Options for travel photography

There’s a thread on dpr that started with a simple question, which I will paraphrase:

I’m going to Europe for a month and want to travel light. Am I crazy to go with a full frame camera and a 55mm f/1.8 lens?

Most of the respondents answered in the affirmative, citing the need for versatility for not missing any opportunities. A few went along with the single-focal-length idea, but suggested that 55mm was too long.

A small number of people, including your faithful scribe, encouraged the poster to go for it, saying that, for travel photography, operating with one lens for an extensive period trains your eye and will result in better pictures than looking for pictures in general, then deciding what focal length is best.

I cited my experiences in the 80’s doing travel photography with the Plaubel Makina (6×7) and its built-in 80mm lens. It is a powerful ability to be able to see like the camera you have in your hand. You look at the world and frame the image in your mind’s eye. When you raise the camera to your eye, you just need to make minor adjustments to get good things to happen at the edges, focus, and trip the shutter. If you zone focus, it’s even faster.

As the thread evolved, I watched silently. Then it dawned on me that there was probably an unstated difference in assumptions between the two camps. It seemed to be a quality vs quantity issue. The lots of lens options group seemed to be driven by fear of missing a shot. The put yourself in a box and explore that box group was possible looking for the strategy that maximized the chance of getting one or two great shots.

Ansel Adams said that 12 good pictures a year was plenty for him. For the most part, I buy that way of looking at photographic productivity. There are two differences; my bar for picture goodness is lower than Ansel’s, and when I’m working in a series, I sometimes want enough good pictures to completer the series, and if the series is seasonal, sometimes I don’t want to wait a year.

Before we delve deeper into that, let’s consider strategies for making impromptu travel photographs. My assumption is that the photographer has no assistant, no ability to modify the light, and no ability or desire to direct the people in the image, if there are any. I believe that there are two strategies that can be successful, and I have a preference.

The first strategy, which I’ll call Magic Moment is to be aware of your surroundings in a hyper-receptive way. This feels like a sort of meditative state. You are aware of the world. You see patterns, relationships and connections that would normally escape you. (By the way, this mental state is in my experience incompatible with any meaningful interaction with people who may be traveling with you. If you can, explain to your traveling companions what you’re doing, or better yet, go on these photographic expeditions alone.) You’re always seeing in your mind the way the scene will look to the camera. You’re zone focusing all the time even though your camera is lowered. When everything clicks and something wonderful happens, you raise the camera to your eye and make the picture. Then you move on.

The second strategy, which I’ll refer to as Work the Scene, starts out like the first, and, if something marvelous happens right in front of you, ends there. When you find a promising scene, you start making exposures, even if you’re pretty sure they won’t be keepers. You move around and try out different ideas to see what works and what doesn’t. If you have people in your picture, when you understand the image you want, you hang around waiting for the people to disport themselves the way you want, taking pictures along the way. When you finally see the image you’re looking for, you make three quick exposures (for insurance) and move on.

I’m not the only person who prefers the second strategy. Henri Cartier-Bresson talked about looking for, and finding “the decisive moment”. I imagined that his contact sheets were populated by individual images carefully chosen in time. Imagine my surprise when I got to see many of his contact sheets at the ICP museum in New York City. In one respect, his contact sheets looked a lot like mine: finding a likely spot, exploring a few ways of dealing with it, running into some dead ends, finding something that works, and either making two or three quick exposures and moving on or making several exposures with essentially the same framing while waiting for people to arrange themselves. (I’m not claiming that my contact sheets look like Cartier-Bresson’s in any larger sense, although I wish they did). The contact sheets tell the story of a photographer working out the possibilities while making images, rather than sitting back and contemplating until the image is complete in his head before tripping the shutter.

In 1980, Lustrum Press published a book called Contact: Theory, which, for forty-odd photographers, presents a well-known photograph, the contact sheet from which the negative was picked, and an explanation by the photographer of the thinking involved in the selection. By looking at the contact sheets, you’ll see how the photographers get to their images. You’ll see some approaches similar to Cartier-Bresson’s. You’ll see many other techniques. You’ll see things that didn’t work. You’ll see some photographic narration. You won’t see any perfect images unrelated to the others on the sheet.

Magic Moment clearly favors using a single focal length. You don’t have time to change lenses when the moment happens. You need to be able to think like the camera, and having a single focal length makes that a lot easier. I should note here that it’s possible to train your eye to several different focal lengths, so, if you’re employing a zoom, you can preset the focal length, raise the camera to your eye, and know exactly what you’re going to see. I’ve done this when carrying two single focal length cameras, and it isn’t easy.

Work the Scene is compatible with the ability to choose from several different focal lengths prior to the final framing decisions.

