Category Archives: South Australia

A Wow for Laowa?

In the last month or so, I’ve had the opportunity to use Laowa’s 12mm F2.8 zero distortion lens along with its own filter holder and Nisi’s custom made filter holder. The version I have is for a canon mount. Overall, it’s a great piece of equipment for a reasonable price and takes up very little real estate in an already fully stuffed camera bag. Like most gear however, it’s not without its issues. I’ve only taken it out for three shoots and used it around the house, so there may be aspects that I haven’t had the chance to test entirely but I’m more than happy to test any aspect requested (if I get the chance to shoot!)

Unfortunately I’m not really tech-savvy when it comes to lens reviews, I just want to know how it serves my specific purposes. With that in mind, this is a rough index of what I’m going to comment upon.

  1. The lens itself
  2. How wide is 12mm ? Is it too wide?
  3. Night photography
  4. Sharpness stopped down
  5. Flare and sunstars
  6. Filter holders (native and Nisi)

The lens:

I’m not going to bother with discussing things like packaging. It’s sufficient and professional . What surprised me out of the box was how compact this unit is. It weight (610g) would allow me to bring it on hikes though perhaps only those where astro photography is a priority. It feels solid in the hand and appears to be built like a tank. Its size also allows a huge bonus for a lens of this focal length ; the ability to use 100mm filter kits! As a prime lens with manual focus, it would be difficult to achieve quick ‘on the fly’ shots without risking focus issues. Having said that, because it’s a prime lens, it has a nice feature of charting hyperfocal length on the lens itself .  You can hence position focus at infinity at one end , and make sure there are no objects closer than the focal length marked at the other end of the scale for your given aperture (see diagram below). I have yet to shoot panoramas with this lens but there is a marked ‘entrance pupil’ on the lens that assists with finding a nodal point .

The lens with its bulbous front element.

The rightmost number indicates the current aperture. The middle row of numbers indicates that focus at F5.6 will be between approximately 0.45 to 0.7m. If you wanted to use this as a walkabout lens without thinking, you could adjust the leftmost marker to infinity and not shoot anything closer to the focal length indicated on the right marker

How wide is 12mm?

The answer is VERY wide. This is probably best shown with some images which I took at Lake Bonney. The first image was taken with my Canon 16-35mm F4 lens. The second image was taken with the Laowa albeit, standing a few metres further back. You can see the inclusion of the tree on the left. This makes for a lot of possibilities with sweeping foregrounds but could lead to minimising of anything that’s not very imposing in the background.

16mm shot taken at Lake Bonney

12mm showing the inclusion of the additional tree on the left but minimising of the furthermost trees as seen in the 16mm version

Swirling foregrounds for waterscapes become very interesting with the 12mm. Unfortunately, given I was standing in the water, I did not take a comparison shot with the 16-35mm

Night photography:

As an owner of the 16-35mm F4 lens , I was making do with F4 for night images so once again, the prospect of a wide angle F2.8 lens was extremely appealing. The other lens I was considering was the 16-35mm F2.8 III. My version II has taken a fair battering and I had always had issues with coma and softness in the corners which meant that I was willing to sacrifice one stop of light to use the 16-35mm F4. Finding focus in the dark has always been a little finicky but achievable. With this lens, as in the example illustrated above, I set the far focus for my aperture at infinity meaning that I could have everything in focus from approximately 1.5m and beyond. During this shoot, I did not check to see whether the infinity focus itself is true infinity. This technique worked quite well for me. The main issues I wanted to explore were a) how sharp is this lens at F2.8 at the centre and in the corners? b) how does this compare with the canon 16-35mm F4? c) Did the focusing method above result in ‘missed’ focus. The images below demonstrate the results. The Laowa is a little soft at the corners but still better than the 16-35mm F2.8 II. Centre sharpness was just fine . One interesting phenomenon not related to the lens itself was the ‘ole 500/focal length rule for still stars. At 12mm , I though I could therefore get away with 40 second exposures and have no trailing. For some reason, exposures of 30 seconds or more still showed significant trailing which means that rule doesn’t seem to apply for very wide focal lengths??

100% crops from the same image taken at F2.8 30 seconds. You can see some softness in the bottom image but not a great deal of coma.

