Returning to Madeira

Two years ago I went for a vacation on Madeira (you can find some impressions in german here & the galleries here and here) and absolutely fell in love with the island. For those who might not be sure where it is, it is a small island in the Atlantic Ocean near Africa but belongs to Portugal (it was discovered in 1419 by Portuguese adventurers). The island was created due to active volcanos – so its got a very rough look to it but this also causes it to have ample vegetation.

Last time I had my trusty Canon with me but this time of course I took the Fuji X-E2, which was my first serious test case of multiple days of shooting (or rather non stop shooting for two weeks) and it performed incredibly well and when we went for a walk from 1,600m up to over 1,800m I was glad for every gram of gear I wasn’t carrying!

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I’ll probably be posting more in-depth posts about the individual days of the trip (we alternated between days of activity and days of lying at the pool) but for now I wanted to share links to the images with you and show some of my favorites. As the galleries show, I haven’t been able to really narrow it down.

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Images in and near the capital of Funchal

Images from our ferry trip to the neighbor island of Porto Santo

Images from my mountain hike

My catch all album for the different gardens we visited, a lot of images but very diverse!

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The Fuji X-E2 for Macro photography especially with the Fuji 60mm

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When I decided to pick up the Fuji X-E2 I was most skeptical about its macro capabilities. For me macro, especially flowers and insects, is one of my main photographic interests, so any change in camera has to be able to support this. The Fuji (when I bought it) only offered one native macro lens, the 60mm f2.4 macro lens from Fuji itself with a second macro from Zeiss already announced.

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I decided to go test the lens in store before deciding to actually buy the camera (and the lens). I did some tests in a store, though they only had the X-E1. The macro capabilities worked fine while the auto-focus was rather slow and clunky – i was hoping though that this was more due to the X-E1 and not the lens.

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These last few weeks I actually went out into our gardens a lot more than I had done in recent years with my Canon, mainly to experiment with the macro lens. One of the first things I found was that, when I am shooting macros, I should also engage the macro focus mode the X-E2 has, which shifts the auto focus so that it expects objects to be closer to the lens when focussing. The auto focus is still not the fastest, especially if you are trying to focus on very small objects close to the lens (in which case it might not be able to lock the focus on it) but it is a working alternative.

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The real advantage though of a mirror less camera with macro photography comes into play when you shift into manual focus mode and use the highlights mode for focussing. In this mode the object that is in focus will get moving lines around it (since the latest firmware update you can chose from a variety of colors to best match your eyesight and objects you are photographing). This works especially great for macros since you will often want to focus on minute details or be working with a very shallow depth of field for which it is hard to be super certain that your focus is correct when you are working with a DSLR (or my eyesight isn’t good enough). With the highlights in both the display and in the view finder and the added ability to switch to a  100% view of any preselected part of the image, I can be pretty certain to get the focus where I want to have it. I think this is an awesome tool to have for macro photography and is also something that works with old manual lenses which you can use on the Fuji with an adapter.

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Shooting

The focus will be very similar – apart from the speed of the auto focus – with any lens but the differences come in the depth of field (bokeh), the focussing distance and the reproduction scale.

Let’s get into the technical details first, the reproduction scale of the Fuji 60mm unfortunately is only 0.5, meaning that a 1 cm object will only be able to cover 0.5cm of the sensor. Ideally you want 1:1 or sometimes higher (The Zeiss has 1:1 afaik). I was hesitant about the lens due to that, because both of my Canon Macro lenses offer 1:1 but while using it so far it has not done much of a difference for me – of course I sometimes would like to get in closer but the results are great like this, too. This brings me to the focussing distance, which is 26.7cm officially which works out pretty well, though I sometimes would like it to be closer but you cannot have everything…

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Now on to other technical details: the Fuji 60mm has a maximum aperture of 2.4 which is wider than both of my Canon lenses, which end at 2.8. This increase in aperture is very good in this case since the sensor of the Fuji is smaller than the crop sensor of my Canon which, in theory, takes away from the depth of field at the same aperture. I have to say, I am really in love with the depth of field at 2.4 and also with the bokeh you get, which is really creamy and does not look like you took this image with a “small” camera. As for the sharpness – the Fuji lenses are just absolutely amazing in terms of sharpness.

