Archive for August 2015

Intimate Stellisee composition

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugStellisee, Zermatt, Switzerland.

My most preferred composition of our summer hiking holiday in the Swiss alps was already shown in the last blog post - Fly and morning dew - so this can only be the runner up. Already before pressing the shutter, I liked this composition and still do. The regular pattern and orientation - from the front right to the back left - is one of the elements that I like. While the composition only depicts a small scene, an intimate landscape, the reflection on the water, towards the top of the frame, hints at the surrounding mountain landscape (the ice covered summits of the Monte Rosa massif) and the bright blue sky. However, what satisfies my most is the fact that it is a "different view" of an incredibly much-photographed subject. Stellisee is one of two small lakes (the other being Riffelsee) that offer an unobstructed view of the Matterhorn. If you search for photographs of this iconic mountain top, you will find countless sunset and sunrise shots of the Matterhorn and its reflection in these two lakes. I was hoping to discover an interesting composition at these two lakes, but did not intend to repeat one of those classic evening or morning photos. I am satisfied with the result, even though I can imagine that this photograph is less appealing to you than to myself - but maybe, or hopefully, some of you do like this capture.

2015/08/28 by Unknown
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GX8 adventure: Limiting choice

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugEdelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum), Turtmanntal, Switzerland.

Choosing a camera, or anything really, can be a daunting task nowadays. We have far too many choices - different formats (sizes of sensors), different brands, several camera models within each brand, and then we also need lenses, for which we have even more choices (at least for some formats). We can randomly buy what is the easiest to get, purchase what we already know, or try to make an informed decision. Here are the criteria based on which I limit my choices in order to make it easier to eventually decide what to buy.

Concerning the camera format, I have made my decision (more or less informed, sometimes doubted) many years ago: micro four thirds (m4/3) provides, in my opinion, the best compromise of size, image quality, versatility, lens choice, and price. Only if I wanted to print very large (which I don't) or perform very long exposure photography (which I do not either), a larger sensor would be more appropriate. As sensors become better, this situation can only change for the better.

However, even within the m4/3 realm, there are too many cameras to choose from; about 20 at the moment. Do I really have to consider all of these cameras? Of course not. My two "must have" criteria are the following:
  1. Possibility to mount the Mirex tilt-shift adapter
  2. A built-in viewfinder
Unfortunately (or luckily as it reduces the choice tremendously), these two simple criteria exclude all current Olympus cameras and I am down to only six Panasonic Lumix cameras (five actually, as I do not consider the GM5). The secondary criteria are less defined and somewhat arbitrary. They include (in the order of importance) size and weight, viewfinder quality, mobility of the screen, and the absence of "unwanted" features. Since I really liked the GH1, I am drawn towards the GH3 or GH4, but these cameras are targeted at the videographer and are also rather large and heavy. Although the G7/G70 is newer than the GX7, it is also rather large and chunky as compared to the elegant shape of the rangefinder-style GX cameras. Consequently, as long as the GX8 is unavailable, the GX7 is my choice. The GX8 is larger, heavier, and more expensive, but otherwise a better camera in almost every aspect. Between these two cameras, it is a difficult choice. If I did not have a camera yet, I would likely buy the GX8, but I do have the GX7 now and I am happy enough with this tool. I will most likely wait until I can justify a second camera (or until I drown the GX7 in a river ...). 

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugThe GX8 is definitely small and light enough to be carried all day long on strenuous hikes; here on the Schweifegrat in the Binntal, Switzerland.

2015/08/20 by Unknown
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Fly and morning dew

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugA fly is waiting for the morning dew to evaporate, Val Ferret, Switzerland.

One of the big advantages of camping is the fact that I can get up earlier than the rest of our family, go on a photography walk for one or two hours, and then we can still have breakfast together. The Camping des Glaciers in Val Ferret is ideal in this respect (in every other aspect as well - a great campground!), because it is located outside the village and surrounded by meadows and rivers with plenty of subjects to be discovered; especially for macro and detail photography.
At the moment, the photograph above is my most preferred creation of our recent vacation (and of those taken with the GX8). I have searched for and tried different compositions of blades of grass with drops of morning dew. It was only in the viewfinder, that I discovered the tiny fly (only  a few millimeters long) that adds, in my opinion, the icing on the cake in this photograph. The camera was positioned amidst the wet grass and some of the blades were just in front of the camera, others further in the back. I really like the horizontal, regular structure, the light, and the perfectly sharp fly. This photograph is actually one of the cases where a larger display is better - it looks definitely more impressive on my computer screen.
The composition has been added to my "macro gallery", where you can find different kind of close-up nature shots; some of which were taken a long time ago (I did a lot of macro photography in my youth).

2015/08/19 by Unknown
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Four Matterhorn compositions

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugMatterhorn at dusk, with the route of the first ascent illuminated by 50 lamps (not all are visible; a red one should indicate the location where four of the first climbers fell); Zermatt, Switzerland.