Corners of the Laowa vs Canon 16-35mm F4. The Laowa was a 30 second exposure, the Canon 25 seconds.

Final edited image of the scene demonstrated in the first image. A second foreground exposure was taken at lower iso for cleaner noise in the dark water.

Sharpness at F11 and beyond 

Most of the time in the field, I’m shooting between F11 to F16 since I tend to shoot with foreground elements present. The images below show the centre vs corner sharpness at 100% viewing in LR of the RAW file (with shadows lifted so you can see the detail). They were taken within a minute of each other with the same lighting conditions.  I think there is very little between the Laowa and the Canon lens at the centre while there is some softness of the Laowa in the corner comparison. Note there wasn’t a lot of chromatic aberration even with this kind of dramatic lighting going on.

Not much difference in centre sharpness between the two lenses

Both are a little fuzzy in the extreme corners but canon seems a reasonably clear winner here?

Sunstars and Flare:

Stopped down to F22, I’ve had a couple of opportunities to shoot sunstars. The 7 aperture blades do seem to provide a good star but perhaps not as aesthetically pleasing as the Canon 16-35mm F4 ( and F2.8II). Shooting directly into light does give a circular flare which I’ll have to experiment with when there’s more direct sun.

Different types of flare evident between the Laowa and Canon lenses.

Laowa’s sunstar is quite appealing

Filter Holders:

 I received my lens with Laowa’s own filter holder. I had heard some horrendous stories about it so I was prepared for the worst. In actual fact, the current version I received was nowhere near as terrible as was made out to be. It clips directly on to the front of the lens and has slots for two 100mm filter and a 95mm polariser. I don’t own a 95mm CPL so this was an aspect of their filter holder that I could not test. It did cause vignetting but once again, not that troublesome as you can see from the images below. It’s main limitation (other than the 95mm CPL ) is the fact that ND filters with foam gaskets to prevent light leak just do not fit into the slots in the correct orientation. In an attempt to slot them in with the foam facing outward, you can see the somewhat amusing result below.

Nisi filters however do provide a custom adapter ring which also easily slots on to the front ring of the lens. It allows their standard CPL to be used as well as slots for 2 ND filters. I wanted to see how the three slot filter would perform and unfortunately , with three filter slots in place, even the Nisi holder does result equivalent vignetting as Laowa’s holder. Since I have two filter holders, I will have to remove one slot from one but I can see that for many shooters, having to remove one slot might limit options stacking when using other lenses and wanting to stack three filters. I will be using the Nisi version of the holder simply because this allows me to use a CPL and ND filters.

Vignetting of the Laowa holder with 2 slots vs Nisi holder with 3 slots

Attempted (and unsuccessful)  long exposure with the Laowa and a successful one with the Nisi holder

A) Laowa filter holder B) Nisi adapter ring attached C) Nisi holder with 3 slots attached D) Nisi with standard CPL

Conclusions

Overall, I think the Laowa 12mm F2.8 is a good quality lens but not quite at the standard of the better Canon L lenses. It’s good for photographers whose style leans toward expansive foregrounds and grand scenes. It’s also a very good lens for milkyway photography. It’s a solidly built lens that so far seems durable (I’ll have to comment on this a year down the line) and there are options for using 100mm filters which is pretty unique for a lens of this focal length. The Nisi filter holder is definitely the more practical of the two filter holders that are available. I don’t think I would bring this as a sole lens for a backpacking trip since it would be too wide for many documentary or detail scenes. For those used to shooting not quite so wide , it may take some time to get used to finding different styles of compositions.  For $1400 AUD, it’s less than half the RRP of the Canon 16-35mm F2.8 III and about the same price as the 16-35mm F4.

I’ll be honest in saying that before I received this lens,  I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to buy it.  But now that I have it, I do realise that it has opened up doors. I’ll pretty much use it exclusively for my milky way shoots and will definitely bring it for most other landscape shoots excluding the multiday backpacking trips. I hope that the images and information was helpful to you and for those of you who own it, I’d be interested to hear of your experiences! It’s a ‘wow’ to Laowa from me 🙂

Beautiful skies over Encounter Bay. Shot with a Nisi filter holder and 4 stop soft GND.

