[snapshot] Autumn

The trees are turning yellow and orange, and the mushrooms are popping up: it’s autumn!

Fujifilm X-T2, Helios 44M-4 at f/2. Acros + green film simulation.

Vintage lenses: flawed but beautiful

Over the years I have acumulated quite a lot of gear. While I will probably never stop lusting for new shiny cameras and lenses, with my current collection I can fulfill any project to my, and my clients, satisfaction. From photography to videography, from macro to landscapes to watersports, it is all there. As the mirrorless photography world matures, upgrades are less interesting each year, and I will keep working with what I have for the foreseeable future. 

However…

Where the new modern models and lenses start to loose their attraction, the vintage photography world does not. Over the years I’ve bought and sold quite a few old vintage lenses, ranging from the 50s to the 80s and to modern non-autofocus products. When I started out with my very first dslr (the Canon EOS 1000D, for those interested), manual focussing was something from the stoneage. Outdated and obsolete. I’m from a generation that had never seen cameras without autofocus. As such, it was hard to imagine the tactile feeling of focusing a lens, and the joy that this can bring. It took me a while to get into the idea of using vintage lenses on modern bodies, and that this could give a different experience from using autofocus lenses. Not necessarily always better, but different and pleasing nonetheless. 

Over the years since my first MF lens, the Samyang 12 mm f/2 (which I’m still using professionally, in favour of the Zeiss Touit 12 mm with autofocus), I’ve collected quite a lot manual (vintage) lenses, and it is not seldom that I step out of my front door with a bag that contains more manual focus lenses that native autofocus lenses. 

A distinction must be made here between vintage and non vintage manual focus lenses. Some manufacturers still make modern lenses without autofocus (Leica, Voigtländer, modern companies like Samyang), which are manual focus but specially designed for modern digital bodies. These lenses are made with modern machinery and contain the newest coatings, and therefore deliver optimal image quality on a digital body. Vintage lenses are designed for analog cameras and are usually made without the newest developments in lens technology. As such, the usually have characteristics that would not be tolerated in mondern lenses: flaring, colour shifts, abberations. Some older lens designs cause less sharpness than we are used from modern lenses. Others are just as sharp, but are less contrasty than we are used to. Every vintage lens is different and has characteristics that you can like or hate. The results you get are not perfect, but that is not the point. An images does not need have the perfect image quality to be a good photograph, as our veneration of the old photography masters proofs. 

A few months ago I bought another vintage lens that is legendary in vintage photography circles: the Helios 44M-4. This lens is a 58 mm f/2 lens that, together with its brother, the Helios 44M-2, was produced with an M42 mount in the Sovjet Union from 1958 to 1992 on a massive scale. It is one of the most widespread lenses in the world today, and because of this, it is quite affordable. The main attraction for many is the ‘swirly bokeh’ effect that this lens offers (instead of perfect round bokeh balls in the out of focus areas, the bokeh has a circular pattern to it, with squashed ‘cats eye’  bokeh). On modern lenses, an inexcuseable effect, in vintage lenses hightly sought after. I was curious what the fuss was about and got one. And hated it..

The lens itself is ugly. I used it a few times, got other projects, and put it in my lens drawer with the intention to sell it again. Not helping was the fact that the 50-ish focal length is the most found focal length in my lens drawer. Nor did I really manage to create the ‘swirly bokeh’ effect that I expected (a full frame sensor would probably help in that regard). Recently I was looking for something different and gave it a second chance. I put it on the Fujifilm X-T4 for a few walks in the neighbourhood, and this time I did fall in love. I have the suspicion that the M42-Fx adapter that I use has a slightly wrong thickness, as the lens is very good at close focusing, but does not reach infinity unless you stop down to f8. This allows you to photograph quite close up, giving you smooth and beautiful bokeh (not necessarily of the swirly type). As I love close focusing lenses, this one has just climbed my favorites ladder and has surpassed the Voigtlander 50 mm f/1.5 Nokton, which is stunning to look at and delivers excellent image quality, but can not focus as close, and was 10 times its price. Also surprising was the resolution this lens delivers, details are clear even at high magnification.

I will continue to put the lens trough its paces, and will also check the drawer for other forgotten gems (like the 50 mm Meyer-Optik Oreston f/1.8 that I haven’t used in ages but has the same close focusing strengths and is razor sharp). Some results from this lens are below.

