Tag Archives: Travel Photography

Friday Image No.214

Graveyard of the Trains, Bolivia. Five image stitch from an Olympus EM5.

Most of the photos I shoot are of landscapes; it’s the subject I feel most in touch with. But then from time to time I come across something and feel I must photograph it. That was the case with this image. The location was the “Train Graveyard” in Bolivia. It’s filled with old rusting steam trains from the past and is simply amazing – even if you don’t like trains.

What I also find quite amazing is how photo editing software has developed over recent years. When I shot this image four years back, I don’t think the panoramic stitching feature was available in Lightroom. That’s probably why the five images that make up this shot have sat on my hard drive for so long.

I captured the five images that make up this shot with an Olympus EM5 and Olympus 12-40mm lens. The camera was in the vertical position and the image taken handheld. Lightroom was able to stitch them very quickly and has made a good job. Except that is for removing the perspective distortion. To remove that I used DxO Viewpoint 3.0. I’m really starting to love this software and will be experimenting further with it in the future.

I hope you like the image and have a great weekend.

Fuji 18-135 Lens Review

Duomo, Pisa, Italy.
Duomo, Pisa, Italy. Fuji X-T2, 18-135mm lens at 35mm. ISO200, 1/420″ at f/8.0.

It’s been exactly 1 year today since I purchased and received this lens; I remember it well because of the terrible events of the Manchester Arena bomb.

I’ve been promising to do a real-world review of the lens for some time, so I thought what better time than after a year’s use. I should also explain what I mean by real world review. I’m not going to base my comments on charts and reading other lab reports from the internet. If that floats your boat, just google Fuji 18-135 Lens Review and I’m sure you will get your fill. This review is based on my use of the lens, the images I have captured with it and what I think are the strong and weak points.

By way of background, this is the second Fuji 18-135 lens I have owned. The first I purchased second hand and after a lot of frustration, it was eventually traded for other equipment. The problem with the first lens was that it was soft and didn’t focus correctly across the frame. The performance was hit and miss, which also seemed to be exaggerated by Adobe Lightroom “smoothing” the finer details in the Fuji RAW files.

It was then only after another 6 months of experience with the Fuji X-T2 that I decided to try a new example of the lens. This was quite a decision for me given my previous experience, but the idea of the 18-135 focal range was so compelling I thought it was worth the risk. A single lens that covers this focal range and will produce a good image is very attractive. It makes the lens ideal for travelling as well as trekking, when you don’t want or don’t have time to mess about changing lenses.

Since buying this lens, my Sony RX10, which was my previous trekking camera, has only been out a handful of times. The focal range of the Sony RX10 is 24mm – 200mm in full frame terms. This compares with 27mm – 202mm for the Fuji 18-135. In terms of coverage, the Fuji lens is similar although I do sometimes miss that first 3mm of the RX10 at the wide end. Where the Fuji 18-135 makes up for this is in being weather resistant and the Fuji X-T2 producing wonderfully clean images.

In terms of weight and size, the Fuji 18-135 lens is what I would term a medium-sized lens but quite light for the size.

Here’s a quick comparison of the Fuji X-T2 against the weight and size of my Micro 43 outfit. This was the kit that I tended to use for travel photography because of its size and weight.

Olympus 12-40 lens 382g – This is my main lens and although doesn’t have the reach of the 18-135, tended to stay on the camera 80% of the time. If I want the additional reach on the Micro 43 kit I would need to use my Panasonic 45-150mm (a great little lens by the way).

Fuji 18-135 490g – About 100g heavier than the Olympus but with the benefit of additional reach.

Olympus EM5 425g – As well as being lighter, this is also smaller than the X-T2 by a couple of cm. The only downside is that I need to use the body with the additional Olympus grip as the body alone gives me cramp in my right hand after around an hour’s use. This takes the combined weight over that of the X-T2.

Fuji X-T2 507g – Slightly larger and heavier than the Micro 43 body but still sufficiently compact.

Both kits will fit into a single small shoulder bag.

