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Photo of the week: I Am Legend

by on Oct.28, 2017, under Reviews

At first glance this image seems much akin to “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog,” a lonely hiker standing at the edge of a cliff. This is no coincidence as Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings have always been a great inspiration to me. Their striking iconography and atmosphere are unparalleled; however, this image was not taken in Germany, Friedrich’s home country, but in Japan.

Most might not be able to tell, since the fog doesn’t allow for our gaze to wander off into the distance. But some might have heard of the location it was shot before: the isle of Yakushima. It is a small island about 100 kilometers south of the southern most main isle of Japan called Kyushu. Its great expanses of temperate rainforest have since 1993 been part of the UNESCO World Heritage due to their diverse endemic flora and fauna. Some of the island’s Japanese Cedars are up to 7,000 years old.

The forest is often engulfed by clouds hanging in the mountains which reach up to almost 2,000 meters in altitude. To explore the woods was one of my main goals when I travelled to the island earlier this year. Even though it’s the rainiest part in all of Japan I just couldn’t help to go. What awaited me was beyond what I had expected.

It was much like what I had seen in Princess Mononoke—a movie the setting of which was largely inspired by the forests of Yakushima. Actually so much so, that there is now a small part of the forest titled “Mononoke no Mori,” which translates as “Mononoke’s Forest.

For four days I hiked with my friend Philipp Lutz along the Yakushima traverse, witnessing the forest’s and mountain’s beauty. Part of the allure of the place was the fact that it is not very well known in the western landscape photography realms; something which comes as no surprise, given the language barrier and its distance to Europe and the US mainland. Luckily my friend and I do speak some Japanese, so it wasn’t as hard for us to obtain the information we needed to get around.

This specific image was taken on the third day on the island on our way up to Miyanoura-Dake, the highest elevation of the island. Originally we had planned to get up that day, but the islands paths were quite long and winding, offering so many photo opportunities such as this one, that we spent much time just shooting the forest scenery instead of treading on, arriving a day later than anticipated.

Due to the topography of the island the upper slopes of the mountain ranges are almost always engulfed in fog. When we went through the undergrowth for some time we came to a cliff where I almost stumbled down the slope as the path was taking us through the ravine you can see on the right side of the image. The old cedar trees were omnipresent and lend the forest its distinct, primordial character. With this image I tried to combine the aforementioned iconography of “The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog” with the island’s unique fauna and mood to forge an atmospheric rendition of what it was like to hike through this one of a kind landscape. It is times like these where I feel like telling people that I am inspired much by landscape painters is more than just a educational phrase to encourage students in my workshops to look beyond photography to find meaningful inspiration. I for myself might not have taken this image had I not looked at so many of Friederich’s works.

This is something with may be lost on the younger generation and the myriads of instagram selfies on cliffs, but the image type is not even a product of out post-modern, self-referential crave for admiration. Instead it is part of a long tradition dating back hundreds of years.

Nicolas Alexander Otto is a semi-professional landscape photographer based out of North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany. He writes for different online and print media, teaches workshops for several agencies, sells prints and calendars and offers post processing sessions. You can find more of his work on his website, Facebook and Instagram.

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Sigma 16mm F1.4 DC DN 'C': hands-on and additional details

by on Oct.27, 2017, under Reviews

Hands-on with new Sigma 16mm F1.4 DC DN | Contemporary

Sigma has used the Photo Plus Expo show in New York as a launchpad for an all-new lens – the 16mm F1.4 DC DN | Contemporary is a fast, high-quality prime for cropped-sensor Sony E-mount and M43 cameras.

In person, the new lens is a relatively small, but beautifully well-made prime that fills a useful gap in focal lengths for both systems. On a Sony E-mount APS-C format camera, it is equivalent to 24mm, while on a Micro Four Thirds ILC it becomes an effective 32mm medium-wide.

Hands-on with new Sigma 16mm F1.4 DC DN | Contemporary

Sigma claims that despite being a ‘C’ (Contemporary) class lens, the new 16mm should have performance in line with the company’s premier ‘Art’ series. As far as build quality is concerned, that’s definitely true. Mechanically, this lens is gorgeous – something that is exemplified in the large, very smooth manual focusing ring.

Hands-on with new Sigma 16mm F1.4 DC DN | Contemporary

At 92.3mm (3.6 inches) long, the 16mm is relatively compact, but becomes a lot bigger with the included hood attached, beginning to dwarf the Sony a6300 shown in this image. But at 405g (14 oz) it’s relatively heavy for its size.

Hands-on with new Sigma 16mm F1.4 DC DN | Contemporary

Optical construction comprises 16 elements in 13 groups, including two aspherical, two SLD (super-low dispersion) and three FLD (“F” low dispersion) elements. That’s an impressive number of specialized elements and the just-published MTF graphs suggest that sharpness at optimal apertures will be impressive.