And here it is: the Helios 44M-4 on my trusty Fujifilm X-T2. The lens itself is quite compact, but with the M42 to FujiX adapter makes the lens a bit longer.
A Jpeg image, straight from the camera and decreased in size. I liked the contrast and sharpness of this image. Taken at f/2 with the X-T4 with film simulation Acros + green.
Taken with the X-T4 at f/2, film simulation Eterna. I’ve never really used Eterna except for video. The muted colours really made this image for me though.
A bokeh test. Taken with the X-T4 at f/2. Not sure of the film simulation.
Another bokeh test. Straight from the camera and resized, Fujifilm X-T4 at f/2 with film simulation Acros + green.
I liked the symmetry of this image with the striped poles flanking the winding path and the dogs flanking the biker. Fujifilm X-T4, probably taken at f/8. Not sure of the film simulation.
Fujifilm X-T4 at f/4 in Acros + green. When I walked past the goat had a magpie on its back. I liked the black and white combination of the goat and the magpie, but the magpie flew off and didn’t return. Still liked the image of the goat..
A resized close-up of the goat, showing the amount of resolution this lens has!
Another bokeh and resolution test: Fujifilm X-T4 at f/2. Based on Classic Chrome, but edited.

The milky way over the Wadden Sea

This image was taken with the X-T4 and the Laowa 9 mm. The sky was a 4 minute exposure using the iOptron Skytracker Pro at 800 ISO, the foreground a 20 seconds exposure at ISO6400 without the tracker.

As an avid sailor, I try to make it a habit to make a sailing trip to the Wadden Sea, a tidal sea in the north of the Netherlands, at least once a year. Naturally I try to combine this with taking photographs, and as it offers a stunning landscape with its mudflats and wide horizons, usually I come back with a crop of images that I’m really happy with. However, one image has been eluding me for the past 4 years. I had in mind to photograph our flat bottomed ship (a Vollenhovense Bol, for those interested in such things), high and dry on the mudflats, with the milky way in the background (astrophotography being another genre which really interests me). This is not as easy as it sounds, however. The area of the Wadden Sea is generally one of the darkest in the Netherlands, so no problem there. The problem is in the tides, and the weather of course. Apart from having to be granted a clear night sky, a feat by no means a given with the weather patterns in the Netherlands, the timing with the tides must be exactly right. The ship must be on dry land somewhere between 11 PM and 1 AM, there should me no moon, and the ship should also be floating again at a not too ungodly hour to continue what is in the first place a holiday.

In april we managed to grab a weeks sailing, and on the final day I was granted a clear night sky. However, the moon was up and ruined any chance of a good milky way shot. In addition, the bottom of that part of the sea where we had parked for the night was not solid sand, but a sort of sludgy ooze. Not the best ground for a tripod. As one of our shipmates was an astronomer, we banded together with our photography and astronomy apps, and concluded that the best chance to get a nice holiday and good weather, and make my dream photograph, was August 13th. As it happened, we could rent the ship again that week and we booked it on the spot (helped also by the fact that this was a holiday that was solidly Coronoa-proof, something quite uncertain for other holidays at that time). 

So, last week was that week. How did it go? Well, the 13th of August was cloudy, so no joy. Fortunately, we saw that coming and made the most of the few nights preceding the 13th for some attempts. The best opportunity came on the 9th. We had beached our ship on the mudflats just northeast of the little harbour of Noordpolderzijl, Groningen. We knew that between 10 PM and 1 AM we would probably be dry on the flats, and hoped for solid sand. Our wish was granted, and apart from the light pollution of the large city of Groningen to the south, the conditions were perfect.

Usually I only bring my small travel tripod on holiday, but as there was so much photography at the core of this holiday, I decided to bring my large and heavy tripod. To protect it from the sand and the residual salt water the bottom part of the legs were wrapped with garbage bags and ductape. I also decided to bring my iOptron startracker, as this tripod was sturdy enough for its weight. As camera I was a bit torn between the Fujifilm X-T4 and the Fujifilm X-T2, the X-T4 winning in the end by a narrow margin (although in hindsight I think I would have preferred the X-T2, there were some weird issues with unsharp images on the tripod, but this might have been due to shifting sands). The 9 mm Laowa and 12 mm Samyang completed the kit.

Between 10:45 and 0:45 I played around on the sand next to the ship, as my shipmates were stargazing in the dark. After some preliminary shots of the milky way and deciding which angles were best for the ship – milky way combination, I tried some extra shots with the star tracker. As at 0:30 the moon rose (also a magical sight) and the water started to rise again, I got back on board. Trying to edit a milky way photo on an iPhone really doesn’t do it justice, and the tracked images could not be edited anyway (as the foreground was blurred due to the motion of the star tracker), so really checking the files had to wait until we got home. 

For the final figures I cannot admit to few edits. The best files were obviously the ones where I had used the tracker (at ISO 800, in order to keep the shutter speeds at a manageable level), but these files had to be combined with the other images which had a sharp foreground. No problem for the mostly straight horizon, but not so easy for the ship, which I had to manually remove the background from using a wacom tablet and pen. Combining the cleaned up forgrounds with the milky was was then easy, although I might take a few more tries to really clean up the files. 

