Thursday, 14 November 2013

Okarito Weekend Part 4 - Landscapes

In this last part of my Okarito weekend postings I want to look at landscapes and discuss using the Sony A100 in a bit more detail.

The A100 was Sony's first DSLR after acquiring Konica/Minolta in 2005, and was released one year later in 2006. That makes it a pretty old camera by today's super-techno standards, so it's got to be a pretty horrible image-maker, right?

Well, no, as it turns out. It's a 10MP, anti-shake, anti-dust, 2.5" lcd, 40 segment metering, 3fps, solid performer - albeit with a few design quirks.

Okarito Lagoon Sunrise. Sony A100 with Zeiss 24-70mm on f5.6 @ 500th
The body itself is rather plasticky - but it's a solid and durable plastic, so that's really not a complaint. The lens mount is metal, and the buttons and dials have a very positive and secure feel to them still - even though this is now an 8 year old camera. The camera has good heft when in the hand, although it does feel a little on the light side when paired with the Zeiss 24-70mm f2.8 lens. The camera weighs 638 g with battery, while the Zeiss is a whopping 955 g, so the combination is a little front-heavy. But you forget all that when you look at the images taken with this combination on the computer. The files from the A100 are rich, smooth (at the low ISO's) and plenty detailed enough.

3 Mile Lagoon, Okarito. Sony A100 with Minolta 100-200 on f5.6 @ 800th
On Saturday evening Stewart and I decided to head off to the Okarito Trig Station Lookout to catch sunset. It had been a beautiful day, but with no guarantees of a decent sunset as we made our way up the hill with tripods and camera gear in hand. We were told that it was an easy 30 minute walk up to the top, but I found the climb fairly hard-going and had to stop several times before reaching the lookout. I can remember thinking at about the half-way stage of the climb that 'this better be worth it'... but I needn't have worried. It was definitely worth it! We were treated to some magic evening light and almost couldn't believe our luck.

Okarito from Trig Station Lookout. Sony A100 with Minolta 100-200 on f5.6 @ 320th
To our left was a fantastic view of Okarito which framed up nicely with my Minolta 100-200mm lens. This is the view that most people who take the track up to the lookout are expecting to see and while it was certainly worth photographing, the really stunning view this evening came from our right, out towards 3 Mile Lagoon. Again, the 100-200mm gave me a great view of the light as it swept over the landscape and I can't believe the sharp, contrasty, beautiful images I'm capturing with this lens! It's a cracking lens and was unbelievable value (I got it as part of a film camera kit for about $40.00NZ).

3 Mile Lagoon. Sony A100 with Zeiss 24-70mm on f5.6 @ 320th
It was an amazing evening of shooting, and the A100 performed faultlessly.  I make sure to shoot at the lower ISO's with it (from 100 to 400), and I watch my shutter speeds (and the Steady Shot graph in the viewfinder) to make sure my shots will be crisp hand-held. And so far, so good. In fact, I'm rightly impressed.

What don't I like about the A100? The function dial on the top left of the camera is a bit clunky to use. I'd rather these were menu-driven like the A200 that came after it. And I'd prefer two control wheels so that I could assign exposure compensation to a wheel rather than a button. But other than that, I'm very happy with the A100 and how it performs. It's just a great image-making tool.

No, it doesn't have live-view (don't care), an articulated lcd screen (don't care), it doesn't shoot video (definitely don't care), and isn't GPS or touch screen enabled (still don't care). What it does do is take beautiful photos. And it does it well.

I don't care that it's 8 year old technology. And in fact, I'll soon be using a Konica/Minolta 7D -  a 6MP 10 year old camera! And I'm really looking forward to it!

Oh yeah - one final thought on the A100. It goes forever! I had one battery, fully charged, for a whole weekend of shooting and it still had juice in it when I got home on Sunday afternoon. A single charge is good for well over a thousand images during a weekends shooting. Sony is well known for making cameras with exceptional battery life and I'm happy to report that the A100 is no exception.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Okarito Weekend Part 3 - White Heron

Last post I wrote how my main objective of my photography weekend to Okarito was to capture images of the iconic Boat Shed. But there is something else that is also iconic and has become synonymous with the Okarito Lagoon - the Kotuku (White Heron).

