Santa’s Enchanted Forrest


One of our favorite night shooting locations for the year and a fine place to use the fast Leica lenses.    All images made hand holding, including the Ferris Wheel which was taken at 1/15 sec.    Might make one more trip this year and post more images.

Family outing !!!   Leica APO-Summicron-M 75mm f/2.0 ASPH
Family outing !!! Leica APO-Summicron-M 75mm f/2.0 ASPH
In amazement !!    Leica  75 APO-Summicron Asph
In amazement !! Leica 75 APO-Summicron Asph
One wild ride !!!!     Leica APO-Summicron-M 75mm f/2.0 ASPH
One wild ride !!!! Leica APO-Summicron-M 75mm f/2.0 ASPH
The drag strip !!  Leica Super-Elmar-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH
The drag strip !! Leica Super-Elmar-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH
The eyes have it !!   Leica APO-Summicron-M 75mm f/2.0 ASPH
The eyes have it !! Leica APO-Summicron-M 75mm f/2.0 ASPH
Mechanical  bull operator     Leica APO-Summicron-M 75mm f/2.0 ASPH
Mechanical bull operator Leica APO-Summicron-M 75mm f/2.0 ASPH
Looking fine with iPhone !!     Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH
Looking fine with iPhone !! Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH
Riding !!!     Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH
Riding !!! Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH
The big wheel !!!   Leica Super-Elmar-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH
The big wheel !!! Leica Super-Elmar-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH

 

 

 

 

 

Leica Monochrom


 

The only way to know if a Monochrom is worth it for you is trying it. No amount of reading will be able to

Make your decision easy…… so I went down to the Leica Store and got one for using overnight.   Sweet.

Nothing but good vibes at the  store and  Kirsten and Peter could not be nicer.

 

First, test it at Miracle Mile with a 50 Summilux, then to  the Grove with the Noctilux for nighttime shooting.

Got enough images to get a feel for what the camera could do. First obvious difference is the clean ISO,

10,000 is usable with work. For general shooting would set to 3200 without having to worry about

noise, hardly any at that setting.   Made images thought to be impossible before (action wise).

 

50mm Noctilus f/0.95, 1/125, ISO 10,000
50mm Noctilus f/0.95, 1/125, ISO 10,000

The Monochrom files are much better than the M9 but only marginally better than the M type 240.   Still

Feel there is enough different to make it worth the effort.   The sharpness produced at high ISO needs to

Be seen to believe.

 

Will post some images from the two shoots and will be posting lots more in the very near future.

90mm f/4 Macro Elmar. F/11, 1/125, ISO 800
90mm f/4 Macro Elmar. F/11, 1/125, ISO 800

 

50mm Noctilux f/0.95, 1/60, ISO 1250
50mm Noctilux f/0.95, 1/60, ISO 1250
50mm Noctilux @ f/2, 1/125, ISO 320
50mm Noctilux @ f/2, 1/125, ISO 320
50mm Noc  f 1.4  1/90 sec  ISO 1600
50mm Noc f 1.4 1/90 sec ISO 1600
50mm Noc  f 0.95   1/125 sec  ISO 320
50mm Noc f 0.95 1/125 sec ISO 320

 

 

 

 

Sony NEX-7 Review


Recently, I have been looking for something other than bird photography, and started researching available cameras. A normal DSLR like the Canon 5DIII would be a good choice, but I feel it is too large and bulky for traveling. Large lenses for candids are counterproductive, since people tend to shy away.

 

After much digging, I came up with the Sony NEX-7 which I find to be a jewel.   It has 24.3 MP, APS-C sensor, no mirror, ISO to 16,000 (fully usable), Electronic viewfinder, lots of in camera features, excellent ergonomics and superb quality. Articulated LCD and capable of shooting 12 frames per second.  Panorama and HDR features, although these only in jpg format. Add some high quality lenses and you will see what I mean.Image

Sigma 105mm f 2.8 EX DG OS HSM    f 2.8  1/3200 sec  ISO 800  (157 equivalent)  hand held.

The camera is small but easy to hold in your hand, takes little getting used to. In no time, you will be able to get to all controls rapidly without effort.  The camera is complex, but so is every other camera in the market, so reading the manual and spending time with it will pay dividends in the field. It is frustrating trying to find a setting having to scroll through all the menus.