Fuji X-T2 with 18-135 Lens and Olympus EM5 with 12-40 lens

The Fuji 18-135mm lens has a 67mm front elements which allows me to use the Lee Seven 5 filter system when I want to be compact, although there is a small amount of vignetting when the lens is wider than around 23mm. The lens works fine with the Kase K8 filter holder and system, although this is bulkier and heavier than the Lee Seven 5.

The bugbear in my mind with the Fuji 18-135 lens is image quality, but I believe this is largely psychological and based on my earlier problems. I think when you constantly look for problems with the images from a specific camera or lens you will find always find something. It also makes you much fussier about image quality. If I compare the quality of the Micro 43 kit (probably unfair as it’s a few years older than the Fuji X-T2) those images aren’t as sharp or detailed and they carry more noise. The images are also smaller at 16Mpixels compared to the Fuji’s 24.3Mpixels, which does come in handy for commercial work.

There are though a few weak spots in the Fuji 18-135mm lens:

  • In very bright conditions and with the lens at the wide-angle end of the focal range, I do notice some Chromatic Aberration or colour fringing in images. This though is easily removed during RAW conversion.
  • When processed using Adobe Lightroom, the RAW files captured with this lens seem to be more prone to their fine details being “smoothed out” by the conversion. I don’t know what causes this, but I notice it when I compare the images with other RAW converters.
  • When used at 18mm, the extreme edges of the lens sometimes go off a little in terms of sharpness. To illustrate this, I have included an example below with sections of an image magnified to 200% and only limited/default capture sharpening applied. You do seem to be able to improve this to some degree by stopping the lens down further. And if you can use a slightly longer focal length the lens starts to perform very well indeed.
Extreme top edge of the image showing some softness in the top edge of the tower. Image magnified to 200%. Click image to view at full resolution.
Extreme bottom edge of the image showing less softness. Image magnified to 200%. Click image to view at full resolution.
Middle part of the frame with only default sharpening applied. Image magnified to 200%.Click image to view at full resolution.
Leaning Tower, Pisa, Italy.
Here is the full image.

Perhaps the biggest practical test of the Fuji 18-135 lens was my recent trip to Italy. After agonizing for some time over which lenses to take, I decided to travel lights and use only the 18-135. Reviewing the images now, I’m very happy with the quality and I was completely happy to work within the restrictions of the focal range. This is a very versatile lens and I’m happy to rely on it for future travel trips, especially when I want to travel with limited equipment.

You can also find my latest thoughts about the Fuji 18-135 lens on my Lenscraft website.

Friday Image No.131

Ponta de Sao Lourenco, Madeira
Eastern end of Madeira, Ponta de Sao Lourenco. Olympus EM5, 12-40 lens, f/7.1, 1/400″ @ ISO200

For this week’s Friday image, I wanted to share another from my recent trip to the island of Madeira. This image is taken from the eastern edge of the island where a long strip of land juts out into the sea. This is taken towards the end of the strip, looking back towards the main part of the island. It’s quite dramatic to be standing on a relatively narrow strip of sea cliffs, able to look down on the sea to either side. Damned windy as well.

I hope you all have a great weekend.

Friday Image No. 108

Mt Etna, Italy. Olympus EM5, Olympus 12-40mm at 40mm, ISO200, 1/1000 at f/7.1.  Two stop ND Graduated filter.
Mt Etna, Italy. Olympus EM5, Olympus 12-40mm at 40mm, ISO200, 1/1000 at f/7.1. Two stop ND Graduated filter.

It’s Friday at last and I’m gearing up for a relaxing weekend. Except that I have a whole load of paperwork to do and some prep for Monday. Anyway, here is another of the image from my recent visit to Italy to take my mind off all the work. This is the summit of Mt Etna which as you can tell is still very (very, very, very) active.

This image was shot from the rim of the crater and is as high as you can climb at around 3,340m. I say around as the eruptions continue to change the landscape. If you do visit, there is a lower crater which the 4-wheel drive tourist coaches drop you near to. But if you don’t mind another 400m ascent and are willing to hire a guide, you can go to the main crater. It’s well worth it but a bit of a slog given the altitude so you need to be reasonably fit and able to arry lots of water and the safety equipment.