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2016 Annual Review

It’s that time of year again, where we get the feast on the best photographs of 2016 from all of our favourite photographers! I love going through people’s top 10 (or top 16) lists and love it even more when I see an image that I’ve somehow ‘missed’ from their feed during the year. I thought briefly about how I could shake things up, but figured that I would be making a change just for change’s sake. That has been our modus operandi this year ; that is, to consider why we are wanting to change the way we do things. If the change has a genuine basis to iron out a flaw or to encourage growth, than we’ve gone for it. If the change is merely because it’s what other people are doing and adding peer pressure to our creative processes, then we’ve tried to ignore it. If you’re here just to see photographs, then I thought I’d open up by sharing a video of our edited images to the beat of Grouplove’s ‘Itchin on a photograph’. If you want to see images in more detail, scroll below the video and hopefully, enjoy 😉

January:

The undoubted highlight of this month was a one week trip to Tasmania with Luke Tscharke, Francois Fourie and Tim Wrate. We were supposed to walk the Western Arthurs but access was severed by devastating bushfires from which many parts of the country will never recover. Instead, we did a shorter hike to the Labyrinth and visited some local icons closer to Hobart. Locally, storm season gave some great conditions around Adelaide though the storms around here aren’t quite as speccy as in other parts of the country.

Mount Gould from The Labyrinth

Mount Gould from The Labyrinth

Tessellated Pavement as dawn cleared

Tessellated Pavement as dawn cleared

Secret Falls (well, not so secret anymore!)

Secret Falls (well, not so secret anymore!)

Marion Bay (where we went airborne and suffered a flat tire)

Marion Bay (where we went airborne and suffered a flat tire)

Western Arthurs from the air : Unfinished business!

Western Arthurs from the air : Unfinished business!

February:

This was a quiet month photographically as tends to be the case after a photography trip. I tend not to go shooting while going through the backlog of images from a previous trip. This was the trip video

March:

Around Adelaide, it definitely is a Mad March with the festivals in full swing. To suit the March madness, there were crazy skies one after the other! I managed to catch a couple of the lightshows along the coast but mostly, it was a case of being #dbreezied and just basking in that red glow.

One of many intense March evenings at Port Noarlunga

One of many intense March evenings at Port Noarlunga

And another ! (I shot this with Joel Dawson)

And another ! (I shot this with Joel Dawson)

April:

The highlight of April was a long weekend to Kangaroo Island. The weather was pretty wild at times which suited photography quite well. The changeable conditions meant that there was a moment of light around the corner. We based ourselves at Vivonne Bay and photographed the south coast areas. I also had a successful shoot at Lake Bonney during one of those precious weekends where the kids are sleeping over at grandparent’s ! The image of Lake Bonney has since been used by Nisi quite extensively as has a 15 stop image taken at Kingscote during our Kangaroo Island weekend. Autumn colours were quite good this year though a little later than usual.

Lake Bonney at dawn : One of my contributions to Nisi :)

Lake Bonney at dawn : One of my contributions to Nisi 🙂

Autumn Colors at Mount Loft Botanic Gardens

Autumn Colors at Mount Loft Botanic Gardens

The end of an amazing dawn at old Kingscote Pier

The end of an amazing dawn at old Kingscote Pier

Variable weather made for great conditions at the exposed Remarkable Rocks

Variable weather made for great conditions at the exposed Remarkable Rocks

Little Sahara on a blazing dawn

Little Sahara on a blazing dawn

The iconic Admiral's Arch

The iconic Admiral’s Arch

May:

Marianne had her first market where we tried to combine photographic prints of local icons with her pastel and watercolour art. There were literally no photographic sales while many greeting cards and assorted prints were sold. We definitely learned that these markets were not really an appropriate selling point for fine art landscapes and since then, Marianne has done two other markets successfully with just her artworks. I didn’t venture out locally too often save for one trip to Second Valley where I wanted to shoot from a different vantage point.