Where does the number of good pictures you’re looking for come into this? For someone like me, looking for a handful of good images, the thing that makes or breaks an image’s inclusion in the good category is something beyond what appeared in front of the camera. If a dozen other photographers present at the same place and time would have made a dozen similar images, then it’s probably going to make the year’s top twelve. As a corollary, the thing that’s most important to a successful image is not what’s going on in front of the camera, but what’s going on in the mind of the photographer.

I admit that a great photographer can’t make a boffo image out of nothing, but I think amazing images can come from pretty ordinary circumstances.

However, if you’re just looking for a bunch of better-than-OK images, sort of a travel diary with good esthetics, then you want to be able to document everything you see, and versatility in your equipment is probably a good idea.

I have argued before than constraining yourself in photography can set up situations that can lead to great outcomes. This has proven to be a controversial position, but the years have made me believe it even more. The one-lens European trip is an example of a constrained photographic experience that I think can have a great outcome. I know it has for me.

Here’s an example of the result of a successful working of the scene:

Boules, Paris, 1982

On the same trip, I was presented with this opportunity:

Smoking Teenagers, Paris, 1982

I only had one chance. I did make another exposure, but the girls were all mugging for me, and the magic was gone.

And here’s one that just fell into my lap:

Amsterdam, 1984

 

Measuring IR hot spots

There is an opinion that the hot spots that you sometimes see when lenses not intended for use in the infrared are used there is the result of lens flare. In other words, the light that causes the hot spot is not light from parts of the scene close to the center of the image, but rather light from disparate parts of the scene are concentrated in the center of the image.

When I tested the Zeiss 35mm f/2 Distagon ZF.2 a couple of days ago, it looked like it had some hot spotting at f/11 and narrower f-stops. I wanted to look more closely at that, and also to test whether the hotspots seemed to have the characteristics of concentrated flare.

I cut up a mostly-dark photograph and taped it to a window. Then i made an aperture series.

 

f/2

f/2

f.2,8

f.2,8

f/4

f/4

f/5.6

f/5.6

 

f/8

f/8

f/11

f/11

f/16

f/16

f/22

f/22

It’s hard to see, but the central part of the image does get brighter and brighter, starting a f-stops wider than were indicated a causing hot spots in the Expodisc test that I used in the last post. By the way, ignore the two white rings in the upper right of the square. They’re from the photo that I cut off for this test. I thought that the interior/exterior lighting level difference would make them invisible, but I was wrong.

To see if the effect was any different with a smaller occlusion, stuck a Post-it note on the window and made another aperture series.

 

f/2

f/2

f/2.8

f/2.8

f/4

f/4

f/5.6

f/5.6

f/8

f/8

f/11

f/11

f/16

f/16

f/22

f/22

The same thing happens. To quantify this, I measured the central value in Lightroom for all the images, and plotted the results.

 

cebtrol hot spot birghtness

It looks like there is evidence of hot spotting starting at f/5.6. But is the hot spotting enough to be visible in photographs? I took down the Post-it note and made another aperture series.

f/2

f/2

f/2.8

f/2.8

f/4

f/4

f/5.6

f/5.6

f/8

f/8

f/11

f/11

f/16

f/16

f/22

f/22

I can see it plainly in the last one. I can see it somewhat at f/16. I wouldn’t notice it at f/11 unless I were looking for it.

The good news is: we now have in the occluded middle test, a very sensitive quantitative indicator of the presence and severity of hot spots.

The bad news is: the test may be so sensitive that it might cause us to reject perfectly good lenses and/or useful f-stops.

Doing a similar test with the 28mm f/1.4 Nikkor-D yields this:

occluded ctr 28mm Nik

Note that the general shape of the curve is the same, but that the values are much lower. It may be that the lenses that don’t show hot spots at narrow apertures have lower central flare at all apertures.

 

 

IR hotspotting with the 35mm f/2 Distagon ZF.2

In yesterday’s post, there were some indications of hotspotting with the Zeiss ZF.2 35mm lens. I did a test for that today. In visible light, when I look for non-uniformity in field illumination, I use an Expodisc. I was worried that that technique might induce some artifact that I don’t understand. The sky was overcast this morning, so I just shot an aperture series of the low clouds.

f/2

f/2

A lot of corner falloff,  just as in visible light, but no hot spot.

f/2.8

f/2.8

Less corner falloff. Is that a hot spot developing, or is that just the clouds? It’s in the wrong place to be a hot spot, unless the lens is decentered.

f/4

f/4

It’s not getting worse. I guess it was just the clouds.

f/5.6

f/5.6

We’re still losing the edge falloff.

f/8

f/8

Looking good.

f/11

f/11

Now, just maybe, we’re getting the beginnings of a real hot spot, although it’s not bad enough to harm the image.

f/16

f/16

OK. There it is.

f/22

f/22

Pretty bad at f/22, but I’d never use that aperture.