Having said all this, it’s an awesome sight and I wouldn’t have missed it.

Have a great weekend.

Friday Image No.107

The Volcano on Vulcano. Olympus EM5 with 9-18mm Olympus lens.
The Volcano on Vulcano. Olympus EM5 with 9-18mm Olympus lens. Click to enlarge the image and get the real real experience.

I’m a little late today having been working solidly since around 07:30 this morning (it’s now 21:30). I have a backlog of work that seems to be getting longer every day and I have a full weekend and following week ahead of me. I need to cheer myself up and not just by dreaming of the Fuji XT2.

To make me feel better, here is one of the images from my recent volcano trekking trip to Italy. Here’s one from the rim of the volcano on the island of Vulcano. It’s actually a three image stich shot with the Olympus EM5 using the 9-18mm Olympus lens. The stitching was done in Lightroom.

Have a great weekend.

Continuing Fuji Thoughts

Daybreak on the island of Stromboli. Captured with the Olympus EM5. read the text to find out why.
Daybreak on the island of Stromboli. Captured with the Olympus EM5. read the text to find out why.
It’s now been a few weeks since I purchased the Fuji X-T1 and I think it’s fair to say it’s been a bit of a roller coaster in terms of how I have taken to the camera. But despite this it’s also been a huge learning experience for me and one that I am happy (now) that I have had. With this in mind I wanted to share some further thoughts about the camera in a few broad areas.

Handling & Build Quality

The camera is very well thought out and handles perfectly, at least for me. All the dials and buttons are where I would like to find them on the body, allowing me to work quickly. I find the layout and operation largely intuitive but so far I am probably using only a fraction of the features. I tend to shoot in Aperture Priority mode and then use exposure compensation to correct the exposure.

The only niggle that I have is that when I am changing the ISO dial, I sometimes catch the dial below this and set the camera to do multiple exposures or something equally annoying. With the EM5 this wouldn’t have bothered me as I tended to keep the ISO at the base 200. With the X-T1 I am much happier to push the ISO high for reasons I will mention shortly.

The build quality of the camera gives a lot of confidence. I have heard some people complain the body is too light, but I would say it’s about right and is in line with the EM5 that was my main camera.

The camera with lens attached is slightly larger than the EM5 and I probably need to find a new bag. I am struggling to fit a body and two lenses into my LowePro 140 which can take my EM5 and three lenses. I would say thought that size and weight of the Fuji kit is still acceptable as a travel and trekking camera.

Lens Range

The lens range is excellent although not as large as the Micro 43 range. I really like the build quality of the lenses, especially the super wide angle 10-24mm. Although there are a couple of lenses in the Micro 43 range that offer similar focal lengths these won’t accept filters due to the front element protruding. As I rely on lens filters heavily to achieve good exposures, this makes the Fuji system a real joy to use.

In the past I have tried the Micro 43 wide angles and then sold them because of the filter issue. Only the Olympus 9-18 remains in my kit as it will accept filters but it just doesn’t compare to the Fuji 10-24.

So far I have only tried 4 Fuji lenses. These are:

  • 10-24 – excellent
  • 16-55 – excellent
  • 55-200 – excellent
  • 18-135 – poor

It’s possible the 18-135 that I bought (and which has now been returned) was faulty. I experienced some focus issues with this lens as well as it appearing to exaggerate the watercolour effect (see below).

Overall the lenses that I have give me a great deal of confidence in the Fuji system.

I particularly like the Image Stabilisation in the lenses (although I would prefer it in the camera body). Despite this I seem to be able to shoot at some crazy shutter speeds handheld. Couple this with the excellent noise handling at high ISO (see image quality below) and you have a very flexible camera. It’s a real shame that the stabilisation is missing from the 16-55mm lens.

