snow I ended up changing lenses as little as possible, with the 16-55 and 50-140 on the X-H1, and the Voigtlander stuck to my X-T2. I took several shots at the observatory at f/16, ISO200 and a shutter speed of 2 minutes. This long shutter speed also caused the water to ‘glaze over’. A visage not dissimilar to ice, although a more thorough glance would probably fool nobody.

The Leidse Sterrenwacht. f/16, ISO 200, shutter speed 2 minutes. Notice the water and the sunstars in the lamps.

The next stop was a small alley off the singel with a lot of old houses and traditional lamps. A very nice spot, but with the hard wind and horizontal snow, the 16-55 soon got issues with water on the front lens that even the most thorough wiping could not remove. It was also a bit useless to clean the lens if 2 seconds later it would be wet again by new snow. Photographing at larger apertures was useless at this stage, as the flare on these droplets was horrible. The voigtlander curiously appeared unaffected by the snow. I switched to a larger aperture on the X-H1 and zooms, but kept the small aperture and sunstars on the X-T2.

A picturesque side canal of the Singel, also with the Voigtlander. f/16, ISO 200, shutter speed 2 minutes.

The Rapenburg, one of the famous canals of Leiden, was only a few minutes walk away, but there the winds were funnelled through the streets and even my 50-140 mm with its massive lens hood managed to get its front lens wet in seconds. I did capture a good example of the snowdrifts through the canal though.

Showing the hard wind and snow combination. The 50-140 mm could not be kept dry in this kind of weather.

My main aim of the trip was the Burcht and Hooglandse Kerk, a medieval fortification and church on the other side of the city centre. I hoped to arrive there around dawn, so that the light would be better, but the streetlights were still on to give me the ambience I was looking for. Planning this was a bit tricky, as my watch was hidden under 4 layers of clothing and my phone did not work through two layers of gloves, so my only indication of time were the church-bells that rung every half hour. Very old fashioned! En route to the Burcht I came across a few other interesting locations: the Pieterskerk, het Gerecht, de Breestraat and the Koornbrug.

By the time I reached the Pieterskerk it was becoming obvious that it was getting closer to a time a regular guy gets out of bed, as a group of students almost managed to position themselves for a selfie in the middle of my photograph. I offered to take the selfie for them if they could just wait 40 seconds until my photo was done, and continued on to the Breestraat. This usually busy shopping street was white and deserted at what I’m guessing was around 7:30 AM. A very surreal view!

A photo at the Pieterskerk and het Gerecht. It is getting lighter, almost Blue Hour at this stage. f/16, ISO 200, 2 minutes.

Finally around 8:00 AM I reached my final destination, the Burcht. By now dawn was fully here, but with the snow still falling the light was filtered and still not fully there. I took several photographs from my favourite location outside the Burcht, then headed in for some more shots. By this time people were starting to appear who had the same idea, and I had to manage my shots carefully to avoid disturbance. Mind you, the 1 minute shutter speed with the Voigtlander helped in this regard. As long as people would not stand still, they would still not appear in the final image. When I descended the stairs to the plaza below the street lights cut out, and I could congratulate myself with timing it well, and look forward to getting home, getting warm and getting coffee.*

The main prize: the Hooglandse Kerk from the Burcht. The streetlights add ambience to the photo in my view.
Compare the two shots: while I like the second for its composition, it certainly doesn’t have the warmth of the first image. White balance is also in play, of course, but the lack of lights is clear!

I hope you have enjoyed the photographs and story. For me it was a great morning, albeit a cold one!

*The bike ride back along paths not cleaned was a workout..

Startrails in the city center

In my memory these past few weeks have been grey and dreary. Sure, there have probably been a few dry, nice and even sometimes sunny days as well, but on the whole, my impression has not been good. The forecast for the next week and Christmas is just as bad, I’m afraid. However, when my girlfriend took out the garbage on Friday night, she casually mentioned that the skies were clear, and she could see a lot of stars. She didn’t know what she started, but as I hadn’t seen a clear night sky in a long time, I was on my bike to the city center to execute a photography plan I’ve had for some time (fortunately the latest in Corona measures did not include a curfew).

Smack in the middle of the city center of Leiden is ‘The Burcht’. It’s an old medieval castle, and one of the main attractions of the city. I’ve been wanting to capture a milky way shot over this castle, or, if unsuccessful, startrails. However, the weather was threatening to disrupt my plans right from the start. I wasn’t even five minutes out before noticing threatening clouds on the horizon. A quick check of the wind confirmed my suspicions: they were moving my way. I would have to be quick!

On location I quickly fired off a few test shots. Unfortunately, these confirmed my expectations that a milky way shot was not in the cards. The spotlights illuminating the Burcht were so bright, that I would not be able to illuminate the night sky enough to capture a milky way without over exposing the building. Plan B then: Startrails. I had brought both the 9 mm Laowa and the 12 mm Samyang but decide to stick to the 9 mm to capture as much sky as possible. After quickly deciding on a composition, I put the camera on continuous shooting, plugged in my remote shutter release, and the appropriate exposure settings (in this case: f/2.8 and 30 seconds, at ISO200) and started the exposures.