I repeated the series with an Expodisc.

f/2

f/2

f/2.8

f/2.8

f/4

f/4

f/5.6

f/5.6

f/8

f/8

f/11

f/11

Just the beginning of a hot spot.

f/16

f/16

Now we have an obvious hot spot

f/22

f/22

Even worse.

If the Expodisc is a reasonable test, You can use f/11 in a pinch, but don’t go beyond that with the LifePixel standard IR filter.

 

3 WA lenses on the a7II in IR

There aren’t a lot of people doing infrared photography, probably because, to do it right, you have to have a camera modified, and that’s a big step if you just want to get your feet wet. For that reason, this post won’t be useful to many people.

However, because there aren’t a lot of people doing IR photography, it’s not easy to find out how a lens is going to perform in the IR without going out and buying one. For that reason, this post may be very useful to a few people.

I recently had a second Sony alpha 7 camera modified for IR use. This one was a Sony alpha 7 Mark II, aka the a7II. LifePixel did the work. In my last modification, I’d opted for the Super Color filter, which passes some visible light with the idea of making modifications of the effective filtration possible in post when you convert to black and white, which interested me.  That filter also makes it possible to do false-color IR photos, which doesn’t interest me. I found the Super Color filter somewhat problematical when I wanted a conventional IR image. I tried filters that blocked the visible light, but found the sensitivity too low, and the filters made flare more of a problem.

I had previously considered LifePixel’s all-pass filter and doing all the filtration in front of the lens, but my flare difficulties when I used filters with the Super Color filter made me put the kibosh to that plan. I opted for the standard IR filter this time.

I had successfully used my Nikon 28mm f/1.4 Nikkor-D on the Super Color camera, so I wanted to test it on the new camera. I also tested the Zeiss 35mm f/2 Distagon ZF.2 and the Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon (in a mount for a Leica M camera). I did not test the Zony 35. When I do IR photography, I use manual focus, and I find the focus-by-wire technology in the Zony 35 doesn’t fit my working style.

Here’s the usual scene with all three lenses at f/2.8. I have not had good luck in the past with IR pictures at wider apertures, and I didn’t even try this time.

 

Nikkor

Nikkor

Distagon

Distagon

Biogon

Biogon

You can see that there’s quite a bit of corner falloff with the Biogon, a bit with the Distagon, and almost none with the Nikkor. There are no hotspots, but they don’t usually show up until the lens is stopped down.

Here’s a set of f/11 images:

Nikkor

Nikkor

Distagon

Distagon

Biogon

Biogon

There seems to be a hot spot with the Distagon, and, to a lesser extent, with the Biogon.

I won’t show you the center images, because they’re pretty similar. The differences are in the corners.

At f/2.8 and 2:1:

Nikkor

Nikkor

Distagon

Distagon

Biogon

Biogon

They are all to soft to be useful. The Biogon is a bad joke.

At f/4:

Nikkor

Nikkor

Distagon

Distagon

Biogon

Biogon

The Nikkor and the Distagon are acceptable. with the Distagon the sharper. The Biogon is useless.

At f/5.6:

 

Nikkor

Nikkor

Distagon

Distagon

Biogon

Biogon

The Biogon is not very good at all. The other two are fine, with the Distagon the winner.

At f/8:

Nikkor

Nikkor

Distagon

Distagon

Biogon

Biogon

The Distagon is looking really good, and the Biogon has moved up in the world far enough to merit the rank of marginal. The Nikkor is OK.

At f/11:

 

Nikkor

Nikkor

Distagon

Distagon

Biogon

Biogon

The Biogon is OK, but last. I’d call the lead a tie.

If I don’t need the extra spread of the Nikkor, I’m going to use the Distagon, assuming the stitching software can deal with the hot spot. If not, it’s back to the Nikkor.

4 35mm lenses on the a7II — f/8

This is a continuation of the real-world test of four 35mm lenses on the Sony alpha 7 Mark II:

  • Sony/Zeiss (Zony) 35mm f/2.8
  • Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon M-mount
  • Zeiss 35mm f/2 DIstagon F-mount
  • Nikon 35mm f/2 Nikkor-D

This post will look at the upper right at f/8.

I’m not going to show the center images for this f-stop, since they all look the same.

The upper right, at 2:1:

Zony

Zony

Biogon

Biogon

Distagon

Distagon

Nikkor

Nikkor

The Distagon has a lot of CA. The Biogon and the Nikkor has some. The most natural-looking image is the Zony.