 Image

 

Image made hand held  Sony 18-200  3.5 6.3   f 6.3  1/50  ISO 200  @  142 (214 equivalent)
Shooting wide open and at a slow shutter speed for showing the sharpness and stabilization performance.
Image100% crop of previous image, no sharpening applied.

The NEX-7 has its own E Mount Sony lenses but is also able to use just about any other lens with an adapter. Interesting too, that the Sony adapter for the Alpha lenses improves the AF !!!! .The camera has a phase detection AF vs contrast in DSLRs, each has advantages and disadvantages. Face AF is not very good for fast action like birds if flight, contrast has it by a mile, however, this system has an electronic viewfinder, with a choice of live histogram or a level, which is amazing. First of all you can review the image on the viewfinder, no need to take your eyes away and look at the LCD if you want to chimp, it will be discrete :).   You can also change all settings looking into the viewfinder. Going back to the converter for using the Alpha lenses, the converted uses both face and contrast for AF functioning and it makes it faster. Still, not in the same league as the pure contrast AF systems.    

Image

Sony 18-200  3.5-6.3     f 13  4.0 sec  ISO 100    at 18mm (27 equivalent)

I did my AF testing for flight with probably the worst lens I could use but it was the only available, the 105 Sigma macro. By the way, for macro I have been using Sigma lenses both when I was with Nikon and Canon, We like like the lenses and its the only third party lens we use. With the macro lens and converter, I was able to obtain some razor sharp flight images pre-focusing and being extra careful, without the converter and the other E lenses, It was just about impossible.   Only got one, shown below.

Image

 Sony 18-200  f 6.3  1/1600  ISO 400
Made the best with harsh light conditions.

The lens line-up for this camera is superb. I would caution from buying the smaller, black 18-200, it seems to be a Tamron with a Sony label.   There is another 18-200 made by Sony (silver), a bit heavier (2 oz) and thicker, which is sharp. Not sure if we had two bad samples of the black lens but performance was not acceptable. The Sony lens was designed for their high end video cameras and has image stabilization for both still and video, the other just for stills. Price difference is about fifty dollars.

ImageSony 10-18, @ 18mm. f/4, 1″, ISO 100, tripod mounted.

First lens to buy would be the 18-200 and then you go according to need.   I want fast lenses for low light so we went with the Zeiss 24 1.8, Sony 50 1.8 and Sony 10-18, f 4.0. The 24 is the crowning jewel. Michael Reichmann raves about the lens and compares to the Leica Sumilux 24!. One amazing statement, be sure to read his reviews in Luminous Landscape for an eye opener!

 The wide angle zoom is amazing, since its image stabilized, producing sharp images at low shutter speeds even hand held.  The 50 1.8 is an obvious choice since the cost is not that high and the performance remarkable. My wife and I have tried and shot thousands of images during two trips to the House of the Mouse (Disney) and have been impressed. Some sample images including a couple at a ridiculously high ISO, taken by my wife and I.Image

Straight out of the camera with no processing   Sony 50 1.8    f 1.8   1/100 sec  ISO 16,000

Another good lens choice would be Leica.   Lenses are small and excellent performers, you set the f stop on the lens so no complicated adapter is needed .. they are manual focus only, though. For Canon, Nikon etc you need the latest adapter so the camera communicates with the lens, otherwise the lens would default to wide open.

 Image

Sony 18-200  f 22  1/4 sec  ISO 100 @ 43 mm  (equivalent 64)
Forgot my ND !!!
 

One safe way to try out this camera would be renting. Lots of places to rent online for very little and there is nothing like a hands on experience. First, download the online manual, to be familiar before the camera arrives.  After trying I know you will not be disappointed.

 Image

Sony 10-18mm @10mm, in-camera HDR with 6 Ev range, 3 images, f/22, ISO 1600, tripod mounted. Sony IR remote.

 

 

St. Paul, AK, a Birding Paradise.




Want a productive and exciting shooting destination? …… St Paul Island and look no further !!!

St Paul is the largest of the Pribilof Islands, located in the Bearing Sea between Russia and the US.   Just over three hour flight from Anchorage …weather permitting,   you will get in, most of the time.     Half an hour from this Island is St George, which has even more birds but chances of landing are about one or two a week !!!