Before our recent holiday, I had never been to Zermatt and only seen the Matterhorn from far away summits. For four days, I could see it from my bed - what a view to wake up with!
This year is a special year for Zermatt and the Matterhorn, because it was 150 years ago, in 1865, that it has been (semi-) successfully climbed the first time (four out of seven climbers died on the descent). It was one of the last 4000 m summits of the alps to be conquered! Although photographs of this remarkable summit are omnipresent, at least in Switzerland and especially during this year, the sight in person, from Zermatt, is still irresistible. And despite the many photographs and little chance to contribute a new and interesting composition, I "had to" photographs this iconic mountain. Sometimes it is not important how many people have already photographed a subject, but just a pleasure and wish to do it yourself.
At the moment and in honour of the anniversary of the first ascent, a light installation traces the route of the first climbers with 50 solar-powered led lamps, which added a surprising element to the composition above. At dusk, the lamps light up one by one, for three minutes all lamps shine, and then they are switched off. The spectacle is repeated several times during the night and is, in my opinion, a really felicitous and elegant project. The photograph above is my most preferred capture of this light spectacle and by far the Matterhorn composition that I like the best (of those that I created). Note that not all lamps are visible from this point of view; most notably a red lamp that indicates the place where the four climbers fell down.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugTwo matterhorns - the view from our bedroom (only for four days, unfortunately)!

The second photograph, above, is a composition, that I had imagined before, but that did not work out as envisioned. Either the summit was hidden by a cloud, I forgot, or I did not find a suitable reflective surface to photograph two Matterhorns in one photograph. The composition shown here is the best, but I am certain that it could be improved significantly. Finally, the sunset and cloud compositions that follow are, in my opinion, decent Matterhorn documents. I like the positioning and dynamics that the clouds create in the last picture; it seems to me that the clouds dwarf the summit. All photographs except the first one have been taken with the Lumix GX8.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug The last sun rays reach the summit and the top of the north face of the Matterhorn; Zermatt, Switzerland.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugClouds blowing around the Matterhorn; Zermatt, Switzerland.

2015/08/13 by Unknown
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GX8 adventure: Small enough and good enough

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugView from the Üsseres Barrhorn (Turtmanntal, Switzerland); the highest hiking summit in the alps (3610 m). The view stretches over the main valley of the Wallis (left of the small secondary summit in the foreground) towards Furka pass. At the left horizon are the Bernese mountains, to the right the beginning of the Wallis alps.

Most of the time, I am an "also photographer": The use of my camera is linked to other activities such as family trips and holidays, commuting, business trips. Only occasionally do I set out for dedicated photography outings. Often, "real photography" and "family photography" happen during the same trip. As an "also photographer" I seek a camera that is small enough to be carried around all the time, while for real photography image quality is more important. A situation that many enthusiast photographers are probably in.

For many years, we had a camera for "family photography" and another one, supposedly better one, for my "real photography". The family camera was usually a digital point-and-shoot camera. The "real camera" was first an analog Konica SLR, then a XPan (now sold), for a long time the Lumix GH1 (now destroyed), and shortly the A7r. Interestingly, the only one of these cameras that became THE camera for everything was the GH1. Why? Because it was small enough to be carried around all the time and good enough for my "real photography" (although I mistakenly doubted that sometimes).

Once the Lumix GH1 became the camera for almost everything, carrying a second, "better" camera (e.g., the A7r) became really a burden and contradictory. After all, the main argument for the micro four thirds (m4/3) format is the small size and weight of the cameras and particularly the lenses. How does this relate to the GX8, or the GX7? For me, there are no better cameras for everyday photography than the GX8 or the GX7. Using the GX7 is, at least to me, more similar to the GH1, but in many aspects it is of course much better. In contrast, the GX8 handles more like the XPan or A7r. The Lumix GX8 is the "better" camera in the body of a compact family camera. The GX7 is certainly a good enough camera in an even smaller body.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugEpilobium angustifolium (Fireweed, Schmalblättriges Weidenröschen), Val Ferret, Switzerland.

2015/08/10 by Unknown
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GX8 adventure: Customer friendliness

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugSunrise on the Matterhorn, Zermatt, Switzerland.

This blog post is the first of a series on our recent holiday and on my Lumix GX8 adventure, which has just ended yesterday by posting the camera at our local post office. For 18 days I have been photographing with this exciting new camera in the Swiss mountains and valleys, in the rain (rarely) and sun (most of the time), in the cold as well as in hot weather.

As I have accidentally destroyed my most preferred digital camera so far, my beloved Lumix GH1, just before our summer holiday, I needed a replacement quickly, within a week. In my despair, I filled out the contact form on Panasonic's website, explained the problem and asked if they could sell me a GX8 prematurely. It seemed a hopeless trial balloon. I was so devoid of expectation that I actually bought a used GX7 already; after all it was the last weekend before our holiday and one was on offer close by. It was thus a surprise, when a few days later a friendly person from Panasonic replied that they cannot directly sell to customers, but that they were of course willing to help me. They offered to loan a GX8 to me - two weeks were fine. Woow! No conditions, signatures or anything; just a few friendly emails and the next day the GX8 had already arrived.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugReflections at the entrance of ETH Zurich, Switzerland.

To clear out any potential misunderstanding: I am not turning my blog into a review site and neither have I become an employe of Panasonic, nor received any form of payment for these posts. However, this overwhelming example of customer friendliness motivated me to photograph and encouraged me to write about my experiences and equipment choices. In upcoming posts I will thus write much more about equipment than I usually do, but I will also use these post to share photographs from our recent trip in the Swiss mountains (that were mostly taken with the GX8, but also with the GX7).

Overall, both cameras, the Lumix GX7 and GX8 are a pleasure to use (the children clearly preferred the GX7, myself rather the GX8). Having worked with a Lumix camera for many years, it was intuitive getting used to the new models, setting up the menu and buttons to my liking, and starting to photograph immediately. To summarise my GX8 adventure: the Lumix GX8 is clearly my most preferred digital camera yet (and the GX7 is very nice too) and I am still amazed by Panasonic's friendliness and accessibility!

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugAstrantia major (Great Masterwort, Grosse Sterndolde)

2015/08/09 by Unknown
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