And then we wait…

In my experience, a total exposure of an hour is a good length for startrails. 90 minutes would be better, but I almost never can get myself to wait that long. Fortunately, I brought a second body (the X-Pro1) and could entertain myself shooting in the vicinity while my main camera (the X-T2) was busy with the startrails. The clouds I had seen moving in arrived after about 10 minutes, but were thin and disappeared quickly, giving me a total exposure time of an hour before I decided to pack up, go home and go to sleep.

The next morning, I started to process the photographs. Because one photograph exposed for one hour would have been hugely overexposed the building of the Burcht itself because of the bright spotlights, I chose to take 120 separate exposures of 30 seconds and combine those in photoshop. There is an easy way to place the images into a stack, convert them into a smart image, and merge them with only the brightest parts (the trails) of an image showing in the final photograph. All it takes is patience and a large hard drive. Because of white balance differences between the lighting on the Burcht and the surrounding area, I also merged a photograph of the Burcht with a different (correct) white balance to the combined startrail image and got my final result.

I was a bit sad to see that Plan A could not succeed, but from the start I had feared as much. I’m happy Plan B did succeed, and the weather did not sabotage my plans. The final image is what I had expected and I’m happy with it. The only thing I think I could have done better in hindsight is setting the lens to a smaller aperture. This would have had 2 advantages: the image quality would have improved (the Laowa is not at its best at f/2.8), and two: the shutter speed would have increased. This is an advantage because with a longer shutter speed less photographs would have been needed to fill an hour, leading to less processing time in photoshop. A lesson for next time. You never stop learning.

So what’s the fuss al about? See below..

The final image: startrails over The Burcht. A total of one hour of exposures with the Fujifilm X-T2 and the Laowa 9 mm f/2.8 @ f/2.8.

[Snapshot] Light pollution

In the area around Leiden there are a lot of greenhouses. During the day you don’t notice them much, but at night, on a cloudy moment, you can easily pinpoint their locations by just looking for the light they emit. It is a beautiful sight, even if it is basically light pollution.

Light pollution above the Boterhuismolen in Leiderdorp

[Snapshot] Backlit city

The Hooglandse Kerk in Leiden, with significant backlight.

On a quick trip into the city to collect my Leiden Marathon medallion and get some Christmas presents I came across this archway that was brightly backlit. The lady with the bike completed the photograph. There was very little colour in the photo, so converted to black and white.

About assignments

An old tradition that is slowly starting to disappear due to the fact that most bridges are now remote controlled. The man controlling the bridge will swing a wooden shoe, or klomp, towards the boat in which you can deposit the money owed for opening the bridge.

December has begun, and that means the end of 2020 is in sight. A strange year, and in many ways a bad year. I cannot pretend that I personally have been hit very hard. I do not work in the entertainment or in the catering industry, nor in any other business dependent on large groups of people inside. We bought our new house at the end of 2019 and were fortunate enough to move just before the ‘intelligent lockdown’ in March, so had plenty of space and nature close by. That is not to say that I did not feel its effects. From March on all photography assignments dried up. Not being dependent on just photography for a living helps, of course, and my other graphical work could easily be done from home.

While the new ‘lockdown light’ is in progress and will probably continue until March 2021, this week I had my first assignment since a very long time, for Zeilen Magazine. It felt strange to do a sailing photoshoot, after so much time, but familiar at the same time. Of course the day in question was one of the coldest and wettest of the year yet, but hey, in these cases you don’t get to pick and choose. The assignment was the first time I could test my now not so new Fujifilm X-T4 in the field, and I was not disappointed. The only thing, and that is a major thing, is still the flippy screen, which is annoying. I’m still not a 100% convinced the camera is right for my kind of shooting, maybe more on that later.

So, while I do not expect a lot of assignments in the near future (winter usually is quiet anyway), it was nice to be out and about again. No photos of the job, as the magazine will not be out until February, but an iPhone shot of the day at the Bridge of Sloten can be included!

Our daily walk

Spectacular clouds during sunset at the local windmill.

Ever since the start of the corona measures in the Netherlands, which, incidentally is also since we moved and live in our new home, we’ve started taking daily walks. To compensate for the gym being closed and the loss of our 15-20 min bike ride to work, but also because it is a fun way to relax and get out of the business of work. Our goal is to reach the 10.000 steps each day. I usually win, as my watch is less conservative about what constitutes a step, but I think I also do make more steps in general. We are fortunate to live close to the edge of the city and have this view just a 5 minute walk away.

[Snapshot] Corona break

Genieten van buiten en zon tijdens corona tijd. Taken with the Fujifilm X-Pro1 | 27 mm | f/4.0 | iso 200.

Recently my girlfriend and I had to go into town. I was in need of a haircut and she was in need of some new clothes. Neither of us are very fond of busy shopping streets, and this aversion has only increased with the situation around Corona. We were therefore somewhat unpleasantly surprised when the city centre was busy (wednesday, around 14:00). In our minds busier than usual. Apparently shopping is part of what people consider ‘essential’. Mind you, we were there too, so have no right to judge.

My haircut was done fairly quickly, and after hanging around a bookstore, deliberating wether or not to buy Jimmy Nelson’s ‘Before they pass away’, I waited for my girlfriend, ready to go home. This group of people caught my attention. They were clearly enjoying the outside, and the sun, while they still could (at a distance). I also noticed the great number of people carrying plastic coffee cups. According to the news, buying coffee to go is the new ‘going out for lunch’. I’m afraid this Corona year has undone most of the good progress we had reducing our plastic waste, with all those disposable masks and coffee cups..