The lagoon is a breeding ground for the White Heron, so it has become a very popular tourist attraction. I was hoping that I could take my Sigma 75-500mm lens for a spin and capture some useable images of these magnificent birds, since this is something else that I don't really have in my image library.

Kotuku stretching. Sony A100 with Sigma 75-500
Saturday was a no-go, and I didn't really get to see any Heron up close. Stewart and I kayaked out into the lagoon but the cloud cover came over and made it less that ideal. They also don't really let you get too close when you're on their 'turf', and I came away disappointed.

But on Sunday morning, as we were shooting the Boat Shed, I noticed a Heron fly overhead and settle on the edge of the lagoon to feed. I took my opportunity, put the Sigma 75-500mm lens on a monopod, and went over to see if I could take some half-decent bird photos.

Heron Feeding. Sony A100 with Sigma 75-500mm on f8 @ 2000th
I'm not much of a bird photographer - by my own admission. I don't have the patience, the skill, or the gear to really pull it off. But most of all, I don't really have the passion for it. I enjoy taking a great bird photo if I happen to get 'lucky' and I'm at the right place at the right time, but I don't go looking for it.

Yet having said all that, when I found myself at Okarito with a White Heron in my sights and a 75-500mm attached to the camera, I'd be lying if I said the adrenaline didn't start pumping and the hopes were high for a great shot!

Heron Feeding 2. Sony A100 with Sigma 75-500mm on f11 @ 2000th
Did I get a great shot? No - I don't think I did. But I did have fun. And I learnt a thing or two about using the 75-500mm Sigma. First, the monopod was a very good idea. I left 'Steady Shot' on the A100 'On', since there was obviously still some movement happening even though it was on a monopod. I bumped the ISO up as much as I dared (ISO800), and also made sure the aperture was enough to give me an overall sharp image. I started at f8, then moved to f11 as the light got even brighter. Checking the final images (I shot about 300), the ones shot at f11 are noticeably sharper than those taken at f8. Guess I know where the lenses 'sweet spot' is now :-)

Heron Feeding 3. Sony A100 with Sigma 75-500mm on f11 @ 2500th
The four shots here are my 'keepers' from over 300 taken on the morning. Probably not a very high 'hit' rate, and I'm not really in love with any of them (except perhaps the first image, although at f8 it's not as tack sharp as I would like). I suppose that means I know what I'll be doing again next year?

Bird photography - or should I say 'great' bird photography, is hard. Really hard. But I knew that. Before going back to okarito next year I think I'll brush up on my bird photography skills down at a local lagoon. We occasionally get Heron there too, so who knows. Perhaps there's hope for me yet?

Monday, 11 November 2013

Okarito Weekend Part 2 - The Boat Shed

One of the main reasons I was desperate to get back down to Okarito was to capture the iconic Boat Shed - perhaps the most photogenic building on the West Coast.

Okarito Boat Shed. Sony A100 with Minolta 16mm on f8 @ 250th
I had tried, and failed, to capture this building only once before (a few years earlier ) but had unfortunately come back with blurred images when I foolishly decided to hand-hold in low light. I was determined not to make the same mistake again, so had bought along my heaviest tripod and a monopod, just in case. Ironically I needed neither, as sunrise at 6.30 in november gave us enough light to hand-hold comfortably (go figure).

Okarito Boat Shed Sunrise. Sony A100 with Minolta 16mm on f8 @ 160th
The Boat Shed (now an information shed) sits on the lagoon and can be shot from various angles depending on the tide and time of year. We were fortunate in that this year there hasn't been a big variance in tidal movement, so the building was approachable at all times of the day. We were also fortunate with some beautiful sunrise/early morning light on both mornings we were there.

Since it is such an iconic building, and has been shot by so many photographers, I wanted to try something 'different' for a few of my images.  I borrowed Stew's 16mm fisheye to shoot with on the first morning and even though the 'crop' factor on the A100 meant that it was really a 24mm lens, shooting straight on to the building also produced a slight 'fisheye' effect.

Boatshed Sunrise, Okarito. Sony A100 with Minolta 24-105mm on f8 @ 160th
Moving around the edge of the lagoon as the sun rose gave a completely different perspective on the boat shed, lit by the sunrise against the dark surroundings. By this time I had switched to the Minolta 24-105mm so I could use the zoom range on the lens, since I was standing on the edge of the lagoon and couldn't 'zoom' with my feet. Same morning, same light, but completely different feel to the image.