Looking for fresh vantage points of Second Valley

Looking for fresh vantage points of Second Valley

June:

The highlight of June was a 4 day trip to the Gold Coast, our first foray photographically. In that short trip, there were numerous experiences that we’ll remember. Dreamworld was the highlight for the children though our memories would be marred by a future tragedy which occurred there several months later on one of the rides we went on! It was a great opportunity shoot cityscapes, to visit epic coastlines, and last but not least, the beautiful forest scenes. The highlight for me was a half walk, half jog in Lamington National Park for a half day to visit its waterfalls. We’ll be back again some day no doubt!

Roaring seas at Fingal Head

Roaring seas at Fingal Head

First stop on my Lamington mission : Moran's Falls

First stop on my Lamington mission : Moran’s Falls

Last stop : Box Log Falls

Last stop : Box Log Falls

Cityscapes are lacking in our portfolio - I added a couple finally!

Cityscapes are lacking in our portfolio – I added a couple finally!

A quick visit to Springbrook National Park and the famous Natural Bridge glow worm cave

A quick visit to Springbrook National Park and the famous Natural Bridge glow worm cave

The gold coast from Currumbin - and a farewell!

The gold coast from Currumbin – and a farewell!

July:

Around this time of year, the rain starts to fall and the seasonal waterfalls come to life. One of my favourites is  Mannum Falls . You never know what you get with these falls as the appearances varies wildly from trickles to torrents! This year, with the heavier rains in late winter, the images I shot paled into insignificance in terms of flow when spring rains flooded the area. David Evans , David Post and I also partook in a cleanup day for photography hotspots visualised by Christian Fletcher. Port Willunga thankfully was already very clean before we took out the 1% mess down there.

Mannum Falls on my yearly visit - 2016 was a good one!

Mannum Falls on my yearly visit – 2016 was a good one!

Port Willunga : a very clean beach!

Port Willunga : a very clean beach!

August:

Without a photographic trip planned until late October I had a chance to release several instructional videos. I believe in giving back to the photographic community as all of my learning has been from free on line sources. As such, I created a series of free 2-3 minute tutorials (to capture the attention span of today’s social media viewing audience) that can be found on my youtube channel. To go with that, we also released a short video detailing how we achieve the ‘look’ of our images which tends to be a bright and vibrant feel rather than dark and moody. I did also enjoy a great morning down at Myponga beach . I also entered a few images into the Epson Panorama competition in the hope of breaking into the top 50 .

Myponga beach

Myponga beach

September:

Much of the weather this month was stormy and with steady rain. Adelaide had experienced double its usual rainfall by this stage which isn’t really saying much considering that it’s the driest capital city. Nonetheless, it did keep us indoors and planning for our upcoming talk at APSCON in October. We do like to be super prepared so we modified our workshop that we gave to the FOCUS group in 2015 to fit it into a 1 hour interactive session (delivered by me) and a 1 hour didactic session given by Marianne. Over the years, we’ve learned that the best presentations answer the ‘WIIFM’  (What’s in it for me) within the first few slides. I’ve found myself getting restless with presentations that don’t address the WIIFM at all and just meander along with no clear message.

Storms brought life to a local seaside waterfall trickling into the sea

Storms brought life to a local seaside waterfall trickling into the sea

October:

Pano award results were in! A couple of silvers and a bag of bronze for all entered images was again a what I considered a good effort given the quality of the entries but I did not break the top 50. Oh well, we’ll try again next year. After all the angst of preparation for APSCON, we did end up having a good time presenting to a very engaged audience who gave us great feedback. Our relationship with Nisi was a win-win (again) as two lucky attendees won themselves a V5 holder. Completion of our commitments was a huge pressure valve release for us and we could go to Canada with free minds! All was set to go , except for the expired passports which sat quietly, waiting until the last minute to assassinate our joy on departure day ……… Let’s keep things positive, we were only delayed 48 hours and still managed to have a great holiday with many wonderful experiences. In fact, there’s very little negative to say about the trip at all apart from our departure troubles.

