Saturday, September 7, 2013

Villa Cassel & Aletsch Glacier hike

I had the chance to spend a couple of days in the Riederalp region, home to the Aletsch Glacier, next to Bettmeralp (see map at bottom). For me, this is one of the most beautiful region in Switzerland.

On the first day, we took the train from Geneva to Sierre and had a great lunch there before heading to Brigue. We then took another train for just a small ride to Morel, where we took the cable car to Riederalp.


The views riding up to Riederalp are already breath-taking. Rideralp is one of the few no-cars mountain resorts in Switzerland. Finally from there, we walked about 30 minutes to reach our final destination: the Villa Cassel.

Villa Cassel

Villa Cassel is a big mansion built between 1900-1902 by an english banker, Sir Ernest Cassel, which now belongs to Pronatura, a non-profit organisation working to protect the environment.

Villa Cassel

You can sleep very comfortably up there, gently soothed by the cow's bells.

View from the Churchill suite

A room with a view!

Villa Cassel view

The next day we walked all the way to the Aletsch glacier, and made a 2 hour trip on the glacier itself with the help of a guide (don't attempt this alone, you need suitable equipment). The weather was great: not too hot, not too cold.
I found this region absolutely beautiful and very relaxing. Did you know that this is the biggest inhabited region of Switzerland? And since it's not so easily reachable, there are few tourists. Enjoy the view!

Aletsch Glacier

Aletsch Glacier

Aletsch Glacier

All these pictures were taken with the fabulous Fuji X-Pro1 and the Fuji XF 18mm lens. I can only say great things about this camera, the picture quality is awesome for such a small form factor. My back really enjoyed the light load!

You can see more pictures on my Aletsch Glacier Flickr Set.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

International Alphorn Festival in Nendaz (Switzerland)

Last week-end I went to Haute-Nendaz for the 12th international alphorn festival (12e festival international de cor des Alpes in french), as the weather was getting really hot here in Geneva (over 30 degrees).

Unfortunately, it was just as hot up there in the mountains, except for Sunday when a little breeze set in.

I took my trusty Fujifilm X-Pro1 with the 18mm and 35mm prime lenses. I really love my Fuji: it's so light and yet delivers such beautiful image quality. I also congratulate Fuji for listening to their customers, and constantly improving the firmware of the X-Pro 1 camera. I had just upgraded to version 3 of the firmware, and I absolutely love the focus peaking. Thank you so much Fuji !

The week-end festivities were similar to the 2012 Alphorn Festival. On Saturday the 48 contestants had to qualify themselves for the final that took place on Sunday at the top of Haute-Nendaz at Tracouet.

Haute Nendaz

There were also a lot of other activities going on, amongst which a traditional parade on Saturday evening in the village, which the kids really liked.

Vache d'Hérens

If you are ever in the Valais (or "Wallis" as it’s called in Swiss-German) at the end of July, I highly recommend you stay for a week-end in Nendaz for the yearly festival. The 13th edition will take place from July 25-27th, 2014.


Alphorn players

Lac de Tracouet


Lac de Tracouet

You can find more pictures in my Flickr photostream. Thanks for looking!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Long Exposures With The Fuji X-Pro1

I went to Paris last week for business, but had a free evening to spend with a friend there. We decided to do some long exposure photography.

Normally long exposures are useful to blur out moving water in landscapes. Here we actually "blurred" out people, sometimes even removing them entirely! It's quite a funny feeling when you look at your picture after the long exposure.

As the weather was quite overcast, it was nice to have some moving clouds in there too. It was really a great evening (thanks Jerome)!

Eiffel Tower

The joy of traveling with the Fuji X-Pro1 is that the equipment is considerably lighter than a DSLR kit. I could even take a small tripod (a gorillapod) instead of a huge and heavy one.

My friend Jerome on the other hand, had a Canon EOS-5D MkII and a big tripod; that did attract attention. At one point, in the Jardins des Tuilleries park, a car with park maintainers pulled up to us and asked if he had a permit. They claimed that he was a "professional" because of the tripod!
I think they didn't even notice my Fuji hanging on the gorillapod on a fence. Another great reason for being a Fuji Ninja!

Here's the equipment you need to take long exposures:
  • a tripod
  • a Neutral Density filter: this is like sunglasses for your camera as it simply reduces the amount of light reaching the sensor. You can buy these in several different optical densities. In my case I used an ND1000 (a 10 stop filter, sometimes called "big stopper").
You can also use a remote cable, although it's not necessary for exposures up to 30 seconds on the Fuji. In fact, on the Fuji X-Pro1, there are 2 long exposure modes: B and T. In T mode, you can set the time from 2 seconds to 30 seconds (with the left arrow on pad).
In B ("Bulb") mode, you need a cable release, as the first shutter actuation will start the exposure, and a second actuation will stop it. So basically, you can make exposures as long as you want.

The other thing you need to know, is that the Fuji X-Pro1 has a Noise Reduction mode in the menus. I highly advise you to put this ON. This will take another black exposure for the same amount of time to measure the sensor noise and remove that noise from the original picture. The disadvantage is that it will take twice as long to take just 1 picture, because the camera will be blocked "processing".
Note that this Noise Reduction only comes in play after a certain amount of exposure time. For example with ISO 200, the minimum exposure time is 70 seconds for Noise Reduction to come into action. You can find a complete discussion of this in a Fuji-X Forum if you're interested to learn more.