Boatshed Sunrise 2. Sony A100 with Zeiss 24-70mm on f8 @ 400th
We came back on the Sunday morning for sunrise again, so this time instead of going to the left of the building, I went to the right. I had also managed to grab Stew's Zeiss 24-70mm f2.8 'monster' lens - and boy is it a beauty! But boy is it heavy! After half an hour of shooting with the Zeiss attached to the A100 I knew I'd taken a few photos. But of course, the image quality speaks for itself and I'd quite happily carry that lens around if it meant coming back with superb images.

Having said that, I did experience a few 'glitches' with the Zeiss where it would 'lock up' on the A100 and not allow me to take any photos until I wiggled the lens mount? But I'm fairly sure this was just a couple of dirty contacts and nothing that wouldn't come right with a good clean.

I obviously took a lot more photos of the Okarito Boat Shed than I've shown here - but these are indicative - and I'm very happy with the images I managed to come away with of this beautiful building. I will be back next year, and can only hope for more of the same beautiful weather next time.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Okarito Weekend

My family belong to the Cobden Anglican Church, and every year some of the men from the church go away to Okarito for a weekend retreat. I haven't been for a few years and don't have many good photos from that part of the coast, so I was very keen to go this year.

Okarito is a very small settlement about 2 hours from Hokitika, heading down the south of the coast towards the glaciers. Not many people live there, but it's a tourist destination for its beautiful surroundings and its fishing, tramping, kayaking and white heron sanctuary (more on the herons in a later post).

I'm not really big on any of the above, but of course the big draw-card for me is a weekend of photography. A whole weekend just devoted to photography! Absolute luxury.

'Coffee anybody'?   Sony A100 with Sigma 17-35mm on f11 @ 1000th
The village itself has a quirky yet timeless feel to it where you could be forgiven for thinking you've stepped back in time 50 or 60 years. I was prepared for a rainy weekend (I took a really good, thick book with me) since we have had a really wet, miserable October - but I was silently hoping for beautiful weather - and lots of photography! I'm very please to report that I wasn't disappointed and the book remained largely untouched.

'500's Showdown'   Sony A100 with Minolta 24-105mm on f5.6 @ 1/5th sec
When the sun went down and we were finished for the day, the cards came out. Game of choice - 500's. I picked it up over the course of the weekend, and even had a game or two myself towards the end, but I'm still not really a 'cards' lover. I don't want to labour the point, but what I really came for was the photography (and fellowship - of course), which meant early rises and late evenings. And since the weather was on our side, the 6.00am starts and 9.00pm finishes were definitely worth it!

'Abandoned Old Bedford'  Sony A100 with Sigma 17-35mm on f8 @ 160th
I took a Sony A100 'loan' camera (thanks Stew), with a Minolta 35-70mm, 100-200mm and Sigma 75-500mm (as well as tripod, monopod, batteries, cards, charger etc). I was out to get some great landscape shots, but I also knew that there might be some White Heron photography in their somewhere as well. I was also traveling up and back with Stewart Nimmo (thanks again Stew), our local pro photographer - who also happens to be a Sony shooter. So I was excited to try out a few of his lenses over the weekend as well.

'Rob'  Sony A100 with Sigma 75-500mm on f11 @ 1000th
I went out in the mornings with a wide-ish angle lens on the camera - either a Sigma 17-35mm or a Minolta 24-105mm, to capture the sunrise and landscape. But on the Sunday morning I also wondered around with the 75-500mm on a monopod and got some great portraits. At f11 sharpness was good, while working at the telephoto end still gave me reasonably shallow depth of field. This photo of Rob was one of my favorite from the morning.

'Okarito Mens Weekend'  Sony A100 with Sigma 17-35mm on f11 @ 125th
We all had a fantastic time over the weekend: fishing, kayaking, whitebaiting, walking, reading, playing cards and, of course, taking photos. Trout was caught, whitebait was eaten for breakfast, lots of chocolate and coffee was consumed - and amazing photos were taken! I will blog in stages about the images I've taken over the course of the weekend, and I will definitely be back again next year for hopefully a lot more of the same...

P.S. - in the above photo from left to right are: Rob, Julian, Ross, Craig, Travis, Tim, Henk, Evan, Stew and Me.