For the last two years now, we’ve headed up to Queensland to escape the Adelaide winter (not that it’s that severe). Each time, we’ve been blessed with variable conditions. This year’s trip was an extended family trip to the Sunshine Coast where we were based in Tewantin. This made it a great base to explore Noosa Heads National Park in particular. I’ll explain the rationale behind some of the images from each location.
Day 1: Morning at Dolphin Rock.
The reason I wanted to visit this location was due to its influence on my early photographic ‘career’. I had seen numerous images of this rock at Point Cartwright by flickr contacts and wanted to see it for myself. Given how short our trip was, I had no option to plan appropriate tides so I really had to deal with what I was given. Thanks to rough directions from Brisbane photographer Martin Canning, I was able to find the rock very quickly after parking the car at the nearby lighthouse car park. The timelapse below shows an advancing tide with the evolution of light. My aim was to capture dynamic motion flowing over the rocks and eventually, to capture a sunstar image based on the ‘tip’ of the dolphin’s nose. I managed to catch up with long time flickr friend Adam Randell here as well.
Day 1: Raining light at Noosa heads
On our first evening, we walked to the first cove along the coastal trail at Noosa Heads national park. While we were exploring the area looking for crabs and other wildlife with the kids, I spotted a group of rocks which I thought might light up well at sunset. As a downpour occurred which sent the rest of the family running for cover, the area was lit in a haze of orange and gold which I tried to capture with my hastily scouted foreground elements. Due to the rain, I shot most of these images without filters and gave the kim wipes a great workout to keep the shots clean! Unfortunately, this was the last shoot with my Sony A7r2 as I fell in the water with it 😦 . I met Stephen Waller by chance here as well .
Day 2: Smooth Granite
On the following morning, I was on a bit of a downer as the camera had not managed to revive itself overnight. Nonetheless, I did bring two bodies on this trip (1 for timelapses). My goal for this particular morning was to scout the coastline along the northern shores of the national park. The tide was high which restricted many opportunities but I settled for photographing the smooth granite boulders at the appropriately named Granite Bay. There wasn’t much light on offer due to thick bank of cloud on the horizon but an after dawn, the sun finally made its appearance. I wanted to capture a long exposure with accentuation of the foreground rock patterns leading toward the tall granite boulder. This was best achieved as wide as possible using the Laowa 12mm lens. I also wanted to capture golden light falling upon the rocks but during a long exposure, I would have been very limited by the huge dynamic range involved with attempting this as a single capture. I therefore blended the long exposure shot with a few shorter exposures for the light on the rocks taken without any filters on.
After I had finished shooting at Granite Bay, I did some scouting for potential evening shoot locations. I decided to take some travel oriented shots of the many surfers at Tea Tree Bay enjoying the beautiful winter sunshine.
Day 2: Suburban Forests at Buderim
During the day, we took the kids for an easy rainforest walk to the base of the waterfalls at Buderim . We found it remarkable that such lush scenery could be in very close proximity to surburbia. There had not been much rain in the preceding week, hence the waterfall was barely flowing. I noticed light falling upon a fern in front of the waterfall and set out to photograph the scene with the fern framing the waterfall. It was quite difficult to obtain this perspective and I ended up having to take my ballhead off the tripod and wedge it on to a rock to keep it steady while taking these 0.3 to 0.5 second exposures. The morning made for a great family outing with relatively easy access. Thereafter, the kids had fun at the Ginger factory before we returned home for Jaime’s (our 3 year old) nap.
A video of the girls fun activities in Noosa.
Day 2: Reflections from Tea Tree Bay
This set of rock pools caught my eye as I was walking back from the morning shoot, so I had an easy destination to head toward in the evening. It was fortunate that I had scouted the position earlier in the day as I nearly missed sunset due to the parking madness at the National Park on a Sunday evening. Fortunately , after stalking some departing surfers, I was able to find a park and dash off to Tea Tree Bay. For the earlier image (middle) I had set up to photograph a focus stack with foreground rock and sky frames. While waiting for the light to evolve however, I found more appealing shapes in the same area and photographed those instead. Unfortunately, in the rush of moving around, I did not focus stack so there are some soft elements to the very immediate foreground.
Day 3: Paradise undiscovered
This was to be my last morning of shooting on the trip. I had read about some caves along the Eastern Beaches but knew it might be a little dicey to reach them since I had not scouted the area and would be approaching in the dark. After a couple of false trails leading to cliff faces, I found my way down to the shoreline north of Alexandra Beach and looked around in the dark for the caves. It turns out that one of my false trails in the dark was actually the right trail ! Next time i’ll know where to go to get into the caves proper but for this particular morning, I kept the shoot relatively dry and watched as a grey dawn turn gold yet again once the sun peeked through. All in all, it was a great short break which I found very refreshing since Noosa is a much more relaxed part of the world than the Gold Coast. In between family outings, most of the coastal locations were relatively to access with lots of different possibilities at dawn and dusk. Hopefully , we will return in the future!
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.
- The lens itself
- How wide is 12mm ? Is it too wide?
- Night photography
- Sharpness stopped down
- Flare and sunstars
- Filter holders (native and Nisi)
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 .
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.
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??
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
Do you love using ND filters for long exposures? Do you have trouble calculating exposure times for scenes with ND filters? Here’s one trick I’d like to share that relies on your camera’s live view exposure simulation which can be used in conjunction or possibly even instead of an external app. These are some groundwork rules to know before using this technique:
- Every doubling of ISO results in the sensor being more sensitive to one more ‘stop of light’.
- Every doubling of shutter speed results in one more ‘stop of light’ let through to the sensor
- (Every multiplication of 1.4 of aperture results in one ‘less stop light’ being let through to the sensor)
- All of the above , in default DSLR settings, are three ‘clicks’ of a dial.
- Long exposures tend to lead to noise , so try to shoot with low iso (iso100 would be ideal)
With these rules in mind, this is how I do a quick shutter speed calculation in the field.
- Compose your scene without the ND filter on and pay particular attention to using the desired aperture in your final shot to keep things as simple as possible.
- Place your ND filter on.
- Turn on live view (if you haven’t already) and set the shutter speed to 30 seconds.
- Bump the iso up until you have the correct exposure on live view
- Calculate your exposure time needed for correct exposure at low iso. For example, if iso200 was the correct exposure at 30 seconds, then a 1 minute exposure will be needed at iso100. If iso800 was the correct exposure at 30 seconds, then a 4 minute exposure will be required at iso100. If iso 6400 was the correct exposure at 30 seconds, then a 32 minute exposure would be required (but I think at this level of darkness, the camera’s live view simulation would start to KO itself!)
- Take the shot .
- If you are shooting at dawn, you might need to factor in changing light during your exposure. I would shoot slightly SHORTER than the calculated exposure
- If you are shooting after dusk, you will need to factor in loss of light and I would shoot slightly LONGER than the calculated exposure
See the video below for an example of how quick this can work for you in the field, and the final image :