Best scoring image with a Silver in the Epson Panorama awards :taken in 2015

Best scoring image with a Silver in the Epson Panorama awards :taken in 2015

Another silver award in the panorama competition

Another silver award in the panorama competition

November:

This month was clearly dominated by our trip to Canada and briefly to the USA. I’ve already been blogging each segment, so I’ve included some representative images. If you’ve been to New Zealand before, think Mt Cook National Park but all around you, all of the time. If you haven’t been to New Zealand or Canada, do yourself a favour one day and just take a drive through the pristine country . I’ll have to reflect back with time as to which I prefer , but this being the first trip to the Rockies has left me with the bigger impression for now. Here are some images which I took that have become favourites for now:

Muleshoe Lake off the Bow Valley Parkway

Muleshoe Lake off the Bow Valley Parkway

Clearing conditions at Bow Lake

Clearing conditions at Bow Lake

Whiteout snow at Lake Louise

Whiteout snow at Lake Louise

The light returns to our journey at Medicine Lake

The light returns to our journey at Medicine Lake

Glorious light at Pyramid Lake

Glorious light at Pyramid Lake

Post glorious light at Canmore

Post glorious light at Canmore

Kananaskis Country and Mount Kidd

Kananaskis Country and Mount Kidd

A fitting farewell to the Rockies on our last morning of shooting

A fitting farewell to the Rockies on our last morning of shooting

December:

There’s really nothing to add photographically this month . I have just been editing images from the last trip and keeping up with work and family commitments. I’ve tried my best to ignore the naysayers saying how awful 2016 was. Sure, a lot of crap went down this year, but surely a lot of good as well. The best thing about the ‘good’ is that you don’t have to look far to find it. There are good deeds, smiles, and joy around you all of the time and all it takes is for you to stop and notice it over and above the crazy events of the world. To round out the year, Marianne and I would like to say a big thank you to all of you who have been following us on social media this year and in the more distant past.  We hope that in the future, we continue to provide some source of inspiration in particular to photographers who travel with family. And, for the first time, I’d like to say a big thanks to our sponsors, Nisi – without you guys, the Canada trip would not have been possible .  (Wow, that was cool to use that ‘our sponsors’ line lol!). Also a big thanks to the many social media hubs and sites such as F-stoppers who have featured us during the year, Australian Photography Magazine for our ongoing article publications and Pikitia Postcards for being our best clients 🙂  Find the happiness in 2016 and may it stay with you and grow for 2017.

 

Social Media Update

Social media has been a very useful platform for us in terms of allowing our work to be seen. As hobbyist photographers with full time professions, we have needed to find ways to maximise our exposure with the least time intensive method possible! Having good or even great images is unfortunately only one part of the matrix involved. Over the years, we have gathered quite a following on various platforms and we have learned some valuable lessons regarding social media as a general entity, as well as on specific platforms. Here are some of our tips.

  1. Goals: It’s important to know why exactly you are investing time into social media. Is it to simply share your work? Are you after validation from your photographic peers or the general public? Are you planning on creating a marketing strategy that will gain you income? Are you hoping to ‘take over’ a market by becoming an ‘influencer’ ? Or is it largely just for fun? Exploring your motivations regarding your social media presence will not only help you determine how much energy to expend but will also help you avoid disappointment and resent.  The most common source of disappointment I see stems from an perceived lack of validation based on very few ‘likes’ or ‘faves’ of images. Whatever it is, time needs to be invested in order to meet your goals. This leads on to the next point.

    Investing little time and images into an engine (like viewbug for us) should mean that you expect little in return. Social media presence takes time and work!

    Investing little time and images into an engine (like viewbug for us) should mean that you expect little in return. Social media presence takes time and work!

  2. Personal and public value: I think it is very important to separate how we feel about ourselves as artists and how the world views us through a social media platform. The popularity of an image often does not correlate with personal value. Your profile  popularity is certainly not a reflection of self worth. It is very easy to become bitter with the whole social media ‘circus’ when one starts to equate popularity (or lack of) with self merit.

    One of my favourite images but not particularly liked on social media. This doesn't devalue the image, it just means I won't bank on it to draw the crowds!

    One of my favourite images but not particularly liked on social media. This doesn’t devalue the image, it just means I won’t bank on it to draw the crowds!