‘it has been a dream photography project that has come to fruition after several years’

I hope I haven’t bored you with my ‘little’ story above, but as I said, it has been a dream photography project that has come to fruition after several years of – not exactly failure – but lack of opportunity. I’m pleased with the result, and one of the images has already been bought by the major sailing magazine of the Netherlands as its opening spread (parly financing my holiday, which is nice). I hope you like the result as well!

For those interested in some technical stuff: I used the iOptron Skytracker Pro for the sky section of these images. At ISO800 I was looking at 4 minutes exposures. In hindsight I think I could also have gotten away with 8 minute exposures, but Wadden Sea sand is not the greatest of supports for the tripod, so at that time I didn’t risk it. I was also limited in my time on the sand as the water and the moon would rise shortly after 0:30. The 12 mm Samyang was used at f/2, its brightest possible aperture, while the Laowa 9 mm was used mostly at f/2.8, and once at f/4, as the Laowa has some horrible vignetting that is most visible at f/2.8. Shutter speeds for exposures without star tracker were 15 seconds for the 12 mm and 20 seconds for the 9 mm (its wider field of view allowing for a slightly longer shutter speed).

[Snapshot] Project Neowise

As everybody and his uncle is now posting images of the comet Neowise online, I had to get a go at it. Light pollution where I live is heavy, and cloud cover frequent, but in the past week there were 2 clear nights in which to capture the phenomenon. It took a while to find it, but once you know where to look it gets easier.

[Fujifilm X-T4 | Fujinon XF 16-55 mm f/2.8 | 16.5 mm | f/4 | ISO500 | 30 seconds]
I found I liked a landscape shot with the comet in it much better than a shot of just the comet with a bit of foreground, so the comet is quite small in the photograph. The shutter speed is on the long side, and the comet is showing a bit of a trail because of it.

[snapshot] Zeevonk/Sea Sparkle at Katwijk

Sea Sparkle in the waves. Unfortunately there was too little Sea Sparkle to make it very spectacular, and too many people to make it very comfortable to be there. Fujifilm X-T4, XF16-55 mm f/2.8 at f/2.8 and ISO6400. Shutter speed around 1/10th of a second.

Yesterday a friend enthusiastically apped me that it was the perfect day (night) to go to the beach and photograph Zeevonk, or Sea Sparkle, a small sea creature that exhibits bioluminescence when disturbed. Never having seen the phenomenon in real life, I signed on to a late night trip to the beach.

Unfortunately, we were not alone. I guess half the local residents and a lot from places farther afield were there as well, in a swim, walk and disturb frenzy, hoping to see the beautiful blue glow appear. It was there, but not in very great quantities. Sometimes you could see a wave appear blue. Just as if it was lit up from below. Pretty enough, but not entirely spectacular. It was nice to see it for the first time though! And a nice place to test the X-T4.

I read a news article that the Sea Sparkle is appearing more often than before, so maybe again soon?

An overdue update, June 2020

My latest post on this – my unofficial weblog – was from Februari 2019, over a year ago. It would be easy to say that I’ve been busy, it would be easy to say that I had more important things to do – and to be fair, we did buy a house, which did take up a few months of my spare time – but the truth is mostly that I didn’t search for time to spend on writing. That, and the fact that somewhere in the last year, a php-update error transformed this site into a white page with error lines, and technical me didn’t know how to fix it (and couldn’t care enough to ask for help).

I recently did that, and lo and behold, it is working again. Time for a long overdue update.

With the world upside down due to the COVID-19 outbreak, my photography assignments cancelled, our (social) calendar empty, and a new appreciation for ergonomically sound chairs to work in (which we do not have in our home office), I’ve been able to focus more on personal photography work. I’ve also been contemplating a bit where to take my photography in the coming times.  A topic maybe for some other time.

Suffice it to say that we are fine. We’ve moved into a new (larger, thankfully, with this work-at-home situation) house, we’re able to work from home quite a bit, and we’ve had relatively little direct trouble from the epidemic that is raging outside, apart from not going on our planned holiday (northern Italy, not the best destination at this time) and not seeing our parents and friends. We can survive that, surely. 

I’m hoping to add regular posts here in the near future, but in order to not say goodbye without some photographic content, I’m adding some images from a personal project that has helped me through these corona-times. 

We’ve made it a habit to take a daily walk through the small bits of nature close to home, and we regularly hear and (fleetingly) see pheasants. I’ve made it my quest to photograph them with old analog telephoto lenses. Over time you get to know their habits and habitats, and I was able to get some decent exposures these past few weeks. I hope you enjoy these photograhps as much as I’ve enjoyed taking them!

This male pheasant was parading quite some time in front of me. Almost too close for the Leica-R Elmar 180 mm f/4 that I was using this day. I was quite pleased with this images rendering.
Also with the Leica-R 180 mm, this male pheasant was a bit more shy and stayed close, but didn’t show itself and only peaked through the leaves at us.

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.

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!