Parc des Tuilleries

Here's my workflow:
  • find your vantage point and settle tripod
  • measure the exposure without the ND filter and find equivalent time for 10 stops longer. I usually set my f-stop to f/11 or f/16, which is the maximum on the Fuji XF 18mm lens.
To find the equivalent exposure time, I use a free iPhone app called "Long Time".

In my case (sunset time), I had a normal exposure of f/16 & 1/30th of a second. 10 stops longer is equivalent to 30 seconds exposure.
  • put ND filter on, set camera on tripod.
  • frame through LCD screen on the back. The great advantage of the Fuji X-Pro1 is that even with the ND1000 filter on, it can still see the scene, and even focus (I use manual focus because I don't want the camera to try to refocus when I take the picture afterwards).
  • Either put the camera on B or T mode, depending on your expsoure time (if it's max 30 seconds, use T).
  • Either put a 2 seconds timer (if you use T mode) or use the cable release and shoot.
The Fuji X-Pro1 is great for long exposures, as it will display the elapsed exposure time on the LCD screen (or in the digital viewfinder). No more need for a stopwatch! Release the cable after your desired exposure time, and let the camera do it's processing (if necessary).
Be sure to always use the lowest ISO setting (for the Fuji X-Pro1 it's ISO 200) as you want to take longer exposures, not shorter ones. Also, this will minimize noise in your picture.
My only issues were that each time you turn off the camera, the T setting resets to 2 seconds, so you need to push that left arrow several times in order to get back to 30 seconds. Also, the setting for the remote timer (2 seconds) is also lost when you turn off the camera. Maybe there is a way to keep this in between ON/OFF cycles, but I haven't found out how yet (leave a comment if you know).

Below you can find some examples of shots I took.

Place de la Concorde

This shot of the Place de la Concorde was taken early evening, with a ton of traffic... but thanks to the magic of long exposures, most cars disappeared!

We then moved into the Parc des Tuilleries.
Parc des Tuilleries

To arrive at what I find to be one of the most photogenic sites of Paris: the Louvre pyramids. I just love this place!

Of course, we couldn't resist taking some long exposures of the Seine river. That's exactly what the ND1000 is made for: giving a sense of smooth flow to water. Here you have the beautiful addition of moving clouds.

You can see my complete set of Long Exposure Pictures of Paris with the Fuji X-Pro1 on Flickr.

Overall, the Fuji X-Pro1 is a really capable camera in the long exposure style. A real joy to use, as it is lightweight, prefect for travel, and so easy to move around with.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Fuji XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 OIS lens impressions

A work colleague was very kind to lend me his Fuji XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4.0 OIS zoom over the week-end (thanks again mate!).

First impressions: wow this lens is heavy! Compared to the 18 and 35 mm primes which I have, this zoom is considerably heavier. For such a lightweight camera as the X-Pro 1, the front heavy load is noticeable. I guess it's only worse on the even lighter XE-1.

The first time I used it I thought it was not working, so silent it was! When you focus, you can barely hear a sound; this is really great. And the focus... Wow, this is amazing! It's much faster than the primes and did I mention silent? ;-) I guess this has to do with an internal motor, while heavy, really works wonders. As always in photography (and life), it's all a question of compromises.

The zoom itself is very smooth. I really like how even in the optical viewfinder you see the frames moving when you zoom. I photograph my kids a lot and found it rather difficult to have focus confirmation with the optical viewfinder. That's especially difficult if they move around. My keeper rate was maybe 50% with the optical viewfinder. But when I switched to the electronic viewfinder, my keeper rate increased dramatically to 90%. Maybe I didn't have enough time with the lens to get a better feeling for it. I suppose the keeper rate would only increase with usage.

I'm not going to comment on sharpness, but for me the quality was more than enough. I shoot only JPG as they are just so good with the Fuji. I found the bokeh to be nice and creamy too. From a technical perspective, I found the lens excellent.

I didn't have much use for the optical image stabilizer. With such good performance at high ISO speeds, I don't really see the need for stabilization. On top of that, it's mostly my subjects that move, not my camera that shakes. I wonder if that stabilizer added a lot of weight to the lens? If so, I'd much prefer a lighter zoom without stabilization.

I also concur with some other reviews that were disappointed that aperture was not available directly on the lens. The aperture ring clicks but doesn't indicate any values. I understand that's due to the variable aperture of the lens (2.8 at 18mm vs 4.0 at 55mm). For that reason you always have to check the aperture in your viewfinder. But I really liked the fact that when you set it to 2.8 @18mm then zoomed to 55mm, the lens switched to 4.0, and when going back to 18mm, it switched back to 2.8 automatically. I didn't expect anything different in fact.

So is this a good lens? Absolutely! Apart from the slight overweight, I really liked it. If I didn't already own the 18 and 35 lenses, I'd definitively get this zoom. For now I guess I'll just keep zooming with my feet...

Here are the 18mm, 35mm and the 18-55mm zoom (zoomed out to 55mm) in size comparison:

A good example of the background blur you can achieve. This picture was taken at 55mm f/4.0 with a slight angle down the orange juice brick. Look how it slowly goes out of focus and the background bokeh. Very pleasing in my opinion!