  3. Content: There’s no substitute for having appropriate content that is directed at your target audience. Note that I did not use the word ‘good‘ to describe content as this is highly subjective. Seemingly, the largest audience on social media appears to be those looking for images that represent lifestyle and escapism. In the landscape genre, this includes a combination of selfies, foot-selfies, pork pie hat selfies, fronts of canoes , acid washed landscapes prepared with VSCO presets. Did you internally sneer at the preceding list ? If so, try to stay true to your own ideals and post content that you are proud of and reconsider your goals. How much are you willing to adjust content in order to achieve that goal ?

    Of these 'editors choice' images on 500px, Marc Adamus image is the only one I would aspire to. I'm personally not willing to VSCO or pork pie hat my images. Are you?

    Of these ‘editors choice’ images on 500px, Marc Adamus image is the only one I would aspire to. I’m personally not willing to VSCO or pork pie hat my images. Are you?

  4. Visibility: Do everything within your power and moral code to ensure your images have the best chance of being seen (if you have the energy). I try to tag my images with as many appropriate tags as I’m allowed. On instagram I use hashtags for high visibility sites. On flickr and 500px I try to geotag the images on the mapping platform. I don’t tend to start doing a mass commenting spree but try to keep up with those I follow and am genuinely inspired by (though these days, having just the time to post is a struggle).
  5. Stay positive. Social media engines are on the whole, not critique forums. Join a critique forum if you want to deliver or receive meaningful criticism about your work.  I tend to go by the old adage ‘If you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say it at all!’.  Most people log on to social media to be inspired, to have fun and to feel warm and fuzzy about their own work and their peers. The competitive negativity created from ‘flame wars’ incited by snarky comments or backhanded compliments always ends with both parties appearing worse off in some way. The petty one-upmanship that is subsequently portrayed then reflects poorly on the artists within that genre and defeats one of the major purposes of social media ; community.

    A typical comment thread on images on instagram. They don't mean anything per se and adding snarky comments about what you don't like stands out like a sore thumb and guess what, it makes YOU look the fool.

    A typical comment thread on images on instagram. They don’t mean anything per se and adding snarky comments about what you don’t like stands out like a sore thumb . It also makes you look the fool!

  6. Research your engine. If possible, try to find out a little about who is looking at your work and where they come from. Just a simple change  in timing of your posts could have a significant impact on the overall exposure. One may call it ‘gaming the system’ but once again , how willing you are to play games with social media reflects on point 1. One particularly striking example of this is flickr’s explore algorithm. Once your images make it on that page, it receives massive exposure but the engine only allows a user to be on explore one every 9-10 days. Hence, that’s when I post the content that I want to be seen along with promotions for new items on our website.

    I can confirm rumours that flickr lets you into its explore algorithm every 9-10 days!!

    I can confirm rumours that flickr lets you into its explore algorithm every 9-10 days!! Not the spikes in views of our page.

  7. Know your strengths: For some reason or another, one social media engine may well be much kinder to your images. This may come from being a recommended user when people log on, or it may be the engine which you have invested the most time in. Most of the time it isn’t through sheer luck. Recently on 500px for instance, we made it onto the recommended user list which ballooned the viewership of all of our images. Because there are potentially 88k people who could see our work before it even becomes popular, it means that our images make it quite quickly on to the popular section which is then viewed by the general public. I know there are those out there whose thought processes include ‘Oh that photographer’s images are crap but they just get high scores because of his/her follower count’. It’s that kind of thinking that can again lead to unnecessary bitterness and a focus on the work other people are producing instead of your own. I’m making hay while the sun shines for our account by posting regularly to take advantage !

    These are our most 'liked' images on 500px. The first three also happen to be personal favourites. the rest are nearly all from this year . That doesn't fool me into thinking I've been an awesome photographer this year. This just means that this year, we've boomed on 500px.  Nothing more, nothing less.

    These are our most ‘liked’ images on 500px. The first three also happen to be personal favourites. the rest are nearly all from this year . That doesn’t fool me into thinking I’ve been an awesome photographer this year. This just means that this year, we’ve boomed on 500px. Nothing more, nothing less.

 

And now irrespective of any debate about social media value, image manipulation, comp stomping, post processing trends and other such flammable topics, this is my favourite recent image taken at Mannum Falls. Hope you enjoyed the read! Now post away with carefree joy and meet those social media goals of yours 🙂