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Enjoying

I think after reading the last few paragraphs you can already tell what my overall impression of doing macro images with the Fuji is. I was afraid of not being able to take the same type of images as with my Canon but that fear was unfounded. Thankfully! The image quality is great and while it will take some getting used to the focussing distance that is just a learning process to be done while being out shooting. I definitely don’t regret the decision and am thinking about picking up an old manual macro lens for a closer focussing distance and different focal length. Additionally I am saving up for the Zeiss 60mm Macro but that will take a while. But it will only be as an improvement to an already great experience!

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Catching lights at night

Last week we had a bi-annual art exhibition in Frankfurt in which art students and some international artists showcase art pieces based around light in the city. I always love this opportunity to do some long exposure images, even if it is a lot of guessing and testing for me.

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Long exposure: when your automatic modes will hinder you

First things first: here you really will want to have sturdy tripod. Long exposures mean no hand-holding the camera because the exposure times will be just too long. Additionally, if you have an image stabilized lens, turn off the stabilization – with a tripod it might actually cause unsharpness. Also, you should definitely turn off your flash.

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After you have done this, it is important to understand that you will definitely want to step outside of your automatic modes for this. Most automatic modes I have encountered will try to make your image as bright as possible (since it will be relying on the histogram) – which you will not want in most instances. This unfortunately also means Aperture Priority is out. Shutter priority usually will not work either because you will be stuck with the widest aperture the lens has. This is also due to the fact that the automatic modes will always try to get a setting that you can still hand-hold – it doesn’t know you are shooting on a tripod. So it is time to go full manual!

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ISO Speed, Aperture and Shutter Speed – find the right mix

When you go into manual mode you have several things you can play with: ISO Speed, Aperture and Shutter Speed. Since you will be shooting on a tripod, set your ISO Speed to 100 or 200 (Fuji recommends 200 for its camera lineup since apparently you lose color vibrancy at ISO 100 with their cameras, with most others I would go with ISO 100). This will give you nice sharp results without noticeable noise in the image (the little off-color points you will see in a lot of your hand-held night shots).

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This of course means that you will have to take longer exposures and/or open up the aperture more to get the same amount of light into your image (higher ISO needs less light). So now we are down to two factors: your aperture and your shutter speed. Keep in mind for this discussion, that a low f number means a wider aperture. A wide aperture has two effects: more light can come into the camera (since it will be open) but also you will get a shallower depth of field – meaning less of the image will be sharp (though at long distances this might be unnoticeable in some instances).

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If you are taking images involving lights, you also need to be aware that a small aperture will lead to “sun-stars” – which are a matter of personal preference. I really enjoy them but a lot of people dislike them.

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So the smaller the aperture you chose, the longer your exposure time will have to be. This can get tricky with colored lights at night: the longer you expose them, the higher changes are that they will loose their color and turn white – especially if they change color. Also longer exposures might mean a moving light will form a line of light and people will “vanish” from your images since they are pretty dark and don’t leave enough light in the image to stay in it (which can be a blessing ;) ).Which is the moment in which experimentation enters the picture: take a bunch of images at different combinations of aperture and shutter speed to see which gives you the best results.

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If you want to see mine, see my three albums from this year experimenting with light. If you click on the image, you will see some of the exif info for them so you can check the aperture and shutter speed settings I used. Here they are: Winterlichter, Luminale in the Palmengarten, Luminale in Frankfurt

New Gallery: A visit to the zoo in Frankfurt

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This weekend we had super stunning weather and I took the chance to test my Fuji X-E2 even more and took my new 55-200mm lens with me (which is ideal for taking pictures in the zoo) and also the 60mm Macro for images inside the aquarium and to exotarium.

I’m still getting used to the Fuji but I really enjoyed using it for the day and not feeling the weight of the second lens in my bag felt really great. It felt like I didn’t have a camera with me at all in terms of weight and I am starting to customize the buttons to fit better with my needs, which the Fuji lets you do very easily (you have 4 programmable buttons).

You can find the whole set in the gallery.