 

4 35mm lenses on the a7II — f/5.6

This is a continuation of the real-world test of four 35mm lenses on the Sony alpha 7 Mark II:

  • Sony/Zeiss (Zony) 35mm f/2.8
  • Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon M-mount
  • Zeiss 35mm f/2 DIstagon F-mount
  • Nikon 35mm f/2 Nikkor-D

This post will look at the center and upper right at f/5.6

The center, at 2:1:

Zony

Zony

Biogon

Biogon

Distagon

Distagon

Nikkor

Nikkor

Virtually the same.

The upper right:

Zony

Zony

Biogon

Biogon

Distagon

Distagon

Nikkor

Nikkor

The Biogon and the Distagon are showing some CA. The Nikkor is now looking quite respectable, and has a tiny bit of CA too. The Zony is not as sharp as the Biogon, but is looking pretty good. The lenses have different strengths at this f-stop, and it’s hard to pick a winner.

4 35mm lenses on the a7II — f/4

This is a continuation of the real-world test of four 35mm lenses on the Sony alpha 7 Mark II:

  • Sony/Zeiss (Zony) 35mm f/2.8
  • Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon M-mount
  • Zeiss 35mm f/2 DIstagon F-mount
  • Nikon 35mm f/2 Nikkor-D

This post will look at the center and upper right at f/4

The center, at 2:1:

Zony

Zony

BIogon

BIogon

Distagon

Distagon

Nikkor

Nikkor

Pretty similar.

Zony

Zony

BIogon

BIogon

Distagon

Distagon

Nikkor

Nikkor

The Nikkor trails. Distagon is next, then Biogon, then Zony. I’m impressed with this little Zony lens.

4 35mm lenses on the a7II — f/2.8

This is a continuation of the real-world test of four 35mm lenses on the Sony alpha 7 Mark II:

  • Sony/Zeiss (Zony) 35mm f/2.8
  • Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon M-mount
  • Zeiss 35mm f/2 DIstagon F-mount
  • Nikon 35mm f/2 Nikkor-D

This post will look at the center and upper right at f/2.8.

The center, at 2:1:

Zony

Zony

Biogon

Biogon

Distagon

Distagon

Nikkor

Nikkor

Not a lot of differences, but the Nikkor is a hair softer.

The upper right:

Zony

Zony

Biogon

Biogon

Distagon

Distagon

Nikkor

Nikkor

The Nikkor is soft. The Biogon has flare and CA. The Distagon and the Zony are very close, but I’d give the nod to the Zony.

 

4 35mm lenses on the a7II

I performed a real-world test of four 35mm lenses on the Sony alpha 7 Mark II:

  • Sony/Zeiss (Zony) 35mm f/2.8
  • Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon M-mount
  • Zeiss 35mm f/2 DIstagon F-mount
  • Nikon 35mm f/2 Nikkor-D

The scene, wide open with all the lenses so you can get an idea of the light falloff towards the edges:

Zony

Zony

Biogon

Biogon

Distagon

Distagon

Nikkor

Nikkor

It’s a little surprising that the FE lens, designed for the camera, and operating a whole stop down from any of the others, has the worst falloff. None are particularly bad, though.

At f/2, in the center (the Zony is not represented here, since it doesn’t open that wide:

Biogon

Biogon

Distagon

Distagon

Nikkor

Nikkor

The Distagon wins.

In the upper right:

Biogon

Biogon

Distagon

Distagon

Nikkor

Nikkor

The Biogon is plagued with flare, and chromatic aberration,. The Nikkor is just soft. The Distagon is fine.

 

 

 

 

Bokeh with 5 Normal lenses at f/4 on a D810

This continues with the bokeh testing of the provious post. The candidate lenses are:

  • Nikon 60mm f/2.8 AF Micro-Nikkor
  • Nikon 58mm f/1.4 AFS-Nikkor G
  • Coastal Optical 60mm f/4 UV-Vis-IR Apo Macro
  • Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG Art
  • Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Otus

At f/4, we can show samples from all the lenses.

Overall:

Coastal Optical

Coastal Optical

Micro-Nikkor

Micro-Nikkor

58mm Nikkor

58mm Nikkor

Sigma

Sigma

Otus

Otus

Even at f/4, the 58mm Nikkor still continues to excel at smooth rendering of out of focus highlights, but we see nowhere near the differences that were apparent at wider apertures. The Otus is next, and I’d say the other three are close to each other.

Up close:

Coastal Optical

Coastal Optical

Micro-Nikkor

Micro-Nikkor

58mm Nikkor

58mm Nikkor

Sigma

Sigma

Otus

Otus

Except for the Otus, I don’t find many differences here. The Zeiss lens does the most convincing job on the printing on the Flowers label.

The differences are getting small, and I won’t present the f/5.6. f/8, and f/11 results unless someone wants to see them.

Photography meets digital computer technology. Photography wins — most of the time.

Entries RSS
Comments RSS