Nine rounded aperture blades should ensure pleasant bokeh at wide apertures.

Hands-on with new Sigma 16mm F1.4 DC DN | Contemporary

While Sigma typically doesn’t make any specific claims about weather-sealing, a thin rubber ring around the lens throat should help keep dust and moisture from entering the camera. As you can see from the engraved text in this shot, minimum focus is 0.25m (about 10 inches).

Hands-on with new Sigma 16mm F1.4 DC DN | Contemporary

No details on pricing and availability of the 16mm F1.4 have yet been released, but we’re looking forward to trying out a production sample as soon as they become available.

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Hands-on with new Canon L-series primes

by on Oct.26, 2017, under Reviews

Hands-on with new Canon L-series primes

Two months ago Canon announced four new L-series prime lenses: the TS-E 50mm, 90mm and 135mm F2.8L Macro and the 85mm F1.4L. We’re at the Photo Plus Expo in New York, and we just got our hands on them. Click-through for some images and first impressions.

Hands-on with new Canon L-series primes

All of the new TS-E lenses are (like all tilt-shift designs) manual focus, and all feature broad, well-damped focus rings. The TS-E 90mm F2.8L Macro (shown above) covers a classic portraiture focal length and should be useful for both portraiture and product photography.

Hands-on with new Canon L-series primes

While people tend to associate tilt-shift lenses with landscape photography, short and medium-telephoto designs are very handy for portraits, where it can be difficult to maintain sharp focus on a subject’s eyes (both of them) at wide apertures.

Similarly, close-up product images and macro photography where it isn’t always practical or desirable to stop down too much for increased depth of field. Using a tilt-shift lens, sharpness can be maintained across the depth of a subject, without sacrificing background blur.

Hands-on with new Canon L-series primes

This is the 135mm F2.8L Macro – unsurprisingly, a larger and heavier lens than the 90mm pictured in the previous slide. All three of Canon’s new TS-E primes feature the same basic tilt-shift mechanism, offering a wider range of adjustments compared to Canon’s older lenses, and updated coatings. In the 135mm F4L, SubWaveLength Structure Coating (SWC) helps reduce flare and ghosting.

Hands-on with new Canon L-series primes

Unlike Canon’s more conventional L-series lenses, the TS-E range is not (and has never been) weather-sealed. As such, they lack the rubber gasket around the lens mount that you’d expect to see on other L-series primes and zooms. According to Canon, the complexity of the tilt-shift mechanism makes weather-sealing impractical.

Hands-on with new Canon L-series primes

All three of the new TS-E primes offer the same magnification ratio of 1:2. This isn’t quite ‘true’ macro but for many purposes it should prove adequate for close-focus work, even with relatively small subjects. As you can see in this view, the tilt and shift knobs on the new primes are large, and easily distinguishable from one-another.

Every aspect of the new TS-E lenses feels extremely well-machined. Canon has long experience of designing tilt-shift primes and everything from build quality to the feel of the zoom rings oozes quality. With the lenses locked in a tilt/shift position, there is no give in the mechanisms at all (which is exactly what you want in a lens of this kind).

Hands-on with new Canon L-series primes

The shortest and lightest of the TS-E trio is the TS-E 50mm F2.8L Macro. Like the 135mm F4, the 50mm also benefits from SWC coating, and a new Air Sphere Coating (ASC) which Canon claims ‘provides amazingly high, anti-reflective performance, particularly when alleviating incidental light that can enter a lens’.

Hands-on with new Canon L-series primes

The new Canon TS-E 50mm F2.8L Macro, TS-E 90mm F2.8L Macro and TS-E 135mm F4L Macro lenses are all scheduled to be available November 2017 for an estimated retail price of $2199.

Read more about Canon’s new TS-E lenses

Hands-on with new Canon L-series primes

Announced alongside the TS-E primes in August was the 85mm F1.4L. A classic portrait prime, the 85mm updates the venerable 85mm F1.2L II in many respects, while not offering quite the same brightness.

Apart from the minimum aperture, the most obvious update compared to the older 85mm designs is image stabilization, up to a claimed 4 stops. In theory, this means that you should be able to hand-hold the new lens at shutter speeds as low as 1/15 sec, but of course this assumes no subject movement.

Hands-on with new Canon L-series primes

A nine-bladed aperture is designed to deliver attractive bokeh for portraiture and as we’d expect from Canon’s L-series lenses (except the TS-E models) the new 85mm F1.4L is dust and weather-sealed. At 950g (roughly 2lb) the lens isn’t exactly lightweight, but doesn’t feel heavy and remains well-balanced on the EOS-1DX Mark II that we used at the show.

Optical construction of the EF 85mm comprises 14 elements in 10 groups, with one large diameter, high-precision molded glass aspherical element. Like the 135mm and 50mm TS-E primes, the 85mm F1.4L features an Air Sphere Coating. It will be available next month, for $1600.

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