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Does size matter? First impressions of the Fujifilm X-E2

DSLR cameras get bigger, the more high end they are. In some respects this is great: larger hands have a better grip on a big camera, for example, but at the same time that size often comes with an increase in weight, too. Add to that the sie and weight of your lenses and your travel bag becomes heavy just from all of that stuff already. Some of the mirror-less cameras have become very interesting. Some offer great picture quality and low light results that are inching every closer to the results of a big DSLR, especially if you are not shooting full frame (FF). I’ve been especially interested in the Fujifilm cameras that are taking a different approach and also favor a very retro design that I just adore. For a long time I was debating if and which Fuji to get. Last summer I decided to get the X20 as an addition to my DSLR and really enjoyed the results. This winter I decided to take the complete plunge:

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I bought a Fuji X-E2, which only has an electronic viewfinder (EVF). Something I was very hesitant about but after working with it for a bit, I have to say: I really enjoy using it even though it feels a bit like cheating at times… With the Fuji you have an eye sensor which is used to switch between using the back display for framing your shots and using the EVF to frame your shots. This feels much more natural when you come from a big camera since you are used to an optical view finder. The EVF shows you the results as the camera sees them and interprets them. The X-E2 EVF is pretty fast and accurate and absolutely adequate for my needs (the new X-T1 has an even better one). Now about that cheating: The first night I went out for a night shoot and this is an instance where an optical viewfinder is really not helpful at all. Sure you see everything through the viewfinder but it gives you no info on how you should do the exposure. The EVF on the other hand changes the view based on your settings…Of course you still have to deal with shutter speed and such but I was shooting with the 35mm f1.4 lens from Fuji and this gave me really great feedback on when i still had enough light for a shutter mode or needed to switch to Bulb. Bulb here is great, too – while you hold the shutter button, a timer will appear on the display letting you know exactly how long you are exposing your shots. Pretty nifty.

The Fuji is also all about manual controls – of course you can do everything on Automatic but you can also do everything manually very easily. Much easier than on my Canon 7D at least. You have a dial for setting the exposure compensation, as well as a dial to set the shutter speed and each lens has a manual aperture ring on it, giving you the full possibilities of doing everything manually without having to go hunt into menus or using two or three buttons at the same time to change something.

In addition you can focus manually and this is the area where I really like the Fuji: You have three different manual focus modes. Do it yourself without digital help, like you would on a DSLR, or you can use the Phase Detection Focus Mode where you will see flittering lines surrounding the part of the image that is in focus and as a last option they have included a view that is reminiscent of Rangefinder Cameras: in the middle of the frame you get three grey blocky lines which only align when the object you are focussing on is in focus. I think this might come in especially handy in Macro shots where the Phase Detection might not be precise enough.

Of course you switch focus modes with a manual dial, too. These manual focus modes also work with older manual lenses, so i have bought adapters to use my old Canon FD and M39 lenses with the Fuji, giving me more options from the get go.

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One area where I was concerned before picking  up the camera was the Macro capabilities of the Fuji. Smaller sensors usually produce not as shallow a depth of field as larger sensors and the Fuji currently only offers one Macro lens (the 60mm f2.4 Macro). So before buying the Fuji and lenses I decided to test the Macro in a store. The Auto-Focus is very slow on the lens but the results are okay for me and I am saving up on the Zeiss Touit macro that is coming soon which hopefully should give me even better results.

Another cool aspect about the Fuji cameras: they do a ton of firmware upgrades, both for the camera and the lenses. This also brings some of the flagship features of newer models onto older models meaning that your camera will be up to date for much longer than it might be traditionally. For example the X-T1 has much higher continuous shooting results than the X-E2 but since both run the same processor and such, Fuji has already announced that they will bring this feature to the X-E2, too.

So far I have only been able to play around with some lenses for short bursts of time but I have been really enjoying both the camera and the results (especially the sharpness) and cannot wait to really take it out for a longer photo shoot.

 

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New camera and new photo album

So last weekend I did something I have been thinking about for months now: I picked up a mirror less interchangeable lens camera. I bought the Fuji X-E2 and the 60mm Macro lens as well as the 35mm f1.4 lens. So overall i spent a small fortune but so far I really love the images and the picture quality.

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I’ll write a longer post with some impressions soon but for now you can find a new album with pictures from a nightly photo shoot with the 35mm lens in the galleries section.

Best of 2013

Another year, another end of year review of my favorite images from the year for submission in Jim M. Goldstein’s blog project. This year has not been much of a photo year for me, I was unable to take a long vacation and generally was so involved in work that I did not find the time to take many photos. But still I have some I would like to share as my favorites from the year. As always, I have had a very hard time deciding on the best ones, so categories it is.

