Travel Photography

Friday Image No. 108

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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

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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

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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?


Preparing for an Overseas Trip

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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.

A Surreal Experience in Bolivia

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Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, Olympus EM5, 12-40 lens at 12mm, ISO200, f/7.1, shutter speed 1/200″

I must admit that I have seen some beautiful and unusual landscapes around the world in my time but this one in Bolivia has to take the prize for the most unusual. The salt flats of Uyuni in Bolivia are spectacular. They are flat and white but in some locations there are small islands of cactus. This particular one is called Salar de Uyuni.

The trip over to the island was rather unusual also. We were travelling in two Toyota Land Cursers, side by side speeding across the flats at around 70mph playing Guns & Roses (welcome to the Jungle) followed by the Sex Pistols (Anarchy in the UK).

It’s moments like this that tend to stick in the mind. Hope you like the image.

Friday image No.034

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Olympus OMD EM5 + 45mm Olympus lens
Olympus OMD EM5 + 45mm Olympus lens. Click the image to enlarge.

Yet another trip from my recent visit to Nantes in France.

This time I was walking along the river and spotted these three bird(two cormorants and a heron). They appeared quite tame as this was shot with my 45mm prime – it was the longest lens I had with me at the time. Fortunately it was the 45mm prime which is exceptionally sharp and will allow me to a high quality enlargement if required.

I hope you like it and have a great weekend.

Friday image No.030

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Olympus EM5 with Panasonic 45-150mm lens.
Olympus EM5 with Panasonic 45-150mm lens.

Sometimes I’m guilty of trying to create images with too much drama. I need to remind myself that simple can be beautiful and not every image needs a sunset.

The was shot in the early afternoon, just off the point at the Lizard in Cornwall. Please don’t ask where the pink atmospherics came from, I have no idea. But I’m very pleased they are there. I now want another holiday.

Have a great weekend everyone.