Image Quality

My initial thoughts on the image quality were that it was poor. I couldn’t believe this was a premium camera with no anti-aliasing filter as my result were so soft. With more use I have come to realise a few important points:

  • The water colour effect is a problem with the Adobe software but you can improve the results with careful sharpening, noise reduction and contrast/micro-contrast adjustment. The feedback on the “Fuji RAW File Conversion Challenge” was very insightful.
  • There are a number of factors that seem to exaggerate the water colour effect as mentioned below and you should try to minimise these in your shooting. This includes camera shake and getting the depth of field/focus point wrong.
  • Poor lens performance appears to exaggerate the Adobe water colour effect problem. Remember, lenses may not perform well across their entire focal range and aperture making the problem more difficult to pin down.
  • The water colour effect can be hidden if you are working on a screen with a high pixel density. If you are using a large screen with such as a 24” screen in HD resolution (1980 x 1020) you will likely see it much more than if you were using a 27” 5K Mac screen.
  • There are some great RAW converters out there which do a superb job of decoding the XTrans RAW file. Both Iridient and RAW Therapee produce better results for me than Adobe software, with fine detail being preserved and not becoming blocky. The Adobe software also appears to introduce a false pattern in distant foliage and which these other RAW converters avoid.
  • The images are very clean with noise not being evident. Even when I am shooting at ISO800 I have can happily turn off the noise reduction (Luminance and Colour) in order to better preserve fine details.
  • The RAW files are very flexible and stand up well to heavy processing. You are able to recover significant amounts of shadow and highlight detail without causing noise or other issues to become evident.
  • Colours are excellent and the film simulations supported in Lightroom are superb although sometimes a little contrasty. It’s therefore best to apply these first if you are using Lightroom. I also recently discovered that the Iridient RAW converter has its own version of these simulations which are also good and can be applied to other camera RAW files, not just Fuji.

Switching back to the EM5

Last week I took a bit of a break and went to Italy to hike up a few volcanoes. I decided not to take the Fuji as it was a little heavier and bulkier than the EM5. Overall I had the feeling the EM5 was a little like a toy camera in comparison to the Fuji. This is despite me having loved the EM5 for over three years. Now I am back and looking at the images I have captured, the RAW files don’t feel as flexible when applying image adjustments. I can also see much more fine noise in the images than with the Fuji RAW files, even when the EM5 is at base ISO.

In summary, I’m now sold on the Fuji. The only question now is do I carry out the rest of my plan to buy the Fuji X-T2 when its released? I’m really tempted by the increased pixels but would I be better upsizing the X-T1 images?

Save

Preparing for an Overseas Trip

Death Valley Sand Dune. Panasonix GX1 with 45-150mm lens. f/8.0, ISO 160, 1/200".
Death Valley Sand Dune. Panasonix GX1 with 45-150mm lens. f/8.0, ISO 160, 1/200″.

I am planning to take a trip a little later in the year and intend to be travelling light. At the same time, I want to be sure that I produce high quality images so I have been spending a little time today working out what my kit list is likely to be.

Olympus OMD EM5 will be the camera of choice given the quality of the images produced together with the image resolution.

To support the EM5 I will be taking the Olympus 12-40mm lens which gives a full frame equivalent of 24-80mm. I will also take the Olympus 9-18mm (18-36mm full frame equivalent) and Panasonic 45-150mm (90mm – 300mm full frame equivalent). All of these lenses produce very good image quality and with the exception of the 12-24 are small and light.

Accessory wise I will only need a few memory cards (I will actually have 6) ranging between 32Mb and 64Mb as well as 5 spare batteries. I hate running out of batteries so carrying 5 spares will allow for a couple of days shooting. My other essential accessory is the Lee Seven 5 filter system. Here I will be taking the 0.3, 0.6 and 0.9 ND Grad filters as well as a 6 stop and 10 stop ND filter.

All of this will fit into a small LowPro shoulder bag.

EM5 with 12-40 lens and small shoulder case.
EM5 with 12-40 lens and small shoulder case.

As I am going to use the 6 stop and 10 stop ND filters I will also need a tripod and camera remote. I want to travel light so I am in two minds over taking the Velbon tripod. The Velbon is very light but feels a little bulky at times given how light the rest of the equipment is. I did purchase a Rollei Travelling Tripod a couple of years back and which I am also considering for the trip.

I have never used the Rollei (how bad is that) and it feels a little small and light despite being very well made. If anyone has any experience with this tripod I would be interested to know what you think and what its short comings are.