If you are interested in the last few years of results, here are 2012, 20112010 , 2009 and 2008

First of two images, while not technically perfect I just love for the story they tell:

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That sleeping Fossa was just too funny to pass up and the tiger pub was too cute for words and it was most likely the first day it was out in the enclosure with mommy – so she was hiding it very well and making sure it was comfortable.

Animals

These first two images already allude to it, I spent some time at the zoo this year so of course I once again have a lot of animal pictures that I took and that I really like. All of them were taken in the Zoo in Frankfurt, I did not have the opportunity to visit another zoo this year.

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Architecture

I spent less time on HDR this year and more on Architecture in general. A lot of the images are HDRs but many of them are not. I also did not take many film photos last year. I just did not have the drive behind it that I did the years before.

The images you see below are from a range of places: my hometown, Frankfurt, Würzburg, Bordeaux and Kassel.

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Nature

Of course I also spent some time in nature with my beloved Macro lenses to get some shots. I went to the botanical garden twice and also experimented with the Fuji X20, which is surprisingly good at macros, even though I would never take it along to the botanical garden while I have my DSLR and a macro lens at my disposal.

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iPhone

Like I said, I didn’t have much time for photography this year, so my iPhone became my constant source for creative outlet and I have a number of images to show from it. I will add a blog post soon about the apps I currently use but most of them were treated with VSCO Cam and taken with the standard iOS Camera app.

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Misc.

As always I have some images that don’t fit any category. We visited an old car rally during the summer which featured some stunning old cars and I took one street photo while out with the Fuji X20 that I really enjoy.

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Statues

Last but not least, my favorite images from the year. I spent a very relaxed day in the cemetery in Frankfurt (really) and spent some quality time with the statues there. All images have some form of treatment but I think this best brings out the individual statues. It always sounds funny to say you went to the cemetery to take photos but I like the quiet and the contemplative mood it puts me in. There is also something very beautiful about the old graves and the beautiful statues placed there by the loved ones of the dead. I think they are a great display of the different faces of mourning.

photo taken on the Hauptfriedhof (main cemetery) in Frankfurt, Germany photo taken on the Hauptfriedhof (main cemetery) in Frankfurt, Germany photo taken on the Hauptfriedhof (main cemetery) in Frankfurt, Germany photo taken on the Hauptfriedhof (main cemetery) in Frankfurt, Germany photo taken on the Hauptfriedhof (main cemetery) in Frankfurt, Germany photo taken on the Hauptfriedhof (main cemetery) in Frankfurt, Germany photo taken on the Hauptfriedhof (main cemetery) in Frankfurt, Germany photo taken on the Hauptfriedhof (main cemetery) in Frankfurt, Germany

 

A trip to Bordeaux


I’m a huge football fan (soccer to the Americans) and my team is currently playing in the Europa League, which is a pan-European soccer championship and a pretty big deal because we haven’t played in it in almost ten years. A friend and I promised ourselves that if we made it to the Europa League, then we would go to at least one away game. We ended up deciding to go to Bordeaux, which was an idea we were not alone with… In the end 12,000 Frankfurt supporters made the trip to Bordeaux (which is over 1,000km and there is no direct plane connection). It was a real experience!

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Since we would spend 12 hours driving there, we decided to make it a weekend trip (the game was Thursday) and stay for the weekend. So not only did we visit a soccer game but we also got the chance to see Bordeaux. If you haven’t been, Bordeaux is a very beautiful city that got its riches from the trades with the French colonies. It is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, not for a single building, but for the complete inner city, that is mostly still intact and from the mid—18th century. It was interesting to see a city where really the whole inner city was build in the same building style and with the same materials.

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I especially fell in love with the Place de la Bourse, which holds a very large, almost castle like building structure with a large area in front of it so you have ample room to really see the buildings. But in recent years – and this is very awesome for photographers – on the other side of the train station, they added a water sculpture, which serves only one purpose: reflect the building on a very shallow layer of water!

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Usually they also do this at night but since this was late November and the water was not even a centimeter high, they apparently decided to dry it up at night. So I only have an image at night without the reflection *sad*

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Another really fascinating landmark was the Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux, which is the main cathedral in Bordeaux and absolutely stunning. Both outside and inside (I don’t like taking photos inside churches, but you can find some on the official website).