The island is fairly small, seven miles at the widest and thirteen at the longest.     Volcanic in origin with many hills rising to over two hundred meters and unique weather conditions.    Best time to go is in the summer and the normal is forties, wind and rain.    On my last visit I was told they had seen the sun twelve days this year with no more sightings expected.

Equipment wise, you will get use out of your longest lens.  I strongly suggest taking  some heavy duty rain protection for your lenses.  You will be shooting in rain half of the time.  Getting your gear to the island is not a problem.    You can gate check your photo gear and have a computer bag with you in the plane.

Accommodations are adequate and you stay at the airport, the hotel in town was condemned so the oil exploration offices were converted into a hotel …. Your room is just a few steps away from the airline counter !!!   Bathrooms are outside and they provide towels, soap etc.

There is one place for all you meals so not much thinking where to go !!!   You eat at the food processing factory with the employees, food is not bad.   Only downside is the strong smell that greets you when you come in.

Photography wise you can shoot all day from sunrise to around midnight.    The Island has the same time as Anchorage but should be two zones different being due north of Hawaii.

We normally only took brakes if the weather was real bad, which would be either heavy rain with forty mile per hour wind, heavy (heavy) fog or sunny !!!  With sun you don’t fair well since it will be strong by the time you go out in the morning unless you skip breakfast.    Then have to wait till the end of the day for softer light.   Sunny conditions are unusual so with overcast you will be fine.

 

The primary species you will go after will be the cliff dwellers,  Tufted and Horned Puffins, Parakeet Auklets, Least Auklets, Red-faced Cormorants. Murre, Kittiwakes and more.    June would be the time with the most birds but will not get you the Puffins returning with food.

There are many other bird species you can photograph particularly interesting will be the Snow Buntings, Rosy finches and Lapland Longspur, as well as numerous shorebirds, such as Red necked Phalaropes, a few Sandpipers and Rudy Turnstone.

Also,  Northern Fur Seals are numerous, with full frame head shots available.

Blue Foxes, a sub-species of Arctic Fox, can be seen around the island, with young ones going around by the summer’s end.

For planning, I would suggest going for one full week.   Basically due to the weather, if you had good weather in two days you would clean up and go home a happy camper!!!

Newfoundland


If you want to see and photograph Puffins, there’s no better place than Witless Bay, located in Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula, half an hour from St Johns. More than 260,000 pair of puffins make their homes in the area in late spring and summer. About 95% of all puffins in North America breed around the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The primary destination around the area would be Gull Island, with restricted access,but can you get there with a tour operator and several are available in the area. O’Brian’s Whale and Bird Tours operates a fairly large boat which will get you real close to the island. Real close … is comfortable and you will have a pleasant ride. For photography, it will be tough since the boat is rocking and although a five hundred lens would be ideal, you will do much better with a shorter/lighter lens.

A better alternative would be going out with a smaller Zodiac, which will be an adventure in itself. Elaine’s B&B has Zodiac tours both for groups and private, the latter would be my suggestion. If you would be staying for a few days would highly recommend staying at Elaine’s. One thing to keep in mind with the smaller boats is keeping your gear dry .. not easy !! You need to use heavy duty protection like ThinkTank Hydrophobia.

An even better alternative is obtaining a permit to actually land on the island for a couple of hours. This will take some doing and very few are given out. We managed to obtain a permit and it was a total sensory overload. You will have restrictions in needing a biologist to accompany you on the island and there are lots of places you will not be able to go. Walking over and destroying puffin nest is a strong possibility so you better do what you are told.

Weather is always a problem so you will get a three day window for getting on to the island and once you get there you hope landing will be possible. There is no easy area to land, you just leap from the boat to rocks and hang on !!! Moving at first is difficult, since the going is steep and extreme caution is needed. After a successful landing you make your way up, first through colony of herring gulls which will attack you, so placing the tripod over hour head for protection is necessary.

Once you reach the top and the puffin nesting area is pure joy to photograph. You will be within a few feet of the birds and don’t seem bothered at all. Your guide will move you around so you will not be by the same ground and allow them their usual routine.

After leaving the island you might luck out and probably will, finding whales !! We had incredible action and even decided to return on the little zodiac the next day just to go whale watching.

This is one of those destination which you will be making plans for a return trip while your returning home … we did !!!