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One interesting detail about the cathedral – which I had never seen like this before – is that the bell tower sits separately from the church itself (it was added later), so that the vibrations from the bell would not disturb the structure of the church.

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Nowadays they allow visitors to the top of that bell tower, which is 231 stairs high and when you stand at the bottom you think: well, 231 stairs is not that much, no problem… Let me tell you, it becomes a problem… The staircase is inside the outer high beam on the left side in this image. so it is a spiraling staircase that, the higher you get, the narrower it becomes – and it starts out not being very wide. And since this is a bell tower, it only has one stair case, meaning while you are trying to climb up and not hold everyone else back since you cannot overtake anyone on it, there are people climbing down – and there is no room to pass on the stairs (in the upper areas the stairs were not long enough for my foot) so you have to either climb back down or back up to one of the few places where there is a small alcove set into the wall to let others pass. Of course you will usually hunker in that alcove with at least two or three other people.

 

But it is worth the climb (though I don’t want to do this ever again…) because the bell tower is still the highest building in all of Bordeaux so you have a beautiful surround view over the city and have also a very interesting view on top of the cathedral itself.

 

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I have taken a whole lot more images, too many to feature in this blog post, but you can find them in the gallery I set up for the trip. All images were taken with my Fuji X20 and it really was an ideal small travel companion. I turned off the display on the back and only used the optical viewfinder so my battery lasted all weekend!

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Image Galleries: Zoo & Old Cemetery + More insights into the Fuji X20

I have not been out photographing much this year but now that I have the Fuji X20, I had to take it out to really try it. Because that is the thing: it takes time to get comfortable with a new camera and to learn the controls. Take that time and go out shooting for a day – not just a few minutes but really a longer stretch of time.

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Zoo Frankfurt – July 5th, 2013

That is what I did on Friday. I took the day off work and decided to first visit the Zoo in Frankfurt that had the grand opening of their new bear enclosure on the weekend (which is really great) and still has the little tiger cub that is cute beyond words. For the afternoon I decided on doing something different. In Atlanta I fell in love with the Oakland Cemetery and I knew that the main cemetery in Frankfurt is almost as old. So I decided to have a look around there too see what I might find.

For the whole day I only took my X20 with me, restricting my options on purpose. No fancy DSLR, just a small camera with a small zoom. In the zoo I would have liked more zoom capabilities but since you have 14 MP at your disposal so you can crop in later due to the sharpness of the lens. Otherwise it performed great. I was especially impressed with the auto focus in the aquarium. The aquarium in Frankfurt is very old (I think built in the 50s or 60s) and has super thick glass that clearly distorts your vision (even your eyes will have some problems from certain angles). My Canon’s all so far worked ok in some of the lighter tanks but had trouble in others so I had to use the manual zoom. The Fuji actually did the job and got me very sharp results even at an angle. I don’t know how it did it, but I am impressed.

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One thing that took me a while though was figuring out the display. With the X20, as well as its bigger brothers, you have an eye sensor so when you use the optical viewfinder the display gets turned off. I was unable to get that to work at first (I wanted to switch the display off completely to preserve battery life) but then found the answer in a forum: the X20 has a “super macro”-mode you can turn on and it will not show that icon on the display anymore and it will stay on even after restarting. Turns out, as long as the mode is on, you cannot switch to the optical viewfinder. When you turn it off, you can switch between the three modes again.

On the cemetery I was fighting the lighting meter a bit and ended up shooting most of the images at -1 exposure. When I got home all the images turned out too dark (well, d’oh). I think it had to do with the fact that I had turned on the “sun” modus for the display so you can see it better when you are in daylight. That might have caused the images to appear too bright on the display – I did not take that into account while shooting but now know about it.

photo taken on the Hauptfriedhof (main cemetery) in Frankfurt, Germany

Overall the camera was a lot of fun to learn and play with for the day. I will have to spend some more time with it to really get comfortable (the focus modes and I are not friends yet) but I can really see myself leaving my DSLR at home some of the time from now on. Which is a huge deal for me.

But of course, now you want to see some images, right? I have added a Gallery section to the website where I will be sharing whole albums again (something I had years ago, too) and there you can find an album for the zoo and one for the cemetery already. Enjoy and feel free to leave some comments :)